WEST LIBERTY, W.Va., Feb. 25, 2018 — With the eyes of the nation’s sports fans already turning toward March Madness, it’s no surprise to see the national spotlight shining on such traditional NCAA Division I heavyweights as Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Duke.
But in terms of winning basketball games in the decade of the 2010s, no men’s basketball program has done it better than NCAA Division II West Liberty University.
Over the last nine seasons, beginning with the 2009-10 campaign, the Hilltoppers have won more games (271), lost fewer games (27) and posted a higher winning percentage (271-27, .909) than any NCAA men’s basketball program at any level.
To put that in perspective, an NCAA Division II program that has never played more than 28 regular season games has still managed to average more than 30 wins a season for the past nine years.
Through Sunday’s games, West Liberty’s 271 wins rank No. 1 on the NCAA list for this decade, just ahead of Division I powers Kansas (270), Kentucky (269) Gonzaga (266) and Duke (262).
“That’s really something to see our university’s name up there on that list alongside all those great programs,” said Hilltopper head coach Ben Howlett.
“We have been blessed with some terrific student-athletes and hard-working coaches over the years but we couldn’t have had the success we’ve had without the outstanding support we’ve received from our administration and our fans. This is truly a team effort.”
There’s a much larger gap between West Liberty and the rest of the NCAA pack on the decade’s winning percentage leaderboard where the Hilltoppers are the only men’s program in the nation to win more than 9 of every 10 games over the past nine seasons (271-27, .909).
Perennial NCAA Division III power Whitworth, Wash. (227-33, .873) is second with another NCAA Divison II juggernaut, Lincoln Memorial, Tenn. (247-40, .861) in third. Gonzaga (266-51, .839) is the lone NCAA Division I program to crack the top five with NCAA Division II Bellarmine, Ky. (243-48, .835) holding down the fifth spot.
Howlett, who just finished leading WLU to a 25-2 regular-season record that included the eighth conference championship in the last nine years along with another national scoring title (100+ ppg.) and Top 10 national ranking, believes that one of the keys to his team’s success on the hardwood lies in his players’ success in the classroom.
This season’s leading scorer, Dan Monteroso, was one of only five first-team NCAA Division II Academic All-Americans a year ago. Shooting guard Evan French won the NCAA’s “Elite 90” Award at the 2016 Elite Eight as the student-athlete with the highest GPA at the national championship event. Monteroso and French each boast perfect 4.00 GPAs.
The Black and Gold have produced at least one NCAA Division II Academic All-American in each of the past five seasons and was the only Division II team in the region with multiple First-Team Academic All-District selections earlier this month.
“When we go out recruiting, we’re recruiting heart as much as we are talent,” he said. “I want guys who compete as hard as they can in everything they do, whether it’s basketball or biology. That drive to compete, that will to win, is what West Liberty basketball is all about.”
The results speak for themselves.
Howlett and his Hilltoppers will be gunning for their second straight Mountain East Conference Tournament championship later this week. After receiving a first-round bye as the No. 1 seed, West Liberty will play in Friday’s 6 p.m. quarterfinal at the Charleston (W.Va.) Civic Center.
NCAA MEN’S BASKETBALL
Decade Leaders (2010-18)
(Records Through Sunday, Feb. 25)
Team (Division) Wins
- WEST LIBERTY (II) 271
- Kansas (I) 270
- Kentucky (I) 269
- Gonzaga (I) 266
- Duke (I) 262
- Wichita State (I) 255
- Lincoln Memorial, Tenn. (II) 247
- Bellarmine, Ky. (II) 243
- Indiana, Pa. (II) 234
- Whitworth, Wash. (III) 227
Team (Division) W-L Pct.
- WEST LIBERTY (II) 271-27 .909
- Whitworth, Wash. (III) 227-33 .873
- Lincoln Memorial, Tenn. (II) 247-40 .861
- Gonzaga (I) 266-51 .839
- Bellarmine, Ky. (II) 243-48 .835
- Kansas (I) 270-54 .833
- Albertus Magnus, Conn. (III) 213-47 .819
- Indiana, Pa. (II) 234-52 .818
- St. Thomas, Minn. (III) 214-48 .817
- Wichita State (I) 255-58 .815
-Source: 2018 NCAA Record Book