Ranking the 10 New CBB Coaches Most Likely to Make the 2015 NCAA Tournament
Now that we're a few weeks removed from the knee-jerk responses to the latest rendition of the college basketball coaching carousel, let's take a look at which hires might be able to immediately lead their new teams to the 2015 NCAA tournament.
Believe it or not, coaches have actually been relatively successful in their first season at a new school.
In each of the past three seasons, about 10 percent of new coaches have led their team to the NCAA tournament. Last year, American, New Mexico, Stephen F. Austin and UCLA all went dancing in their inaugural season with a new head coach.
So who are the top candidates to do the same this year?
There have been 45 coaching changes this offseason. If the trend from the past three years continues, we should expect to see four or five of those 45 coaches in the 2015 NCAA tournament. But just in case they decide to really exceed expectations this year, we're ranking the top 10.
Coaches are ranked partially on their own history, but mostly by the situations they are inheriting.
10. Marist Red Foxes: Mike Maker
School record in 2013-14: 12-19 overall (9-11 in MAAC)
Coaching pedigree: 17 years as D-I assistant at Creighton, Dartmouth, Samford and West Virginia; 147-32 over past six seasons at D-III Williams College
Marist's chances of dancing are realistically somewhere between slim and none, but this is a much better team than the one that made headlines five years ago by going 1-29.
The Red Foxes bring back their top two scorers from last season—Chavaughn Lewis and Khallid Hart. Hart averaged 14.7 PPG and shot 38.1 percent from three-point range as a redshirt freshman. They were arguably at their best over the final few weeks of the season, combining to average 37.4 PPG in Marist's last eight games.
Not only does Marist return its top scorers, but many of the top teams in the MAAC are unable to make the same claim.
Manhattan represented the conference in the 2014 NCAA tournament, but the Jaspers will lose each of their top three scorers. Canisius will be without four of its top six scorers from last season, most notably the mid-major version of Providence's Bryce Cotton—Billy Baron.
Iona will still be in good shape and Siena will be much improved from last season, but there should be fewer hurdles in the MAAC than there have been in recent seasons.
9. Marquette Golden Eagles: Steve Wojciechowski
School record in 2013-14: 17-15 overall (9-9 in Big East)
Coaching pedigree: 15 seasons as assistant to Mike Krzyzewski at Duke
There's no telling what you'll get in the first season under the leadership of a long-time assistant coach.
In Mike Krzyzewski's coaching tree, though, it hasn't been immediate greatness.
Chris Collins pulled off a few shocking upsets last season at Northwestern after more than a decade on the sidelines with Coach K, but the Wildcats finished the season five games below .500 and nowhere near the tournament discussion.
Tommy Amaker was a Duke assistant for almost a decade before taking Seton Hall to the NIT with a 15-15 record in his first year as a head coach. Johnny Dawkins left for Stanford after a decade on the Duke bench, and he didn't make the NCAA tournament until his sixth season.
Now it's Steve Wojciechowski's time to try his luck in a relatively unenviable position. Marquette loses four of its top six scorers from this past season, and most of its top recruits recommitted elsewhere after Buzz Williams left for Virginia Tech.
Indiana transfer Luke Fischer is the only player on the roster taller than 6'7", and he probably won't even be eligible to play until the second semester.
But the "new" Big East is still finding its footing. Villanova and Georgetown will likely finish at the top, and DePaul will remain in the basement until further notice, but everything in between is up for grabs.
I personally think Marquette is headed for a ninth-place finish in the Big East, but Wojo and the Golden Eagles have a better chance of making the tournament than other schools with new coaches like Maine, Maryland-Eastern Shore or Montana State.
8. Tennessee Volunteers: Donnie Tyndall
School record in 2013-14: 24-13 overall (11-7 in SEC)
Coaching pedigree: Six seasons at Morehead State; two seasons at Southern Miss; combined record of 170-101
We'll briefly address what led to the coaching change at Tennessee later on when we get to Cuonzo Martin, but Donnie Tyndall isn't exactly entering into a situation where he'll have the players to succeed or fans who will accept that and be patient.
Save for Josh Richardson, just about every important piece of last year's run to the Sweet 16 is gone—and as Ken Pomeroy tweeted during the tournament, "Josh Richardson turning into Gary Harris this week was a surprising development."
He was playing phenomenally the last time we saw him, but will Tyndall be getting that version of Richardson or the one none of us had really heard of during his first 2.7 seasons at Tennessee?
Either way, the big issue for the Volunteers is the lack of big men. Jarnell Stokes, Jeronne Maymon and A.J. Davis are gone. Rawane Ndiaye is extremely unlikely to play at all this season after tearing his ACL in June.
That leaves quite literally zero returning forwards or centers on the roster.
