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SEC/Big 12 Challenge matchups unveiled

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A meeting between two of the sport’s most successful programs highlights this year’s slate of games in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, which was unveiled Thursday.

Kansas will visit Rupp Arena to play Kentucky on Jan. 26 as part of the annual event’s sixth year of competition.

The Jayhawks have won three-straight against the Wildcats with two being part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge and last year’s meeting part of the Champion’s Classic. Both teams ranked in the top five of our preseason Top 25.

Another marquee matchup will be defending SEC champ and likely top-10 preseason ranked Tennessee hosting Bob Huggins and West Virginia. Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton will welcome his alma mater to Stillwater with South Carolina the Cowboys’ matchup.

All games will be played on Saturday, Jan. 26. The challenge was split 5-5 last season. The Big 12 holds a 3-1-1 advantage in the event with its teams holding an overall record of 29-21.

2019 SEC/Big 12 Challenge

Alabama at Baylor

Iowa State At Ole Miss

Kansas at Kentucky

Kansas State at Texas A&M

Vanderbilt at Oklahoma

South Carolina at Oklahoma State

Florida at TCU

Texas at Georgia

Arkansas at Texas Tech

West Virginia at Tennessee

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.

Five-star PG commits to Georgia

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The first commitment for Georgia in the 2019 class is a monster one.

Ashton Hagans, a top-15 national recruit, pledged to Mark Fox’s program Thursday, years after the Bulldogs offered him as an eighth-grader.

“A couple of days ago, I felt like that was the best decision for me to go with,” Hagans told 247Sports. “We had a conversation over and over and we would go to games and sit down and see how I could help them out. We just kept talking and kept talking. I had a couple of talks with my coaches.

“That opened my eyes.”

Hagans, a 6-foot-4 point guard who hails from Covington, Ga., chose the Bulldogs over in-state contender Georgia Tech. He also held offers from the likes of North Carolina and Kansas.

 

Kansas turns to zone, beats Georgia 65-54 to win CBE Classic

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Frank Mason III and Josh Jackson took it as a shot to their pride.

Bill Self was just trying to win a game.

The Jayhawks’ coach turned to a zone defense Tuesday night, a rarity for a guy whose hallmark is a relentless man-to-man, and that slowed down Georgia enough to give fifth-ranked Kansas a 65-54 victory over the Bulldogs in the CBE Classic championship game.

“I didn’t think it was a hit (to their pride),” Self explained, “but you know, if you can’t guard their bigs and you can’t rebound out of man, we had to try to do something.”

On the other end, Mason led the way with 19 points, Jackson had 15 points and 11 rebounds and Devonte Graham contributed 14 points for the Jayhawks (4-1), who won their third consecutive in-season tournament title and second CBE Classic. They also won the event in 2012.

Jackson, one of the nation’s top freshmen, was voted MVP.

Kansas hopes it’s the beginning of a sweet ride at the Sprint Center this season. The Jayhawks face Davidson in the same building in a couple of weeks, then play the Big 12 Tournament there in March before the arena hosts an NCAA Tournament regional final, where they hope to earn a spot in the Final Four.

Yante Maten had 30 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Bulldogs (3-2), but they were done in by 3-for-18 shooting from the perimeter, equally lousy foul shooting and turnovers that led to easy runouts.

J.J. Frazier, who had been averaging 19 points per game, was held to two on 1-for-10 shooting.

“You have to make shots to win,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “We didn’t shoot the ball very good. Give Kansas’ defense credit for that. But we shot the ball so poorly the first three-quarters of the game, we didn’t score enough to get in position to win it.”

The zone defenses, which neither coach particularly enjoy, were a big reason for it. They slowed the game and turned it into a shooting contest.

“We haven’t really done it much so it was kind of new to us,” Jackson said, “but obviously it worked. For our pride a little bit, we really wanted to play man, but to win the game, we had to go zone.”

Kansas was a bit more efficient from the perimeter, slowly drawing away after trailing 20-19 with about 8 minutes to go, to forge a 35-25 lead at the break. The Bulldogs only made one of their final 16 field goal attempts, and their only scoring in the final 5 minutes came at the foul line.

The lead was still just 42-34 with 16 minutes to go when Mason drove for a basket, the first of eight straight points for the Jayhawks. Mason added another basket, Jackson solved the Bulldogs’ zone for a dunk and Graham and Dwight Coleby finished it off to give Kansas a comfortable cushion.

Georgia went more than 7 minutes without scoring as the game got away.

“We were prepared to play. We thought we could win the game. We’re disappointed we didn’t win,” Fox said. “We didn’t have enough guys chip in, and for us to win, we have to have more guys contribute.”

