ESPN continued its Sales Pitch (ESPN +) series this week, examining the college basketball programs for men in the Big Ten that have the most and least benefits in attracting recruits and transfers to campus. After seeing the results of our survey, the ESPN.com writing team made up of Myron Medcalf, Jeff Borzello, John Gasaway, and Joe Lunardi discussed some of the finer details within the Big Ten recruiting landscape. That includes whether the drought in the Big Tens NCAA championship is a function of roster building, whether Indiana has the chance to usher in a new era of victory under Mike Woodson, and which coach they want their son to play for.
Follow this link to read what anonymous trainers have said about recruiting in the ACC, Big East and Big Ten.
The Big Ten haven’t won a national title since the state of Michigan cut its grids in 2000. Is this just a coincidence related to the difficult NCAA singles elimination tournament format, or do you think there is an inherent problem with the way the Big Ten teams play? are built?
Medcalf: I think the NCAA tournament format, more than any other championship event in a sport, promotes results that don’t always provide the best snapshot of the top teams in the field. Good teams lose early. Average teams get hot. But I also don’t think a 21 year drought is just a coincidence for the Big Ten.
The league’s biggest challenge was its ability to recruit NBA-level talent throughout the conference. It’s difficult to consistently fight for a title even when a Big Ten team makes it to the final stage of the season without more elite players. From 2015 to 2019, the NCAA crowned five champions (Duke, Villanova, North Carolina, Villanova and Virginia). These five teams produced 10 NBA first-round picks in their respective championship seasons. During the same period, the Big Ten produced 14 picks for the first round. I think that’s relevant. It’s not the full story, but it’s important.
Lunardi: Nine commandments and two No. 1 seeds. The Big Ten’s title drought certainly came to an end last season. Instead, the league did not produce a champion. Or even a Final Four team. Worse, the nine entries were seeded to win at least 16 tournament games and only won eight (including losses to Oral Roberts and North Texas). While I generally agree with the theory that “the NCAA tournament is so random that virtually any outcomes are possible,” it is hard to deny underperformance to this extent. A team on the second weekend after dominating the regular season? The Big Ten’s problems may not be inherently bad, but the results certainly are.
Gasaway: The Big Ten drought is less an artifact of happiness than a memorial to recurring heartbreak. The league is 0-7 in national championship games since MSU won everything. Only the ACC’s appeared more frequently on the same track (8-2) on the first Monday in April, and the Big East has been a perfect 6-0 in title games since 2000 (based on real-time and non-current memberships). .
Even so, unless your name is “ACC” or “Big East”, there have been, or have been, many of these droughts. The Big 12 hadn’t won a title since 2008 until Baylor came to the rescue in April. The SEC had spent a decade in the same wilderness and the Pac-12 was looking for its first trophy since 1997. Still, we’re focusing on the Big Ten series because the conference comes up so often in the final and because the league is expected actually breaks through one day. The tire gods will always have the last word.
Borzello: I think it’s more variance and chance than something that’s inherently wrong with the Big Ten. Granted, the league’s performance in the NCAA tournament last season was terrible and perhaps a sign that it wasn’t as strong as the regular season. But strange seasons without full non-conference campaigns result in incomplete ratings of the leagues.
But back to the national championship thing. It’s not that the Big Ten didn’t stand a chance. As Gasaway mentioned, the Big Ten played teams seven times on the last Monday night of the season and won none. It would be foolish to say the league is good enough to produce seven national runners-up but not good enough to win the national championship. They ran into a couple of saws along the way: 2005 North Carolina, 2007 Florida, 2009 North Carolina, 2018 Villanova – these are some of the best teams in the sport over the past 20 years.
New Indiana coach Mike Woodson was scrutinized while putting together his first Hoosiers roster. What does Woodson have to sell at IU and how successful do you think he will be in the long run if he sells it?
Borzello: Woodson has impressed me with his rebuilding of the Indiana roster over the past few months. He was able to keep most of last season’s key pieces from moving or leaving the NBA under the heading of Trayce Jackson-Davis, Big Ten Player of the Year nominee. He went out and landed a couple of impact transfers and also came out of nowhere to sign Tamar Bates as a top 25 recruit. Despite the recent fighting in Indiana, the Hoosiers are still considered one of the best jobs in the country and a place where Midwestern recruits want to play.
It’s not Kentucky or Duke level, but it’s still high on the Big Ten list for sales pitch. There’s a passionate fan base, great matchday atmosphere, good facilities, and tremendous tradition and history. In addition, it is clearly a basketball school in a basketball state. While this may be more of a fan- and media-driven narrative, it is important to some children. Woodson hired good recruiting staff, a group that will help him get involved with high-profile prospects (as Bates proves), and hiring Thad Matta in an extrajudicial role will make the transition easier. There should be optimism in Bloomington.
Medcalf: I think Mike Woodson has already embarrassed some of the naysayers with the roster he’s put together so far in Bloomington. They already look like a competitive crew entering the next season and he will take additional steps before the season starts. Could be a special year for Jackson-Davis.
It is difficult to predict long-term success for a trainer. But I think Woodson has to sell the rare satisfaction of building a remarkable program and fan base that have been successful in the past. The early Kentucky teams under Rick Pitino, who had had a difficult time on the program, were treated like royalty. Half of Hubert Davis’s staff played on the 2005 North Carolina national team that broke the 12-year drought of the school with no national titles. And I remember when the crowd screamed when the Fab Five walked into the building to see Michigan at the 2013 Final Four. Indiana also hopes one day to be able to say, “We’re back.” Playing a role in leading the Hoosiers back to the mountaintop of college basketball is a unique opportunity.
