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2018 College Basketball Coaching Carousel: Ranking the 12 best hires from the spring of 2018

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As of today, the college basketball coaching carousel isn’t quite finished spinning — thanks at lot, Detroit and Chicago State — but for all intents and purposes, all the jobs that are nationally relevant are filled and have been filled for a couple of weeks, some for more than a month.

What that means is that it is time to 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 12 best hires of the carousel.

THE NO-BRAINERS

1. CHRIS MACK, Louisville

For my money, Mack is one of the ten best coaches in college basketball. He’s young, he’s a high-level recruiter, he understands how to run a program in that part of the country, he’s dealt with a passionate fanbase at a basketball school. This was the hire, and Louisville got it done.

1a. DAN HURLEY, UConn

Another homerun hire, and this one coming at a discount of sorts. Hurley picked UConn over Pitt, who offered a more lucrative contract, and Rhode Island, who offered him an extension with a bigger dollar figure. Dan, the son of legendary high school coach Bob Hurley and the younger brother of Bobby Hurley, picked the Huskies in part because of the fact that they were another school in the Northeast and in part because of the pedigree that comes with the UConn brand.

Whether or not the Huskies can actually return to the glory of the Calhoun years is up for debate, but Hurley is the guy to do it. He’ll recruit better than Kevin Ollie did and he should be able to coach up the players he lands better than Ollie did the last four seasons. I don’t expect UConn to once again because a top 5-10 program in college basketball, but I do think that Hurley is the guy that can get them back to being a perennial top 25 team and an annual AAC contender.

(AP Photo/Stephen Dunn)

THESE ATHLETIC DIRECTORS EARNED THEIR SALARIES

3. PENNY HARDAWAY, Memphis

I do not know if Penny is going to be a good college coach. He was a good high school coach, a good AAU coach and a great college and NBA player, but that doesn’t always translate. What I do know is this: He is going to be able to recruit the city of Memphis, which is something that Tubby Smith, his predecessor, was not able to do, because he already is landing Memphis kids. Getting talent matters. I think Tubby Smith is a better basketball coach than Josh Pastner, but Pastner unquestionably had more success at Memphis than Smith did. Penny will get talent.

But more importantly, Penny has reinvigorated a fan base. Memphis fans want to root for talented, local players. They’re going to do that with Penny — who is a Memphis native and alum — recruiting the kids he coached at East HS and with Team Penny. Gary Parrish, a Memphis radio host, said on the CBT Podcast on Monday that Memphis has already brought in enough money through donations and ticket sales to pay Penny’s salary and Tubby’s buyout for a year. College sports in a business, and at Memphis, business is finally good again.

4. JEFF CAPEL, Pittsburgh

I think Capel is a good coach and a very good recruiter who doesn’t get enough credit for the job he did at VCU or at Oklahoma before everything blew up in his face post-Blake Griffin. He was overdue to get another shot at a high-major gig, and Pitt was able to land him.

But, if I’m being frank, his presence this high on this list has a lot more to do with the fact that I believe Pitt is a bad job in the midst of what is going to be a long and difficult rebuild. The Pitt basketball program has no pedigree outside of the years that Ben Howland and Jamie Dixon were on campus. They’ve been to seven Sweet 16s in program history, and five of them came in a seven-year period from 2002-09. That was when the Panthers, who have no recruiting base to speak of, were pulling kids out of New York City with the pitch of being able to play in the Big East.

Now?

They’re in the ACC. That sale isn’t going to work, which means that Capel has to find a way to convince players to join a program that went 0-18 in the ACC last season. I’m not sure Pitt is a top ten job in the ACC. And they landed Capel. Good for them.

5. ASHLEY HOWARD, La Salle

Ashley Howard is a Philly native and a former La Salle assistant that has spent all but one year of his post-high school life playing or coaching at one of Philly’s college basketball programs. He knows that city as well as anyone, and has spent the last five years as an assistant on the staff of the most successful program in college basketball during that time, Villanova. This was the guy that La Salle needed to get, and they got him despite the fact that the athletic department is not in great shape financially.

Jamion Christian (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

6. JAMION CHRISTIAN, Siena

Christian went to two NCAA tournaments in six seasons at Mount St. Mary’s, finding a way to stay relevant despite losing transfers to bigger programs. He just turned 36 years old and has a bright future in front of him in this business. He’s had other offers and turned down other jobs, and eventually a better program than Siena was going to smarten up and pull the trigger. What makes the hire even more impressive is that Siena made it happen in the wake of an ugly breakup with Jimmy Patsos. This is the kind of hire that is going to lead to Siena getting back to NCAA tournaments … and having to find another head coach in five or six years.

7. NIKO MEDVED, Colorado State

The Rams landed themselves one of the better young coaches in the country who is a former assistant with the program and they did it without having to break the bank. In four years, Medved built Furman from a program that was left for dead to a conference champ for the first time in 26 seasons. In one season at Drake, he turned the Bulldogs from a team that was expected to be a joke to one that went 10-8 in the league. He’ll have a similar rebuilding task on his hands in Fort Collins, but he should be up for it.

