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New Faces in New Places: Checking in on First Year Head Coaches in CBB

(Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar)

First Year Head Coaches
LaVall Jordan rounds out the first year head coaches in men’s basketball (Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar)

Heading into the 2017-18 college basketball season, eleven coaches at Power Five schools found themselves in new places to start the year.  In college basketball, no two coaching transitions are ever exactly the same.  Some are inevitable, others catch everyone off-guard, but there is a common thread among all coaching changes: there’s someone new in charge.  Let’s check in on those 11 first year head coaches (in alphabetical order, by school name).

LaVall Jordan, Butler: LaVall Jordan returns to his alma mater after one season as the head coach at Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  Jordan was hired at Butler by his old coach Barry Collier, now the AD at Butler, after the departure of Chris Holtmann to Ohio State in June.  Under Jordan’s tutelage, the Bulldogs are off to a decent start at 13-6 (3-3 Big East), with their notable wins coming over their old coach at Ohio State in double OT, along with a home upset of then-#1 Villanova at home to close out 2017.  The Bulldogs opened 2018 with three straight losses to ranked conference opponents, but they will get another crack at each of them in historic Hinkle Fieldhouse later this season, where they are undefeated.

Wyking Jones, Cal: Wyking Jones was elevated to the head coaching position at Cal after two seasons under his predecessor Cuonzo Martin.  Jones played a large role in the success of two recent Bears, Jaylen Brown (picked third overall by the Celtics in the 2016 NBA Draft) and two-time all-conference selection F Ivan Rabb.  Currently, Jones has his team at 7-10 (1-3 Pac 12), with youth being a major factor in the team’s struggles thus far.  The team’s future is optimistic though, with the experience that the young core led by F Justice Sueing will pick up as they continue through conference play.

Patrick Ewing, Georgetown: Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing returns to his alma mater after spending time as an assistant with the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.  The hire of Ewing was met with universal approval by the Hoya faithful as the man who led them to the 1984 national championship came home to attempt to restore the glory the Hoyas experienced under Ewing’s coach John Thompson.  In the non-conference, Ewing led the Hoyas to a near-unbeaten record, albeit against a slate of what many would call easy opponents, with their only loss coming in overtime at home against former Big East foe Syracuse.  In conference play, Georgetown is 2-3, with wins over the bottom two Big East teams DePaul and St. John’s.

Brad Underwood, Illinois: Brad Underwood comes over to Illinois after one year at Oklahoma State and three years at Stephen F. Austin, where he led the Lumberjacks to three straight NCAA tournaments, winning one game each year.  Before even coaching his first game, Underwood faced what many new coaches face with the loss of 5-star recruit Jeremiah Tillmon, now playing for fell0w first-year coach Cuonzo Martin at Mizzou.  The highlight of the season thus far for the Illini has no doubt been their victory over Mizzou in the “Braggin’ Rights Game”, played annually in St. Louis, roughly halfway between the campuses.  Currently, the Illini sit at 10-8, 0-5 Big 10, but the Illini faithful are hopeful that Underwood can replicate the success he enjoyed at SFA and Oklahoma State.

Archie Miller, Indiana: Archie Miller, after a successful tenure at Dayton, joins the previously mentioned Brad Underwood and Chris Holtmann as the Big 10’s new head coaches this year.  Miller takes over an Indiana program that the Hoosier faithful had deemed to be getting stagnant (high standards much?) under previous head coach Tom Crean.  Nonetheless, Miller has his Hoosiers sitting at 10-7, 3-2 Big 10.  Highlights of Miller’s tenure include his retention of Tom Crean’s recruits, along with F Juwan Morgan’s 34-point, 11 rebound performance in the 80-77 overtime win against then-#18 Notre Dame in Indianapolis.  Miller is already doing great work keeping the cupboard stocked for the future, led by 4-star 2018 F Jerome Hunter.

David Padgett, Louisville: Of all the coaches on this list, Louisville’s David Padgett is in the least-enviable position of all, taking over as interim coach at Louisville after the ousters of legendary coach Rick Pitino and AD Tom Jurich in the fallout of the FBI investigation of Adidas corruption throughout college basketball.  Padgett’s Cardinal squad started the season ranked #16, but two early season losses to unranked Seton Hall and Purdue knocked them out of the polls.  In the annual Battle for the Bluegrass against Kentucky, the Cards suffered a 29-point defeat to the Wildcats, the worst defeat against their cross-Commonwealth rivals in nearly two decades.  Nonetheless, the Cards have gotten off to a 3-1 start in ACC play, highlighted by a 73-69 win over #23 Florida State in Tallahassee.

Will Wade, LSU: Will Wade heads south to Baton Rouge after two years at VCU, where he led the Rams to a 51-20 overall record and two NCAA tournament berths.  His time at VCU and some of his new assistants’ work at their former schools led to the successful June signing of PG Tremont Waters, who is currently near the top of the SEC in points and assists.  The Tigers find themselves at 11-4, 2-1 in SEC play.  Highlighting the early conference slate was Waters’s last second 28-footer against then-#11 Texas A&M in College Station, and Wade has already eclipsed his predecessor Johnny Jones’ win total from last season.

Cuonzo Martin, Mizzou: Joining Will Wade in the SEC is Mizzou’s Cuonzo Martin, who returns to his native Midwest to lead the Tigers.  Martin soon picked up the commitment of McDonald’s All-American Michael Porter, Jr., but the latter’s season likely came to an abrupt end in the first minute of the season opener against Iowa State due to a back injury.  Nevertheless, Martin’s Porter-less Tigers have gotten off to a 12-5, 2-2 SEC start, led by Kassius Robertson’s 15 PPG and 44% 3PT%.

Kevin Keatts, NC State: The lone new coach in the ACC is Kevin Keatts, joining the Wolfpack after a successful three-year tenure at UNC-Greensboro.  Keatts’s Wolfpack squad has gotten off to a 12-5 (2-2 ACC) start, highlighted by three victories over ranked opponents: #2 Arizona, #2 Duke, and #19 Clemson.  Young players Braxton Beverly and Omer Yurtseven have been valuable contributors for the Wolfpack and Keatts will no doubt lean on them more in the next few years.  Time will tell if Keatts can build a consistent winner in Raleigh as he did in Greensboro.

Chris Holtmann – Ohio State: Joining Brad Underwood and Archie Miller in the Big Ten this season is Ohio State’s Chris Holtmann, formerly of Butler.  Holtmann took over the job in June after Thad Matta stepped down due to health issues and declining team performance.  Under Holtmann, the Buckeyes are off to a solid 15-4 start, including 6-0 in conference.  While the team struggled in late November, losing three games in a four-game stretch, they have since only lost to then-#5 North Carolina and convincingly beat then-top-ranked Michigan State at home 80-64 behind junior F Keita Bates-Diop’s 32 points.  Looking ahead, the Buckeyes have only one ranked team on their remaining schedule, a road test against #5 Purdue.

Mike Boynton – Oklahoma State: Mike Boynton takes over in Stillwater after Brad Underwood’s lone season as head coach of the Cowboys.  The Cowboys are currently 12-5, 2-3 in Big XII play, and the toughest portion of their schedule is still to come, with two games each against conference heavyweights Kansas, West Virginia, and Texas Tech.  Their two conference wins have both come in thrilling fashion at home, winning in overtime against Iowa State and Tavarius Shine’s tip-in with six seconds remaining to beat Texas after a 12-point deficit.

How would you rank their performances so far?

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