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Looking Forward: The eight most intriguing coaching hires of 2015

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With the early entry process over and with just about every elite recruit having picked a school, we now have a pretty good idea of what college basketball will look like in 2015-16. Over the next three weeks, we’ll be taking an early look at next season.

Today, we’re Looking Forward at the most intriguing coaching hires:

Shaka Smart, Texas: Texas is one of the most underrated jobs in the country: Great weather, great town, great recruiting base, tons of money, lack of pressure to win. Talk to coaches, and there aren’t ten head coaching gigs that are better. Many will put the Longhorns in their top five jobs. And with Rick Barnes getting ousted, Texas looked past Gregg Marshall and Buzz Williams and hired VCU head coach Shaka Smart. I’ve been critical of Smart’s style of play in the past because I think there’s a ceiling to how successful a team can be employing a full court press full-time, but at Texas he’s going to be able to recruit some of the very best athletes high school basketball has to offer. Can he land those kids? Can he invigorate the fan base? Can he win at Texas?

Will Wade, VCU: The guy that is taking over for Smart is Wade, a former assistant that spent the past two seasons coaching at Chattanooga. Given VCU’s recent success, people may forget that just three years ago they were still a member of the CAA. Can they maintain this level of success, remaining a perennial top 25 program, or will they fall back to the Atlantic 10 pack?

Florida: There’s a lot to talk about with the opening that Billy Donovan left in Gainesville, not the least of which is, you know, who actually gets the job. But there’s more to it than that. Florida has been a top 10-15 program over the course of the last decade, but does that mean that it is a top 10-15 job? Or was Donovan the makeup covering the pockmarks? It’s going to be fascinating to see who the Gators hire and how that person continues to growth of the program.

READ MORE: The NBCSports.com preseason top 25

Ben Howland, Mississippi State: Howland jumped at the first job that he could get this spring, going from sunny Southern California to Starkville, Mississippi. The former UCLA head coach has already landed the best guard in the country — Malik Newman — and while this season probably will not result in an SEC title, with the amount of talent in the deep south in the 2016 and 2017 recruiting classes, it shouldn’t take Howland too long to build a winner.

Chris Mullin, St. John’s: A St. John’s legend, Chris Mullin was tapped as the replacement for Steve Lavin. Mullin has spent three decades at the NBA level and has never coached in the college ranks, but he went out and hired a pair of powerful recruiters — assistants from Kentucky and Iowa State — before learning that his two best players would be returning. Will he have the same kind of success in college that Fred Hoiberg had?

READ MORE: Eleven potential Breakout Stars in 2015-16

Bobby Hurley, Arizona State: The legendary Duke point guard parlayed two seasons of success at Buffalo into a head coaching gig in the Pac-12. It won’t be easy for Hurley this season — even if he does get Thon Maker — but it will be interesting to see what he is able to build in the shadow of Sean Miller’s Arizona program.

Steve Donahue, Penn: Donahue had a ton of success when he was the head coach at Cornell, winning Ivy League titles and taking the Big Red to the 2010 Sweet 16. After a flameout at Boston College, Donahue has returned to the Ivy to takeover arguably the league’s most storied program.

Rick Barnes, Tennessee: Barnes might have been run out of Austin, but it didn’t take him long to land back on his feet. The former Texas head man was quickly scooped up by the Volunteers to try and rebuild from the Donnie Tyndall disaster. Barnes will get players to Knoxville, and he’ll do it without having the NCAA come to town.

Report: Steve Donahue to be hired by Penn

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Penn will hire Steve Donahue to be their next head coach, according to a report from the Philly Daily News.

Donahue is a former Penn assistant. He had a terrific run at Cornell, coaching them to a 72-21 stretch and three Ivy League titles in his last three seasons. He also reached the Sweet 16 in 2010 before falling to No. 1 seed Kentucky.

Donahue parlayed that success with the Big Red into the head coaching job at Boston College. He initially had success with the Eagles, winning 21 games in his first season, but he was fired last April after struggling to match that success.

According to the Daily News, Donahue will be announced as head coach on Tuesday.

Donahue was an assistant with Penn during the 90’s, when the Quakers made it to five NCAA tournaments in eight seasons.

Report: Steve Donahue has been fired by Boston College

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To follow along with the 2014 Coaching Carousel, click here.

Less than a week after a report came out that Steve Donahue’s job was safe, Boston College has reportedly fired their head coach.

The news was first reported by Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com.

Donahue was hired back in 2010 after leading Cornell to the Sweet 16, but he has been unable to get the program up and running. Heading into the 2013-2014 season, the Eagles had all kinds of expectations, but they finished the season 8-23 and just 4-14 in the ACC. They were the most disappointing team in the country.

After the Eagles lost in the ACC tournament, the Boston Globe reported that BC’s three best players — Olivier Hanlan, Ryan Anderson and James Rahon — were all considering leaving the program. Hanlan was going to go pro while Anderson and Rahon were thinking of transferring back to the west coast, according to the report.

