Over fifty head coaching changes have occurred during this offseason in NCAA Division I hoops. That means that some fifteen percent of teams will be under new leadership when officially opening practice next October. While fifty-plus stories cannot be told in this space, there are a few jobs that will be watched with intense scrutiny and/or extreme curiosity as we head into the summer and approach the 2006-2007 season. Here is a look at some of the most intriguing of the bunch.
Bob Huggins, Kansas State
Without a doubt, the happenings in Manhattan, Kansas, will be a major story line this season. Bob Huggins can win. There has never been any doubt about that. He ended his tenure in Cincinnati with 14 straight trips to the NCAA Tournament. It was the off-the-court issues like a DUI, numerous player run-ins with the law, and Cincy's oft-maligned graduation rates that ultimately cooked Huggins' goose in the 'Nati. What Huggins has at Kansas State is a fresh start with a team returning four starters, including 2nd-Team All-Big XII center Cartier Martin. The Wildcats' return 90% of their scoring and just over 75% of their rebounding. Huggins also has landed a couple of nice recruits.
Herb Sendek, Arizona State
Most of the college basketball world is wondering what NC State was thinking by forcing Sendek out the door. Their loss appears to be the Sun Devils' gain. Sendek's teams play fundamentally solid basketball. They like a slower pace, an efficient offense, and a solid defense. Historically, the flash value does not come as part of the package, but the wins do. This should be a nice change of pace for Sendek coming out of the pressure cooker in Raleigh. The Sun Devils return everyone except part-time starter Tyrone Jackson.
Sidney Lowe, NC State
How patient will Wolfpack fans be with Lowe? It will be interesting to see if they are willing to give one of their own a little more leeway than Sendek was granted. The Pack loses Cam Bennerman, Ilian Evtimov, and Tony Bethel, but returns some good young players, too. However, with Duke, North Carolina, Boston College, Maryland and Georgia Tech all expecting good seasons, NC State will have their work cut out for them.
Kelvin Sampson, Indiana
This seems like such an odd hire. Kelvin Sampson has been quite successful at Oklahoma, but in the wake of the recent questions regarding illegal phone calls and Hoosier fans pining for Steve Alford, it just seems weird. That does not mean that Sampson will not get the job done. He restored Oklahoma to a perennial NCAA Tournament team and has been to a Final Four. But, Hoosier nation is divided on the hire and Sampson has had some underachieving teams in the last couple of years. This one, along with Huggins at K-State, has the most soap opera potential.
Mike Davis, UAB
Davis is a native Alabaman who won the state's Mr. Basketball in 1979 and played at Alabama under Wimp Sanderson. He is coming home into a situation with lowered expectations. The Blazers lost the core of their recently successful teams as dynamo PG Squeaky Johnson, sharpshooting G Marvett McDonald, and F Demario Eddins are all out of eligibility. Robert Vaden is transferring to UAB and will be eligible in '07-'08. This looks to be a match made in heaven, but it will take time.
Fran Dunphy, Temple
This appears to be another good fit. Dunphy played for LaSalle (they were 23-1 his junior year), had been the coach at Penn for 17 years (10 league titles), and now heads to Temple to take over for another Big 5 mainstay in John Chaney. Dunphy is steeped in Big Five-iness and Temple is in need of resurrection. They lost do-it-all senior PG Mardy Collins and G Atywane Robinson from this year's club, but have a solid nucleus returning in Dustin Salisbury, Mark Tyndale, and big center Wayne Marshall.
Bobby Gonzalez, Seton Hall
Louis Orr got this team to the NCAA Tourney, but it was not enough to save his job. The Pirates went out and got Manhattan coach Bobby Gonzalez, who was courted by Big Six schools on a yearly basis. The Pirates lost their two biggest guns this year in Donald Copeland and Kelly Whitney. They will be hard pressed to repeat last year's success in year one of the Gonzalez era, but the new coach is highly respected and had a great seven-year run at Manhattan, including four 20-win seasons and two NCAA Tournament trips.
Andy Kennedy, Mississippi
I am sure that Cincinnati had their reasons for not retaining Andy Kennedy. The most obvious might be his connection to former coach Bob Huggins. But, UC then hired former Huggins assistant and Murray State head coach Mick Cronin in his place. If UC was looking to go a different direction, why did they hire Cronin? That said, Kennedy inherits a Mississippi team that has not been very good for a long while. The Rebels finished 1-13 in their final 14 games last season, sealing the fate of former head coach Rod Barnes. That marked their fourth straight season under .500. They were a bad team last year and they lost a good bit. This situation calls for patience, but there is good buzz about Kennedy's signees.
Mike Anderson, Missouri
At UAB, Anderson's program marketed itself as "The Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball." When the Blazers had their way, it was almost believable. Statistically, there are several teams that played a faster pace, but few teams set out to run with UAB. The pushed the ball down the floor as quickly as anyone. Missouri is in need of an excitement infusion. The constant drama that surrounded Quin Snyder's tenure sapped the momentum of the Tiger program. Anderson's style will be a shot of energy for the Mizzou faithful. The Tigers lost Jimmy McKinney and Kevin Young, but they do return leading scorer Thomas Gardner, along with promising F Marshall Brown. The Tigers were 12-16 last year, so fans should be able to enjoy the games without a ton of expectations attached to this transitioning team.
There are many other coaching changes that will affect the college basketball landscape, but these will likely be the most watched and most carefully scrutinized new coaches. Enjoy the offseason and take heart; Midnight Madness is just over five months away.