Could ETSU Become the Next Creighton?

Buccaneers and Blue Jays tip off Sunday afternoon in a college basketball game that could have future ramifications.

Marky Billson, Host of Tri-Cities Sports NOW

When I close my eyes and dream of what East Tennessee State basketball could be, I sometimes see Creighton.

The Blue Jays have gone from mid-major to Big East and have 21 NCAA Tournament appearances in their history, including in both of the past two years. Though in the shadow of the University of Nebraska, Creighton actually outdraws the Huskers in basketball attendance. The Blue Jays averaged just under 16,000 fans a game.

They just placed Khyri Thomas in the NBA and have won 20 games in 18 of the past 20 seasons.

However the Blue Jays are also picked to finish ninth in the Big East this season by the league’s coaches. A major reason ETSU lost to Georgia State, suffering 10 blocked shots, is something to focus attention on as Creighton blocked just two shots in a 78–67 opening day victory against Western Illinois despite the presence of seven footer Samson Froling, who played sparingly. The Leathernecks are picked to finish last in the Summit League this season.

Creighton’s Samson Froling before he was a member of the Blue Jays

This is a winnable game for ETSU.

And so lies the question. ETSU’s out-of-conference slate this season features two games that could gain attention from the Midwest, namely Creighton and Illinois. With both of these teams picked next-to-last in their respective conferences the games are winnable for the Buccaneers.

Back in ETSU head coach Steve Forbes’ home state of Iowa, Iowa and Iowa State are projected to just okay. Middle of the pack. Maybe a tourney berth if Fran McCafferty can shore up the Hawkeyes defense or if the Cyclones’ Nick Babb shines after an injury riddled season.

But the seat got hot for McCafferty in Iowa City after the Hawkeyes suffered their first losing season last year in seven campaigns. What if Iowa struggles again?

I’ve often stated if I had to bet, I would bet on Steve Forbes staying at ETSU for the long term. He’s supposedly had offers from schools that would pay him a comparable salary to his long term $650,000 annual contract and turned them down. Why leave something strong you’ve started for the devil you don’t know?

But a true major conference would pay Forbes a much greater salary and provide the opportunity for national prominence.

Forbes will be 54 after the season ends, a young 54 but 54 nevertheless, and that’s a bit long in the tooth for major programs. There are exceptions, but generally programs are looking for younger men.

So this may be the last chance for Forbes to land with a major program.

Steve Forbes knows it’s nice to hold the cards

There have only been three times where ETSU basketball has lost their coach to another program and twice they went to their alma maters.

Forbes isn’t returning to his alma mater, Southern Arkansas. But a major conference with a chance to be closer to his parents in their golden years? Who would blame him?

If Forbes was ever to leave ETSU, it would likely happen only after this season if the Buccaneers returned to the NCAA Tournament, either Iowa or Iowa State had an opening, and the Bucs beat Creighton and/or Illinois.

So ETSU fans should root for Iowa and Iowa State this year. The Buccaneers chances of becoming another Creighton may hinge upon their success.

Marky Billson hosts Tri-Cities Sports NOW 12–2 p.m. ET weekdays on 1420 NBC Sports Radio Tri-Cities. Watch or listen to his show here and here.