April in college basketball signifies five things:
- The end of the season/
- The high tide for transfer season
- NBA Draft
- The return of the live recruiting period
For the purposes of this post, we'll home in on that last item. It's been a busier-than-expected season on the coaching carousel, due in part to dominoes that came into play with some big jobs (St. John's, Cincinnati, Arkansas, Vanderbilt) late into March and April. For a primer on which schools have had changes, .
The Mike Anderson by St. John's last week was the last closing of a big job in college basketball. So let's look at the decisions made at the most notable of programs. These are not grades, but rather quick, over-the-shoulder reactions to the schools/athletic directors/presidents picking the men they picked.hiring of
Once again, with the list of newly signed hires, I am setting the NCAA-Tournament-appearance over/under for 2020 at 3.5. And like in 2019 with Kermit Davis and Ole Miss, one of the coaches below is going to break through and dance in 2020 despite not being expected to do so when the season begins.
2019's slam dunks
The hire: Fred Hoiberg
Evaluation: It's a slam dunk considering Nebraska's history and how great of a fit this seems. Think about it: Hoiberg's name was attached to the UCLA search just as soon as he was fired from the Bulls. So a UCLA coaching prospect winds up in Lincoln, Nebraska? Big get for the Huskers, who have a lot to overcome in terms of other programs and coaches in the Big Ten.
It will be a fight for Hoiberg, but on Nebraska's end of this, it could not have hired a better candidate for the job. The Cornhuskers caught a huge break when the Bulls decided to fire Hoiberg. I think he'll have a run at Nebraska that winds up nearly as successful as his time with Iowa State.
The hire: Buzz Williams
Evaluation: The rumors of Buzz Williams angling to leave Virginia Tech for Texas A&M were months in the making before it came to be. No matter: A&M is paying more for a basketball coach than it ever has and secured itself one of the 30 best coaches in the game. For a football school, it's a huge win. Williams should almost immediately make the Aggies nationally relevant -- and this also boosts the SEC's reputation.
I think there's a chance this is Williams' last stop, which is a tricky thing to predict given his history. But if the place and location mean as much to him as he's said multiple times, then why not stick around for two decades and become the biggest figure in Texas A&M basketball history? No guarantee he can do it, but Williams' coaching record suggests it's possible.
2019's quality hires
The hire: Eric Musselman
Evaluation: Given his well-told treading-trodden-trails history of coaching, it might surprise you that this is only Musselman's second head-coaching gig in college. And coaching at Arkansas is a big jump from coaching at Nevada. It seems like it will work.
Arkansas is a sleeping giant in the SEC and has been for a long time. The program hasn't made a Sweet 16 since 1996, which is a stat Arkansas fans are all too familiar with but will become something of a hovering thing for the Hogs as Musselman's term gets going. Arkansas probably made the right hire here.
The hire: John Brannen
Evaluation: We'll see whether or not Cincinnati comes to regret passing on UC associate head coach Darren Savino -- off to UCLA with Mick Cronin -- in favor of Brannen. The former NKU coach has proved himself an innovative offensive mind and a good coach already. He took over a program that had no D-I experience and made it a top-two team in the Horizon League.
Cincinnati's made the past nine NCAA Tournaments. It's not making nine straight under Brannen (not even 20 coaches have ever pulled off nine-year streaks of making the NCAAs), but if it maintains its top-three status in the American, this will prove to be the right hire.
The hire: Mick Cronin
Evaluation: UCLA had a weird, highly criticized hiring process that eventually wound up with a good acquisition. Cronin isn't a huge name, but check out that overall record. Very good. And if you want to downplay the 6-11 NCAA tourney mark, that's fair, but also realize Cronin has more March Madness showings than any other coach on this list. His approach to the profession is not for everyone, but knowing Cronin, I bet he makes philosophical changes since he's in a new spot with more power and more resources.
The hire: Mike Young
Evaluation: What a good hire this is. Can't say for certain it's going to work out, but Young's deserving of a chance after sticking at Wofford for more than half his life. Virginia Tech brought in a 55-year-old coach who's innovative and should have the Hokies continuing their shooting ways they developed under Buzz Williams. Whit Babcock looked at a number of qualified candidates, but Young won out because of his acumen, personality and proven track record at Wofford.
The hire: Kyle Smith
Evaluation: Washington State's a very hard job. Smith has a smart mind when it comes to winning with fewer resources. He's not going to be asked to finish in the top five of the Pac-12, nor should he. Maybe he can break that ceiling. Few ever have -- really only Tony Bennett and Kelvin Sampson. But Washington State brought in someone who is constantly trying to change the way he approaches coaching, and that's a good thing. A fresh new voice. Wazzu needs that. The first two years are probably going to be bumpy, but check back in by January 2022 and I get the feeling the Cougs will be going swiftly in the right direction.
2019's wait-and-see hires
The hire: Nate Oats
Evaluation: Unconventional hire but potentially one of the biggest ones of this cycle. If Oats winds up competing in the top four or five of the SEC every single season, Bama AD Greg Byrne will have pulled off one of the best acquisitions of this cycle. Oats was coaching in high school seven season ago. He did great at the MAC level, but moving to Alabama changes SO much. This is a toss-up. I could see it flaming out in three years and I could see Oats getting Bama to back-to-back Sweet 16s by 2024.
The hire: Mark Fox
Evaluation: Cal stabilizes itself. Fox was eager for a job; he couldn't have done better than this. The program needs time. The 2019-20 season is going to be gruesome, but give it three years. Fox might find that the West Coast life is exactly what he needed to get his career back on track. The potential of this job is good, but the infrastructure at the school has created issues in the past decade. Fox is low-maintenance. If he can coach this team with the mindset and approach he did at Nevada more than 10 years ago, Cal will be back in the NCAAs within four years.
The hire: Mike Anderson
Evaluation: Mike Anderson has won more games than any coach on this list. That alone makes for a good sign for St. John's, but it's offset by his lack of familiarity with the area. This isn't some trite talking point: in order to have recruiting wins in a major metro area like New York City, you need to have relationships and be willing to work with a lot of influential people at the grassroots level.
Anderson has a lot of respect in the industry but he's coming in as an unknown. No one has any real idea if this is going to work and to what extent. It's a fascinating hire, but the biggest wild card decision of any power-conference AD in 2019.
The hire: Jerry Stackhouse
Evaluation: Big name, surprising hire, maybe it works? The fact two Tennessee-based schools have huge former NBA guys running their teams (Penny in Memphis, Stackhouse here) is really fun for college basketball. Stackhouse has a lot of connections and good will earned on the grassroots circuit, so he won't have a problem getting Vanderbilt into the top-five-finalists list for many a four- and five-star kid. The question becomes how many of those players he can enroll at Vandy and if he can win out over a lot of powers in the area.
Vanderbilt did Bryce Drew wrong by cutting him loose so soon, but all that will be forgotten if Stackhouse can recruit at the level Drew was starting to and bring a buzz to the program that's essentially never been there.