With the NCAA Tournament now on recess for a few days, the coaching merry-go-round is starting to spin again.
Monday saw several vacancies filled, more created and rumors of still more to possibly come. The biggest moves both came in the Big 12, where TCU hired former Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon and Oklahoma State landed Stephen F. Austin’s Brad Underwood.
Dixon’s move to Fort Worth makes perfect sense. He was a starter on TCU’s greatest team going back almost a half a century now, the 1987 Horned Frogs who won the Southwest Conference regular season title, earned a 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the second round before dropping a gut-wrenching one-point game to Notre Dame. (Sound familiar, Stephen F. Austin fans?)
That 1987 win over Marshall is still TCU’s last NCAA Tournament win, and the Frogs haven’t even been to the tourney since Billy Tubbs got them there in 1998. It’s not a terribly long trip to get back there, though-not when the Big 12 is regularly sending 6-7 teams to the tourney and when a team like Texas Tech has shown upward mobility is very possible.
On top of all that, the timing for leaving Pitt also is right. Slowly the murmurs have picked up about Dixon not getting the Panthers further in the postseason, with the program not making it past the NCAA second round since their Elite Eight appearance in 2009. Of course, expecting much more than that is easier said than done for a school competing in the Big East and now the ACC, but if Dixon can leave that problem for someone else and return to his alma mater, then great for him.
Underwood leaves SFA after three incredible years in which he brought a strong low-major program to the edge of the national scene. He was 89-14 in three years and led the Lumberjacks to three straight Southland Conference titles and their first two NCAA Tournament wins.
Underwood’s teams also played one of the most entertaining styles in the country on offense and defense, with an entertaining continuity motion offense that featured constant movement and a denial defense inspired by Frank Martin that was among the nation’s best at forcing turnovers. It bears watching to see if he sticks with both styles at Oklahoma State-especially offensively, where so few high-budget programs forgo motion offenses in favor of a multitude of ball screens.
In the case of Stephen F. Austin, it was always financially going to be tough to keep Underwood around. Still, it’s haunting to think about just what might have been if the Lumberjacks had held a late five-point lead against Notre Dame and advanced to the Sweet 16. SFA would’ve had a very winnable game against Wisconsin in the regional semifinals, then would’ve had another national showcase in a regional final against North Carolina or Indiana. In that case, is Underwood more apt to stick around at the school where he has built a burgeoning national power? Does Oklahoma State decide not to wait on Underwood and instead move on and fill the position? We’ll never know.
- Another coaching vacancy announced Monday is at Dartmouth, where Paul Cormier is out after six years of his second stint with the school. Cormier had more success in his first stint at the school (1984-91) than his second, when the highlight in six years was a 14-15 mark a year ago and a spot in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. The Big Green is one of the tougher jobs in all of NCAA Division I and hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1959.
- An opening could be coming at Cincinnati, as Mick Cronin is reportedly a candidate for the open position at UNLV, per the Las Vegas Review-Journal. This one will be interesting to follow, as Cronin is a UC alum and is making a hefty salary at the school.
- The NIT quarterfinals are now set after the final three second round games were completed Monday. George Washington ended Monmouth’s season, using efficient offense and holding the Hawks to 34.2% shooting in an 87-71 win. GW now goes on the road to face Florida in a quarterfinal Wednesday. Also: Georgia Tech continued its late-season strong play, blowing away South Carolina 83-66 on the road, and San Diego State found its offense again against Washington in a 93-78 win. The Aztecs now will host Georgia Tech for a spot in the NIT semis.
- The CBI’s final four teams are now set. Muscular Morehead State scored an impressive 82-72 win over Duquesne, and the Eagles now face Ohio, which rallied back to beat UNC Greensboro 72-67. The other semifinal is a pretty good one, with Nevada moving on to meet Vermont after the Wolf Pack beat former Big Sky foe Eastern Washington 85-70 and the Catamounts won at Seattle 73-54.
- One result from the CIT: New Jersey Tech continues its mastery of this tournament, moving to the quarterfinals with an 83-72 win over Boston University.
- In news surprising to no one, ESPN reported (or perhaps ordered) LSU’s Ben Simmons is to leave school and will enter the NBA Draft. Florida State’s Malik Beasley also is leaving after one year, while Yale’s Makai Mason will test the waters but will not hire an agent, a harmless exercise under the new rules.
- NIT quarterfinal play opens with a delicious matchup of a pair of teams that should’ve been in the NCAA Tournament. It’s offense vs. defense when Saint Mary’s travels across the country to face Valparaiso (7 p.m. EST, ESPN), with the winner making its first-ever trip to the NIT semifinals. That is followed by Creighton playing at BYU (9 p.m., ESPN), with the Cougars looking to get to the semis for the second time in four years while the Bluejays attempt to make their first semifinal trip since 1942.
Have a good Tuesday.