BREAKING: Anthony Grant Hired at Dayton

By Kevin Sweeney

Looking to continue the momentum of a program having incredible success, Dayton will look to a Flyer alum to take the reigns of the program. 

Multiple media reports are confirming that Anthony Grant will be the next head coach at Dayton. The 50-year old Grant takes over for Archie Miller, who recently took the head coaching position at Indiana. 

Grant, currently an assistant on Billy Donovan’s staff for the Oklahoma City Thunder, has previous collegiate head coaching experience, with a highly successful 3-year run at VCU before spending 6 seasons at Alabama before being fired following the 2014-15 season. He also worked under Donovan as an assistant at Florida prior to his time at VCU. 

Among the other candidates reportedly considered for the vacancy were Northern Kentucky head coach Dan Muller, Dayton assistants Kevin Kuwik & Tom Ostrom, Georgia State head coach Ron Hunter, and numerous others. 

Grant enters a program departing 4 starters from this season’s A10 championship roster. It will be critical for Grant to retain as much of the highly-touted 5-man recruiting class currently committed for next season. That said, it’s possible that Grant could retain some of the current coaching staff in order to hold onto these recruits. If much of that class departs, the Flyers could be facing a rebuilding year. 

BREAKING: Jim Hayford to Be Named Seattle Head Coach

By Kevin Sweeney

Seeking a head coach to lead them to the top of the WAC, Seattle has landed a proven winner at the Division 1 level.

The Redhawks will reportedly hire current Eastern Washington head coach Jim Hayford to the same position. Hayford brought EWU to 3 postseason appearances, including one NCAA Tournament, in his 6 year tenure. Hayford also had a highly successful run as the head coach at Division 3 Whitworth.

He replaces Cameron Dollar, who was surprisingly fired earlier this month after 8 seasons in charge. Dollar has since accepted a position on new Washington head coach Mike Hopkins’ staff.

Hayford’s deep ties to the Pacific Northwest make him a perfect fit to fill this vacancy. As Seattle looks to re-establish itself as a Division 1 basketball program, it will be necessary to recruit the Pacific Northwest and specifically the fertile recruiting area that is Seattle. While Hayford’s EWU roster isn’t full of Pacific Northwest products, he has landed a fair amount of products from the region in his time in Cheney. He’s also recruited effectively internationally, with multiple players from Australia and Europe on the roster.

Seattle U will lose two of its top 3 scorers from this past season, but still have a few building blocks for Hayford to build around in promising rising junior center Aaron Menzies and guard Zack Moore. According to verbalcommits.com, Seattle still has 2 vacant scholarships to fill for the upcoming season before any potential departures.

Eastern Washington now faces a coaching search starting fairly late in the process. The obvious candidate would be current associate head coach Shantay Legans, who helped develop former EWU star Tyler Harvey into an NBA prospect.

Update:

Legans has been promoted to head coach, according to a release on the team’s Twitter page. It’s his first career head coaching gig.

The Best of the Rest: A Look at the Other March Tournaments

By Kevin Sweeney

While all the focus, and rightfully so, around this time of year is on the NCAA Tournament, there are still other teams looking to end their season’s on a high note and bring momentum into next season. While the NIT is a well-respected tournament, many have criticized the CBI, CIT, and Vegas 16 (which wasn’t played this season) as money-grabs for third-tier teams. I think these “third-tier” tournaments are great for the sport, as it gives teams more practice time, fans a chance to watch their squad a few more times, and players the experience of playing in must-win games. You can find my extended thoughts on that issue HERE. With all postseason tournament coming to an end, here’s a look at the final few teams remaining in each of these events and my predictions for which teams will finish their season with a win.

NIT

We are down to the final four of the NIT, with Cal-Bakersfield, Georgia Tech, TCU, and UCF ready to duke it out at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday and Thursday with a trophy on the line. Once again, we’ve seen that the NIT’s results are heavily skewed by which teams play like they want to be there, as many teams who were left disappointed on Selection Sunday posted lackluster performances in early-round NIT games.

