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Ranking the 10 best coaching hires heading into this season

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It was a relatively quiet Coaching Carousel in 2017-18 considering everything that happened in the sport of college basketball in the past year, but there still were seven high-major jobs that changed hands as well as a number of spots in leagues like the Atlantic 10, the Mountain West and the bottom of the American.

Not every hire made this offseason made waves, and not every decision to fire a head coach resulted in a lawsuit, but there was plenty to make the 2018-19 season fascinating for a handful of programs.

Let’s take a look back on some of those big name coaching decisions. 

Who made the best hires?

Did anyone make a head-scratching decision?

Who is guaranteed success?

Who is locked into failure?

Here are the 10 best hires of the carousel.

1. CHRIS MACK, Louisville

Chris Mack may have not been here before, but it was something close. When he took over Xavier from Sean Miller in 2009, there were high expectations associated with succeeding a wildly successful coach. The situation is different for him now in Louisville – he’s following one of the most accomplished coaches in the history of the game at one of its most storied programs and amid NCAA (and FBI) scrutiny – but the idea is the same. Win now, and win big.

Mack seems equipped to do both. He kept things rolling at Xavier, making the Musketeers a powerhouse, first in the Atlantic 10 and then in the Big East. He’s already scoring wins on the recruiting trail, which is going to be more indicative of his long-term success with the Cardinals than anything. He’s a proven winner and seemingly the perfect man to take over a high profile job in a tough situation.

2. DAN HURLEY, UConn

There haven’t been many high-profile hires in recent years that seem to just make as much sense as this one. UConn has a sense of urgency to return to prominence following a seemingly instant slide into mediocrity under coach Kevin Ollie after capturing the 2014 national championship. Hurley has made his name – well he’s built on the name his father, legendary prep coach Bob, put on the map and his brother, Bobby, helped perpetuate – in the northeast and would seem perfect to recruit the prep school circuit that has so much talent in the area. Getting the Huskies back to where Jim Calhoun had them seems maybe an impossible task in today’s landscape, but Hurley has the resume and talent to get them out of this rut and back competing for league titles and national relevance.

3. PENNY HARDAWAY, Memphis

My favorite hire of the offseason. Tubby Smith is undoubtedly a fine basketball coach, but he’s not exactly injecting a ton of excitement into a program. That was clear toward the end of his tenure in Memphis, which was hemorrhaging cash amid falling attendance figures and an even sharper decline in hope. Enter the most decorated and beloved player in program history, with an All-Star NBA career and all the Memphis recruiting ties any booster could dream of. Penny Hardaway may have zero experience coaching beyond the high school level, but he clearly resonates with recruits and adding Sam Mitchell to his staff should help whatever Xs and Os and organizational issues he’ll need to sort through. Hardaway is unproven, but he’s exciting as hell. The moves he’s already made in assembling his staff and getting to work on the recruiting trail suggest there’s substance to the style, too.

Penny Hardaway (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

4. JEFF CAPEL, Pittsburgh

This is an interesting spot for Capel. He’s had success as a head man at VCU and Oklahoma, but also experienced how fleeting all that can be in his final two seasons with the Sooners. A seven year stint on the bench with Coach K, a host of five-star recruits to your credit and a national championship on your resume is enough to get another high-major chance, though. Despite its historical success, Pitt is a more difficult job now in the ACC than when it was in the Big East, but it’s still got cache. Capel already has the Panthers involved with some high-level recruits – but it’ll be if he can reel them in that will ultimately decide how his third go-round leading a program is judged.

5. TOM CREAN, Georgia

This wasn’t exactly an exciting hire for the Bulldogs after Crean’s tenure in Indiana sort of petered out, but that’s probably not giving Crean enough credit for all he accomplished in – and the players he brought to – Bloomington. No, he’s not the exciting up-and-comer who brought Dwyane Wade to Marquette anymore, but Crean still won a ton of games with the Hoosiers. He’s also widely regarded in the industry as a serious grinder who didn’t just cash TV checks in his time off the bench, but rather continued to learn and study. Maybe he won’t have runaway success in Athens, but I think something like what Rick Barnes has done at Tennessee is very much a possibility.

6. ASHLEY HOWARD, La Salle

La Salle was never able to capitalize on its Sweet 16 appearance of 2013, with three losing seasons and two others one game above .500 following John Giannini’s second weekend run. The Explorers had eight seasons of sub-.500 ball in Giannini’s 14 seasons at the helm, in fact. So it makes a lot of sense to look across town on Jay Wright’s staff for an answer. Howard has had assistant stints at La Salle, Drexel and Villanova, where he won a couple of national championships, so his Big 5 credentials are impeccable. It’s hard to imagine La Salle doing better than this hire.

7. JAMION CHRISTIAN, Siena

Somehow, Siena went from an ugly breakup with Jimmy Patsos to snagging a 36-year-old head coach who already been to two NCAA tournaments and recruited well enough to Mount St. Mary’s to be perpetually (or so it seemed) losing players to up-transfers. This is a hire that seems destined to succeed.

8. DANA FORD, Missouri State

With Creighton and Wichita State seeking out greener pastures, Missouri State is well positioned to compete year-in and year-out in the Missouri Valley Conference. Ford, 34, engineered a quick turnaround at Tennessee State before things started teetering in Years 3 and 4, but he’s well regarded and would seem set up to succeed in an area the Illinois State graduate and one-time Wichita State assistant knows well.

9. TRAVIS STEELE, Xavier

If history is any guide, Travis Steele is going to win a ton of games with Xavier. From Thad Matta to Sean Miller to Chris Mack, the Musketeers promote from within and then go on to win. It’s simply what they do. Steele’s resume leaves little doubt that it’ll continue yet again in Cincinnati.

10. NIKO MEDVED, Colorado State

After a tumultuous run and messy end, the marriage between Larry Eustachy and Colorado State came to an end this season, leaving the door open for the Rams to pursue ties to the staff that helped them to back-to-back NCAA tournaments in 2012 and 2013. Medved coached for Tim Miles as he built Colorado State into a contender, and then stuck around with Eustachy for a year as Colorado State earned an eight seed and tournament win. Then it was Furman, where he improved their win total every year before leaving for a one-year stop at Drake. Medved knows what it takes to win in Fort Collins, and he’s familiar with rebuilding jobs.

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.