As part of a whole lot of college basketball preview stuff this week in the dead-tree edition, I had this to say about the team John Calipari departed in April for Kentucky:
“It’ll be a while before Memphis makes it back to the Elite Eight and beyond.”
Why would I say that? Well, mainly because there’s already been a talent drain. That, and it took Calipari a while just to get Memphis as good as it was the last few years. Combine the two, and Josh Pastner has a challenge in front of him if he wants to duplicate Calipari’s resume.
In any case, a Memphis fan e-mailed me and pointed out the Tigers’ recruiting haul this season, which indeed is extremely promising, and suggested I “recant” my statement.
Well, that isn’t happening before I take a more in-depth glance at how significant an impact a top-10 class will make. My guess is that most Elite Eight teams are influenced by a dynamite class, but that dynamite classes don’t guarantee anything close to an Elite Eight.
It’s sort of like how all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.
(And before going any farther, let me say I think Memphis isn’t falling far in Conference USA – I’d guess second this season behind Tulsa – and will make the NCAA tournament much more than it misses it under Pastner.)
Anyway, I went back and sized up the top 10 classes from 2005, 2006 and 2007 (rankings via scout.com), and looked at how those programs fared since those classes entered school.
2005 (Four seasons since)
1. Kansas: 4 NCAAs, 3 Sweet 16s, 2 Elite Eights, 1 NC
2. Duke: 4 NCAAs, 2 Sweet 16s
3. Oklahoma State: 1 NCAA
4. North Carolina: 4 NCAAs, 3 Elite Eights, 2 Final Fours, 1 NC
5. Louisville: 3 NCAAs, 2 Elite Eights
6. Memphis: 4 NCAAs, 4 Sweet 16s, 3 Elite Eights, 1 Final Four
7. Mississippi State: 1 NCAA
8. Louisiana State: 2 NCAAs, 1 Final Four
9. Arizona: 4 NCAAs, 1 Sweet 16
10. Alabama: 1 NCAA
Five of the 10 reached the Elite Eight at some point.
2006 (Three seasons since)
1. North Carolina: 3 NCAAs, 3 Elite Eights, 2 Final Fours, 1 NC
2. Ohio State: 2 NCAAs, 1 Final Four
3. Texas: 3 NCAAs, 1 Sweet 16
4. Duke: 3 NCAAs, 1 Sweet 16
5. Connecticut: 2 NCAAs, 1 Final Four
6. Washington: 1 NCAA
7. Georgia Tech: 1 NCAA
8. Kansas: 3 NCAAs, 3 Sweet 16s, 2 Elite Eights, 1 NC
9. Louisville: 3 NCAAs, 2 Elite Eights
10. Tennessee: 3 NCAAs, 2 Sweet 16s
Five of the 10 reached the Elite Eight. The five that haven’t are fairly well regarded this preseason, though those classes aren’t necessarily the reasons those schools (particularly Georgia Tech) are so vaunted.
2007 (Two seasons since)
1. Kansas State: 1 NCAA
2. Syracuse: 1 NCAA, 1 Sweet 16
3. Florida: 0 NCAAs
4. Memphis: 2 NCAAs, 2 Sweet 16s, 1 Final Four
5. Purdue: 2 NCAAs, 1 Sweet 16
6. Duke: 2 NCAAs, 1 Sweet 16
7. Ohio State: 1 NCAA
8. Arizona: 2 NCAAs, 1 Sweet 16
9. Michigan State: 2 NCAAs, 1 Final Four
10. Indiana: 1 NCAA
Two of the 10 have reached the Elite Eight. Duke, Ohio State and Purdue are all well-regarded this preseason.
Overall, there are 22 schools that had top-10 classes in those three seasons (Duke had three, while Arizona, Kansas, Louisville, Memphis, North Carolina and Ohio State had two apiece). Of those, eight have reached the Elite Eight since those classes arrived – a figure that will probably rise a little bit in the next year or two.
Ultimately, it’ll probably wind up around 50 percent.
So do I wish to recant? How about “softening my stance,” instead? There’s a lot of factors that make Memphis a wild card, and while some of the best talent of recent years bolted early, there’s enough to work with to keep the Tigers relevant this year and a top-25 fixture in the not-too-distant future.
But playing in a regional final in the next three years (which is a fair definition of “for a while”)? That isn’t an easy feat for anyone – just ask Duke. It’s possible, and if Wesley Witherspoon and Elliot Williams stick around, the odds get better.
The verdict: An authoritative “no chance” would be silly to throw around right now. But Memphis is no lock to maintain regular appearances in the second weekend of the NCAA tournament in the years to come, either.