Wednesday, May 18, 2011

New Head Coaches: Mike Lonergan, Billy Kennedy and Bryce Drew

Catching up on three new head coach hires:

Billy Kennedy to Texas A&M: The Aggies will try to bounce back from the loss of Mark Turgeon to Maryland by hiring Billy Kennedy from Murray State. It's not an outstanding hire, but it's a solid hire. Kennedy has done well as a head coach at two mid-major schools. He took Southeastern Louisiana to two straight Southland regular season titles and an NCAA Tournament appearance. He then won the Ohio Valley regular season title the past two years with Murray State, including a trip to the Second Round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament. And I expect the team to compete again next year, although I picked Austin Peay as the narrow favorite to take the Ohio Valley next season. Kennedy has spend most of his coaching career in the southeastern part of the country and even spent a year as an assistant at Texas A&M a couple of decades ago. It will take a while to see how he does with recruiting, but he's walking into a great situation. As I talked about here and here, Texas A&M is primed for a really good 2011-12 season. Texas has been absolutely decimated by NBA defections and Kansas will not be as good as they were this past season either. Right now the Big 12 is wide open and I could see either Baylor or Texas A&M jumping ahead and stealing a Big 12 title. But it will be hard. Kennedy won't be able to spend a couple of years getting his feet wet in the Big 12 - there will be huge expectations from Day One. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Mike Lonergan to George Washington: Mike Lonergan is something of an unknown. He's had success at Vermont, but only over the past couple of years has he been well known outside of that state. Unless you're a fan of the America East you probably haven't ever seen much of him or his teams. But he has had success at Vermont and his name was linked with some big jobs, and he's definitely a quality hire for George Washington. The fact is that George Washington has fallen off the map the past few years. Karl Hobbs was a hot coaching name four years ago after he took the school to its third straight NCAA Tournament appearance. But over the past four years his teams have gone a combined 25-39 in Atlantic Ten play, with a single CBI appearance to show for it. It turns out that Pops Mensah-Bonsu had a lot more to do with that three year run than Karl Hobbs did. I had picked George Washington to finish fifth in the Atlantic Ten next season, but that pick had a lot to do with the signing of Erik Copes, who is the nephew of Roland Houston, who had been the associate head coach at GW under Karl Hobbs. With Hobbs out, Houston jumped to George Mason and Copes went with him. The loss of Copes makes George Washington much more of an NCAA Tournament long shot, but I still think they'll finish in the top half of the conference, and in the long run it might be wise to stay free of those sketchy recruiting "packages".

As for Vermont, I picked them to be even better than this past year's team that finished with an RPI of 95th, and they were my favorite to win the America East. At this point I'm not changing my mind on that. We'll just have to see how this plays out, and if Vermont is able to hire a good replacement head coach, and if they can keep the entire team in tact.

Bryce Drew replaces his father at Valparaiso: This will go down as the least surprising head coaching change in the nation this year. Homer Drew had given the Valpo job to Scott Drew, who used that to jump to the Baylor job. Homer took back over with Bryce as his associate head coach, and I'd remarked just four months ago that Bryce was clearly being prepped to take over the Valpo job. It remains to be seen what type of head coach Bryce Drew is, and whether he can be the success his father was. I had picked Valpo to finish fifth in the Horizon League for next season, and I don't see much of a reason to change that projection yet. No matter the coach, I don't see how Valpo has the horses to hang with Butler or Cleveland State atop the conference in 2011-12.

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