The men’s basketball team has made the NCAA tournament two times, and twice the Rattlers have been first round casualties. And the reason is not talent discrepancies, or lack of depth.
Instead, Rattlers are fodder for the tournament’s top seed, due to a 12-18 regular season record in the 1998-99 season and a 15-16 record last year heading into the tournament.
While it is understandable for FAMU to play the toughest opponents possible during its non-conference schedule, what good does a tough non-conference schedule do if the Rattlers don’t make the NCAA tournament?
The key to succeeding in the NCAA tournament is not only making it there but having a favorable seed. As long as FAMU continues to play teams from the Big Ten, SEC and Big XII conferences the Rattlers have no shot of becoming the third team from the MEAC to advance past the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Yes, Gonzaga has defeated Georgia Tech, Oklahoma State and Washington this season. But the reason the Bulldogs have to play such a hellacious non-conference schedule is because no mid-major wants to play them.
FAMU will not put fear into any school by winning an average of two of its first 11 games the past two seasons. The Rattlers started the 2003-2004 season with a 1-10 record and sport a 3-8 record this season.
Playing a tough schedule won’t make the Rattlers’ opponents give them any more respect. If anything it gives teams a formula as to how to beat them. Even though strength of schedule is important in basketball, the only thing that truly matters is the win.
If the Rattlers would have won four of their nine non-conference games last year, the team would have finished the regular season 18-13 and in all likelihood avoided the play-in game of the NCAA tournament. Even though the victory over Lehigh in last year’s play-in game was great, having to play an elimination game 72 hours before facing the tournament’s top seed is something that can be avoided, if the Rattlers play an easier non-conference schedule.
The best chance FAMU has of advancing to the second round is to avoid the dubious No. 16 seed. When Coppin State and Hampton-the only MEAC schools to do so- won their first round game, both were the No. 15 seed in their respective regions.
With 16 games remaining in the regular season, the Rattlers would have to win 11 of them to have a winning record heading into the all-important MEAC tournament.
It can be done; it has been done, and with success. Of FAMU’s nine non-conference games in the 2002-2003 season, the Rattlers played traditional powers in Cincinnati and Florida as well as Central Florida and the now defunct Morris Brown College -who the Rattlers played twice- and won five of the nine contests. And to no surprise did FAMU finish with its first winning season in 11 years with a 17-12 record.
Head Coach Gillespie has done great things with the men’s basketball program, but until the Rattlers play an easier non-conference schedule, he’ll go down in the school record books as another coach with another losing record.