The unstoppable machine that is Thomas More women’s basketball
You’d be forgiven for not knowing much about the Thomas More University women’s basketball program; it’s a soon-to-be NAIA program transitioning from Division III located in the Cincinnati suburbs. Here’s a starter pack on TMU: the school has just under 2,000 students. Its football program has the all-time highest win percentage in D-3. They’re called the Saints. Also, their women’s basketball program has won three championships in the last five seasons and is 157-3 since 2014:
The Thomas More Saints are the 2012-2018 UConn Huskies, and Jeff Hans is the program’s Geno Auriemma. Since Hans took over for the 2011-12 season, the Saints are 240-11, with five of those losses coming in his first year on the job. It wasn’t like the Saints weren’t wildly successful before Hans’ arrival; they’d won six straight Presidents’ Athletic Conference championships and had made nine NCAA Division III Tournament appearances prior to his hiring. However, he’s taken the program to a new level, one that most in America only dream of. Oh, and here’s another fun fact: Thomas More leaves the PAC having not lost a single conference game since 2012.
When I reach Jeff Hans in Crestview Hills, he makes the program’s goals sound clear and simple. Their offensive philosophy barely requires three sentences: “Get good shots. Shoot it before we turn it over to give us a chance to rebound it if we miss. We want possessions and we want the numbers,” Hans tells me. All things that are easier said than done, especially against the type of schedule Thomas More played in 2018-19. The Saints drew 12 ranked opponents from both D-3 and NAIA, and nine of them were either at neutral sites or on the road. Of course, this was of little worry, as the Saints averaged a +14.9 point differential in these games and won ten of the 12 by double digits. Play fast and score a lot, indeed:
“We’re talking about offense here, but a lot of it stems from defense and creating advantages where we can get out in transition and have our opponents take bad shots that lead to easy baskets,” says Hans. The Saints led the nation in field goal percentage at 51.8%; just one other team in D-3 was at 50%+ (St. Thomas (MN)). Thomas More’s ability to create lots of bad shots and potential steals on defense led to a lot of the easy baskets Hans wanted. Even when they weren’t getting buckets in transition, it seemed like this offense was robotic, designed to get excellent players the shots that were best for them:
One of those excellent players is named Madison Temple. Temple, who graduated this past spring, leaves Thomas More as the only 2,000+ point scorer in history. The distance from her field goals record of 812 to second place’s 656 is a similar gap from second to ninth. Oh, and she was a career 43.1% three-point shooter and 86.7% free throw shooter while finishing her career third in the record books in rebounds and first in assists. Truly, she could do all that was asked of her:
How a player this amazing ends up in D-III is explained very simply: a rough injury history. “A lot of schools backed off of her because she tore both of her ACLs in high school,” says Hans. “She got an offer from a local D-1 to walk-on, but she chose to come here because she wanted to play at a high level and she wanted to play with Sydney Moss.” That’s where those first two titles come from. Moss, who scored 1,511 points in her two eligible years (it’s a long story), formed a powerful, unstoppable team with Temple while they were at TMU together for a season. Moss was a two-time National Player of the Year, while Temple merely won it once. Not bad.
Also, here’s a free tip: if you want to win a lot of games, crash the boards as ruthlessly as the Saints do:
Thomas More recovered an insane 43.5% of possible offensive rebounds in 2018-19, which would’ve been the highest D-1 men’s rate in six years. If you want a more traditional stat, they held a +12.1 rebounding margin per game. “If we’re able to get more shots, we get more opportunities, and the odds of us scoring increases dramatically,” Hans notes. “[This is] because of spreading the floor, spacing the floor, and creating open alleys and different gaps. We’re able to draw help and limit blockouts so there’s someone free for an offensive rebound.” It was a hellish endeavor to keep this team out of the paint:
All in all, Thomas More and Jeff Hans have crafted something immense. It’s incredibly rare to see a team turn into a legitimate basketball dynasty these days; we might as well appreciate it while it’s here. “We want this to be fun to play and fun to come watch. . . . That’s why we finished second in the country this year in attendance in Division III,” says Hans. Now, he gets to take this show to NAIA, where the competition will be similarly tough and the target will be on his team’s back. To him, it’s all about effort, competitiveness, and culture: “It’s something that really helps you when the lights come on and it’s game time.”
Every night, regardless of opponent, the Thomas More women’s basketball team enters the floor with, at worst, a 95.6% chance of winning the game under Jeff Hans. If you eliminate his first year, that goes to 97.3%. That is an insane statistic, and one I wish more people knew about. Hopefully this helps.