Jasick, Brennan, Rice & Ross: Four Outstanding O26 Coaching Jobs This SeasonPosted by Tommy Lemoine on February 7th, 2014
As great as the Steve Fishers and Gregg Marshalls and Jim Crews of the world are — and they’re pretty darn great — several other O26 coaches have also achieved remarkable success so far in 2013-14, often with less to work with and more to prove. Let’s examine a few of those head coaches around the country who have stood out to this point despite leading lesser-known programs.
Tony Jasick – IPFW. At 18-7, Jasick’s team has already tied IPFW’s highest win total since it joined the Division I ranks 13 years ago, vastly exceeding expectations along the way. The Mastadons were picked to finish sixth out of eight teams in the Summit League preseason poll, making their current 6-2 conference record — enough to be tied for first place — quite a surprise, especially considering that they’ve already beaten the next three top contenders. In its win against overwhelming league-favorite North Dakota State, IPFW went 20-of-21 from the free throw line and committed just 11 fouls en route to a double-figure victory. It took Dayton some last-second heroics at home to beat Jasick’s club, and after falling to Illinois by just two points in late November, Illini head coach John Groce said of the Mastadons: “I thought they were going to be the best execution team that we have played so far. And they were.” Only 35 years old and in just his third year, Jasick could very well lead his program to its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance this season and is sure to become a hot coaching name in the near future.
Mike Brennan – American. When former head man Jeff Jones left for Old Dominion last April, Brennan took over an American team with minimal returning experience that was fresh off of a 10-20 campaign and would have to adapt to a newly-implemented Princeton offense. Needless to say, expectations were low entering 2013-14. But forget the expectations, forget the inexperience, and forget about Brennan’s team rolling over in the Patriot League this season: At 10-1, the Eagles are atop the conference standings and look every bit as good as their record suggests, boasting the best two-point field goald percentage in the entire country and already notching road wins over Bucknell, Holy Cross and Lehigh. And although Brennan’s squad stumbled on Wednesday night against Loyola (MD), at this point it would take a monumental collapse for it to finish any worse than third or fourth. With the former Georgetown assistant roaming the sidelines, it seems just as likely that American will win its first league title since 2009.
King Rice – Monmouth. All hail King Rice. Even with a 10-13 record, it’s hard to overstate just how great a job the third-year coach has done at Monmouth this season. His Hawks entered the year ranked 334th in KenPom, 336th in experience — meaning they are crazy young — and were picked dead last in the MAAC, their new, more challenging league. In fact, while every other school in the conference received at least 35 points in the preseason poll (points are derived from non-last place votes), Monmouth tallied a mere 14. So, with everything stacked against it, how has King’s team fared up to this point? Much better than anticipated. The Hawks are 4-8 in league play and recently defeated the MAAC’s top team, Canisius, thanks to an incredible rally in the closing seconds. Combine that with a much-improved defense and several other unexpected results, like a 15-point road win at St. Francis (NY) (which beat Miami (FL) in November — transitive property, anyone?), and voila — Monmouth is ranked almost 100 spots higher in KenPom than where it started and is now a long-shot to finish last in the conference. Rice could garner more than a few MAAC Coach of the Year votes depending on how his team closes out the season.
Monté Ross – Delaware. First, star shooting guard Devon Saddler was suspended in November and forced to miss seven games during meat of the non-conference schedule; then, last week, the school announced the month-long suspensions of starting point guard Jarvis Threatt and forward Marvin King-Davis. As a result, Delaware has been full-strength for just 14 of its 25 games this season — what should normally amount to an enormous problem for a fast-paced team with a thin bench. But you wouldn’t think so by looking at the Blue Hens’ record. Despite the key suspensions, Ross has somehow managed to hold things together and lead his bunch to a 10-0 conference record and a likely CAA regular season championship. The Hens just keep humming along (albeit with some recent dramatic finishes), averaging 72.8 possessions a game and scoring points with ease. It’s been exemplary coaching, less because of Ross’ situational X’s-and-O’s or mixing-and-matching of lineups, and more because of his ability to maintain belief amid turmoil. He has also done an exceptional job unifying a lineup comprised of several score-first guys, getting them to play as an unselfish, cohesive group each night. This is especially important considering that Saddler — who averages 21 points per game — has needed to play surrogate point guard in place of Threatt, meaning his scoring focus has taken a backseat to running the team. The more Delaware continues to win, the more credit Ross deserves for the success.