Now that UNC has cut down the nets on this season, USA TODAY Sports’ Scott Gleeson looks at which teams and players are poised to make a run at the championship in 2017-18.
USA TODAY Sports
The college basketball coaching carousel is about done spinning, with a number of splashy coaching firings and hirings at marquee programs starting in March and carrying into April.
How do these coaches fit at their new programs? And can they raise the bar to give the school officials what they’re seeking?
Here’s a letter grade for each of the major coaching hires in 2017.
? Archie Miller, Indiana: A
Steering Dayton to consistent success — including an Elite Eight run in 2014 — Miller was one of the hottest names in coaching, with his name attached to several jobs the past several offseasons. But Miller waited for a top-level job, and got it. Now he’ll be tasked with bringing Indiana back to national prominence after it flirted with doing so over the course of Tom Crean’s underachieving tenure. Miller’s known for getting the best out of each individual player and creating winning culture, but the question is whether he can turn into the same type of recruiter as his brother, Sean, at Arizona now with a prestigious brand as a primary leg up.
? Brad Underwood, Illinois: A–
This is Illinois’ best hire since Bill Self in 2000. Remember, Bruce Weber took the Illini to a national championship game, but he did so with Self’s recruited talent. Had Underwood been nabbed from his coaching days at Stephen F. Austin, where he steered the Lumberjacks to NCAA tournament success, this would have felt too similar to the hiring of the Illini’s previous coach, John Groce, who steered Ohio to the Sweet 16 in 2012 but ultimately could catapult the program into the elite level it’s seeking.
But Underwood proved in his underpaid year at Oklahoma State that he can get the most out of a program in a power conference in short time. Recruiting top talent in the Midwest and Chicagoland area, where Groce always seemed to finished with a silver or bronze medal, will be crucial. That’s already an area where there’s pressure, as Illinois’ top-flight recruit, Jeremiah Tillman, decommitted. The program hired ex-South Florida coach Orlando Antigua, who coached at Kentucky and helped haul in players like Anthony Davis, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins in Karl-Anthony Towns. Except South Florida is under NCAA investigation for alleged academic fraud under Antigua’s watch.
? Mike Hopkins, Washington: B+
Hopkins is running into the same dilemma that Underwood is facing in losing top talent. The No. 1 recruit in the country, Michael Porter Jr. decommitted from the Huskies to go to Missouri. Still, Hopkins was a catch. And considering the on-court underachievement of his strong-recruiting predecessor, Lorenzo Romar, Hopkins brings in all the mojo of a program that wins on a regular basis. He spent 21 seasons at Syracuse under Hall of Famer Jim Boeheim and was the coach-in-waiting at ‘Cuse before taking this position. Because of that unique position, he’s been preparing like a head coach for the last few seasons and while also out on the recruiting trail for the Orange. The Huskies might not be good right away, but they’ll get there.
?Patrick Ewing, Georgetown: B+
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim called it a “home run” hire but it’s more like an inside-the-park home run in this case. Ewing maintains Georgetown’s legacy and can only strengthen the brand given his association as the school’s best player ever. To say Ewing was underrated and due for a head coaching job in the NBA ranks — after countless years of being an assistant — would be an understatement. But there’s a learning curve at the college level that can take some adjustment, mainly when it comes to recruiting. That’s where Ewing will have to turn to his assistants. When Larry Brown took over SMU five years ago, he had then associate-head coach Tim Jankovich to help guide him. As a salesman and motivator, Ewing fits the Hoyas perfectly. His assistants will need to help with the transitioning period, though.
? Kevin Keatts, North Carolina State: B+
After turning UNC Wilmington into a mid-major winner with back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances, Keatts seemed like the right up-and-coming fit to lead the Wolfpack into a new era after Mark Gottfried was let go. Before his stop at UNC Wilmington, he was an assistant under Rick Pitino at Louisville from 2011 to 2014 and Pitino raves about his recruiting ability and difficult style to play against. He was the first coach to win back-to-back Colonial Athletic Association coach of the year awards after leading the Seahawks to CAA regular-season titles in all three seasons at the helm.
