Ranking the Worst Seasons in Division I History
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At 0–27, Grambling State need only lose its opening game in the SWAC tournament on March 13th to become just the eighth team in Division I college hoops history to endure a winless season. How does the Tigers' 0-fer compare to its seven predecessors in winless infamy? We rank them from "best" to worst.
William & Mary’s hoops history is not a particularly proud one. The Tribe are just one of five original Division I teams in history to have never made the Big Dance. Oddly enough, W&M’s low point as a program took place two years before the advent of the NCAA tournament in 1939.
The Tribe, in its inaugural season in the Southern Conference, endured an 0–18 season. William & Mary had its share of close calls — including a three-point loss to Virginia that today’s Tribe teams would be absolutely ecstatic about — but also suffered some lopsided losses and never managed more than 39 points in a single game.
Believe it or not, the Big Green are two-time national runners-up, having lost in the NCAA title game to Stanford in 1942 and Utah in ’44. But a number of years before, Dartmouth was on the completely opposite end of the college basketball spectrum.
The Big Green’s 0–26 record during the 1917–1918 season set a standard of futility that wouldn’t be matched for over 70 years. While nine of its losses were by fewer than 10 points, Dartmouth also endured its share of blowouts — including a pair of huge losses (54–14 and 44–5) to Ivy League rival Cornell.
Mercifully, things would soon get better in Hanover, NH. Starting in 1920–1921, Dartmouth would enjoy 24 straight winning seasons.
Before Grambling, there was another team of Tigers that elicited cries of “Oh my!” for their failure to win a game.
Of Savannah State’s 28 losses during the 2004–2005 campaign, only four of them came by single digits. One of which was the final game of the season, a painful loss to Florida A&M in which the Tigers were tied 41-all with under two minutes left — only to drop a 49–44 decision and go 0-fer the season.
“It doesn’t feel like we lost 28 games this season,” then-SSU senior guard Sherard Reddick said afterward. “I guess God is testing us.”
Indeed, what didn’t kill the Savannah State basketball program has made it stronger. Under coach Horace Broadnax, who was hired almost immediately after the winless season, the Tigers won 21 games a year ago and are 17-12 in 2012–2013.
In their record books, the Military College of South Carolina counts an 86–80 victory over Jacksonville Naval Air Station as their lone win of the season. But according to the NCAA, the Bulldogs were in fact winless.
A close 26–24 loss to Furman represented the best the Bulldogs could do on the season — as well as the only game in which defense interested them. They surrendered an average of 87.4 PPG while only scoring 61.4 PPG. It got particularly bad in a 125–54 loss on December 11, 1954 — to a “powerhouse” team put forth by the Parris Island Marines.
Talk about laying down one’s arms.
For nearly two full years, the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s “Highlanders” nickname was hilariously antithetical of their fortunes on the hardwood.
The school — whose athletics teams moved from Division II to DI in 2006 — lost a Division I-record 51 straight basketball games between February 2007 and February 2009. Most of those losses came during a 2007–2008 campaign when the Highlanders set another Division I record, for defeats in a winless season (29). NJIT’s closest loss on the year? Nine points, which they “accomplished” twice.
Like Broadnax at Savannah State, coach Jim Engles took a “nowhere to go but up approach” when he was hired prior to the following season. First things first, he ended the losing streak. Now he not only has them above .500 but also leading the five-team Great West Conference at 6-1 (16-11 overall).
Due to penalties stemming from the program’s struggles with its collective APR score, Grambling's roster this season consists of eight scholarship players and seven “walk-ons from the intramural program,” as AD Percy Caldwell told Deadspin in January. Just imagine trying to beat any DI opponent when half your roster is made up players not recruited to play basketball.
It’s hard to do, as the Tigers have proven in an ugly manner. The Tigers hold the dubious distinction of being the only DI team to average fewer than 50 PPG (49.6) this year. Their opponents, meanwhile, average 77.6 PPG.
Translation: Grambling lost games by an average margin of 28 points. That's a mind-boggling number in this era of parity in college hoops. Not a single one of its losses was by fewer than 10 points. For a school that produced future NBA pros Willis Reed and Charles Hardnett and has a legendary football program, these are dark days.
When Deadspin raised the question of whether this year’s Grambling team was the worst of all time, stats guru Ken Pomeroy held up the Panthers’ 1991–1992 squad as the gold standard of ineptitude.
Prairie View’s team that year was not nearly the brick show that Grambling is in 2012–2013, as the Panthers averaged 64.5 PPG. Alas, a lineup consisting of “wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube men” could have defended the hoop better than the Panthers, who surrendered 99.0 PPG to their opponents — 16 of whom exceeded 100 points. Like Grambling this year, Prairie View didn’t lose a single game by less than 10 points.
The Panthers hoopsters can be grateful that their ineptitude on the hardwood was far exceeded (and thus overshadowed) by their counterparts on the school’s football team, who were just getting started on an NCAA-record 80-game losing streak.
While Baylor basketball has excelled under head coach Scott Drew, the Bears had many lean years before he arrived in Waco. Case in point: The 1944–1945 squad that went 0-17.
Some of the Bears’ losses that season were staggering, like two defeats by over 60 points each to Arkansas and scoring a measly 16 points in the season-opening loss to Oklahoma State, 63-16. Baylor's average margin of defeat (33.6 PPG) was greater than the number of points it averaged per game (28.1 PPG).
To be fair, a lot of potential players were serving in World War II at the time. And on the plus side, coach Bill Henderson led the Bears to 25 wins and their first NCAA tournament appearance during the 1945–1946 campaign and a spot in the national title game in 1948 - just three years removed from the worst college basketball season in Division I history.
So cheer up Grambling State, it gets better.
Posted: March 4, 2013