8. JOE DOOLEY, East Carolina

East Carolina is a terrible job. It’s that simple. Terrible. They’ve been to the NCAA tournament twice in program history, the last time coming in 1993. Dooley knows all about this. He was an assistant on staff when they made the 1993 NCAA tournament despite finishing below .500 and just 4-10 in the CAA. He was also the head coach at the program from 1995-99. The best he did was a 17-10 mark, finishing tied for third in the conference. Now, the Pirates are in the AAC, a league that isn’t great but is well above the level of the program. And they were able to land Dooley, a former Kansas assistant that had a ton of success as FGCU the last five years, despite the fact that he knew he was taking a terrible job. Good for them.

AP Photo/John Minchillo

FINE, IF UNINSPIRING

9. TRAVIS STEELE, Xavier

Let me be clear on this: I do not think Travis Steele was a bad hire. I think he’s going to win at Xavier. I think he’s going to keep that program in and around the top 25, if not competing for Big East titles. This was the right hire. But he was always going to be the guy. This is what Xavier does. They promoted Sean Miller after Thad Matta left for Ohio State. He turned into a top ten coach in the country. After Miller left for Arizona, they promoted Mack, and ditto. Steele might end up on that same path. I wouldn’t be shocked. I just think that it’s more impressive to make a good hire at a bad job than it is to make the smart decision to hire from within when it’s the obvious move and what your program does.

10. TOM CREAN, Georgia

It’s not that I don’t think that Crean, the former Marquette and Indiana head man, is a good coach — I do — it’s that this hire is kind of a weird fit. Crean has spent the majority of his coaching career in the midwest, even if he did end up recruiting nationally more than he did within state borders by the end of his time at Indiana. Recruiting Georgia, and specifically Atlanta, is complicated, but it can be quite fertile if done correctly. Figuring out how to navigate the state will be the key to whether or not Crean outperforms his predecessor, Mark Fox.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

11. KERMIT DAVIS, Ole Miss

Kermit Davis is a good coach that had a tremendous amount of success at Middle Tennessee State and is familiar with the recruiting waters he’ll have to wade in at Ole Miss. I’m just not sure that I see the logic in Ole Miss firing the most successful coach that the program has ever had only to go out and hire a guy that basically does the same thing, just at 58 years old instead of 50.

12. DAVID COX, Rhode Island

This was probably the right decision for URI to make, given that Cox should keep some of the talent on the roster from departing. But he’s also going to be a first-year head coach taking over for a guy that made a program without much history nationally relevant. Those are big shoes to fill. We’ll see how it plays out.

Colorado State finds difficulty scheduling good non-conference games

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Colorado State became a symbol for why having a decent non-conference schedule matters, as head coach Larry Eustachy’s team missed the NCAA tournament last season despite having an RPI of 29.

The Rams became the second top-30 RPI team ever to miss the field in-part because a weak non-conference schedule padded their 27-7 overall record with a 14-0 record in non-conference play. Sure, Colorado State earned wins over Colorado and UTEP, but that didn’t exactly have the committee fired up.

According to a report from Kelly Lyell of the Coloradoan, Eustachy is once again having a tough time scheduling games against elite competition. As Lyell’s story points out, the Rams are 45-9 at home in Eustachy’s three seasons at the school, so it would be tough to get power conference opponents to come through.

“Nobody wants to play us,” Eustachy said in Lyell’s story. “Our teams have always been tough to beat at home. Our fans would love to see UCLA come in here, for example, Duke come in here. If they can get them to do that, we’d sign the contract yesterday.

“… We do the best that we can under the circumstances.”

Since Colorado State can’t seem to draw big-name opponents, with the exception of Colorado coming in this season, they’ll travel to Northern Iowa to start the season and also play Kansas State in a neutral setting in Wichita. The difficulty of getting elite teams to play games at Colorado State has made Eustachy start to propose some unique ideas.

From Lyell’s story:

Schools in the five power conferences don’t want to come to Fort Collins, even in 2-for-1 or 3-for-1 deals, Eustachy said.

“There’s not a big pool if we want home games,” Eustachy said. “If you’re out there listening and you’re a Colorado State fan, get Kansas to come in here, and we’ll throw in a bonus for you. Get those schools to come here. We’ll play Kansas 3 for 1, we’ll go there 5 for 1.”

It’s unfortunate that Colorado State can’t get good home games, but maybe scheduling a second good neutral site game against a power conference team or looking ahead and getting good mid-major programs at home would help them play better competition in the early going.

If Colorado State has another strong start in non-conference this season, it’ll be something to track in terms of their ongoing RPI and how they might make the field of 68.

