Monday, April 16, 2007

Early Entry, Coaching Changes

-As of Sunday Night, Greg Oden had yet to enter the NBA draft. Oden’s father said he will enter the draft, but Mike Conley’s father said Oden is still deciding.

I was trying to think of a dramatic reason why Oden would be delaying his decision. For example, if this was the NFL, you could imagine Oden using the option of returning to college as leverage to get a higher contract offer from the team with the first draft pick. But, there are many problems with this theory. First, the April 29th early entry date is before the draft lottery on May 22nd, so Oden will not know which team has the first draft pick when he makes his decision. (Of course, Oden could always threaten to pull out of the draft on June 18th, but that would not explain why he is waiting so long now.) Second, since the NBA has a set salary scale for rookies, unless he can somehow find a loophole in the collective bargaining agreement, there will not be anything to leverage.

-I criticized for publishing a preseason Top 25 the day after the Final Four, and they have an update now. I like the concept of an evolving Top 25 better, but I still would not dare publish until after the NBA withdrawal date on June 18th. That’s because a lot of players are going to declare for the draft, not hire an agent, and not make their final decision until June. As a Georgetown fan, I fully expected both Green and Hibbert to declare for the draft. The key question is whether or not they will STAY in the draft. They might, especially if we trust ESPN’s silly lottery simulator. (If you’ve clicked more than eight times, you may have a problem.)

-Looking at the list of early entrants, I'm a little amazed at the two Oregon St. players. Marcel Jones scored 15 points a game, but he needed a lot of shots to do it. His offensive rating was only 95.6. That's not good. Meanwhile, his teammate Cuic was just added to the list and he's an even bigger shock. Cuic is a classic 6'10" European who loves to shoot from the outside, but he is such a terrible rebounder that he won't be able to help any NBA team right away.

These early lists can never really hold up so I'm going to hold off on my speculation for now. But, something funny is going on at Oregon St. Not only are two players declaring for the draft, three more of Oregon St.'s European players are transferring. That can't be a good sign after I ranked Oregon St.'s Jay John as the worst high school recruiter at a BCS school Friday. Oregon St. fans may be wondering if it is too late to add another chain to the following list.

Coaching Changes
Now that I’ve spent forever developing a numeric system, I decided to comment on all the major coaching chains from this year. If you’d like to see the best and worst coaches of the past 5 years, you can go back and read my columns from Thursday and Friday. Also, tomorrow I’ll list each coach again broken down by BCS conference.

Chain 1
Dan Monson to Long Beach St.
Tubby Smith to Minnesota
Billy Gillispie to Kentucky
Mark Turgeon to Texas A&M
Gregg Marshall to Wichita St.
Randy Peele promoted to head coach at Winthrop

Long Beach St. (D)
First Long Beach St. decided not to renew the contract of Larry Reynolds, only to see him lead his team to the NCAA tournament. Then, the school decided to hire Dan Monson. As I indicated last Thursday (see Bottom 20), Dan Monson was one of the 5 worst coaches over the last 5 years at getting NCAA wins out of his talent. He had two McDonald’s All-Americans (Rickert, Humphries), and yet only managed an NCAA appearance after they left the program. Monson did better at teaching less talented teams, so maybe the return to a smaller West Coast program will suit him well. Still, I think Monson gets too much credit for putting Gonzaga on the map. He was only head coach for 3 years. I think Mark Few deserves much more credit for raising Gonzaga to major-status while developing less-recruited players like Adam Morrison into stars.

Minnesota (A)
Some may question whether or not Tubby Smith can win at Minnesota, but for a program near the bottom of the Big Ten this clearly was a home run as discussed previously. Minnesota’s program is currently low on talent, so Minnesota hopes that some of Tubby Smith’s recruiting success at Kentucky will follow him to Minnesota. But even if he does not recruit elite level talent, Tubby Smith still ranked 24th on my list of coaches at developing talent. Tubby Smith should still be able to get Minnesota into the tournament by simply recruiting locally.

Kentucky (B)
Gillispie was a top assistant for Bill Self, he led UTEP to the tournament, and then he built Texas A&M’s program up from scratch. There’s a good chance he will be the best hire of the year, but he rates a B because he is not the established star (Billy Donovan) that Kentucky fans initially wanted. While Donovan was one of the Top 5 recruiters in the country on his own, Gillispie has never successfully recruited a McDonald’s All-American as head coach. But his own recruiting history shouldn’t matter, because he’s taking over arguably the most-storied program in NCAA history. If Gillispie can recruit good players to UTEP and A&M he should have no problem recruiting elite players to Kentucky, or so Kentucky fans hope. Gillispie also doesn’t rate very highly on my player development scale, but that’s because he’s yet to have a deep NCAA tournament run. And, while Billy Donovan rates as an all-around better coach right now, Gillispie clearly has his best years ahead of him.

Texas A&M (B)
In many ways, Mark Turgeon is the perfect hire for Texas A&M. He was able to develop players at Wichita St. and his team reached the Sweet Sixteen in 2006. He won a ton of non-conference games that helped raise the MVC to an elite level. In fact, had he not been one of the “last teams out” on multiple occasions, he would have easily been on my list of the top 30 coaches. My only concern is that his teams had late-season collapses twice in recent seasons, which could be a problem if it carries over to A&M. There are few easy Big 12 games in February and March, but if he can solve the late regular season riddle, there is no reason he cannot continue what Billy Gillispie built.

Wichita St. (A)
Gregg Marshall is one of my favorite hires. While the major programs shied away from someone from the Big South, Wichita St. saw a coach who earned multiple tournament bids and an NCAA tournament victory with Big South talent. Wichita St. has always been willing to spend money on good coaches, and they found one of the fastest rising stars and someone I ranked as one of the top 10 non-BCS coaches over the last 5 years.