Getting Eric McKnight from Florida Gulf Coast will help, but it hardly solves the problem of Tennessee's biggest strength from last season (rebounding) suddenly becoming its biggest weakness.
To be fair, Tyndall was headed for a rebuilding project either way. Southern Miss is losing four of its top five scorers from last season to graduation this summer.
He's definitely getting more money at Tennessee, but there's no question he would have had a longer leash with the Golden Eagles.
7. Houston Cougars: Kelvin Sampson
School record in 2013-14: 17-16 overall (8-10 in AAC)
Coaching pedigree: 13 NCAA tournaments in 14 seasons from 1993-2007, 11 with Oklahoma; spent past six seasons as assistant with Milwaukee Bucks and Houston Rockets
If he pulls it off, this would be Kelvin Sampson's third time making the NCAA tournament in his first season at a new school.
After spending a few years at Washington State, Sampson came into Oklahoma and immediately made the Sooners back into an annual staple in the NCAA tournament. He was fixing to do the same at Indiana before his scandalous departure in February 2008.
Aside from the continued fallout from that recruiting controversy at Indiana, Sampson effectively disappeared from the world of college basketball thanks in large part to the five-year show-cause penalty he was handed by the NCAA in November 2008.
This marks the first year that any school could reasonably take a chance on Sampson, and Houston leapt at it.
Unfortunately for the Cougars, the coaching move caused their two best players (TaShawn Thomas and Danuel House) to choose to skip town. They still have a few key pieces from last year's team in the form of L.J. Rose and Jherrod Stiggers, but let's just say there's a reason Sampson is bringing in six JUCO transfers this summer.
In the long run, this should prove to be a good move for Houston. At any rate, with just one tournament appearance in the past 22 years, it's a risk worth taking.
But there doesn't appear to be a very strong chance of the Cougars representing the AAC in the 2015 tournament.
6. Wake Forest: Danny Manning
School record in 2013-14: 17-16 overall (6-12 in ACC)
Coaching pedigree: Six seasons as assistant at Kansas; two years as head coach at Tulsa (38-29 record)
Everything about Wake Forest is just too unproven.
Tulsa got hot over the final five weeks of the 2013-14 season, but Danny Manning had a sub-.500 career winning percentage prior to that 11-game winning streak against a lot of not-very-good teams.
He could absolutely be an incredible hire. 15 years in the NBA and six seasons as an assistant to Bill Self should count for a heck of a lot more than a couple of years as the head coach at an above-average mid-major school.
Still, there's no good reason to expect greatness from Manning in his first season with a young major conference program that has been floundering under Jeff Bzdelik over the past four years.
That doesn't mean it can't happen, though.
The Demon Deacons lose three key pieces from last year's rotation in Travis McKie, Coron Williams and Arnaud-William Adala Moto, but Codi Miller-McIntyre and Devin Thomas are studs that can be built around.
In addition to those primary players, Manning will have a respectable rotation with redshirt freshman Greg McClinton, Aaron Rountree, Madison Jones, Miles Overton, Tyler Cavanaugh and Andre Washington.
That should be a great arsenal for the 2015-16 season—as none of those eight players will be a senior this season—but it will likely take a year of adjusting before Manning and Wake Forest are ready to dance.
5. Ohio Bobcats: Saul Phillips
School record in 2013-14: 25-12 overall (11-7 in MAC)
Coaching pedigree: 134-84 in seven seasons at North Dakota State, including two NCAA tournament appearances
Total gut call here, but doesn't it feel like Ohio is always in the running to win the MAC? The Bobcats have been to two of the past five NCAA tournaments under John Groce (now at Illinois) and Jim Christian (now at Boston College), averaging 23.6 wins per season during that half decade.
They lose five of their top eight scorers from last season, but just about the entire conference is getting crushed with graduations.
Toledo figures to be the favorite once again, but with all the loss at Akron, Buffalo and Eastern Michigan, anything could happen in the MAC's second tier.
Put Phillips' Bobcats on the court against Danny Manning's Demon Deacons and Wake Forest probably wins that game 18 out of 20 times. But Ohio's chances of succeeding in a rebuilding MAC are exponentially better than Wake Forest's odds of pulling a fast one in a very stacked ACC.
Plus, you know, Phillips did a pretty good job at an unheralded school in Fargo, North Dakota. Shouldn't be too tough for him to do well at a program with a rich tradition and a recent string of success.
4. California Golden Bears: Cuonzo Martin
School record in 2013-14: 21-14 overall (10-8 in Pac-12)
Coaching pedigree: Eight seasons as an assistant at Purdue; three years as head coach at each Missouri State and Tennessee; career record of 124-82
As Cuonzo Martin recently told CBS Sports' Gary Parrish, "My heart was in Knoxville because of the players, but I knew my days were numbered."
