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.