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CBB Coaches on Their Last Chance to Reach the NCAA Tournament in 2014-15

Kerry MillerCollege Basketball National AnalystAugust 28, 2014

CBB Coaches on Their Last Chance to Reach the NCAA Tournament in 2014-15

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    In a sport where fans start petitioning for a new head coach after less than three years, the lifespan of a college basketball coach who fails to make the NCAA tournament can rival that of a fruit fly.

    The college basketball coaching carousel is a fierce one, claiming 45 head coaches this past offseason alone. By and large, a coach has a very limited time after signing his contract to get his new team to the Big Dance.

    For a number of coaches, that grace period ends this season.

    It's do or die time. Get your team to the tournament, or make sure your resume and references are up to date.

    All coaches on the following slides have been with their current teams for at least three years without ever leading them to the NCAA tournament.

    The coaches are ranked in ascending order of the number of jelly beans I'd be willing to bet that they get fired if they miss the tournament.

     

    Statistics on the following slides courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.

Honorable Mentions

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Mike Anderson, Arkansas

    Anderson has only been at Arkansas for three years and has a winning percentage of 60.2, but fans may be screaming for his head if he's unable to make the tournament this year with this roster.

     

    Duggar Baucom, VMI

    Most coaches are lucky to last five years at a program without making the NCAA tournament, but Baucom has been at VMI for nine seasons with a .500 record and no tournament appearances. 

    However, in the 27 years before his arrival, the Keydets had a winning percentage of 34.6 and didn't reach the tournament once. It'd be nice to see Baucom lead a team to the Big Dance, but he has likely earned himself another couple years of trying.

     

    David Carter, Nevada

    Nevada was a regular in the NCAA tournament in the mid-2000s, but the Wolf Pack have gone missing since Carter took over for Mark Fox before the 2009-10 season.

    On the bright side, he has a winning percentage above .500 during those five seasons and may have gotten a couple years' worth of "Get out of jail free" cards when Nevada realigned from the WAC to the much more difficult MWC.

    If the Wolf Pack really fall apart after losing their three leading scorers from last season, though, Carter might be on the chopping block.

     

    Brian Gregory, Georgia Tech

    Like Anderson, Gregory has only been at his major conference program for three seasons.

    Unlike Anderson, Gregory's record is well below .500 (43-52). The Ramblin' Wreck had quite the wreck of a basketball program when he took over for Paul Hewitt, but that's no excuse for still struggling today.

    Gregory might have one more season before his coaching life is in the balance, but he may want to win more than six ACC games for a change.

10. Jeff Lebo, East Carolina

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Tenure: Four seasons, 73-61 record

    School's last tourney bid: 1993

    Coach's last tourney bid: Never (fourth D-I head coaching job)

     

    On the one hand, Jeff Lebo has been winning games for a program that didn't have a winning season in the 13 years before he arrived. After posting an average record of 11-18 during those 13 years, East Carolina has averaged better than 18 wins per year under Lebo.

    On the other hand, Lebo has been a head coach for the past 16 seasons without ever leading a team to the NCAA tournament.

    He does have a career winning percentage of 56.7, but big whoop if it doesn't result in any March Madness.

    Lebo probably earned at least another year with the Pirates moving from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference, but only if they're remotely competitive. Without Akeem Richmond, a last-place finish in their new conference is hardly an unrealistic expectation.

    And if they lose 20 games this year, it won't matter how many wins Lebo had in the previous four seasons without a tournament bid.

9. Bruiser Flint, Drexel

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Tenure: 13 seasons, 228-173 record

    School's last tourney bid: 1996

    Coach's last tourney bid: 1998 (Massachusetts)

     

    Bruiser Flint is one of the longest-tenured coaches without a single tournament appearance for his program.

    Though he hasn't led them to the promised land, he has held on to his job for more than a decade by simply winning more games than he loses.

    In just three of his 13 seasons with the Dragons has Flint failed to win at least 50 percent of his games.

    Fortunately for him, those poor seasons have been bookended by their best years. They went 15-16 in 2005-06 and 12-20 in 2007-08, but the Dragons put together one heck of a 23-9 season in between. 

    They had a disappointing 13-18 season two years ago, but there's no way they were going to fire Flint one year after a 29-7 season that produced a CAA regular-season title.

    But even at a program like Drexel, where expectations aren't exactly sky high, 13 years without a tournament appearance is too long.

    Delaware and Towson were the class of the CAA last year, but both of those programs are losing their top four scorers to graduation.

    Flint needs to strike while the iron is hot and get Drexel to represent its conference in the tournament this year.

    If he instead leads the Dragons to a lackluster season after posting a 29-32 record over the past two years, this could finally be the end of the line.

