Coaches on the hot seat

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It’s never fun to put together any sort of “hot seat” list.

In an ideal world, every college basketball coach in America would win enough games, and do enough with their programs, to justify keeping them all around for another season. But there are over 350 head coaching jobs in a highly-competitive, multi-million dollar sport. That’s just not the way things work in sports.

So, every year, we go over some of the big-name head coaches who could be in trouble if they have a bad season. Many years, some of the coaches on this list make us look dumb by having a big season and effectively “saving” their jobs. Other times, we can already see a program trending in the wrong direction, and things just aren’t going to change.

The hot seat doesn’t have nearly as many names on it this year. There isn’t an FBI scandal to keep certain seats warm. And given a lot of the coaching turnover of the past few offseasons, there are still many coaches who are in their first two years on the job.

But here are some coaches to watch for this season as they try to do everything they can to build positive momentum going forward.

DO NOT SIT DOWN

Steve Alford, UCLA: Coming off of another disappointing season in which they barely made the First Four, the pressure is, once again, on Alford to win at UCLA. Other programs would kill to have three Sweet 16 appearances in five seasons. But things are done a bit differently at UCLA. That fanbase expects Final Four runs and national championships. So Alford’s five-year stretch isn’t exactly cutting it. Alford’s 67.2 percent winning percentage is the lowest of any UCLA coach since Walt Hazzard’s 62.1 percent winning percentage in 1948. When you also factor in the off-the-court incident in China, and Alford needs a good season from his talented team.

Ernie Kent, Washington State: In four seasons at the helm, Washington State has never won more than 13 games in a season as the Cougars are only 47-77 and 18-54 in Pac-12 play under Kent. While Kent deserves some slack for having to manage one of the toughest jobs in the country, he’s clearly not the right guy for the job. Recruiting buzz for Washington State is nonexistent. The team doesn’t look like a major competitor in a mediocre Pac-12 either. If Washington State has another abysmal season, it could be time for a change.

Richard Pitino, Minnesota: After building some positive momentum with an NCAA tournament appearance in 2017, Minnesota and Pitino saw all of that come crashing down last season. One of the most disappointing teams in the nation last season, the Golden Gophers finished 15-17 and 4-14 in the Big Ten after returning most of its roster from the year before. Pitino has also seen his fair share of off-the-court incidents during his time at Minnesota. His players faced sexual assault allegations and an arrest for domestic violence. Pitino’s original AD that hired him, Norwood Teague, has also been ousted amid his own sexual harassment scandal. If Minnesota doesn’t have a serious turnaround season then Pitino could find himself looking for another job.

THEY COULD USE A BIG YEAR

Dave Leitao, DePaul: The second time around at DePaul hasn’t been very kind to Leitao. Although Leitao found success with the Blue Demons in the early part of the century when they were in Conference USA, the unforgiving Big East hasn’t been nearly as reasonable. DePaul is 9-45 in Big East play during Leitao’s most recent three-year tenure as they have an abysmal 29-65 overall. A shiny, new downtown arena has helped the Blue Demons recruit reasonably well given their recent basement-dweller status. But Leitao needs to start winning actual games and making some form of postseason in order to turn the corner and take the next step.

Danny Manning, Wake Forest: It’s crazy to think that at this time last year, Manning had the momentum of an NCAA tournament appearance and a first-round draft pick in big man John Collins. This list goes to show that things can change very quickly in one year. After a hugely disappointing 2017-18 that saw them finish 11-20 and 4-14 in the ACC, Manning and the Demon Deacons find themselves near the bottom of the league. Wake Forest does have a very solid recruiting class coming in that could re-energize the program. But Manning only has one tournament appearance while going 20-52 in the ACC over his four-year tenure. The results need to be more consistent for Manning to stay at Wake.

Chris Mullin, St. John’s: St. John’s was hoping that this prized alum could help restore the program’s former glory. That hasn’t been the case. While Mullin and his staff have recruited some talented top-100 talents who have put up some decent individual numbers, the winning hasn’t followed. In three season, St. John’s is only 38-60 and 12-42 in the Big East during Mullin’s time in charge as they’ve been slightly better than DePaul during that stretch. There is no arguing Mullin’s impact on St. John’s as a player. He is probably the greatest player in program history. He just doesn’t look like the right guy to coach his alma mater.

Pat Chambers (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

JUST DON’T BE TERRIBLE, OK?

Pat Chambers, Penn State: The Nittany Lions just finished a solid season in which they won the NIT. It’s also very notable that Chambers is the only high-major head coach that is currently employed despite missing the last seven NCAA tournaments at their current job. With star guard Tony Carr leaving for the pros this offseason, the NCAA tournament might not be realistic for Penn State this season. Is that going to be an issue for Chambers as he was just starting to turn the corner with this group?

Fran McCaffery, Iowa: After eight seasons at the helm, it is going to take a lot for Iowa to move on from McCaffery. He’s a great basketball coach, and he has multiple high-caliber sons who will play for the Hawkeyes in the next few seasons. But last season’s disappointing 4-14 finish in the Big Ten has some fans getting restless. McCaffery only has three NCAA tournament appearances in those eight seasons at Iowa, as the fanbase would love more consistency. McCaffery has a lot of young talent at Iowa. Now is the time to turn that into yearly postseason trips.

Tim Miles, Nebraska: The Cornhuskers were actually one of the biggest surprise teams in college basketball last season, but they managed to come up short of the NCAA tournament. That means Miles has fallen short of the sport’s biggest stage in five of his six seasons as head coach. Nebraska is going to have reasonable expectations once again this season. As long as the Huskers don’t bottom out, and make the postseason, Miles should not feel any legitimate heat.

 

Tennessee center Tamari Key out for season with blood clots

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee senior center Tamari Key will miss the rest of this season because of blood clots in her lungs, coach Kellie Harper said.

Doctors found the issue during testing. Key is expected to make a full recovery after treatment from University of Tennessee doctors, Harper said, adding that her sole concern is Key getting the medical care she needs to heal and return to full strength.

Key missed the first game of her career in a win Tuesday night over Chattanooga after playing her first 99.

“This is much bigger than basketball. We are so grateful that this medical condition was caught,” Harper said in a statement. “Our entire program will be right beside Tamari during this process and welcomes prayers and positive thoughts from Lady Vol Nation and beyond.”

The Lady Vols opened the season ranked fifth but currently are 5-5.

The 6-foot-6 Key from Cary, North Carolina, currently is Tennessee’s third-leading scorer averaging 8.4 points a game and averaged 4.2 rebounds per game. She started all 34 games as the Lady Vols reached their first Sweet 16 since 2016 last season and set the school record with 119 blocked shots.

Key had 18 blocks this season and 295 for her career, five away from becoming the eighth woman to reach that mark in Southeastern Conference history.

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 State 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 Boston College 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.