Loyola, Nevada Embracing Similar Styles En Route to Sweet Success

By Kevin Sweeney

After the craziness of the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament, just two mid-majors are left standing as we enter the Sweet 16.

Nevada and Loyola-Chicago, who have provided much of the drama from the crazy first weekend, are the two still alive. And as the two mid-major powerhouses prepare to face off against one another on Thursday in Atlanta, it’s not hard to draw comparisons between the two. In many ways, they represent the modernization of college basketball, and their new methods are clearly paying dividends.

Let’s start with the head coaches. Porter Moser appeared to be a rising star in the business with a successful stint at Little Rock before taking the Illinois State job in 2003. However, he struggled to win there, going just 51-67 and was fired after 4 seasons. That led him to the late Rick Majerus, the legendary head coach at Saint Louis, where he was an assistant for 4 years. Moser never seems to go a press conference without mentioning Majerus, and he credits Majerus with much of the culture he has been able to build at Loyola.

“It’s hard to quantify all the things I got from him,” Moser told Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune this March. “I made the most of four years with him as a friend and a coach.”

After his time under Majerus, Moser got the opportunity he’d been waiting for: the chance to build a Loyola program in his native Chicago that would soon transition into the Missouri Valley. And while there have certainly been ups and downs throughout his 7 year tenure.

In Reno, it’s been Eric Musselman who has executed an incredible turnaround, winning 24 or more games in each of his first 3 seasons as a collegiate head coach. Before college, Musselman had been highly successful in both the CBA and the D-League, but struggled in 3 seasons as an NBA head coach. It was then that he headed to college basketball, working under Herb Sendek at Arizona State and Johnny Jones at LSU before taking the Nevada job in 2015.

While their paths to their current homes are far from the same, both faced failure early before adapting becoming the great coaches they are today. The philosophies they have employed have helped them find themselves just two wins from the Final Four.

As Brett Koremenos broke down so eloquently in this lengthy Twitter thread, shooting has become a “market inefficiency” in college basketball. Moser and Musselman have put together clubs that shoot the lights out, often with all 5 guys on the floor having the ability to hit from downtown. Combine that with elite ball movement, with both teams ranking in the top 40 nationally in assists per game, and you get an offense that is difficult, if not impossible, to stop.

To attack this market inefficiency, both coaches have embraced a trendy term in the modernization of basketball at all levels: “Pace and Space”. The concept is simple: keep the tempo up and space the floor. How do you do that?

“You’ve got to recruit to it,” Moser told me after a win over Missouri State earlier this season.

That began with Donte Ingram, a senior from local Chicago powerhouse Simeon who is an example of the perfect player in this system. A physical 6-6 wing, Ingram can be deployed at the 2, 3, or 4, shoots 40% from 3, can put the ball on the deck, and has a strong build that allows him to compete in the paint against bigger players.

Moser has continued to recruit to that system when putting this roster together, with Marques Townes and Aundre Jackson both excellent examples of versatile players who can do everything on the court. Combine them with a point guard like MVC POY Clayton Custer who keeps the ball moving and hits outside shots, and all the sudden you have an offense that is awfully hard to stop.

According to Moser, the key to all of this coming together is shooting.

“You can’t really have spacing if you put 2 or 3 guys on the floor that can’t shoot, Moser said. “They’ll just pack in on you.”

Moser says he never wants more than one guy on the floor at a time who can’t shoot. The only player in the regular rotation who isn’t a threat from outside is freshman center Cameron Krutwig, and the Ramblers embrace a “4-out, 1-in” offense that utilizes Krutwig’s strengths as a passer out of the post collapse the defense and create open looks for shooters.

Musselman and Nevada’s roster has gone to the extreme of this pace and space movement, as the roster has been built around long, athletic wings with diverse skillsets. Caleb and Cody Martin have pushed this movement to another level, both of whom are truly “5-tool” players at 6-6 who can guard 1-4 (and occasionally even 5’s), put the ball on the deck, shoot 3’s, and distribute.

Nevada has no one over 6-7 in their regular rotation, with Jordan Caroline often playing as an undersized center who can score inside and out. Built like a football player, Caroline’s strength and quickness allow him score on short drives and post-ups, while also being able to take the ball coast to coast against guards and step out and hit 3’s in the pick-and-pop.

