SHERIDAN — The Sheridan College men’s basketball team watched with focused eyes and tense bodies as the National Junior College Athletic Association live streamed, for the first time, its selection show Monday morning.
The Generals looked on from inside the Bruce Hoffman Golden Dome as 24 teams learned their seeding for next week’s national tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas.
Sheridan did not hear its named called. The Generals sat squarely on the bubble entering Monday, and their bubble burst as they didn’t get rewarded with one of the eight at-large bids.
“… I feel like we got robbed a little bit,” Sheridan’s Channel Banks said.
The 24-team bracket consisted of 16 automatic qualifiers given to region champions and eight at-large bids given to the most deserving teams, in the committees’ eyes, that failed to win region titles.
The No. 16 Generals claimed the Region IX North regular-season title in a division that included No. 25 Gillette College. Region IX, as a whole, encompassed three ranked teams — No. 15 Otero Junior College from the South — and only one other conference in the nation boasted more than three ranked teams — Region XIII.
The committee stated that it takes into account strength of schedule, and the Generals beat both the Pronghorns and Rattlers during the regular-season to go alongside 26 other victories.
“I think a lot of it comes down to what the committee is looking for and you’re never really sure what that may be,” SC head coach Matt Hammer said. “I felt that the eight teams that got at-large bids were all deserving. There wasn’t one resume that was just completely less than ours.”
Western Nebraska — which eliminated Sheridan in the semifinals of the Region IX Tournament — received the automatic bid, while Otero joined seven other squads as an at-large. No. 2 Florida Southwestern State, No. 5 Trinity Valley, No. 6 Eastern Florida State, No. 7 Odessa, No. 9 Southern Idaho, No. 14 Hutchinson and No. 19 Barton all joined the Rattlers as at-large selections.
Barton was the only team with a worse overall ranking to Sheridan.
“I think (Barton’s) resume was pretty similar to ours,” Hammer said. “I feel like their league [Region VI] getting three bids isn’t really a surprise, but at the same time, you can’t take anything away from what those guys did; they had a tremendous year.”
Sheridan’s at-large hopes took a hit when teams like Odessa and Trinity Valley got upset by unranked teams in their respective region tournaments. That meant Regions V and XIV received a pair of tickets to the Big Dance as opposed to just one had chalk held in their region tournaments.
Hammer loses leading-scorer Banks, fellow starter Ladan Rickets and Kon Anguik to graduation, but many of the other main contributors will likely return to a squad looking to remedy Monday’s disappointment.
“Not only do we have a lot of talented kids coming back, but we got a lot of high-character kids coming back,” Hammer said. “That’s how you win championships. You have to have the talent, but you also need the right kids to do it. I feel we have a great group of guys coming back.
“But nothing is guaranteed. You look at the section show, and it really came down to Otero and us, and you’re not even mentioning Gillette College and Casper College — schools like that can turn it around and put together a tremendous roster year in and year out.”
Sheridan will have the target firmly attached to its back next season. The Generals will look to embrace the challenge of trying to repeat as regular-season champs and add to it a tournament title on their home floor — The Region IX North champions host the tournament in 2019.
Should Sheridan do so, that will make for a much less tense and most assuredly joyful selection show next year.