Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (collapsible furniture sold separately in Morgantown, for easier burning after blown leads):
FIRST HALF: IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR … COACHING HOT SEATS TO WATCH
Andy Kennedy got the coaching carousel started in earnest last week when he resigned at Mississippi. What was going to be effective at season’s end has been accelerated to immediately after the Rebels responded to this news with two more lackluster losses and slid into the Southeastern Conference basement.
Next come the bigger jobs, and there are at least seven in power conferences that seem likely to open in the coming weeks. The Minutes takes a look at those — followed by four more to watch.
Louisville (1). David Padgett has done well in a thankless position. The 32-year-old assistant was thrust into the interim head coaching position after the firing of Rick Pitino and most of his staff, cobbled together a staff of his own and has kept the ship afloat. But at 18-9 overall and 8-6 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, with four very losable games remaining in the regular season, Padgett certainly has not done enough yet to merit serious consideration as Pitino’s full-time successor.
How good is the job: Still very attractive, despite the looming threat of more sanctions. The industry grapevine has buzzed with names of established head coaches at successful programs who have at least a curiosity about the Louisville job. It will take a long-term contract and a lot of money, but one of the most profitable and tradition-steeped programs in the sport should be able to land a high-caliber new coach. That is, if the school’s unsettled leadership (interim president, interim athletic director) can pull it off.
Pittsburgh (2). He’s not even completed two seasons, but the Kevin Stallings Era is an unmitigated disaster. The Panthers are 8-20, 0-15 in the ACC, and 13 of those league losses are by a dozen points or more. If they don’t win at home Wednesday against Wake Forest, they will very likely go 0-18. Stallings did not inherit a flush situation, but it has gotten much, much worse on his watch. Pitt should bite the financial bullet, admit the mistake and move on.
How good is the job: Still a good one. ACC membership has its privileges, in terms of revenue and exposure and the annual chance for more than half the league to earn an NCAA bid. Yes, it’s also a very difficult league in which to win big, but Jamie Dixon was competitive for three seasons before evacuating. Pitt certainly can find an upgrade from Stallings.
Connecticut (3). Kevin Ollie has plummeted from national championship in 2014 to the very real possibility of a second consecutive losing record. The Huskies currently are 13-14 and 6-8 in the American Athletic Conference, with a high likelihood of at least two more losses in the remaining four regular-season games. UConn is 299th nationally in two-point field goal percentage and 301st in three-point percentage. The product has done nothing but diminish the past four seasons.
How good is the job: Tricky question. A program that won four national titles between 1999-2014 clearly has assets and tradition, but conference affiliation is an anchor of likely increasing weight in the coming years. When UConn left the basketball-centric Big East to chase football revenue and a failed bid for the ACC, it lost much of its cache. Still, this is not a place that should be bereft of quality candidates if the Huskies do move on from Ollie.
DePaul (4). The school’s retrograde hiring of Dave Leitao has produced predictable results — the Blue Demons are 28-61 during Leitao Part II, a miserable 8-42 in the Big East. The school opened a sparkly new arena this season in hopes of reconnecting with the city’s fan base, and while there has been an attendance bump (up about 900 per game from last season), WinTrust Arena has been about half full on average (5,890 fans in a 10,367-seat building).
How good is the job: The basic premise remains intact — win enough Chicago recruiting battles and you should have a chance to succeed. But 11 straight losing seasons make it clear that the basic premise is flawed. And now the fan base is turning on athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto.
Georgia (5). Mark Fox has been under pressure for years, and the likelihood of missing the NCAA tournament for the seventh time in nine seasons should mean that time is up. In an SEC that has upgraded its coaching in recent seasons, Fox hasn’t been able to sustain success. The Bulldogs may be making a bid to salvage the season with consecutive upsets of Florida and Tennessee, but at 15-11 and 6-8, it could be too little and too late.
How good is the job: Very good, given the local talent and SEC money. If it comes open, athletic director Greg McGarity will have an attractive candidate pool of rising stars and others with established résumés.
