Coaching men's D1 college basketball is no easy gig. Constant travel, recruiting, hotel rooms, 20 hour workdays, upset losses and the pressure of getting to the NCAA tournament each year...or else. Yet despite leading their teams into the 2011 NCAA tournament, there are a couple of coaches on the hot seat, or could be, based on the next couple of weeks' performance in the Big Dance. Some are obvious (Bruce Pearl, pictured) and some may be surprising. Let's take a look:
Villanova comes limping into the tournament, losers of their last five in a row and seven of their last nine, including a shocking defeat to South Florida in the Big East Tournament. The 'Cats were just 9-9 in the Big East (tied for ninth) and thus slipped to a number nine seed. They'll have to get by a tough George Mason team in the first round to keep the tough Philly media and fans off his back (no one wants to end the season on a six-game losing streak). Even then, they'd face number one overall seed Ohio State in the second round.
Ben Howland took his UCLA Bruins to the Final Four three years in a row (2006-'08), yet coming off an early second-round exit last year, local chatter would seem to indicate the natives are nervous and he'll need a deep run to put some of that chatter to bed. In one of the more interesting matchups of the first round, Howland's Bruins face Tom Izzo and Michigan State in Tampa, Fl. A win there and a matchup against number two-seeded Florida, a rematch of the 2006 national championship awaits.
Illinois returned four senior starters and their sixth man and were one of the strong favorites to win the Big 10 in 2011. Early losses to Illinois-Chicago, and Big 10 lightweights Indiana and Northwestern seemed to doom the season. Their inconsistent season led to a 9-9 conference record and second-round loss to Michigan in the conference tournament. Speculation has increased in Champaign that Weber may not return in 2012. They've been seeded 9th and will face UNLV in the first round with a second round matchup against Kansas looming large.
So here's a twist: USC overachieves and gets in to the tournament in O'Neill's third season. Great job. Bad news? O'Neill, and his wife, apparently, get into a verbal altercation at an LA hotel with a University of Arizona booster leading to his suspension during the Pac-10 tournament. He's since been reinstated, but according to AD Pat Haden O'Neill "...faces additional institutional discipline and a fine.' They have to survive, essentially, a play-in game with VCU and then would face Georgetown. Anything less than two wins and he's in trouble.
By now, you all know the story. Outspoken, brash coach has early recruiting success in his first big time job. That success is followed by nearly unprecedented results on the court. Quickly though, incriminating photos surface of Pearl with some bikini-clad coeds which raises the ire of Tennessee and the NCAA. They start sniffing around and they turn up a load of illegal text messages to recruits. When presented with this information, Pearl initially denies involvement, then ultimately cops to the offense. Red-faced, he's suspended by the university, the team goes into a swoon with losses to College of Charleston, Oakland and UNC Charlotte, ultimately finishing up with an 8-8 SEC record and a #9 seed in the tournament. They face a hot Michigan team in the first round and if they get by them, a date with Duke in the second round. Anything short of an Elite Eight berth and Pearl's future is most certainly sealed.