Going back to his roots in the NBA, Musselman has taken influence from the Golden State Warriors’ explosive offense in how he coaches offense. On his personal blog, he wrote preseason about how his team has begun counting passes, modeled after Golden State’s goal of completing 300 passes every game. Accounting for the shorter game and slower pace, Musselman wrote that his target is 200 passes per game.

“Since day 1, we’ve been talking about moving that ball,” Caroline said earlier this season.

Now, the biggest game in either program’s recent history is just 1 day away. A Final Four is in sight, with the upsets throughout the South Region leaving the winner of this ballgame taking on the winner of #5 Kentucky and #9 Kansas State for a trip to San Antonio. And while both coaches will likely receive plenty of calls from bigger programs this offseason, the only thing they want moving right now is the ball.

Grading Every Coaching Hire of 2018

By Kevin Sweeney

It’s coaching carousel time, where rumors are let fly like Trae Young jump shots and moves get made FAST. I figured I’d live-grade every official coaching hire as they come. This post will continue to be updated throughout the coaching change season.

Pepperdine: Lorenzo Romar

Grade: A-

It seems that most agree that Marty Wilson got a bit of a raw deal at Pepperdine, but the Waves landed a big name to take over their head coaching vacancy. There’s no doubt Romar can recruit, landing top prospects like Markelle Fultz and Michael Porter Jr at Washington, but his in-game coaching leaves a lot to be desired. Pepperdine feels like a perfect fit for him, as its beautiful campus will make recruiting easy (see Joe Pasternack at UCSB) and simply being competitive against Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s is likely enough to keep the fanbase happy. It will be interesting to see what type of instant-impact pieces Romar can recruit to this roster, as well as what the future of the WCC looks like with rumors of Gonzaga moving to the Mountain West flying around.

Maine: Richard Barron

Grade: D

Barron, the former women’s coach at Maine, is a peculiar choice for me. Sure, Maine is an extremely difficult job with the lack of in-state talent, but landing a coach without any experience recruiting the AAU circuits of the northeast seems like a flawed move. I would have liked to see a young assistant with northeast recruiting ties try to come in and form relationships with many prep school coaches in the talent-rich NEPSAC. This isn’t the move to bring this Maine program out of the cellar in the America East.

UTEP: Rodney Terry

Grade: B+

Terry’s name surfacing at UTEP was a bit of a surprise, but he emerged as the favorite this weekend and Jon Rothstein broke the news that the deal was complete today. Terry accumulated a 126-108 record in 7 seasons at the helm of the Fresno State program, reaching the NCAA Tournament in 2016, but some reports out of the program indicated that Terry felt he had done all he could do at Fresno. While he may not provide the flashy name, Terry did a good job bringing Fresno back to relevance and consistently found under-the-radar talent, a skill that will be valuable at a program like UTEP. Building a staff to recruit the state of Texas (current Fresno assistant Brian Burton has ties to the area with experience at Lamar) will be key to Terry’s hopes of bringing the Miners program back to the top of the C-USA.

Cal State Northridge: Mark Gottfried

Grade: B

This hire is weird. No real way of getting around that. Gottfried, who coached most recently at NC State and Alabama, certainly is a nationally-known name as a head coach in recruiting circles, and there are reports that former UCLA head coach Jim Harrick could join him on staff to create a dream-team in the Big West. That said, it’s unclear how that tandem will adjust to coaching at a mid-major with no real history of success, and Reggie Theus struggled to win despite recruiting plenty of talent. Plus, there’s the elephant in the room of Gottfried’s potential involvement in the NCAA FBI scandal. There’s a possibility this is an A+, but there’s a bit more downside than I think some realize.

Ole Miss: Kermit Davis

Grade: A

Kermit Davis is an absolute slam dunk of a hire for Ole Miss. A Mississippi native, Davis has turned MTSU into a mid-major power, winning 25 games or more games in 3 consecutive years and 2 NCAA Tournament games in that span. He has made a living finding undervalued talent in the competitive recruiting market of the south, and has also done an excellent job on the transfer market with guys like Jacorey Williams and Nick King. Davis inherits some nice pieces and will without a doubt make Ole Miss a consistently competitive SEC program.

UC Riverside: David Patrick

Grade: A

Patrick nearly got the San Jose State job this summer, but will now get his chance out west in the Big West with UC Riverside. A talented recruiter with strong ties in Australia, Patrick has recruited players such as Ben Simmons and Kouat Noi to their collegiate homes in his time at LSU and TCU, respectively. With other mid-majors such as Albany establishing pipelines in Australia, Patrick has a chance to consistently find mid-major talent with his connections there, as well as recruit at a high level in the USA with his experience at the high-major level. Yet another great hire out of the Big West, which has now landed Joe Pasternack, Mark Gottfried, and Patrick to compliment established names like Dan Monson, Jim Les, Russell Turner and Eran Ganot. Hires like those will do nothing but raise the profile of a league that has been down of late.

