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Grading the 2017 Coaching Carousel: Who made the best hires?

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With New Mexico making the hire of Paul Weir official last week, we’ve now had every high major opening filled and, barring something dramatic happening later this spring, unless you’re a fan of Presbyterian, Coppin State, Grambling State, Florida A&M and Oral Roberts, the carousel has stopped spinning.

I’ve ranked the hires below. My criteria for these rankings aren’t strictly based on how good the coach is that was hired. That does matter, but the bottom line is that Indiana and, say, Missouri have significant differences in the coaches that they can realistically expect to hire.

Different programs also have different expectations. N.C. State and VCU are both basketball schools, but the Wolfpack are the little brothers on Tobacco Road fighting for relevancy whereas VCU is consistently contending for Atlantic 10 titles, happy to get their shot at winning a few games each March.

Given all of that, let’s take a look at how each of the 14 biggest hires worked out this offseason:

THEY GOT THIS PERFECT

1. Archie Miller, Indiana: When you’re a job as good as Indiana is, you shouldn’t be settling when it comes to hiring a head coach. Indiana did not this time around, replacing Tom Crean with one of the best and brightest young coaches in the sport in Archie Miller. Everyone wanted him in the same way that everyone wanted Shaka Smart and everyone wants Gregg Marshall. Indiana was the program that was able to land him, because Indiana was the job that was good enough to pry him from the grips of Dayton.

Miller is going to have his work cut out for him. Indiana hasn’t been to a Final Four since 2002, and there is some work to do with that team before it will be ready to contend for one again. When it comes to coaching, Miller — the younger brother of Arizona’s Sean Miller, the sons of a legendary high school coach in western Pennsylvania — has the chops to get it done. The key is going to be whether he can actually get the players that can allow him to be a national title contender. I have him tops on this list because I think he will.

2. Mike Rhoades, VCU: It took VCU less than 24 hours once Will Wade left for LSU to make a decision on who they would hire as a replacement, and the decision couldn’t have been any better. Rhoades spent a decade as a successful head coach at Randolph-Macon, a good Division III program in southern Virginia, before working as an assistant on Shaka Smart’s staff. He spent the last three seasons as the head coach at Rice, turning the Owls into a program that was relevant in Conference USA, and many in the industry believe him to be a guy that views VCU as a destination job. He’s intense, he’ll fit the Havoc mantra to a ‘T’ and understands just how important the Rams are to the city of Richmond.

At this point it’s fair to wonder if VCU is a job that makes the coach look better than he is — the last four VCU head coaches have gone on to get high-major jobs, the most successful of which was Jeff Capel, who ran the Oklahoma program into the ground after an Elite 8 appearance — but I think there’s little doubt Rhoades will have a great deal of success there. VCU, along with Dayton, should continue on as a top two program in the Atlantic 10 for the foreseeable future.

Archie Miller (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

GOOD HIRES

3. Brad Underwood, Illinois: I loved the way Illinois got this hire done. No search firms, no leaks and a fairly surprising announcement that popped up on a Saturday morning during the NCAA tournament, stating that the Illini had poached the former Stephen F. Austin coach from Oklahoma State. Underwood has been to four NCAA tournaments in four seasons as a head coach, went 89-13 at SFA and is coming off of an NCAA tournament trip with the Pokes that saw him turn Jawun Evans into a first round pick and Jeffery Carroll into an all-Big 12 player.

My concern at Illinois is going to be how well Underwood recruits Chicago. That’s the key to the Illinois job, and some of that concern was alleviated when Underwood hired ‘Chin’ Coleman, a former coach with the Mac Irvin Fire — Chicago’s powerhouse Nike AAU program — last week.

4. Cuonzo Martin, Missouri: Martin has been a hot name in coaching for what seems like half-a-decade at this point, but he’s been the head coach of three different programs for the last nine seasons and has been to just two NCAA tournaments and one Sweet 16 despite having a team with three NBA players at Tennessee and Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb at Cal. There’s reason to question his coaching chops, but when you’re a Missouri program that’s dealing with NCAA issues and coming off three straight 20-loss seasons, you’re not getting Archie Miller or Gregg Marshall.

