Here’s Part 2 of our examination into the introductory press conferences of some of the notable college basketball coaches who were hired last offseason.
You can read Part 1 here.
These introductory press conferences can be full of cliches, like talk of establishing a culture or playing fast, but they can also lend themselves to material statements in regards to what regions coaches want to recruit, the type of players they want, what their offensive or defensive philosophies might be and more.
It was our goal to sift through coaches ingratiating themselves with their new fan bases to identify these measurable statements and examine how these college basketball coaches have done in living up to their promises after their first season at their current schools.
Obviously, it’s early in the tenures of these coaches and they’d be the first to tell you that they haven’t met their goals yet, but using the road maps they outlined a year ago, how have they lived up to their own words?
Tom Crean, Georgia
Quote: “There’s no doubt we’ve got to recruit. We have got to recruit. We got to find a group of people that are going to commit to the ‘G.'”
Crean’s biggest success on the recruiting trail came on Feb. 11, when five-star shooting guard Anthony Edwards committed to Georgia over Kentucky. Edwards is ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the 2019 recruiting class, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.
The Bulldogs also landed a trio of four-star, top-100 signees for next season in small forwards Christian Brown, Jaykwon Walton and Toumani Camara. Georgia’s 2019 class currently ranks ninth nationally, and Crean is responsible for three of the school’s eight-highest rated recruits in the modern recruiting era, according to 247Sports.
Georgia made the NCAA Tournament just twice this decade and the program hasn’t exceeded 22 wins this century, so the influx of talent is — and will be — necessary for the Bulldogs to reach new heights under Crean.
Quote: “The SEC is so powerful … the structure and the power of this conference and the way that they have tried to continue to make this something that has a real strong basketball footprint in the national landscape and after spending this year at ESPN, even though I didn’t call many SEC games, I got a real feel for how powerful this is on a national level … this is a national school, right? International.”
This quote was in response to a reporter’s question about Dick Vitale calling Georgia a potential “sleeping giant.” The SEC, which is known for its football, finished with five teams ranked among the top 21 teams on kenpom.com last season with Kentucky and Tennessee earning No. 2 seeds, LSU receiving a No. 3 seed and Auburn making the Final Four. It’s not unusual for coaches to talk up the quality of their conference, but the SEC backed up Crean’s talk from his introductory press conference.
Sure the bottom of the conference, which included Georgia last season, isn’t great, but that’s not unique to the SEC, either. The conference has hired some really accomplished coaches in the last few coaching carousels, so the SEC has more to offer than just Kentucky.
The latter half of Crean’s quote addresses his recruiting efforts locally and regionally. Georgia’s four 2019 signees are from Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Virginia, with Crean landing Anthony Edwards out of Holy Spirit Preparatory School in Atlanta. Three of Georgia’s four enrollees in 2018 were from Georgia.
Quote: “When I first took over at Marquette, I’ll never forget, there were three coaches, one said we’d never have a home-court advantage, that we’d never have it there, and a couple said it’d be tough to win in there, that they only come certain times. We started out at 6,700 fans, at the end — nine years later — we were at 16,453 and we’d had 29 sellouts. So I look forward to that, there’s no predictions on that. I look and say this arena, it can get to a place that we’re gonna work, whether it does or not we’ll find out, but every day to work to make this place something people want to be at as much as they possibly can, not just for the bigger games, not just the weekend games.”
Georgia averaged 8,213 fans per home game during the 2017-18 season. In Crean’s first season, the Bulldogs broke the school’s single-season attendance record in a loss to Auburn, surpassing the previous record of 139,570.
The Bulldogs will absolutely need to improve upon their 11-21 record (2-16 SEC) to continue getting fans to come to home games at that rate, but the fan turnout in Year One of the Crean era shows that there’s a passionate fan base at the school for basketball, not just football, especially if the team is winning.
Dan Hurley, UConn
Quote: “This is nowhere near the situations that I probably walked into at Wagner and at Rhode Island. I believe that that group of young men to our right has a much better season ahead of them next year if they’re fully committed the way that they need to be. It’s not the same rebuild of the last two that I’ve taken over and at a place like this, with all the resources and the tradition and history, I can move things along a lot quicker.”
