The 10 Most Promising Up-and-Coming College Basketball Programs
It would be cool to go back in time and make this list five years ago. If I could time travel (anyone know where I can get one of those hot tub time machines?), Butler coming off an impressive 30-4 record in 2007-08 under baby-faced first-year coach Brad Stevens would be on the list.
The Stevens formula usually works out quite well.
Young coach + immediate success = Promising up-and-comer
We aren't ageists here at Bleacher Report, so there are some programs run by older coaches on the list.
And it's not fair to only include the mid-majors as up-and-comers. Believe it or not, you can be in a big conference and be an up-and-comer. It happens. Once upon a time, Arizona was a crummy Pac-10 school...and then Lute Olson showed up.
Keep these things in mind as you go through this list. The next Stevens and Butler or Olson and Arizona could be found here.
Nebraska hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 1998, and it's hard to get out of the basement in the Big Ten.
But Tom Osborne made a smart hire in 2012 when he landed former Colorado State coach Tim Miles.
The challenge at a football school like Nebraska is creating interest. Miles is a program builder who has a gift for getting a fanbase excited for its team. Follow him on Twitter for a sample—he tweets during halftime!
The Huskers also have a shinny new arena, the 15,200-seat Pinnacle Bank Arena. According to the Omaha World-Herald, the Huskers sold out their allotment of public tickets for the first time in school history, and they did so on May 3.
If South Alabama had not hired new coach Matthew Graves in March, Graves would most likely be the new head coach at Butler.
Graves, who played at Butler, joined the coaching staff in 2001 under Todd Lickliter. Since 2010, he had been the associate head coach on Brad Stevens' staff.
Butler has produced some great coaches—most notably Stevens and Thad Matta—and Graves could be next. He takes over a program at South Alabama that is not exactly in the dumps.
The Jaguars went 14-6 in the Sun Belt last season and return their four leading scorers. This is a mid-major to keep an eye on.
Florida Gulf Coast
Is there an easier pick for this list than Dunk City?
Sure, Andy Enfield is gone. But the Eagles return a majority of their rotation and Enfield made things much easier for the next coach to recruit to the school no one knew about a year ago.
That next coach is Joe Dooley, who had been on Bill Self's staff at Kansas since he arrived in 2003. Dooley was one of KU's top recruiters, especially on the East coast.
Self's teams have always featured plenty of alley oops, so expect Dooley to play a style that takes advantage of the athletes Enfield left behind. Dooley is off to a good start to keep the entertainment value high. His first commitment is from Christian Terrell (who announced on Twitter), a Florida prep who had the dunk of the summer.
Learn the name Michael White.
White is the coach at Louisiana Tech, and if this were a list for up-and-coming coaches, he would be on that list as well.
The 36-year-old coach has won 45 games in his first two seasons at Louisiana Tech after taking over a team that won 12 games in 2010-11.
The Bulldogs play fast—22nd-quickest pace last year, according to KenPom.com—and they press. It's a fun style and White has been able to find the athletes to make it work.
Tech returns nine of its 10 leading scorers from the 2013 WAC champs. Next season, the Bulldogs will be one of the favorites in the new-look Conference USA. The challenge ahead is to try to keep White around.
Damian Lillard went from Weber State to a lottery pick in the NBA, and the team improved without him—going 30-7 compared to 25-7 during Lillard's senior season.
Oftentimes a program the size of Weber State is only relevant for a year or two because somehow a player of Lillard's ability ended up on campus. Obviously by bettering their record without Lillard, the Wildcats are a program worth watching.
Weber State coach Randy Rahe spent a majority of his career as an assistant for legendary Utah State coach Stew Morrill. Morrill is one of the best coaches at the mid-major level and has won consistently throughout his career.
Similar to Morrill, Rahe has a gift for finding shooters. Last year's team ranked second in the country in three-point percentage at 41.6 percent.
What has made Gonzaga so consistently good through the years is Mark Few's ability to find players all over the globe.
Boise State coach Leon Rice spent 11 years at Gonzaga as an assistant, and he brought that model to Boise.
Rice has two Australians in his starting lineup, including leading scorer Anthony Drmic. The Broncos return all five starters next season from a team that made the NCAA tournament.
If Rice can keep that Australia connection alive--it has served St. Mary's well--he'll be in good shape. There's also some hope that Boise could keep him around, as Rice comes from the Few school of thought that leaving for a bigger school is not always the best option.
There's going to be a strange sighting in many of the preseason top 25 polls next season. Somewhere in the teens or early 20s, you'll see the Colorado Buffaloes.
Five years ago if you stumbled into a CU home game, you must have either really loved basketball or Kansas was in town.
Now, there is actual excitement for basketball in Boulder after two straight NCAA tournament appearances. In three seasons, Tad Boyle has won 69 games and this upcoming season could be his best team.
The Buffs lost Andre Roberson, a great rebounder, to the NBA, but they return their best three offensive players in Spencer Dinwiddie, Askia Booker and Josh Scott. Dinwiddie is one of the best guards in college basketball and next season, his junior year, could be his last in Boulder.
If that's the case, a core of Booker, Scott and Xavier Johnson should help Boyle keep the Buffs relevant in 2014-15. And the fact that Boyle could potentially have players leave early for the pros in back-to-back years and still have a good roster says a lot about where he's taken the program.
It was hard to buy into Middle Tennessee as a legitimate NCAA tournament team last season.
The Blue Raiders had a nice shiny record going into the tourney (28-5), but they had won only two games all season against teams in the top 100 of KenPom.com's ratings—beating Ole Miss and Vanderbilt in December. A 13-point loss in the play-in round to St. Mary's wasn't a great showing, but you still have to give coach Kermit Davis credit for winning all those games.
Davis won 55 games the last two years after going 16-16 in 2010-11 by filling his roster with a good number of talented juco transfers. He has three more juco players coming in next season, and that's obviously a strategy going forward.
The Blue Raiders are moving to the watered-down Conference USA next season, which is at least a step up from the Sun Belt. Similar to Louisiana Tech, Davis has loaded his roster with athletes and has a deep bench. It will be interesting to see how both programs perform over the next few years in a bigger league.
You could say that Iowa State is already established. The Cyclones have made two straight NCAA tournaments and made the round of 32 in each.
But I believe Fred Hoiberg is just getting started and Iowa State is about to become one of the top 10-15 programs in college basketball.
Hoiberg rebuilt things quickly in Ames by utilizing talented transfers such as a Royce White. He's still going after the transfers—former Marshall guard DeAndre Kane will be a key player this year—but now he's also landing some talented high school recruits. Georges Niang was one of the best freshman in the Big 12 last year.
Hilton Coliseum is a great home court. Hoiberg is proving himself as a solid developer of talent, an innovative college coach and he has a lot of connections in the pros. He alone makes Ames a destination.
This is the one program on this list that could take a major big step back next year. Jim Larranaga graduated five key players in his rotation and lost point guard Shane Larkin to the NBA. But those six guys did a lot for the future of Miami basketball.
Larranaga already had the location to sell in recruiting. Now he has success and proof that it can be a lot of fun to play for the Hurricanes.
Larranaga will be 64 when the season starts, but he seems like a guy with the energy to coach into his 70s. And if he can get George Mason to a Final Four, he can make the football school a consistent winner in basketball.
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