Some college basketball teams like Northwestern, Gonzaga and South Carolina made significant strides in the 2016-17 season. Many other teams, though, either took a step backward or continued in their mediocrity. In the case of the latter, some programs decided it was the end of the road for their head coaches. High-profile basketball schools like Indiana, Georgetown and North Carolina State decided to part ways with the men in charge of their teams. With a rich “free agent” coaching field this offseason, athletic directors had their choice of some of the best coaching talent in the country. Which hires were the best moves?
Success at a mid-major school guarantees attention from traditionally storied programs. One spectacular year or a shocking upset in the NCAA Tournament will put a cinderella school and its coach on the map. For Archie Miller and Dayton, success has been continuously maintained, not just achieved in one season. Under Miller, the Flyers have qualified for the Big Dance in four consecutive seasons, including an Elite Eight appearance in 2014. That’s the kind of success that Indiana basketball is used to. As a school with five national championships, merely reaching the NCAA Tournament isn’t good enough, and Crean couldn’t achieve that this season, resulting in his firing. Coming off an 18-16 year, Indiana is in need of rejuvenation. Miller will provide just that.
In contrast to Miller, Brad Underwood has cashed off of a few great seasons to land at a major basketball program. As the head man at Stephen F. Austin, Underwood led the Lumberjacks to two NCAA Tournament wins in three seasons, each time as a double-digit seed. At Oklahoma State, Underwood converted the 308th offense in the country to the eight-best while leading the Cowboys back to the Big Dance. The magic that Underwood has been able to perform in a short time convinced Illinois that he was the right man to replace fired head coach John Groce. With a quick, attacking offensive philosophy, Underwood will bring both wins and excitement to Champaign.
3. Kevin Keatts
North Carolina State is sick of being the little brother. Located a few short miles from ACC rivals Duke and North Carolina, the Wolfpack are the oft-forgotten third member of the Tobacco Road basketball triad. While the Blue Devils and Tar Heels have combined to win the four ACC regular-season and tournament titles in the past two years, N.C. State failed to reach the Big Dance both times. With the firing of Mark Gottfried and the hiring of former UNC-Wilmington coach Kevin Keatts, the Wolfpack should be able to shed its tag as the little brother of the Triangle. Keatts led the Seahawks to the NCAA Tournament in the past two years, nearly upsetting Duke and Virginia in the process. Under Keatts, N.C. State can return to prominence.