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Coaches on the Hot Seat

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You know the deal this time of the year.

Every outlet digs through the college coaches that haven’t won enough games over the course of the last four or five seasons and churns out their ‘Coaches On The Hot’ list. It’s never a fun process to predict that people with families and mortgages, people who we’ve developed professional relationships – some better than others – with, are going to lose their jobs, but it is what it is.

Most years, every one of the men that show up on a list like this are aware that they are going to show up on lists like this. If you’ve gone four years without a trip to the NCAA tournament at a high major program, you’re probably in some trouble.

This year is different, however.

Because this year, with the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball, the ‘hot seat’ is anyone who has cheated to get a player. Any coach that facilitated a payment from a shoe company to a kid’s family; anyone who took money from an agent or a financial advisor to shuttle a player to that individual; anyone who did business with Jim Gatto or Merl Code or Christian Dawkins; hell, anyone who has an assistant on their staff who did any one of those things, they’re in the line of fire this year.

We know who some of those coaches are – Sean Miller, Andy Enfield, Jim Larrañaga, Brad Underwood, Bruce Pearl, Mike Boynton – but we don’t know all of them.

Not even close.

It’s impossible to know where the FBI’s investigation is turning to next. I can make some educated guesses, but that’s all based on speculation and connecting dots. The FBI spent more than two years on the investigation and we didn’t get a whiff of it until that Tuesday morning in late-September when the college hoops world was flipped upside-down.

Which is to say it’s hard to know which coaches are actually going to end up losing their job, and who is truly worried about it.

THE FBI IS MAKING THEM SWEAT

BRUCE PEARL, Auburn: I think that it is fair to make the argument that Sean Miller, Andy Enfield and Jim Larrañaga all deserve a spot on a list like this. Miller’s program is as connected to this investigation as any, with assistant coach Book Richardson getting fired; two current, unnamed players being linked to money changing hands; and a recruit, Jahvon Quinerly, being forced to decommit after as much as $20,000 earmarked for Quinerly was allegedly given to Richardson. That’s before you get into the discussion of Arizona and Nike outbidding Miami and Adidas for a player that eventually committed to North Carolina.

Larrañaga has copped to being the ‘Coach 3’ that is mentioned in the complaint filed by the FBI, the one that is discussing getting $150,000 from Adidas to land current UNC-commit Nassir Little, while Enfield had an assistant, Tony Bland, get fired as well. He, like Richardson, was caught taking bribes, and some of that money was meant for players currently on the roster.

But Pearl, more than any of those three men, is the one in the most trouble because he’s already had a run-in with the NCAA. In 2010, he lied to investigators about recruiting violations that he committed – bringing a player to a barbecue, of all things – and was actually still waiting out his show-cause penalty when he was hired by Auburn in 2014. He couldn’t recruit for the first couple of months that he was on the job. Now, he’s the coach of a program that had an assistant, Chuck Person, fired for taking more than $90,000 in bribes, with some of that money meant to be passed along to players on the Auburn roster. It has already cost Pearl a five-star recruit in the Class of 2018.

And to be frank, the pressure would be mounting on Pearl even if he didn’t have these off-the-court issues hanging over the program. This is his fourth year at the helm of the Tiger program. He’s never won more than seven SEC games in a season. He’s never finished better than 18-14 overall. The team he has this season is good enough to reach the NCAA tournament – it will be a disappointing year if they do not reach that level – but there are many paths to failure. Austin Wiley isn’t fully healthy yet. There’s the risk that some of Auburn’s best players have a fight on their hands with the NCAA when it comes to eligibility. (UPDATE: Wiley and Danjel Purifoy are being held out of games indefinitely.) There’s also a risk that the pieces just don’t come together; just because a team that missed out on the NIT looks like it should be better doesn’t mean that it will be better.

The window is closing for this group as well. It would not be shocking to see both Wiley and Mustapha Heron bolt for the pros this season. If that happens, Pearl’s tenure would look like this: Four seasons, no postseasons, involvement in another NCAA scandal and little positive momentum.

Would you feel your job was safe?

Brad Brownell (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

DON’T SIT DOWN WITHOUT POTHOLDERS IN YOUR DRAWERS

BRAD BROWNELL, Clemson and PAT CHAMBERS, Penn State: At this point, it makes too much sense for these two gentlemen to be lumped together.

For starters, they are the only two high-major head coaches that are currently employed despite missing the last six NCAA tournaments at their current job. The only other guy that could have been on this list is also employed, but Lorenzo Romar saw his salary drop by 70 percent because he’s now an assistant at Arizona instead of the head coach at Washington. He was fired despite holding a commitment from Michael Porter Jr.