Charges dropped against Colorado State’s Gian Clavell, reinstated by Larry Eustachy

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Colorado State guard Gian Clavell, a rising senior, returned to team activities on after charges against him were dropped.

Matt L. Stephens of The Coloradoan reported on Monday evening that Clavell’s case was dismissed last Thursday. Back on July 17, Clavell was arrested after campus police witnessed an incident between Clavell and a female student. He was arrested “alleged harassment and false imprisonment, with a domestic violence enhancement.”

Colorado State head coach Larry Eustachy suspended Clavell from the team following the arrested. Eustachy confirmed to Stephens that Clavell is back with the program.

Clavell is Colorado State’s top returning scorer at 9.2 points per game. The Rams graduated J.J. Avila, Stanton Kidd and Daniel Bejarano, all of whom averaged double figures from a season ago. The 6-foot-4 Clavell takes on a larger role for the Rams this season alongside fellow guards Joe De Ciman and John Gillon.

Colorado State, coming off a 27-win season and a trip to the NIT, open the 2015-16 campaign at Northern Iowa on Nov. 14.

Colorado State’s Antwan Scott granted sixth year of eligibility

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Colorado State received good news on Monday afternoon, as guard Antwan Scott was granted a sixth season of eligibility.

The 6-foot-1 guard averaged 1.3 points in 1.5 assists per game in 33 total minutes due to a foot injury. Following a win over Air Force Academy on Jan. 10, Colorado State head coach Larry Eustachy officially ruled Scott out for the remainder of the season. He appeared in only four games.

Scott joined the Colorado State in August 2014, transferring in from Grambling State, where he averaged 15.7 points, 4.7 boards and 3.8 assists per game during the 2013-14 season. He was immediately eligible as a graduate transfer. Adding Scott back to the lineup is important for a Rams team that lost its top three scorers, J.J. Avila, Stanton Kidd and Daniel Bejarano.

Colorado State finished 27-7 (13-5 in the Mountain West), earning a bid to the postseason NIT.

Colorado State guard Gian Clavell suspended following arrest

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Friday afternoon it was reported that one of the guards expected to be a key contributor for Colorado State this upcoming season has landed in legal trouble.

Gian Clavell, who averaged 9.2 points and 3.7 rebounds per game and is the team’s leading returning scorer, has been suspended from the team following his arrest Thursday. According to The Coloradoan, Clavell has been arrested “for alleged harassment and false imprisonment, with a domestic violence enhancement” with campus police officers witnessing the alleged incident with a female student Thursday morning.

Colorado State lost forwards J.J. Avila and Stanton Kidd and guard Daniel Bejarano from last season’s team, which missed out on the NCAA tournament despite winning 27 games. For that reason Clavell’s expected to be a key contributor for the Rams, but this legal situation throws a wrench into those plans for the time being.

Clavell is one of three returnees to average between 7.9 and 9.2 points per game last season, with Joe De Ciman and John Gillon being the others. That core will be joined by a group of newcomers led by junior college transfer Emmanuel Ombogo, who was rated as one of the top prospects in the 2015 class, as they look to get Colorado State to the NCAA tournament.

Report: Colorado State loses signee C.J. Keyser to prep school

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Given the amount of production lost from last season’s 27-win team, with their top three scorers (forwards J.J. Avila and Stanton Kidd and guard/forward Daniel Bejarano) out of eligibility, Colorado State is expecting a lot from its incoming recruiting class. Wednesday it was reported that Larry Eustachy’s six-member recruiting haul has dropped to five, with three-star shooting guard C.J. Keyser reportedly headed to prep school this fall instead of Fort Collins.

News of Keyser’s decision was first reported by DMVElite.com, and it has yet to be decided where the Sunrise Christian Academy product will attend school in the fall. This move means that the Rams will only have two newcomers in its backcourt in guards Prentiss Nixon and Anthony Bonner.

CSU coach Larry Eustachy was excited to add a player with the type of athletic ability that Keyser possesses.

Back in May, Eustachy told the Loveland Reporter-Herald that Kesyer “could be maybe the best talent that Colorado State has signed as a freshman in a long time, if it’s not one of the other guys we signed.”

While losing Keyser isn’t an ideal situation for Colorado State, how much this hurts their perimeter depth depend in part upon the status of guard Antwan Scott. Scott, who played in just four games last season due to injury, has applied for a hardship waiver that would result in another season of eligibility if granted according to the Loveland Reporter-Herald.

And it isn’t as if Colorado State lacks options on the perimeter either. The Rams return veterans John Gillon, Gian Clavell, Joe DeCiman and Fred Richardson to its perimeter from last season, with Clavell averaging 9.2 points per game in 2014-15 and DeCiman and Gillon adding 7.9 ppg apiece.

Add in Nixon and Bonner, and Eustachy and his staff have some players to work with as they look to reach the NCAA tournament after missing out in 2014-15. The issue comes in 2016-17, when three of the returning veterans (and Scott should he get an extra year) are out of eligibility.