The Collegian
Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Big pressure on big-time college basketball coaches

The college basketball season tips off in less than two weeks, and there are already plenty of storylines involving coaches to keep an eye on. Here are six coaches who need a strong season to meet the high expectations placed on their teams by the fans and media.

Let's start on campus with Chris Mooney and his University of Richmond team. Last year, the team finished 20-16 and reached the semifinals of the College Basketball Invitational without much of an inside presence. This year, junior center Dan Geriot returns from a torn knee ligament that caused him to miss all of last year, and he will team up with the best backcourt duo in the Atlantic-10 Conference with senior David Gonzalvez and junior Kevin Anderson. The Spiders have been picked to finish third in the A-10 by the coaches, and anything less than a NCAA Tournament berth would be a disappointment for this team.

Richmond is not the only A-10 team to have high expectations on its coach. Xavier University's new coach, Chris Mack, has the unenviable task of trying to replace Sean Miller - the former coach who took the Musketeers to the Big Dance four times in five years. Xavier was picked to finish second in the A-10 by the coaches, even though the Musketeers lost their top three scorers from last season's Sweet 16 team. Mack is expected to keep the tradition of Xavier as a mid-major powerhouse going.

Josh Pastner is in the same position as Mack at the University of Memphis. He inherits a team that reached the NCAA Tournament during each of the last four years, including a title game appearance in 2008 under former coach John Calipari. To make matters even harder for Pastner, the program is under NCAA sanctions for having a false SAT score from former star Derrick Rose. Although Memphis is not ranked in the preseason for the first time since 2003, the team is still expected to be playing meaningful basketball in March.

Just because Calipari left Memphis does not mean that he escapes high expectations. He was hired in March to take over at the University of Kentucky, a school with a proud basketball tradition that struggled during the past few years. Calipari has set himself up with possibly the greatest recruiting class ever. But the question of how Calipari will react to recruiting violations for the second time during his career remains. Still, fans and media are expecting a Final Four run from this team. Anything less and Calipari will hear a lot of criticism in Lexington.

The University of Kansas also has to deal with off-the-court distractions while being ranked as the No. 1 team. The team was involved in two fights with the school's football team in September and starting junior guard Brady Morningstar was arrested in October for suspicion of driving while intoxicated and has been suspended by coach Bill Self for the first semester. If Self does not instill some discipline into his team, it will be a very disappointing season for the Jayhawks.

Gary Williams at the University of Maryland has had to deal with different types of off-the-court issues recently, while being criticized for his team's uneven performances since its championship in 2002. Last January, Williams and Maryland Athletic Director Debbie Yow were blaming each other for not getting certain recruits, which led to speculation that Williams would either resign or be fired. Yet, Williams was able to lead his team into the NCAA Tournament despite an early season loss to Morgan State University and finishing the year 7-9 in Atlantic Coast Conference play. Williams must get his team off to a fast start this year and make a run in the tournament to take himself off the hot seat.

If Williams does get off to a slow start and gets fired, a possibility to replace him will be Brad Stevens from Butler University. Stevens has taken the Bulldogs to the tournament the last three years and reached the Sweet 16 in 2007. Expectations are at an all-time high at Butler, because the team is ranked No. 11 in The Associated Press Poll. That is the first time in school history that the team has been ranked during the preseason. Stevens must deal with the increased expectations and must adjust from no longer being a 'sleeper' team.

These six coaches have to deal with increased expectations, whether by taking control of a successful program or being expected to overcome team distractions and reach the NCAA tournament. These six coaches show us that the madness of college basketball is not limited to March.

Contact staff writer Andrew Prezioso at andrew.prezioso@richmond.edu

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