Jim Gazzolo column: Brave new world of NCAA hoops

Published 11:00 am Thursday, March 23, 2023

Just two weeks ago the Southland Conference played its basketball championship game at McNeese State.

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi was trying to repeat as league champ and move back to the NCAA Tournament.

Northwestern State, the upstart, was out to make a name for itself. Both teams were far from league powers but had turned things around under their coaches, thanks to the NCAA transfer portal.

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The Islanders won, but since then a lot has changed.

Corpus Christi head coach Steve Lutz has taken a job at Western Kentucky while Northwestern’s Corey Gibson has moved on to Austin Peay. They stayed in the SLC for a combine total of three seasons.

Gibson was not the only Demon to transfer as the entire starting five entered the portal this week. Corpus will also have to rebuild its roster.

Winning teams are not alone in the change.

Lamar didn’t make the SLC Tournament but did have Nathan Colmese, the conference’s Freshman of the Year.

No longer.

Colmese hit the portal after one year in Beaumont, Texas. Two other Cardinals freshmen are in the portal as well.

This is happening throughout college basketball, not just in the SLC.

It wasn’t long ago when the term one-and-done in the game meant players leaving big programs for the riches of the NBA. That has been the way things have gone as the game has changed.

While that is still happening, the term has also hit smaller schools and leagues. It now concerns players who move up and down the game’s levels.

It’s also why there is hope for long-suffering programs like McNeese.

With the hiring of Will Wade, interest in men’s basketball at the school is at an all-time high. Ticket sales are up as the former LSU coach hit town running.

Even with the recruiting restrictions placed on Wade, his name and connections should bring plenty of new talent to town. That alone will likely change the balance of power in a conference that was already in flux.

The same formula is at least in part why so many upsets have taken place in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Rebuilding no longer needs to take years but rather weeks.

Almost every team in the nation will have key members leave and new ones emerge. Handling a roster and being able to adapt to those changes might be more important now for a head coach than X’s and O’s.

One could even argue that the winning ones are more like general managers because of all the moving parts.

This is hard for fans to get used to as well. No longer can they be loyal to players for four or five years but rather four or five months.

Just when you get to know a roster it likely will flip. It makes for interesting new players on the national scene.

McNeese hopes that Wade can flip the Cowboys roster and make them a player in this new game.

In fact, they are counting on it.

Jim Gazzolo is a freelance writer who covers McNeese State athletics for the American Press. Email him at