NEWARK — Martin Ingelsby has spent almost his entire life being involved in some form of March Madness.
So being on the outside looking in is a little strange for the first-year Delaware men’s basketball coach.
“There was a little withdrawal watching the (NCAA) selection show,” admitted the former Notre Dame assistant coach and player.
But, if they can’t be part of the NCAA or NIT tournaments, Ingelsby certainly wants the Blue Hens wishing they were.
“I’ve kind of talked to our guys about, ‘I know we’re not a part of it this year, but that’s what we aspire for,’” said Ingelsby. “That’s our goal, to be able to see our name announced on Selection Sunday.
“I want those guys to experience it. There’s nothing better than the selection show. It’s like Christmas morning for college basketball players and coaches. There’d be nothing better than to see our name pop up on the screen.”
It’s only been three years since the Hens made the program’s fifth appearance in the NCAAs.
On the other hand, they’ve had three losing seasons since then.
Still, Delaware had four more Division I victories than it did last year. And it won a Colonial Athletic Association Tournament game for the first time since ‘14 when it downed Hofstra, 81-76, in a first-round game.
In trying to build some momentum, Ingelsby thought that was a big step.
“That was a huge day for us,” he said. “You feel like you’re a part of the tournament, you advance to Saturday. You could enjoy that victory for a little bit after the game.”
Delaware also played a competitive quarterfinal game with eventual-CAA champion UNC-Wilmington before losing, 91-82. The Seahawks were given a 12th seed in their NCAA region and will face fifth-seeded Virginia on Thursday.
Of course, part of the reason that the Hens’ season seemed fairly successful is that the off-season expectations were so low.
Ingelsby wasn’t hired until May. Ranked as low as 311 (out of 351 Division I programs in the RPI ratings), the Hens went as high as 86th before finishing at 236.
The former Notre Dame point guard knows that new coaches are given a free pass for only so long.
“It’s been a whirlwind, no doubt about it,” he said. “I think I’ve learned so much about being a head coach and being a decision-maker and a communicator.
“We are excited and happy about how we finished and the momentum we have going into next season. But I would be a fool if I thought we’d be happy being 13-20. I didn’t come here to be under .500 or even have a record like that. We want to be in position to compete for championships and advance in the postseason. That’s our ultimate goal.”
At some point, Delaware’s future success will be about the level of talent it can put on the court.
The good news for the Hens is that all five of its end-of-the-year starters were underclassmen. That group is led by CAA Rookie of the Year Ryan Daly.
Ingelsby has already signed three high school recruits in 6-2 guard Ryan Allen (DeMatha CatholiC), 6-5 guard Kevin Anderson (St. John Neumann. Pa.) and 6-5 wing Chyree Walker (Bullis School, Md.). St. Bonaventure transfer Derrick Woods, a 6-foot-8, 225-pound sophomore forward, will also be eligible next winter after practicing with the Hens this season.
With at least one more scholarship to give out, Ingelsby is looking for a veteran transfer — maybe a fifth-year senior — who can lend Delaware some experience right away.
“I think we need one more piece next year,” he said. “I love the nucleus and I like the talent that’s coming. I feel we will be better than we were last year. And if we can add one more piece. …
“I would like to add an older guy, to be honest with you. Let’s try to get a little more experience, maturity that can kind of be a leader for us. We do have some young, talented guys but there’s a learning curve with freshmen.”
Delaware already knows it will face one huge challenge next season.
Former Blue Hen coach Mike Brey is going to bring his Notre Dame squad to Newark for a game on a date yet to be decided.
Ingelsby hopes that’s the kind of thing that motivates his players in the off-season. Of course, in Division I college athletics, there really isn’t much of an off-season anymore.
Delaware’s players will soon be back in the weight room and then working on skills.
Ingelsby plans on putting up a sign in the locker room that reads, ‘Don’t come back until you’ve gotten better.’
“This is where our team has to get better, individually and collectively — just get in the gym and help guys improve as basketball players,” he said. “That’s kind of what I’m really excited about.”
Reach sports editor Andy Walter at email@example.com