Monday, September 26, 2016

2016/17 Men's Basketball Schedule

Unquestionably, the 2016/17 men's basketball season is the most anticipated at UT Arlington ever, at least by me since I became a student in 2000. You may have to go all the way back to the very early 1980's to find some similar anticipation. Back then, the Southland Conference was one of the best non-major conferences, repeatedly sending teams into later rounds of the NCAA tournament. From 1979-1985, an SLC team won at least one game in the end-of-year tourney except in 1982.

Once the SLC split after UTA dropped their football program, losing Lamar and Louisiana Tech primarily, the conference's basketball stature dropped tremendously. In that seven-year time frame above, SLC teams won eight NCAA tournament games. In the 28 years since, the conference won a total five games. Two have been from Stephen F. Austin St in the last three years and two were the 16-seed vs. 16-seed for the righ to be slaughtered by a 1 seed.

So UTA started winning games in the SLC, but I'm still not convinced it has everything to do with the dropping of football and the allocation of more resources for the basketball team. That certainly is a factor, but the decline in the level of talent from the conference as a whole has at least just as much a say if not more.

I've been convinced the 1980/1981 UTA team that received an at-large berth into the National Invitational Tournament has been the most talented team UTA has ever fielded, beating the 1990-91 team that went 20-9, the NCAA tournament team of 2007-08 that went 21-12 and even the 2011-12 team that won a school record 24 games en route to their first outright SLC championship.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

UTA FB History: Vol. 4 Gm. 4 - Starting Four-Year Strong

We introduce our last season of the year today as the 1960 Arlington State Rebels make the first appearance in this series.

Coming off a 4-3 record in 1959, the first as a four-year school (or three-year if you asked Coach "Chena" Gilstrap), 1960 was supposed to be a successful year for many reasons.

The most unique was the fact that just about everyone was back. It's a very rare situation, one that happens so infrequently that is practically unheard of in common circles, but when a school goes from the junior college ranks to a four-year school, they are virtually no seniors. Most juco players qualify as a freshman or sophomore, so at most they would have been seniors in 1960. What few seniors were on the team in 1959 were likely transfer walk-ons with little impact on the team's performance. That doesn't mean they aren't competitive players, but they are generally considered bonuses when they perform well and don't factor into recruiting plans if your coach is a good recruiter. By all accounts, coach Gilstrap was.

Another thing that is unique for Juco-to-Uni move-ups is the fact that the talent should be increasing just by regular recruiting. Case in point was quarterback Amos North, who was the primary signal caller in 1959. He would share duties with freshman QB Doug Wilson and Wilson would actually finish as the teams leading passer.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

2016 Sun Belt Volleyball Conference Predictions

The Sun Belt Conference begins the 2016 conference portion of the schedule this Friday. Consistent followers of this blog know I like to give my predictions for the conference finish after the normal non-conference schedule has concluded and prior to the start of conference play.

We've got a new format this year as the addition of Coastal Carolina allows the SBC to split into divisional play. Only problems I have with that are the unbalanced home vs. road games in a 16-match schedule and how do you adequately determine the true champion? UTA will play four cross-divisional road matches but play only two home matches. Playing uneven road and home matches also can effect the division standings as a team that hosts a preseason favorite will have a slight advantage over a team that plays them on the road.

Anyway, before I get into the breakdown, here's how the coaches foresaw the end result of 2016.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

UTA FB History, Vol. 4, Gm 3 - Ending Mediocrity

I had a bit of a hesitation in picking today's game for This Day in UTA Football History. I felt there were really two options. The first was to revisit the 1977 season. Last week's entry was the 1983 opener, a loss to Western Michigan. On this day in 1977, UTA traveled to Kalamazoo, Michigan and defeated Western Michigan 17-10. I did like the idea of back-to-back entries against the same non-conference team, especially with one win and one loss. UTA also has an all-time series record of 2-2 against the Broncos. With Western Michigan being a good Mid-American Conference team with an all-time winning record, that is further proof that UTA scheduled over their heads, which in turned suppressed fan support due to the impending losses.

Instead, I'll go with another season opener and introduce you to the 1966 team. 1966 is an interesting case study. As a whole, Arlington State College excelled in the junior college ranks in all sports. UTA won two Junior Rose Bowls in the 1950's, including at least one national championship. Men's basketball had a winning record over 60%. The track teams won conference championships. The various other sports were quite competitive.

