As Kentucky chases a perfect season, Jenna Corrado takes a look back at the history of men’s college basketball and the 19 other teams who’ve attempted to defy the odds in search of total perfection:
Marquette’s Shaka Smart voted men’s AP coach of the year
Shaka Smart has packed an entire career’s worth of experiences into 14 years as a college head coach. He led VCU to an improbable Final Four as a 30-something wunderkind in 2011, guided mighty Texas to a Big 12 Tournament title during six otherwise tepid years in Austin, and now has turned Marquette into a Big East beast.
It’s sometimes easy to forget he’s still just 45 years old.
Yet his work with the Golden Eagles this season might have been his best: Picked ninth in the 11-team league by its coaches, they won the regular-season title going away, then beat Xavier to win their first Big East Tournament championship.
That earned Smart the AP coach of the year award Friday. He garnered 24 of 58 votes from a national media panel to edge Kansas State’s Jerome Tang, who received 13 votes before guiding the Wildcats to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, and Houston’s Kelvin Sampson, who earned 10 before taking the Cougars to the Sweet 16.
Voting opened after the regular season and closed at the start of the NCAA Tournament, where the No. 2 seed Golden Eagles were knocked out in the second round by Michigan State and Smart’s longtime mentor, Tom Izzo.
“I’m very grateful to win this award,” said Smart, the second Marquette coach to take it home after Hall of Famer Al McGuire in 1971, “but obviously it always comes back to the guys you have on your team.
“Early on,” Smart said, “we had a real sense the guys had genuine care and concern for one another, and we had a very good foundation for relationships that we could continue to build on. And over the course of seasons, you go through so many different experiences as a team. And those experiences either bring you closer together or further apart. Our guys did a great job, even through adverse experiences, even through challenges, becoming closer together.”
It’s hardly surprising such cohesion is what Smart would choose to remember most from a most memorable season.
The native of Madison, Wisconsin, who holds a master’s degree in social science from California University of Pennsylvania, long ago earned a reputation for building close bonds with players and a tight-knit camaraderie within his teams.
No matter how high or low the Golden Eagles were this season, those traits carried them through.
“Everything that we go through, whether it be the retreat that we went on before the season, all the workouts in the summer, he’s preaching his culture,” said Tyler Kolek, a third-team All-American. “And he’s showing his leadership every single day, and just trying to impart that on us, and kind of put it in our DNA. Because it’s definitely in his DNA.”
That’s reflected in the way Smart, who accepted the Marquette job two years ago after an often bumpy tenure at Texas, has rebuilt the Golden Eagles program after it had begun to languish under Steve Wojciechowski.
Sure, Smart landed his share of transfers – Kolek among them – in an era in which the portal has become so prevalent. But he largely built a team that finished 29-7 this season around high school recruits, eschewing a quick fix in the hopes of long-term stability. Among those prospects were Kam Jones, their leading scorer, and do-everything forward David Joplin.
“He teaches us lots of things about the importance of each other,” Joplin said. “He lets us know, time and time again, that we can’t do anything without each other, but together we can do anything.”
That sounds like a decidedly old-school approach to building a college basketball program.
One embraced by a still-youthful head coach.
“I think being a head coach has never been more complicated, never been more nuanced, and never more all-encompassing,” Smart told the AP in a wide-ranging interview last week. “Does that mean it’s harder? You could say that.
“What makes your job less hard,” Smart said, “is having a captive audience in your players, and guys that truly understand and own what goes into winning, and that’s what we had this past year. But those things just don’t happen. There are a lot of steps that have to occur on the part of a lot of people, not just the coach, to get to where you have a winning environment.”
Purdue’s Zach Edey named AP men’s player of the year
Zach Edey spent the days following Purdue’s historic NCAA Tournament loss lying low, his phone turned off, along with the rest of the outside world.
The disappointing finish did little to diminish the season the Boilermakers big man had.
Dominating at both ends of the floor during the regular season, Edey was a near-unanimous choice as The Associated Press men’s college basketball player of the year. Edey received all but one vote from a 58-person media panel, with Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis getting the other.
“The season ended in disappointment, which really sucks, but it’s always nice to win individual accolades,” Edey said. “It kind of validates your work a little bit. The last three years I’ve played here, I’ve seen my game grow every year. AP player of the year is a great feeling, it just kind of stinks the way the season ended.”
That ending came in the NCAA Tournament’s first round, when Purdue lost to Fairleigh Dickinson, joining Virginia in 2018 as the only No. 1 seeds to lose to a No. 16.
Before that, Edey dominated.
The 7-foot-4 Canadian was named a unanimous AP All-American and the Big Ten player of the year after finishing sixth nationally in scoring (22.3), second in rebounding (12.8) and first in double-doubles (26).
Edey also shot 62% from the floor and averaged 2.1 blocked shots per game while leading Purdue to its first outright Big Ten regular-season title since 2017. He is the first player since Navy’s David Robinson in 1985-86 to have at least 750 points, 450 rebounds and 50 blocked shots in a season.
“He’s kind of a one of a kind,” Purdue guard David Jenkins Jr. said. “I’ve never played with someone like him, probably never will again.”
And to think, Edey didn’t want to play basketball when he was younger.
A hockey and baseball player growing up in Toronto, Edey resisted basketball at first. He was 6-2 by the sixth grade and the natural inclination by the adults was to push him toward basketball, where his size would be a massive advantage.
“It was something I kind avoided all my life.,” Edey said. “I didn’t like people telling me what I should be doing with my life and it felt like that’s what people were doing with basketball. When I started playing competitively, that’s when I really fell in love with the sport.”
