It’s not easy taking over a slumping program in a conference that just added three perennial Top 25 programs. It’s even harder when you can’t start until April and you lose your two of your three best players before you even take the job. That’s where Jim Christian stands a little over six months after replacing Steve Donahue. Perhaps his most important battle, though, was won when Olivier Hanlan decided to stay in Chestnut Hill. Hanlan’s presence — along with a graduate transfer and a healthy center — are the only reason this is a burning question at all.
Jim Christian needs to change the culture in Chestnut Hill (photo credit: Ted Fitzgerald/Boston Herald)
Any look at Boston College this season has to start with Christian, a former coach at Kent State, TCU and then Ohio before coming to Chestnut Hill. He built a solid MAC program at Kent State, improving nearly every year while he was there. During his last year at TCU, he turned one of the worst programs in the country into a middling Mountain West team with a few solid wins (including one over Virginia). But there’s not much data from which to judge his time at Ohio, and he’s never coached in a major conference.
With the start of the ACC college basketball season rapidly approaching, allow us to put on our psychoanalyst’s hat to determine what’s on the mind of each of its 15 member programs right now. Some are of the optimistic variety, while others are fearful at what they see lying ahead. All of them, though, are hoping to contribute to discussions lauding the ACC as the nation’s preeminent college basketball conference this year. Let’s jump into each program alphabetically.
Boston College:Blind optimism. The reality is that the Eagles, even with an all-ACC caliber star in Olivier Hanlan, are likely one of the three worst teams in the conference. But there’s a new coach around in Jim Christian, and thanks to the usual roster turnover, few remaining pieces to recall the 8-24 debacle of a year ago. Buying in to a new coach and system may not be a problem, but production on the court will continue to be.
Clemson:Loss. That loss is a huge one, in the departure of NBA draft pick K.J. McDaniels, who was their best player on both sides of the ball last year and led the team in four statistical categories. A 10-win improvement from the year before earned Brad Brownell a six-year contract extension, but how will this team score enough to win even if it replicates its defensive success of a year ago?
Jim Christian hopes a clean slate and overhauled roster reverses BC’s fortunes (credit: bostonherald.com)
Duke:Motivation. Not just because of a stellar recruiting class that includes their first dominant center in some time in Jahlil Okafor and the overall potential to be in the mix for a championship. There’s also the internal motivation for Quinn Cook to keep a hold on the starting point guard role in light of the arrival of stud freshman Tyus Jones, and Rasheed Sulaimon’s motivation to show that an early-season slump last year (temporarily earning him a place in Coach K’s doghouse) was an aberration. Oh, and that first round NCAA Tournament loss to Mercer could light a fire of some sort, too.
The 2014-15 ACC college basketball season is roughly a month away, which means Midnight Madnesses, secret scrimmages and overseas exhibitions are either on the near horizon or recently concluded. With Louisville’s replacement of Maryland in the league this year, it should be another dynamic season of ACC basketball. To further elicit excitement for the upcoming year, here are a few of the offseason storylines that bear revisiting as we build up to the start of games in the middle of November.
Coach K dismisses idea that coaching Team USA helps with recruiting
Jim Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski Teamed Up to Win Another Gold Medal This Summer (Photo: Raleigh News & Observer / Getty Images)
Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski wrote a piece last month suggesting Coach K’s Duke teams benefit heavily from his status as the coach of Team USA, comprised of the best professional players in America. Krzyzewski dismissed this idea, pointing to all the great players he recruited before assuming the mantle of America’s team and citing the measured success he’s had in the college ranks since. His friend, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, came to his defense, pointedly remarking that the main dissenter of Krzyzewski’s side gig was Kentucky’s John Calipari. There’s no need to state how humorous a complaint about recruiting that comes from a guy running an NBA combine at his practices happens to be, but this idea is ludicrous to begin with. Duke is going to be good every year because they have a great coach and a program with great tradition, and if Krzyzewski’s coaching the U.S. Men’s National Team also provides him more face time in high school stars’ living rooms? Well, deservedly so.