That’s where we’re at with these two. Now, Brownell has actually reached an NCAA tournament during his tenure and Chambers finally has the Penn State program trending in the right direction – I don’t think a tournament berth is out of the question with the young talent he has – but I’m not sure that being the basketball coach at a football school can save you if you’ve missed seven straight NCAA tournaments.

It’s worth noting here: Chambers has not gotten a contract extension since 2015, and his current deal only runs through 2019. Brownell was extended in April; he’s under contract through 2021.

MARK FOX, Georgia: I feel for Mark Fox. He’s a good head coach at a football school in a football state. He’s been with the Bulldogs for nine seasons now, but has made just two NCAA tournaments, the most recent of which was in 2015. His teams are never terrible – he hasn’t finished below .500 in the SEC since 2013 – but they’re rarely all that great. Last year might have been the year that saved him, but star forward Yante Maten injured his knee down the stretch of the season.

JEFF LEBO, East Carolina: Now in his eighth season with ECU, Lebo has a record of 114-117. In three seasons in the American, he’s gone 41-57 overall with a 16-38 mark in league play. He’s never been to the NCAA tournament as a head coach despite coaching at four different programs. In 2013, he was given an extension that runs through 2021.

JIM CHRISTIAN, Boston College: It feels like Jim Christian actually has some positive momentum right now. A back court of Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman is actually quite good, even by ACC standards, and the addition of grad transfer Deontae Hawkins should help bolster BC’s front court. That said, he’s just 29-67 in three seasons and coming off of a 2-16 year in the ACC. Those two wins were a two-win improvement on the 2015-16 season. He was given a contract extension in August by an athletic director that resigned in February. It’s time to win something.

Kevin Ollie (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

JUST DON’T BE TERRIBLE, OK?

KEVIN OLLIE, UConn: It sounds ridiculous to have a UConn coach on the hot seat less than three years removed from winning a national title, but that’s exactly where we are with Kevin Ollie right now. Ollie has missed two out of three NCAA tournaments since winning that title and has yet to finish better than a tie for third in the AAC, a league that just got tougher with the addition of Wichita State. Last year can be forgiven after injuries to Alterique Gilbert and Terry Larrier. There are no excuses this season, now with Jalen Adams back as well. Ollie signed a contract this year that runs through 2021.

TIM MILES, Nebraska: Miles is in a tough spot. Four players, including two starters, transferred out of his program during the offseason, and six week ago, his athletic director was fired because the sports teams at Nebraska weren’t winning enough. That’s bad news for Miles, who hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2014, his second year with the program. But the Huskers routinely sell out their arena – they’re annually top 15 in total attendance in all of college basketball – and Miles actually has something of a promising group this year. Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland is eligible to play, Louisville transfer Anton Gill is healthy, Glynn Watson is back for his junior season and the Huskers have been recruiting fairly well.

ERNIE KENT, Washington State: Kent is heading into his fourth season in Pullman, and he’s yet to win more than 13 games in a year or seven games in the Pac-12. This season, the Cougars lose their three best players and four starters off of last year’s roster. If Wazzu reverts back to the 2015-16 team, the one that won nine games and went 1-17 in league play, Kent, who got an extension through 2022 in May, will be in some trouble.

DAVE LEITAO, DePaul: This is only Leitao’s third season with the Blue Demons, but DePaul has not seen any improvement since his arrival. They’ve won 18 games in two years and are all of 5-31 in the Big East during that stretch. But Eli Cain is back, key transfers are eligible and a couple more are still sitting out. There should be some improvement. DePaul is going to need it to justify their new, $173 million arena.

BRUCE WEBER, Kansas State: Weber alleviated some of the pressure that he was under last season by getting to the NCAA tournament and winning a game, but he still went just 21-14 overall and won a First Four game. The Wildcats lost their best player during the offseason but Weber still signed an extension through 2021. No one in Manhattan is expecting a Final Four, but in a year where the Big 12 is wide open, Weber probably just needs to avoid finishing near the bottom of the league.

JOHN GIANNINI, La Salle: Giannini has been with La Salle since 2004, but he’s managed to get to just one NCAA tournament – a Sweet 16 run in 2013 – in that time frame. In the last four years, he’s finished no better than .500 in league play or 17-16 overall. That includes bottoming out with a 9-22 season in 2015-16.

No. 2 Arizona drops second-straight

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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) — SMU attacked the glass and kept scoring off turnovers to offset a bad shooting performance. It was enough to hand No. 2 Arizona a second stunning loss to an unranked opponent in two nights.

