College Basketball Coaches Whose Stock Will Rise Most in 2014-15 Season
Trying to handicap college basketball coaching fortunes is almost as reliable as the folks who handicap your fortunes at the county fair. There's a great deal of guesswork involved, some fishing for coincidences, and it's usually best done while wearing a funny hat. Seriously, you should see the enormous feather in my cap right now.
After all, we witnessed a fanbase run out a coach coming off a Sweet 16 trip, an SEC rival hiring a guy out of Division II and a Pac-12 school settling for a man who hadn't coached in four years, so who knows what an athletic director's looking for when he runs the previous coach out of town?
What we can usually expect is that a mid-major coach who builds some sustained success at an unheralded program is due a few phone calls from inquiring ADs in search of new voices in their programs.
For that reason, most of the expected fast risers herein are at schools outside the Power Five, with the obvious exception of our cover boy, Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak.
These seven coaches either have the pieces on hand to be NCAA tournament threats or could prove some serious coaching chops by taking undermanned teams to the tops of depleted conferences. If your school is seeking a coach at the end of this season, I see it looking for a man in a suit...or the occasional polo shirt.
Mike Brennan, American
Former Georgetown assistant Mike Brennan didn't even have to put his house on the market for his first head-coaching job when he took over at American. He may have to soon, however, if he can keep up the momentum from his first year in charge of the Eagles.
Brennan doubled the Eagles' tally from 10 to 20 wins, capturing the school's third NCAA tournament bid. The first two were achieved with Brennan as an assistant to Jeff Jones in 2008 and 2009.
This year, the Eagles should be expected to add a Patriot League regular-season title to the tournament crown and go dancing once again. Perennial league contender Boston University was decimated by transfers, while AU loses only PL Defensive Player of the Year Tony Wroblicky.
The Eagles bore many of the hallmarks of a disciplined, well-drilled team last year, leading the nation in assist percentage, according to Ken Pomeroy, while ranking just outside the top 50 in defensive efficiency. Another year in the system for talented perimeter trio John Schoof, Jesse Reed and Darius "Pee Wee" Gardner should only help the team's cohesion.
In a similar vein, another NCAA bid should help Brennan's agent put a kid through college, because the phone is very likely to start ringing.
Joe Dooley, Florida Gulf Coast
Much like Brennan's American Eagles, Joe Dooley's flock of Eagles at Florida Gulf Coast are well-positioned to swoop down on an NCAA tournament bid.
The Atlantic Sun bade farewell to Mercer on July 1, taking away the league's most consistent contender over the past several seasons. The rest of the league is struggling to keep up with #DunkCity's consistent influx of talented transfers.
Expected starters Nate Hicks and Jamail Jones came to Fort Myers after leaving major programs in Georgia Tech and Marquette. Guard Julian DeBose comes in this season after averaging 10.4 PPG as a sophomore at Rice. Other newcomers hail from programs like Alabama and Tulane, to say nothing of talented freshman guards Zach Johnson and Christian Terrell.
Dooley has begun to hit his stride as a recruiter while also managing an overnight surge of expectations—inherited ones at that—for a program that became college basketball's darling in March of 2013. As a former Kansas assistant, Dooley's stock was recovering nicely from a so-so tenure as East Carolina's boss in the late 1990s.
An unbeaten run through the A-Sun—which is far from inconceivable—and his first NCAA bid as a head coach would position Dooley as a dark-horse candidate for any major-conference job that opens next year.
Larry Eustachy, Colorado State
The last time we saw Larry Eustachy coaching a major-conference team—well, let's just say things didn't end well. After putting an out-of-control personal life back together, Eustachy's professional life has rebounded nicely in its own right.
After three straight 20-win seasons at Southern Miss, capped by the school's third-ever NCAA berth, Eustachy headed west to replace the well-liked Tim Miles at Colorado State. There, he kept Miles' train rolling for another trip to the tournament, but the Rams stumbled to a 16-16 season last year.
This season, CSU is a trendy sleeper in the Mountain West, adding new pieces while primary contenders like San Diego State, New Mexico and Boise State attempt to reload. Three quality mid-major transfers join the program, following in the footsteps of current leaders Daniel Bejarano (ex-Arizona) and J.J. Avila (ex-Navy).
Like current Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg, ex-Cyclone boss Eustachy has taken well to the new recruiting market for transfers, a skill necessary to navigate the modern game's ever-shifting waters. It's been more than a decade since Eustachy was drummed out of the power conferences, and a Mountain West Coach of the Year campaign could be the final step of his career's rehabilitation.
Dan Hurley, Rhode Island
Rhode Island seems to have everything it needs to succeed in the Atlantic 10 this season. Attribute that to the relentless drive of third-year coach Dan Hurley, son of one of the nation's most iconic high school coaches.
