Which schools had the best combination of football and basketball programs during the 2016-17 seasons?
Spring has arrived and nets have been cut down in Phoenix (congrats, UNC). It’s once again time to measure up the nation’s athletic programs, using the past season of basketball and football as the measuring stick.
If you’re a student, alumnus or ardent fan of a specific university’s hoops program, it’s a safe assumption that you’re investing discretionary income and time into the football squad, too. This is especially poignant in March and April, when the eyes of a nation turn to brackets and basketball. If that program happens to be Florida, Florida State, Michigan or Wisconsin, you’ve had many occasions to feel a particular sense of school pride since summer’s last hurrah.
Still, some school’s, like Clemson, Penn State, Oklahoma and Washington, have had little to brag about since the bowl season ended. Countless others, such as Kansas, Oregon, UCLA and Arizona, simply could not wait until football ended and Midnight Madness began. Only the truly privileged fans enjoyed quality performances in both sports.
As in prior years, the goal of this unconventional rankings fusion is to celebrate schools that have best tantalized their fans with wins and memorable moments from Labor Day right through this year’s rendition of “One Shining Moment”.
Best Basketball And Football Programs
16. Middle Tennessee
These are heady times in Murfreesboro, thanks in large part to a pair of veteran coaches.
Rick Stockstill has guided Middle Tennessee to consecutive bowl games, fueled by the dynamic pitch-and-catch combo of his son, Brent, and Richie James. Kermit Davis has been even better with the hoops team. His seasoned Blue Raiders went 31-5, won the league regular season and tourney titles, upset a Big Ten opponent in the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year and became the first MTSU basketball squad to ever be ranked.
The Wildcats won a bowl game for just the third time, beating Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl. But this program is making its Hoops & Helmets debut for what occurred in the winter, not so much the fall.
Northwestern emerged into a national feel-good story in basketball, capped by a school-first invitation to the NCAA Tournament. The 24-12 Wildcats, rooted on by A-list actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, whose son is a Wildcat reserve, defeated Vanderbilt in the opening round before falling short to national runner-up Gonzaga in a heartbreaker.
14. South Carolina
No one saw this coming. No one except maybe Frank Martin and his shutdown defenders.
The Gamecocks were an afterthought, and then the NCAA Tournament began. The seventh seed was a bracket-buster in March, shockingly winning the East Region to reach the Final Four for the first time in school history. Football improved as well, doubling its win total to earn an unexpected bowl game in Will Muschamp’s first season. Plus, 2016 marked the debut of Jake Bentley, who could be South Carolina’s long-awaited quarterback of the future.
13. Oklahoma State
Throughout all of the ups and downs of the past half-year, there was still reason to cheer in Stillwater.
The Cowboys lost a stunner to Central Michigan and remained a step behind rival Oklahoma in Bedlam, but they still won 10, routed Colorado in the Alamo Bowl and finished the year ranked No. 11 in the country. Okie State was maddeningly streaky on the hardwood, opening the Big 12 season 0-6 before righting the ship to earn a No. 10 seed. However, the Cowboys closed the year with four losses in a row, and Brad Underwood left after one season to take the Illinois job.
12. Virginia Tech
The Hokies couldn’t quite get over the hump. Still, they were pretty solid in both sports this past season.
Virginia Tech’s biggest gains were made on grass, where first-year coach Justin Fuente led a much-needed turnaround. The Coastal Division winners won 10 games for the first time in five years, while almost upsetting eventual national champ Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. Hoops defeated Duke, Virginia and Miami as part of a respectable 22-11 campaign, but fell to eighth-seeded Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament opener.
Princeton was title central in the Ivy League this past fall and winter.
The Tigers swept the conference hardware in 2016-17, winning the football crown by blanking co-champ Penn, 28-0, on Nov. 5, and then sweeping the Ivy League slate of games on the hardwood, en route to a No. 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Princeton had Notre Dame on the ropes in Buffalo in the opening round, but fell two points short to snap a 19-game winning streak.
One of the premier FCS athletic programs, year-in and year-out, was once again successful in 2016-17.
Jay Wright’s mighty Wildcats won the Big East regular season and postseason titles, wielding a 31-3 mark when the NCAA Tournament began. However, the defending champs and No. 1 overall seed were stunned in Buffalo by No. 8 Wisconsin in the second round, 65-62. In legendary coach Andy Talley’s final season as the face of the football program, Villanova went 9-4 and qualified for the playoffs before falling in the second round to South Dakota State.
Football finally shouldered some of the load, affording Kentucky a shot for recognition here.
