Baylor coach Scott Drew has spent the last two years assembling one of the most talented teams in all of college basketball. Now comes the next step: Doing something with it. Not many teams enter the 2011-12 season with an opportunity as golden as the one facing the Bears. Four Big 12 schools have first-year coaches, seven-time defending league champion Kansas is in rebuilding mode and the conference as a whole appears to be down. Baylor is the one exception.
Bill Self isn’t sugarcoating the situation. After a 35–3 season and an NCAA Tournament run that ended a win shy of the Final Four, the Kansas basketball coach can’t see his 2011-12 team being any better than last year’s Big 12 championship squad. But that doesn’t mean the Jayhawks will take a step backward, either. “I think we’ll take a step sideways,” Self says.
During the summer, new Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy took his team on a 10-day trip to Switzerland and France, where the Aggies played exhibition games and toured landmarks like Paris’ Eiffel Tower. Kennedy believes the tower tour will provide some foreshadowing. He fully intends on taking A&M to unprecedented heights. “My goal here is to win national championships,” says Kennedy, who coached the previous five seasons at Murray State.
The mood among Missouri basketball fans was a blend of disappointment and disbelief when they learned athletic director Mike Alden had tapped Miami’s Frank Haith to succeed Mike Anderson last April. Only days earlier, they’d started dreaming about Purdue’s Matt Painter, a three-time Big Ten Coach of the Year, taking the reins, but after taking 24 hours to mull over a move to Columbia, Mo., he signed a lucrative extension to remain at his alma mater.
Four undefeated teams face tough challenges on Saturday.
There are only ten undefeated teams left in college football. Four of those squads — Stanford, Oklahoma State, LSU and Wisconsin — will face challenging upset bids on Saturday. The Cardinal host Washington, as Huskies quarterback Keith Price has thrown for at least three touchdowns in every game this season.
Athlon Editors debate the most questionable offseason coaching move.
What was the most questionable hire of the offseason?
Patrick Snow: I thought this offseason’s most curious hire was Frank Haith at Missouri. Athletic director Mike Alden was very ambitious in his pursuit of Purdue’s Matt Painter after Mike Anderson left for Arkansas. But after Painter turned down Mizzou, Alden seemed to settle immediately on Haith instead of interviewing other qualified candidates. Haith never had a winning ACC record and went 43–69 in league games during seven seasons at Miami. While he did inherit a below-average program from Perry Clark, Haith only took the Hurricanes to the NCAA Tournament once in his tenure at the U. It’s easy to understand the early struggles in Coral Gables, and things looked to be turning around in Haith’s fourth season when the Canes won 23 games and made the NCAA Tournament. However, over the next three seasons, Miami went just 17–31 in league play and made two NITs. While he may wind up recruiting well at Missouri, you have to believe the Tigers could have hired a coach with a better track record.
Mitch Light: I will go with Brian Gregory at Georgia Tech. A former Tom Izzo assistant at Michigan State, Gregory has an outstanding reputation among college coaches, but his record at Dayton — a school that should win at a high level in the A-10 — isn’t overly impressive. He went to the NCAA Tournament only two times in eight seasons and had a league record of 48–48 over his final six seasons. If you are Georgia Tech, a school that colossally underachieved under Paul Hewitt, do you really want a coach who underachieved at his previous stop? For a more under-the-radar choice, I will go with Rod Barnes, who was hired by Cal State Bakersfield after being let go at Georgia State. Barnes went 44–79 in four years at GSU with a mark of 24–48 in the Colonial. Prior to that, Barnes had an eight-year run at Ole Miss, his alma mater. His overall record was a solid 141–109, but he had a losing record in each of his final four seasons and was 28 games under .500 in the SEC.
Braden Gall: I find the Frank Haith-Jim Larranaga-Paul Hewitt merry-go-round very curious. I think Missouri will be good in the short term, but Haith doesn’t strike me as the man to lead the recently reenergized Tigers program into the future long term — no matter how good they might be in 2011-12. Miami is a tough gig and bringing in an elder statesman like Larranaga — who is no doubt a fine coach — won’t exactly fire up a fanbase that is notorious for its lack of support. The U seemed like a job for a young, brash, fiery recruiter rather than a grizzled vet.
Which offseason coaching hire do you like the most?
