Athlon Editors pick a surprise team in college hoops
Name a team from a Big Six power conference that you believe could surprise in 2011-12.
Mitch Light: I believe California will emerge as the biggest threat to Arizona in the new-look Pac-12. Mike Montgomery’s club welcomes back its top three scorers, led by the underrated backcourt of veteran leader Jorge Gutierrez and sophomore sharpshooter Allen Crabbe. Cal lost four double-digit scorers from the 2009 club that won the Pac-10 crown, yet Montgomery still had his team competitive in the league last season; the Bears tied for fourth with a 10–8 mark and advanced to the second round of the NIT. In two years, Montgomery is 23–13 in league games. The guy is a proven winner, and he figures to have the ’11-12 Golden Bears back in the NCAA Tournament after a one-year hiatus.
Nathan Rush: Former George Mason giant killer Jim Larranaga takes over a Miami roster that has all of the pieces in place for a “Cinderella” run in the ACC. The New York City backcourt of junior point guard Durand Scott (13.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.1 apg) and senior Villanova transfer Malcolm Grant (14.8 ppg, 42.3 3PT%) gives the U a solid, veteran foundation to build on. Ever-improving 300-pound junior center Reggie Johnson (11.9 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 59.1 FG%) should be hitting his prime. If enigmatic highlight-reel high-jumper DeQuan Jones can finally rise to the occasion for his senior year or another wing steps up to replace departed sixth-year senior Adrian Thomas, then the Heat won’t be the only team making noise on the hardwood in South Florida.
Patrick Snow: I think a surprise team on the national scene for the 2011-12 campaign is Cincinnati. While much of the Big East preseason talk will revolve around Syracuse, Louisville, Pittsburgh and defending national champion UConn, Mick Cronin’s squad returns its top four scorers from a 26–9 team. The Bearcats won 11 conference games a year ago and finally bought in to Cronin’s defensive style. They should have a solid nucleus with those top four players — Yancy Gates, Dion Dixon, Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright — and newcomer Shaquille Thomas could provide some added scoring punch. It took five years for Cronin to get the UC program back to a top level, and he should have a quality team that will make some noise during the upcoming 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.