Over the course of this season at Palestra Back, the Full 353 will cover every ounce of college basketball with one clear and stated goal:
We’re going to try to mention every single men’s Division I basketball team.
This is a lofty goal that I’m certain I will struggle to meet. If we don’t get there by March, we’ll scratch and claw as far as we can. In the end, no matter the final number, I hope that this effort brings you a deeper, more complete, and more enjoyable experience here at the blog. We’ll count along in (bold) to track our progress through the season.
The next month will be filled with discussion of teams who make the NCAA Tournament. But we still have lots of teams to cover that will not be dancing. So today (and again this weekend), let’s roll through all the power conference teams that will certainly NOT be reaching the promised land. Was this a one-year blunder or is the program in disarray?
(all stats and standings current through the games of Thursday, March 6)
Let’s ask a fun trivia question I stumbled into recently!
Can you name the five states that have one and only one Division I men’s college basketball team? Hint: all five schools are called “The University of (state)”.
Go ahead, I’ll give you a minute.
The first four correct answers have a lot in common. Maine (118), Vermont, Hawaii (119), and (currently surging) Wyoming are all home to a mid-major school in states with no major metropolitan areas, no pro sports teams, and little homegrown talent in the state.
The fifth single-school state, Minnesota, does not fit nicely in that box. The Gophers play in a power conference, have football money, and play in a real deal city (two cities, you might say). Within their conference, the Gophers are unique. Indiana and Purdue need to battle Notre Dame and Butler for recruits. Illinois has to contend with DePaul and Northwestern. Wisconsin sits up the road from Marquette. Penn State fights a two-front war with Pitt and the Philadelphia schools. The examples go on and on. Only Minnesota has the inherent, unchallenged home-state advantage.
Despite the lack of any in-state recruiting (or playing) competition, the Gophers program has been mediocre. Minnesota has made just six NCAA Tournament appearances this century and hasn’t escaped the tournament’s first weekend since 1997.
We no longer live in 1977, when there was an expectation that players aspired to play for their home state school, yet Minnesota’s inability to collect the state’s most talented players has been notable. Of the last 13 players named “Mr. Basketball” in the state, only four have chosen to attend Minnesota (with one of those four transferring away to Iowa State). In that same time period, three players named Mr. Basketball in Minnesota committed to Duke.
Brad Davison went to Wisconsin. Zeke Nnaji is at Arizona. McKinley Wright is a star at Colorado. Matthew Hurt, Tyus Jones, and Tre Jones all were wooed by Coach K.
At a certain point, you have to wonder how all of those names found their way out of Minnesota, especially while the Gophers have floundered. Eventually, after another missed tournament, you have to wonder if you have the right person running your program. John Beilein’s presence on the coaching market could make that decision even more clear.
The Hoyas had a group of players suspended, transfer, and injured all season. Expectations were not met because the team face adversity, some self-inflicted and some unfortunate circumstances.
It was a tough scene in Year 3 of the Patrick Ewing (coaching) era. The Hoyas were young, talented, and hungry. Next year, they’ll be less young and even more hungry. Ewing has yet to reach the Big Dance as coach at his alma mater. Georgetown hasn’t made the tournament since 2015 and hasn’t reached the second weekend of tourney play since 2007. Eventually, Ewing has to get some traction going or his fellow alums will start to question his work at the helm.
Mike Hopkins is bringing talent to Seattle. Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels are both one-and-done freshman who will be first round picks in June. Quade Green was a high level recruit at Kentucky before transferring to UDub.
It hasn’t meant wins for Washington. The Huskies lost 10 in a row in conference play and sit well beyond the bubble. A November win over Baylor now feels like ancient history.
If Hopkins can convince McDaniels and Stewart to stay on campus another year, he might be able to build something. If not, its back to square one.
Here’s a weird stat that I have problems with:
Syracuse ranks 353rd (dead last) in all of Division I in allowing assists. The Orange’s opponents assist on a higher percentage of their makes than any other defense in America. If you watch college basketball at all, you know that Syracuse’s defense is unique. Jim Boeheim exclusively plays 2-3 match-up zone.
Is there something about the zone that leads to assists? I’d argue that there isn’t. There is, however, less chance that teams will score via isolation or pick and roll versus the zone. Instead, simple ball movement often can lead to a shot opportunity. Are college basketball’s official scorers filing simple perimeter passes or post entry passes as assists? They shouldn’t be!
Notre Dame (123)
There’s a lot more to basketball than continuity. The best programs in the country bring in recruits, transfers, and redshirt players to fill holes and roles from departed contributors.
And yet, it does feel a bit weird that Notre Dame ranked 2nd in the nation in continuity (on a percentage of minutes basis, per KenPom) and isn’t even sniffing the Big Dance. It’s probably more notable that they did in fact see progress, improving from 3-15 in ACC games to 9-9 in conference, but are still well outside the bubble.
Dirty little secret: few power conference coaches schedule as many cupcakes as Mike Brey. Notre Dame hasn’t played a top 200 non-conference schedule since 2003!