8. Kevin Willard, Seton Hall

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Tenure: Four seasons, 66-66 record

    School's last tourney bid: 2006

    Coach's last tourney bid: Never (second D-I head coaching job)

     

    As I mentioned yesterday, mediocrity has kind of become a way of life at Seton Hall.

    Last year's 17-17 season was really just a microcosm of more than 20 years of "meh" basketball, with impressive wins over Villanova and Xavier being washed out by terrible home losses to Fairleigh Dickinson and Saint Peter's.

    Maybe that was acceptable for other coaches, but Kevin Willard was supposed to be the next big thing after 10 years of apprenticeship under Rick Pitino.

    He certainly turned things around in a hurry at Iona. The year before his arrival, the Gaels went 2-28 and were arguably the worst team in the country.

    Three years later, they went 21-10 before Seton Hall snatched Willard up to perform similar wonders on its program.

    But not much has changed. The Pirates appeared to be heading in the right direction after a 21-13 record in 2011-12, but it has been two lackluster seasons since then.

    What's more, expectations are pretty high for Seton Hall this year with a strong recruiting class headlined by Isaiah Whitehead and Angel Delgado.

    If Willard can't get this team to the 2015 tournament, he probably won't get the chance to try for 2016.

7. Billy Kennedy, Texas A&M

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Tenure: Three seasons, 50-49 record

    School's last tourney bid: 2011

    Coach's last tourney bid: 2010 (Murray State)

     

    I know it's only been three years, but I'm surprised Billy Kennedy has lasted this long.

    Before his arrival, Texas A&M was a staple in the NCAA tournament. Billy Gillispie and Mark Turgeon led the Aggies to a combined record of 167-66 and six consecutive tournament bids.

    Not only has Kennedy failed to get them back to the tournament, but he's also having difficulty keeping players from skipping town.

    J-Mychal Reese and Shawn Smith were two of his three best recruits before the 2012 season, but they both elected to transfer away from Texas A&M this year.

    Jamal Jones led the Aggies in scoring last year after transferring in from JUCO, but he decided to leave the program as well.

    He's done a fine job of corralling frustrated players from other programs, like SMU's Jalen Jones and Houston's Danuel House, but you have to wonder why Texas A&M isn't winning games and why players would rather sit out a year than spend another one with the team.

    Expectations aren't particularly high for the Aggies this year, but they had better at least seriously flirt with making the tournament if Kennedy wants a fifth year at the helm.

6. Ed Conroy, Tulane

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Tenure: Four seasons, 65-65 record

    School's last tourney bid: 1995

    Coach's last tourney bid: Never (second D-I head coaching job)

     

    Like Jeff Lebo at ECU, Ed Conroy has spent the past four seasons with a team that is now making the transition from C-USA to the AAC.

    Unlike Lebo, however, Conroy has a career winning percentage well below .500 and has merely elevated a slightly below-average program to pretty much the definition of average.

    Also unlike Lebo, Conroy is retaining every important player from last year's team. Were the Green Wave staying in C-USA, it'd be a prime candidate to win the conference.

    Tulane probably won't make the tournament in its first year in the AAC, but it should at least finish ahead of Central Florida, South Florida and East Carolina while flirting with a .500 conference record.

    Anything short of that, and it's a safe bet that Tulane will have a new coach for the 2015-16 season.

5. Marty Simmons, Evansville

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    Al Behrman/Associated Press

    Tenure: Seven seasons, 102-122 record

    School's last tourney bid: 1999

    Coach's last tourney bid: Never (first D-I head coaching job)

     

    I get that Marty Simmons is something of a hometown hero at Evansville.

    Simmons played his first two seasons at Indiana before transferring to Evansville and leading the Purple Aces from an 8-19 record during the 1985-86 season to a 21-8 record just two years later.

    He was then an assistant at Evansville from 1990-96 and again from 1997-2002 after a one-year hiatus at Wartburg.

    The decision to hire him as head coach before the 2007-08 season couldn't have possibly made more sense.

    But two years as a player and 11 years as an assistant doesn't equate to a free pass for life.

    It's one thing to not make the tournament in seven seasons, but Evansville has only finished one of the past five seasons above .500.

    The Purple Aces were even more disappointing than usual this past season, going 14-19 overall and 6-12 in the Missouri Valley Conference.

    To be fair, it was a very young team. Of its five leading scorers, three were sophomores and two were freshmen.

    But that's all the more reason Simmons needs to lead the Purple Aces to the tournament this year. There was not a single senior on last year's roster. There's no good excuse for Evansville not to be substantially better than it was this past season.

    It might take a miracle to finish ahead of Wichita State and Northern Iowa in the MVC, but it should take a miracle to save the job of a coach with a seven-year record 20 games below .500.