Gasaway: Woodson can sell his NBA credibility, the Big Ten notoriety and notoriety, and a passionate following who will love you forever if you make a living. None of his 21st century predecessors in Bloomington had that first point, but all could claim the other two.
As for the question of whether all three sales arguments together are enough to get the job done, I have to hastily and dutifully retreat to my foxhole “Nobody knows when it comes to future coaching services”. After all, our nation’s press ranks are full of watchers of the game who expected Archie Miller to thrive and Juwan Howard to thrash. Perhaps it’s safer to just point out that IU has hit number 1 in the NCAA tournament more recently than Michigan State, Syracuse, UConn or UCLA, and only in Louisville or Florida. If Woodson wins in Indiana, it’s because, unlike his predecessor, he got the ignition to turn around, not because he performed an unpredictable miracle.
Lunardi: If we’re being honest, Woodson is already over-fulfilled. So universal was his mindset that our early prediction for the Hoosiers to be number 7 next season clearly puts Indiana in the off-season “winners” category. And while 7-Seeds in Bloomington may not live up to long-term expectations, it would be the program’s first tournament offering since 2016. Put me in Woodson’s camp to continue to thrive.
Which Big Ten program impresses you most because it can do more with less compared to its league competition?
Gasaway: This award goes to Purdue. Matt Painter’s only had one first-round selection for the past six years (Caleb Swanigan ranked 26th in 2017), but the Boilermakers finished in the top 5 in each of the NCAA tournaments played during that time . The only other national programs that are members of the same “Top Five Seed Year Since 2016” club are Kansas and Virginia. So it’s safe to say that the boilers are in pretty good company.
Borzello: League coaches almost unanimously gave Purdue this award. Painter has done a great job finding players who fit what it wants – while attracting top 100 players and producing its fair share of professionals. Compared to the top five programs in the league, the Boilermakers can’t really compete in terms of campus or facilities, but opposing coaches will point out that they have the best matchday atmosphere in the league.
I’ll also note that Painter tends to engage with prospects, especially those in the area, very early on. For example, ESPN 100 prospects Ethan Morton and Jaden Ivey from 2020 class chose Purdue before their junior year ended. Caleb Furst, an ESPN 100 prospect who joined the program this fall, selected Purdue in early March last year.
Lunardi: If not Purdue, a logical and probably correct answer, let me suggest Wisconsin. At least the boilermakers are in a basketball-crazy state. The Badgers have a natural pull from what exactly? Yet this century has produced three Final Four teams (including a national finalist), another regional finalist, and six more to make the Sweet 16. I think the Dick Bennett, Bo Ryan, and Greg Gard Badgers are some of the most underrated programs in the country.
Medcalf: I’ll always wonder what we’d say about Matt Painter today if Robbie Hummel hadn’t suffered an ACL rift in the 2009-10 season when the Boilermakers were third in the country. Even then, Painter had turned the Mackey Arena into this horrific building that was drowning teams in chaos. Sure, West Lafayette is only an hour from Indianapolis. But the state’s best recruits have an abundance of options nearby that are accessible by car. So I think the painter’s unheralded skill is the way it develops. With him, good players have become great players. We’re going to start next season with another Purdue squad that has a real chance of making a Final Four run. I’m not even sure Painter is impressive anymore – Purdue does just that.
We’re going to ask a variation on the same question we asked for the ACC – which Big Ten trainer do you want your kid to play for?
Borzello: I am consistently impressed with what Juwan Howard has done since he was acquired in Michigan, and I would love to have my hypothetical son play for him in Ann Arbor. His players have bought into his system for the past two seasons, Howard has supported his players whenever possible and he loves the university. A rival assistant told me he thought Howard’s demeanor and passion were perfect for college basketball. Winning at his alma mater and developing young adults into men is of the utmost importance to him. Plus, he knows what it takes to create NBA prospects, and Michigan is a great academic school in a great university city. I am about to send my child there.
Gasaway: Juwan Howard. He cried when he got the Michigan job, and he nearly got into an argument with an opposing head coach during a game at the Big Ten tournament. This is the kind of passionate and out-of-the-box trainer I can count on to represent the interests of my offspring. Plus, his players clearly love playing for him. If we could come up with an analytical sounding term for player body language as “player body language”, we could recognize it as an underrated measure of coaching performance. The Wolverines make every appearance of appreciating their trainer.
Medcalf: Yes, it should be Juwan Howard for me too. He showed every emotion in Michigan. You have to appreciate your vulnerability. But I really respect him for hiring Phil Martelli soon after his job. Lots of people wouldn’t have done that. But Howard was confident enough in himself and his role to add a respected former head coach to his staff. It was a smart move for everyone involved. He overcame the early challenges in Michigan. Many people wondered if he could make the jump, but he was successful.
Lunardi: It’s difficult to argue with Howard given the above reasons, but I would need to have Tom Izzo’s long-term track record. On and off the pitch, Izzo was a giant in the coaching profession. Yes, he had a moment or two of public temper. But his hands are cleaner than pretty much anyone at his level in terms of recruiting, and he’s prioritized toughness in ways that seem beyond basketball.