Cal-Bakersfield has been on a miracle run from being an 8 seed (the lowest possible) to being two wins away from an NIT title, knocking off Cal, Colorado State, and UT-Arlington to earn the cross-country trip to New York City. Georgia Tech has continued its surprising campaign in year 1 of the Josh Pastner era with victories over Indiana, Belmont, and Ole Miss. Now, ACC All-Freshman team selection Josh Okogie and the rest of the Yellow Jackets will have to try and knock off red-hot Cal-Bakersfield if they want their season to continue.

Similarly to Georgia Tech, TCU has overachieved all season. While they didn’t reach the NCAA Tournament, the Horned Frogs came into the NIT with momentum after a stunning victory over Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament. They’ve parlayed that momentum into a deep run in the NIT, beating Fresno State, Iowa, and Richmond in their 3 games so far. Key in that run has been the play of junior Kenrich Williams, who has posted 2 double-doubles and a triple-double in the 3 games. This late run into March will without a doubt benefit Jamie Dixon’s team in the long run, as the Horned Frogs’ top 6 scorers will return next season. UCF and NIT-whisperer Johnny Dawkins round out the four squads headed to NYC. Dawkins went 11-1 with 2 championships in 3 trips to the NIT at Stanford, and has brought some of that success to Orlando, where Dawkins’ Knights have beaten Colorado, Illinois State, and Illinois in a trio of tightly-contested affairs.

Championship Game Prediction: Georgia Tech 74, TCU 70

CBI

We are down to 2 in the CBI, with the championship decided in a unique 3-game series format. The series begins tonight, with Wyoming making their way to Myrtle Beach to take on Coastal Carolina. It will continue with games on Wednesday and Friday (if necessary) in Laramie, Wyoming. Both teams have had the benefit of hosting all 3 of their previous CBI games (for a price), so it will be interesting to see how each team handles playing on the road, far away from home. Throughout the CBI, Wyoming has experimented with starting star sophomore Justin James, the team’s leading scorer who had come off the bench all season. James has passed that test with flying colors, averaging almost 19 points per game during the tournament. Meanwhile, Coastal Carolina has gotten 22 points in each of the 3 CBI contests from junior guard Jaylen Shaw, and has seen freshman wing Artur Labinowicz come into his own with 3 double-digit scoring performances.

Prediction: Wyoming wins the series 2-1

CIT

The semifinals of the CIT begin on Wednesday, as Texas A&M-CC travels to take on UMBC and Furman heads to New Jersey to take on Saint Peter’s. UMBC has been one of the great untold stories of the college basketball season, winning 21 games so far after having 7 straight seasons of 20 losses or more under first-year head coach Ryan Odom. The Retrievers can cap this incredible year with a postseason title with 2 more wins, but first they’ll have to go through a Texas A&M-CC team that fell just 3 points short of reaching the NCAA Tournament this season. The Islanders are led by Rashawn Thomas, a dynamic 6-7 forward who ranks in the top ten nationally in scoring at 22.6 points per game.

In the other game, Furman will look to continue their strong 2016-17 season without head coach Niko Medved, who took the same position at Drake during the CIT run. However, the team has been left in the capable hands of interim head coach Bob Richey, and will look to knock off the Peacocks, who came in second in the MAAC this season. St. Peter’s advanced in unlikely fashion over Texas State on Saturday, winning 49-44 despite not scoring in the game’s first 10 minutes. The Peacocks are well-coached and play excellent defense, making them a tough matchup in March.

Championship Game Prediction: St. Peter’s 62, UMBC 55

Vegas 16

While the basketball tournament will not be played this year, it’s Twitter account lives on in glorious fashion. @VegasSixteen has quickly become a Twitter must-follow, with its timely gifs and witty remarks making the college basketball postseason more enjoyable for the average fan.

BREAKING: Quinnipiac Hires Baker Dunleavy as Head Coach

By Kevin Sweeney

Another Dunleavy is a Division 1 head coach.
Baker Dunleavy, current Villanova associate head coach and son of Tulane head man Mike Dunleavy Sr, is expected to take the head coaching position at Quinnipiac, according to multiple media reports. John Pierson of WTNH in New Haven reports that Dunleavy is in the process of searching for assistant coaches to build his staff. The 34 year old Dunleavy has spent his entire coaching career to this point under Jay Wright on the Villanova staff, so it’s possible that he could bring current and former Villanova assistants with him.

Dunleavy replaces former UConn assistant Tom Moore, who recorded a 162-146 record in 10 seasons at the helm of the Quinnipiac program.