Ben Emelogu scored 20 points and the Mustangs upset the Wildcats 66-60 in Thursday’s consolation round at the Battle 4 Atlantis, a jarring start for an Arizona team that began the season as a Final Four favorite with a preseason Associated Press All-American in Allonzo Trier.

Arizona (3-2) lost to North Carolina State 90-84 in Wednesday’s first round. It’s the first time the Wildcats have dropped back-to-back games against nonconference opponents since losing to Mississippi State and San Diego State in November 2011.

“This is a different feeling,” coach Sean Miller said. “It might be healthy for our team because instead of everybody telling you how good you are and you’re going to get to a Final Four and you’re awesome, it’s going to go opposite now.

“And I think that it could be something that drives our team to have even better practice to fix a few things and hopefully get back in the winner’s circle.”

The Mustangs (5-1) blew an 11-point lead in the second half but responded with a 10-2 run to go ahead for good. SMU won despite shooting 31 percent and going eight minutes without a basket in the second half.

“I always say — and everybody thinks I’m lying but I’m not when I say this — the best wins of the year are always when you can’t get your shots to go in the basket and you find a way to win anyway,” SMU coach Tim Jankovich said. “That’s how great seasons are made. Everybody wins when they shoot great and feel great and all that.”

The Mustangs hung on in two ways. First, they capitalized on 20 Arizona turnovers by scoring 19 points off those miscues. Then there was their effort on the boards; they were outrebounded 43-39 overall but nearly doubled up Arizona on the offensive glass (20-11) to finish with 23 more shot attempts and 14 second-chance points.

“We talk about this all the time,” Jankovich said. “Really break it down: Does it take a lot of talent to go run after a ball? Does it take a lot of talent to dive on a ball? … And the answer is no. So really what it takes is the character and it takes an unselfishness and a commitment to the things that win rather than the things that necessarily make me look good.

“And in the end, if you have a team full of those guys, then you’re going to have a successful team.”

Trier scored 22 points to lead the Wildcats, who shot 47 percent. Arizona freshman Deandre Ayton added 17 points and 15 rebounds, but no other Wildcats player scored in double figures. Arizona also shot just 5 of 20 on 3-pointers.

“No, our confidence isn’t affected at all,” freshman forward Ira Lee said. “We’ve just got to see these two games as a learning experience and move on.”

BIG PICTURE

Arizona: Miller immediately said offense wasn’t the problem after the loss to N.C. State, noting the Wildcats haven’t dropped many games when scoring 84 points. Rather, he was concerned about a bad defensive effort. This time, his team had some good defensive moments, but Miller said there was something missing in glaring fashion.

“Maybe we did play some good defense,” Miller said, “but defense always ends with the rebounding. And we were unable to rebound.”

SMU: The Mustangs trailed much of the way against Northern Iowa in their first-round tournament game, but played from ahead in this one. They also came up with a counterpunch, regaining the lead after Arizona erased that 11-point deficit.

“The effort, gosh darn, I don’t care if we were big or tiny or medium-sized out there or who was guarding who, I saw some fighting cats out there,” Jankovich said. “And I loved it.”

EMELOGU’S NIGHT

Emelogu went 7 of 11 from the field and 5 of 7 on 3-pointers to lead SMU’s offense. The rest of SMU’s starters made 12 of 53 shots (23 percent).

“A lot of times, you just play hard and play defense, you win games even though offense didn’t go our way,” Emelogu said.

UP NEXT

Arizona: The Wildcats will play No. 18 Purdue in Friday’s seventh-place game.

SMU: The Mustangs will play Western Kentucky in Friday’s fifth-place game.

Western Kentucky upsets No. 18 Purdue 77-73 in Bahamas

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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) — Darius Thompson scored 12 points and hit two clinching free throws with 5.1 seconds left to help Western Kentucky upset No. 18 Purdue 77-73 in Thursday’s consolation round at the Battle 4 Atlantis.

The Hilltoppers (3-2) led nearly the entire night, but needed to make several clutch plays late to hang on.

P.J. Thompson hit a corner 3-pointer with 5.8 seconds remaining to bring the Boilermakers (4-2) to 75-73, but Thompson answered with two free throws that made it a two-possession game and all but sealed the win.

Justin Johnson led the Hilltoppers with 17 points, including a tough driving score for a five-point lead with 21 seconds left.

Isaac Haas scored 22 points to lead Purdue, which shot just 32 percent in the first half. The Boilermakers trailed 42-31 at the break and never fully recovered.

BIG PICTURE

Purdue: That’s an 0-2 showing in two days for the Boilermakers in the Bahamas. The high-scoring, 3-point shooting offense hasn’t found its rhythm here, though Purdue shot 50 percent after halftime in this one to give itself a chance late.

Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers were coming off a loss to No. 5 Villanova, making this the first time they had played consecutive games against ranked opponents since the 1993 NCAA Tournament. But they earned a win against a ranked team for just the second time in the last 15 tries.

UP NEXT

Purdue: The Boilermakers will play the Arizona-SMU loser in Friday’s seventh-place game.

Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers will play the Arizona-SMU winner in Friday’s fifth-place game.

Duke overcomes tenacious Portland State 99-81

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Marvin Bagley III said the Blue Devils knew they had to wake up for the second half against Portland State.

And eventually, they did. Trevon Duval had 22 points and No. 1 Duke pulled away for a 99-81 victory over the surprisingly tenacious Vikings on Thursday to open the Phil Knight Invitational.

 Bagley added 18 points, and Grayson Allen had 14 points and nine assists. The Blue Devils (6-0) will face the winner of the Thursday game between Butler and Texas.

Duke trailed by as many as eight points but took control midway through the second half when Wendell Carter Jr.’s dunk put the Blue Devils in front 67-62. They would go on to lead by as many as 21 points.

“The first half we obviously weren’t playing like we were normally do. We weren’t doing the things that we do well. We weren’t going to our strengths. We kind of came out sluggish,” Bagley said. “But going into the second half it was just ‘You have to wake up.’ They (the coaches) mentioned to us that these are the type of games that are going to be like that if you don’t come out ready to play.

It was coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 200th victory as coach of a No. 1-ranked team. He’s 200-29 when the Blue Devils sit atop the poll.

Deontae North led the Vikings (4-1) with 24 points, including 20 in the first half, but fouled out with 8:39 left in the game.

It was the first time in program history that the Vikings had faced a top-ranked team. Portland State’s last win over a ranked opponent was an 86-82 victory over then-No. 25 Portland in December 2009.

“I thought they just knocked us back the whole first half,” Krzyzewski said. “We were in a reactionary mode the first 20 minutes.”

The tournament involves 16 teams playing in two brackets on Thursday, Friday and Sunday, with a break on Saturday. The field also includes No. 4 Michigan State, No. 7 Florida and defending national champion North Carolina.

Dubbed the PK80, the tournament celebrates Nike co-founder Phil Knight’s 80th birthday.

Duke and Portland State were in the Motion Bracket, playing Thursday at the Memorial Coliseum. Teams in the Victory Bracket played at the adjacent Moda Center.

Knight was sitting courtside for the game.

The five-time NCAA champion Blue Devils were coming off a 92-63 victory over Furman on Monday night, led by Bagley with 24 points.

Portland State was coming off an 83-79 victory over Utah State at the Memorial Coliseum on Monday. The Vikings are playing the first season under coach Barret Peery.

“I’m proud of our team,” Peery said. “But I was proud of our team before the ball went up.”

Portland State was no pushover from the start, taking a 12-11 lead on North’s 3-pointer with 16:54 to go in the opening half. North hit another 3 that put the Vikings up 19-15 and Michael Mayhew’s jumper extended the lead.

North made another 3 to make it 33-26 with 8:33 left in the half. The Vikings stayed out in front until Gary Trent Jr. made a pair of free throws for Duke to tie it at 42 with 2:09 left in the half.

Mayhew hit a long 3-pointer and Portland State led 49-45 at the half. Mayhew was among five Vikings who fouled out in the second half.

Carter’s layup put Duke out in front 54-53, but North answered with a jumper and Bryce Canda added a 3-pointer.

Carter had another layup to give the Blue Devils a 61-60 lead and Bagley’s tip-in pushed the lead to 63-60, energizing the mostly blue-clad crowd at the Coliseum. Duke never trailed again.

“This was a big stage for us,” said Canda, who finished with 14 points. “But we can’t hang our heads.”

BIG PICTURE

Duke: Allen scored just five points against Furman, and Krzyzewski said he was banged up and held out of a couple of practices going into the game. But he was back in form against Portland State. He taunted a Portland State player late in the game and got a technical, eliciting a strong reaction from Krzyzewski.

Portland State: It was the first time Portland State had faced a No. 1-ranked team. The Vikings have twice faced a No. 2 team, including Duke in 1997. … The Vikings play in the Big Sky conference. They’ve made the NCAA tournament twice, in 2008 and 2009, with first-round losses both times.

MORE COACH K: Krzyzewski has coached 229 games with a No. 1-ranked team, surpassing John Wooden for the lead. … It is the 500th week that Duck has been ranked in the top 10 of the AP poll under him, most by a coach in the AP Top 25’s history.