? Cuonzo Martin, Missouri: B
As mentioned, No. 1 recruit Porter Jr. switched from Washington to Missouri and isn’t shy in saying he wants to wants to win a championship with the Tigers. Credit there goes to Martin, who recruited four five star recruits to Cal in 2015. The talent hasn’t didn’t exactly pave way to on-court success at Cal, but needless to say the Tigers upgraded from Kim Anderson, who can’t haul in top-tier talent at the rate that Martin can.
? Anthony Grant, Dayton: B
As far as fits go, this is as good as it gets. Dayton’s his alma mater and Grant previously coached VCU — in the pre-Shaka Smart era — to NCAA tournament success, including that thrilling win over Duke in 2007 that put the Rams on the map. Grant couldn’t turn Alabama into a contender, though, and was ousted after six seasons. He spent last season as an assistant with the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder under Billy Donovan, who he coached under for 10 seasons at Florida. Those included two national championship teams. Grant knows the A-10 and can keep the program at the level Archie Miller brought it to.
? Will Wade, LSU: B
At 34, Wade is as up-and-coming as you’ll find in college basketball. But his leap to a power program seems a tad premature following two successful seasons at VCU after taking over for Shake Smart. Before that, he was the head coach at Chattanooga for two seasons. Wade will breathe life into the struggling program, but only time will tell if he has the chops to elevate LSU back to an elite level, something Johnny Jones couldn’t even do with ultra-dynamic freshman Ben Simmons two seasons ago.
? John Groce, Akron: B-
Groce’s five seasons at Illinois, in which he went 95-75 and 39-53 in Big Ten play, weren’t as he had hoped. But now he gets a chance to take over an elite mid-major in a conference he’s familiar in the Mid-American with from his Ohio coaching days. He replaces Keith Dambrot, who went to Duquesne. Groce has great recruiting ties in the state, having served as an assistant at Ohio State and Xavier.
? Mike Rhoades, VCU: B-
Another Shaka Smart disciple, Rhoades gives the program a familiar face after serving as associate head coach at Virginia Commonwealth before taking over at Rice for three seasons, including a 23-12 record last season. His personality during his time with the Rams charmed the community and its players. Losing Wade to LSU was a bit of a blow, but this helps VCU land nicely on its feet.
? Mike McCall, UMass: C+
The Minutemen decided to go young by hiring McCall to replace Derek Kellogg after Winthrop’s Pat Kelsey took the job then backed out of it. McCall, 35, took over at Chattanooga when Will Wade left for VCU. The Mocs went 29-6 and won the Southern Conference title in his first season but struggled in 2016-17, finishing 19-12. Coming from the Billy Donovan coaching tree, McCall will certainly give UMass a new flavor.
? Mike Boynton, Oklahoma State: C-
Oklahoma State, likely stunned by Brad Underwood breaking his contract after one season, and it’s hard to not look at this hire as a short-term continuity decision since Boynton was on the sidelines alongside Underwood and playing a key part in recruiting top talent to Stillwater. It also likely saves the school some serious money, considering it wasn’t paying Underwood top dollar and big-name coaches were out of their price range.
? Wyking Jones, California: D+
Similar to Boynton, Jones felt like more of a recovery hire — after Martin abruptly left for Missouri — as opposed to a take-your-program-to-the-next-level hire. Jones has not gotten rave reviews from boosters or the Cal community, so he’ll need to prove himself right off the bat. Despite keeping continuity within the program since Jones was a part of Martin’s staff, he’s never held a head coaching position anywhere and it seemed like a money-driven decision considering there wasn’t a very wide net cast for replacing Martin. Jones has experience coaching a championship team alongside Rick Pitino at Louisville and is unique in the sense that he has a part-time acting career, appearing in the movie, “Dope.”
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