Jio Fontan's return will play critical role for USC
A season can be changed by an injury. In the same way, 10 teams are hoping a key player returning from injury will change their fortunes for 2012-13.
Among those players returning from injury include a forward with All-American potential at Minnesota, a key veteran at rebuilding North Carolina, and explosive guard at USC and former starters at three SEC schools.
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.