POST PROBLEMS

The Jayhawks’ post players were virtually non-existent. Landen Lucas never took a shot before fouling out in 10 minutes, Udoka Abuika played only 5 minutes and never took a shot, and Carlton Bragg Jr. finished 1 for 3 from the floor while gathering just one rebound in 10 minutes.

“They’re just not playing very well and not playing very smart and not contributing,” Self said. “They are good kids and they want to do well, but for whatever reason they have really struggled.”

BIG PICTURE

Georgia earned a split in the CBE Classic, and losing to Kansas doesn’t hurt its NCAA Tournament resume. The Bulldogs showed in their win over George Washington that they can be competitive.

Kansas has already proven it can score this season. On Tuesday night, the Jayhawks proved they can play a little defense, too, even if it meant ditching Self’s preferred man-to-man.

UP NEXT

Georgia begins a five-game homestand against Gardner-Webb on Friday night.

Kansas plays UNC-Asheville on Friday night in its second game at Allen Fieldhouse this season.

Georgia’s Fox on plane with close call in Atlanta

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The routine turned harrowing Wednesday morning for the crew and passengers, among them Georgia coach Mark Fox, on Delta Flight 873 from Atlanta to Miami.

Just as the flight made its way down the runway and prepared for liftoff, the captain had to engage the plane’s brakes as another Delta flight taxied across the same runway after landing, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The two aircraft were 1.25 miles when Delta Flight 873 aborted takeoff.

Fox was on the plane to visit friend and Miami Heat assistant Keith Smart, according to ESPN. The Heat play Charlotte tonight in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference first round playoff matchup.

“We were running full throttle, getting reading to take off,” Fox told ESPN, “and the pilot slammed on the brakes.”

The pilot informed passengers that it was an “administrative mistake” by air traffic control at the airport, wrote Charlotte Observer reporter Scott Fowler, who was also on the flight on his way to the Heat/Hornets matchup.

plane returned to the gate for inspection and refueling before taking off without incident at noon, about 90 minutes after its scheduled departure. The incident is under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Mann, Gaines looking to push Georgia to new heights

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ATHENS, Ga. (AP) Senior guards Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines are proud of Georgia’s accomplishments over the last two seasons.

The Bulldogs won 41 games, earned an NCAA tournament bid and finished tied for second and third in the Southeastern Conference.

“When we came in, we did talk about doing this,” Mann said. “We had a whole bunch of goals trying, you know, to change Georgia basketball. We did it, but it wasn’t just me and him. We had Marcus (Thornton), we had Donte’ (Williams), we had Nemi (Djurisic). We’ll see how this year goes.”

For Mann and Gaines to help Georgia go farther this season, the team’s top priority is staying healthy. Last season was taxing as injuries sidelined starters a combined 21 games after the first week of January.

Mann had to play multiple positions while Gaines suffered through several setbacks and needed surgery to repair a broken foot in the offseason.

“It’s been a long, long journey from when it first happened, but I definitely say it’s been successful without surgery,” Gaines said. “I’m glad I did because the recovering would’ve been a little bit longer.”

Coach Mark Fox said Gaines and junior guard Juwan Parker, who’s recovering from Achilles surgery, have been monitored closely in practice this month.

With Mann, Gaines and Parker his three top returning scorers, Fox is considering a three-guard lineup when necessary. The Bulldogs could even go even smaller and quicker on the floor with four guards. Junior J.J. Frazier averaged 9.5 points last season. Mann and Gaines averaged around 11 points.

Fox won’t press the issue because he prefers having two front-line players most of the time, but Georgia has practiced with different combinations this month.

“Depending on how the matchups are, we are going to adjust to them and maybe go small,” Fox said. “I think it will really depend on how much progress we make (before the season).”

Without last year’s senior tandem of Thornton and Djurisic, the Bulldogs must replace their top two rebounders. Yante Maten, a 6-foot-8, 240-pound sophomore, is the top returning forward and has impressed Fox with a strong work ethic.

“There’s more minutes, more rebounds, more shots available if he’ll be aggressive,” Fox said. “I think he’s had an aggressive approach all offseason with the idea he can play a bigger role.”

Fox is likewise counting on contributions in the paint from 6-8, 250 freshman Derek Ogbeide and 6-9, 225 freshman Mike Edwards.

“They’re different from a lot of (young) big guys,” Fox said. “Physically, they’re specimens.”

Mann has been impressed with what he’s seen from the freshmen class and believes they have the talent and humility to help offset the departures of Thornton and Djurisic.

Mann said the team’s leadership and ability to adapt to injuries were the biggest reason Georgia went 21-12 last season. If the Bulldogs can stay healthy, Mann knows that he and Gaines can help the younger players adjust.

“We have a lot of veteran guys who played a lot of minutes the last few years and we know what it takes,” Mann said. “We’ve just got to whatever we need to do to get the young guys to follow.”

Online:

AP College Basketball site: http://collegebasketball.ap.org