No league has sent the college basketball coaching carousel spinning more in the last month than the Horizon League, which is tied with the West Coast Conference for most coaching changes this offseason (so far) with four each.
The Horizon was yet again in the news on more than one occasion Thursday, as a pair of its coaching openings were filled within a few hours. It started early in the day when word got out that Wisconsin-Milwaukee will hire LaVall Jordan as its new coach.
Jordan was an assistant at Michigan the last six years and is a former Butler star, an all-conference performer when the Bulldogs were still a member of what was known then as the Midwestern Collegiate Conference. That he is connected with Butler should not be a surprise, as the league’s search for a new Butler certainly appears from the outside to be a motivation for some of the changes that have happened recently, with schools having fair amounts of success looking for even more.
By the afternoon, it was being reported that Valparaiso was already set to hire its new coach, just a few days after Bryce Drew had departed. Sure enough, the school announced that assistant coach Matt Lottich is moving over to the head coach’s chair.
The hire of Lottich-a native of the Chicago area, not far from Valparaiso-ensures continuity for the program, even as it will not have a member of the Drew family in charge for the first time in 28 years. It also eases concerns for current players, who had a few days of uncertainty about the program after Drew’s departure plus the announcement that star Alec Peters will put his name in for the NBA Draft, while speculation also was that he could transfer for his final year of eligibility as he is on track to graduate this summer.
From the outside, several of the coaching changes in the Horizon this offseason ranged anywhere from curious to mind-boggling. Rob Jeter at Milwaukee qualified for the NCAA Tournament twice, while Billy Donlon took Wright State to the Horizon tourney final three times in four years. The poor way the changes were handled certainly didn’t help-with Jeter’s team prohibited by administration from playing in the CBI, CIT or Vegas 16 before he was let go, and Donlon told his fate in a meeting, yet the school not confirming the information until nearly a week later.
Milwaukee athletic director Amanda Braun was quoted as saying she believed the Panthers should be in the top 3 in the Horizon every year, while Wright State was silent publicly about the reasons for dumping Donlon. Perhaps some realism needs to go into administrators’ expectations-it should go without saying, but not everyone can finish in the top 3 in a league every year.
On the other hand, it’s easy to forget, but it wasn’t long ago that the Horizon League was regularly on the fringe of the top 10 conferences, comparable to the Missouri Valley. Butler was a regular contender for at-large bids, but there also was frequently another team from the group of Cleveland State, Detroit, UW-Milwaukee, Wright State and others that was in or lurking near that territory.
With its No. 20 finish in the conference RPI this year and only one team even in the RPI top 100, the league was nowhere close to that this year, and it has not furnished an at-large team now since Butler in 2009. The Horizon has the potential to do better, and perhaps even should do better. In that regard, the changes made this year are understandable. So long as all involved understand that not everyone can be Butler.
- News came out late Thursday night that Georgia Tech was on the verge of hiring Memphis’s Josh Pastner as its new coach, a development surprising to more than a few. Pastner was thought to be on shaky ground at Memphis, with discussion after this season of whether the school could afford to pay out around $10 million to buy out his contract. It did not, but there’s been a feeling Tiger teams in his tenure have generally been a disappointment. Should the change happen, the best one can hope is that the change of scenery benefits Pastner, who is regarded as a good guy and a bright mind in the game.
- UC Irvine 7-foot-6 center Mamadou Ndiaye has declared for the NBA Draft, though UCI reports that he is remaining in classes and no decision has been made at this time yet to sign with an agent. Not surprising news as the big man considered it a year ago, even after a sophomore season that was marred by injury. Also departing from the Big West is Hawaii’s Aaron Valdes, who will renounce his eligibility rather than becoming the latest pawn on the transfer black market. Not surprising that Valdes would leave as the Rainbow Warriors are ineligible for the postseason next year due to NCAA sanctions.
Have a great Friday and a great weekend. The Morning Dish will now take some time off, popping up on occasion as special events merit. Thank you for reading, enjoy the offseason and be sure to still check in with Hoopville as we unveil our conference post-mortem series, plus other features.