1.) Bruce Pearl, Auburn – Duh, right? From the moment he stepped on campus, Pearl has started to stock the program with talent now (Cimmeon Bowers, K.C. Ross-Miller) and later (Kareem Canty, three four-star recruits in his 2015 recruiting class). He’s got the fire to coach again after the show-cause. This team could sneak into the NIT.
2.) Kim Anderson, Missouri – If not for Pearl, this would be my top hire. I know a few Mizzou alums, and I got the same response from all of them, “we’ve tried the big names like Haith and Mike Anderson. We’ve tried the hot assistants in Snyder. Why not try this?” Anderson is a Mizzou alum, a Missouri native and a long-time DII coach in the state with a national title to his name. Why not?
3.) Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech – Kudos to the Hokies for showing their commitment to their basketball program. Williams is already getting commitments himself (three four stars for 2015), it’s just going to take time for the program to develop. And this just won’t be the year, more than likely.
4.) Danny Manning, Wake Forest – I was skeptical about this hire. Then I thought about it. Manning isn’t too far removed from his playing days, and his name also endures with the older folks who know him from his “Danny and The Miracles” days at Kansas. If he can recruit, he’ll do fine.
5.) Wayne Tinkle, Oregon State – Tinkle is a Montana guy. Somehow, the Beavers’ brass got him to Corvallis. It doesn’t hurt that Tinkle locked up his prep star son, as well as his assistants’ kin, who is a great prep player himself. Time will tell of his enthusiasm translates to wins in the Pac-12.
6.) Steve Wojciechowski, Marquette – This is a solid match. Woj (I’m not spelling his name more than once unless required) loves basketball tradition coming from Duke. Marquette has a lot of that tradition stuff. If he can recruit, look out.
7.) Kelvin Sampson, Houston – We all forget, Sampson went to 13 NCAA Tournaments in his final 14 college coaching seasons before burying himself in a show-cause penalty at Indiana. He’s off to a good start with the Cougars getting Chicken Knowles to stick around and recruiting Devonta Pollard out of junior college.
8.) Donnie Tyndall, Tennessee – (DISCLAIMER: This is without including the NCAA investigation, it’s too early to factor it in) Tyndall has just won on the low major level of Morehead State — while finding and developing Kenneth Faried — and on the mid-major level at Southern Miss, where he maintained what Larry Eustachy left him. Now? He just has to do it on the high level stage.
9.) Orlando Antigua, South Florida – Antigua was able to recruit to Kentucky. Now, he has the Sun Dome to use, not Rupp Arena (which isn’t exactly a downgrade) and a major city like Tampa. If he can keep that recruiting going for USF, he’ll be fine in the AAC.
10.) Cuonzo Martin, California – Martin wasn’t appreciated in Knoxville. Still, in his one season with his players (two seasons cleaning up the mess left after Pearl was fired) he made the Sweet 16 after underachieving in the regular season. With Jabari Bird to build around, Martin could thrive in Berkeley.
HONORABLE MENTION: Ernie Kent, Washington State – Once upon a time, Kent rebuilt Oregon into a team that made seven postseason appearances in his 13 years in Eugene, including two Elite Eights. He’ll have to rebuild in Pullman the way he did with the Ducks.
Best Value For Their Contract – Sampson: It maxes out at a total of $4.5 million over five years. For a coach with his resume at a place like Houston, that’s a steal.
Best No One Is Talking About – Kent: As the afforementioned blurb stated, Kent has rebuilt before. He can do it again. And in the same region. Which means he’s familiar with everything around him.
Best, Considering the Talent on the Roster – Antigua: He has nine freshmen, redshirt freshman or sophomores on the roster. Add in two junior college transfers, and that’s 11 inexperienced players on the roster. Tyndall feels his pain, and is narrowly edged out here. He’ll have a tough road to travel as well.
Other notable coaching hires: Doc Sadler, Southern Miss; Jim Christian, Ohio; Bob Walsh, Maine; Frank Haith, Tulsa; Jason Gardner, IUPUI; Mike Dunlap, Loyola Marymount; Mike Rhoades, Rice; Heath Schroyer, Tennessee-Martin;Earl Grant, College of Charleston; Kevin Keatts, UNC-Wilmington; Scott Padgett, Samford; Mike Maker, Marist; Saul Phillips, Ohio; Tic Price, Lamar; Dan D’Antoni, Marshall.
