College Basketball Betting: Analyzing Head Coach Changes Part I
The college basketball season is about a month away. Prep work is already underway with the first task being to dissect the litany of head coaching changes. In the first of two articles, I break down my initial thoughts and opinions on each power conference hire.
Alabama – Nate Oats
I would have liked to see Oats, who I deeply respect, land a gig at a more basketball-focused school. Avery Johnson was able to recruit decent talent but had trouble developing said talent, specifically on the offense side of the ball. Oats is a bright offensive mind though he won’t have the talent edge he possessed in the MAC. The Crimson Tide won 18 or more games each of Johnson’s four years so this isn’t a total rebuild and Oats, like a lot of coaches, has a thing for second chance transfers.
Arkansas – Eric Musselman
From a fundamentals standpoint, Musselman is a massive upgrade over Mike Anderson. Arkansas always had talent and always failed to play up to said talent. I really hope Musselman distances himself from the Arkansas mantra of “40 minutes of Hell.” I think Anderson felt pressured into playing a chaotic style that simply doesn’t work in a conference that is no longer just a bunch of football schools and Kentucky. Like Oats, expect plenty of transfers. Musselman scored big on more than a few while at Nevada including the Martin twins. Also like Oats, he won’t have the luxury of having the most talented roster in the league.
California – Mark Fox
Maybe I’m missing something but I’ve never understood the infatuation with Fox. His Georgia teams were so archaic; let’s just try to grind out games and hope for the best. This is a power conference program that has pedigree and you just hired a head coach who in nine years in the SEC never ranked higher than 64th in offensive efficiency — and that came in Year 1 with Dennis Felton’s players! Wyking Jones had no business being a head coach but you could argue the same about Fox. He’d be a much better fit as a top assistant at a defensive-minded Big Ten school.
Cincinnati – John Brannen
Love to see mid-major coaches get their shot. This was an excellent hire. Northern Kentucky went from D2 to being one of the class programs in the Horizon. Brannen knows the area and while his philosophy may not the “Bruiser Ball” Cronin likes to play, I’d be shocked if he strays from recruiting those tough-minded Rust Belt and East Coast kids Cincinnati is known for.
Michigan – Juwan Howard
From an X’s and O’s standpoint, anyone short of Gregg Poppovich would have been a downgrade. Like Hardaway at Memphis, Howard will recruit some big names. And to his credit, this isn’t some sympathy, favorite son type hire. Howard spent a lot of time learning from Miami’s Erik Spoelstra who is one of the NBA’s best tacticians. Still, Beilein’s ability to game plan for specific matchups will be impossible to duplicate.
Nebraska – Fred Hoiberg
Like Fox, Timmy Miles got his kids to play hard and defend but never could formulate an offensive system that worked vs. the Big Ten. Hoiberg knows offense though it’ll be tougher than you think. When Hoiberg was at Iowa State, the Big XII was more of an offensive-minded league. Now he’ll be facing a conference that featured three teams in the top 10 in defensive efficiency and seven overall that ranked in the top 27 a season ago.
Nevada – Steve Alford
Amazing how Alford continues to land such cushy gigs. Also amazing is that he’s been a head coach since 1997! Let’s see what he does with a completely new roster. In the end he’s basically Musselman minus the good looks or the pedigree to develop talent. Yeah, it’s a downgrade.
Saint Joseph’s – Billy Lange
Big shoes to fill as Phil Martelli was the face of the program for 24 years. But perhaps the timing was right as only one of Martelli’s last five squads finished inside Ken Pom’s top 100. Lange (no relation!) knows the area having spent time at La Salle, Villanova, and the 76ers. He did however post a 93-114 record during an eight-year stint at Navy though I can’t think of many programs where it is tougher to recruit and win.
St. John’s – Mike Anderson
Let’s patch one band aid with another one that has dried up blood and pus. Harsh? Perhaps. But I simply don’t get this hire. Chris Mullins wasn’t the answer; I read multiple reports where he just couldn’t buy into what it takes to be a power conference coach — schmoozing, recruiting, etc. Anderson can recruit but he’s shown no ability to develop players. How is it possible that with all of the athletes he was able to lure to Fayetteville and an offensive-friendly system only two players were drafted? If St. John’s was looking for an all-offense, no defense coach (sorry, you can’t apply 90-feet of pressure in top flight college basketball anymore), they apparently found its man.