McNeese State: Heath Schroyer

Grade: B+

Schroyer has certainly been around the block in coaching despite being just 46 years of age, as McNeese will be his 4th D1 Head coaching gig. Most recently an assistant at BYU and NC State, Schroyer has also been a Head Coach at Portland State, Wyoming, and UT-Martin and has amassed a 125-143 record. However, his time at UT-Martin was quite successful, winning 20 games in each of his first 2 seasons before departing for NC State. He inherits a tough job at McNeese State (just 1 20-win season in the last 16 years) but this is a very solid hire for the Cowboys.

South Alabama: Richie Riley

Grade: A-

Riley is a really good hire for a South Alabama program that I believe has high upside. He did a magnificent job turning around this Nicholls program in just 2 seasons, winning 25 games and a share of the Southland title this season. He’s an excellent recruiter and solid game coach who should be able to consistently bring good talent to South Alabama, where the facilities are excellent and the ability to recruit the south are greater than at a Southland program. One of the bright young names in the business, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Riley turn this thing around quickly and head to a high-major job.

Georgia: Tom Crean

Grade: B+

It was clear from the outset of this Georgia search that the Bulldogs were looking for a splashy name, with Thad Matta rejecting the job before Crean stepped in. Crean is an accomplished head coach who has endeared himself to many with excellent work for ESPN this season, and should do a solid job at Georgia. Recruiting in the South is a concern for me, but I expect Crean to hire the right people and raise the talent level at UGA pretty quickly. While I would have preferred a younger mid-major head coach who would have brought energy like Wes Miller or Steve Forbes, this is a hire that is sure to excite the Georgia fanbase.

Longwood: Griff Aldrich

Grade: B

Personally, I don’t quite know what to make of this hire. Aldrich is obviously a very smart guy, as he has served as the CFO of a large energy investment corporation and has a law school degree, plus has won everywhere he’s ever coached. However, his lack of experience at the D1 level is a bit concerning, with just one year of on-the-road recruiting under his belt at UMBC. That said, he’s familiar with the area, as he went to college about 6 miles from Longwood at Hampton-Sydney College. Bottom line is that this isn’t a very good job (Longwood has been over .500 just once in their Division 1 history) and taking risk on a smart guy like Aldrich could reap its rewards down the line.

Memphis: Penny Hardaway

Grade: B+

I’ll be conservative with a B+ here, as this hire could be an absolute smash hit or it could fall flat on its face. I tend to side with the former, but there are certainly challenges in hiring someone without any D1 coaching experience as the head coach at a high-level program like Memphis. That said, his recruiting ties in the Memphis area are extremely strong, and he should bring in elite talent from Day 1. The staff he puts together will define his success, and in my opinion a former head coach has to been in the mix if you are going to make this hire.

Charlotte: Ron Sanchez

Grade: A

Mike Hill made his first big decision as AD without a search firm, and he hit it out of the park. Much of the talk surrounding this vacancy was a sitting head coach, but instead, Hill went with Sanchez, a guy respected nationally as one of the brightest young assistants in the business. A tireless recruiter who can go into a crowd for elite talent or find undervalued 3 and 4-star players that turn into stars, Sanchez has been a key element to Tony Bennett’s success going back to his days at Washington State. And while his recruiting is top-notch, he’s also earned a reputation for knowing the game, and I have no doubts about his in-game coaching abilities. Sanchez is the type of hire that can bring a struggling program back to life, and that Hill landed him in his opening days as Athletic Director should give 49er fans confidence that they have the right man for the job.

Missouri State: Dana Ford

Grade: B

For most of this search, it appeared that current high-major assistants were in the mix. However, Ford’s name came out of nowhere last night, and the former Tennessee State Head Coach will get a shot at a much easier place to win. Ford inherited a program coming off a 5 win season and took TSU to 20 wins in year 2, and has continued to put together solid rosters throughout his 4-year tenure. His clubs have consistently played solid defense, and he has recruited as well as you could hope for at tough gig like Tennessee State. I expect him to be able to bring good talent to MSU and put together a consistent winner in Springfield.