Hurley was right in saying that taking over UConn in 2018 wasn’t the same as taking over Wagner in 2010 or Rhode Island in 2012. The Seahawks went 5-26 the season before Hurley’s arrival and the Rams went 7-24, while the Huskies were 14-18 in 2018. Given the record, talent on the roster, conference affiliation and program history, UConn was in a better place than Wagner or Rhode Island.
However, the jury is still out on whether Hurley can “move things along a lot quicker.”
At Wagner, he led the program to an eight-win improvement in Year One and a 12-win improvement in Year Two, when the Seahawks won 25 games.
At Rhode Island, he oversaw a one, six and nine-win improvement in his first three seasons, including a 23-10 record in Year Three.
UConn went 16-17 (6-12 AAC) in Hurley’s first season, which was barely better than the Huskies’ record last year. Houston, Cincinnati, Memphis and Wichita State are operating at a higher level than UConn, which only enrolled one 2018 recruit, three-star point guard Brendan Adams, and has the nation’s No. 21 class for 2019.
It’s not that UConn can’t win and win big, but Hurley’s program is chasing a handful of programs in the conference that are currently dealing at a higher level year in and year out.
Travis Steele, Xavier
Quote: “Recruiting is the bloodline of our program … I’m going to use the break basket philosophy. What do I mean by that? If I drew a five-hour radius around the city of Cincinnati, there’s good enough talent, there’s enough talent within this area, to be able to win Big East championships and national championships. Now I’m not naive enough to sit up here and say, ‘We’re only going to recruit within a five-hour radius.'”
Steele got the phrase “bread basket” in regards to recruiting from his predecessor, Chris Mack, (or perhaps it was vice versa), but both coaches mentioned the five-hour radius concept during their own introductory press conferences last spring at Xavier and Louisville, respectively.
Xavier’s two 2018 enrollees, Dontarius James and Keonte Kennedy, were from South Carolina and Texas, respectively. The Musketeers’ five signees for 2019 are from Kentucky (x2), Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Georgia.
Steele said he and his staff wouldn’t limit themselves to only recruiting within five hours of Cincinnati and so far, the Musketeers have added more high school recruits from outside their “bread basket” than from within it, but it’s obviously still early in Steele’s tenure.
Quote: “I do think that fans, they seem to be coaches as well. They think our defense needs to improve. I know that over the last few years. I think we could have the best defensive team we’ve ever had at Xavier and that’s something not to shy away from. We have tremendous athletes, tremendous versatility. We’re gonna be a man-to-man defensive team, primarily, again, I’m not stubborn enough to say we’re not gonna play zone because I want to win … We’re going to be a little bit more aggressive defensively.”
Historically speaking, Xavier hasn’t typically been an elite defensive team – at least in the kenpom.com era that dates back to the 2002 season. The Musketeers have finished in the top 20 in adjusted defensive efficiency three times in the last 18 seasons – in 2002, 2004 and 2009, under the coaching of Thad Matta and Sean Miller.
That’s not to say Xavier has been bad on that end of the floor, but it has often found itself ranked between 40th and 80th nationally in terms of adjusted defensive efficiency. Last season, the Musketeers were 102nd, their worst ranking since 2005, so Xavier was far from its best defensive team ever.
If we’re looking for statistical proof of the Musketeers being more aggressive defensively, the proof doesn’t lie in their defensive turnover percentage of 16.2 percent, which ranked 309th nationally.
Steele wasn’t shy to switch Xavier’s defense from man to zone, much like his predecessor.
In Xavier’s 84-73 win at St. John’s in February, the Musketeers played zone on 28 of their 58 half-court possessions, according to Musketeer Report. Xavier’s “defensive fingerprint,” according to kenpom.com, was “mostly zone.”
While Xavier’s top four scorers filed for early entry into the 2019 NBA Draft, if they all return to school, the Musketeers could be a top-25 team next year and one that could take steps forward defensively in Year Two of the Steele era.