The 2015-2016 college basketball season proved to be one of the best in history for the parity exhibited and the unforeseen showings and results that occurred. Some teams and players least expected to come out big made a mark, while others with high expectations stumbled. There were more than a few times that the year seemed like a roller coaster of surprises and flux.
One thing is sure: times are changing, and the game is growing.
Highlights, in no particular order:
Upsets all season long, including within conference tournaments
Upsets happen each year, but at the rate of four and five a night for weeks on end? That was the story this season, and it didn’t stop at conference tournament time. Numerous top seeds were upended on their way to the title game, like Ohio State, BYU, and Montana State, and champions were crowned that no one predicted, like Buffalo in the MAC and San Francisco in the WCC. It was thrilling – and unbelievable.
Traditional powers falling out of rankings
North Carolina began the season ranked 22nd, and quickly fell out. Duke joined them in January, after a 17-year stint in the top 25. But the most shocking was Tennessee, which fell from the rankings in February after a record 31-year stay.
Rule changes speeding up the game?
The NCAA implemented new rules it adopted last year, which switched the game to a four-quarter format and changed regulations in advancing the ball. The jury is still out on how well it worked, but it does seem like both scoring and possessions were up this year. The reaction to four quarters has been overwhelmingly positive.
Newbies on the rise
A handful of teams had outstanding seasons either for the first time, or for the first year in many. Those included Duquesne, Colorado State, UTEP, Abilene Christian, UMaine and Ohio. These teams were just fun to watch. And many of them are returning enough players next year that they could be exceptional again. It will also be interesting to see how those teams that pulled conference tournament upsets do next season.
The strength of the Pac-12
Tops in RPI, the Pac-12 had five teams ranked for almost the entire season. They spent their conference schedule battling each other for position, and their high quality play even made East coast hoops fans finally take notice. The pinnacle came when both Oregon State and Washington advanced to the Final Four. What a great season for an awesome conference.
The strength of the SEC
A record-tying nine SEC teams either advanced or were selected for the NCAA Tournament. With the rise of South Carolina and Mississippi State, and the unexpected greatness of Florida, Georgia and Missouri, the future looks bright again for this traditional conference power house.
Rachel Banham’s comeback
Last year Minnesota star Rachel Banham’s season ended in December when she tore her ACL. This year she not only came back, but she did so scoring 30, 40, 50 and even 60 points in a game. She broke the school’s all-time scoring record, the Big Ten single-game scoring record, and in her last two games put up 37 and 48 points. It was inspirational to see someone who worked so hard to return be able to do so in Wonder Woman fashion.
The Big Ten still didn’t last in the NCAA Tournament
Several Big Ten teams made a lot of great noise this season – and were ranked highly – like Maryland, Ohio State and Michigan State. But all had bowed out of the Tournament by round three this season, as they seem to every year. For a conference with so many powerful teams, it’s odd.
Newcomers to the Final Four
Three of this year’s Final Four teams this season were there for the first time in the history of their respective programs. That’s the first time that has happened in 23 years, and No. 7 seed Washington was the lowest seed ever to advance. Fun stuff! And all fun teams to watch.
The Huskies dominated everyone all year long in their steady ascent to their fourth consecutive National Championship. After they beat Vic Schaefer’s Mississippi State team at the Bridgeport regionals, he commented that Connecticut was “a WNBA team.” That’s about right.