College Basketball Coaches with the Most to Prove in 2014-15
Maybe last season didn't go as well as planned, or maybe that's been the case for a few years. Perhaps the 2013-14 results were so unexpected—but in a good way—there's concern whether they can be replicated. Or despite being given a fresh start, the pressure to perform right away makes for tension right from the get-go.
Whatever the case, several college basketball coaches head into the 2014-15 season with a lot to prove. That isn't just in the form of wins and losses, though it's high on the list, but the need to create a certain culture or atmosphere of success with their program is also imperative.
Looking at what they've done before, and what's projected to happen this upcoming year, we've identified eight coaches who must really show their true mettle in 2014-15.
Steve Alford, UCLA
Year at school: 2nd
Career record: 489-242
Steve Alford's first year at UCLA has to be considered a success, as he piloted the Bruins into the Sweet 16 after predecessor Ben Howland managed just one trip past the opening round from 2010-13.
But the team Alford did that with was not only heavily composed of Howland's leftovers—even freshman Zach LaVine had committed to UCLA while Howland was still employed—but nearly all of its significant contributors have either graduated or jumped to the NBA. The Wear twins (6'10" forwards David and Travis) graduated, while LaVine and sophomores Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson went pro.
What's left behind is senior guard Norman Powell and junior forward Tony Parker, both Howland recruits, along with Alford's son Bryce (a point guard who will be a sophomore in 2014-15) and a bunch of unproven newcomers.
Yes, UCLA has a strong recruiting class coming in, highlighted by 5-star power forward Kevon Looney, and the Bruins will finally get to use 2014 recruit Isaac Hamilton after he was deemed ineligible by the NCAA for backing out of a signed pledge to play at UTEP. What still needs to be proven by Alford is that he can coach his own power conference-level players.
The Bruins will have numerous chances to show what they can do under Alford this season. The nonconference slate includes a trip to the Bahamas to play in the stacked Battle 4 Atlantis field, while UCLA also hosts Gonzaga, faces Kentucky in Chicago and visits Alabama before getting into Pac-12 play.
Dana Altman, Oregon
Year at school: 5th
Career record: 507-289
A quick look at the online roster for Oregon heading into the 2014-15 season shows the Ducks currently have only 10 players on the team, below the normal 12 to 15 names normally found on a Division I roster. More unsettling is the fact that only four of those 10 players were part of Oregon's most recent team, which reached the third round of the NCAA tournament.
Mass transfers in and out of the program have been a common occurrence during Dana Altman's tenure, but this offseason took the cake. Dominic Artis, Brandon Austin, Ben Carter and Damyean Dotson all left the team, with Carter heading to UNLV and the other three players dismissed in May in the wake of allegations they were involved in a sexual assault. Austin, who came to Oregon from Providence, never played a game while sitting out, per NCAA transfer rules.
Senior guard Joseph Young and junior forward Elgin Cook are the only significant holdovers, while everyone else is either a bit player, a walk-on or a newcomer. Altman has true freshmen comprising 40 percent of his roster, including 4-star guard JaQuan Lyle.
With so much turnover, one has to wonder if Altman will be capable of creating any sort of chemistry within the team. He'll have to prove that he can manage his limited numbers, both from a depth standpoint and in terms of making sure his transient roster doesn't get disenchanted and start considering a departure as the season progresses.
Tony Bennett, Virginia
Year at school: 6th
Career record: 175-93
Is Virginia for real, or are the Cavaliers an anomaly?
Coach Tony Bennett heard this query countless times during the 2013-14 season as Virginia rolled to the ACC regular-season title, and though some skepticism went away when the Cavs won the conference tournament and reached the Sweet 16, it didn't fully go away.
Now, with that year over and a new season approaching, Bennett and his team will no doubt get questioned again. The wonder will be whether Virginia's performance last year was a fluke, a one-hit wonder or if it marked the start of a long stay among basketball's elite.
Bennett made slow and steady improvement in his first four years at the school, going from 15-16 in 2009-10 to 23-12 in 2012-13. Then came last season, when after a 9-4 nonconference run (marked by a 35-point loss at Tennessee right before ACC play began) the Cavs erupted and went 16-2 in the league. They had an impressive two-game edge over the rest of the stacked ACC field, then went out and won the conference tournament crown with a solid win over Duke in the final to earn a No. 1 seed.
Critics noted that Virginia's schedule in the ACC was soft, a product of the league's unbalanced scheduling matrix. That won't be the case in 2014-15, as they're set to visit North Carolina, Syracuse and Louisville (facing the last two in the final two games of the regular season) and only get to host Louisville along with Duke.
With that upgraded slate, Bennett will need to prove his team can win against tougher prolonged competition, as well as with raised expectations.
Tom Crean, Indiana
Year at school: 7th
Career record: 291-193
Was Tom Crean the right choice for Indiana? After being given some leeway to get the Hoosiers back on solid ground, a troubling regression this past season means Crean will have to prove in 2014-15 that he's able to keep the program moving in the right direction.
Indiana went 17-15 this past year, missing out on the NCAA tournament—and then infamously turning down an invitation to the CBI after being passed over for an NIT bid. The Hoosiers saw eight players leave the program in the offseason, with 6'10" Noah Vonleh going pro after one season and four guys transferring to other Division I schools.