Patrick Snow: I think the slam dunk hire of this offseason was Mike Anderson at Arkansas. He obviously knows the school and culture in Fayetteville after 17 seasons as an assistant under Nolan Richardson, but Anderson has also proved himself as a head coach. The new Arkansas boss was 200–98 in nine seasons at UAB and Missouri, with six NCAA Tournament appearances. And just as important as his coaching record, Anderson brings an identity back to Hog basketball for the first time since Richardson’s departure. He was the key assistant during Arkansas’ amazing run in the early-to-mid ‘90s, when the Razorbacks went to three Finals Fours and won it all in 1994. The fans will love his excellent recruiting prowess and “Fastest 40 Minutes of Basketball” style of play. After a year of installing his system and bringing in players to fit it, expect Mike Anderson to put Arkansas back on the national map.
Nathan Rush: Billy Gillispie is a perfect fit at Texas Tech. Sure, Gillispie’s act didn’t go over well during his two years at Kentucky — where he went 40–27 overall, 20–12 in the SEC, lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and went to the NIT before getting the axe. But prior to being burned by the spotlight in Lexington, Billy Clyde turned a 6–24 UTEP team into a 24–8 WAC champion during two years in El Paso and was a two-time Big 12 Coach of the Year in three seasons at Texas A&M — where he went 70–26 overall, 31–17 in the Big 12 and made the NCAA Tournament twice, including a Sweet 16 run in 2007. Gillispie is a native Texan with a proven track record in the Lone Star State. The Red Raiders were savvy to buy BCG stock at its lowest point; the hire will pay off sooner rather than later in Lubbock.
Mitch Light: I’m going off the radar a bit with Ron Hunter, the new head coach at Georgia State. Hunter only made the NCAA Tournament once during his time at IUPUI — losing as a No. 16 seed to Kentucky in 2003 — but his teams were consistently among the best in the Summit League. The Jaguars were 106–56 in their 10 seasons in the Summit, with only one losing record — 6–8 in ’01-02, their first year in the league. Hunter is very charismatic, and he will do his best to promote the Georgia State program in the city of Atlanta. The Panthers have struggled to compete in the ever-improving CAA, but that should change with Hunter in charge.
Do you like Texas A&M's decision to go with Billy Kennedy to replace Mark Turgeon?
Mitch Light: I do like the Billy Kennedy hire. He might not be a household name, but the guy is a very good basketball coach who has been a consistent winner. His record at Murray State was outstanding (70–24 in the OVC in five seasons), but I’m more impressed with what he did in his six seasons at Southeastern Louisiana. Kennedy inherited a program that won a combined five games in the Southland in the previous two seasons. He slowly built the Lions into a winner, culminating with back-to-back conference titles in ’03-04 and ’04-05. In ’05, he led SE Louisiana to its first and only NCAA Tournament appearance. Kennedy has only spent one season of his career in the state of Texas (he was an assistant at A&M in the early ‘90s), but he has coached in Louisiana, which borders Texas, for 13 seasons, with stops at New Orleans, Northwestern State and Tulane, in addition to SE Louisiana. Recruiting the state of Texas should not be a problem.
Braden Gall: I do like the fact that Kennedy has ties to the school and the region of the country, and he claims he would like to retire in College Station. After Texas A&M lost its last two coaches to more high-profile schools, finding a coach who appears to be a long-term fit with the Aggies was likely a high priority. I am not in love with the fact that the 47-year-old Kennedy has a 211–179 record as a head coach (a good but not great .541 winning percentage) and has 12 previous stops (10 as an assistant). But if he can continue the trend of aggressive defense — something Mark Turgeon mastered — the transition should be relatively painless in the short term.
Patrick Snow: Yes, I think Billy Kennedy is a solid choice for Texas A&M. He has won regular-season and tournament titles in two different conferences (OVC and Southland), and he has taken home Coach of the Year three times in those leagues. In his last six seasons as the head man at Murray State and Southeastern Louisiana, Kennedy’s teams won at least 13 games in conference play. He worked briefly as an A&M assistant 20 years ago, and his strong recruiting ties to Texas and his native Louisiana will be key in having success in College Station. I’m not sure he ‘won the press conference,’ but Billy Kennedy is a quality hire in Aggieland.