Since last week it is safe to say that Kansas State, Purdue, Iowa State and Mississippi State are virtual locks to make it into the NCAA Tournament. With just one regular-season game left for most of the power conference teams, who is close to making themselves a lock for the tournament?
Northwestern: They missed their chance, two of them in fact. In the past eight days the Wildcats have dropped two gut-wrenching games to some top Big Ten competition. First came a 67-55 overtime loss to Michigan State last Tuesday, and then tonight they lost a 75-73 heartbreaker to Ohio State. Just one of those losses may have been Northwestern over the top. To make it even worse, both of those games were at home, and the committee won’t give them many excuses for those games. There is still some hope left, however. Their regular-season finale is at Iowa, and that is obviously a must-win. Then they need to win a couple games in the Big Ten tournament, with hopefully one of them being against one of the five ranked Big Ten teams. This is a team everyone wants in the tournament, but at just 7-10 in conference right now, they are about out of chances. Feb. 29 status: Out
Miami: The Hurricanes got lucky. Their starting center Reggie Johnson only had to miss one game after NCAA violations. This puts Miami in a good position. They beat Florida State on Sunday, but a loss to NC State did them no favors. Miami now needs to beat Boston College this weekend, and then not get upset in the ACC Tournament. One upset and they are out. That’s how much Miami is on the bubble right now. Feb. 29 status: In
Connecticut: I definitely can’t figure out the Huskies. At this point I would say their resume doesn’t warrant an at-large bid. After that buzzer-beater win at Villanova, I thought the Huskies had a shot at turning things around. They lost a close one against Syracuse, and came back from that with a loss at Providence. No really, Providence. They have now lost nine out of 12 games, and the committee certainly won’t like that. They play a Pitt team this weekend that is playing better ball than them at the moment. A couple wins in the Big East tournament will be a must, but they don’t have a Kemba Walker to save them this year. Feb. 29 status: Out
Texas: Simply put, the Longhorns are hanging on by a thread. They continue to beat the teams they should beat (Texas Tech and Oklahoma most recently). A win at Kansas this weekend will make them a lock, but that will be a tough one. Assuming they lose that one, they will be 19-9 with a similar situation as Miami — right on the edge. There will be no room for error in the Big 12 tournament. A loss early on and there bubble will be burst. Feb. 29 status: In
South Florida: Their win over Louisville tonight may have put them over the top. Now they need to just not lose early on in the Big East tournament. But even with a first or second round loss, it will be hard for the committee to not give the fifth place team in the Big East an at-large bid. They have played arguably the easiest schedule in conference, but with wins over tourney teams Cinci and Louisville within the past three days, they seem to be in good shape. Feb. 29 Status: In
Colorado and Oregon: These two teams play each other tomorrow in what may be the biggest Pac-12 game of the year. Both teams look to be out at the moment, so whichever team loses will likely not have a shot at the NCAA’s. The winner may just be able to position itself as one of the last teams in to make it. The Pac-12 should get four times in the tournament — California, Arizona and Washington all seem like good bets to make it. No chance this conference gets five teams in, so that’s why the Colorado-Oregon game tomorrow is a must-win on both sides.
Xavier: The Musketeers have not played up to potential all year, going just 9-6 in the Atlantic-10. Non-conference wins against Vanderbilt, Purdue and Cincinatti are all solid, but they are 0-3 against the top two teams in the conference (Temple and Saint Louis). They have swapped between wins and losses there last 8 games, but those non-conference wins still hold. As long as they don’t lose early in the conference tournament they should be in a position to grab one of the last at-larges. Feb. 29 Status: In
St Joseph’s: I’m not sure if both the Hawks and Musketeers can both make it in. St. Joes had a big win vs. Temple over the weekend, but still will need a little help to get in. Their biggest non-conference win of the year game against Creighton. They lost their only game of the year to Xavier, and a 9-7 conference record won’t go well with the committee. If they run into Xavier in the A-10 tournament, that could be a win-and-you’re-in game. Feb. 29 Status: Out