When Oregon State knocked off Arizona late Sunday night, it put Wayne Tinkle on the map for the job he’s done in his first season in Corvallis. Tinkle has taken a roster that lost its top five minutes-earners from last season—without much to replace them—and has built a squad capable of beating really good teams at home. That’s high praise at a program that hasn’t had a winning conference record since 1990. However, he’s not doing the best job of any first-year head coach.
It’s true that it’s easier to improve a bad program than a good one, but Maryland-Eastern Shore is a special case. Many people have tried and failed to build the Hawks into a winner over the past 40 years. Their last winning season in the MEAC was in 2001. Their last winning season overall was in 1993. Their last winning season before that was 1980. If we were compiling a list of worst programs in the nation, UMES would get serious consideration. But under first-year head coach Bobby Collins, that is changing.
While everyone was watching football, the Hawks were drilling Morgan State 78-53 in Baltimore on Monday night, winning for just the fourth time in their last 33 conference road games. They also have road wins over St. Bonaventure, Duquesne, and Fordham. That doesn’t sound like much, but for a program like UMES, it’s a level of success not seen since before there were shot clocks or three-point lines. After going 6-24 last season, they are basically tied for the lead in the A-10 right now.
The Hawks are 9-9 overall and they haven’t done it by playing the maximum allowed four non-D-I teams. Actually, they haven’t played any non D-I teams. All nine wins are legit and only three of them are outside the top 300. (By comparison, they only have one fewer top 300 win than once-ranked TCU.)
My laptop has them projected to get to 19 wins before the MEAC tournament, which would be the most wins for the program since 1974. Should that happen, UMES fans can thank Collins, but they also owe some of the team’s success to 6-9 senior Mike Myers. Myers hadn’t played college basketball the last two seasons but currently leads the country in fouls drawn per minute. He’s taken 141 free throws so far, which is third in the country, and he’s made 67 percent of them so it’s not like teams want to foul him.
UMES has improved its adjusted efficiency margin by 18 points from last season (exceeded only by Hofstra, nationally) and currently sits at #188 in my ratings. In a lot of years, that would be good enough to win the MEAC regular-season title, but North Carolina Central is the clear favorite at this moment. Nonetheless, it appears that the Hawks will have a legitimate chance to earn its first NCAA tournament berth in March. Doing so would involve UMES making its first MEAC title game.
Sure, the inertia of decades of horrible hoops could catch up to them. Maybe the Hawks are playing over their heads and reality is about to kick them in the mouth. But 18 games into the season, we’ve seen enough—even if most of us haven’t technically seen anything—to know that this is not your typical Maryland-Eastern Shore team.
When people talk about coach of the year candidates, they will talk about famous people who have plentiful resources and large staffs. It’s near impossible to assess coaching performance anyway, so why not pick someone who’s won at places where people have won before. Therefore, Bobby Collins won’t be on anyone’s top ten list, but who’s doing a better coaching job than Bobby Collins? Probably nobody.