Edey developed his game quickly. He played at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, and proved himself against some of the nation’s best high school players, drawing attention from college coaches. He ended up at Purdue, where coach Matt Painter had a proven track record of developing big men.
Edey had a limited role as a freshman, then averaged 14.4 points and 7.7 rebounds last season on a team that had talented big man Trevion Williams and future NBA lottery pick Jaden Ivey.
Already a tireless worker, Edey put in even more time during the offseason, spending extra time after practice and taking better care of his body. His already solid footwork got better, he added quickness and developed more patience with the constant double teams he faced – not to mention the barrage of physical play teams tried to employ against him.
“There’s not really any kind of cool, sexy answer,” Edey said. “I came in every day, I worked hard, I stayed after practice – stayed a long time after practice. I took care of my body and was able to steadily improve. There was nothing revolutionary I did. I just worked hard.”
It certainly paid off, even if the season ended with a huge disappointment.
George Mason Final Four star Tony Skinn hired as hoops coach
FAIRFAX, Va. – Tony Skinn, who helped lead 11th-seeded George Mason to the Final Four during March Madness as a player in 2006, was hired Thursday to coach men’s basketball at the school.
Skinn replaces Kim English, who left George Mason for Providence after Ed Cooley departed Providence for Georgetown.
“Tony Skinn is the right man for this moment in Mason’s basketball program,” university President Gregory Washington said in the news release announcing the hiring. “His coaching style will galvanize our student-athletes and his connection to our finest hour on the court is sure to electrify our alumni and fans.”
Skinn was a starting guard for the Patriots 17 years ago when they picked up a series of surprising wins – including against UConn in the regional final in Washington, about 20 miles from campus – to make the semifinals at the NCAA Tournament.
George Mason’s coach at the time, Jim Larrañaga, is now at Miami and has the Hurricanes in this year’s Final Four.
Skinn was most recently an assistant coach at Maryland. He also has worked at Ohio State, Seton Hall and Louisiana Tech.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to step back on campus,” Skinn said. “I’ve had some of my greatest memories here and I’m looking forward to making new ones with our fans and our community.”
Gonzaga’s Timme among five finalists for men’s Wooden Award
LOS ANGELES – Drew Timme of Gonzaga is one of five finalists for the John R. Wooden Award as the men’s college basketball player of the year.
He’s joined by Zach Edey of Purdue, Trayce Jackson-Davis of Indiana, Houston’s Marcus Sasser and Jalen Wilson of Kansas.
Timme took his team farthest in the upset-riddled NCAA Tournament with Gonzaga losing in the Elite Eight. Sasser helped Houston reach the Sweet 16. Purdue lost in the first round, while Indiana and Kansas were beaten in the second round.
The winner will be announced April 4 on ESPN. All five players have been invited to Los Angeles for the 47th annual presentation on April 7.
Also among the top 10 vote getters were: Jaime Jaquez Jr. of UCLA, Brandon Miller of Alabama, Penn State’s Jalen Pickett, Oscar Tshiebwe of Kentucky and Arizona’s Azuolas Tubelis.
Voting took place from March 13-20.
South Carolina’s Dawn Staley will receive the Legends of Coaching Award during the ceremony at the Los Angeles Athletic Club.
Indiana’s Teri Moren wins AP Coach of the Year
DALLAS – Teri Moren has led Indiana to some unprecedented heights this season.
The team won its first Big Ten regular season championship in 40 years, rose to No. 2 in The Associated Press women’s basketball poll and earned the school’s first No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Moren was honored Thursday as the AP women’s basketball Coach of the Year, the first time she has won the award. She received 12 votes from the 28-member national media panel that votes on the AP Top 25 each week. South Carolina’s Dawn Staley was second with eight votes. Utah’s Lynne Roberts received five and Virginia Tech’s Kenny Brooks three.
Voting was done before the NCAA Tournament.
“I think a lot of people were like this is going to be a year where Indiana is reloading, rebuilding, they won’t be as good as they had been the year prior. We were picked third in the Big Ten,” Moren said.
Moren was surprised by her team, who told her she won in an elaborate ruse.
“Anytime you can share it with people that made it happen. the staff, the players, the most important people who have been instrumental in the season and this award is special. I was speechless.”
Moren accepted the award at the Final Four, sharing the stage with AP Player of the Year Caitlin Clark to complete a Big Ten sweep.
The team has come a long way from when Moren was a young girl growing up in southern Indiana. She was a diehard fan of the Indiana basketball team. The men’s one that is.
She would attend men’s games with her family when she was a kid and was a big fan of coach Bob Knight. She has a constant reminder of the Hall of Fame coach in her office as a picture of his infamous chair-throwing incident hangs by the door. Moren said it’s the last thing she sees before heading to practice.
As far as the women’s team, they just weren’t very good. Times have changed, as Moren has built the program into a blue-collar team that focuses on defense and is a consistent Top 25 team the last few seasons, appearing in the poll for 75 consecutive weeks starting with the preseason one in 2019-2020. That’s the fourth-longest active streak.
Before that, the Hoosiers had been ranked for a total of six times.
“People still talk to me about living in Bloomington and they couldn’t afford a ticket to the men’s game. Not that they settled, but became women’s basketball fans. At that moment, you could walk in and find any seat you wanted and watch women’s basketball,” Moren said.
“There were 300-400 people in the stands, now to what it is today, it’s an unbelievable thing to watch it grow. Things you dream about to see fans and bodies up in the rafters.”
The Hoosiers had six of the school’s top 10 most attended games this season, including crowds of over 13,000 fans for the first round of the NCAA Tournament and 14,000 for the second round game – a shocking loss to Miami.
“It stings right now, but that last game doesn’t define our season,” Moren said.