Mid-Major Power Rankings: The Top 15

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

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The definition of what, exactly, makes a “mid-major” program is one of the more contentious debates in college basketball.

Is it simply every program outside of the six conferences associated with the BCS? Does it have to do with the amount of money spent on the program? Or the history of successes of the program? Or the size of the fan base? Or who they are able to recruit?

To simplify things, we eliminated everyone from the BCS leagues, the Atlantic 10, the Mountain West, Conference USA and the top three programs — BYU, Gonzaga and St. Mary’s — out of the WCC. We feel it is more important to celebrate some of the little guys than it is to include teams on a list they — and their fans — want no part of.

So without further ado, here are our Mid-major Power Rankings:

1. Creighton: The Bluejays should not be a secret to anyone heading into the season. They are going to be ranked in every national poll that has any credibility and have a preseason NBCSports.com First Team All-American on the roster in Doug McDermott. Offensively, Creighton is one of the most entertaining teams in the country to watch, as they pass and shoot the ball as well as anyone in the country. But will they be able to get stops? Creighton ranked 178th in defensive efficiency, according to Kenpom, last season.

  • Player to know: Sophomore forward Doug McDermott averaged 23.2 points and 8.2 boards last year.
  • Can’t-miss game: Creighton kicks off the season against the No. 2 team in these rankings on Nov. 9th, but dates with Wisconsin (Nov. 23rd) and St. Joseph’s (Dec. 1st) are worth your time as well.

2. North Texas: Tony Mitchell is the reason that the Mean Green will have plenty of chances to play in front of NBA scouts this season, but there is more to this team than simply a potential lottery pick. Chris Jones and Jordan Williams should both be eligible after missing the second half of last season due to academics. Alzee Williams returns for another season, as does Oklahoma State transfer Roger Franklin. New head coach Tony Benford also adds former Marquette and Oklahoma-signee TJ Taylor. There’s a lot of talent here.

  • Player to know: Sophomore forward Tony Mitchell averaged 14.7 points, 10.0 boards and 3.0 blocks last year. He’ll be a first round draft pick.
  • Can’t-miss game: Mitchell vs. McDermott on Nov. 9th will be fun, as will a date with St. Louis on Dec. 5th.

3. Drexel: The Dragons were arguably the best team left on the wrong side of the NCAA tournament’s bubble last year, as they won 25 of their last 26 games after getting their full team on the floor only to be toppled by VCU in the CAA tournament title game. The Dragons will have to replace the burly Samme Givens inside, but they will once again be a physical, defensive-minded team that will leave their opponent’s bruised and beat up.

  • Player to know: Junior guard Frantz Massenat (13.7 points, 4.5 assists) is their leader, but sophomore wing Damion Lee (12.0 points, 4.4 boards) is a future CAA Player of the Year in his own right.
  • Can’t-miss game: The Dragons have a tough slate of mid-major foes, but their two biggest non-conference games come at St. Mary’s (Nov. 22nd) and at home against St. Joseph’s (Dec. 31st).

4. South Dakota State: Last year, SDSU was able to snag the Summit’s auto-bid when Oral Roberts was upset in the conference tournament, and they gave Baylor a fight in the opening round. The Jackrabbits bring back all but one player from that team, including one of the nation’s best fantasy players in Nate Wolters. Three-point shooting is the name of the game for Scott Nagy’s club, as he surrounds Wolters with a group of guys that don’t miss when they’re open.

  • Player to know: Senior guard Nate Wolters averaged 21.2 points, 5.1 boards and 5.9 assists last year.
  • Can’t-miss game: The Jackrabbits play a number of road games against potential tournament teams before conference play begins, but the two to keep an eye on are Dec. 4th at Minnesota and Dec. 22nd at New Mexico.

5. Davidson: This is the best Davidson team that Bob McKillop has had since Steph Curry led the Wildcats to within a Jason Richards three of the 2008 Final Four. The Wildcats are coming off of a season where they rolled through the SoCon with a 16-2 record and went into Kansas City and knocked off the national runners-up in Kansas. Oh, and they bring back every single player that was on that team.