Boston College center Dennis Clifford to miss remainder of season

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Entering the season with expectations of possibly making a move up the ACC standings, things haven’t gone as planned for Boston College. The combination of a rugged non-conference schedule and some porous defense resulted in Steve Donahue’s Eagles missing on multiple opportunities for quality wins, and at 1-3 in ACC play the Eagles find themselves in the lower portion of the conference standings.

One big reason for Boston College’s defensive struggles is the absence of center Dennis Clifford, who despite playing in 30 games was hampered by a knee issue and played in just two games this year due to a slow recovery from offseason knee surgery. The hope was that Clifford, who averaged 8.9 points and 4.7 rebounds per game as a freshman in 2011-12, would be able to return and give Boston College some needed size in the middle.

Unfortunately that didn’t happen, and four days after tweaking his ankle prior to the Eagles’ game against No. 2 Syracuse on Monday night Donahue announced that Clifford will miss the remainder of the season according to Tom Layman of the Boston Herald.

According to Ken Pomeroy’s numbers the Eagles are dead last in the ACC in adjusted defensive efficiency (297th nationally) by a wide margin, and that’s after ranking 11th (out of 12 teams) in the ACC in that category a season ago. Defense has been an issue during Donahue’s tenure from an efficiency standpoint, with Boston College ranking no better than tenth in the ACC (2010-11) in defensive efficiency in any of his three-plus seasons at the helm.

The hope for Clifford is that with rest he’ll be able to get back to full strength for the 2014-15 season, and according to Layman the school will apply for a medical redshirt.

Tonight’s ACC opener a big deal for struggling Maryland, Boston College

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With there being just six games on tonight’s schedule due to the majority of schools finishing up finals week, Thursday may qualify as one of the least active days on this season’s college basketball schedule. But that doesn’t mean there are no games of importance, as Maryland visits Boston College in the ACC opener for both.

And based upon how the Terrapins (5-4) and Eagles (3-6) have opened their respective campaigns, Thursday’s contest in Chestnut Hill can provide a much-needed boost to the victor.

Maryland’s played its first nine games without the services of expected starting point guard Seth Allen, and their 5-4 mark is a clear indicator of the issues the Terrapins have endured without a clear answer at the point. At the beginning of the season junior Dez Wells (13.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.6 apg) was handed the keys to the offense by head coach Mark Turgeon, with the hope that freshman Roddy Peters (6.2 ppg, 3.3 apg) would be able to grow into the role in Allen’s absence. Due in part to that instability Maryland’s turned the ball over on 20.6% of its possessions, a number that ranks 276th nationally.

Clearly turnovers are a concern for Maryland, and in Boston College the Terrapins will encounter a team that may not be equipped to take advantage of that problem. Steve Donahue’s Eagles have been one of the most disappointing teams in the country, and while their rigorous non-conference slate hasn’t done them any favors BC’s biggest problem is their poor defense.

According to kenpom.com Boston College ranks 265th in adjusted defensive efficiency and 332nd in turnover percentage, forcing a turnover on just 14.6% of their opponents’ possessions. And despite the presence of talented scorers like guard Olivier Hanlan (19.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.9 apg) and forward Ryan Anderson (18.0, 6.4), Boston College won’t have much of a shot at improving on their 16-17 record of a season ago if they don’t find a way to get better on the defensive end.

Both teams enter Thursday’s matchup with some positives to point to. Maryland has one of the most improved players in the country in sophomore Jake Layman (14.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg), classmate Charles Mitchell’s (9.4, 7.1) taken significant steps as well and Michigan transfer Evan Smotrycz (13.6, 7.3) has been an impact addition. As for Boston College the aforementioned Hanlan and Anderson are joined by Joe Rahon (12.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.2 apg) as double-digit scorers.

But as is the case with any team in the country, these teams will only improve if they can strengthen the areas that have proven to be weaknesses through the first nine games of the season.

Boston College is lacking confidence

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Boston College’s struggles this season have been well chronicled. The Golden Eagles got thumped last week on the road at Purdue and took another loss at the Galen Center  to USC this weekend.

Steve Donahue’s ballclub is 3-6 now and their defense in particular has struggled this season as they’ve played a pretty difficult nonconference slate of games.

Now the team might be facing confidence issues. Donahue spoke with the Boston Globe’s Michael Vega about the team and its issues following their loss against USC:

“The bottom line is that we have a group of kids who are not playing with confidence,’’ said BC coach Steve Donahue, whose Eagles fell to 3-6 on the season and must regroup before hosting Maryland in their ACC opener Thursday night at Conte Forum. “Even though they are trying hard, and hanging around, and they’re grinding it, when it comes down to winning a game, they need to feel good about themselves.

“We have a lot of guys who have been beat up by the schedule, our failures, and it’s affecting their confidence and it’s affecting our team confidence.’’

Clearly Boston College is going through trying times and they need to focus on getting stops on the defensive end if they want to instantly improve. Ryan Anderson and Olivier Hanlan give them some options as scorers, but until they can get stops, the Golden Eagles are going to continue to struggle as they begin ACC play against Maryland on Thursday.