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Indiana State: A Case Study of How Good Elite D2’s Are?

I’ve often wondered how good the top D2 teams really are. Could you put the best team from D2 directly into D1, and how would that go? My best guess was always the top 5 D2 teams were somewhat equivalent too 100th to 150th ranked D1s. The best analogy I’ve seen was one coach comparing Canadian Power Carelton to a top-level CAA-type team. That was their estimation, and it’s seemed reasonable after studying their teams.

There are many examples of non D1 schools upsetting top-level teams in preseason exhibitions over the years. There are also examples of non D1’s beating mid-majors in real games in a season. There are even a few Chaminade and Alaska Anchorage upsets of top teams on semi-home courts we’ve written about previously. I even think it’s even interesting to include the exhibitions Canadian power Carleton played over the years as well in the discussions.

Those examples are they are all one-offs or just two or 3 game exhibitions. Anything can happen in a game or two, but how would a team like that perform over the course of an entire season? A real season, not an exhibition. I think we have some examples of teams that were quality non-D1s that have made the jump to D1 in the last quarter-century. We can glean some information from those moves. We also have examples of non-D1 players and coaches that have moved up with varying success. (Ryan Hawkins, Max Strus, Duncan Robinson, etc. / Bruce Pearl, Bo Ryan, Kim Anderson etc)

Over the last 25 years

Belmont transitioned from being a successful NAIA school to a very strong D1 program under Rick Byrd. They had been to a NAIA final 4 two straight years before their transition and were 15-11 in their first D1 season.

Cal Baptist was in the D2 Elite 8 the season before their transition year. They went 16-15 in the first year of D1, but they added a key D1 transfer from the Pac 12 that averaged 20ppg there which kind of skews it.

St. Thomas was the first D3 to ever make the leap directly to D1, almost with no D1 transfer additions that played. It was essentially the same team that was a top-ranked D3 team two seasons prior (didn’t play the season before). They struggled as one would expect going 10-20 (4-14) in the Summit. Still, I thought this was kind of impressive to win 2/3rds of their games considering these were players that weren’t even on scholarships in D3.

South Dakota State was a good program but struggled when entering D1. It wasn’t long however before they started winning.

Bellarmine was also a strong program overall but the year before they made the jump they didn’t make the D2 NCAA tournament. They didn’t come to D1 on a high note, but they would still go on to have a good transition going 14-8 in their first year. They also won the Atlantic Sun Tournament last year in their 2nd. Unfortunately, they were ineligible from the D1 NCAA tournament as a transitioning team for the first 5 years. They couldn’t go to the NCAA similar to Merrimack a few seasons prior.

Lincoln Memorial

Those schools were all nice, but they weren’t the level in D2 of Lincoln Memorial.

2015?16Lincoln Memorial34?3NCAA DII Runner-Up
2016?17Lincoln Memorial30?6NCAA DII Final Four
2017?18Lincoln Memorial32?2NCAA DII Sweet Sixteen
2018?19Lincoln Memorial20?9
2019?20Lincoln Memorial32?1NCAA Canceled
2020?21Lincoln Memorial19?4NCAA DII Final Four

This is the last 6 years of Lincoln Memorial under Josh Schertz who was 337-69 (83%) overall there as coach. Three Final Four’s in 6 years. Probably the best of those teams didn’t have a chance to compete for a title during covid or it may have been 4 Final Fours with a title. Schertz is now at Indiana State the last two seasons.

The Core

Indiana State2021-22
Courvoisier McCauleySRG6-515.9 Pts, 5.1 Reb, 1.0 Ast
Cameron HenrySOG6-611.1 Pts, 4.7 Reb, 3.4 Ast
Xavier BledsonJRG6-69.6 Pts, 2.5 Reb, 2.8 Ast
Lincoln Memorial2019-21
Courvoisier McCauleyJrG6-520.0 Pts, 6.3 Reb, 2.5 Ast
Cameron HenryFrG6-613.7 Pts, 8.0 Reb, 3.8 Ast
Xavier BledsonSoG6-610.5 Pts, 4.3 Reb, 5.1 Ast

Why I believe this is interesting to follow this season is that Courvoisier McCauley has rejoined Schertz at Indiana State this season, and leading the team in scoring at 15.9ppg, 5.1rpg. He was previously a D2 All-American star of that 32-1 team at Lincoln Memorial for Schertz before transferring to DePaul last season (5.7ppg).

One of McCauley’s top running mates on that 32-1 team was Cameron Henry who averaged 13.2ppg 8rpg at Lincoln Memorial in 2020. (He averaged 15.1ppg, 6.3rpg in 2021) He joined Indiana State last season when Schertz made the move and averaged 14.3ppg, 5.3rpg on that Indiana State’s 11-20 team. He’s also their #2 leading scorer this season. Xavier Bledson didn’t play on that 2020 Lincoln Memorial team with McCauley, (he was gone by the time Bledson arrived), but he did play on the 2021 team with Henry for Schertz that made it to the D2 Final 4.

That’s three key players from Lincoln Memorial’s last two D2 power teams that have been reformed for at Indiana State with Schertz. They are currently the top 3 scorers for Indiana State. Having this core group and head coach from a D2 school at that level I believe is a good stand-in for how Lincoln Memorial would have performed in if all stayed until now. This would be kind of peak Lincoln Memorial for that group with McCauley as a 5th year senior now former D2 All American in 2020. Henry and Bledson are older as well.

Cooper Neese is really the only holdover at Indiana State that plays a large role. The other big additions to this team have come from JUCO’s or D2 as well. The main one Kaliex Stephens came from JUCO, but was also a former D2 player. There are also 3 other former D2 that transferred directly to Indiana State on the roster, Two of them were former teammates for some extra continuity. In all there are at least 7 players from D2 originally, the majority of the roster.

Those are the kind of players you could have conceivably seen transferring to Lincoln Memorial. The core of the team and leading scorers were from Lincoln Memorial, for all intents and purposes it’s kind of Lincoln Memorial reformed at Indiana State, especially with all the additional players from D2. It’s been a smart strategy. This was a team I liked in the off-season enough to rank in our top 25 mid-majors coming off a 20-loss season. That was all on the strength of these D2 ties. Indiana State is currently 7-1 with a quality in-conference win over rival Drake. This is a developing story that I believe more people will eventually catch onto if it continues to go well.

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