Shooting guard James Blackmon Jr., a 5-star recruit, highlights a class that rated second-best in the Big Ten and 17th nationally, so Crean can still get players. But early returns on how his new collection will perform were mixed, with Indiana allowing 109 points in a loss to a team from Ottawa during a five-game Canadian tour in early August.
Crean has had two good years with the Hoosiers, reaching the Sweet 16 in both 2011-12 and 2012-13. But even the latter of those teams disappointed, losing as a No. 1 seed to Syracuse.
After winning 23 games per season in his final seven at Marquette, Crean is just 101-97 in Bloomington. This season he'll need to prove that progress is being made, and the best way to do that is with wins.
Kevin Ollie, Connecticut
Year at school: 3rd
Career record: 52-18
So, Kevin Ollie, you won a national title in just your second year as a head coach. Great job. Now show us you can do it again.
Ollie has seemingly been behind the eight ball ever since succeeding Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun at Connecticut. It started with getting named as only an interim coach and receiving just a one-year contract before picking up an extension midway through that first season. Then he was basically left for dead toward the end of this past season after the Huskies were blown out at Louisville.
Four weeks later, UConn was cutting down the nets for the second time in four years, and Ollie was suddenly getting mentioned for the Los Angeles Lakers job. Ollie got another extension with UConn, but now he has to face the questions that come with being a defending champion.
UConn's two best players from that team are gone, with guard Shabazz Napier graduating and forward DeAndre Daniels going pro early. They were a big part of the championship, and Ollie will have to prove that success is possible even without those stars because they were products of the Huskies' system and culture.
Super-early preseason polls for 2014-15 aren't giving Ollie and UConn much chance of repeating: CBS Sports' rankings, which have the Huskies 19th, are similar to other lists.
Bruce Pearl, Auburn
Year at school: 1st
Career record: 462-145
There's no denying that Bruce Pearl is eager to prove his critics wrong, that he can still win even after being forced away from the game for a few years. That's been evident at numerous times since Auburn hired him in mid-March, all the way up to when his show-cause penalty from the NCAA ended at midnight on Aug. 24.
If landing a 4-star recruit (power forward Horace Spencer) just hours after being allowed to recruit again doesn't show dedication, then what does?
Spencer is one of three players Pearl has gotten commitments from for the 2015-16 season, and because of that Auburn sits at No. 5 in 247Sports' composite rankings for that class. Young players are already buying into his pitch, but will that be the case with the players he's got on board for this first season at Auburn?
Pearl was successful at both Milwaukee and Tennessee, winning 24 or more games five times between 2003 and 2010. But while Tennessee wasn't a juggernaut before he got there, it also wasn't a powerhouse, and now he heads to an Auburn program that last made the NCAA tournament in 2003.
Lorenzo Romar, Washington
Year at school: 13th
Career record: 342-229
Lorenzo Romar became the second-winningest coach in Washington history during the 2013-14 season, passing Marv Harshmann at 246. That was a nice milestone for him and the Huskies, but after the success Romar had earlier in his tenure, just moving up the wins chart isn't enough.
Romar hasn't gotten Washington into the NCAA tournament since 2010-11, the three-year drought marking the longest tourney-less stretch for the program since Bob Bender's last three years and the first season Romar was on the job. He's made six NCAA appearances, with three Sweet 16 trips, and the Huskies have finished in the top three in the Pac-12 seven times in 12 years.
The last time that happened was in 2011-12, though, when Washington won the regular-season title but still missed the Big Dance and instead reached the NIT semifinals.
Seattle has been a recruiting hotbed for 20-plus years, but once Romar got entrenched, many of the best players stayed home. That's not happening as much anymore, with 4-star guard Shaqquan Aaron (the top-rated player in Washington) signing with Louisville for this season after Zach LaVine picked UCLA for 2013-14.
Romar's success is the reason Washington still gets in the door with top recruits, but he'll need to have more relevant results to feed off of to keep that happening.
Mark Turgeon, Maryland
Year at school: 4th
Career record: 310-202
Mark Turgeon was not Maryland's first choice to replace Gary Williams in 2011 (Arizona's Sean Miller, among others, passed on the job), but he wouldn't have been hired if the school didn't think his performance at Wichita State and Texas A&M didn't make him worthy.
But in the three years he's run the Terrapins program, Turgeon hasn't lived up to the expectations that come with that job. And now with a move to a new conference, he'll face even more pressure to finally come through. The jump from the ACC to the Big Ten would have been a magnificently fresh start for Turgeon and the Terps if only he wasn't coming over with a roster in turmoil.
After Maryland went 17-15 and missed the postseason, falling to get any tourney invite for the second time in three years (it went to the NIT semifinals in 2012-13), six players transferred from the program. Two of them went to teams that were on the Terps' ACC schedule the year before.
Turgeon got two transfers of his own, but only ex-North Carolina Central guard Richaud Pack can play this season. That means Maryland will be putting a lot of hope into a lot of inexperienced or young players. At least two freshmen are likely to start, with 4-star point guard Melo Trimble getting thrust into a co-leadership role alongside senior Dez Wells.
CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein tweeted in July that Trimble is "as critical to Maryland next year as Tyler Ennis was to Syracuse" in 2013-14. Ennis had to do so much for the Orange, and when he struggled down the stretch, Syracuse went from undefeated in mid-February to out of the NCAA tournament on the first weekend.
Turgeon will have to prove the bed he's made from linens composed of departures, transfers, recruits and a league change will made for a comfortable surface.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.
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