First-Year Outlook for 2019-20's Major Coaching Changes

Michigan's Juwan Howard, UCLA's Mick Cronin and Nebraska's Fred Hoiberg are just some of the faces in new places this season in college basketball.
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Michigan basketball Juwan Howard 2019-20 season

A sweeping set of coaching changes shifted the college basketball landscape this summer, by now a customary offseason ritual, but also one which highlights a number of programs in transition. A wide number of high-major jobs opened up, and a fascinating mix of head coaches took over at new programs. SI breaks down the first-year outlook for each team, and its new coach, below.

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Alabama: Nate Oats
Last season: 18–16, missed tournament

After working hard to retain a majority of the talent on the roster, Nate Oats has an opportunity for immediate success, something he enjoyed plenty of at Buffalo. There should be reason for optimism, beginning with sophomore point guard Kira Lewis, who took over admirably last season and can play his way into the NBA draft with a strong year. Also returning are Herbert Jones, a defensive stopper who is coming off a somewhat disappointing sophomore season, and sharpshooter John Petty, both who have room for improvement. West Virginia grad transfer James ‘Beetle’ Bolden was a double-digit scorer and should be a solid addition to the backcourt.

Oats will need to get better production out of his bigs, but given the talent in the fold, the opportunity should be there to build on 18 wins and an 8–10 SEC finish. Oats stands as one of the better offseason power-conference hires, and should have the program gathering steam soon enough.

Arkansas: Eric Musselman
Last season: 18–16, missed tournament

Eric Musselman ignited a turnaround upon arrival at Nevada in 2015, with a nine-game improvement in Year 1 serving as a base to recruit transfers and develop incumbent talent. While his transition to the SEC may not be quite as swift, the Razorbacks have a chance to play their way off the bubble and back toward the upper half of the conference, with several key players returning. Sophomore Isaiah Joe is a potential breakout star who made 41% of his threes as a freshman, and should be a centerpiece of the offense this time around. Arkansas will also lean on experienced guards Mason Jones and Jalen Harris and SMU grad transfer Jimmy Whitt, all of whom are fits with Musselman’s preferred uptempo style. There’s enough firepower coming back to stay competitive, and even with Daniel Gafford off to the NBA, improving on 18 wins wouldn’t be a total shock.

Cal: Mark Fox
Last season: 8–23, missed tournament

It’s probably going to take a while, but there’s really nowhere to go but up for Mark Fox at Cal. The Bears are coming off an unthinkably poor season in which they finished 241st out of 353 DI teams in adjusted efficiency, according to KenPom data. Not only was that mark dead last in the Pac-12, but it was also worse than Cal Baptist, Cal State-Fullerton, and Cal State-Bakersfield. Unsurprisingly, that lead to roster turnover, with three of five leading scorers transferring out, but guards Paris Austin and Matt Bradley are back, and Fox’s job will mostly be to reset the program and try to erase all memory of last season. It’s possible this gets worse before it gets better, but expectations are understandably low for now, and this year won’t be fully judged off wins and losses. After winning eight games each of the last two seasons under Wyking Jones, any improvement will be a reasonable start here.

Cincinnati: John Brannen
Last season: 28–7, lost in first round

The Bearcats were nothing if not consistent in Mick Cronin’s 13-year tenure, and John Brannen arrives from Northern Kentucky tasked with upholding the Bearcats’ streak of eight seasons with 20-plus wins. There’s certainly enough on the roster to stay near the top of the AAC, as conference player of the year Jarron Cumberland returns for his senior year along with starters Keith Williams, Tre Scott and Nysier Brooks. Four-star freshman Zach Harvey could also make an immediate impact, along with Cumberland’s cousin Jaevin, who averaged 17 points at Oakland last season. Brannen prefers to play uptempo, and any shift from Cronin’s slow-paced, rough-and-tumble style is worth noting. There shouldn’t be too much of a drop-off expected for a perennially successful program in a relatively thin conference.

