College Basketball Coaching Changes That Matter for the 2018-2019 Season
Sports bettors have long been fans of first-year head coaches because it provides the opportunity to capitalize on change. In the case of college basketball, there were a whopping 55 Division I head coaching changes this offseason — more than 20% of schools. Generally, head coaches don’t make radical year-to-year adjustments to their philosophies. I’ve seen head coaches move from school to school and yet stay fairly uniform in terms of tempo and offensive and defensive strategy. Many first-year head coaches, however, are tasked with rebuilding programs with less than optimal rosters. A head coach that thrived at a mid-major playing up-tempo may abandon that style his first year in a power conference in order to stay competitive. There are also examples of assistants becoming head coaches for the first time. Typically they’ll implement what they learned from their previous employer but some will attempt to form their own identity. Regardless of the different situations — and there are many — first-year head coaches can be a very profitable profile both betting on and against. Below we’ll dissect some of the more high-profile moves and what it means for bettors moving forward.
Stationed in the heart of football country, Mark Fox was able to milk nine years of service out of Georgia. Fox’s teams were slow paced, offensively-inept, and defensive-minded. That’s the polar opposite of what bettors should expect from former Indiana head coach Tom Crean. Crean’s Indiana squads played fast, scored points, and rarely paid much attention to stopping the opposition. In a conference noted for hard-to-watch offenses — most notably Georgia — Crean offers the potential for a higher-scoring brand of basketball. He is expected to inherit close to 60 percent of last year’s scoring; the key loss being that of SEC Player of the Year Yante Maten who through no fault of his own bogged down the Bulldogs’ offense while providing above average rim protection.
Ole Miss Rebels
Like Fox, Andy Kennedy’s Ole Miss teams thrived at being just competitive enough to keep his football-focused employer happy. Kennedy pumped out plenty of 20+ win seasons but finished a less-than-impressive 102-98 in SEC play. His Ole Miss teams were enjoyable to watch with plenty of pace and shots being fired from all over the court. But his defenses were notoriously lacking. Former Middle Tennessee State head coach Kermit Davis provides a huge upgrade. Davis built an empire in Murfreesboro recruiting tough-minded, undersized SEC-caliber talent. Six of Davis’ last seven Blue Raider squads ranked inside the top 55 nationally in defensive efficiency. Only one of Kennedy’s squads accomplished that feat and it ironically produced his best season in Oxford (2013: 27-9, 12-6 SEC). The biggest initial change should come in the form of pace. Davis’ last five squads were on average 275th nationally in tempo. His last three also covered point spreads at an impressive 59.6% clip.
Thrown into the fire at the age of 32 years old, former interim head coach David Padgett probably deserved better. The Cardinals won 22 games, were a competitive 9-9 in ACC play, and should have made the NCAA Tournament. But I understand Louisville seeking a more experience and high profile leader. That’s exactly what they got in former Xavier head coach Chris Mack. Mack’s Musketeers did nothing but win as he took the program to new heights despite stepping up in class from the Atlantic-10 to the Big East. Mack hits all the marks for what a program like Louisville needs: ace recruiter, energetic, bright basketball mind. But the Cardinals will undoubtedly look different than the Rick Pitino/Padgett era. Over the last decade, no program pumped out better defensive numbers. From 2008 to 2017, the Cardinals finished in the top eight in defensive efficiency nine times. Xavier’s best finish under Mack was 22nd. And while Mack should have eventual success at his new gig, his current stock can’t go any higher. Last year’s Xavier squad was near perfect; loaded with talent, scorers, and experience. No one gave tom stellar reputation may carry with it a bit of inflation to start the season.
There’s a dark cloud over the UConn program as former head coach Kevin Ollie continues to brawl with the university over an unpaid buyout. Ollie’s tenure was highlighted by a National Championship but only one other NCAA Tournament bid. He was dealt some difficult cards with various investigations, infractions and scholarship reductions — both of which could linger into the new regime. Ollie also never evolved offensively. UConn was painful to watch and painful for its backers with a 21-38 ATS mark his last two seasons. Dan Hurley will attempt to clean up the mess. Hurley took Rhode Island to the second round of the NCAA Tournament each of the past two seasons. He reportedly retained the entire roster and brought in a few graduate transfers. There’s already rumblings of immediate expectations by the administration which suggests Hurley isn’t going the full-on rebuilding route. They’ll certainly have value with a power ranking projected to be in the triple-digits to start the year.
Kevin Stallings’ brief tenure at Pitt wasn’t pretty. He inherited an experience roster his first season but never meshed with the players. His second season featured zero returning starters and players begging to be released from their scholarships. One of the oddest power conference coaching hires in recent memory ended up backfiring in a big way and left a once storied program in shambles. Enter former VCU and Oklahoma head coach and Duke assistant Jeff Capel. Capel started his four-year stint at VCU back in 2002-03 and yet is only 43 years old. His tenure in Norman featured a Blake Griffin-led run to the Elite Eight followed by back-to-back Griffin-less sub-.500 campaigns. I won’t hold that against him; in fact his experiences at VCU and OU as well as sitting alongside Coach K for the last seven seasons make him primed for eventual success. Despite not winning a single game in 2018, the Panthers somehow managed a 15-12 ATS record. That’s a friendly reminder that you don’t need to be good — or even competitive — to cover point spreads.