Which Rising NCAA Basketball Programs Will Still Be Relevant in a Decade?

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Which Rising NCAA Basketball Programs Will Still Be Relevant in a Decade?
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

One decade ago, Auburn was in the Sweet Sixteen, Texas and Oklahoma looked like rising giants and the NCAA tournament was a quaint, 64-team affair.

Gonzaga, meanwhile, was still a spunky Cinderella, and mighty Michigan was languishing in the middle of a so-so Big 10.

Of course, things change. Coaches leave. NBA age limits fluctuate. Recruits prosper and plateau and go bust.

By 2022-23, the wheel will have turned once more, and by then, these five schools have a chance to be atop it.

 

Providence

After a rough start, the Friars have evened their Big East record at 8-8. While that might seem like a modest milestone to most, it's a major step forward for a program coming off three consecutive four-win seasons in league play.  

Should its late-season surge continue, Providence (16-12) has an outside chance for its first 20-win campaign since 2003.

But all these harbingers of mediocrity are merely the preface for what could be.

Since arriving two seasons ago, coach Ed Cooley has turned the Friars into one of the East Coast's recruiting powerhouses. Last year, Cooley—formerly the coach at nearby Fairfield University—brought in blue-chippers Kris Dunn and Ricardo Ledo along with Arizona transfer Sidiki Johnson.

Dunn has struggled amid injury, Ledo was ruled ineligible for his first year and Johnson has left the team due to personal matters, blunting the team's progress this season.

But if Ledo forgoes the NBA draft and returns to school, the three could form a potent combo next year alongside leading scorer Bryce Cotton (a junior) and incoming freshman Brandon Austin (No. 56, ESPN 100).

Looking further down the road, Providence seems well-positioned to overtake regional rival Connecticut as New England's brand-name basketball school.

Stranded inside the husk of what was once the Big East and reeling from NCAA sanctions, the Huskies look more vulnerable now than they have in years. The Friars, meanwhile, are headed with their Catholic brethren to the new Big East, a conference that should be one of the nation's best.

Having already proved himself a capable recruiter, Cooley now has the leverage needed to build a lasting winner. And as he told CBS Sports' Jeff Borzello last October, "I'm in it for the long haul."

If Cooley's word is true, Providence could soon be a mainstay in the Top 25.

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images


Creighton

Exactly 10 years ago Creighton finished the season ranked 15th overall behind the play of senior sharpshooter Kyle Korver.

Korver eventually forged a long career in the NBA, while the Bluejays would have to wait nine years before earning another year-end AP ranking.

Then as now, the question for Creighton is whether its success is an indicator of rising tides or the aberrant by-product of a recruiting fluke.

Creighton has won more than 20 games in each of the three last seasons largely because coach Greg McDermott's son, junior forward Doug McDermott, has blossomed into one of the country's best players.

The difference is that Korver's Bluejays never had the option of leaving the Missouri Valley Conference.

McDermott's Bluejays, however, just might.

According to numerous sources, including Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel, Creighton is a leading candidate to join the reconstituted Big East when it launches next season.

Adjusting to the higher level of play could damage Creighton's immediate returns, but long term, this move puts the Bluejays in perfect position to build a winner.

As it stands now, Creighton would be the only school in the new Big East located west of the Mississippi. That means a relatively unobstructed regional recruiting pocket along with a brand presence in major markets like Chicago, New York and Philadelphia.

Eric Francis/Getty Images

 

VCU

VCU doesn't have Providence's recruiting reach or Creighton's conference-hopping ambition, but head coach Shaka Smart might be worth more than both of those things combined.

In Smart's three-plus years at the helm, the Rams have gone a combined 107-34, won six NCAA tournament games and made the program's first ever Final Four appearance.

The engine behind Smart's success is "Havoc," a strategic blueprint and marketing ploy all rolled into one.

Havoc began as the white-board name for Smart's aggressive style of trapping defense, one that forces turnovers at a higher rate than any other D in the country. Over time, it's evolved into a national catchword, elevating VCU from generic mid-major success story to magazine-worthy novelty.

These days, it's the rhetorical entry point for all manner of national exposure and a way for the program to separate itself from every other March Madness Cinderella tale.

The downside is that VCU has been left to build its success inside a weakened A-10 conference that will most likely be without Temple, Butler and Xavier when all the dust settles.

Schools like Gonzaga have proven that it's possible to build a long-term winner in a true mid-major conference, but VCU's road could be a bit tougher than the other schools on this list.

Luckily for the Rams, local rivals Virginia and Virginia Tech aren't known as basketball blue-bloods, leaving Smart in good position to recruit the growing Tidewater and northern Virginia regions.

GIF courtesy of Sports Illustrated's Luke Winn

 

Butler

Butler combines the best of Creighton and VCU with an even better recent track record to form perhaps the most promising mid-major profile in America.

Despite playing just one season in the A-10, the Bulldogs are a strong candidate to join the new Big East next year. If they do, it'll be with superstar head coach Brad Stevens, 36, at the helm. Few young coaches command more national attention than the Indiana native.

In Stevens' first five seasons as the head coach, Butler has amassed two 30-win seasons, two Final Four appearances and four conference championships.

Then there's the convenience of playing in a major media market (Indianapolis) inside a famed basketball venue (Hinkle Fieldhouse) with the residents of basketball-crazed Indiana filling your seats.

Butler's charms are obvious, and its place in the basketball landscape is the envy of every other mid-major aspirant.

 

Miami

In Miami's quest for sustainable ACC relevance, the most ominous wild card is the NCAA's ongoing investigation into past transgressions inside the school's athletic department. It's uncertain how that drama might effect the basketball program, so for now, we'll focus on what we know.

For instance, we know Miami is a nationally recognized sports powerhouse located in a massive media market.

We know that Miami has been one of the best teams in the country this year and will likely win the ACC regular season title.

We know Miami coach Jim Larranaga is a celebrated stats guru with a fantastic track record and a reputation for staying put.

With a good chunk of the team set to graduate after this season, it could be a year or two before Miami reemerges as an ACC title contender. But there's plenty in the tea leaves to suggest that this program could be a major player in the southeastern recruiting scene for the next decade.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

 

Other Risers to Watch: Iowa State, UNLV, New Mexico, BYU, Saint Louis, St. John's,  LSU, South Florida, San Diego State, Houston, SMU

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