Which Big Ten Coach Faces the Most Pressure This Season?Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 5th, 2012
College basketball coaches are consistently under the microscope throughout the year. Talent on paper does not always translate to wins and when it doesn’t, the fans demand an explanation. The Big Ten has five teams ranked in the preseason Top 25 but the entire league from top to bottom is considered by many as the best in the nation. The joy of looking good on paper will only last a few more days for each team because once the season tips off, the coaches in the conference will have to answer pointed questions about team chemistry, injuries and player rotations. Every coach feels pressure, but the following are five coaches from the Big Ten who need to show results and have to meet fairly high expectations this season. Any issues on or off the court will be heavily scrutinized and they will feel the pressure for different reasons throughout the season.
- Tubby Smith: Even though Smith’s contract was extended through the 2016-17 season over the summer, his job security is not guaranteed after recent issues off the court with Trevor Mbakwe and Saul Smith. Even though Smith can’t be blamed directly for Mbakwe’s legal troubles, his son’s DWI is a bad mark on his ability to control the program. Minnesota’s athletic director has to be concerned with the negative press that the program has received over the past few months. Keep in mind that this program went through a period of probation from violations committed under former head coach Clem Haskins in the late ‘90s. It took years to recover from those penalties and Smith was brought in to lead the Gopher program back to relevance. Even though he has been able to recruit quality talent to Minneapolis, he has not been able to compile much consistency during his tenure. The injury bug has bitten his teams over the years but certain players did not mesh with the program and Smith has not been able to implement the proper amount of discipline to foster good team chemistry. Both Royce White and Devoe Joseph were expected to contribute for a couple of seasons but they left the program on a bitter note. At some point, Smith needs to have a season where he wins 24 games, competes for the conference title, and make a serious run to reach for the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. He has a talented squad this year and if his team continues to find turmoil and not make the postseason, he might be in trouble.
- Bill Carmody: This should not be a surprising name for Big Ten fans. Any coach that hasn’t led a Big Ten program to the NCAA Tournament in 12 seasons at the helm will need to worry about his job security. Despite the fact that Northwestern basketball has improved tremendously since his arrival in Evanston, Carmody needs to break through to make the NCAA Tournament. His team may not make it this season because of all the talent within the league, but he needs to win 18 or 19 games and remain relevant. Everyone understands that he has to replace John Shurna and does not have experienced big men (Alex Olah and Chier Ajou), but there is still enough talent on the Wildcats to win between 7-9 games in the Big Ten and at least be considered as a bubble team through early March. Drew Crawford and Jared Swopshire will be a great duo and that gives them a chance to stay competitive for a bid in Evanston. Expect Carmody’s seat to get warmer if the Wildcats end up in another slump and manage to win only 15-16 games.
- John Groce: A first year coach has nothing to worry about, right? Groce’s counterpart in Champaign, head football coach Tim Beckman, is not having a pleasant time nowadays. Beckman’s Illini are 2-7 and even though he is not on the hot seat, his coaching abilities are consistently being questioned during a poor conference season. Illini fans don’t expect Groce to lead them back to the NCAA Tournament in his first season, but they want to see some fireworks on the court. They expect Groce to implement an up-tempo offensive system that will result in a more exciting brand of basketball than what they endured during the Bruce Weber days. But the drastic change in the offense could backfire for Groce because it will take some time for the players to adjust. Brandon Paul and D.J.Richardson have the talent, but one of them might struggle during certain stretches of the game. The Illini has other athletic guards like Joseph Bertrand as well, but Groce has already admitted that he doesn’t have enough guards who are comfortable handling the ball, a skill that his system demands. Otherwise the Illini could lead the league in turnovers trying to run his system and finish the conference season with a losing record. If Illinois doesn’t rack up around 16 wins this season, Groce will have some explaining to do in 2013.
- John Beilein: The analytical junkies of the hoops world such as Dan Hanner of Basketball Prospectus have been vocal about the Wolverines as overrated according to their models. Beilein fields a talented team on the court but there are still some skeptics about his coaching abilities. Michigan’s top five ranking in the preseason indicates a potential Final Four team and anything short of an Elite Eight or a top tier finish in the Big Ten will be considered a sub-par season. Beilein has recruited quality talent and will continue to bring in top 30 classes but he needs to prove that he can manage them on the court. His biggest challenge will be rotating freshman guard Glenn Robinson III into the lineup while keeping Tim Hardaway Jr. effective. Without senior leadership around (Stu Douglass and Zach Novak have graduated), he needs to establish the roles on his talented squad immediately. Beilein has proven that he can build a strong program but the question remains as to whether he can lead the Wolverines to the next level. There will be rumblings in Ann Arbor about his leadership if Michigan does not win at least 13 games in the Big Ten season bows out early again in the postseason.
- Tom Crean: No, Tom Crean is not on the hot seat. But Hoosier fans (and the rest of the country!) have set the bar very high for Crean this season. Anything short of a Final Four for a consensus top-three squad will be considered a disappointment, especially if IU remains healthy for the whole season. The word “loaded” doesn’t even begin to describe the depth on the Hoosiers but there are certain glaring holes that Crean needs to fill in quickly, especially on defense. He needs to establish Zeller as the primary offensive option and convince the wings that they should feed off of Zeller’s play in the post. The offense needs to work from the inside to the wing and the perimeter players such as Victor Oladipo need to commit to defense. Indiana’s weaknesses have been well-documented already but if Crean does not make the necessary adjustments this year, fans will expect some sort of justification. Does Crean deserve to be questioned after singlehandedly bringing Indiana back to national relevance over the past five years? Not necessarily, but he knew the culture in the Hoosier State when he took the job.