Prior to the beginning of the college basketball season, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski infamously proclaimed that the ACC had the potential to be the greatest college basketball conference of all-time. That was a bold proclamation at the time, as we covered here, and with the 2013-14 season now drawing to a close, it’s become painfully apparent that the conference this year did nothing to stake such a claim. So the question then becomes, what does the ACC need to do in coming years to proudly proclaim itself the best basketball conference ever assembled? Here’s a road map for the league’s coaches and administrators.
Virginia’s ascendance will only help the ACC’s argument that it’s the premier basketball conference. (USA Today Sports)
The conference’s elite have to dominate the non-conference slate and enjoy copious postseason success. While there were a handful of marquee wins spread around prior to ACC play (North Carolina’s defeats of Michigan State, Kentucky, and Louisville; Duke’s defeat of Michigan; Syracuse handling Villanova), the league’s postseason results were anything but stellar. The conference managed to get six teams into the NCAA Tournament, but the upper tier didn’t produce much success when they got there. Duke lost in the opening round; North Carolina and Syracuse fell in the round of 32. Virginia, the regular-season and ACC Tournament champion, may have drawn a rough match-up in the Sweet Sixteen with Michigan State, but it could not advance (and UConn was able to handle the Spartans in the nexts round). The embarrassing result was that there was no ACC teams in the Elite Eight. These teams have to produce in postseason play in addition to their non-conference victories to help the perception of the conference return to an elite level.
After being rejected by Harvard coach Tommy Amaker and deciding against Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins (possibly the most sought-after assistant in the country), Boston College announced that they were hiring Ohio coach Jim Christianto replace Steve Donahue. Christian was 49-22 at Ohio after taking over for Jim Groce, who left for Illinois. The move is an interesting one is that despite his relative success in stops at Kent State, TCU, and Ohio, Christian has only made two NCAA Tournament appearances in twelve seasons and never got past the first round.
Few players have seen their NBA Draft stock drop as much as James Michael McAdoo during his three years at North Carolina. Coming in as a top-10 recruit, he was still a lottery pick, but decided to come back to school. Despite boosting his production significantly between his freshman and sophomore year, McAdoo returned to school yet again. Now after his junior year, McAdoo has finally decided to enter the NBA Draft. At this point, he is a mid- to late-second round pick. Financially it would have been better for McAdoo to enter after his freshman year and get at least one NBA contract, but in the end he probably would have ended up with the same fate: playing overseas.
T.J. Warren‘s NBA prospects are significantly brighter than McAdoo’s, but he has not decided on whether he will enter the Draft or not. According to Warren’s father, T.J. will probably make his announcement on Tuesday. Warren won ACC Player of the Year honors while leading the conference in scoring (24.9) and shooting (52.5%) and ranking in the top in steals and rebounds. Warren is a borderline lottery pick so at this point we would be surprised to see him return for another season in Raleigh, but stranger things have happened.
St. John’s has had a tough off-season so far. They already had JaKarr Sampson declare for the NBA Draft and now Chris Obekpa has decided to transfer. The 6’9″ sophomore might not be the college player that Sampson is, but he is a better NBA prospect because of his ability to block shots as he averaged 4 blocks per game as a freshman despite playing just 26 minutes per game. He saw his minutes and blocks drop this season, but still had a similar blocked shot percentage (15.7%) putting him among the best in the country. He is believed to be looking at Oregon and Baylor as potential transfer destinations.
It takes a special kind of stupid to get arrested twice in one day, but that is what (former) Missouri player Zach Price did yesterday. Price was arrested early yesterday morning after assaulting his roommate and his roommate’s girlfriend. Price was released a short time later and managed to get arrested yesterday afternoon although the details of that arrest remain unclear. Missouri had already suspended Price following his first arrest so we would not be surprised to see them dismiss him from the program in the near future.
Let’s cut right to the chase: Duke is #1 and Indiana #2. This may upset some, considering Indiana began the season as our #1 team, is a perfect 6-0 with a good win against Georgetown, has perhaps the best offensive attack in college basketball, and has shown little — if any — weakness. But, there is little denying Duke’s resume at this point (more on that after the jump). Two Big East squads—Georgetown and Cincinnati—made power moves up in the rankings after impressive weeks, while two other teams have plummeted right out of the Top 25—UCLA and Memphis. There wasn’t just movement at the top of the rankings, as five new teams have entered the Top 25 after strong showings during “Feast Week.”