Minnesota (6). Depleted by off-court problems and injuries, the Gophers have completely collapsed in Richard Pitino’s fifth season. They haven’t won in more than a month and currently are tied for 11th in a lousy Big Ten. It remains to be seen how damaging the mid-season expulsion of Reggie Lynch will be for Pitino and his boss, athletic director Mark Coyle, but combining that with relentless losing may have created an untenable atmosphere.
How good is the job: The right coach can win there, but sustainability is the question. With just 11 all-time NCAA appearances, and three of those vacated for NCAA violations, nobody has turned Minnesota into a long-term power. Hiring a proven winner who views it as a destination job seems unlikely.
Washington State (7). Like Leitao at DePaul, Ernie Kent was an unimaginative, retread hire that unsurprisingly has not worked out. The former Oregon coach is well on his way to a fourth straight losing season and has a 16-52 record in the Pac-12.
How good is the job: Not very. Tony Bennett is the only coach to have substantial success at Wazzu in the last two decades. Tough place to recruit. A niche style of play is probably the best option there.
Memphis (8). Tubby Smith’s two years at Memphis haven’t been quite as disastrous as Kevin Stallings at Pitt, but it’s in the low-rent neighborhood. The Tigers did show some life last week with two road wins, getting back to .500 in the American, but this team remains a long way from NCAA tourney contention and next year looks bad, too. Still, it would cost in the neighborhood of $9 million to get rid of Tubby, and Memphis doesn’t sit on piles of football cash.
How good is the job: This is a basketball town with very good local talent and a fan base that will back a winner. But it’s not fool-proof, as the boom-and-bust cycles of the past three decades have shown. If Smith stays, he will begin 2018-19 under more heat than any coach.
Four programs that could have openings, depending how much blowback results from the ongoing federal investigation of college basketball and potential attendant NCAA issues. As Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel reported last week, evidence accrued by the feds indicates that damage from this scandal could be profound.
Arizona (9). In a perfect world, the Wildcats would like to sign Sean Miller to a lifetime contract. But with longtime Miller assistant coach Emanuel “Book” Richardson fired after being indicted by the feds, the heat is on in Tucson. The school is standing behind Miller for now, but the course of the investigation could make that a difficult stance to maintain.
How good is the job: There is a long track record of high-level success, both on the court and in recruiting. There would be plenty of attractive candidates if it opens, but Arizona remains short of a Cadillac job.
USC (10). Andy Enfield has the Trojans tracking toward their third straight NCAA bid, something that last happened from 2007-09. But Enfield lacks Miller’s established pattern of success and may have bigger problems — in addition to fired assistant Tony Bland, the school suspended guard De’Anthony Melton for the season. If/when this gets bad, Enfield is expendable with a minimum of lamentation.
How good is the job: Should be one of the best, but it hasn’t been. Still, some quality candidates would quickly emerge if the job opens.
Auburn (11). Bruce Pearl could well be national Coach of the Year if not for The Investigation Thing, which has resulted in the firing or suspension of five people associated with Auburn basketball — but not Pearl. He’s confident he will be OK when all is said and done. That could well be wishful thinking.
How good is the job: Never been a perennial winner, never been to a Final Four. The school did build a new arena a couple of years ago, but there isn’t much natural zeal for basketball at Auburn.
Kansas (12). Why is Hall of Fame coach Bill Self on this list, when his school has yet to be publicly implicated in the federal investigation? Because star recruit Billy Preston’s ineligibility has yet to be addressed. And then there is the 2015 ineligibility of freshman Cliff Alexander late in the season for dealings with a financial company. And the smoke that surrounded Kansas last year, when Carlton Bragg and Josh Jackson both were suspended. And the fact that several other Adidas-backed programs were caught up in the feds’ dragnet. Self’s Teflon status may get a bit sticky as things progress.
How good is the job: One of the best. Much like Kentucky, Kansas has succeeded for decades because it is an imperative.
Mississippi (13). This isn’t a great job, but the school does have a new arena and a modern practice facility and some talent in the area.
Colorado State (14). Larry Eustachy has been suspended during a school “climate assessment” of his program, but there is no uncertainty about how this will end — Eustachy is out whenever the separation agreement is finalized. This is a decent program in what has become a winnable league, but CSU also is capable of sinking to the bottom of the Mountain West with the wrong hire.