Incarnate Word: Dr. Carson Cunningham

Grade: C+

Cunningham could very well prove me wrong on this grade, as he’s a well-respected coach at the NAIA level and around the country. However, I think UIW would have been better served going after a coach with extensive recruiting background in Texas, especially at some of the many powerhouse junior college programs in the state. Cunningham’s staff will be critical, as no matter how good a coach he is, he can’t win without good players. That said, he brings with him a winning track record, amassing a 107-52 record during his time at Carroll College before taking this job.

UConn: Dan Hurley

Grade: A-

UConn went into this search with one clear target, and they got their man in Hurley, who has taken Rhode Island to consecutive Round of 32’s and has recruited extremely well in recent seasons, including a top 30 class in the country in the 2018 cycle. His extensive recruiting connections in the northeast should serve the Huskies well, and it’s certainly possible that he could bring current and future Rams with him to Storrs. The only reason for not giving this hire an A is that not long ago, Hurley appeared on the hot seat, and without an A10 Tournament run last season, the Rams wouldn’t even have made the NCAA Tournament. Funny how perceptions can change based on one weekend. That said, I do believe in Hurley as the guy to bring UConn to the top tier of the AAC.

Colorado State: Niko Medved

Grade: A

The timing of this sucks for Drake, but CSU couldn’t have gotten a better, more well-respected coach than Medved. He has won everywhere he has gone, bringing a Drake team that had been stuck in the bottom of the MVC for years to the postseason in year one after building Furman into a winner. Between his resume as a head coach and his connections to Colorado State (he spent from 2007-2013 as an assistant under Tim Miles in Fort Collins), the fit was perfect for Medved to come home and bring Colorado State out of what was a tumultuous Larry Eustachy era.

FAU: Dusty May

Grade: B+

If FAU was looking for a high-major assistant to take the reigns, they certainly got a good one in May, who has worked around the southeast throughout his career, most recently as Mike White’s lead assistant at Florida. White’s younger brother Brian is the AD at FAU, so the fact that May was able to get this job is far from surprising. On the court, May inherits a program that has struggled in recent years, but after seeing what coaches like Joe Pasternack (UCSB) have been able to do in beautiful environments with fertile recruiting pastures, I can’t help but see a lot of potential here for May to bring in elite talent for the CUSA level.

Evansville: Walter McCarty

Grade: B

McCarty’s hire was well-received by Evansville fans, as the local product who played in the NBA and last worked under Brad Stevens with the Celtics. He also has some experience at the collegiate coaching level, working under Rick Pitino at Louisville from 2007-2010. I generally am apprehensive about coaches with limited recruiting experience, especially in a league like the MVC with several excellent coaches, but if McCarty can put together a strong staff, he has a chance to be an excellent hire for the Aces.

Eastern Kentucky: AW Hamilton

Grade: A-

This is a bit of a gamble, but I LOVE this hire for EKU. He’s familiar with Kentucky from his collegiate days at Georgetown (Ky.) Scott County, and has tons of recruiting connections at all the nation’s top prep schools from his time as head coach at Hargrave Military Academy. Then, he spent at a year under Kevin Keatts at NC State, where the Wolfpack engineered an excellent turnaround and have put together a good recruiting class for 2018. With budgetary limitations, EKU landed a coach who I think could help them get back to their winning ways.

Middle Tennessee State: Nick McDevitt

Grade: A-

Replacing Kermit Davis was never going to be easy, but MTSU was able to capitalize on the program’s momentum to land an accomplished up-and-comer in McDevitt. An excellent recruiter, McDevitt’s clubs at UNC-Asheville have consistently competed for titles, and they would have had a chance to be even better if not for seeing high-major talent like Keith Hornsby (LSU), Andrew Rowsey (Marquette), Dwayne Sutton (Louisville), and Dylan Smith (Arizona) transfer out of the program in recent years. McDevitt has made a living finding these undervalued players in the South, a trait that will without a doubt serve him well in the C-USA. The first job for McDevitt and his new staff is holding onto an excellent 2018 class signed by Davis in Tye Fagan, KJ Buffen, and Carlos Curry.