The Tennessee fan base never gave Martin a fair shake, forever waiting for the glorious return of Bruce Pearl that never came. His decision to leave the Volunteers despite leading them to the Sweet 16 was a surprise to virtually no one—considering it had barely been a month since thousands of fans were signing a petition to have him fired.
Regardless of how or why he left Tennessee, all that matters for today's purposes is whether or not he can lead California to a tournament bid.
Unlike the vast majority of coaching changes that occur, Martin isn't taking over for a coach who was fired for poor results or a coach who left for greener pastures—unless you count the putting greens where Mike Montgomery will inevitably spend some of the days of his retirement. He's actually inheriting a pretty solid situation.
A number of last year's key players are gone, but Martin is still starting out with a core of David Kravish, Tyrone Wallace, Jordan Mathews and Jabari Bird.
The Golden Bears won't be expected to finish in the top three in the Pac-12, but they certainly aren't headed for a season in the bottom three, either. They'll be somewhere in the middle of the pack with Martin's coaching and the immediate impact of freshman Kingsley Okoroh dictating how close they can get to the tournament.
3. IPFW Mastodons: Jon Coffman
School record in 2013-14: 25-11 overall (10-4 in Summit)
Coaching pedigree: Assistant coach at IPFW, Colgate, Stetson and College of Charleston
I don't know Jon Coffman from Adam. Save for the conference championship game against North Dakota State, I didn't see IPFW play a single game last season.
But someone is required to represent the Summit League in the NCAA tournament, and the Mastodons just might be the favorites to do so.
North Dakota State and South Dakota State have been the conference's standard-bearers over the past few years, but both of those teams are losing four of their six leading scorers from last season.
Meanwhile, IPFW brings back four of its top six scorers, including a freshman (Mo Evans) who made 45 percent of his 142 three-point attempts.
Denver will play its way into the mix for the Summit crown, but IPFW has a great chance of winning the regular-season and conference championship titles.
2. Tulsa Golden Hurricane: Frank Haith
School record in 2013-14: 21-13 overall (13-3 in C-USA)
Coaching pedigree: Seven years at Miami (FL); three seasons at Missouri; overall record of 205-129
Say what you will about Frank Haith, but he appears to have perfected the art of leaving town right before the pitchfork-wielding mob breaks through his front door.
Three years ago, he bolted from Miami after a 43-69 conference record, put himself in a good situation at Missouri and indirectly set the stage for the next big thing in Jim Larranaga's career.
He not only made the tournament in his first season with the Missouri Tigers but also got them into the discussion for a No. 1 seed before the disappointing opening round loss to Norfolk State that would hang over his head for the next 775 or so days.
His jump to Tulsa this summer was even more surprising than the one to Missouri, but he left what was becoming a tenuous situation in favor of an up-and-coming team making the move from C-USA to the AAC this year.
He might not make the tournament this year, but at least he can rest easy knowing he probably won't get fired for failing to do so.
As far as Tulsa goes, the Golden Hurricane are bringing back five of their six leading scorers from last season—and the one who isn't coming back (Pat Swilling Jr.) wasn't even with the team for the final 14 games anyway.
The level of competition will increase in the AAC, but it's really only a jump from the back end of the mid-majors to somewhere on the cusp between mid-major and major. After all, eight of the other 10 teams in the AAC were part of C-USA at some point in the past 11 years.
The Golden Hurricane might be able to weather the storm and play their way into a No. 10 seed in the 2015 NCAA tournament.
1. Auburn Tigers: Bruce Pearl
School record in 2013-14: 14-16 overall (6-12 in SEC)
Coaching pedigree: Four seasons at Milwaukee; six seasons at Tennessee; eight NCAA tournament appearances; overall D-I record of 231-99
It certainly isn't often that two big-name "free agent" coaches become available in the same season, but such is the case with both Kelvin Sampson and Bruce Pearl having show-cause penalties expiring before the start of the 2014-15 season.
Pearl's penalty—three years for living out Dan Dakich's dream by having Aaron Craft over to his house for a cookout on an unofficial visit and later lying about it—doesn't officially end until August 23, but he'll be allowed to evaluate players during the July recruiting period.
Of course, players who will be freshmen in 2015-16 have quite literally nothing to do with Pearl's chances of making the 2015 NCAA tournament.
For those purposes, he has already landed three huge transfers in Niagara's Antoine Mason, New Mexico State's K.C. Ross-Miller and Cinmeon Bowers—this year's top JUCO transfer, according to 247Sports.com.
Those new players will join KT Harrell and likely Matthew Atewe in a starting rotation that could do some serious damage in the SEC.
The Tigers will need to improve by at least five or six games to have a reasonable shot at the tournament, but Pearl already has them headed well in that direction.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.
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