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What’s the Bar for a Successful Basketball Program?

Penn State Has Only Been to the NCAA Tourney Twice Since 2000...

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Minnesota
Sums up 20 years of PSU basketball...
Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not a basketball fan, but have watched my fair share while in grad school at UNC.

Those ACC schools dump basketball coaches every third year or so, if they aren’t getting to the NCAA Tournament.

But I don’t have a good feeling for what a “successful” B1G basketball program should look like. That said, my beloved Nittany Lions ain’t it.

They are currently 7-12 (0-8). Their “best” win came against then thirteenth ranked Virginia Tech on November 27th.

Most recently, I watched them build a strong lead against a lackluster Minnesota team, only to blow it in the end and lose by 1 point. An exercise in futility.

So, I posed this question to our “writers”:

· What’s the lowest bar for a major university’s basketball team?

Penn State’s coach Pat Chambers started in the 2011/2012 season. His record is 120 -134, but he only made 2 post season tourney appearances. The CBI in 2014 and the NIT last year. To be fair, we won the NIT. But he’s never gotten PSU more than 9 wins. And we’ve never gone to the NCAA tournament under him.

I believe it’s time for Penn State to change coaches. But I still want to hear what you guys think.

How do YOU define success for your basketball program?

Stewmonkey13: Carmody at jNW seems like a decent comparison. Maybe Sadler at UNL.

Jesse Collins: Doc Sadler is still my Nebraska comp. 6 seasons, 101-89 overall but 34-64 in conference. Three NIT berths with one second round appearance. Highest finish was 7th (done three times).

But, he was a super nice guy.

He is now 183-183 at So Miss over 4 seasons with a 21-50 CUSA conference record. Still probably a nice guy.

87townie: PSU hasn’t had an NBA draftee since 1999, when Calvin Booth went to the Washington Wizards. I mean, dear god, that sucks.

Andrew Kosciuszko: I think schools kind of set their own bar, you know? Maybe Chambers has cleared the one PSU has set, even if there’s maybe 2 other schools in the conference where he wouldn’t have been fired multiple times by now

The NBA thing is quite a stat, there’s probably an embarrassing list of schools with at least one draftee since then

MNW: It is Bill Carmody, hello.

A wonderful oenophile (dry reds, thank you) with a passion for plucky, undersized guards who could run efficient offenses, Carmody came to Northwestern hot off a four-year tenure at Princeton in which he lost just 6 conference games, made 2 NCAA Tournaments, and 2 NITs.

Taking over a program Kevin O’Neill had decimated with the added benefit of no institutional support--including a PG who was blind in one eye--Carmody installed his Princeton Offense of precision cutting, backdoor layups, and deadly three-point shooting, along with his unconventional, gadget 1-3-1 defense. Within just two years Northwestern went 7-9 in conference play, finishing 7th, its best finish in wins and placing since Rich Falk’s 1983-84 campaign.

In 2003-04, he earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors, much in the same way the late, great Dennis Green did, for going 14-15 (8-8, T-5th B1G), Northwestern’s highest Big Ten win total since an 8-10 mark under Falk in 1982-83 and the first .500 season in conference play since 1967-68. He WON*, which coaches simply couldn’t do at Northwestern.

Of course, the program, to most ‘Cats fans, plateaued under Carmody. He would never again reach .500 in conference play, bottoming out at 8-22 (1-17) in 2007-08 but rebounding to make four straight NIT appearances from 2009-2012.

This set 20-win seasons as an achievable mark at NU, though the NCAA Tournament bid, as you know, eluded his grasp. His Princeton Offense continued to pace the program (Top 50 in Kenpom AdjO from 2009-2012), but his defenses suffered from a lack of size and athleticism, while an inability to effectively rebound (especially on defense) or develop a big man had Northwestern fans clamoring for better after an injury-riddled 2012-13 campaign.

Carmody was not retained (Jim Phillips and Northwestern would never so disgrace the man who rebuilt the program by saying “fired”) after the 2012-13 season, finishing 192-220 (70-150 B1G).

In his wake, a minimum 20-win season and postseason appearance has become the standard for Northwestern fans. Carmody inherited low expectations, played to them for over a decade, and then raised the bar, ultimately becoming a victim of his own success. Northwestern owes its modern program to the standards Bill Carmody (with the vision of AD Jim Phillips) helped raise.

Please clap...

Thumpasaurus: To be fair there’s just not that many guys that get drafted as compared to football and NCAA football is basically the sole talent supply to the NFL draft whereas NCAA bb is supplemented by international prospects

Minnesota hasn’t produced a draft pick since 2004, Illinois since 2012 (only one since 06), but actually doing more research tells me that in fact only northwestern and Nebraska in the big ten have gone the entire 2000s without seeing a draft pick

So, then I got distracted and here’s some great moments in draft history

  • 1947: Bulbs Ehlers is taken out of Purdue with the 3rd overall pick; name is Bulbs
  • 1955: Al Ferrari is drafted from MSU, has made up sounding name.
  • 1967: Bubba Smith got drafted by the NBA?!?!?!
  • 1984: pistons take Ben Tower out of MSU with the 203rd overall pick; height and position not listed, but I assume “tall” and “center”
  • 2014: Gary Harris becomes the first owl drafted by an NBA team
  • 1974: Michigan produces Campy Russell
  • 1981: Penn state’s Frank Brickowski has an unfortunate name for a basketball player
  • 1984: clippers use a tenth-round pick on Dick Mumma, probably because what a name
  • 1977: the cavs take Rutgers’ Eddie Jordan with a second rounder. GOODNIGHT SWEET PRINCE AND THANKS FOR BEATING WISCONSIN
  • 1979: Nebraska’s Carl Mcpipe is selected by the Sixers who aren’t sure why they can’t stop laughing
  • 1947: Northwestern’s George Felt that the money wasn’t particularly good and never played for Boston
  • 1959: Northwestern’s Nick Mantis has a built-in nickname for the hawks
  • 1959: Syracuse selects Indiana’s Don Schlundt
  • 1971: an eleventh-round pick is expended upon IU’s Bubbles Harris
  • 1960: the Knicks decide they can’t possibly wait til the 14th round to grab Ohio state’s Dick Furry

That’s it for the “writers” contributions. How about your thoughts? What’s the bar for a successful (or even acceptable college hoops coach?

Your Friend,



What should the standard be for Penn State basketball?

This poll is closed

  • 28%
    Basically Northwestern: 20 wins and the postseason
    (54 votes)
  • 38%
    NCAA Tournament-adjacent. A school with those resources should be winning.
    (72 votes)
  • 32%
    If anyone's paying attention, it's a win
    (61 votes)
187 votes total Vote Now