Coaching changes are powerful developments. They can ignite struggling programs, send promising ones on a downward spiral, and have drastic implications (both good and bad) for the administrators who made them. Sometimes, a regime change preserves a middling trajectory established by the previous coach, in which case another switch is likely forthcoming. Otherwise, why hire a new coach in the first place? In any case, this offseason brought few radical coaching changes. That’s mostly because there weren’t many significant changes to be made – Illinois, Kansas State, LSU and South Carolina headlined the list. The average college basketball fan will find little intrigue in that selection. It doesn’t exactly project “excitement” or “allure.” Even so, the hires made are no doubt transformative endeavors for the programs that occasioned them. They wanted a change of direction, found a coach who shared that vision, matched vacancy with proscribed fit – and voila! Some of these new faces in new places will have a better chance of succeeding right away, and thus validating their new position. Missouri’s Frank Haith, one of the most widely criticized hires in years, personified the seamless transition. He made it work from the moment he arrived in Columbia. The next question is who has the best chance to do that this season. Trying to decipher which coaches can succeed right away requires keen insight, situational knowledge and a bit of guesswork. Because most changes are made to improve the previous coach’s way of running things, most new guys don’t inherit the best situations. Instead, they are hired to improve from the flaws of the previous regime. Anyway, in the interest of sparing you from a more drawn-out coaching hire lecture, here are three coaches poised to thrive in their new stomping grounds.
Ohio: Jim ChristianPrevious job: TCUReplacing: John Groce
The Bobcats are set to continue their recent success under Christian, who has plenty of experience in the MAC (photo credit: US Presswire).
Over the past half decade and change, we’ve come to know Ohio as the sporadic NCAA Tournament outfit you absolutely dread seeing your favorite team matched up with in a first-round setting. In 2010, they took down three-seed Georgetown. Last season, the Bobcats raised their Giant Killer profile to a whole new level, beating four-seed Michigan and 12-seed South Florida before dropping an overtime decision in the Sweet Sixteen to one-seed North Carolina. That’s the kind of run that puts your program on the map, and puts your coach squarely on the wish list of hiring programs across the country. It granted John Groce a move up the conference coaching ladder, into the rugged Big Ten, where he’ll attempt to use his up-tempo offense and Chicago recruiting ties to pump some life into a downward-trending Illinois. Losing Groce hurts, but his replacement is no less capable of continuing the Bobcats’ recent Tournament success. On its face, the hiring of Jim Christian is nothing to get excited about. A ho-hum four-year tenure at TCU preceded his newest position, where he compiled a 38-58 record and failed to generate the type of fundamental culture shift required to lift the Horned Frogs out of their current state. As credentials go, his tenure in Fort Worth hardly inspires confidence. But if you look beyond his recent history in the Mountain West, and delve into the breadth of his college hoops coaching career, the move to bring in Christian makes absolute sense.
Will Ohio Be Able to Reach the Sweet Sixteen Again? After an extremely successful season that ended in an overtime loss in the Sweet Sixteen against ACC power North Carolina, Ohio will look to make another deep NCAA Tournament run. The Bobcats have a lot of hype to live up to, as they return all of their significant contributors from a season ago, including standouts D.J. Cooper and Walter Offutt. Not all of the personnel returns from a season ago, however, with former head coach John Groce now at Illinois, but new head coach Jim Christian will look to keep momentum going.
Ohio’s D.J. Cooper Hopes To Follow One Head-Turning Season With Another. (AP Photo/T. Dejak)
Toledo’s Postseason Ban: Toledo has a very solid core intact from the 2011-12 season, so it’s a real shame that the Rockets won’t be able to qualify for postseason play due to its academic problems. Luckily for the Rockets, two of its best players (Rian Pearson and Julius Brown) are underclassmen, so they’ll still get a chance to win the MAC Tournament in future years, assuming they stay in school beyond the 2012-13 season.