Hurley jumped from the Northeast Conference to the A-10 after only two seasons at Wagner, in which he doubled the Seahawks' win total from five to 13, then again to 25. Rebuilding in the A-10 is a slightly more involved process, but he still nearly doubled the eight wins of his first season to 14 in his second.
A 25-win campaign may not be extremely likely, but there is still a vacuum behind VCU at the top of the conference this season.
Contenders like St. Joseph's, Saint Louis, UMass and Dayton have all lost major pieces, while Rhode Island replaces top scorer Xavier Munford with conference Freshman of the Year E.C. Matthews and potential 2014-15 winner Jared Terrell.
Munford is the only major loss from a team that went 1-6 in conference games decided by five or fewer points last season, including a tournament loss to UMass. Add in the return of 6'10" center Jordan Hare, junior college big man Earl Watson and potentially a full season of point guard Biggie Minnis, and URI could return to the Big Dance for the first time since the turn of the century.
Such a result could open up a lot of doors for Hurley. Don't discount him as a candidate at his alma mater, Seton Hall, if Kevin Willard can't coax a winning season out of his Isaiah Whitehead-led squad.
Larry Krystkowiak, Utah
The one power-conference coach on our list, Larry Krystkowiak is on the verge of bringing Utah basketball back from the wilderness it's wandered in for nearly a decade.
Once one of the nation's most consistent mid-major threats, the Utes have seen only two 20-win seasons in their last nine—one of those coming last season. Only once in that span has Utah made the NCAA tournament, and that was a quick, one-game cameo.
Krystkowiak has jump-started the program from six wins to 15 to 21 over his three-year tenure, and he has an impressive set of horses to ride this year. The perimeter trio of Brandon Taylor, Jordan Loveridge and Delon Wright combined for approximately 40 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists per game last season. They'll get frontcourt support from true freshman Brekkott Chapman and redshirt freshman Kyle Kuzma.
Many of the Pac-12's top coaches are fairly entrenched, and are likely to consider their current stations destination jobs. Krystkowiak could very well carry the same mindset, but he's also bounced from college to the NBA before—leaving his alma mater, no less.
A tournament berth at Utah could draw some NBA attention, if not looks from any bigger college programs.
Brandon Miller, Butler
Aside from Villanova's veteran-laden squad, how much is really proven in the Big East circa 2014-15? Marquette is breaking in a first-time head coach, Georgetown is relying on a talented class of freshmen, Creighton has to make hay with no players genetically related to its head coach, etc.
In this climate, it's not out of the question to expect that Butler can raise itself off the canvas. The Bulldogs had little depth and highly inconsistent shooting last season, but they didn't kill themselves with constant turnovers and foul trouble. They were a solid perimeter defensive team and strong on the defensive glass.
It's unreasonable to expect returning forward Roosevelt Jones, who missed last season with a wrist injury, to fix all the team's ills, but he will play a strong role on the glass and the defensive end. Jones can also add an offensive playmaker to take pressure off point guard Alex Barlow and shooter Kellen Dunham, who don't exactly have strong backups to conserve their legs.
Butler's recruiting class isn't sexy by Big East standards, but it added some bulk to help out Big East rebounding champ Kameron Woods. Miller has also dipped his toe into the transfer market, adding a former McDonald's All-American in Tyler Lewis (ex-N.C. State) and an injury-prone in-state product in former Indiana wing Austin Etherington. Neither, unfortunately, will be active outside of practice this year.
None of this is to say that Miller will make himself a hot commodity this season—unless Butler recaptures that old Brad Stevens March magic. Holding one's breath on that score isn't advisable, but if the Bulldogs can become a viable Big East contender, Miller will get noticed.
Steve Prohm, Murray State
Murray State has turned out plenty of major-conference coaches over the past two decades, sending Mark Gottfried to Alabama (and now N.C. State), Mick Cronin to Cincinnati and Billy Kennedy to Texas A&M on the heels of seasons with 20-plus wins.
Steve Prohm has posted three such years, and he's now getting results with his own recruits after riding Kennedy's players to a 31-2 debut campaign. Prohm's tenure has extended a string of five straight OVC regular-season conference/division titles, but the Racers' last two conference tournaments have ended with losses to eventual champions Belmont and Eastern Kentucky.
MSU stormed to a CIT championship behind freshman Cameron Payne and junior college transfer Jarvis Williams, and both are back to chase an NCAA bid. Fellow double-digit scorers T.J. Sapp and Jeffery Moss likewise return.
EKU loses four senior contributors, and Belmont loses three, so the OVC's fellow contenders must regroup on the fly. Of course, Murray State was supposed to be rebuilding last season, too, and it went 13-3 in conference. If Prohm puts a self-assembled team in the NCAA tournament, he's truly established that he can keep a program on track.
Gottfried and Cronin didn't even last to a fourth season in Murray, and they've turned out all right.
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