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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.”

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.