NORTH’S SECOND TECH: North was on the floor in front of the scorer’s desk, getting ready to check into the game when he earned his second tech of the game. Coach Peery said apparently the ref thought North had commented on the previous play.

UP NEXT

Duke: The Blue Devils go on to face the winner of the late Thursday afternoon game between Butler and Texas when the tournament continues on Friday.

Portland State: The Vikings will face the Butler-Texas loser.

Terrell lifts Rhode Island past No. 20 Seton Hall, 75-74

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NEW YORK (AP) — Jared Terrell made a running layup with 5.2 seconds left to give Rhode Island a 75-74 victory over No. 20 Seton Hall on Thursday night in the second game of the Preseason NIT.

Terrell finished with 32 points to help the Rams improve to 3-1. Stanford Robinson added 15 points.

Myles Powell led the Pirates (4-1) with 21 points. Angel Delgado had 18 points and 14 rebounds, and Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez had 12 points each.

Following Terrell’s layup, Seton Hall inbounded the ball to Carrington, who raced up court but lost his dribble and the Pirates were unable to recover the loose ball before the buzzer sounded.

Trailing by nine at halftime, Seton Hall outscored Rhode Island 27-17 in a 14:06 span to take the lead at 72-71. Carrington made two free throws with 5:54 left to give the Pirates their first lead since his jumper 5:09 into the game.

Defense was both the cause and effect for Seton Hall’s turnaround. Specifically, the Pirates played defense in the second half after surrendering 60.7 percent (17 of 28) shooting from the field — including 77.8 percent (7 of 9) from 3-point range — —in the first 20 minutes.

The Rams regained the the lead, 73-72, on Andre Berry’s layup with 4:05 left. The lead lasted for 2:02 until Ismael Sanogo’s layup gave Seton Hall a one-point advantage.

BIG PICTURE

Seton Hall: The Pirates entered the game having yielded just 254 points_or an average of 63.5 points per game_in winning their first four games. Against Rhode Island, Seton Hall allowed 54 points in the first half and the Rams broke the 64-point barrier with 11:03 left in the second half on Jared Terrell’s 3 in front of the Rhode Island bench.

Rhode Island: The Rams authored an otherworldly offensive performance — in the first half. Rhode Island scored 54 points on 60.7 percent shooting. But college basketball is a two-half game and, in the second, Rhode Island only made 8 of 31 shots from the field.

NOTABLE

Seton Hall Fell to 7-2 against Rhode Island

Rhode Island: The second of two games at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center also marked the second time Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley coached against his alma mater. Hurley scored 1,070 points in five years at Seton Hall.

UP NEXT

Seton Hall: Plays Vanderbilt in the consolation game Friday.

Rhode Island: Plays Virginia in the championship Friday.

No. 5 Villanova beats Tennessee 85-76 in Battle 4 Atlantis

BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 16: Jalen Brunson #1 of the Villanova Wildcats drives against Elijah Long #55 of the Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers in the first half during the first round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at KeyBank Center on March 16, 2017 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas — Jalen Brunson scored 25 points to help fifth-ranked Villanova rally from 15 down and beat Tennessee 85-76 in Thursday’s semifinals at the Battle 4 Atlantis.

The Wildcats (5-0) trailed 44-29 with 1:39 left before roaring out of a break with a dominating run. Villanova scored the first 11 points as part of that 23-2 burst, with the Wildcats playing far more aggressively and getting out in transition.

Mikal Bridges added 21 points for Villanova, which shot 52 percent after halftime and built a 15-point lead with 4:40 left before having to hold off a late rally by the Volunteers.

Grant Williams scored 20 points for Tennessee (3-1), which clawed to within 79-76 on Admiral Schofield’s 3-pointer with 51.6 seconds left. But that was as close as the Volunteers got, with Villanova hitting four free throws and getting a breakaway dunk from Donte DiVincenzo with 13.2 seconds left to seal it.

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Volunteers were coming off an overtime win against No. 18 Purdue in the first round and they were poised to add an even bigger upset. But that flat second-half start wiped out a strong half’s worth of work and squandered the momentum that came through their board work and converting turnovers.

Villanova: That’s two straight days the Wildcats put together a second-half spurt to take control in the Bahamas. They did it in Round 1 against Western Kentucky to finally break the game open, but this one — full of active hands, deflected passes and guys diving on the floor — brought them back in a game that was once getting away from them.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: The Volunteers will play the North Carolina State-Northern Iowa loser in Friday’s third-place game.

Villanova: The Wildcats will play the N.C. State-Northern Iowa winner in Friday’s championship game.