(Other openings at present: East Carolina, which has never cared about basketball; Charlotte and UTEP, which used to care but it’s been a while.)
CIRCLE OF TRUST
The weekly update of teams The Minutes considers trustworthy enough to win a national championship. Once again, the circle remains small.
Villanova (15) is the only inclusion, and that’s despite the Wildcats losing two of their last four and shooting 11-of-53 from 3-point range in those two defeats. ‘Nova may be one nightmarish shooting game away from March/April elimination — but the same could be said for several other teams. And Villanova shoots it brilliantly most of the time.
Once again, The Minutes strongly considered adding Michigan State (16) to the circle. Eventually, the Spartans seem certain to get there. But this team is all wild mood swings, which is a troubling characteristic. Against Northwestern Saturday, MSU incredibly rallied from a 27-point hole — but why on earth where the Spartans down 27 to a team lacking its best player and with only eight available scholarship players? Get down half that much to a good team in the tournament, and there may be no coming back.
That’s not the only recent whiplash game for Michigan State: it went from up nine to down eight in about 10 minutes before pulling out a win over a bad Iowa team; from down 11 at home to Penn State to up 15 in a matter of about 13 minutes; from down 13 to up eight in about 15 minutes against Maryland; and from up 10 to tied with lowly Rutgers, at home, in a span of about eight minutes.
Can you trust a team like that? Not yet.
GULAG OF DISTRUST
Given the wild inconsistency of most of America, The Minutes last week started the opposite of a Circle of Trust — the Gulag of Distrust, for the most notoriously unreliable (but talented) teams in the country. This week’s update:
Kentucky (17) remains in the gulag despite breaking a four-game losing streak, because the Wildcats rarely play 10 consistent minutes, much less entire games, much less an entire week. But now UK is
joined by everyone else in the SEC, which has devolved into chaos as it careens toward what should be a wild tournament in St. Louis.
Twelve teams since between 9-5 and 5-9 in the league, which means that basically everyone has taken turns looking great and looking terrible depending on the night. After winning in Rupp Arena, Tennessee has lost two straight on the road. Florida has lost four of its last six, including dismal defeats last week at home to Georgia and at Vanderbilt. Alabama has lurched between great and awful for a month. Texas A&M got everyone believing again, then promptly lost at Missouri and was blown out at Arkansas. Vanderbilt is at least consistent in one respect: It hasn’t won a game outside of Memorial Coliseum all season.
The other gulag inhabitant of the moment: West Virginia (18), which in the last seven games has blown second-half leads against Kentucky, Oklahoma State and Kansas — the first two at home. The Mountaineers foul too much, take too many regrettable shots and have less composure than a team with two senior guards should possess.
THE CHARMLESS BUBBLE
If you’re looking for plucky mid-major teams to champion come tournament time, you might as well just watch the conference tournaments and gravitate to the champions of the smaller leagues. Because the bubble is nearly bereft of teams from outside the power six conferences.
Saint Bonaventure (19) is about it. The Bonnies of the diminished Atlantic-10 currently should be on the right side of the fault line with victories over Rhode Island, Syracuse, Maryland, Buffalo and Vermont. But they will need to avoid stumbles in the final two weeks.
Middle Tennessee State (20) should get a berth if it does not win the Conference USA tournament. The Blue Raiders are 12-1 in true road games and 13-4 overall away from home. That’s a lot of time on the road, and a lot of wins there.
Worth considering, if they don’t get the automatic bid: Loyola Chicago of the Missouri Valley; Louisiana-Lafayette of the Sun Belt; New Mexico State of the Western Athletic; and South Dakota State of the Summit.
The rest of the bubble is just a huddled mass of middling power-conference teams trying to claw their way to bracket freedom. Those who don’t make it aren’t to be pitied.
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Skier’s awful halfpipe run makes mockery of Olympics
• Michael Lee: Why the All-Star Game was finally competitive
• Ice dancer on wardrobe malfunction: ‘It was my worst nightmare’
• ‘Masterpiece of awfulness’: Fergie’s All-Star national anthem bashed