College Basketball Offseason Survival Guide

-Jim Root

First, a forewarning – I think I’m only in the fourth stage of grief following the end of the college basketball season, and this article is partially to boost me to the next, more positive fifth stage. But it’s also partially to give you a road-map to navigate the treacherous seven months ahead, during which we must somehow continue forward despite the loss of competitive college basketball games in our lives. That doesn’t mean you have to ignore NCAA hoops, though, so here’s some steps you can take to improve your life this offseason.  

1.      Follow the draft

For someone who enjoys the NBA (specifically Giannis and the Bucks), following draft news is probably easier. To me, it’s fun to see what the league values in prospects and where some of my favorite players end up (Monte to Milwaukee, COME ON!).  However, for one reason or another, some college basketball fans outright reject the idea of the NBA. For some, it’s for stylistic reasons (too much isolation! They don’t play defense!); for others, they simply don’t having any allegiance to a specific team – suffice it to say, there’s plenty of non-overlap in the Venn Diagram of the two fanbases.  

Even if you don’t have interest in the NBA itself, though, the draft is crucial for next year’s college basketball season. A bunch of 18-to-22-year-olds have to choose if they want to pursue a chance at millions of dollars, and surprising player decisions either way can have a major ripple effect. Look no further than last year – the return of players like Justin Jackson, Dillon Brooks, and Tyler Dorsey after testing the NBA waters directly led to two teams reaching the Final Four, while teams like USC and Seton Hall were hurt by earlier-than-expected declarations from some of their key pieces. This year, someone like Miles Bridges (who is reportedly really struggling with the decision) could make his team a surefire top-10 squad if he makes the shocking decision to return. In fact, one possible lottery prospect, Texas A&M’s Robert Williams, has already decided to return to school (please make it two, Zach Collins), helping to make the Aggies a possible sleeper team next year (listen to the last section of our latest podcast to hear us discuss/gush over that possibility).

Players must decide if they will at least test the waters by April 23rd, but if a player does declare without signing an agent, he’ll have until June 12th to withdraw his name and return to school:

As I said, these decisions can have ripple effects – several un-committed 5-star recruits are waiting to see who declares and who doesn’t, hoping to find the most direct route to playing time and production to showcase their skills to NBA scouts. They aren’t the only group of players who may wait to see how the draft decisions shake out, though…

2.      Embrace the transfer market

This is the key. As transfers (and more specifically, graduate transfers) become more prevalent in the college basketball world, there’s increasingly a “free agent” player market that can dramatically shift the balance of basketball power, both within a conference and on a national title level.

During the season, I looked at the last 40 Final Four teams and their rotations to see whether transfers helped teams reach the highest level. Over that time span, Wichita State was the only team to ever start three transfers and make it to college basketball’s biggest stage – until Gonzaga repeated that feat this year, riding three power conference transfers into the NCAA’s stratosphere. The ultimate lesson is that it takes a ton of talent (plus coaching and some good luck) to succeed at the sport’s highest level, and it really doesn’t matter where the talent comes from – so coaches should be turning over every stone possible to find impact players.

With that said, a plethora of talent already exists on the market. At the time of this writing, five players who averaged at least 18.8ppg this year are available, and that doesn’t count Howard’s James Daniel, who led the country in scoring at 27.1ppg in 2015-16. Plenty of potentially-impactful players have also left big programs after not getting the playing time they had hoped for this season – see Chase Jeter from Duke or Marial Shayok from Virginia – and adding a player of that caliber would be crucial for contenders and mid-majors alike.

Impact players can come from anywhere, too – while Gonzaga found success with high-major additions, Xavier’s Elite Eight run was aided by graduate transfer Malcolm Bernard, who arrived from Florida A&M – KenPom’s 349th-ranked team in 2016.

Following the transfer wire can be overwhelming – the list of players exceeded 700 names last season – but focusing on specific key names can be helpful. Verbalcommits.com has a great master list – you can even sort by who’s immediately eligible – so skimming for big names is a good plan. Twitter is also extremely useful for this – we at 3MW will be posting thoughts on player movement all year, and many of the mainstream writers are solid resources as well.

3.      Go outside

Spring hasn’t quite sprung yet here in Chicago (it’s actively trying to, though – spring is springing?), but the weather is starting to shift towards “not complete garbage”. Without a constant stream of college basketball games to watch, other hobbies and activities become real options, so come out of your hoops hibernation and enjoy the sun shining down.

4.      Get a girlfriend

Wait a second. Mom? How did you hack into this article? *Sighs* - she’s probably right…but #ballislife, as they say, so this will happens when it happens. In the meantime, I’ll continue dating hoops.

5.      Check in on teams’ foreign tours

Once every four years, college basketball teams can take an international trip over the summer, and teams use these trips as a way of bridging the gap from the end of one season and the start of the next. They’ll usually play several games against teams local to their destination, offering an opportunity for the players to face some “live bullets” even before fall practice begins. Usually, some news will trickle out about how these games went, whether it be via national sources or local blogs. At times, the news is fools’ gold, so take the blurbs with a grain of salt, but they can offer some interesting tidbits for the college hoops-starved fan during the long offseason.

6.      Recharge your batteries – then prep like it’s the end of the world

Come November 10th, 2017, I’ll be locking myself inside a college hoops bunker with a plethora of TVs, so I need to begin stocking up on canned goods and other necessities ASAP. On my way to clean out my grocery store’s supply of Hormel chili right now…

Okay, maybe it’s too soon to really start preparing for the 2017-18 season, but over the course of the next seven months, there’s plenty to do. Follow steps 1-5, and as the season gets closer, read some previews (we do all 351 teams on our site!) to stay sharp. Whatever it is that makes college basketball special for you – learning anything and everything about your specific favorite team, following the whole landscape of the sport and its trends, planning a couple road trips to games, patiently waiting until the tournament rolls around and just going bananas, etc. (or, if you’re like the 3MW, all of the above) – there’s plenty of time to prepare and make 2017-18 the best season yet. It’ll be a long wait, but it’ll be here before we know it.