  • Player to know: Forwards De’Mon Brooks and Jake Cohen combined to average 30.0 points and 12.3 boards last year.
  • Can’t-miss game: Davidson will play at New Mexico at 2 a.m. on Nov. 13th during ESPN’s Kickoff Marathon, but they’ll have a chance of landing an upset in Cameron Indoor against Duke on Jan. 2nd.

6. Murray State: Murray State was America’s darling last season, winning their first 23 games of the season. And while they bring back an all-american in Isaiah Canaan, the loss of three key role players will be difficult to overcome.

  • Player to know: Senior guard Isaiah Canaan is a preseason NBCSports.com First Team All-American after averaging 19.0 points, 3.6 assists and shooting 45.6% from three.
  • Can’t-miss game: Murray State heads to Dayton on Dec. 22nd and hosts Valpo a week later, but their best games might end up being league dates with Belmont and Tennessee State.

7. Valparaiso: The Crusaders will have one of the best frontlines at the mid-major level with Ryan Broekhoff and Kevin Van Wijk returning and Indiana transfer Bobby Capobianco becoming eligible. Valpo could have won the Horizon last season if it wasn’t for some bad luck with injuries and the flu.

  • Player to know: Broekhoff and Van Wijk combined for 29.0 points and 13.7 boards last year.
  • Can’t-miss game: The Crusaders travel to New Mexico (Dec. 2nd) and St. Louis (Dec. 8th) within the span of a week, but their most interesting game might be dates with Cleveland State and Detroit in league play.

t-8. Bucknell and Lehigh: It’s almost impossible to separate these two teams. They’re by far the two favorites to win the Patriot League, and while most are going to remember CJ McCollum and the Mountainhawks thanks to their upset-win over Duke in the NCAA tournament, they’ll be overlooking the fact that the Bison also return their top four scorers, including former Patriot Player of the Year Mike Muscala.

  • Players to know: The senior big man Muscala averaged 17.0 points, 9.1 boards and 1.7 blocks last season and will be one of the nation’s best mid-major big men. McCollum is a preseason all-american this season after averaging
  • Can’t-miss game: Lehigh plays at Baylor while Bucknell plays at Purdue on Nov. 9th. Then, on Jan. 5th, Lehigh is at VCU and Bucknell is at Missouri. But circle Jan. 23rd and Feb. 20th on your calender; that’s when these two square off.

10. Montana: Losing Will Cherry to a broken foot hurts a lot, but he’ll be back by league play and back to 100% by the NCAA tournament.

  • Player to know: Cherry is a potential star, but in his absence watch out for junior guard Kareem Jamar (13.6 points, 5.6 boards, 3.7 assists, 44.1% threes).
  • Can’t-miss game: Unfortunately, Cherry will be out against Colorado State and BYU, and maybe even against South Dakota State on Dec. 15th.

11. Ohio: The Bobcats return every player of consequence from last season’s team that won the MAC and took North Carolina to overtime in the Sweet 16.

  • Player to know: It seems like so long go that senior guard DJ Cooper (14.7 points, 5.7 assists, 2.3 steals) led Ohio to an upset of No. 3 Georgetown in the 2009 NCAA tournament.
  • Can’t-miss game: Dec. 5th at Memphis will be a terrific matchup, as will Dec. 19th at UMass.

12. Long Island: The Blackbirds avoided a disaster as four of their players — including star big men Julian Boyd and Jamal Olasewere — were reinstated to the team and given two game suspensions for their involvement in an on-campus fight.

  • Players to know: Olasewere and Boyd get all the publicity, but it is point guard Jason Brickman (9.6 points, 7.3 assists) who is this team’s Kendall Marshall.
  • Can’t-miss game: The third and fourth games on LIU’s schedule: Maryland and Kentucky. Good thing their bigs will be back.

13. Northern Iowa: The Panthers are a sleeper in the MVC, as they bring back seven of their top eight players from last season. Leading returning scorer Anthony James will miss the first three games of the regular season after being suspended.

  • Player to know: Senior forward Jake Koch (8.5 points, 5.4 boards, 2.7 assists) is back from what feels like the 27th straight season UNI has had a Koch on their roster.
  • Can’t-miss game: Beyond the entire MVC schedule? Louisville (Nov. 22nd), at UNLV (Dec. 19th) and St. Mary’s (Dec. 22nd).

