Every year, we at Hoops HD adopt a team and zealously support them throughout the entire season and encourage as many people as possible to do the same. We give them top billing when writing up the games, we mention them on every Under the Radar Podcast, and oftentimes during the Hoops HD Report, we try to engage their fans and program on social media, and we basically become unconditional diehard fans of that team for that season. The guidelines are intentionally vague because we want to cast a wide net. It has to be a program that is below the consciousness of the casual hoops fan, and it must be a program in a unique situation.
NJIT HIGHLANDERS (2014-2015) This whole thing started before a preseason podcast in the 2014-2015 season. NJIT was playing as an independent that year, and was seemingly being tossed aside by pretty much everyone, including those who actually do follow what we call the Under the Radar conferences. But, they appeared to have a pretty good team, and Chad knew it. On a whim, we decided to adopt them. They were in a very unique situation given that they were the only independent team that year, but were seemingly good enough to make a postseason tournament. They had recently been a transitional program, and were members of the short lived but always loved Great West Conference before it folded. They went through a period of going just 1-63 in a stretch between 2007-2009, so they had clearly made a ton of progress by the time the 2014-2015 season rolled around. We ended up falling in love with this team, and would interact with Jim Engles, who was the coach at the time, Chad went to a few of the games in person in what was a small but very electric venue, and they ended up being more successful than we had even anticipated. They earned a win against Michigan, who was nationally ranked, and they did advance to the CIT Tournament where they made the semifinals. And, the story didn’t end there. As fortune would have it, the Atlantic Sun invited them to become full members at the end of the athletic year. So, how is that for progress?? They beat a ranked team, finished with a winning record, were invited to a postseason tournament for the first time ever, made the semifinals of that tournament, and were then invited to an automatic qualifying conference for the first time ever!
GRAND CANYON ANTELOPES (2015-2016) After having so much fun and so much success with NJIT, there was some debate over whether or not we should even pick a different team because, quite frankly, we didn’t think it could be matched, much less topped. And, by this point, we were legitimately fans of NJIT. But, after some discussion, we decided to pick a different team, and Holy Crap if it didn’t happen again!. Grand Canyon was still a transitional program in 2015-2016, but they were unique because we also felt they were one of the better teams in their conference and that they had a chance to finish in first place, and perhaps even crack the RPI top 100, which a transitional team had never done. The Lopes got off to an incredible start to the season, and we had a ton of fun with their fans on Twitter as we began the #LopesWaiver movement, where we petitioned both the NCAA and the WAC Conference to allow the Lopes to participate in the postseason tournament even though they were still a transitional team. Some of our antics included petitioning the White House, calling the NCAA and asking to speak to Mark Emmert, calling the WAC office, and Twitter bombing the NCAA with Howard Beale memes. Again, the team was better than we thought they would be. The fans were incredible, most of the games were sold out or close to it, our own Jon Teitel even made it to a game, and while the team finished in second place, they did crack the RPI top 100, and were invited to the CIT. To date, it was the most successful season that any transitional program has ever had. It was a fantastic year. The team was great, their fans were great, and even other student-athletes at GCU were great!
NEW HAMPSHIRE WILDCATS (2016-2017) Like every year, it was hard to move on from the previous year’s team. We had become legitimate fans of the Lopes, and we loved the interaction we had with their fans, but we felt that UNH was another quality team in a unique position. They have never been to the NCAA Tournament, and for that matter have rarely been anywhere close to the top of the America East. This year, we believed them to be good. We even started a Twitter hashtag of #GoDancingOrDie. We thought that it was a unique story of a good team that’s never been to the NCAA Tournament and had a very good chance to get there. We even crowned them Preseason NIT Champions when they tied for the best record in that event at 3-1 and beat Temple, the team that most people claim won the event. Unfortunately, the rest of the season was not as good, and a semifinal loss at Vermont in the America East tournament ended their run. Better luck next year!!!!