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Looking Forward: Who were the winners and the losers of the Coaching Carousel?

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The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close for all of the major programs. 

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2016-17 season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at who were the winners, the losers and the people that couldn’t move the needle during this year’s Coaching Carousel.

THESE ARE YOUR BIG WINNERS

MEMPHIS: To me, Memphis was easily the biggest winner of this year’s coaching carousel, and it’s not just because they hired Tubby Smith, which was arguably the best hire of the spring. Tubby has coached at Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota and Texas Tech, and the only place that he didn’t significantly exceed expectations during his tenure was at Kentucky, where he won a national title, reached three more Elite 8s and notched five SEC titles in ten seasons. I wrote a column on it at the time. He’ll make Memphis relevant again, and not just in the AAC standings.

But the other part of it is that the Tigers got Josh Pastner’s contract off the books. Pastner was guaranteed more than $10 million over the next four years, which is too much money to just walk away from and, given the relationship between the Tiger fanbase and their former head coach, too expensive for the University to afford. When donors tighten the pursestrings and fans stop showing up to the games, it’s tough to bring in revenue. Memphis wasn’t the only winner in that deal …

JOSH PASTNER: … because Pastner needed a reboot about as badly as Memphis needed him gone. He had lost the fanbase in Memphis. They didn’t support the team, they didn’t support him and if he was going to coach for the rest of his contract, his life in town was going to be almost as miserable as his teams would be. Instead, he was given more than $1 million to go away, and by “go away” I mean become the head coach of Georgia Tech. So he got paid to leave Memphis for a program in a better conference and in Atlanta, a city that he had pulled two McDonald’s All-Americans out of. Not a bad deal.

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OKLAHOMA STATE: Like Memphis, Oklahoma State was dealing with a coach in Travis Ford that was losing games and, in the process, losing fans. What better way to invigorate a fan base than to hire a head coach that plays an entertaining style of basketball and just so happens to be coming off of a tournament run that saw him get No. 14 seed Stephen F. Austin to within a miracle tip-in of the Sweet 16 in a season that capped a three-year run with three NCAA touraments, an 89-14 overall record and a staggering 59-1 league record. That’s what the Pokes got in Brad Underwood, who has Big 12 pedigree having coaching under Bob Huggins and Frank Martin at Kansas State. (More on that in a bit.)

VCU: Just one year removed from #ShakaWatch finally ending, as Smart took over at Texas for Rick Barnes, the Rams once again have one of the best up-and-coming young head coaches in the business in Will Wade. After phenomenal season winning 25 games, an Atlantic 10 regular season title and a first round game in the NCAA tournament, Wade was a favorite to replace Kevin Stallings at Vanderbilt, in his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. Instead, he re-upped on an eight-year deal with VCU.

TEXAS TECH AND CHRIS BEARD: This was a match made in heaven. Beard, who just five years ago wasn’t even in the Division I coaching ranks, took Arkansas-Little Rock to the second round of the NCAA tournament in his first season with the Trojans and parlayed that into the UNLV job (for a week) and then the Texas Tech job. The Red Raiders lost Tubby Smith, who led them back to the NCAA tournament, but landed a guy that A) spent 10 seasons in Lubbock as an assistant coach and B) actually wants to be at Texas Tech, which he has called his dream job.

VANDERBILT: The Commodores needed to part ways with Kevin Stallings after nearly two decades. They did. And they replaced him with Bryce Drew, who had won four Horizon League regular season titles in five years, getting to the NCAA tournament twice. He was one of the hottest mid-major coaching names in recent years. There’s not much more to say than that.

JAMIE DIXON: Dixon went to 11 NCAA tournaments in 13 seasons with Pitt after taking over for Ben Howland, but in the latter years of his coaching tenure, the Panthers had plateaued. Thanks, realignment. Anyway, Dixon and Pitt needed to go their separate ways, and Dixon ended up getting the gig at his alma mater, TCU, which is a better job than people realize. Great facilities, donors with deep pockets, a highly-regarded athletic director and a spot in the middle of the fertile recruiting grounds of Dallas.

New UNLV men's basketball coach Marvin Menzies smiles during a news conference after the UNLV board of regents approved his contract, Friday, April 22, 2016 in Las Vegas. The boards voted 12-1 on Friday to approve a five-year, $3.75 million deal for Menzies. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP) LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT
Marvin Menzies (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)

     RELATED: Looking Forward Big 12 | ACC | A-10 | Big East | Big Ten

AND THESE ARE YOUR LOSERS

DELAWARE: It’s mid-May, nearly two months after former head coach Monte’ Ross was fired. The Blue Hens have not only not hired a replacement yet, they only last week hired the new athletic director that will be hiring said replacement. In the meantime, the program is down to just four scholarship players after their top six scorers all transferred. Good luck finding someone to take that job.

