In 2008, The Great West Conference moved from a football only conference to an all sports conference. It probably wasn’t for the better. Great West Conference might also be the biggest misnomer in sports. It is not “great” as it is the worst rated conference in America, nor is it west. True, it features teams from Calfornia, but the farthest west basketball participating member is Southern Utah. It also features teams from Utah (Utah Valley), Texas (Texas Pan American, Houston Baptist), Illinois (Chicago St.), North Dakota (UND) South Dakota (USD) and New Jersey (NJIT).
The highest rated team in the conference is South Dakota with a pomeroy rating of 271. However, 4 of their 6 wins have come against non-Division 1 opponents. Their best win came against Texas A&M-Chorpus Christi on a neutral floor. CC beat Oregon State, so it’s not the worst win in the world.
Next we have Utah Valley, whose best win was a season opening win against defending Summit League Champs North Dakota State. Utah Valley has the most experience in the conference, and the 27th most experienced team in the country.
Of the worst 20 teams in the country, 5 of them come from the Great West. Of the worst 11, 4 of them are GWC teams.
Three teams in the league have only one win. Texas Pan Am (1-11) has only beaten Chattanooga, although they have played by far the toughest schedule in the conference, facing Missouri, Nebraska and Texas.
Houston Baptist (1-10) has beaten only Farleigh Dickinson, and lost to awful teams such as Sacramento State, Texas Arlington and Missouri-KC.
North Dakota, in only their 2nd year of playing D1 basketball, is 1-11. Their only win is over NAIA Waldorf College, located in Iowa. They have also lost to NAIA Mayville State, located just 20 miles south of Grand Forks. There is a very legitimate argument that they are the worst team in college basketball.
Fortunately for college basketball fans everywhere, the Great West winner doesn’t have an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. In fact, they don’t have one into the NIT either. The Great West winner instead gets an automatic berth into the Collegeinsider.com tournament.
The conference probably will get an auto bid into the NCAA Tourney within the next decade or so. In that time, there is a great opportunity for a young coach to come in and establish a hegemonic power in the conference. Ironically, even though I called them the worst team in the nation this year, I think that team is North Dakota. It’s probably the most isolated of the schools, but they have by far the best facilities in the conference. In fact, if you take out schools like Gonzaga and Butler, there is a real argument to be made that they have the best facilities in mid to low major college basketball. That, coupled with an underrated recruiting area, could help the Fighting Sioux become a basketball power as well as a hockey power.
Until then, however, avert your eyes.