We are now nearly two months into the college basketball season, with non-conference play just about done and the league schedule coming up on the horizon.
With that in mind, it is a perfect time to check in on how some of the biggest coaching hires around the country are doing.
CHRIS MACK, Louisville
It’s hard to argue with the work Mack has done early on this season. The Cardinals are sitting at 9-3 on the season. They’ve knocked off Michigan State in overtime, a marquee win that is going to be at the top of their NCAA tournament resume three months from now. They won at Seton Hall, a pleasant surprise out of the Big East that could end up getting to the NCAA tournament. Their three losses have come against Tennessee, Marquette and at Indiana, all of whom are on track to go dancing; Tennessee and Marquette could win their league.
Mack could very well get this group to the NCAA tournament, and that’s to say nothing of just how good his recruiting class is coming in next season. Louisville fans are going to be very, very happy with this hire.
DAN HURLEY, UConn
In UConn’s third game of the season, the Huskies went into Madison Square Garden and knocked off then-No. 15 Syracuse. That was awesome. Since then, they’ve gotten smoked by Iowa and Villanova, lost at home to a mediocre Arizona and dropped a game in New Jersey to a really good Florida State. The 9-4 start is better than what was expected, but it’s also been something of a mixed bag.
That said, UConn is playing a new, more entertaining brand of basketball. Hurley has reinvigorated the fanbase. He’s recruiting his tail off. UConn is probably headed to the NIT, but I don’t think UConn fans are going to complain.
PENNY HARDAWAY, Memphis
The Tigers are 7-5 on the season, which is just about where we thought they would be heading into the year even if it is somewhat disappointing. The Tigers had a chance to knock off LSU on the road, Charleston and Texas Tech on a neutral court and whiffed.
But this isn’t the year that really matters, not when Penny has a young team that is going to be stocked with local talent — James Wiseman anyone? — in the coming years. The thing that matters is that he is selling out FedEx Forum again, and that’s not something that happened in recent seasons under Tubby Smith.
TOM CREAN, Georgia
Crean’s Bulldogs have not been great, but they have probably been better than what their record is. Their first three losses come on the road or neutral floors against good teams. They were up 18 points at home against Arizona State before they lost that game. They are coming off of a win at Georgia Tech, which is more about bragging rights than a resume, but a win is a win is a win. It will take time, but the early returns could certainly be worse.
JEFF CAPEL, Pitt
The Panthers haven’t really done anything this season besides land a win over Saint Louis on a neutral court. They lost at Iowa and at West Virginia. They lost to Niagara. Their two best wins are against Atlantic 10 teams. But coming off of a winless ACC season, they are 9-3 on the season. It’s hard to complain too much about that.
TRAVIS STEELE, Xavier
Steele has finished his first non-conference season, and it certainly could have been worse. The Musketeers beat just about every team they were supposed to beat, including a win over Illinois on a neutral floor. The problem is they didn’t really beat anyone of note and lost all five games against teams with a shot at an at-large — Wisconsin, Auburn, San Diego State, Cincinnati and Missouri. The silver lining is that all five of those losses came away from the Cintas Center.
KERMIT DAVIS, Ole Miss
Are the Rebels a team that we need to keep an eye on? They are currently sitting with a 9-2 record and just one non-conference game left on their schedule. They’ve beaten Baylor on a neutral, won at Illinois State and picked off a good San Diego team. Their only two losses came at Butler and against Cincinnati on a neutral court.
BEST OF THE REST
For the most part, taking over a new job is never going to be an easy endeavor. There’s usually a reason the jobs open up in the first place, and it’s not normally because the coach that was there the previous season was hired by a bigger school.
Here are four names off the beaten path that are excelling in their first year at a new program.
DARIAN DEVRIES, Drake: Devries walked into a pretty good situation. He took over for Niko Medved, a notorious program builder that was in charge for just one year before taking Colorado State, and has thrived. Drake is 10-2 on the season after wins over a pair of good teams in New Mexico State and San Diego in the Las Vegas Classic. With the Missouri Valley wide open this season, the Bulldogs are a team to keep an eye on.
JUSTIN HUTSON, Fresno State: We all thought that San Diego State would be the threat to Nevada in the Mountain — and they might be — but on paper, Fresno State is one of the two teams (we’ll get to the other in a second) that looks capable of picking off the conference’s headliner. The Bulldogs are 9-2 on the season with wins over Cal, Northwestern and Weber State, and they are still missing their best player, Deshon Taylor.
SAM SCHOLL, San Diego: Things were going better for the Toreros if they had pulled off the overtime win against Drake on Sunday night, but they couldn’t get it done. They’re now 10-4 on the season, but their first three losses came against Washington, Ole Miss and Oregon.
CRAIG SMITH, Utah State: The Aggies are the other Mountain West team that we need to keep an eye on. Off to a 9-3 start under Craig Smith, USU has a nice win over Saint Mary’s and a good mid-major foe in UC Irvine. There was a chance that the Aggies could earn an at-large bid, but they whiffed on chances against Arizona State, BYU and Houston.