He inherits a Quinnipiac program that coming off a pair of 20+ loss seasons but one with considerable potential. The Bobcats have a great arena at the TD Bank Sports Center and are in a excellent location for recruiting, close to multiple major cities and many elite prep school programs. The school has seen sustained success in both hockey and women’s basketball, and hopes that Dunleavy is the man to bring them to success in men’s basketball. Reports of an up to 800k per year salary for whichever coach was hired demonstrate the program’s commitment to producing a winning product on the hardwood.

IMG_2495.JPG

TD Bank Sports Center, located on the campus of Quinnipiac University, is one of best arenas in the MAAC. (Wikipedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

Dunleavy’s first job will be retaining the dynamic freshman duo of MAAC Rookie of the Year Mikey Dixon and All-Freshman team selection Peter Kiss. That may be an uphill battle though, as David Borges of the New Haven Register tweeted earlier that “several key players may transfer if either Jared Grasso or Scott Burrell isn’t hired.” Keeping that pairing intact would provide a strong young core for Dunleavy to build around as he looks to create a MAAC contender in Hamden. Without transfers or current signees requesting release from their letter of intent, Quinnipiac has one vacant scholarship for next season if Alain Chigha isn’t awarded an extra year of eligibility. However, I anticipate Dunleavy having multiple scholarships to fill for next season.

Update:

In the aftermath of Dunleavy’s hiring, Dylan Fearon of Q30 TV reports that both Dixon and Kiss have requested their release to transfer from Quinnipiac. Each will have 3 years of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2017-18 season, should they attend another Division 1 school. 

The move puts Dunleavy in a position he couldn’t have imagined just a few years ago. After playing for Wright at Villanova, Dunleavy found himself working for Merrill Lynch and Bank of America in institutional sales. However, he took a leap of faith and joined Wright’s staff in 2010 as the Director of Basketball Operations. Now, he has his own program.

Expect Dunleavy to fill his staff with at least one, and possibly more, current and former Villanova staff members. Current Villanova assistant coach Kyle Neptune has previous experience working in the MAAC as an assistant at Niagara, so he could join Dunleavy in Hamden next season.

Why Duquesne Should Hire Mike Rice

By Kevin Sweeney

King Rice.

John Becker.

Dane Fife.

Over the past few days, the Duquesne coaching search has quickly gone from promising to bleak as candidate after candidate has passed on the position. First, it was Rice, the highly successful head coach at Monmouth who was reportedly very close to accepting the job. Then, a few tweets from Duquesne students saying they had seen Becker, the head man at Vermont, on campus made many believe a hiring was imminent once again. However, those rumors were quickly quelled as video of Becker on the Vermont campus surfaced. Then, Duquesne’s attention turned to Fife, the former Fort Wayne head coach now serving as an assistant under Tom Izzo at Michigan State. Fife was in “advanced talks” with Duquesne this more morning, per Gary Parrish of CBS Sports, before discussions breaking down and Fife stopped pursuing the job.

Despite the lucrative contract (Duquesne has reportedly up to $1 million per year to spend), the prestigious conference (Atlantic 10), and the upcoming renovations to basketball facilities, the school has come swung and missed at the top of their wish list. As Jesse Kramer wrote so eloquently on The Comeback today, “Assistant coaches don’t want Duquesne as their first job. Hot mid-major coaches don’t see the position as worthy of leaving a secure job in a worse conference.

That’s why Mike Rice is the perfect fit for the vacancy.

Mike Rice needs Duquesne as much as Duquesne needs Mike Rice.

Rice, the former Robert Morris and Rutgers head coach, saw his career derailed after an Outside the Lines feature showed him pegging his players with basketballs and calling them homophobic slurs. Rice became the face of the bad side of coaching, and his career appeared over.

However, Rice has slowly begun to repair his image as an assistant coach at the Patrick School in New Jersey, where he recently helped his team to NJSIAA Tournament of Champions title. There, he’s drawn praise from everyone he’s worked with for his work with his players, many of whom will play Division 1 basketball.

