College Basketball Betting: Analyzing Head Coach Changes Part II
Two weeks ago, I discussed college basketball’s power conference head coach changes. Today, let’s focus our attention on some of the more notable mid-major hires.
Appalachian State – Dustin Kerns
The Mountaineers failed to produce a winning record overall or in Sun Belt play under Jim Fox. His teams were noted for playing fast and not defending. Enter Dustin Kerns who spent time under Mike Young at Wofford and most recently pulled off a remarkable 2-year turnaround at Presbyterian. In his first season, the Blue Hose ranked near the bottom of college basketball in nearly every metric. Last season, they finished a respectable 179th in KenPom’s ratings, including a jump from 303rd to 78th in offensive efficiency.
Belmont – Casey Alexander
Alexander simply couldn’t pass up coaching his alma mater, even if it meant leaving a school less than 10 miles away. And it makes sense that after 33 years with Rick Byrd Belmont wanted to “keep it in the family.” Alexander did tremendous things at Lipscomb including last year’s NIT runner-up. And like Byrd, he prefers a wide-open, up-tempo brand of basketball. It’ll be tough to duplicate Byrd from a tactician standpoint but again, the hire made perfect sense.
BYU – Mark Pope
Dave Rose caught a lot of flack the last few seasons but it’s hard to argue with what he was able to accomplish during his 14-year run in Provo. And let’s be honest, BYU isn’t the easiest school in the country to recruit enough talent needed to make the tournament on a yearly basis. Pope, a member of the LDS Church, spent time as an assistant under Rose and most recently a four-year stint at Utah Valley where he helped improve the team’s win output each season. I think Rose felt pressured to play the fan preferred up-tempo style that was enjoyable to watch and worked against lesser competition but was not an ideal fit against the likes of WCC heavyweights St. Mary’s and Gonzaga. And that’s exactly why Pope was brought in; to try to close the gap between the three programs.
Elon – Mike Schrage
Elon got 10 years out of Matt Matheny but only one winning record in Colonial play after the Phoenix moved from the So-Con in 2015. Mike Schrage hit a bunch of key stops as an assistant at Stanford, Butler, and Ohio State. He also brought in transfers from both Stanford and Butler as well as a host of new recruits. It’s a rebuild situation with last year’s top three offensive options gone.
Montana State – Danny Sprinkle
Winning in the Big Sky is tricky if you aren’t Montana or Weber State; two programs with tons of pedigree and top-tier head coaches. And Northern Colorado is nearing that level as well with Jeff Linder. Despite having Tyler Hall, who is currently the league’s all-time leading scorer, the Bobcats finished below .500. Under Brian Fish, defense was a huge liability — last season they ranked 346th. Sprinkle is an alum who paid his dues as a mid-major assistant on the West Coast. He inherits Harald Frey who is a first-team all-conference level player. The fact that MSU never had a winning record during Hall’s four seasons speaks to how difficult it is to win in Bozeman.
Niagara – Patrick Beilein
Chris Casey had a fairly unremarkable six-year run with only one winning season. And that winning season was courtesy of USC transfer Kahlil Dukes. Dukes graduated in 2018 and the following season, the Purple Eagles regressed back to being a lower-tier MAAC squad. Patrick Beilein is only 36 years old but there’s no telling how much basketball he’s absorbed considering he’s the offspring of John Beilein. Patrick spent four seasons at DII Le Moyne where he guided them to three postseason berths. And not surprising, all three of those seasons saw the Dolphins’ defense hold its opponents in the mid-60’s. In Casey’s last season, Niagara ranked 345th in defensive efficiency. Bettors likely to see a far different scheme under Beilein.
Northern Kentucky – Darrin Horn
Horn’s path is a common one; young up-and-coming coach finds success in the mid-major ranks, nabs power conference gig, fails, lands cushy assistant job, returns to mid-major ranks. Horn waltzes into a perfect situation with the Norse returning virtually their entire roster (outside of Horizon POY Drew McDonald).
Ohio – Jeff Boals
There’s expectations at Ohio and Saul Phillips failed to produce; though he was hammered hard by transfers and injuries. Boals, an Ohio grad, led Stony Brook to 24 wins last season despite failing to average a point per possession. The Seawolves were a juggernaut defensively (0.88 ppp allowed in American East play) and preferred to play at a faster than average pace. Boals had reportedly been eyeing this job ever since he became a coach.
Southern Illinois – Bryan Mullins
Ah, the favorite son comes home hire. Mullins played four years at SIU and then spent time as an assistant under Loyola’s Porter Moser. Barry Hinson wasn’t chop liver. His last four SIU teams averaged 19 wins per season. But he was up against it as the athletics department was strapped for cash, attendance was down, and the top brass essentially put an ultimatum to make the NCAA Tournament. Note that despite four straight winning seasons and playing in the well respected MVC, the Salukis never played in the postseason; the university balked at the pay-to-play tournaments. That’s not an ideal situation and hopefully Mullins gets more support.
Southern Miss – Jay Ladner
Doc Sadler deserves a ton of credit. His win progression in Hattiesburg was 3, 8, 9, 16, and last season 20. But perhaps sensing USM’s ceiling was reached, Sadler left to become Fred Hoiberg’s assistant at Nebraska. Sadler of course was NU’s head coach from 2007-11. Enter Jay Ladner who, you guessed it, is a USM alum, and spent five seasons at Southeastern Louisiana. Like Sadler, his teams were generally slow paced and defensive minded.
Tennessee Tech – John Pelfrey
Pretty much the identical situation to that of Darrin Horn. Pelfrey won at South Alabama, couldn’t cut it at Arkansas, spent nearly a decade as an SEC assistant, and now circles back to take over a lower-tier mid-major program. Two years ago Steve Payne had one the most experienced teams in the country and got the Eagles to 19 wins but last year’s “reload” resulted in an 8-23 record. Perhaps the OVC won’t be as top heavy this season with Byrd leaving Belmont, Morant now in the NBA, and Jacksonville State graduating a slew of seniors. Eight teams finished with losing conference records last season meaning the path to respectability is attainable.
Troy – Scott Cross
One day the true story will come out as to why UT-Arlington fired Scott Cross. You don’t take a lower-tier program to those types of heights (24 wins per year 2016-18) and there not be some sort of underlying issue. Nevertheless, a potentially great score for Troy who had only one winning season under Phil Cunningham.
William & Mary – Dane Fisher
Tony Shaver was one of the more respected mid-major coaches but his firing had reportedly more to do with just wins and losses. And his departure led to various key players wanting to transfer or go pro. Dane Fischer has never been a head coach (assistant at George Mason) but was brought in to help guide the program to its first-ever NCAA Tournament berth. Shaver had a few teams that were on the cusp. Like Cross, there’s likely more to Shaver’s firing than just wanting to change to direction of the program.