The Wildcats finally qualified for a postseason game, going 7-6 in a pivotal season that included an upset of rival Louisville and took a ton of heat off coach Mark Stoops. The basketball team was predictably prolific behind the latest wave of freshman phenoms, like Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox. The Cats went 32-6 and won the SEC regular season and postseason crowns, but fell a bucket shy of beating North Carolina and winning the South bracket.
8. West Virginia
The Mountaineers showed they were on par with the rest of the Big 12 … in both sports for a twist.
West Virginia is a proven hardwood entity, winning 28 games and reaching the Sweet 16 for the second time in the last three years under Bob Huggins. So, it was no surprise that Jevon Carter and the Neers were ranked all season. However, football delivered as well, finishing 10-3 and ranked to earn Dana Holgorsen a much-needed administrative reprieve. The Mountaineers would have climbed higher had it not been for double-digit losses to Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
If only the Cardinals were able to finish this season strongly.
Football obliterated Florida State, 63-20, on Sept. 17 and remained in playoff contention in mid-November. Louisville even celebrated its first-ever Heisman winner in 2016, QB Lamar Jackson. Hoops earned a No. 2 seed behind the all-around heroics of sophomore G Donovan Mitchell. However, neither team displayed a finishing kick, Bobby Petrino’s kids closing on an ugly three-game skid and Rick Pitino’s crew going 3-4, capped by an upset loss to Michigan in Round 2.
QB Sam Darnold helped ignite a spark on campus last September that carried right into the basketball season.
Behind their first-year quarterback, the Trojans shook off a 1-3 start to win the final nine games, including a Rose Bowl thriller over Penn State. Troy wound up No. 3 nationally, its highest finish since 2008. Andy Enfield’s basketball squad, meanwhile, went 26-10, beating Providence and SMU to open the NCAA Tournament. Both Trojan teams boast the returning talent to use last year as a catapult into 2017-18.
The Badgers dispatched postseason statements, a common occurrence for this university.
Madison has been home to one of the country’s best football-basketball duos of the past decade, a model of consistency in each sport. The Badgers went 11-3 on turf, losing to three of the country’s best teams. They did blow a three-touchdown lead to Penn State in the Big Ten Championship Game before rebounding with a Cotton Bowl win over undefeated Western Michigan. Hoops went 27-10, stunning top overall seed Villanova in the second round before falling in overtime to Florida on a crushing walk-off three-ball in overtime.
If not for some painfully close late-season losses, the whole nation might have been looking up at the Wolverines.
So close. Jim Harbaugh’s team was ranked No. 3 on Nov. 13, but a one-point loss to Iowa as time expired kicked off a 1-3 finish, with all three defeats coming by no more than a field goal. The basketball team in Ann Arbor actually followed a distinctly different trajectory, starting slowly and then finishing on a tear. Michigan shocked Wisconsin to win the Big Ten tournament for the first time in school history and then made it to the Sweet 16 with wins over Oklahoma State and second-seeded Louisville. Like the football team, though, dreams died in a one-point loss to Oregon in Kansas City.
3. North Carolina
As is often the case in Chapel Hill, football was good while basketball was memorable.
The regular season ACC hoops champs heated up when it mattered most, shaking off a league tourney loss to Duke. The Heels avenged last April’s heartbreaking, last-second loss to Villanova in the NCAA Tournament finals by capturing their sixth national championship late Monday night in Phoenix over Gonzaga. Larry Fedora’s 8-5 squad enjoyed some peaks as well, such as beating Pitt and Florida State, in Tallahassee, in last-second nail-biters. Carolina was also home to Mitch Trubisky, who could be the first quarterback selected in this month’s NFL Draft.
The Gators returned to the NCAA Tournament following a two-year hiatus. As such, they’re also back in the thick of Hoops & Helmets contention.
Mike White began slowly stepping out of Billy Donovan’s enormous shadow, guiding Florida to 27 wins and an appearance in the Elite Eight with a relatively young squad. It’s the ground floor on which the program hopes to build a bridge to the glory days. Football won the SEC East for a second straight year under Jim McElwain, but offensive ineptitude led to late losses to rival Florida State and Alabama in the league title game. The Gators, though, did bounce back with a 30-3 Outback Bowl rout of Iowa.
1. Florida State
Basketball chipped in for a change, meaning it was a really good year to be a Seminole fan these past six months.
