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. 7 Tennessee beats Eastern Kentucky, win streak hits 7

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tyreke Key scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half and finished with 17, and No. 7 Tennessee overcame a sluggish first half and beat Eastern Kentucky 84-49 on Wednesday night.

“Tyreke is handling the ball now,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s all new to him. He keeps getting better.”

The Volunteers (8-1) struggled in the first half but still built an 11-point lead over Eastern Kentucky (4-5) on the way to their seventh straight victory.

Key led Tennessee in scoring before leaving with a cramp in his right leg with 6:15 left in the game. Julian Phillips had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Zakai Zeigler and Uros Plavsic added 13 points apiece. Olivier Nkamhoua scored 10.

“I’m still settling in,” said Key, a transfer from Indiana State who didn’t play last year while recovering from an injury. “This is a new role. I’m taking steps every day and keep learning.”

Eastern Kentucky, which came into the game averaging 83.5 points, was held well below that total due to 17% (6 for 35) shooting from long range and 22% (15 for 68) overall. Leland Walker led the Colonels with 13 points.

It was the seventh time this season Tennessee has held its opponent to 50 or fewer points.

“(Tennessee) is the best defensive team in the country,” Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton said. “I think they’re the best team in the country.”

At one point in the first half, Tennessee was shooting 20% and still leading by 10 points. The teams combined to shoot 4 of 32 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes. The Vols, who shot 24% (8 of 34), led 32-21 at the break.

“If we can’t make shots, can you find a way to win the game?” Barnes said. “When the shot’s not going in, find a way to play. The first thing we talk about is our defense.”

Tennessee shot 41 free throws. Phillips, a true freshman, was 7 of 10.

“(Phillips) has learned the pace of the game,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure there’s been a more effective freshman in the country (this season).”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Since its early season slip against Colorado, Tennessee has had a steady ascent in the rankings. The Vols’ next two games – neutral site (Brooklyn) against No, 13 Maryland (Dec. 11) and at No. 10 Arizona (Dec. 17) – will go a long way toward justifying the No. 7 ranking.

BIG PICTURE

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels’ run-and-gun style of offense had them averaging 83.5 points through their first eight games. They ran into a defensive buzz saw in Tennessee, which was yielding just over 51 points.

Tennessee: Santiago Vescovi sat out his second straight game with a shoulder problem. He is expected to be ready to play Sunday against Maryland. . The Vols have won seven in a row since their loss to Colorado.

UP NEXT

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels host Boyce College on Saturday.

Tennessee: Take on No. 13 Maryland on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Invitational in New York.

Hoggard scores career-high 23, Michigan St snaps 2-game skid

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A.J. Hoggard scored a career-high 23 points, Joey Hauser had 12 points and 15 rebounds and Michigan State beat Penn State 67-58 on Wednesday night to snap a two-game losing streak.

Michigan State (6-4, 1-1 Big Ten) avoided going .500 or worse after 10 games for the first time in 18 seasons.

Hoggard blocked an open layup with less than a minute to play and Hauser grabbed the rebound before being fouled and making two free throws at the other end for a 66-58 lead.

Hoggard, Hauser and Tyson Walker combined for 31 of Michigan State’s 32 second-half points.

The Michigan State defense allowed only one made field goal in the final five minutes. Penn State was just 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the second half after 7 of 18 before halftime.

Walker scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half for Michigan State. Hoggard, who entered third in the conference in assists at 6.3, had six rebounds, two assists and one key block.

Hoggard gave Michigan State 35-33 lead – its first since 4-2 – after back-to-back three-point plays with 59.3 seconds left in the first half. It was tied at 35-all at the break.

Seth Lundy scored 16 points and Jalen Pickett had 13 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists for Penn State (6-3, 0-1)

Michigan State hosts Brown on Saturday. Penn State, which hadn’t played since a double-overtime loss to Clemson on Nov. 29, plays at No. 17 Illinois on Saturday.

No. 7 Virginia Tech posts 9th straight win, beats BC 73-58

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BOSTON — Reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Elizabeth Kitley had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Cayla King scored 16 on Wednesday night to lead No. 7 Virginia Tech to a 73-58 victory over Boston College, the Hokies’ ninth straight win.

Taylor Soule, one of two BC transfers on the roster for Virginia Tech (9-0, 1-0 ACC), added nine points and five rebounds. Soule scored more than 1,500 points and grabbed almost 700 rebounds in four seasons at BC, earning All-ACC honors three times.

Andrea Daley scored 15 points and Maria Gakdeng scored 14 for BC (7-4, 0-1). They each grabbed six rebounds.

Virginia Tech scored 17 of the game’s first 21 points and led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before BC cut the deficit to 10 in the fourth. Leading 64-54 with under three minutes left and the shot clock expiring, Kayana Traylor hit a 3-pointer for the Hokies.