14. Detroit: Detroit will be one of the favorites to win the Horizon as Ray McCallum, one of the most talented players at the mid-major level, is back for another season. He’ll likely be the the league’s Preseason Player of the Year.

  • Player to know: McCallum is an easy pick, but keep an eye on uber-athletic wing Doug Anderson, who does things like this.
  • Can’t-miss game: Detroit plays a loaded schedule, but the highlight will probably be at trip to the Carrier Dome to take on Syracuse on Dec. 17th.

15. LBSU: With all that the 49ers lost last season, including all-everything guard Casper Ware, it’s easy to forget that Big West Player of the Year candidate James Ennis returns, as does potential star Michael Caffey. They’ll be joined by a handful of talented transfers, headlined by former top 25 recruit Keala King.

  • Player to know: Caffey, a sophomore, had some really promising performances spelling Ware at the point a year ago.
  • Can’t-miss game: The 49ers play every: at USC, at home against UNC, at Arizona, at Syracuse, at Ohio State, at UCLA.

Keep an eye on: Belmont, George Mason, Harvard, Illinois State, Iona, Manhattan, Princeton, Tennessee State, Utah State, Wichita State

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

No. 12 Oklahoma closes Big 12 gap on No. 5 Kansas behind Trae Young’s 26

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If you’re simply looking at the stat line, it would seem like Tuesday night’s win over No. 5 Kansas was a typical Trae Young game.

The star point guard for No. 12 Oklahoma finished with 26 points, nine assists, four boards, two steals and five turnovers, which is roughly what he has averaged throughout the season. The difference here, however, was that Young, just three days removed from taking 39 shots in a loss at Oklahoma State and less than a week removed from turning the ball over 12 times in a loss at Kansas State, shot the ball just nine times.

He was 7-for-9 from the floor. He was 2-for-3 from three and 10-for-12 from the line. He was more focused on distributing the ball and getting his teammates involved than he has been in any game this season, and the result was a critical, 85-80 win over the Jayhawks.

Oklahoma entered Tuesday night trailing Kansas by two games in the conference along with … well, everyone else: West Virginia, Texas Tech, Kansas State. This was the second loss the Jayhawks have taken in the Big 12 and it means that their lead over the field was cut in half.

Put another way, an outright regular season title is still a possibility for Oklahoma — and everyone else chasing Kansas.

There’s no two ways around it. This was a massive win and an excellent performance from Young.

The question I have is whether or not this version of The Trae Young Show is something that is sustainable for Oklahoma in the long-term.

Because I’m not sure that it is.

The narrative coming out of this game is going to be that Young, having lost a pair of road games in a league where no one wins on the road, came home and beat the conference favorites after Selfish Trae Young morphed into Unselfish Trae Young. And credit where it is due, Young made an active and impressive decision to get everyone else on the roster involved. He played differently, no one is disputing that.

But I’d argue that Lon Kruger’s decision to foul Udoka Azubuike on four possessions in the final four minutes — and Bill Self’s decision to leave Azubuike in the game — is what changed this game. Azubuike is a 41 percent free throw shooter that missed six straight free throws, two of which were front-ends, after a Malik Newman layup gave Kansas a 78-74 lead with 4:02 left. The Jayhawks would score just a single basket the rest of the game, one of only three possessions they had in those four minutes when the game wasn’t in doubt and Azubuike wasn’t on the free throw line.

That had as much to do with Oklahoma’s game-ending 11-2 run as anything else.

I also think it’s important to note that, on Saturday, Oklahoma’s supporting cast shot 14-for-43 from the floor and 2-for-15 from three. On Tuesday night, they were 21-for-48 (43.8%) from the field and 7-for-20 (35%) from three. That’s an improvement, there is no question about that, but it’s not a better or more efficient offensive option than asking Young to be aggressive is. Put another way, it’s not selfish to shoot a lot if your shots are the best way for your team to score.

Kruger needed to reel Young in a little bit after last week.

No one is going to argue that.