4. Tom Pecora, Fordham

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Tenure: Four seasons, 34-85 record

    School's last tourney bid: 1992

    Coach's last tourney bid: Never (second D-I head coaching job)

     

    At 28.6 percent, Tom Pecora has by far the worst winning percentage of the coaches on this list. But it's hard to say he belongs in the top three, considering Fordham's basketball program was a complete disaster long before he showed up.

    In the two years before Pecora, Fordham posted a record of 5-51 (8.9 percent). The Rams are still pretty terrible, but they've been more than three times better than they were from 2008-10.

    However, that improvement hasn't led to much success in the A-10, where they're 9-55 over the past four years.

    Nor has it led to satisfied players. Three players transferred away from Fordham during the 2013 offseason, and another five transferred this summer.

    The Rams are better than they were five years ago, but it would take a magician to turn this program into a contender.

    If he's unable to show some serious progress this year, it might be best for Fordham and Pecora both to start seeing other people.

3. Eric Reveno, Portland

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Tenure: Eight seasons, 111-142 record

    School's last tourney bid: 1996

    Coach's last tourney bid: Never (first D-I head coaching job)

     

    The good news for Eric Reveno is that Portland messed around and won games against both Gonzaga and BYU last season, showing signs of life in the WCC for the first time since 2011.

    But even with those surprising victories, the Pilots finished below .500 for a third consecutive season and for the fifth time in Reveno's eight years.

    Not only is Reveno running out of time to accomplish something, but his roster is, too.

    Portland lost four seniors to graduation this summermost notably among them Ryan Nicholas (12.9 PPG, 8.8 RPG)and will lose another six players to graduation next summer.

    No better time to reevaluate your coaching situation than when the current head coach has struggled for several seasons and is losing 10 players in a span of two summers.

    You wouldn't want to bring in a new coach for a team with six seniors; but why not give it a shot with a 2015-16 roster that will have just one senior and two juniors?

    If Portland doesn't win at least 20 games this year, that'll be more than enough rationale to give Reveno the boot.

2. James Jones, Yale

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Tenure: 15 seasons, 209-222 record

    School's last tourney bid: 1962

    Coach's last tourney bid: Never (first D-I head coaching job)

     

    Ladies and gentlemen, meet your current record-holder for longest time at one program without a tournament appearance.

    James Jones has been coaching at Yale since the days when we were afraid that Y2K would kill us all. And yet, the closest he ever came to the NCAA tournament was a three-way tie for the Ivy League championship in 2002 that resulted in a 19-point blowout at the hands of Penn in a tiebreaker game.

    Other than that, Jones has never even led the Elis to 20 wins in a season.

    So why is he still the head coach when Yale has had a front-row seat for what a guy like Tommy Amaker can do for an Ivy League program that hadn't gone dancing in decades?

    I can appreciate that Jones has had a moderately respectable winning percentage for a program that hasn't really had any success in 60 years, but it's time for a change.

1. Oliver Purnell, DePaul

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Tenure: Four seasons, 42-85 record

    School's last tourney bid: 2004

    Coach's last tourney bid: 2010 (Clemson)

     

    Most of the teams on this list haven't amounted to much of anything in a long time.

    But DePaul was pretty good less than a decade ago. The Blue Demons had three seasons with at least 20 wins in a span of four years from 2003-07.

    Quite the opposite these days, they've lost at least 20 games in three of Oliver Purnell's four years as head coach.

    Purnell has a winning percentage of 33.1 at DePaul, but that's artificially inflated by some of the weakest nonconference scheduling in the country.

    Against Big East competition, DePaul is 9-63 (12.5 percent) over the past four yearsand not one of those wins came against a team that went on to make the NCAA tournament.

    The shame of the matter is that Purnell came to DePaul with a great track record of turning programs around.

    Radford was hovering around .500 for a few years before Purnell got his first head coaching job in 1988, but the Highlanders were 22-7 three years later.

    From there, he moved on to Old Dominion and brought the Monarchs two CAA regular-season titles and an NCAA tournament appearance in just three seasons.

    After that, it was on to Dayton to rebuild a program that was 10-47 in the two years before his arrival. The Flyers won at least 21 games in five of the final six years of Purnell's nine seasons with them.

    Most recently was his rebuild of Clemson from an ACC bottom-feeder under Larry Shyatt to a team that would win at least 21 games in each of the final four seasons of his seven-year term.

    So, what gives? Why can't he fix DePaul? At every other stop on his world tour, Purnell won at least 20 games by his fourth season with the program. Yet, DePaul hasn't even hit a baker's dozen in any of his years there.

    He'll get at least one more year to try to make his mark on the Blue Demons, but this will almost certainly be his last season as their head coach if they don't finally show some signs of improvement.

     

    Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.

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