Leonard Hamilton guided a young and talented team back into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years. And FSU didn’t enter through the back door. The Noles won 26 games, their most since 1971-72, beat the likes of Florida, Virginia, Duke, Notre Dame and Louisville, and earned a No. 3 seed. However, the season ended on a sour note, a second-round loss to No. 11 seed Xavier. Football handled the Gators, too, as well as Miami and Michigan in the Orange Bowl. No ACC title for a second straight year, but the team did finish No. 8 nationally with a rookie QB under center.
… and then there are the eight Power Five programs still pining for a major postseason appearance or anything to cheer about in 2016-17. Oops and helmets, if you will.
Worst Basketball & Football Programs
8. Ole Miss
This is all on you, Rebel football team.
Andy Kennedy’s 11th team in Oxford was supposed to occupy the middle of the SEC pack, and it essentially followed the script by going 10-8 in league play and reaching the third round of the NIT. However, the football team began the season with lofty expectations and a No. 11 preseason AP ranking, yet flopped miserably. Forget the Top 25 or SEC contention. The Rebels failed to even qualify for a second-rate bowl game, closing the year with blowout losses to Vandy and archrival Mississippi State.
7. Arizona State
Bobby Hurley is making progress after two seasons. Todd Graham better begin doing the same this fall.
Hurley is fine, even after back-to-back 15-win seasons. He just needs more time to populate his roster. Graham, though, has veered off course with consecutive seven-loss campaigns. His 2016 edition closed the year on a six-game losing streak, getting roughed up in five of those losses. It marked the first time since 2010 that the program missed a bowl game and it stifled the momentum Graham had built in his first three years in Tempe.
6. Texas Tech
The guns are always up in Lubbock. But the chamber is empty these days.
The Red Raiders are enduring a rather lean period in their history. The basketball team has been to one NCAA Tournament since Bob Knight retired almost a decade ago. And the football team is just 16-21 over the past three seasons, going 5-7 and missing out on bowl eligibility in 2016. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes helped make Texas Tech games highly entertaining, but the play of a feeble defense was Texas Tech’s victory repellent.
A university that commits so many resources to its athletic programs has no business being in this space.
It is shocking and unacceptable that the Longhorns, once one of the mightiest of H&H contenders, is wallowing south of mediocrity. Yeah, Austin is home to a pair of upwardly mobile young coaches, Tom Herman in the fall and Shaka Smart in the winter. But the VCU version of Smart has yet to appear at Texas, which went 11-22 last year to tie a single-season school record for losses. And Herman must clean up the mess of Charlie Strong, who dropped seven games in each of his three years on the Forty Acres.
4. Boston College
Football finished with a flurry. Hoops remains a mess, with no end in sight to the misery.
The Eagles closed the year with three straight wins, highlighted by a Quick Lane Bowl victory over Maryland. Still, this is a middling ACC program that lost to league heavyweights Clemson, Louisville and Florida State by a combined score of 153-24. Basketball on the Heights, though, is an entirely different level of futility. Boston College went 9-23, dropping the final 15 games, to miss the NCAA Tournament for an eighth year in a row. Three years after hiring Jim Christian, BC is still rudderless on the hardwood.
After some early success, Mizzou is struggling to compete in the SEC.
The Tigers faced persistent in-game hardship this past year. In Barry Odom’s debut as Gary Pinkel’s successor, Missouri lost eight games for the first time since the beginning of the century. Losses to Middle Tennessee and Kentucky were indicative of how far the program had slipped since copping the East Division in 2013 and 2014. On the court, the Tigers remained in a protracted funk. They finished tied with LSU in last place in the conference, leading to the canning of third-year coach Kim Anderson.
2. Oregon State
The Beavers finally won the Civil War over Oregon. Otherwise, nothing to see here.
Beating the Ducks last November was huge. However, it was still part of a 4-8 campaign, marking the program’s third straight losing season. And yet the situation is even worse at Gill Coliseum. Oregon State went 5-27 in 2016-17, including 1-17 in Pac-12 play. Yeah, a decline was expected, but not off the side of a cliff. It has now been 35 years, when A.C. Green was still in Corvallis, since the Beavers have won an NCAA Tournament game.
Money doesn’t guarantee happiness … or athletic prowess evidently.
The Scarlet Knights clearly made the sound business decision by joining the Big Ten three years ago. But an inability to effectively compete in a much tougher league is dampening fan enthusiasm. The basketball team improved to 15-18 in Steve Pikiell’s first season on the bench, but it still marked the 11th straight losing year at Rutgers. And yet, the football team is in far worse shape. The 2-10 Knights were winless in Big Ten play, embarrassingly losing to Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State by a combined score of 224-0.