Temple – Aaron McKie
McKie was being groomed for this job with Fran Dunphy announcing his retirement prior to that start of last season. McKie is a fine hire — born in Philly, NBA experience to lure recruits, and obviously familiar with the program having played at Temple back in the early 90’s. Hard to say slam dunk but the transition should be minimal.
Texas A&M – Buzz Williams
I love me some Buzz Williams. Few have the ability to do more with less. A common theme of Williams-coached teams is effort. They scrap, they claw, and they are rarely overwhelmed even when the talent disparity is obvious. Billy Kennedy had some good teams that were really talented but his health and the health/suspensions he dealt with his last few years were too tough to overcome. The one concern with Buzz is the ever-improving state of the SEC. It’s no longer an afterthought with the league loaded with great coaches and programs on the rise. Though were talking about a guy who posted four straight 20+ win seasons in the ACC — at a football school no less!
Tulane – Ron Hunter
What did we learn, Tulane? Hiring an ex-NBA head coach with no ties to the area or college experience is at best a +500 underdog (Musselman one of the few underdog cashes). They got it right by bringing in Hunter who did marvelous things at Georgia State. And his philosophy — slow pace and zone — may allow the Green Wave to be competitive quicker than expected. That said, it’s a beast of a league. With the exception of East Carolina, nearly every program is either currently elite (Houston, Cincinnati), has recently been elite (Wichita State), or is on the cusp of being elite (UCF, Memphis, UConn).
UCLA – Mick Cronin
I tend to lean with this being a good hire rather than the “odd fit” a lot of folks are painting it to be. UCLA is obviously a program with a lot of pedigree — one that used to win in a sexy way with big name talent. I think they’re to the point now where winning is more important that doing it with “style.” And what better coach to get them back to the promise land than Cronin? And I don’t buy in to Cronin being this defensive-only, let’s hold the ball and win ugly type of coach. His last three Cinci teams all ranked in the top 50 in offensive efficiency. Sure, the focus will always be defend and bully the opposition. But imagine what he could have done with the talent Alford had? Plus you know he’s going find players that come in as three-star recruits but play like a four-stars compared to some of the softy bluechips the Bruins were notorious for bringing in.
UNLV – T.J. Otzelberger
I may be in the minority, but I’m not sure if you can win at UNLV. Otzelberger can no doubt coach. But so could Marvin Menzies. The Mountain West isn’t that strong which is perhaps why UNLV felt the time was ripe to bring in someone who could quickly turn things around. I’m not sure what the issue is other than the program just doesn’t carry the amount clout it once did. I mean, Lon Kruger, Dave Rice, Menzies? Those dudes can coach and only once since 2005 did the Running Rebels reach the Sweet 16. Not a hopeless gig but not one I expect Otzelberger to step in and have it back to the glory days any time soon.
Vanderbilt – Jerry Stackhouse
Man, Bryce Drew got a raw deal. Vandy isn’t an easy place to win and it’s even tougher when you land a five-star recruit and only get five games out of him. What’s funny is, I don’t think Stackhouse gets this job without the waves Hardaway is making down the road at Memphis. But despite having no college coaching experience, Hardaway was piped into the national AAU scene. The same can’t be said for Stackhouse who spent time as an assistant in the NBA. And unlike Memphis, there are some recruiting restrictions due to Vandy’s academic pedigree.
Virginia Tech – Mike Young
Few deserved a power conference gig more than Mike Young who turned Wofford into a mid-major power. His style (defense, slow pace) should fit right in to the ACC. The only issue is based on what I’ve read, the Hokies roster was gutted.
Washington State – Kyle Smith
Betting against Ernie Kent was a soothing exercise. Wazzu never played defense and despite the PAC-12 being way down last year (UCLA, USC, Arizona all with .500 or worse league records), Kent couldn’t take advantage. Smith’s three 20+ wins seasons at San Francisco is in hindsight pretty remarkable. And while he’ll be up against it trying to clean up the mess Kent left, Washington State by default deserves a power rating bump.