2011-12 Season Recap: Top 12 Storylines of the Year

Posted by EJacoby on April 6th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

Yesterday we captured the most iconic moments of the college basketball season, and today we highlight the most fascinating storylines from the year. What’s the difference? Yesterday’s list comprised of the “WOW” memories, the single moments in time that could be captured in recognizable photos and videos. Today’s list is a more encompassing review of full season narratives, which usually don’t culminate into a single visual. These are the defining stories that will be chronicled in history books to describe the season’s summary. Here are our 12 biggest storylines from 2011-12, in no particular order:

‘One-And-Dones’ Get it Done.

Kentucky's Collection of Youngsters Combined for the National Championship (AP Photo)

We’ll always remember 2011-12 for the Kentucky Wildcats’ start-to-finish domination that began with a #2 preseason ranking and ended with a National Championship as the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Big Blue Nation will remember it as UK’s eighth national title, while the national story focuses more on how coach John Calipari secured the championship with a starting lineup of all freshmen and sophomores. The team’s two best players were freshmen Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, both of whom are surely headed for the NBA Draft after just one season. Plenty of detractors didn’t think that a team full of ‘one-and-dones’ could mature quickly enough into a championship team, but the Wildcats proved them all wrong. Kentucky was the best team from start to finish, thanks mainly to the play of a bunch of 18- and 19-year-old star players.

Injuries and Suspensions Cost Top Contenders. Kentucky may have been the best team throughout the season, but there were several other elite squads that could have given the Wildcats a run for their money had it not been for costly absences. In fact, all of the other #1 seeds suffered crucial injuries at the very end of the season that may have cost them a chance to win it all. Michigan State lost its best athlete in freshman forward Branden Dawson to a torn ACL injury in the regular season finale, and the Spartans missed his ability during a Sweet Sixteen loss. Syracuse suspended its seven-foot center and best defensive player, Fab Melo, right before the Big Dance and clearly missed the big man during a loss in the Elite Eight. And perhaps the most devastating, North Carolina lost its Cousy Award-winning point guard, Kendall Marshall, to a fractured wrist at the end of its round of 32 victory. The Tar Heels could not recover without their lead guard and lost in the Elite Eight. As a result, Kentucky did not have to face a single other #1 seed en route to its National Championship.

Connecticut’s Title Defense Turns Tumultuous. Selected as the preseason Big East Conference favorites, Connecticut was expected to have another strong season as defending National Champions thanks to all but one starter sticking around combined with a very strong recruiting class. But the presence and leadership of departed star Kemba Walker proved to be invaluable. No Huskies player stepped up this season to lead by example, and a super-talented team struggled through an 8-10 record in conference play and a loss in its first game of the NCAA Tournament. UConn suffered multiple suspensions, the loss of its coach Jim Calhoun for several games due to health concerns, and an overall underachieving season whose results were the complete opposite of the year before.

Murray State Flirts with Perfection.

Isaiah Canaan Led a Tremendous Season for the Near-Perfect Racers (Getty Images)

The Murray State Racers have had success before, most recently reaching the NCAA Tournament in 2010 and nearly advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. But this season was an entirely different level of achievement, as the Racers knocked off several good teams in the non-conference and were staring at the possibility of going undefeated when they hit the weak OVC conference slate at 12-0. MSU kept the narrative going and even got to 23-0, but the story finally ended when Tennessee State came in and knocked off the Racers at home on February 9 with just five games remaining in the regular season. Murray State wound up winning out from then on until the Big Dance, compiling an incredible 31-1 record before losing to Marquette in the NCAA Tournament round of 32.

Doug McDermott Becomes a ‘Mid-Major’ All-American. The word ‘parity’ gets thrown around a lot in NCAA basketball circles, perhaps too much. But this season was one of the great examples of nationwide parity, as it proved that some of the very best players in the country play for non-power conference schools. Not only did three of the Bob Cousy Award finalists for top point guard play for mid-major schools (Isaiah Canaan, Damian Lillard, Scott Machado), but we had a first-team All-American hail from a mid-major as well. Creighton’s Doug McDermott was one of the nation’s very best players this season, racking up averages of 22.9 points and 8.9 rebounds per game while shooting a ridiculous 60.1% from the field. ‘Dougie’ helps prove true the idea that you don’t have to play in a power conference to wind up as one of the best players in the country.

Missouri Rides Top Offense, Even After Adversity. The Missouri Tigers’ season ended on a horribly low note, losing in the NCAA Tournament round of 64 to #15-seed Norfolk State in one of the great upsets in Big Dance history. But that one game does not cancel out the incredible year that Mizzou had, compiling a 30-5 record, Big 12 Tournament Championship, and #2 NCAA Tournament seed in the most unlikely of fashions. Missouri went through a coaching change in the offseason, bringing in former Miami coach Frank Haith in a move that was certainly not approved widespread by Tigers fans. Then, top big man Laurence Bowers suffered a torn ACL in preseason that ended his senior year before it even began. With adversity from the start, Missouri turned in an incredible year and finished the season with the most efficient offense in Division I while playing a four-guard lineup. A disappointing NCAA Tournament game cannot erase the success of the Tigers this season.