East vs. West: Last season, the East had five teams finish with a winning record, whereas the West had a measly one. This clear imbalance within the MAC doesn’t have serious ramifications, as the conference tournament seeds are not based on division, but for the sake of self-respect, the West will hope to have a better season than it did last year.
No More Zeiglers: Winning games hasn’t been an easy task for Central Michigan these past two seasons, as its 12-20 conference record during that span indicates. It won’t be any easier this year after the firing of head coach Ernie Zeigler led to the transfer of his son and the Chippewas’ leading scorer Trey Zeigler to Pittsburgh. New head coach Keno Davis brings great experience to the program, but his first season on the job will likely be a rough one.
With his team taking a trip to Brazil in August, Kansas State head coach Bruce Weberisn’t wasting any time using the 10 additional practices the NCAA allows his program as a special exhibition exemption. As he attempts to replace the intensity of former coach Frank Martin, Weber’s players are getting after one another and learning how to deal with Weber and his staff. Dozens of teams in college basketball take international trips during the summer and gain extra practice time, but for a program with not a single member of the coaching staff returning from a year ago, it’s an essential way for Weber to indoctrinate himself as a Wildcat. And it can’t hurt that freshmen Darrell Johnson and Michael Orris get to learn the ropes of Division I basketball before ever stepping foot in a classroom for the fall semester, either.
You’ve heard the jokes and the criticism. TCU? Playing Big 12 basketball? Surely, that won’t end well, right? That’s why new coach Trent Johnson is making it his personal mission to rebuild the Horned Frogs and take advantage of the program’s step-up in competition. Johnson has a long road ahead of him at a school with little basketball tradition and almost no recent success, but previous head coach Jim Christian did actually make strides by leading his team to the postseason in 2011-12 and acting as a pesky spoiler in the Mountain West Conference.
The other newcomer to the Big 12 has a little less of an uphill climb. Hailing from the mighty Big East, West Virginia is no stranger to big-time college basketball (that’s not to say TCU isn’t after leaving the Mountain West– it’s just that the Big East is, well, the Big East). But while coach Bob Huggins is mostly excited about his program’s transition, he’s also a little wary about a few things. The travel, of course, could take a toll on his team, since it’ll need to make long flights to the Midwest for every road game. And Huggins is also disappointed to lose the New York City connection he had with the Big East. All in all, though, given a few years we’re sure Huggins will get over it.
A grand jury indicted Samuel Villeareal III last week (among others), which is important because he is accused of supplying some unnamed members of the 2010-11 Kansas basketball squad with marijuana. In all, 35 people were indicted in a major scandal that spanned seven years and involved more than 1,000 kilograms of pot. The state is using text messages from his iPhone to try to prove Villeareal’s connection to KU basketball. This mess might take a long time to sort out, but it’ll subtly loom over the Jayhawks until it concludes.
Jeff Withey is such an important part of this Kansas team next year that he’s even considering skipping a prestigious Adidas camp to instead compete with his teammates in a European exhibition tour. The Jayhawks will visit Switzerland and France this summer. Considering Withey has already played at both LeBron James’ and Amare’ Stoudamire’s camps this summer, we figure it’ll probably turn out OK if he’d rather ball with his teammates in Europe.
In a rather surprising move, Kansas State announced that it was hiring Bruce Weber to be its next head coach. Weber replaces Frank Martin who left the school earlier in the week to take over at South Carolina (technically that was more surprising than the Weber hire). Weber, who has a 313-155 record in stops at Southern Illinois and Illinois, reached the national championship game at Illinois in 2005, but was criticized by Illini fans for having done so with Bill Self’s recruits and then failing to land many of the top recruits out of Illinois. Now he will be tasked with running a program that Martin revitalized and will also have to deal with a familiar foe in-state: Bill Self.