As I wrote here, Young needs to trust his teammates more and his teammates need to give him more reason to trust them. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, on Oklahoma’s final two possessions, Young found Christian James and then Brady Manek for the go-ahead and game-sealing threes. Compare that to the Oklahoma State, when Young forced deep threes over multiple defenders at the end of regulation and overtime, possessions where the Sooners could have won the game at the buzzer.

But I also think we can all agree that for Oklahoma to reach their ceiling, they cant make a habit out of James, Manek and Kameron McGusty taking 29 shots and Young getting just nine.

Because this win, as important as it was, was not Oklahoma’s ceiling, not unless you think a home win aided by intentional fouls against a good-but-far-from-great Kansas team that saw their best player shoot 4-for-19 from the floor is super-impressive.

Blowout result says more about No. 2 Virginia than No. 18 Clemson

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After the first 11 minutes of Tuesday night’s trip to Charlottesville, No. 18 Clemson led No. 2 Virginia 20-14.

Over the course of the final 29 minutes of that game, the Tigers would muster all of 16 points, getting battered by a Tony Bennett defense that has done the same to many a foe that walked into John Paul Jones Arena and losing by the final score of 61-36.

With senior forward Donte Grantham suffering a torn ACL in Saturday’s win over Notre Dame, No. 18 Clemson entered Tuesday’s matchup with No. 2 Virginia without its second-leading scorer and one of its top three-point shooters as well.

Dealing with Bennett’s pack-line defense is hard enough with a full roster; to do so without an important option the caliber of Grantham makes the task that much more difficult.

For Clemson, the loss was a harsh reminder that the margin for error became much smaller the moment Grantham went down on Saturday against Notre Dame. Marquise Reed, Shelton Mitchell and Elijah Thomas have all been key contributors for the Tigers this season, a big reason why Brad Brownell presides over a team that has looked the part of an NCAA tournament participant for much of this season.

Against Virginia that trio combined to score eight points, with Reed responsible for six. If not for the play of Gabe DeVoe II, who scored all 11 of his points in the first half, and freshman forward Aamir Simms, one could argue that Clemson would have found it difficult to score 30 points against the Virginia defense.

Without Grantham, Clemson can ill-afford to have its remaining key offensive options struggle as Reed, Thomas and Mitchell did Tuesday night. Thomas had issues finding looks against Virginia’s interior defenders, and it wasn’t simply because of the Cavaliers’ ability to double the post as well as any team in the country. There were other times in which Virginia didn’t double, and the likes of Wilkins (when he was healthy enough to play), Jack Salt and Mamadi Diakite all got the job done when called upon.

As a result Thomas, who entered the game averaging 11.1 points per contest and shooting better than 62 percent from the field, had as many turnovers as field goal attempts: three. Mitchell was in a similar position, missing all three of his shot attempts and turning the ball over three times, and even with his 11 points the aforementioned DeVoe was responsible for five turnovers.

The first game after losing a key player can be tough for a team, as the remaining options are adjusting to either new or increased responsibilities. So while Tuesday’s result does say something about Clemson’s margin for error moving forward, it says even more about Virginia’s status as not only an ACC title contender (they’re now 8-0 in league play) but also a national title contender as well.

The cynics will see that and jump to say that we’ve been here before, that Virginia still has something to prove come NCAA tournament time. That’s fine, and Virginia did experience some lulls offensively in the first half against Clemson that they can’t afford if they’re to leave Duke with a win Saturday.

But when a team defends as well as Virginia can, they’ll give themselves a shot in just about any game. And when Virginia really buckled down defensively against Clemson, it largely occurred without the services of a player in Wilkins who rates among the best defensive players in college basketball.

Diakite may have scored just two points, but more importantly he finished with three blocked shots and two steals. Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and Devon Hall combined for nine steals, and forwards Jack Salt and DeAndre Hunter chipped in as well. Some may want to focus on the lack of a guy who can score 25-plus points every night, but when a team defends as well as Virginia does should that “deficiency” be held against them?

We’ll learn even more about Virginia on Saturday, but underrate their chances of reaching the Final Four at your own peril.

