Which New Coaches Will Have Most Success in 2013-14 NCAA Basketball Season?
Coaching change is a big part of college basketball, but in recent years, we've seen less movement when it comes to the best mid-major coaches jumping to the top programs.
Guys like Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens stayed put. It took the NBA calling to get Stevens to leave Butler.
With coaches like Smart staying put, there are fewer good situations to inherit each year, but every once in a while a coach still walks into a great situation. A year ago some of the best mid-majors in the country—Saint Louis and Colorado State—had new coaches.
This offseason, openings at UCLA and Minnesota created some movement at some successful programs. These are the best 10 teams with new coaches this year.
10. Matthew Graves, South Alabama
Matthew Graves has seen the blueprint for immediate success.
He was at Butler when Brad Stevens took over in 2007. That first team coached by Stevens, which returned three starters, went 30-4 and made it to the round of 32 of the NCAA tournament.
Graves didn't take over a program that has Butler's winning tradition, but South Alabama can be a winner. The Jaguars have had seven winning seasons in the last eight years and attended two NCAA tournaments during that time.
The situation was good enough that when Stevens left for the Celtics this summer, Graves decided he wouldn't even put his name in the hat at Butler. The Jags return four starters, including forward Augustine Rubit, who averaged 19.4 points and 10.5 rebounds last season on a team that went 14-6 in the Sun Belt.
Graves told Andy Katz of ESPN.com that he thinks South Alabama could be a tourney team this year.
"We can be," Graves said. "We've got the best player in the league in Augustine Rubit. He's a sleeping giant, a phenomenal basketball player."
9. Chris Collins, Northwestern
Former Duke assistant Chris Collins has one of the greatest challenges of any new head coach. Northwestern has never been to an NCAA tournament.
Yes, that's right, never.
But the situation might not be as dire as it seems and the team might not be as bad as a 4-14 Big Ten record last year would suggest. The Wildcats had to play the entire Big Ten season without leading scorer Drew Crawford.
Crawford had been a part of some Northwestern's best teams.
In his first three years, the Wildcats went 22-32 in the Big Ten. And with him in the lineup last season, the team was off to a 7-3 start, including a win over eventual NIT champion Baylor. Crawford scored 19 points in that game.
Northwestern has been decent with Crawford, and Collins could have a chance to surprise some people with the program's best player getting a fifth year of eligibility.
8. Robert Jones, Norfolk State
Norfolk State actually had a more dominant year in the MEAC last season than the year before, during which Anthony Evans' club pulled the upset of the NCAA tournament by knocking off second-seeded Missouri.
The Spartans went a perfect 16-0 in conference last year—they were 13-3 the year before—but a surprising overtime loss to Bethune Cookman in their conference tournament kept them out of the NCAAs.
Norfolk State will once again be the favorite in the MEAC under interim coach Robert Jones, who was the associate head coach to Evans the last six years.
Evans left for Florida International to replace Richard Pitino.
The Spartans return four starters, including leading scorer Pendarvis Williams, who averaged 14.3 points per game last season and scored 20 points in the upset over Missouri that put Norfolk State on the map.
7. Brandon Miller, Butler
Any chance Butler had to make the NCAA tournament in its first year in the Big East and first year without Brad Stevens went out the window when Roosevelt Jones was lost for the season with a left wrist injury.
Jones was a dynamic playmaker who did a little of everything for the Bulldogs.
Without Jones, Butler will be without its three best players from last season (Jones, Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith).
New coach Brandon Miller still has some solid contributors from an NCAA tournament team but no one who has experienced life as the go-to guy.
That role will likely fall upon sophomore Kellen Dunham, a great shooter who will have to play more this season with the ball in his hands. The other go-to guy could be Khyle Marshall, who has been a contributor for three years but has never made big improvements year to year.
6. Ron Verlin, Pacific
Former Pacific coach Bob Thomason rebuilt his roster quickly during his last few years by loading up on junior college talent. That's how the Tigers went from 11-19 in 2011-12 to 22-13 and an NCAA tournament berth in 2012-13.
New coach Ron Verlin, who was an assistant under Thomason, added two more junior college transfers this year and Pacific returns three of its five leading scorers from last year, all of whom were Juco transfers.