Less than a month after getting fired from Tulsa, Doug Wojcik has found a new head coaching position at Charleston. Wojcik, who went 140-92 at Tulsa in seven seasons, replaces Bobby Cremins, who retired due to health issues. Interestingly, Wojcik was fired in large part because of his inability to make the NCAA Tournament, but he takes over a program where Cremins was widely praised despite his inability to get his team to the NCAA Tournament. Will Charleston be as forgiving if Wojcik continues to fail to make the NCAA Tournament when he is at Charleston?
Mississippi State is taking another route to find its next head coach. Instead of hiring a retread the Bulldogs are going with Rick Ray, who has served as assistant at Indiana State, Purdue, and Clemson. Although Ray has not had any experience as a head coach he has experienced a good amount of success as an assistant and comes in with high praise based on the quotes we have seen. Some may view hiring someone without head coaching experience as a risky proposition and it is to some degree, but we would rather see a program do that than hire someone with a track record of mediocrity as a head coach.
Like Wojcik, Jim Baron did not have to wait long after being fired to find another job. The former Rhode Island coach, who was fired after going 184-165 in 11 seasons, but went 7-24 this past season is set to be named as the next head coach at Canisius later this week. Even though we have been critical of teams hiring retreads (see above) this seems like it would be a decent hire for Canisius as Baron’s team had won 20 or more games in the past four seasons, which would be a huge turnaround from where Canisius has been recently.
In a sign that the times may be changing, Ohio is reportedly has taken Jim Christian away from TCU. Yes, a (soon to be) Big XII school might be losing a coach to a MAC school. Christian’s record at TCU (56-73) is not exactly inspiring, but he was very successful at Kent State, another MAC school, going 138-58 there including 10-5 against Ohio. The school has not released a statement on the topic, but is expected to introduce Christian on Tuesday so we suspect that an official announcement would come out some time later today.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.
Coming into the year, we thought we had a couple really good teams in New Mexico and UNLV, and six other teams with more questions marks than answers. Four months later, add San Diego State to the list of really good teams, but add the other five teams in the conference as, at a minimum, pretty good. Only Air Force and Boise State end the season with losing records, and each of those teams has risen up and played one of the top three tough at some point, with the Falcons even pulling off a win over San Diego State. There are four teams (so far) with 20 or more wins and it looks more and more like Colorado State, with home wins over each of the top three teams in the conference, will join them in the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile, Wyoming and TCU both remain strong candidates for NIT inclusion. All told, this was an excellent encore performance for a conference that was coming off their best season on the national stage, especially given the turmoil surrounding the Mountain West’s hits and misses in the conference realignment game. In short, despite a few bumps and bruises along the way, the MW is still alive and well. At least for now.
San Diego State 24-6 10-4
New Mexico 24-6 10-4
UNLV 25-7 9-5
Colorado State 19-10 8-6
TCU 17-13 7-7
Wyoming 20-10 6-8
Air Force 13-15 3-11
Boise State 13-16 3-11
Player of the Year. Drew Gordon, Senior, New Mexico. This was a tight race, with Gordon, UNLV’s Mike Moser and San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin all neck and neck at the finish line. But, I’ll always hold true to the theory that when in doubt, a tie goes to the senior. And I’ll still gladly make the argument that Gordon edges out the other two on his own merits as well. The one thing that all three players do well is rebound the ball, but Gordon is the best of the three. Franklin is more capable of creating his own shot than Gordon, but Gordon generally plays within himself and is more efficient offensively; likewise, while Moser has a perimeter jumper that is missing from Gordon’s game, it doesn’t go far enough to make up for the other advantages that the Lobo star has. And, defensively, Gordon is significantly more polished than either of his younger competitors. The race is very close, and in no way am I denigrating either Moser or Franklin. But likewise, I don’t want to take the easy way out and just call it a three-way tie. Call Gordon the better of equals.