Historic Programs Comprise Final Four. Although only one #1 seed advanced to the final weekend, the Final Four still included four of the great basketball programs of all time. Kentucky, Louisville, Ohio State, and Kansas have combined for 49 total Final Four appearances in their programs’ histories, and UK’s title made for the 14th National Championship among those four schools. Our national title game between Kentucky and Kansas pitted the two winningest schools in history against one another for the first time ever in a tournament final. And every coach in New Orleans had previously advanced to a National Title game before; there’s a strong chance that each of the four coaches will someday wind up in the Naismith Hall of Fame. The Final Four was one for the ages in terms of powerhouse programs, and the games were quite good, as well.

#15-Seed Drama Makes Up For Buzzer-Beater-Less NCAA Tournament.

#15-Seed Lehigh Completed an Unbelievable Upset of #2 Duke (Getty Images/S. Lecka)

One of the greatest facets of the NCAA Tournament is that it produces such wild results; usually a couple of buzzer-beaters per year and often times some low-seed upsets thanks to crazy finishes. Unfortunately, buzzer-beaters were noticeably absent from this year’s Big Dance, but that didn’t mean a lack of drama, as victories by two #15 seeds filled that ‘madness’ void for fans. Both Norfolk State and Lehigh advanced in the NCAA Tournament round of 64, knocking off Missouri and Duke, respectively, to mark the first time ever that multiple #15 seeds won a game in a Big Dance. #16 UNC-Asheville also gave Syracuse a run for its money and nearly made even more history there. Despite the lack of game-winners, we will not soon forget this tournament because of the madness that ensued on one Friday night that saw both Norfolk State and Lehigh knock off top teams.

Big Ten Establishes Dominance. In the perpetual debate of ‘Best Conference in the Country,’ the Big Ten left little doubt that it was the top league in the land this season. The argument can still be made for other conferences based on the fact that the Big Ten was not represented in the National Championship game, but the B1G was the best over the course of this full season. The league accumulated the highest conference RPI by a wide margin and had five teams in the NCAA Tournament as a #4-seed or better (the most of any conference). The Big Ten’s .647 winning percentage in the Big Dance was second to only the SEC, which got boosted by having just four teams make the dance and Kentucky winning the whole thing. In addition, the 11 wins accrued by Big Ten teams was second to only the Big East, which compiled 14 wins but with three more teams in the tournament. The Big Ten and Big East both sent four teams to the Sweet Sixteen, and Ohio State reached the Final Four to represent the conference.

Pathetic Pac-12. This was certainly not a year to remember for the Pac-12, as the league sent just two teams to the NCAA Tournament that combined to go 1-2. Washington became the first team ever to win a power conference’s regular-season title and not qualify for the Big Dance, as the Huskies were not given credit for racking up wins against such a mediocre league. The Pac-12 is a ‘power six’ conference yet finished eighth in conference RPI this year, behind both the Mountain West and Atlantic 10. No Pac-12 team remained in the NCAA Tournament after the first weekend, fitting for a league that so badly struggled all season.

Indiana’s Resurgence. All top college basketball schools suffer the occasional ‘down’ year, such as North Carolina’s trip to the NIT in 2010 a year after winning the National Championship. But Indiana, considered one of the five or six top programs in the nation, had been in an awful spell of losing the past few years. The Hoosiers hadn’t made the NCAA Tournament or even finished above .500 since 2008, with three straight years of terrible results. This season marked IU’s comeback in a huge way, not just getting back to making the NCAA Tournament but also becoming one of the most exciting teams in the country. The Hoosiers finished 27-9 with three wins over top-five teams this year, and wound up playing in the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend before losing to the eventual national champions. IU basketball is back, and next year should be a special one for the Hoosiers as a likely preseason top-five team.

Anthony Davis Completes Historic Campaign.

Anthony Davis Topped Off an Incredible Season by Cutting Down the Nets (AP Photo)

Kentucky’s freshman sensation Anthony Davis put together one of the great individual seasons of all-time this year. Think about this: If (when) Davis gets selected with the #1 overall pick in June’s NBA Draft, he will be the first player since Lew Alcindor (!) in 1969 to win the Naismith National Player of the Year award, be named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player, and be selected #1 in the NBA Draft. Now that’s exclusive company. Davis was a game-changing defensive player this season, compiling 186 total blocks that set the single-season freshman record as well as the single-season SEC record. He averaged 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.7 blocks, and 1.4 steals per game while shooting 62.3% from the field and leading his conference in offensive rating (133.6) en route to winning five of the six Player of the Year awards as well as the National Championship as the best player for Kentucky. Davis is surely gone for the NBA now, but we hope you enjoyed his one season of sheer dominance at the college level in an unselfish and entertaining fashion that will go down as one of the great individual seasons in history.

Honorable Mention.

  • Michigan State Earns #1-Seed after 0-2 Start, Unranked Preseason Recognition.
  • Ohio Comes One Shot Away from Elite Eight as a #13-Seed.
  • Traditional Big East Powers Suffer Down Years.
EJacoby (198 Posts)

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