The third season is ultimately the season where a coach finally starts feeling like he belongs at the school; the team is finally his team. The recruits he brought in are either sophomores or juniors and the majority of the previous coach's players have graduated or left the program. He has been recruiting for his new school for the last three years and is genuinely invested in his program. The coach has players on his team who know all of the schemes and can help the newer players get adapted to the system more quickly. The veterans can now lead by example instead of being new players themselves. It's also the year when the coach feels as if he needs to put a quality product on the court if he is ever going to receive that contract extension. This is something I like to call the Third Season Theory.
Here's a look at the first three seasons of some very successful NCAA basketball coaches that may help illustrate the Third Season Theory.
Tom Crean (Marquette) 15-14, 15-14, 27-6 (NCAA)
Billy Donovan (Florida) 13-17, 14-15, 22-9 (NCAA)
Tubby Smith (Tulsa) 17-13, 15-14, 23-8 (NCAA)
Tom Izzo (Michigan State) 16-16, 17-12, 22-8 (NCAA)
John Beilein (West Virginia) 14-15, 17-14, 24-11 (NCAA)
Todd Lickliter (Iowa) 13-19, 15-16, ???
Yes, there are exceptions to the rule, such as Roy Williams, Jim Boeheim, Bruce Pearl, and Mark Few who just came in and dominated from the get go. There are also coaches that took longer to get going (Jim Calhoun, Mike Krzyzewski, and Lute Olson, among others).
Some may argue that coaches at other schools were able to get things going in the third season because they had more resources than an Iowa coach would. Fair enough. Let's take a look at another Iowa coach and his first three seasons: Kirk Ferentz (Iowa) 1-10, 3-9, 7-5 (Bowl). You could even argue that turning a football program around is far more challenging than turning a basketball program around.
Then again, this Third Season Theory might be a hoax in itself; recall Lickliter's first three seasons at Butler: 26-6, 27-6, 16-14. Uh Oh.
Regardless if you buy into this theory or not, the bottom line is the past two seasons have been two of the worst in Iowa Basketball history. The combined 35 losses were the most in the program's existence for a two year period. Combine that with the departures of four players and many people (fans and outside interests alike) are expecting this year's squad to be equal or worse than the first two fielded by Lickliter. The conclusion here shouldn't be that Lickliter is likely going to put up 22+ wins like the coaches mentioned earlier in this piece. Instead, using the Third Season Theory, Coach Lickliter should see a rise in his team's win total, a total higher than most people expect.
The next seven parts to this series will help explain why Iowa Basketball will be better than you think.