Right now, he’s the best option Duquesne has. Yes, they could look to names such as North Florida head coach Matt Driscoll or Kentucky assistant and former UTEP & Auburn head coach Tony Barbee, both of whom have been connected with the opening, but neither are as good a coach as Rice. Driscoll has posted just 2 winning seasons in his 8 at North Florida, and hasn’t been a coach in the northeast since 1997 when he coached at Division 3 La Roche College in Pittsburgh. Barbee, while successful at UTEP, struggled mightily at Auburn and dealt with multiple off-the-court issues from his players while on The Plains.

Duquesne’s basketball program has struggled for a long time. They play in a tough conference, which will make it that much more difficult to build a program from the ground up. But if there’s ever a time when it’s possible, it’s now.

Pittsburgh, which has long cast a shadow over the Dukes in terms of local support, is in a down spell. Arena renovations are coming.

Rice’s credentials speak for themselves.  A Pittsburgh native, Rice spent time at Pitt as an assistant and at nearby Robert Morris as head coach. At RMU, he led the most successful 3-year run in program history, with 3 20-win seasons, a pair of NCAA Tournament berths, and even the near-upset of Villanova in NCAA Tournament during his final season. He parlayed that success into the Rutgers job, where his record was exceedingly mediocre at 44-51. In a vacuum, those numbers are ugly, but when you consider what the program did in the years before and the years after, they paint a much nicer picture.

In addition, he’d bring intrigue and excitement to a program sorely lacking it right now. The Dukes ranked last in attendance in the A-10 in the 2015-16 season, and I believe they will hold that spot once again in 2016-17 once the NCAA Attendance Report is released.

Salary would also not be an issue for Rice. In theory, Duquesne could pay much less for Rice than that $1 million per year, perhaps less than half of that number, to start. That would leave enough remaining money to contract the services of an elite assistant coaching unit, who could help bring in high-level talent right away. The contract could also be a short-term one, allowing athletic director Dave Harper to easily hit the reset button should things go south.

Is Mike Rice perfect? No.

But neither is Duquesne, and that’s why they are a match made in heaven.

Pat Kelsey Will Not Take UMass Job

By Kevin Sweeney

Just 2 days after accepting the UMass head coaching position, Pat Kelsey has had a change of heart and will not take the job, according to Jeff Goodman of ESPN. It is unclear whether he will return to his previous position as Winthrop’s head coach or if he will explore other head coaching vacancies.

The hire of Kelsey was greeted with praise by much of the media when it was announced. He is a young coach who was highly successful at Winthrop, including taking the Eagles to the NCAA Tournament this year. He also has experience in the Atlantic 10, where he spent time as an assistant under Chris Mack at Xavier.

However, what was supposed to be a celebratory affair during today’s opening press conference in Amherst quickly turned solemn, as the event was cancelled and media/fans were told to leave the building. Here’s a thread of tweets from Matt Vautour of the Daily Hampshire Gazette, who was there covering the press conference when everything went down.

Obviously, UMass is now headed back to square one in the coaching search. A few candidates who were mentioned during the process before the hiring of Kelsey were Florida Gulf Coast head coach Joe Dooley, Monmouth head coach King Rice, and Celtics asssistant Micah Shrewsberry.

Nisre Zouzoua to Transfer From Bryant

By Kevin Sweeney

Bryant’s solid young core has taken a hit.

High-scoring sophomore guard Nisre Zouzoua has elected to transfer from the school, per Evan Daniels of scout.com. The 6-2 Zouzoua, who hails from just outside of Boston, will have 2 years of eligibility remaining after he sits out the 2017-18 season in accordance with NCAA transfer rules. 

Zouzoua profiles as a shooting guard with the ability to knock down threes in bunches. He made almost 3 triples per game this season en route to leading the NEC in scoring at 20.3 points per game. For his efforts, he was selected for first team all-conference honors. He’s also a good perimeter defender who averaged 1.5 steals per game this season. 

The loss is certainly a big one for Bryant, a team expected to compete for an NEC title next season. Without Zouzoua, all-rookie team selection Adam Grant will have to bear even more of a scoring load during his sophomore campaign. However, it’s not a surprising departure given the recent history of the NEC. Stars like Cane Broome (Sacred Heart), Rodney Pryor (Robert Morris), and Marcquise Reed (Robert Morris) have all departed the conference looking for more exposure and a better opportunity to play professionally. If these previous NEC stars are any indication, Zouzoua will have a long list of suitors from the highest levels of college basketball.