It isn't the Big Dance, but Grambling State University and ULM's men's basketball teams are going March dancing, nonetheless. Both programs have accepted invitations to play in the Collegeinsider.com Tournament.
GRAMBLING is paired against the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley on Wednesday. Tipoff time is 7 p.m. at the UTRGV Fieldhouse in Edinburg, Texas.
Grambling (17-16) finished tied for third in the SWAC regular season standings. Coach Donté Jackson's Tigers defeated Arkansas Pine Bluff 59-52 in the quarterfinals of last week's SWAC Tournament before bowing to eventual tournament champion Prairie View A&M 81-71.
Key players for the G-Men are junior guard Ivy Smith (13.7 points per game, 4.5 assists) and junior forward Dallas Polk-Hillard (12.5 ppg, 5.4 rebounds).
As did Grambling, the Vaqueros split a pair of games in their conference tournament before losing to the eventual tourney champion. UTRGV downed Cal State Bakersfield 85-70 in the quarterfinals before falling to New Mexico State 79-72 in the semis.
Senior forward Terry Winn III (12.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg), junior forward Lesley Varner II (11.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and junior guard Tyson Smith (10.3 ppg) lead the Vaqueros.
Winn began his high school career at Ouachita, earning second team All-District 2-5A honors as a junior before transferring to Melrose (Texas) for his senior year.
Tyson Smith was named to the All-WAC Tournament team after scoring 19 points vs. CSU Bakersfield and 23 vs. New Mexico State.
Wednesday's game marks the Vaqueros' first postseason home game as a Division I program. UTRGV (formerly University of Texas Pan-American) made its last home playoff appearance in the 1965 NAIA district playoffs.
UTRGV holds a 4-1 lead over Grambling in the all-time series, but the visiting Tigers won last year's regular season meeting 82-76 behind 27 points from Ivy Smith.
ULM will open the tournament in the friendly confines of Fant-Ewing Coliseum against Kent State on Thursday at 7 p.m. Coach Keith Richard's Warhawks (18-15) have been extremely tough at home, averaging 85 points per game while compiling a 13-2 record.
This marks the Warhawks' third CIT appearance in four years.
ULM reached the Sun Belt Conference Tournament quarterfinals with wins over Appalachian State (89-80) and Coastal Carolina (80-50) prior to an 81-67 loss to Georgia Southern.
Averaging 78.4 points per game, the Warhawks have established a single-season school record by sinking 330 3-pointers.
Senior guard Daishon Smith (21.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.5 assists) heads up a quartet of Warhawks scoring in double figures. A Wichita State transfer, Smith earned first-team All-Sun Belt Conference and Newcomer of the Year honors. His 104 3-pointers rank second on the school's all-time single-season list behind Paul Marshall, who hit 115 treys in the 1995-96 campaign.
Other players to watch for the Warhawks include sophomore guard Michael Ertel (15.3 ppg, 76 3-pointers), senior forward Travis Munnings (14.6 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and junior guard JD Williams (12.3 ppg).
Kent (22-10) dropped an 89-81 decision to Central Michigan in the quarterfinals of the Mid-American Conference Tournament.
Senior guard Jaylin Walker, the MAC's leading scorer and 3-point marksman, is the Golden Flashes' catalyst. A first-team All-MAC selection, he is averaging 21.9 ppg with 90 3-pointers. Walker's 1,770 career points rank second in program history.
Like ULM, Kent has four players scoring in double figures. Complementing Walker are junior guard Antonio Williams (11.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg), senior guard Jalen Avery (11.1 ppg) and junior forward Philip Whittington (11.0, 3 assists).
PAIRINGS: Quinnipiac (16-14) visits New Jersey Institute of Technology (21-12) Monday in the tourney opener.
Tuesday's schedule has Cornell (15-15) at Robert Morris (17-16); Texas Southern (21-13) at New Orleans (19-13); and IUPUI (16-16) at Marshall (19-14).
In addition to the Grambling-UTRGV matchup, Wednesday's games include Presbyterian (18-15) at Seattle (18-14); and Green Bay (17-16) at East Tennessee (24-9).
Thursday's pairings have Florida Atlantic (17-15) at Charleston Southern (17-15); Saint Francis Brooklyn (17-15) at Hampton (16-17); CSU Bakersfield at Cal State Fullerton (16-17); and Kent State at ULM.
Rounding out the first-round pairings are Drake (24-9) at Southern Utah (16-16) on Friday, and Florida International (19-13) at Texas State (24-9) on Saturday.
The CIT does not operate under a set bracket. Second round pairings will be determined upon completion of the first round.