This season, the Irish played the 348th ranked non-conference schedule per KenPom. Notre Dame played one non-conference road game, at Maryland, and was required to do so as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Notre Dame played one neutral court non-conference game, but that was a match-up with Indiana as part of the in-state Crossroads Classic. The Irish played one top 100 team at home in the non-conference (UCLA) and FIVE bottom 100 teams (Howard, Presbyterian, Fairleigh Dickinson, Detroit, and Alabama A&M, 124-127). Yuck!
Had they not scheduled such a weak early slate, this team might be on the bubble.
Let’s talk coaching carousel for a minute!
In 2016, OSU hired Brad Underwood from Stephen F. Austin as head coach. The Cowboys had the top offense in the nation and earned a seven seed in the NCAA Tournament. After that successful season, Underwood left Oklahoma State after just one year. Illinois (128) swooped in, tripled his salary and gave him just as good a chance to win.
Now Underwood has built something at Illinois and Oklahoma State hasn’t gone .500 in conference or even made the NIT. The program has floundered because Oklahoma State underpaid a coach and then, when he was swept away, they simply promoted his assistant, in his first ever head coaching job. Mike Boynton might be a good coach, but it appears he was not ready to take over a Big XII program before his 40th birthday.
In the 22 years since Rick Barnes became the head coach at Texas, he’s missed the NCAA Tournament just four times, with this year soon to become the fifth. In a re-group season just one year after what may have been the best team in school history, that’s acceptable. Barnes knew Admiral Schofield would graduate and probably guessed that Grant Williams would head to the NBA. The Vols season swung when Jordan Bone dominated the athletic testing at the NBA Draft Combine and chose to go pro. He was drafted in the late second round and left Tennessee without its three highest usage players from last season.
Going over .500 in SEC play with the least continuity in the conference? Not too shabby.
St. John’s (130)
Speaking of weird coaching hires….hello, St. John’s.
Mike Anderson went to six NCAA Tournaments in his 13 seasons at Arkansas and Missouri. He has reached the tournament’s second weekend just twice in his career. He did not make a Sweet Sixteen at Arkansas, nor all of last decade.
So why did St. John’s hire a guy who is allergic to the Sweet Sixteen who has no attachment to the school, the city of New York, the Northeast corridor, or the Big East?
I don’t know. There’s no reason to believe things are going to get better at St. John’s.
Georgia Tech (131)
The Yellow Jackets are fun. They are young and they play defense. Only one of Georgia Tech’s rotation players will graduate. Next year could be Tech’s first tournament since 2010.
The Cyclones became irrelevant when Tyrese Haliburton suffered a season-ending injury. He would have made Iowa State a lot more competitive in Big XII play and a lot more fun. The lanky guard was one of college basketball’s most cerebral players, operating offensively a step ahead of opposing defenses. His abilities to guard multiple positions, shoot from the outside, and create with the ball in his hands will make him a lottery pick this June. As many of the other top prospects have shown flaws of late, it’s a shame Haliburton hasn’t been around to take advantage and rise up draft boards. By June, he might be an afterthought and a bona fide sleeper. My advice: don’t sleep on Haliburton. He has a chance to be the best pro in the entire 2020 class.
I’ve written a ton about this team. I loved them! 12-1 DePaul fueled my heart.
The Blue Demons’ offense sputtered once it began to face Big East defenses. Dave Leitao struggled to find a consistent scoring option without a true score-first option on his roster. DePaul has a lot of nice players who do interesting things. None of them get buckets. Leitao couldn’t manufacture scoring or find a way to elevate DePaul’s defense from merely good to the elite level it needed to be to keep the Demons competitive. He’s gone .500 just once in five years in his second stint at DePaul. Is there an obvious candidate to replace Leitao should the administration choose to do so? Would Porter Moser leave Loyola (Chicago) for a chance to coach in the Big East without even needing to move? It’s worth asking.
It’s been a semi-forgettable season for the Horned Frogs. A home win over highly ranked Baylor was impressive, but without the rest of a resume to reach the NCAA Tournament, it’s mostly just a fun memory.
On the plus side, it may be time to start thinking about Desmond Bane as a draftable NBA prospect. He’s increased his scoring average all four years in Fort Worth and is a 43 percent 3-point shooter in college, on more than 500 attempts. He’s a 6-foot-5 swingman who can guard multiple positions. Sure, he’s already 22 years old, but he’s shown improvement year-by-year. Even if Bane is not a game-changer at the next level, I think he can find a role and contribute. He’s a winning player and worth a 2nd round selection.
The Beavers are one of the few teams about which I have a very, very limited amount of knowledge and it’s the exact same thing I knew about them in November. Oregon State is led by Tres Tinkle, son of head coach Wayne Tinkle. Tres is a very good player and will be missed after leaving Corvallis after this season. We have now exhausted by knowledge about Oregon State basketball. I’m sorry! It’s March and we’re trying to hit every team. Tres Tinkle!
We’ve already covered the Tar Heels. Just the rare once-in-a-quarter-century disaster season that each blue blood program finds once in a (Carolina) blue moon.
FINAL TALLY: 16
SEASON TO DATE: 132
We’ve hit a third of Division I. March requires another level. There are 16 more power conference schools that won’t make the tournament. Let’s hit them this weekend before the tournament rolls around. I can smell the halfway mark.
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and senior writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to ESPN.com, Rush The Court, Larry Brown Sports, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. You can find every post from this blog on Twitter by following @PalestraBack.