Utah State: Craig Smith

Grade: A-

I love this hire for Utah State. Smith checks all the boxes, a young, smart, established successful head coach who is familiar with the Mountain West. Smith has built South Dakota from the ground up, winning 48 games in the last 2 seasons, and before that was a strong assistant at Colorado State & Nebraska under Tim Miles. Smith has consistently been able to bring in high-level talent to Bismarck, despite it not being the easiest place to recruit. At a program like Utah State, with great facilities and a big fanbase in a better conference, Smith should be able to recruit at an extremely high level and bring Utah State back to the upper tier of the Mountain West. Meanwhile, the Mountain West as a whole continues to hire terrific coaches. If they continue to do so, the league’s profile will continue to grow.

Tennessee State: Penny Collins

Grade: A-

Collins will have the tough task of following Dana Ford, who did a tremendous job rebuilding this TSU program of the last few years before leaving for Missouri State. However, Collins is an accomplished recruiter in the area whose energy and excitement seems to rub off on everyone he meets. He spent his press conference discussing trying to recruit more from the Nashville area and even breaking out in song:

I think Collins will continue to build on the momentum that Ford got started at TSU and make the Tigers consistent contenders in the OVC.

Western Carolina: Mark Prosser

Grade: B

Prosser’s last name should certainly be familiar to most of you, his father Skip the legendary head coach at Xavier and Wake Forest. However, Mark has established himself as a very good coach as the associate head coach under Pat Kelsey at Winthrop. He has a bright basketball mind and his last name will get him in with high school and AAU coaches, which is critical in a highly-competitive state to recruit in.

High Point: Tubby Smith

Grade: B+

Don’t get me wrong, Tubby Smith is a great coach. He’s won everywhere he’s been, and it is extremely rare for a program like High Point to have a chance at a coach with the pedigree of Tubby Smith. My reason for this not getting an A is that I don’t know if Tubby will approach this job in the way he will have to in order to have success. This job will require a lot of work, and is certainly not just a retirement job. My gut says Tubby has plenty left in the tank and will want to go all in to win, but if he doesn’t, the results won’t be be good.

Pittsburgh: Jeff Capel

Grade: A-

All things considered with the process Pitt has gone through in finding a head coach, landing Capel is a win for Heather Lyke and the rest of the decision-makers at Pitt. Capel has had success as a head coach at both VCU and Oklahoma before blossoming into perhaps the nation’s best recruiter as Mike Krzyzewski’s lead assistant at Duke. Capel will without a doubt bring elite talent to Pittsburgh. The question is whether that will translate into wins. As I wrote on Twitter earlier today, watching Capel build this program from scratch to try and put together a quality roster for next year will be one of the top stories of the offseason in college basketball.

Louisville: Chris Mack

Grade: A+

The first (and probably only) A+ to be given out, Louisville was all in on Mack from the beginning, and got their man today. And what a man they got. Mack’s resume speaks for itself, elevating Xavier to one of the elite programs in college basketball. He has recruited extremely well, developed talent, and is a great in-game coach. Despite all the uncertainty regarding the FBI Investigation into the program and potential NCAA sanctions that could come about as a result of it, Louisville still landed one of the country’s elite coaches and took the first step towards getting the program back on track.

Temple: Aaron McKie (In 2019)

Grade: C

The reports out of Temple are interesting: that longtime head coach Fran Dunphy will step down after the 2018-19 season and McKie, his lead assistant, will take over. This is a nice ending to Dunphy’s tenure, despite recent struggles that have turned part of the fanbase against him. However, the choice to appoint McKie without a search puzzles me. McKie is certainly qualified and has the support of many as the long-term leader of the program. A former star for the Owls, McKie has playing and coaching experience in the NBA before joining Dunphy’s staff at Temple. His extensive ties to the area should help in recruiting, especially if he puts together a talented staff. However, not doing a full search when there are several potentially better candidates out there is not a good move to me, especially given the program’s recent struggles. A guy like Ashley Howard or Baker Dunleavy with experience on the Villanova staff and better AAU connections might have been my choice.

Bryant: Jared Grasso

Grade: A+

This is a tremendous hire for Bryant. Grasso has been the forgotten man behind Iona’s recent dominance of the MAAC, the right-hand-man for Tim Cluess regarded as an elite recruiter, very good coach, and an even better person. He has consistently been able to bring top-level talent from all around the country to Iona and is known for his work on the transfer and JUCO markets as well. Hiring a guy with Grasso’s recruiting background is a home run for a struggling program like Bryant. The NEC has struggled to hold onto its top players in recent years, with many suggesting the only way to survive long-term is to recruit more transfer and JUCO players in addition to freshmen. Grasso has a chance to do this and as a result have a better chance for sustained success. I have no doubt that he will turn this program around.