Busting Brackets

SWAC Basketball: Grambling State's journey from bottom feeder to their first NCAA tournament appearance

This season was special for Grambling State as they made their first NCAA Tournament. Let's take a look at how the Tigers rose to the top.

Mar 21, 2024; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Grambling State Tigers head coach Donte' Jackson speaks to the
Mar 21, 2024; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Grambling State Tigers head coach Donte' Jackson speaks to the / Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

Greetings to all, it's CWells your tour guide around the SWAC. When you say “Grambling State” most people will think football. And for good reason, the Tigers are known as the “Icon of Black College Football.” But as of right now, their basketball program is making a name for themselves. You can usually see programs rise and fall over a few years or even decades. Sports are funny that way, but to think about the past of Grambling State basketball, well that's no laughing matter. To appreciate where the Tigers are, we have to understand where they started. So sit back and enjoy the Tigers journey into the history books.

Like any story, it's best to start at the beginning. But for us the beginning will be 1978, the year they became Division 1. Throughout the early portions of their D1 history, the G-Men have had pockets of success. From 1978 to 1989 Grambling recorded 7 winning seasons. They also won SWAC regular season titles in 1987 and 1989. In that time span the Tigers had 3 opportunities to make the NCAA Tournament, losing in the final in 1980, 1986, and 1987. From 1990 to 2015, the teams ranged from mid to absolutely terrible. They went winless in the SWAC 3 times including the rare winless overall record in 2012 (0-18). After a 2-27 season in 2015, Grambling made a coaching change moving from Shawn Walker to Donte Jackson The hiring of Jackson is where our story becomes exciting. 

Donte Jackson was hired away from NAIA Stillman College, where he compiled a 66-21 record. No one expected much from this hire, especially since this Grambling program was probably the worst in the SWAC if not the nation. Coach Jackson immediately put the Tigers on an upswing, his first team (2016) won 16 games and finished 3rd in the SWAC. In 2017 Grambling won their first regular season championship since 1988-89, unfortunately, they would not get the opportunity to go to the big dance. The next four seasons saw the Tigers finish between 4th and 6th place. Coach Jackson and his squad had their first opportunity to get to the big dance in 2022-23.

But the final boss of the SWAC Tournament (8th-seeded Texas Southern) denied the Tigers a date with history. The Tigers entered the 2023-24 season having to replace some key contributors and they had to deal with a difficult non-conference schedule. Ultimately they would win the regular season championship for the second year in a row. After getting past their first two opponents in the SWAC tournament. Grambling got another shot at the final boss, this time they knocked them out and made history. Not only did they escape the never-drenched club, they also picked up their first NCAA tournament win over Montana State.

Next. Power ranking the Sweet 16 teams. Power ranking the Sweet 16 teams. dark

The future is bright for the Tigers. And as long as Coach Jackson is on the sidelines then I have no doubts of the future for this program. Winning and making history is fun, but the work is in maintaining your momentum. Coach Jackson will be a target for jobs in the future. I hope you enjoyed this look at Grambling State basketball. Even though the season is winding down, that doesn't mean our journey through the SWAC is over. Keep it locked here for more SWAC content. I'm your tour guide around the SWAC signing out make sure to exit the SWAC bus carefully.