Just when you thought NJIT beating Michigan, 72-70, in Ann Arbor last Saturday was embarrassing enough for the Big Ten, Incarnate Word beat Nebraska, 74-73, in Lincoln just three days later.
“It always feels better when the right team wins,” Incarnate Word head coach Ken Burmeister joked on The MoJo Show. “(It) was a great crowd. We got behind, then we got up by one at the half, then got behind and then it came right down to the wire and Kyle Hittle hit the game-winning shot. Our players were excited and happy and so were the coaches.”
Hittle finished with 18 points on 5-of-7 shooting. He was one of five Incarnate Word players to reach double figures, along with Jontrell Walker (19 points), Shawn Johnson (13), Denzel Livingston (12) and Traylin Farris (12).
In fact, those were the only Cardinals players who scored, period.
Even more stunning? Incarnate Word, a school of roughly 8,000 students, just moved from Division II to Division I.
“We want our university to be branded through Division I athletics,” Burmeister said. “We’re trying to play a Big Ten team every year for exposure because they have great TV exposure with the Big Ten Network and ESPN.”
Incarnate Word plays Oklahoma and Purdue next year and Michigan State the year after.
“We’re trying to build our program for the university,” Burmeister said. “Hopefully we can get enough wins where I can continue on.”
Incarnate Word, located in San Antonio, is in the midst of its second year in the Division I. It is not eligible to play in the NIT or NCAA until 2018.
“That’s the NCAA rule,” said Burmeister, who previously coached at Trinity and Loyola (Illinois) and was an assistant at DePaul, Iowa and Arizona. “They put a death penalty on anybody who wants to be Division I. It’s hard to figure out.”
The NCAA gives schools four years to complete the transition to Division I, which involves getting the right compliance, the right administrators and the right funding.
“It makes it really difficult,” Burmeister said. “Now, as we’re getting closer to qualify for the tournament, then it gets easier recruiting. The one good thing is we can quality for the CIT, so we still can go to a postseason tournament. That’s one of the reasons we want to play a hard schedule so the young men have the experience. Once we get to the tournament, these are the teams you got to play, so we’re making a long-term investment. But the short term is really kind of tough on the coaches, I’ll tell you that.”
Burmeister, 67, does everything he can to sell recruits on Incarnate Word. He even touts the school’s nursing and fashion schools.
“It makes it nice to recruit because those are all female-type majors,” Burmeister said. “Believe me, we sell that. We have one rule: You have to date a good-looking girl, and she’s got to pay for the date.”