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The history of the Sweet 16 and Elite 8: one-bid conferences

Before Billy Tubbs took Oklahoma to the Final Four, he took the Lamar Cardinals to the Sweet 16 (above) back in 1980.

Lamar is a member of the Southland Conference. Stephen F. Austin very nearly carried the Southland into the Sweet 16 this past weekend, but a last-second putback enabled Notre Dame to nudge the Lumberjacks and Thomas Walkup out of the NCAA tournament.

Keeping in mind that college basketball is about more than the power conferences (which dominate the Sweet 16), let’s look at the history of the Sweet 16 and the Elite Eight through the lens of the one-bid leagues.

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We’ve already discussed the Southland Conference, so let’s start with that league. Lamar — guided by Billy Tubbs to the Sweet 16 — is the only school to make the Sweet 16 in that conference. SFA could have become the second.

For a lot of the other conferences, the history of the Sweet 16 is not very expansive. A quick collection of yes-or-no answers to one simple question will fill in a lot of blanks:

Does the America East Conference have a current member with any Sweet 16 history, and if so, did any of those schools move on to the Elite Eight?

No.

The Atlantic Sun?

Yes — Florida Gulf Coast (2013) and Jacksonville (1970).

Jacksonville made the Elite Eight in 1970, the only school in the league to do so. The Dolphins continued to the Final Four that year.

The Big Sky?

Yes — Idaho in 1982, Idaho State in 1977, Montana in 1975, and Weber State in 1972. Of these four schools, Idaho State made the Elite Eight in 1977.

The Big South?

No.

The Big West?

Yes — Cal State Fullerton in 1978, and Long Beach State in 1973. Fullerton moved to the Elite Eight in 1978. Long Beach made the Elite Eight not in 1973, but a year earlier in 1972.

Jerry Tarkanian coached Long Beach State to the Elite Eight and Sweet 16. Lute Olson replaced him when Tark moved to UNLV.

The Colonial?

No.

Conference USA?

Yes — this league contains several schools with a rich basketball heritage. Western Kentucky, UTEP, Charlotte, Louisiana Tech (Karl Malone), and Rice all made the Sweet 16, as did UAB under this coach, the late Gene Bartow:

large_UAB Gene Bartow

The Blazers — plus WKU, UTEP, and Charlotte — all moved to the Elite Eight. UAB is the C-USA school with the most recent trip to that stage of the NCAA tournament… in 1982.

The Horizon League?

Yes — Milwaukee (Bruce Pearl) did the deed in 2005. Three other schools did so in the previous century: Valparaiso (1998 and Bryce Drew), Cleveland State (as a 14 seed in 1986), and Detroit in 1977.

Detroit’s coach that season? Dick Vitale.

No current Horizon League school has ever made the Elite Eight.

The Ivy League?

Yes — Cornell pulled off the feat in 2010. Four other schools did so in the previous century: Penn (1979), Columbia (1968), Princeton (1967), and Dartmouth (1958). The Penn and Dartmouth teams of those same listed years made the Elite Eight. Princeton’s 1965 team made the Elite Eight en route to the Final Four. Penn’s 1979 team went to the Final Four, too.

The MAAC?

Yes — Niagara (1970), Manhattan (1958), and Canisius (1957). Canisius made the Elite Eight in 1956.

The Mid-American Conference?

Yes — Ohio (2012) is the most recent example, but eight other schools join the Bobcats: Kent State did so in 2002. The rest of the list: Miami University, Ball State, Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Toledo, and Bowling Green.

Ohio made the Elite Eight, but in 1964, not 2012. Kent State’s 2002 team also cracked the Elite Eight.

The MEAC?

No.

The Northeast Conference?

No.

The Ohio Valley?

Yes — Austin Peay in 1973, Morehead State in 1961. Neither school made the Elite Eight.

David Robinson wasn't a little guy, but Navy basketball sure was. The Admiral carried the Midshipmen to the Elite Eight in 1986. The Mids defeated another mid-major, Cleveland State, which was one of the first two schools to pull off a 14-3 upset in the history of the NCAA tournament. (Arkansas-Little Rock was the other.)

David Robinson wasn’t a little guy, but Navy basketball sure was. The Admiral carried the Midshipmen to the Elite Eight in 1986. The Mids defeated another mid-major, Cleveland State, which was one of the first two schools to pull off a 14-3 upset in the history of the NCAA tournament. (Arkansas-Little Rock was the other.)

The Patriot League?

Yes — Navy is the most recent team to hit the Sweet 16 in 1986. Boston University did so in 1959, Holy Cross in 1953. Lafayette got there in 1957.

Navy, Boston, and Holy Cross — in the years listed above — all continued on to the Elite Eight.

The Southern Conference?

Yes — Chattanooga in 1997, VMI in 1977, Furman in 1974, and East Tennessee State in 1968.

VMI reached the Elite Eight in 1976.

The SWAC?

No.

The Sun Belt?

Yes — Louisiana-Lafayette in 1973. The Ragin’ Cajuns did not make the Elite Eight.

The Summit League?

Yes — Oral Roberts in 1974. The Golden Eagles did then make the Elite Eight.

The WAC?

Yes — New Mexico State in 1992, Seattle University in 1964.

New Mexico State made the Elite Eight, en route to the Final Four, in 1970. Seattle made the Elite Eight, en route to the Final Four, in 1958.

Matt Zemek

About Matt Zemek

Matt Zemek is the managing editor of The Student Section, covering college football and basketball with associate editors Terry Johnson and Bart Doan. Mr. Zemek is the editor of Crossover Chronicles, covering the NBA. He is also Bloguin's lead tennis writer, covering the major tournaments. He contributes to other Bloguin sites, such as The AP Party.

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