Drew Gordon Earns Our MW Player Of The Year In A Close Race (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Coach of the Year. Steve Fisher, San Diego State. It has been a year of great coaching jobs in the Mountain West as well, but the race here is slightly less contentious. While we give Gordon the MW POY award by a nose, Fisher wins this by a full body length over guys like Jim Christian, Larry Shyatt, and Tim Miles. Christian and Shyatt took teams with basically the same personnel as last year and led a complete 180, while Miles took a team that lost three of its best players and has them a nose ahead of where they were last year. Meanwhile, Fisher took a team that lost its four leading scorers, including NBA First Round pick Kawhi Leonard, off a Sweet 16 team and led a ragtag bunch that included a undermanned frontline (Tim Shelton and his three knee surgeries, basketball novice Deshawn Stephens, and graduate transfer Garrett Green) to an unlikely Mountain West title. Along the way, he helped transform Chase Tapley from a role player into a team leader and a go-to scorer and Jamaal Franklin from a little-used reserve to a big-name player on the national scene. Oh, and then there’s the whole conference title and national top 25 ranking. That’s nice too.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.
A Look Back
A week ago, we were all but ready to hand New Mexico the regular season title and the #1 seed in the Mountain West tournament. Two road losses later, the Lobos have given back their two-game lead and with two conference games remaining on everybody’s schedule, we have five teams within two games of the first place. But, primarily, we are back to where we were after the first run through the conference: three teams (New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV) tied atop the conference standings, each looking like a good team, but none looking great.
Still, despite the tumult at the top of the conference, all three of those teams look like absolute locks to earn an invitation to the NCAA Tournament (and pretty good seeds at that). UNLV leads the way with an RPI of 11, while SDSU and UNM are among a bunch of MW teams with RPIs in the late 20s or early 30s. The big question in the conference revolves around the third of those teams, Colorado State, which sits ahead of the other two with an RPI of 27 (SDSU is at 28, UNM at 34).
However, a closer look at the Rams find them sitting squarely on the bubble. They have a couple really good wins over SDSU and UNM, but those two games are the entirety of their positives. Beyond that they have some middling wins over RPI 51-100 teams and an unfortunate last second loss to Boise State (RPI 166) dragging them down. However, compare them to say, BYU, South Florida, Washington, or Arizona – all teams with whom the Rams are ostensibly competing for a spot, and CSU’s got a slightly better set of numbers going for them. See below, where we compare CSU to other bubble teams in record, RPI, strength of schedule, and record against various subsets of the RPI (with the best numbers in each column in bold). In RPI and SOS, the Rams have clearly better numbers than anybody else on this list, while their record against top-50 RPI teams is behind only Dayton and Saint Joseph’s here.
vs. RPI 1-25
vs. RPI 1-50
vs. RPI +100
As for TCU, the team that is almost the hottest team in the conference, having won four of five including wins over Colorado State, UNLV and New Mexico, with only a last-second loss to Boise State as a recent blemish … they’re a good story, but even with four wins against top-50 RPI teams, they need to win the Mountain West Tournament to have a chance to go dancing.
Team of the Week
TCU – As mentioned above, the Horned Frogs are 4-1 in their last five games, with only a heartbreaking last-second loss to Boise State a week ago as a strike against them. This week, Jim Christian’s club went to Colorado Springs and, using an Amric Fields three-pointer with 18 seconds left, knocked off Air Force at Clune Arena. They followed that up by welcoming New Mexico into Fort Worth on Saturday and outfighting and outshooting the Lobos. Six different Frogs hit three-pointers, J.R. Cadot outworked Drew Gordon on the offensive glass and Hank Thorns dished out nine assists as TCU battled New Mexico to a draw on the boards and outgunned them from the field (they had a true shooting percentage of 63.1%). As a result, TCU sits just a game back of the three leaders in the conference and with a visit from SDSU scheduled for Saturday, they have a fighting chance of moving up the leaderboard even further.
Player of the Week
Jamaal Franklin, Sophomore, San Diego State – With apologies to TCU’s J.R. Cadot (15.5 PPG, 11.5 RPG), we are going to reward Franklin for his transcendent game while willing his Aztecs over CSU on Saturday night. In that game, Franklin went off for 31 points and 16 rebounds (the latter a new career high, the former tying a career high) and scored 13 of his team’s last 16 points, including going 8-of-8 from the free-throw line after the final media timeout. Coupled with a solid game earlier in the week when coming back from an ankle injury against Wyoming, Franklin, who averaged 21.5 points and 10.5 rebounds, earned the honor.