Michigan: Juwan Howard
Last season: 30–7, lost in Sweet Sixteen

Howard’s arrival in wake of John Beilein’s departure to the NBA stands as one of the more fascinating coaching storylines anywhere in the country. Charles Matthews, Ignas Brazdeikis and Jordan Poole turned pro, and defensive mastermind Luke Yaklich is now on Shaka Smart’s bench at Texas. So it’s fair to expect an entirely new look here, if not a change in attitude, with tenacious Zavier Simpson still setting the tone at point guard. Howard became a highly respected assistant with the Miami Heat, and he returns to his alma mater with perhaps more expectations than most first-time head coaches. But with enormous shot-blocker Jon Teske and sharpshooter Isaiah Livers back for more, plus freshman Franz Wagner (yep, the younger brother of recent Michigan star Moritz Wagner) expected to play a key role, Howard should have enough talent in place for a smooth transition, even if we aren’t entirely sure what it looks like yet. The program’s evolution with Howard in charge could be exciting.

Nebraska: Fred Hoiberg
Last season: 19–17, missed tournament

Hoiberg returns to college coaching with his reputation intact, despite some tough sailing in the NBA. But it’s evident Nebraska will have to stomach a ground-up rebuild, after losing four starters and returning just one rotation player. Hoiberg has enjoyed some early success landing talent, but it’s going to take some patience as the new players mesh and several transfers, including former Western Kentucky guard Dalano Banton, sit out a year. Highly rated junior college transfer Cam Mack, French import Yvan Ouedraogo and grad transfer Haanif Cheatham, formerly of Marquette and Florida Gulf Coast, should all play big roles. Hoiberg built a sustainable program at Iowa State and should be able to do the same in Lincoln, but expectations ought to be tempered for Year 1.

Nevada: Steve Alford
Last season: 29–5, lost in first round

Alford landed on his feet after burning out at UCLA, and takes the helm of a Nevada program that lost all five of its starters, including three foundational players in Caleb Martin, Cody Martin and Jordan Caroline. While the Wolf Pack should remain relevant in the Mountain West, they’ll have to mesh quickly, and it’s tough to expect smooth sailing all season. Returners Jazz Johnson and Lindsey Drew (now healthy after an injury-riddled couple of years) will lead this group from the backcourt, and Louisiana Tech transfer Jalen Harris should be a key scorer.

As usual, Nevada will be experienced, but this looks like more of an adjustment year, given the need to incorporate so many new players and noting Alford’s spotty recent track record. Still, before landing at UCLA in 2013, he coached New Mexico to an 155–52 record in six years, and his return to the Mountain West should keep Nevada in the mix as a potential tournament team. And with Utah State tracking as the team to beat in the conference, the lessened pressure this season could be a positive.

St. John’s: Mike Anderson
Last season: 21–13, lost in First Four

For better or worse, Anderson’s hire at St. John’s was one of the more-discussed moves of the offseason, with a prolonged Red Storm coaching search eventually landing on the well-traveled former Arkansas boss. With only scorer Mustapha Heron and key role player LJ Figueroa returning from last year’s rotation, it’s shaping up to be a challenging year as Anderson and his staff gain footing in the Big East. Significant contributions are needed across the board, and there are a slew of new faces to help replace Shamorie Ponds, Justin Simon and Marvin Clark, but expecting this team to sneak into the tournament again would be a big ask.

The better mark of success might come on the recruiting trail, where Anderson, like his predecessors, will be challenged to gain traction with upper-crust talent. Heron should be in for a big individual season statistically, but he’s not much of a playmaker. Anderson, who has long favored uptempo play, may have to squeeze value from every corner of his roster to make headway in Year 1.

Temple: Aaron McKie
Last season: 23–10, lost in First Four

McKie takes over his alma mater as a first-time head coach after spending the last five seasons as an assistant under Fran Dunphy. He’ll have the benefit of eleven returning players, including second-leading scorer Quinton Rose and tough-minded guard Nate Pierre Louis, and be tasked with matching last season’s 13–5 conference mark. The Owls may be challenged to score the ball in the halfcourt, particularly without leading scorer Shizz Alston, but with most of the AAC’s top-tier teams weathering major offseason change, there’s certainly opportunity to match last year’s success. Temple went 3–0 on a preseason trip to the Bahamas, and it does have the right mix of athletes and defenders to play fast, which McKie prefers. The hope is that the Owls' continuity leads to immediate results.

