The Green Bay Phoenix may have only won one NCAA tournament game in their history, but they’re certainly no stranger to hard-core hoops junkies.
Formerly known as Wisconsin-Green Bay when Wisconsin Hall-of-Famer Dick Bennett was in charge of the team in the 1980s and ’90s, the Phoenix rose from the ashes to make the Big Dance four times in a six-year stretch, the highlight being an upset win over California in the first round in 1994, ending Jason Kidd‘s college career in the process. Since their last tourney appearance in 1996, they’ve had a rough time of it. That is, until this season.
Thanks to their revenge win over Valparaiso last week, they’ve already clinched the Horizon League‘s regular season title, guaranteeing them the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. However, whether they capture that trophy or not, I think the Phoenix should be dancing come Selection Sunday.
Currently at 22-5 with at least three more games to play, Green Bay’s had as tough a non-conference schedule a mid-major school can create. The best part of it? They didn’t just challenge the big teams, but they beat the biggest one on their board.
Only five teams in the country have beaten the No. 12 Virginia Cavaliers. Those teams are Duke, Wisconsin, VCU, Tennessee and yes, Green Bay. Throw in two wins against Horizon rival Cleveland State and Ws over Tulsa and Pepperdine, and you’ve got yourself a solid RPI of 56. Just imagine what that number could be if they didn’t take a hard 69-66 loss to No. 14 Wisconsin back in November.
Their tough 12-point loss to Harvard may come back to bite ’em, which would be too bad, considering the Crimson are a virtual lock to make the tourney.
Put all those factors together and we’re talking tourney time. Scheduling like that, in addition to a regular season crown, needs to be rewarded. If they’re denied, then what’s the next move for mid-majors looking to break through? What else can a smaller school do to impress the committee?
This isn’t news. It happens to teams all across the country. However, this season, Phoenix have earned a return trip to the tournament … a trip that’s been 18 years in the making.