USA TODAY Sports
A look at the Great West Conference, a dying attempt by some schools making the NCAA Tourney. It was not great, it was not really that West, and it was barely a conference
What: The Great West Conference
That's Chicago State, NJIT, Texas Pan-American, and Utah Valley, a conference that has provided fodder for NU's early schedules for some time. Let us take a moment to remember the Great West, a conference whose life was brief and pointless. Once an actual football conference, the Great West became a basketball consortium of transitioning Division I teams that were sorta like "hey, well, instead of being independent, let's just glop ourselves together and call it a conference." The NCAA was like "well, sure, but, you're not getting an at-large bid," and so it was: instead of a bid to the NCAA Tournament, the winner of this bunch of misfits got a bid to the CIT, the fourth-tier college basketball tournament that caters to mid- and low-majors. Technically, the Great West has an at-large bid beginning in 2020, but the odds that the conference holds on for even another year are pretty slim. Without an at-large bid, there was no real need for a conference, and considering all the teams were a) crappy b) spread way across the country, being a member of the Great West was just a really convenient way to spend a crapload of money on athletic travel expenses.
Sure enough, it collapsed: North Dakota and South Dakota left for the Big Sky and Summit, respectively, meaning this year - just three years after the conference's first ever tournament - only five teams remained. Of those five, Chicago State, UTPA, and Utah Valley will join the WAC, while Houston Baptist will join the Southland. That, um... that... that uh... just leaves NJIT. To be honest, I'm not really sure what their gameplan is. Are they literally just going to be a conference with only one team? Are they going to play themselves 18 times per season? Will the conference tourney just be NJIT's intramural playoffs? I'm fascinated. Either way, congrats to the four leaving teams on finally having an opportunity to make the NCAA Tournament if they win their conference.
For what it's worth, you can go to the Great West Tournament. It's next weekend on Chicago State's campus. Yes, you too can actually see teams battle for a spot in the CIT. It's a really convoluted 5-team setup - you know, because there's only five teams in the league. Why anybody would do this is beyond me, but at the very least make sure you let everyone know it's okay if they want to become fans of Chicago's Eligible for an NCAA Tournament Bid Team. (Or is that Loyola? I don't know.)
For the record, none of these schools belong in the tourney: NJIT is the highest Kenpom team at No. 245. I would like to extend a special shout-out to Chicago State for ensuring Northwestern isn't the only Chicago area never-made-the-tourney school. Never-Mad
Goodbye, Great West Conference. You were not great, and you were not really west, and you were barely really a conference. You will be missed.