In 1969, the 11th and most recent time Seattle University reached the NCAA tournament, it was one of nine independent schools in a 34-team bracket. There were 24 automatic bids, and only in very rare circumstances was a league's second-place team invited. So the 19-7 Chieftains played for the national title, and cross-state Pac-8 affiliate Washington State (an 18-8 team with two league losses to UCLA) didn't. Things were different back then. It was almost better not to have a conference affiliation at all, especially if you were stuck behind the Bruin dynasty.
In 2010, an independent would have to go undefeated like Boise State football to make the Big Dance. Nowadays, there are bubble debates, selection shows, and space phones built by Robots that "tweet" game scores--whatever that means. The SuperSonics, the professional franchise that split local interest, is gone. The Sea-Tac aerospace industry, whose collapse was blamed on the university's dwindling enrollment in the late 1970s, is back. Now returning as the Redhawks, Seattle U. is back in Division I after nearly three decades away due to a voluntarily downgraded athletic program. It's trapped inside a world it never made. It's like all those movies: one minute you're slinging health food, and the next thing you know you're trying to steal a nose to stop the Aires Project.
Seattle is in its third year as a transitional D-I program, and will be eligible to return to the NCAA tournament again for the first time in 2013. It's been an interesting ride. In the program's D-I exploratory season of 2008-09, the Redhawks beat Cal State Bakersfield 78-54 on February 16, which was the largest margin of victory for a D-II school over a homestanding D-I in 15 years. (Seattle made it a point to run up the score, tallying 13 points in the final minute.)
Head coach Joe Callero left for Cal Poly the summer before Seattle became an official RPI counter, and in came former Washington assistant Cameron Dollar. In 2009-10, Seattle U. produced the national leader in points per 40 minutes (28.8) in Charles Garcia, won eight of their last nine to rally towards a 17-14 winning record (a rarity for an independent, especially one that plays 17 road games), and beat Oregon State 99-48 in Corvallis on January 6. On that night the veracity of the score-tweeting Robots was second-guessed--a lot.
The Redhawks made their interestingness statement early this year, playing the first 100-possession regulation game of the 2010-11 season--on the very first night. On Monday in College Park, Seattle pulled 76 points out of 101 possessions in 40 minutes (0.74 ppp), and lost to Maryland 105-76 because they shot 28-for-77 from the floor. Considering that there were only three 100-possession regulation games among the 5,775 played last year, that is definitely "of note."
at Seton Hall 134, Virginia Military Institute 107 12/12/2009 100
at Tennessee 99, North Carolina A&T 78 12/23/2009 100
at Washington 123, Seattle 76 1/26/2010 106
There are some very specific ingredients of a 100-possession game: a rewired core belief that the shot clock expires at 28, hard pressure defense, and pure kamikaze nuttiness. The Redhawks forced 29 turnovers and took 15 more shots than the Terrapins did. Those kind of numbers recall the recent efforts of another DelMarVa team, one that appears on the above list.
Virginia Military Institute has finished either first or second in possessions per 40 minutes in each of the last four seasons, breaking numerous NCAA records along the way. The Keydets reached two Big South title games, but fell to 10-19 last year (5-13 Big South). VMI is a military college with rigid admissions and a strict cadet code, and when Duggar Baucom's system works well, it's because of a very military sum-of-parts gestalt.
But the Redhawks, the second-fastest team in the country last season at 81.2 possessions per 40, seem to have taken the concept and applied an evolution: secondary recruiting. Garcia was originally a Washington signee during Dollar's days there, but fell to the Redhawks as a partial qualifier. He's playing pro ball in Turkey now, just like Allen Iverson. Freshman Mark McLaughlin was a Baylor Bear for a few minutes. Clarence Trent, an incoming sophomore forward who will be eligible next season, was also a Husky. Dollar has hardly anything to offer these players. No NCAA tournament, no nationwide media coverage, and very few home games at KeyArena, where the green and gold ghosts roam. Just the chance to run until their eyes pop out, and to put up a lot of weird stats.
Karma is too vague and relative a concept to be measured with tempo-free tools. But the upper corner of the Pacific Northwest has been blessed with some fantastic and intriguing hoops ever since the Sonics left. There's U-Dub's Sweet 16 appearance, of course, and the 2010 WNBA championship won by Sue Bird, Lauren Jackson and the rest of the lovely, talented butt-kickers of the Storm. Seattle U.'s next NCAA shot is years away, and it may come as part of a reconstituted WAC, or even out of the West Coast Conference, where the school once spent a few years in the 1970s. But the city should keep a place in its heart for the Redhawks... and so too should those of us far-flung folks who live the tempo-free lifestyle.
Kyle Whelliston is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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