St. Louis, where Martin is from, is loaded with players. He’ll keep kids from Missouri — a state that’s churned out the likes of Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, O.G. Anunoby, Ben McLemore, David Lee, Alec Burks, Pat McCaw and Tyler Hansbrough in the last decade — in-state, just like he did with Michael Porter Jr. That should be enough to keep Missouri in the mix for NCAA tournament bids and a top four finish in the SEC every year. What else do Tiger fans want?

Cuonzo Martin (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

5. Will Wade, LSU: Wade, like Miller and Keatts, is a guy that most believe to be an up-and-coming star in the business. After two successful seasons at Chattanooga and two NCAA tournaments with VCU — one of which came after an Atlantic 10 regular season title, which is something Shaka Smart never did — Wade jumped to LSU. It will be a transition for him, as he’ll be recruiting a different region and a different caliber of player, but he’s a bright guy, a very good coach and willing to play an entertaining style. I don’t know if I see him pushing Kentucky for SEC supremacy, but I do think he can make NCAA tournaments in Baton Rouge.

6. Kevin Keatts, N.C. State: Keatts was the guy that N.C. State needed to get once it became clear that Archie Miller wasn’t going to happen. He went to back-to-back NCAA tournaments with UNC Wilmington, he’s a proven recruiter and he’s a disciple of Rick Pitino. I have little doubt that Keatts will make the Wolfpack relevant in the ACC once again, but the question is whether or not relevance will suffice. The ACC is a monster. Duke finished fifth in the league and was a No. 2 seed. Clemson finished 12th and was on the bubble entering the ACC tournament. If Keatts consistently has N.C. State in the 6th-8th range in the league, making NCAA tournaments without pushing Duke or UNC for league titles, will everyone be happy with it?

7. Anthony Grant, Dayton: This wasn’t a sexy hire, but Grant is a Dayton alum that had success at VCU and has spent time in the NBA next to Billy Donovan on Oklahoma City’s bench. The biggest question I have here is going to be what it’s like replacing Archie Miller. Can he match his predecessor’s success? With everything the Flyers lose, it may take some time to get there.

Patrick Ewing (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

ROLLING THE DICE

8. Patrick Ewing, Georgetown: On the one hand, Patrick Ewing was a Hall of Fame NBA player that has spent the last 15 years on an NBA bench. He knows basketball. On the other hand, he’s never had to recruit before, he’s never run a college program before and there may be a reason that he was passed over as an NBA head coach time and again. He might turn out to be Fred Hoiberg. He might also turn out to be Chris Mullin. I think the former is more likely than the latter, but there’s nothing we can do but wait and see.

9. Mike Hopkins, Washington: It’s hard to know what to expect from ‘Hop’ after he spent the last two decades on staff at Syracuse, where he was the coach-in-waiting that got tired of waiting. I’ve always thought of the Huskies as a bit of a sleeping giant, one that Lorenzo Romar was able to awake for a five-year stretch last decade. If he can tap into the talent-rich Seattle recruiting grounds, he should be able to win games, but it’s hard to know for sure; all we’ve seen from him as a head coach was a 4-5 run as Syracuse’s interim last season, a year when the Orange made the Final Four.

10. Brian Dutcher, San Diego State: Steve Fisher retired earlier this month and was replaced by Dutcher, he longtime right-hand man and coaching-in-waiting. It will be fascinating to see what happens with the Aztecs now. Fisher built that into a Mountain West powerhouse from nothing, but SDSU fell on hard times in recent years. Dutcher knows everything that he needs to know about SDSU and how Fisher did what he did, but … how often does handing a program off to an assistant coach actually work? It’s probably less often than you think.

DID THE SCHOOLS GET THIS RIGHT?

11. Matt McCall, UMass: UMass looked like they had made a great hire with Winthrop’s Pat Kelsey, and then 15 minutes before a scheduled press conference to introduce him as the new head coach of the Minutemen, the hire was walked back. To be fair, UMass did end up getting a good one in McCall, who had a good two-year run at Chattanooga following in Will Wade’s footsteps, but it’s hard to be too celebratory about a hire when it’s clearly, at-best, the program’s No. 2 choice.

