Early returns mixed for familiar first-year coaches
The coaching carousel is a rite of late spring in college basketball, a chance for the next hot young coach to cash in on an unexpected March run or for more established faces to get a second (or third, or fourth) shot at turning around a floundering program.
The spring of 2016 featured a heavy dose of the latter, as coaches with a proven track record whose time at their old jobs may have grown a bit stale sprinted at new opportunities.
With less than two months to go before Selection Sunday, there have been some pleasant surprises (we see you, Tubby Smith) and some harsh reality checks (hunker down for the long run, Kevin Stallings).
A quick look at who has found the grass greener in more ways than just the numbers on their paychecks, and who might be regretting throwing up that ''for sale'' sign:
Coach: TUBBY SMITH
Old Spot: Texas Tech
New Spot: Memphis (15-6, 5-3 AAC)
What's Working: The well-traveled 65-year-old Smith has provided the Tigers with a needed dose of discipline, particularly when the ball is in their hands. Memphis, 90th in the country in turnovers per game (11.6), a marked improvement from last season when they were 173rd (12.1). Having a breakout star in guard Dedric Lawson also helps. The 6-foot-8 swingman was spectacular during the nonconference schedule (11 double-doubles) but has leveled off a bit of late. No biggie, as brother K.J. Lawson and guard Markel Crawford give Smith three legitimate scorers to go to when things get tight.
Coach: JOSH PASTNER
Old Spot: Memphis
New Spot: Georgia Tech (12-8, 4-4 ACC)
What's Working: Kind of depends on when you check in on the Yellow Jackets, who have been trying to escape the bottom half of the ACC for the better part of a decade. Say this about Pastner, at least his team isn't boring. The Yellow Jackets have swung between spectacular (home wins over ACC royalty North Carolina and insurgent Florida State ) and sorry (a 53-point beat down at Duke and nonconference losses to Penn State and Ohio). Georgia Tech is 4-4 in the ACC with only two games left against ranked teams (both vs. Notre Dame). An NCAA berth may be out of reach, but the postseason may not.
Coach: JAMIE DIXON
Old Spot: Pittsburgh
New Spot: TCU (14-6, 3-5 Big 12)
What's Working: The defense for starters. The Horned Frogs are allowing four points a game less than they did last season and holding opponents to just 42 percent shooting, a significant bump over 2015-16. The Horned Frogs' three victories in conference play already equal their Big 12 win total from last season. Though Dixon's rebuilding project at his alma mater is still in the early stages, his impact in changing the culture has been immediate. For the first time in a while, TCU has something it has lacked for the better part of two decades: momentum.
Coach: KEVIN STALLINGS
Old Spot: Vanderbilt
New Spot: Pittsburgh (12-8, 1-6 ACC)
What's Not Working: At the moment, everything. Having four seniors to work with was supposed to ease Stallings' transition after 17 years with the Commodores. The Panthers have one of the nation's best combos in Michael Young and Jamel Artis, but Dixon left behind little depth and there seems to be a disconnect between Stallings and his players. Pitt struggles to get stops and is last or next to last in the ACC in field goal defense, 3-point field goal defense, scoring margin, rebounding margin and steals, shortcomings on display in an embarrassing 55-point meltdown against Louisville on Tuesday. Stallings will almost certainly have time to get it right, though it may take a while. Even Benjamin Printz, who oversaw a 106-13 loss to Westminster College in 1906, got a second season on the job.
Coach: MARVIN MENZIES
Old Spot: New Mexico State
New Spot: UNLV (10-11, 5-5 Mountain West)
What's Not Working: Menzies made New Mexico State an NCAA Tournament regular, reaching the dance five times in nine seasons with the Aggies. He landed the UNLV job only after Chris Beard - hired to replace the fired Dave Rice - got cold feet and headed to Texas Tech instead. The defense-first philosophy Menzies used so effectively at New Mexico State hasn't translated quite so well from the WAC to the deeper and more rugged Mountain West. Scoring has been an issue, too, as tends to happen when you're last in the conference in free throw shooting (68 percent).
Coach: BRYCE DREW
Old Spot: Valparaiso
New Spot: Vanderbilt (9-11, 3-5 SEC)
What's Not Working: The guy who was part of the family business for so long at Valpo - sending the Crusaders into the Sweet 16 in 1998 while playing for dad Homer, then coaching his alma mater to two NCAA appearances - seemed like a perfect fit for the Commodores. It may very well work out in the long run, but not yet. Vanderbilt spent the latter days of Stallings' tenure unable to separate itself from the pack behind Kentucky in the SEC. Things haven't exactly cleared up under Drew. Vandy continues to tantalize with its potential (see a road win at Florida), but still lacks a killer instinct at times (see a late meltdown in a home loss to Arkansas on Tuesday).
AP College Basketball Writer John Marshall and AP Sports Writers Theresa Walker, Joe Reedy and Luke Meredith and David Brandt contributed to this report.
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