Texas A&M: Buzz Williams
Last season: 14–18, missed tournament

A rough year in College Station led to Billy Kennedy’s ouster, and subsequently, Williams’s much-heralded return to his home state. The Aggies should be expected to improve, with the change likely to be a positive one, but also deserve a bit of patience given the circumstances. There’s some talent still on the roster, most notably versatile junior forward Savion Flagg and point guard TJ Starks, but without real across-the-board improvement, it’s tough to envision this as anything more than a mid-tier SEC team, at least for now. The Aggies were a poor three-point shooting team and struggled to score efficiently, and barring any substantial surprises, those issues may well persist. Freshmen Cashius McNeilly, a promising guard, and athletic wing Emanuel Miller could end up playing real roles. Williams does know how to overachieve, and there’s enough in place for that to happen out of the gate.

UCLA: Mick Cronin
Last season: 17–16, missed tournament

Following a down season that included Steve Alford’s departure and led to an extended coaching search, Cronin takes over a new-look Bruins team that should see returning faces stepping into bigger roles across the board. Kris Wilkes, Jaylen Hands and Moses Brown are all gone, opening up minutes at key positions, although it’s unclear at a glance exactly who fills what role. This is an athletic group featuring a number of players with recruiting pedigree, but in lieu of a true standout scorer, depth will have to be a strength here, with Prince Ali the most notable returner.

Cronin faces a tall task in importing Cincinnati’s preferred defensive-minded style on a group of players he didn’t recruit, but the Pac-12 may again be somewhat messy up and down, leaving room for a bounce-back season. Shareef O’Neal returns from heart surgery, point guard Tyger Campbell from knee surgery and swingman Jules Bernard could be in for a bigger role. If the Bruins buy in on defense and get tangible results from the returners, they could take an immediate step back toward national relevance.

UNLV: TJ Otzelberger
Last season: 17–14, missed tournament

Otzelberger and his team have plenty of questions to answer in UNLV’s latest attempt to return to the top of the Mountain West. At South Dakota State, he preferred to play fast, and the early emphasis has been on upping the pace. Utah transfer Donnie Tillman has been declared eligible, which should be a boost, but scorer Amauri Hardy returns to lead the offense. Elijah Mitrou-Long arrives from Texas as a grad transfer. But there’s not a ton of shooting on the roster, and the Running Rebels were also abysmal defensively last season. It’s most likely they end up in the middle of the conference, with a step forward expected a year from now, when transfer David Jenkins, who followed Otzelberger from South Dakota State, becomes eligible.

Vanderbilt: Jerry Stackhouse
Last season: 9–23, missed tournament

There’s quite literally no way for things to get worse at Vanderbilt after an exhausting, winless SEC campaign. Stackhouse has a strong G League track record and inherits some talent, including forward Aaron Nesmith and guard Saben Lee, but this season should be gauged more on whatever cultural shift takes place, as opposed to wins and losses. A soft non-conference schedule should help. Realistically, there has to be some improvement, but it’s hard to say exactly what that will look like. If there’s progression across the board (and hopefully more in-conference success), Stackhouse should be able to make some positive strides. Reviving the program’s reputation in whatever way possible is the prerogative.

Virginia Tech: Mike Young
Last season: 26–9, lost in Sweet Sixteen

After a successful, stable 17-year run at Wofford, Young takes over for Buzz Williams and inherits a new-look roster after the departures of Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Justin Robinson and Kerry Blackshear. Naturally, on paper, the Hokies are likely to regress toward the back of the pack in the ACC, with a lot of new players and a new coaching staff. Young’s teams have never been afraid to launch threes, and returners like Isaiah Wilkins, Landers Nolley and Wabissa Bede should be relied upon. Promising freshman Jalen Cone should have a role. Expectations are relatively low for now, but noting Young’s past success, a respectable mid-conference finish isn’t out of the question.

Washington State: Kyle Smith
Last season: 11–21, missed tournament

Smith arrives from San Francisco and steps into perhaps the toughest job in the Pac-12, with the Cougars having struggled in recent years and in need of a serious jolt. The conference hasn’t been particularly strong, which means some opportunity, but aside from sophomore CJ Elleby, there’s a real lack of high-end talent, an issue Smith will have to deal with. Elleby has all-conference potential, but beyond him, things get dicey. Escaping the basement would be nice, but it’s not necessarily likely that happens here as only five players return. This turnaround won’t happen overnight.