12. Paul Weir, New Mexico: The Lobos initially gave head coach Craig Neal a vote of confidence before eventually making the decision to change leadership. After a search that included names like Tim Miles and Spurs assistant James Barrego — twice — UNM eventually landed on Weir, who was the head coach at arch-rival New Mexico State.

COACHES IN A TOUGH SPOT

13. Wyking Jones, Cal, and Mike Boynton Jr., Oklahoma State: Both Cal and Oklahoma State opted to promote assistants already on staff instead of going out and finding a coach as a replacement, and both were put in difficult-to-impossible positions. Cal is losing essentially everyone — including star freshman point guard Charlie Moore — from a team that was already in need of a rebuild. Oklahoma State lost Phil Forte to graduation and Jawun Evans to the draft. Boynton, to his credit, at least returns Jeffery Carroll and has already landed Miami (OH) transfer Michael Weathers.

The more interesting story here, however, is that both Jones and Boynton are young, African-American assistant coaches that interviewed their way into head coaching jobs in Power 5 leagues. On the surface, this looks like a great thing for a profession that is skewed white, but, as one industry source put it, this “set young black coaches back another 10 years.” Oklahoma State, in a best-case scenario, is a middle-of-the-pack Big 12 program, and the current state of the program is not a best-case scenario. Cal is at least two years away from competing for an NCAA tournament berth. Put another way, it’s unlikely that anyone would have immediate success at either program, let alone two career assistants getting their first shot at a head coaching gig, and any struggles Jones and Boynton do have only makes it more difficult for the next young, black coach to get that next high-major head coaching opening.

And then there is the money aspect of this. Both Boynton and Jones got their jobs in part because neither university wanted to spend what was required to get a big name. Did they get the job because they came at a discount and were willing to take a shot at winning in a place where, financially, they aren’t set up to win?

“I’m 100 percent rooting for those guys to kill it,” the source said, “but this is the sad reality.”

Top 50 SG Tyler Herro de-commits from Wisconsin

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Last September, Wisconsin landed a pledge from a highly regarded 2018 prospect as shooting guard Tyler Herro announced that he would remain in state and play for Greg Gard. Tuesday evening Herro, considered to be a Top 50 prospect by many of the major recruiting services, announced that he has decided to reopen his recruitment.

“After a lot of conversations with my family and prayer I have decided to reopen my recruitment and explore all of my options,” Herro said in a statement released via Twitter. “The past year since I committed I have grown not only as a basketball player, but as a person. My drive to become the best on all levels has been the fuel that drove this decision.”

With Herro’s change of heart, Wisconsin is now without a verbal commitment in the Class of 2018. The 6-foot-4 Milwaukee native picked Wisconsin over Arizona, Florida, Indiana, DePaul and Marquette, and given his talent Herro’s recruitment should not take long to pick up following his decision to open things back up.

The Badgers added three scholarship freshmen to the program this summer, with two being perimeter players in Brad Davison and Kobe King. Wisconsin currently does not have a senior in its perimeter rotation, which helps from a numbers standpoint when it comes to 2018. But to lose a recruit of Herro’s caliber, and an in-state prospect at that, is a major hit for the Wisconsin program to absorb.

Bob Knight requests to not be included in Assembly Hall sculptures

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On Tuesday it was announced by Indiana University that five sculptures will be placed throughout Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall to pay tribute to the teams that have won national championships. With former head coach Bob Knight, who has not been on good terms with the school since his dismissal in 2000, being the head coach of three of those teams it’s fair to wonder if he would be a part of any of those sculptures.

Unfortunately Knight will not be in the sculptures for the 1976, 1981 or 1987 national championship teams, as it was noted in the release that the former coach requested to not be included. According to the Indianapolis Star, Indiana athletics director Fred Glass said that it is school policy to request permission to depict someone on this kind of project. The school reached out to Knight, who declined the request.

The sculpture honoring the 1976 team was the reason for the school reaching out to Knight, as it honors the team that is the most Division I team to go through an entire season without a loss. That teams was led by the likes of Kent Benson, Scott May and Bobby Wilkerson, and won the first of Knight’s three national titles at Indiana.