No. 22 Tennessee hangs on to beat Vanderbilt 67-62

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Jordan Bowden scored 19 points, Lamonte’ Turner hit a huge 3-pointer and No. 22 Tennessee nearly blew a 20-point second-half lead before hanging on for a 67-62 victory over Vanderbilt on Tuesday night.

Tennessee (14-5, 5-3 Southeastern Conference) earned its fifth win in six games and withstood a brilliant performance from Vanderbilt’s Riley LaChance, who scored all of his 25 points in the second half.

After trailing 41-21 with 14½ minutes left, Vanderbilt (7-13, 2-6) cut Tennessee’s lead to 60-58 when Jeff Roberson made one of two free-throw attempts with 1:19 remaining. Turner answered by sinking a 3-pointer with 1:03 left.

LaChance missed a 3-point attempt on Vanderbilt’s next possession to set up a layup by Bowden that extended Tennessee’s lead to 65-58 with 33 seconds left. Tennessee’s lead wouldn’t drop below five the rest of the way.

Grant Williams scored 19 points for Tennessee, two weeks after compiling 37 points in a 92-84 triumph at Vanderbilt. Roberson had 21 points for the Commodores.

Vanderbilt announced before the game that senior guard Matthew Fisher-Davis would miss the rest of the season with an injured right shoulder. Fisher-Davis has made 70 career starts and was averaging 11.9 points per game to rank second on the team.

The Commodores were seeking to beat Tennessee in Knoxville for a fourth straight season, but poor shooting nearly knocked Vanderbilt out of contention early.

Vanderbilt’s Payton Willis made a 3-pointer 40 seconds into the game to open the scoring, but the Commodores missed their next 17 3-point attempts. Tennessee closed the first half on a 14-2 run to grab a 32-15 halftime lead and then scored the first two points of the second half on a basket by Kyle Alexander.

Tennessee led 46-28 with 12 minutes remaining before LaChance got Vanderbilt back into the game almost single-handedly.

LaChance went 4 of 4 from 3-point range in a span of 2½ minutes and ended up scoring 15 straight Vanderbilt points as the Commodores crept closer. Vanderbilt made eight consecutive shots at one point while Tennessee went over seven minutes without a basket.

BIG PICTURE

Vanderbilt: The Commodores showed plenty of fight to get back into the game on the night that they announced Fisher-Davis wouldn’t play again this year. But the first half also showed how hard it is for Vanderbilt to find offense when its 3-point shots aren’t falling. Vanderbilt fell to 1-2 since Fisher-Davis’ injury.

Tennessee: Bowen scored just two points in a loss at Missouri and went scoreless in a victory at South Carolina last week, but he broke out of his slump. Bowden shot 5 of 7 from 3-point range and 6 of 10 from the floor.

UP NEXT

Vanderbilt hosts TCU on Saturday.

Tennessee is at Iowa State on Saturday.

___

More AP college basketball: https://collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Paschall scores 17, leads No. 1 Villanova past Providence

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jay Wright gave his NFC championship game tickets to his kids. They sent Wright and his wife photos from the Philadelphia Eagles’ romp over the Vikings and texted updates on all the fun they had at the Linc.

Who wouldn’t want to ditch the parents to root on the Birds?

Even Villanova’s coach knows the top team in the nation is no match in Philly fandom compared to the team in green.

With Philadelphia swept up in a Super Bowl frenzy, No. 1 Villanova showed again why city sports fans can also brag about having the best team in college basketball. Just across the street from where the Eagles clinched a Super Bowl berth, the Wildcats used a 22-2 run in the first half to cruise to their sixth straight win, 89-69 over Providence on Tuesday night.

The Wildcats (19-1, 6-1 Big East) are the only program in the AP Top 25 that plays in the shadow of four major pro teams that share a sports complex.

Philly is an Eagles city. The Wildcats, even with the 2016 national championship, are just along for the ride.

Villanova was forced to play this season at the Wells Fargo Center, home of the NBA’s 76ers, because of renovations at its on-campus arena. The Wildcats improved to 7-0 in their temporary digs, even though the 20,000-seat arena drew only an announced 8,595 fans.

