Not too long ago, it would be unfair to judge a coach before he had a full recruiting class. This meant a minimum of four years before forming an honest opinion of his performance.
Look at what Shaka Smart is doing at Marquette or the work of TJ Otzelberger at Iowa State. Similar sentiments can be expressed for Tommy Lloyd (Arizona), Mark Adams (Texas Tech) and Mike Woodson (Indiana). Five programs with freshman coaches who all seem to be headed for the NCAA Tournament. Only Texas Tech was a tournament team a year ago, which means four of the five schools have made significant progress.
Quality coaches don’t need time anymore. The transfer market, and to a lesser extent quality freshmen, hastened the process. The majority of teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 include transfers that make a difference. The coaches mentioned above have all benefited from newcomers to immediately surpass themselves. Landing impact transfers are just as important as high school recruitment. It can be argued that he actually wins now that transfers are allowed to change schools once without sitting.
This also allows for quick turnaround times for good trainers. But there is another aspect to this. This shows that quick fixes are possible. Sporting directors, school administrators and fan bases have no reason to be very patient with a new coach when there are others who prove that change can happen right away. You no longer need several years. The right coach, as well as the right transfers, can quickly turn a program’s fortunes around.
These are five distinct examples of this to point out, and perhaps less patience for coaches who don’t start winning immediately. Just another way to see how the transfer portal is changing in college basketball.
With each victory, Iona enters new territory: a MAAC program with NCAA tournament chances as a whole. As long as Rick Pitino and the Gaels stay perfect in MAAC action, that remains a possibility.
Iona has a strong NET rating (56), holds a major win over Alabama, and is 3-3 in Quad Games 1 and 2. On Tuesday, he won what will likely be his toughest conference game. of the year, at Monmouth in overtime, and went on to knock out Quinnipiac on Sunday. According to Bracket Matrix, which averages 89 Bracketology showings, Iona would be a 12 seed if the season ended today.
Ultimately, I don’t see that happening, because it’s hard to go an entire league season undefeated — that’s never happened in conference history before — and I also expect what Iona wins the MAAC tournament, anyway. But it wouldn’t be wise to doubt Pitino either. He coached 21 MAAC games and won 18.
Beast from the East
Villanova lost at home this week and it was no surprise. It’s not a blow for the 11th-ranked Wildcats. That’s credit to depth in the upper half of the Big East. It’s the best since the new conference was formed nine years ago. Marquette, which knocked out Jay Wright’s team at Villanova on Wednesday, is the hottest team in the league with six straight wins. Xavier, Providence, Seton Hall and UConn are all great. Creighton is young, but capable and on the bubble. It looks like a seven-candidate league. But more importantly, the conference in its current form has the potential to advance three or more teams into the second weekend for the first time.
Game of the week
No. 3 Arizona at No. 9 UCLA, Tuesday, 11 p.m.
Put your kids to bed and make your coffee. It’ll be late at night, but it’s worth seeing two Final Four contenders meet for the first time this season. UCLA was expected to be ranked as well after firing its entire team from its Final Four. Arizona is the big surprise – it was unranked in the preseason – with just one loss, at Tennessee, under new coach Tommy Lloyd. It’s worth staying awake just to watch NBA prospects Ben Mathurin and Johnny Juzang square off.
A prediction of the top four NCAA Tournament seeds (listed in order):
1: Auburn, Gonzaga, Baylor, Kansas
2: Duke, Purdue, LSU, Villanova
3: Houston, Arizona, State of Michigan, Wisconsin
4: Texas Tech, UCLA, Kentucky, Alabama
Top: Bob McKillop
At 71, the man can still train. The Queens native has one of his best teams this year, a legitimate contender for an overall offer as the Atlantic’s top 10 team. Seeking to reach his first NCAA Tournament in four years, Davidson has a NET ranking of 39, a 3-2 mark against Quad teams 1 and 2, and beat the SEC powerhouse Alabama. McKillop did so despite losing top player Kellan Grady to Kentucky and developing South Korean winger Hyunjung Lee into a potential NBA draft pick.
It’s not the same team that has folded in recent years, that couldn’t take a beating, that would be pushed around in the big moments. It proved much more difficult under new coach Mike Woodson, who was able to react in difficult situations. Thursday’s home win over Purdue, despite star Trayce Jackson-Davis’ season-high four points, was the latest example. The Hoosiers are good for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six seasons despite Sunday’s home loss to a Michigan team that was expected to be eliminated.
Bottom: Mike Anderson
Anderson outperformed his first two seasons at Queens, making the most of disappointing lineups. He was the Big East Coach of the Year last season after finishing fourth. This winter he has clearly underperformed despite the return of junior star Julian Champagnie. Due to be an NCAA Tournament team, St. John’s doesn’t even have an NIT resume. It’s 0-6 in Quad 1 games. Attendance is down and frustration is up. Anderson’s record of never losing a year in 19 seasons as a head coach is in jeopardy.
It’s going to be weird going into March without Syracuse in the NCAA tournament bubble. Even if the Orange get hot, and there’s no indication that will happen, the sad state of the ACC doesn’t give them enough opportunities to get into the mix. The loss of transfers Quincy Guerrier (Oregon) and Kadary Richmond (Seton Hall) paralyzed this unsportsmanlike team. Syracuse, with a 9-10 record, could suffer its first losing season since 1968-69.