It's hard to explain cycles in college basketball. One day your a national power and in the blink of an eye a program can fall on hard times. I came up with a list of college basketball programs that should be doing a lot better than what they're current national standing is. I know that facilities and donors play a role, but I look at it from a pure wins and losses standpoint along with location and a little tradition. These five programs should have a better national standing than being afterthoughts.
1. DePaul Blue Demons- The Blue Demons were an Independent power in the 1970s and 80s under legendary coach Ray Meyer. The names Mark Aguirre, Skip Dillard, Dallas Comegys, Terry Cummings and Tyrone Corbin are glorious names from the past. The train kept rolling under his son Joey but you could tell that things were getting a little shaky under his leadership. With the emergence of Illinois in the mid 80s the program took a hit lot of good Chicago players heading to Champaign. Which leads me to this...How can you not be a good program with all the Chicago talent? The last coach to really tap into the wealth of Chicago talent was Pat Kennedy when he lured Bobby Simmons, Lance Williams, Quentin Richardson to Depaul.
No coach has had any sustained success since the Meyer's roamed the sidelines. Current coach Oliver Purnell is slowly getting things headed in the right direction and with a Big East that has less teams in the conference the Blue Demons might be competitive. Losses to Southern Miss, Arizona State, Texas and Wichita State show that the Demons still are pretty far from sitting at the big boy table. Losses to ASU, Texas and Wichita State were double digit losses.
There is no excuse for DePaul to be so noncompetitive and not get the top talent in the city. Purnell needs to straighten things out before the fans and administration figure that they've seen enough and fire him. They have lost five straight NCAA Tournament games and have won only two NCAA Tournament games since 1987.
2. Seton Hall Pirates- In the late 80s P.J. Carlesimo turned Seton Hall into a tough minded winning crew. He led the Pirates to the 1989 national title game and six NCAA tournament appearances, with a Sweet 16 and Elite 8 thrown in. Along the way he started reeling in top recruits to South Orange, New Jersey, not the easiest place to get a player to come to. Then after the 1994 season Carlesimo left for the NBA and things haven't been the same since.
Assistant George Blaney took over at the helm and he managed one NIT appearance. Enter Tommy Amaker who led the team to three NIT berths and a Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. He brought in some top flight talent but the team never meshed well. He ended up leaving for Michigan. Louis Orr or Bobby Gonzalez couldn't bring the Pirates enough consistency in the win column to justify keeping them on board.
Kevin Willard now has he task of trying to make the Seton Hall nationally relevant again. He has a current record of 49-49 entering this season. Not the kind of consistency Pirates brass was looking for.
I know times are different but why won't the top New Jersey/New York high school players consider Seton Hall. The Pirates do have a strong class next season headlined by shooting guard Isaiah Whitehead. Whether that will be enough to change the programs or Willard's fortunes remains to be seen. But the program has seen recent success in spurts so that's why they land on this list.
3. USC Trojans- When you think of USC you think of football and Tailback U. Basketball has become an afterthought a USC, until you start losing with regularity, which gets you fired. Why this program has never had any sustained success in beyond me. Never having their own arena and playing in the dark L.A. Sports Arena didn't help.
They're in sunny Southern California (Los Angeles), play in a major media market and have an abundance of top flight basketball talent. Talent that seemingly winds up across town at UCLA. Why can't the same talent wind up at USC? Not being a consistent winner doesn't help your cause when the school across town is racking up national titles and playing in high profile games.
The Trojans have made the big dance,most recently 2007-2009, and have had NBA caliber players (Taj Gibson, O.J. Mayo, Gabe Pruitt, DeMar DeRozan) on their roster before, but it's always been a one or two year run for this team before it heads back to the bottom of the Pac-12 standings.
New coach Andy Enfield was a splash hire and won the press conference with UCLA (hired Steve Alford), and Enfield hired super recruiters Tony Bland and Jason Hart to mine L.A.'s best talent.
Enfield prefers an uptempo attack and that will catch a player's eye. Whether he gets the talent and wins big is a different story. Things might be looking up for the Trojans but not this year.
4. Arizona State Sun Devils- Long hailed as a "sleeping giant" this program has never been awoke long enough to be a consistent winner. When you go down the line of coaches that have been in Tempe, you realize that the program has won games, but not enough to become a threat to in state rival Arizona.
Back in 1989 many thought "stealing" Bill Frieder from Michigan would finally get the program on its feet. he won games and attracted talent, just not enough to be a big winner like Lute Olson. They've had NBA talent like James Harden, they have a beautiful campus and some lovely coeds. That hasn't been enough to get players to the valley of the sun. The Sun Devils best moments came in the early 80s with Byron Scott, Fat Lever and Alton Lister playing and Ned Wulk stalking the sidelines.
Current coach Herb Sendek is on the hot seat and probably needs to get the Devils back to the NCAA Tournament to save his job. With point guard Jahii Carson on board, Sendek has scrapped his slow pace and went uptempo, realizing this is probably his best chance to get back to the tournament . So far the results this season have been good with the Sun Devils off to a 10-2 start. Sendek needs to be a tournament regular at the very least if he wants to stick around.
5. Houston Cougars- Does anyone have an answer for a program that was a tournament regular from 1970-1984, made five Final Fours and two national title game appearances go from those high points to scuffling to make the CBI? The team that produced Otis Birdsong, Clyde Drexler, Don Chaney, Elvin Hayes and Hakeem Olajuwon and brought us perhaps the most entertaining team of all time "Phi Slamma Jamma" is now trying to capture past glory. The Cougs only have one NCAA appearance since 1992. That hasn't been a good run for the program. There are several theories: the end of the Southwest Conference, the lack of stability in the program after Guy Lewis's retirement, a failure to recruit in the city limits and playing at a 44-year-old arena.
The Cougars were at one point "the program" along with Arkansas in the Southwest and are now competing to be the best program in their own state. Since 1992 the Cougars have been surpassed by Texas, Baylor, and recently SMU.
The glory years of coach Guy Lewis are long gone, but having a good program shouldn't be. The Cougars shouldn't have to leave the city to recruit high level players or stray outside the state borders. The team has tradition and history on its side but that doesn't seem to matter to high school players theses days.
"In the grand scheme of things we stopped recruiting Houston-area athletes," Vern Lewis a guard on his father's first two Final Four teams at Houston, in 1967 and 1968. said. "If you recruit within a 50-mile radius of the city, you'll win the national title."
Greater Houston basketball has produced the likes of T.J Ford, Daniel Gibson, Emeka Okafor, Rashard Lewis, Stephen Jackson, Kendrick Perkins and DeAndre Jordan. They all should have looked hard, if not signed, with UH. None did. That's a shame that the program has sunk so low.
Coach James Dickey looks like he might have the program going in the right directions as he has recruited the city and state of Texas. Getting Danuel House and Danrad "Chicken" Knowles was a start. If Dickey can keep the local kids around and convince them that going to Houston is the way to go he might be the one to bring the program back to respectability.
Georgia Tech- It seems s long ago since that national title game appearance. They haven't built off that success.
Alabama- This team hasn't done much since Wimp Sanderson left town.
Tulane- They probably wish Perry Clark was back on the sidelines. Too much homegrown talent leaves their backyard.
St. John's- They don't keep the elite NYC talent at home.
Georgia- This program should aspire to be something greater. Mired in mediocrity for a very long time.
Detroit- This team should be able to win with the local talent.
Auburn- The ghost of Sonny Smith couldn't win with the hand the current staff has been dealt. The basketball needs some of the 'prayers from Jordan-Hare' to be successful.