“It’s starting to feel like this is our home court,” Wright said.

Interest in college hoops doesn’t really pick up around town until the Eagles’ season is over. The Wildcats might have three more wins by the time fans start paying attention on Feb 5 — give or take a possible parade date.

Eric Paschall led six Wildcats in double figures with 17 points, Omari Spellman had 16 and Jalen Brunson scored 15.

What the fans might have missed is Brunson, a first-team preseason All-American, playing his way into national player-of-the-year contention. The recent funk from Oklahoma’s Trae Young could open the door for the Nova guard to take home some postseason hardware. He entered the game tops on Villanova in scoring, third in the Big East in assists and third in the conference in 3-point accuracy.

The Wildcats had off on Sunday and a poor practice a day before the Big East matchup, and they started in a 24-15 hole.

“They try to use their speed and quickness and they definitely took advantage of that today,” Paschall said.

The Wildcats rallied to lead 39-30 at halftime. Donte DiVincenzo and Mikal Bridges hit consecutive 3-pointers to spark the decisive run. Spellman, the preseason Big East freshman of the year, had a three-point play when he tossed the ball up in the lane and it rolled around the rim before falling through the net.

The Friars (14-7, 5-3) missed eight straight field goals midway through the second half, and Brunson and Paschal hit 3s that stretched the lead and sent the Wildcats on their way to their sixth straight win against Providence.

“I like the way we played for about 22 minutes,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. “Every mistake, they took advantage of. I was proud of our guys in some sequences, but the breakdowns really hurt us and they took total advantage of that.”

BIG PICTURE

Providence: The Friars’ career record vs. No. 1 teams fell to 2-15 and they dropped to 1-3 against Top 25 teams this season. Rodney Bullock was the top scorer with 16 points.

Villanova: Outside of their 22-2 run, the Wildcats didn’t really shoot that well. But the Wildcats entered tops in the Big East in scoring defense (64.8 points), and they kept Providence to 37 percent shooting from the floor. … Bridges had 11 points and nine rebounds. … Paschall and Bridges each had four steals.

HE SAID IT

Asked about the 22-2 run, Wright asked, “late?”

No, it only seemed like the Wildcats went on that kind of spurt in the second half.

“Oh, after we were down. Yeah, I didn’t know it was that much,” Wright said.

UP NEXT

Providence plays the middle of three straight road games Jan. 31 at Seton Hall.

Villanova plays Sunday against Marquette.

___

More AP college basketball: https://collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Study shows troubling data on minority coaching hires

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Over the years, hiring practices within collegiate athletics have been a point of conversation especially when considering the job possibilities for minority candidates. According to a study done by Athletic Director U on coaching changes in Division I college basketball over a ten-year period beginning in 2008, there is still a lot of work to be done in both the men’s and women’s games.

Not only can that be said for the hiring of minority candidates, but also the lack of second chances for those candidates down the line.

The study was focused on 30 Division I college basketball conferences, with the MEAC and SWAC not included so as not to potentially skew the data given the fact that both are comprised entirely of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Per Athletic Director U’s numbers, 72.4 percent of minority Division I men’s basketball coaches are fired or forced to resign compared to 59.9 percent of Caucasian coaches.

In the women’s game, 84.3 percent of the changes involving minority coaches coming as a result of a firing or forced resignation. And according to the data compiled, it’s extremely rare that a coaching job previously held by a minority coach is filled by another. In men’s college basketball only 7.2 percent of the changes were from one minority coach to another, with the number dropping to 4.8 percent in the women’s game.

By comparison, 66.7 percent of the hires in men’s college basketball and 75.4 percent of the hires in women’s college basketball were one Caucasian replacing another. Just over 26 percent of the coaches who were fired or forced to resign were replaced by the opposite in men’s basketball, with the number dropping to 19.8 percent in women’s basketball.

Per the numbers, not only has it remained more difficult for minority coaches to be afforded the opportunity to lead their own programs but it’s also been tough to get another shot should things not work out.

It’s long been stated that collegiate athletics had some issues to address with regards to the hiring of coaches, and based upon the study done by Athletic Director U it’s clear that there’s still a substantial amount of work to be done.