Chain 2
Ritchie McKay to Liberty
Steve Alford to New Mexico
Todd Lickliter to Iowa
Brad Stevens promoted to head coach at Butler

Liberty (C)
For a non-BCS school, Ritchie McKay had a lot of resources at New Mexico. He even recruited multiple top 100 recruits. But after two non-winning seasons, he was shown the door. His name recognition better have some value outside New Mexico for this to work out for Liberty.

New Mexico (C)
Even ignoring off court issues (See Pierre Pierce), Steve Alford made my list of the top 20 worst coaches over the last 5 years. Every year his team seemed to lose games it should not lose. Some years he lost non-conference games to the other Iowa schools that kept Iowa out of the tournament. And in the best year (2006), his team lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament to a 14 seed. His recruiting even went downhill at Iowa. While his 2000-2002 recruiting classes were great, the 2003-2005 classes did not have a single Top 100 recruit. And when Horner and Brunner graduated, you could just tell he wanted out of Iowa. His dream Indiana job gone, he takes the job at New Mexico. I only give him the benefit of the doubt here because he managed to leave Iowa with a good reputation. People still remember his 2006 Big Ten Tournament crown and given the good resources at New Mexico, he should be able to bring players rated in the Top 100 back to the Pit. If he doesn’t squander his occasional NCAA appearances, he might even get a good rating again on my list.

Iowa (A)
At Butler, Todd Lickliter developed a team that beat the top non-conference competition and earned a high tournament seed. He also had two Sweet Sixteen runs in the last 5 years which earned him the ranking as the 14th best coach in my player development rankings. It might be possible to make an argument that someone like Chris Lowery would have been a better choice, but Lickliter has been around longer. Lickliter made the Sweet Sixteen with both inherited talent, and talent he personally recruited. If he can come anywhere near Alford’s early recruiting success, he clearly has the fundamentals to win at Iowa.

Chain 3
Tommy Amaker to Harvard
John Beilein to Michigan
Bob Huggins to West Virginia
Frank Martin promoted to head coach at Kansas St.

Harvard (F)
What was Harvard thinking? Amaker’s best skill at Michigan was his ability to recruit. But given Harvard’s academic situation, recruiting will be secondary. Instead, the coach I rated as the second worst coach at developing talent over the last 5 years will be asked to do more with less. I really don’t get it. If Amaker could not once make the tournament with Harris, Sims, and Petway, how will he ever make the tournament at Harvard?

Michigan (A)
According to my rankings, John Beilein was the 6th worst recruiter at a BCS school and yet one of the most successful because of his offensive system and player development. I have him rated as the 15th best coach at player development, in large part because he has been the 6th best tournament coach over the last 5 years. Michigan believes his recruiting failure was due to the limitations in the state of West Virginia and that is probably a good assumption. If he has better shooters and more athletic cutters in his offensive system at Michigan, his teams might become an even bigger force.

West Virginia (B)
The numbers say that over the last 3 years at Cincinnati, Huggins was a good regular season coach and poor tournament coach. But those are not the numbers I would care about if I was the athletic director at West Virginia. Instead I would be concerned about the number zero. That’s the number of players Huggins graduated at Cincinnati. True, he’ll probably recruit a few one-and-done NBA early entrants to Morgantown, and he is also making a return to his roots in West Virginia, but I can’t imagine that many people feel comfortable with this hire, especially the fans in Manhattan, Kansas.

Chain 4
Stan Heath to South Florida
John Pelphrey to Arkansas

South Florida (A)
South Florida is struggling to maintain respectability in the new Big East. Stan Heath was a good recruiter at Arkansas and he will start to bring BCS level talent to the school. They may not win NCAA tournament games for awhile, but at least they will not be a laughing stock in a few years.

Arkansas (D)
Let’s cut to the chase here. What was Arkansas thinking? Yes Stan Heath did make my list of the 20 worst coaches of the past 5 years, but just barely. Plus, he had turned into a pretty darn good recruiter for Arkansas. He clearly deserved more time, and Arkansas suffered the consequences when it missed out on some established talented coaches. While Dana Altman’s track record at developing talent would have made him an instant winner at Arkansas, John Pelphrey is a roll of the dice. He may turn out to be a great hire, but he is more the type of person that I would have expected Wichita St. to hire, not Arkansas.

Chain 5
Ricardo Patton to Northern Illinois
Jeff Bzdelik to Colorado

Northern Iliniois (D)
The last two years, Colorado really had bottom-of-the-barrel talent. Patton lost the confidence of the administration and as a lame-duck coach, there was not much he could do to turn things around. After falling to 301st in the RPI, Northern Illinois needed a veteran coach to instill fundamental basketball to its players. That’s my assumption about this hire, but this move is still quite a mystery to me. Maybe there is some rule that all BCS coaches get a job somewhere.

Colorado (B)
With NBA experience, and two years of success at Air Force, that was enough for Colorado to hire Jeff Bzdelik. Air Force faces extreme recruiting constraints, so all of Air Force’s success can be traced to the terrific system run by its last three coaches. (Yes, Air Force has actually had 3 different coaches in the last 4 years and they are about to get a 4th different coach.) In the short run, Colorado should get a boost from the unique style of play Bzdelik will bring. In the long-run, if he can turn his NBA connections into any recruiting clout, Colorado might actually be a contender again.

Overall, this actually turned out to be a quiet year for coaching changes, but as I will show tomorrow in the conclusion of this series, the big winner was the Big 10 which added 3 coaches with a combined 27 NCAA appearances and wins over the past 3 years.