UNLV: I actually think that UNLV made a pretty good hire with Marvin Menzies. He’s a member of the Rick Pitino coaching tree that had a lot of success at New Mexico State and will come relatively cheap for a program that is more or less broke.

The problem is that their coaching search was embarrassingly public. It started with rumors that Rick Pitino was going to leave Louisville for Vegas. That didn’t happen. Then Mick Cronin deftly used the Rebels as leverage to get an extension out of Cincinnati. Chris Beard eventually took the job, but after it took more than a week for the Board of Regents to actually approve his contract, Beard ended up leaving for Texas Tech a week later. And all of that happened in a year where UNLV fired Dave Rice in January, roughly eight months after they extended him instead of looking for a replacement. And do you know who they could have hired last spring? Ben Howland.

There’s no way around it: UNLV’s search was an absolute embarrassment. It’s no wonder Menzies took over a team with just two scholarship players.

KANSAS STATE: I’m not saying that Bruce Weber deserved to be fired. He’s been to two tournament in four seasons in Manhattan. But he’s also 32-33 overall and 13-23 in the Big 12 the last two seasons. So there’s justification for a coaching change, especially when you consider that this was the year where Brad Underwood would be leaving Stephen F. Austin. Underwood is a Kansas State alum who spent six seasons as an assistant with Bobby Huggins and Frank Martin and won 89 games the last three seasons. He had all the makings of the man that would spark the resurgence of the Kansas State program.

Instead, Underwood went to Oklahoma State, a Big 12 rival. Weber is probably coaching for his job next season.

STEVE PIKIELL: I actually think Steve Pikiell is a really good coach. It took a few years, but he built Stony Brook into a mid-major powerhouse out of basically nothing. With so many key pieces graduating this year, it was his time to move on, so he took over at … Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights haven’t had a winning season since 2006 (shoutout to Quincy Douby), they haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1991 and, since their last tournament trip, they’ve finished with a .500 record in league play just twice. Never better than .500, and never better than fifth in their league standings.

And now they’re in the Big Ten, meaning that a team in a region where no one cares about college sports will be playing “local” rivals like Michigan State, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan, Purdue and Maryland. Good luck, Steve.

THESE HIRES? WELL … WHATEVER

STANFORD: On the one hand, the Cardinal made a needed change getting rid of Johnny Dawkins. That’s probably a good thing (more on that in a second). And they hired a guy in Jerod Haase who is from California and is a part of the North Carolina coaching tree. He spent four seasons at UAB, reaching the second round of the NCAA tournament with an upset win over No. 3 seed Iowa State in 2015 and winning the CUSA regular season title in 2016. It’s not a bad hire, but it’s hard to get overly excited about a guy that finished better than fourth place in a league like CUSA just once.

CENTRAL FLORIDA: UCF landed Johnny Dawkins, a member of Coach K’s coaching tree, after they fired Donnie Jones. But he’s also a guy that was run out of town by Stanford after eight disappointing seasons, one trip to the NCAA tournament and a pair of NIT titles. Just how invigorated can a fan base be by hiring someone else’s cast off?

PITTSBURGH: The same can be asked of Pitt. They got rid of Jamie Dixon, whose success with the Panthers had plateaued, for Kevin Stallings, who was pushed out the door by Vanderbilt because … his career had plateaued.

There’s also the issue of expectations here. Stallings has a very well-respected coach among the peers in his profession. Maybe he just needs to start over at a new school, but when Pitt fans are expecting Pitt natives Sean and Archie Miller to want to come home — and when local reporters are breaking “news” that it’s going to happen — anything less is going to be seen as a disappointment.

GEORGIA TECH: The Yellow Jackets ran into the exact same issue Pitt did. They fired Brian Gregory and landed Josh Pastner, who was no longer wanted at Memphis, when everyone was expecting athletic director Mike Bobinski to make a splash. He used to be the Xavier athletic director. You know who coaches at Xavier? Chris Mack! You know who else used to coach at Xavier? Sean Miller! You know who Sean Miller’s little brother is? Archie Miller!

There were all these connections, except none of them had any chance to happen. So while it feels like Georgia Tech got stuck with Pastner, in reality they picked a 38-year old that had been to four NCAA tournaments in his first five seasons as a head coach over Pat Kelsey, a former Xavier assistant that has yet to take Winthrop to a single postseason event in four seasons.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.