Gakdeng missed two free throws for BC, and then Kitley scored from inside to make it a 15-point game.

Clara Ford, who also played four years in Chestnut Hill, pitched in 2 points in 2 minutes against her former team.

BIG PICTURE

At No. 7, the Hokies have the highest ranking in the program’s history. With the victory over BC, a 10th straight win against North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday would leave Virginia Tech in position to move up even higher should a top five team falter.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: Hosts North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday.

Boston College: Hosts Albany on Saturday.

Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn out for season with knee injury

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the rest of the season with an injured left knee and is expected to have surgery next month.

Wolverines coach Juwan Howard made the announcement three days after Llewellyn was hurt in a loss to Kentucky in London.

Llewellyn transferred to Michigan from Princeton last spring and that seemed to lead to Frankie Collins transferring to Arizona State after a solid freshman season for the Wolverines.

Llewellyn averaged seven points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games at Michigan. He was an All-Ivy League player last season and averaged nearly 16 points over three seasons at Princeton.

Miles Kelly leads Georgia Tech to 79-77 win over rival Georgia

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 02 Northeastern at Georgia Tech
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ATLANTA – Georgia Tech’s Miles Kelly hit another winning shot against a state rival.

Terry Roberts endured a nightmarish final minute for Georgia.

Kelly hit a long 3-pointer and then a drove for the game-winning floater with 23 seconds remaining as the Yellow Jackets rallied to beat Georgia 79-77 on Tuesday night.

Kelly hit the winning shot in similar fashion against Georgia State on Nov. 12. He did it again to beat the Bulldogs, finishing with a team-high 17 points after failing to score in the first half.

“I’m going to continue to keep shooting, no matter how many times I miss,” Kelly said.

Roberts missed a 3-pointer, turned the ball over twice with bad passes, and was called for an offensive foul as he was trying to drive for the basket that would’ve sent the game to overtime.

“A tough finish for us,” Georgia first-year coach Mike White said. “We were in position to steal one on the road.”

A pair of second-chance buckets seemingly put Georgia (7-3) in control with a 77-73 lead.

The Bulldogs wouldn’t score again as Kelly led the comeback for the Yellow Jackets (6-3) – with a big assist from Roberts.

He had a chance to essentially seal it for the Bulldogs, but his jumper beyond the arc clanked off the rim.

Georgia Tech grabbed the rebound and raced down the court, where Kelly swished a 3 from well behind the stripe that brought Georgia Tech within a point with about a minute left.

Trying to work the ball inside, Roberts made an ill-advised entry pass that was deflected and stolen by Deivon Smith, setting up Kelly’s drive for the basket that put the Yellow Jackets back ahead,

Roberts tried a drive of his own, only to have it blocked by Jalon Moore. Georgia retained possession, but Roberts’ inbounds pass was stolen by Moore, who was fouled and made one of two free throws.

Roberts took the ball again and hurriedly dribbled toward the basket, only to be called for an offensive foul when he sent Smith flying.

“Just sacrificing my body for the team,” Smith said.

Georgia stole an inbounds pass around midcourt, giving Karlo Oquendo one last shot to launch a 3 that still would’ve won it for the Bulldogs. It bounced off the rim.

The game was tight throughout. Neither team led by more than eight, and a sequence in the second half showed just how tightly these rivals were matched.

With both squads playing at a frenetic pace and showing little regard for defense, the lead changed hands on eight straight possessions as the teams traded baskets.

Stunningly, they combined to score on 19 straight possessions before Georgia’s Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe missed a pair of free throws with 5:17 remaining.

FIRING UP THE CROWD

Perhaps the biggest cheer of the night came when Georgia Tech football coach Brent Key addressed the crowd at halftime.

Key, who served as interim coach for the last eight games of the season, was introduced Monday as the full-time choice for job.

He fired up the fans by getting them to chant “To hell with Georgia” over and over again. When a smattering of Bulldogs fans responded with barks, Key smiled and egged on the Yellow Jackets crowd to drown them out.

He also declared Georgia Tech to be the “greatest school in the entire state, the entire country,” following up his vow the previous day to not back down from the defending national champion and top-ranked Bulldogs.

BIG PICTURE

Georgia: This will be a tough one to swallow for Roberts, who led his team with 16 points and seven assists. The Bulldogs lost despite shooting 53.4% from the field.

Georgia Tech: Four players scored in double figures, and two others players finished with eight points. But it was Kelly, as usual, who had the ball in his hands at the end of a tight game.

UP NEXT

Georgia: After a nearly two-week break, the Bulldogs return to Atlanta on Dec. 18 to face Notre Dame at State Farm Arena in the Holiday Hoopsgiving event.

Georgia Tech: Head to North Carolina on Saturday for the Atlantic Coast Conference opener against the struggling Tar Heels.