But once the SLC started play in 1963-64, the teams just weren't competitive. There were four other teams competing for conference championships in football, basketball, tennis, golf and track. Trinity did not compete in cross country and Arlington State did not field an SLC baseball team until 1969.

The best basketball did in that time frame was a fourth place finish in 1963-64. Tennis had a tie for second in '64-65. Golf was 2nd in '65-66. The cross country teams finished last at every SLC meet and track had a 3rd and two 4ths. In total, UTA was the only school to not get a championship in the burgeoning conference entering the 1966-67 athletic season. They did have a combined four last place finishes and four second-to-last placings. In short, of the sixteen possible conference championship finishes, UTA was in the bottom two half the time. Combined with only three second place finishes, (two were a tie), UTA was easily the worst athletic program in the SLC.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Volleyball Out of the Gate

Fall is a lonely time at UT Arlington as far as sports go. Without a bevy of team sports like most schools have (UTA is the only school with one team sport in the fall), it puts a lot of pressure on volleyball to be an outlet for the school.

And it makes losing all the more noticeable.

There was a time when UTA was a dominant national power, appearing in the top 25 consistently in the 1980's. The regional representative in the NCAA tournament was either going to be the Mavericks or the team from UT-Austin. It was clear who the top University in the DFW region was, as neither TCU, SMU nor North Texas were on par with what the Mavericks were doing.

A brief period of mediocrity in the mid-1990's was followed by a resuscitation of the program as the UTA volleyball made its seventh and eighth appearances in the NCAA tournament in 2001 and '02 (to go with four AIAW national tournament appearances and one National Invitational).

Since then, it has been nothing. In the 13 completed seasons since then, the Mavericks have won zero conference championships, zero conference tournaments, appeared in only two conference tournament championship matches and had five losing seasons. The days of UTA volleyball being an elite program seem far from over, and that just gets exacerbated by starts like the 2016 team is having.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

UTA Football Vol. 4 Game 2: The Last of the Beginnings

Today's entry looking back at the UT Arlington football team will be our first look into the 1983 season, its season opener. Harold "Bud" Elliott was entering his tenth season at the helm of the Mavericks. He was the dean of the Southland Conference at the time, having coached longer than any other SLC head coach entering the year. Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, it would also be his last at UTA.

That hidden fact is what gives this game the most meaning. Today's entry is the last season opener for Coach Elliott. He was entering the season in the last year of his final contract. After winning the SLC crown in 1981, he was given a two-year extension, pretty standard for UTA at the time. But it wasn't a unanimous decision. He had two winning seasons out of eight and there was some acrimony over whether he had the ability to lead the program to further heights.

There was going to be increased expectations after 1981. UTA had recently been forced to drop to the now six-year old Division 1-AA (called FCS today) for the 1982 season. The drop was both a blessing and a curse. UTA as a department was in over its head at that point in its final year at the highest level. In chasing the dream to stay in Division 1-A (FBS), UTA had to do a lot, most of it just beyond its grasp.

At the time, the NCAA required team in 1-A to do one of two things.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

UTA FB History Vol. 4, Game 1: More of the Same

The Maverick Rambler is really looking forward to this years slate of games as I renew the This Day in UTA Football History series. Some really notable milestone seasons are coming up. But today, we visit the only game played on September 3rd, back in the 1977 season.

Despite the futility of the 1970's, UTA football was actually exciting and competitive during this time in the later half of the decade. Bud Elliott had brought an air of optimism to Mavericks everywhere. He began his coaching tenure in 1974 (that season was covered in this series in 2013). UTA hadn't had a winning record since 1968 and hadn't outscored their opponents for a whole season since 1969. In 1974, Elliott's team went 1-10 and were outscored 112-332. In '75, UTA improved to 4-7 and were outscored 213-286.

Then came '76, a memorable year for a few reasons. UTA finished 5-6, the second year in a row for improvement. For the first time in six seasons, UTA's offense scored more than their defense allowed, 250-239, a narrow margin certainly, but much better than what UTA faithful were accustomed to seeing. A 14-13 home loss in snowy, deary conditions to Arkansas State prevented UTA from receiving an Independence Bowl bid.

Think about that last sentence for a minute. 0-10 in 1970, 2-9 in 1971, 5-6 in 1972, 4-6 in 1973, 1-10 in 1974 and 4-7 in 1975. A combined 12-48 the previous six seasons and yet, here was a team two points away from a bowl bid. It was a shot in the arm for a program that desperately needed one. Of course, the team was frustrated by not getting there, but eventually, time healed and the progress was evident.