5. Andy Enfield, USC
The key to Andy Enfield's up-tempo, lob-heavy attack is a point guard to set the tempo and throw the lobs. So as soon as Enfield landed at USC, he set out to find that man and he brought in former Maryland point guard Pe'Shon Howard.
It's also nice in Enfield's system to have wings who can shoot, and USC returns double-digit scorers J.T. Terrell and Byron Wesley.
Enfield also singed Roschon Prince, a wing ranked by Rivals.com as a top 100 prospect, and he added frontcourt depth with VCU transfer D.J. Haley, who will be eligible immediately.
USC went 9-9 in the Pac-12 last season and the talent on this roster is about equal to last season.
With Enfield, the style of play could be worth a few more wins.
4. Richard Pitino, Minnesota
The NCAA's decision to deny former Louisville forward Rakeem Buckles is a blow for a Minnesota squad that has a thin frontcourt.
Richard Pitino will just have to rely even more on his backcourt, but hey, that backcourt is one of the better units in the Big Ten.
The Gophers will lean on lead returning scorers Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins. Pitino also brought with him Malik Smith from Florida International. Smith averaged 14.1 points per game and made 96 threes last year for FIU, and he can play right away.
According to CBSSports.com, Minnesota will appeal the decision on Buckles, who sat out last season at FIU.
Buckles would help, because after losing Rodney Williams, Trevor Mbakwe and Joe Coleman, the closest to a proven frontcourt player the Gophers have is center Elliott Eliason, who averaged 2.2 points per game last year.
3. Andy Enfield, Florida Gulf Coast
It's pretty incredible what can happen in three days. From March 22-24, Florida Gulf Coast went from the second-place team in the Atlantic Sun that no one had heard of to America's favorite team.
The way college basketball works, once Cinderalla arrives, she either keeps returning (see Gonzaga, Butler and VCU) or she loses her leader and goes into obscurity.
Of course, for the three programs mentioned, they lost the head coaches who got the programs rolling and got even better.
That's the challenge now for Florida Gulf Coast and Joe Dooley.
The Eagles return four starters, including point guard Brett Comer and second-leading scorer Bernard Thompson. They also add Marquette transfer Jamail Jones. Jones sat out last and is the leading candidate to replace Sherwood Brown.
Dooley has been at Kansas and was one of the most highly thought of assistant coaches in college basketball. This is a second marriage that has a good chance of working out.
2. Steve Alford, UCLA
In the long-term, Steve Alford takes over the best situation of any new coach in college basketball, because, at the end of the day, he's the coach at a blue blood.
UCLA had a rocky few final years under Ben Howland, but Howland did leave Alford a roster with potential, albeit lots of question marks.
Can Jordan Adams be one of the best players in the Pac-12 as the go-to guy with Shabazz Muhammad no longer around? Will Kyle Anderson play point guard, and if not, who will? Will Texas Tech transfer Wannah Bail be eligible? What will the Bruins get out of Tony Parker, a highly-recruited big man who did little as a freshman?
There's talent there—including the Wears twins—but Alford's hire was not the most celebrated one, and he doesn't exactly have an experienced team that would be able to ward off distractions.
There are enough question marks and there is enough potential.
The chances the Bruins repeat as Pac-12 champs or miss the NCAA tournament entirely are probably about even.
1. Craig Neal, New Mexico
This is a pretty easy pick.
New Mexico was good enough a year ago to go on a run in the NCAA tournament—that's why the Harvard loss was the shocker of the tournament.
The loss might have been a blessing for new coach Craig Neal. Steve Alford's former assistant inherits a roster that returns four of five starters and should be plenty motivated come March.
The Lobos are led by lead returning scorer Kendall Williams, the guy who dropped 46 points last year on Colorado State. They also have one of the best front lines in college basketball with Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow. Bairstow had an outstanding summer as the leading scorer for Australia in the World University Games, where the Aussies finished second.
Kirk led the Lobos in scoring on an undefeated summer trip in Australia.
New Mexico is the favorite to repeat as Mountain West champs and should get a shot at redemption in the NCAA tournament.