If you like college basketball melodrama — and I, for one, do — the wheeling and double-dealing of the annual post-season coaching carousel is boffo entertainment.
With most of the major jobs now filled, here are my winners and losers in this year's college hoops coaching churn:
WINNER: Second chances for cheaters who win. Bruce Pearl lost his job at Tennessee for cheating (and lying to the NCAA about it). Kelvin Sampson not only got Indiana on NCAA probation, he did the same at Oklahoma. Yet, Auburn hired Pearl — who took UT to its first-ever round of eight in 2010 — even though he is still under a show-cause penalty from the NCAA. Houston chose Sampson, who took Oklahoma to the Final Four in 2002 but got a five-year show-cause after the Indiana scandal, as its new head coach.
College presidents often talk a big game of rules compliance. Who they hire tells what they really value: Just win, baby.
LOSER: Second chances for non-cheaters who did not win enough. I would have thought old friends John Pelphrey (won at South Alabama, fired at Arkansas) and Darrin Horn (won at Western Kentucky, fired at South Carolina) should have been obvious candidates for openings at Southern Mississippi and Marshall. Instead, I barely heard either name mentioned.
WINNER: Virginia Tech. The Hokies have finished dead last in the ACC three seasons in a row. Tech has won a whopping two — count 'em, two — NCAA Tournament games since 1980. Yet new VPI Athletics Director Whit Babcock, the former Cincinnati AD, opened up the checkbook ($18.2 million over seven years) and lured Buzz Williams away from Marquette. This is the slam-dunk hire of the current carousel.
LOSER: Buzz Williams. At Marquette, the hard-charging Williams (three NCAA round of 16s, one Elite Eight in six seasons) had apparently grown concerned over future life in the new Big East. With no football, that league could be on the outside if the five power conferences ever break away. However, even if he were desperate to move, Williams could have waited for better basketball jobs than Virginia Tech to open.
WINNER: "Getting out one year early." Cuonzo Martin never really escaped the shadow of Bruce Pearl at Tennessee. Losing four starters from UT's Sweet 16 team meant a likely step back for the Volunteers in 2014-15. So even if moving to California seems somewhere between a lateral move and a step down for Martin, it made sense. Missouri's Frank Haith was never popular at Mizzou. Off an NIT season in his third year, Haith exited to Tulsa before his coaching seat turned scalding in Columbia.
LOSER: Marshall. Maybe Dan D'Antoni is a place-holder for his younger brother, the now-ex-Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni. If not, the hiring of a 66-year-old coach who hasn't worked in college basketball since Adolph Rupp was still the Kentucky coach (1970-71) is the most puzzling reach of the current carousel.
WINNER: The SEC. Past NCAA problems aside, Bruce Pearl should jolt a snoozing Auburn program awake. At Tennessee, Donnie Tyndall (whose program at Morehead State was also sanctioned by the NCAA) brings a grinder's work ethic and the people skills it takes to succeed at UT. Missouri may have hired Kim Anderson out of NCAA Division II (albeit off a national title season at Central Missouri), but the former Norm Stewart player and assistant has the school ties to rally a dispirited Mizzou fan base.
LOSER: Ben Howland. It seemed like Howland's name was linked with every significant opening this spring. Yet the coach who took UCLA to three straight Final Fours (2006-08) remains unemployed.
WINNER: Orlando Antigua. Going back to the days of Lee Rose, South Florida has long been the place where promising coaching careers go to stall. However, if anyone can make basketball matter at USF, the outgoing ex-Kentucky assistant has the personality to do it.
LOSER: Steve Masiello. The Manhattan head man and ex-Kentucky Wildcats walk-on was South Florida's first choice — until a background check by the school revealed that Masiello did not have the UK degree listed on his bio. At least Manhattan is allowing Masiello to return to his old job once he finishes his degree requirements at Kentucky.