After being fired prior to the start of the 2000-01 season, Knight spent a year away from coaching before accepting the head coaching job at Texas Tech. Despite Indiana having honored former players and teams of Knight’s in recent years, the relationship between the former coach and the school he led to three national titles remains strained to this day.

As for the sculptures, fans will be able to see them for the first time at Hoosier Hysteria on October 21.

Rick Pitino files federal lawsuit against adidas

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Former Louisville head coach Rick Pitino’s quest to prove that he had nothing to do with the ongoing FBI investigation into corruption and fraud in college basketball produced another development on Tuesday. As first reported by ESPN’s Jay Bilas, Pitino has filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Louisville with adidas being the lone defendant.

Per media reports, Pitino is suing the company for its “outrageous conduct in conspiring to funnel money to the family of a college basketball recruit.”

Adidas’ connection to the ongoing criminal investigation is that two of its employees within the basketball department, Jim Gatto and Merl Code, were among the ten people arrested. While no one directly tied to Louisville has been charged, FBI documents revealed connections between members of the basketball program and the accused parties.

As a result of the investigation Louisville freshman small forward Brian Bowen is being withheld from all basketball activities by the school. Bowen and his family have since hired an attorney in an attempt to get the freshman reinstated.

Among the instances of wrongdoing documented by the FBI was a transaction in which $100,000 was paid in exchange for a recruit committing to attend Louisville. The timeline of the events were close to Bowen’s commitment timeline, with the five-star prospect announcing that he would attend Louisville in early June.

As a result of the investigation Pitino was placed on unpaid by Louisville, with the school’s Board of Regents voting unanimously to fire the head coach with cause on Monday.

Northeast Conference Preview: Who survived after transfers gutted the league?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the NEC.

The NEC was absolutely brutalized by outgoing transfers this offseason. Of the 11 non-seniors that were on one of the three all-NEC teams, just four of them return to school. That includes three first-team all-NEC sophomores, but I’m not sure anyone in all of college basketball got hit quite as hard this offseason as Mount St. Mary’s head coach Jamion Christian did.

Coming off of an NEC regular season title and his second trip to the NCAA tournament in the last five years, Christian saw three key pieces opt to leave. Elijah Long, a sophomore guard that was a first-team all-league player and the Mount’s leading scorer a season ago, transferred to Texas. Miles Wilson, the team’s third-leading scorer and one of the best freshmen in the conference last year, transferred to Miami. Mawdo Sallah transferred to Kansas State.

The Mountaineers do return Junior Robinson, a 5-foot-5 dynamo that will be one of the most entertaining players in the mid-major ranks, as well as Greg Alexander, but Christian is going to have his work cut out for him.

With Mount St. Mary’s – and Robert Morris, another perennial power in the league that is dealing with the loss of a star player (Isaiah Still) transferring – the favorite is probably St. Francis (PA). The Red Flash, despite losing Josh Nebo to Texas A&M, return Isiah Blackmon and reigning Freshman of the Year Keith Braxton. They return the most talent of anyone that finished in the top half of the league.

Fairleigh Dickinson is a team to keep an eye on as well, although it will be tough for them to overcome a pair of their own transfers, as Stephen Jiggetts is now at South Florida and Earl Potts left school. But Darian Anderson returns, as does Mike Holloway and Darnell Edge.

Despite losing their top two scorers from last season, LIU Brooklyn should also be back in the mix. Jashaun Agosto returns for his sophomore season after a promising freshman year while Joel Hernandez, who averaged double-figures as a junior, is back after missing last season through injury. Bryant could find their way into the mix as well, although Nisre Zouzoua’s transfer was a massive blow.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

 PRESEASON NEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Darian Anderson, Fairleigh Dickinson

Anderson is the leading returning scorer in the NEC this season, and he’ll be playing on a team that will be competing for the league title. With the Knights losing their second- and third-leading scorers from last year, Anderson is going to have more of the offensive load to carry.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-NEC TEAM

  • Junior Robinson, Mount St. Mary’s: Robinson is the second-leading returning scorer in the conference, and with the Mount losing so much, the 5-foot-5 point guard will be asked to do a lot.
  • Keith Braxton, St. Francis (PA): Braxton was the best freshman in the conference a year ago.
  • Isiah Blackmon, St. Francis (PA): Blackmon was a third-team all-NEC performer as a sophomore.
  • Joseph Lopez, Sacred Heart: Lopez is back to anchor a front line for the most veteran team in the league.

