Iowa (0-0) vs. Bethune Cookman (0-0)
I started my first Iowa weblog from the kitchen of my apartment in 2006. I didn't have many readers at the time, but the thing that finally put me on the map was the Steve Alford firing/coaching search the following spring, the search that eventually ended in the hiring of Todd Lickliter. One of the names that repeatedly floated near the surface of that search was New Mexico State head coach Reggie Theus. The former two-time NBA All-Star and UNLV legend had been an assistant for Rick Pitino, then took over a moribund Aggies program and, in two years, turned it into a WAC tournament champion and NCAA Tournament team.
Theus, of course, did not get the job. Instead, he became the head coach of the Sacramento Kings, which might have been a more difficult turnaround than the one he'd engineered in New Mexico. He lasted less than 18 months with the Maloofs, then bounced around as an NBA assistant for a while before returning to the college game at Cal State Northridge. He left there after four seasons, a 44-107 record, and a battery complaint against the athletic director. Last year, he took over at Bethune Cookman. And so Theus, fifteen years after being rumored for the Iowa vacancy, will finally make his coaching debut in Carver Hawkeye Arena for Iowa's opener tonight.
He walked into an empty shell of a program. Bethune Cookman shut down all winter sports in the 2020-21 season due to an October spike in Covid-19 cases on campus, which meant they basically death-penaltied themselves and started from scratch in 2021-22. Theus went 9-21 in his first season in charge, but given the circumstances, that's probably better than should have been expected. They took fewer three-point attempts, by percentage of possessions, than all but three of the 358 teams playing Division I basketball, and yet shot a hideous 43 percent on two-point attempts. Add it all up, and Bethune Cookman posted one of the worst effective field goal percentages in the country last year. They also got 1-in-9 shot attempts blocked, turned it over every fifth possession, and gave up 1.1 points per possession on defense.
Theus essentially returns his starting five, and overhauled the rest of the roster with the help of the portal. The most-used player from last year's team, point guard Marcus Garrett (6'1", 195) returns for his senior season. Garrett averaged 28 minutes, 13.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game for the Wildcats last season, after transferring in from Morehead State. The profile is clearly a drive-and-score point guard: He was the most-used player in the SWAC last year by percentage of possessions, managed 287 two-point attempts, took just 43 three-point attempts, and drew more than six fouls a game. Garrett is joined in the backcourt by junior shooting guard Joe French, who acts as the team's best perimeter threat. French (6'5", 170) led the SWAC in three-point shooting last year; of the 415 three-point shots attempted by Bethune Cookman last year, French took exactly 40% of them, and made 44% of those attempts. He doesn't boast any assist or rebound rate to speak of. He's a pure shooter.
Bethune Cookman also returns their starting center, senior Dylan Robertson (6'9", 205), who averaged 8.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last year after transferring in from Sam Houston State. Wing forward Kevin Davis (6'5", 180) also comes back, off a 14.0 ppg/7.6 rpg season, and his 38% three-point percentage is enough to earn respect on the perimeter. Damani McEntire (6'4", 190) started almost every game for Bethune Cookman last year, but had virtually no statistical presence beyond the second-highest steal rate in the nation; a Joe Toussaint-like 5.0% of opposing possessions ended in a steal by McEntire.
Everything else on the roster is new. Theus took three transfer guard/wing players, most notably Montana forward Derrick Carter-Hollinger, a 6'5" wing who started 17 games for the Grizz last season and shot a respectable 42% from three on limited attempts, and former Iowa Western guard Dhashon Dyson (6'1", 195), who put up 17.5 points per game last year at Division II St. Augustine's College. There are also EIGHT freshmen on the roster, including a seven-footer fresh off a postgraduate year at Hargrave Military and a shooting guard with perfect teeth.
It's pretty clear that Theus is doing what just about every low-major coach is doing these days: Find a really good point guard, bring in shooters to put around him from wherever possible, and throw as many bigs as you can find at the opposition on defense. They now have the roster to do that. But for a program that has never recorded a win over a team in the Kenpom Top 150, a season-opening trip to Iowa City is probably too much, too fast.