PREDICTED FINISH

1. St. Francis (PA)
2. Fairleigh Dickinson
3. LIU Brooklyn
4. Robert Morris
5. Mount St. Mary’s
6. Bryant
7. Sacred Heart
8. Wagner
9. Central Connecticut State
10. St. Francis-Brooklyn

Ohio Valley Conference Preview: A trio of teams lead the way

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Ohio Valley Conference.

Two-time OVC player of the year Evan Bradds has graduated, but Belmont remains one of the favorites to claim another conference title.

The first task for the Bruins will be figuring out how to replace or replicate Bradds’ bucket-getting that powered the offense to a 23-win season. Amanze Egekeze and Dylan Winder would both seem to be the natural heirs after posting effective field goal percentages over 60 last year. Like Bradds, both are terrors on the inside, shooting better than 65 percent on 2-pointers, but also have a dimension that Bradds didn’t – 3-point shooting, with Egekeze converting 38.7 percent and Winder 40.2 percent from distance. Without the high-usage Bradds on the roster, both will likely see huge increases in roles, with guard Austin Luke setting them up.

Murray State suffered its first losing season in over 30 years when they went 16-17 last year in Matt McMahon’s second season since succeeding Steve Prohm, but the Racers appear to be on track for an immediate bounce back. Some of the struggle last year can be attributable to plain old bad luck as Murray State went 0-4 in the regular season in overtime games and went 1-8 in games decided by five points or less. The Racers, though, will have to clean things up on the defensive end if they want to challenge for a league title. They were below-average in just about every single facet of the game on that end, and adding five freshmen into the mix may make real strides there difficult. Murray State does have, though, Jonathan Stark, who averaged nearly 22 points per game last season, and he’s a game-changer. They also added junior college standout Anthony Smith, which makes them a threat to capture the conference.

Jacksonville State didn’t look much like a spoiler heading into March last year when they finished with a 9-7 OVC record, but the Gamecocks reeled off three wins, including over league champ Belmont, in the conference tournament to snag an NCAA tournament bid. Second-team all-OVC guard Malcolm Drumwright returns for his senior season and to give coach Ray Harper another dangerous team. Seven-footer Norbertas Giga is also back after putting 30 on Louisville in the NCAA tournament. It will be critical for the Gamecocks to defend the 3-point line better this season. Between Giga and junior Christian Cunningham, Jacksonville State has solid rim protection, but allowed opponents to shoot nearly 38 percent from distance. Some of that is sure to just be variable, but bringing that number down will be a huge determinant of success.

Beyond that, the OVC is tough to project this season, as a number of last season’s contenders lost some key pieces. One group to keep an eye on: Eastern Kentucky. With Asante Gist and Nick Mayo returning, Dan McHale has one of the best 1-2 punches in the league.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON OVC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jonathan Stark, Murray State

The 6-foot guard returns after averaging 21.9 points in his first season with the Racers after transferring from Tulane. He got up nearly eight 3-point attempts per game, converting at a 42.5 percent clip. He’s the rare high-volume shooter that also plays efficiently.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON OVC TEAM

  • Malcolm Drumwright, Jacksonville State: All-conference guard will lead the charge for the Gamecocks to get back to the NCAA tournament.
  • Nick Mayo, Eastern Kentucky: A 39 percent 3-point shooter, Mayo scored 18.5 points per game last year.
  • Denzel Mahoney, Southeast Missouri: Mahoney was a breakout star last year as a freshman, putting up nearly 15 points per game and shooting 37.7 percent from 3.
  • Terrell Miller, Murray State: A double-double threat every night, Miller averaged 16 points and 8 rebounds per game.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @OVCSports

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Belmont
2. Murray State
3. Jacksonville State
4. Tennessee State
5. Eastern Illinois
6. Eastern Kentucky
7. SIU-Edwardsville
8. Tennessee Tech
9. Southeast Missouri
10. Morehead State
11. UT Martin
12. Austin Peay