The cancellation of last season’s NCAA tournament due to COVID-19 was a major blow to everyone involved in college basketball, not least the bettors and sportsbooks who do their parts in making each March memorable. If a silver lining exists, it could be that the circumstances surrounding the lockdowns led many college programs to stay the course in regard to coaching changes. Only 21 have occurred since the end of the season. That is less than half the number handicappers usually deal with annually.
Let’s face it: Bettors will face a lot of other unusual factors, some unforeseen at this point, in getting ready to wager on the coming season. Having fewer new coaches to consider lessens that burden. In college football this year, 24 coaching changes were made at the FBS level out of 130 teams. In college basketball, only the 21 happened among 357 teams. Furthermore, five of the 21 changes involve an assistant from that program stepping into the top spot, meaning only 16 teams figure to undergo complete transitions. You get the picture?
Regardless of the low quantity, a coaching change always makes a huge difference in a team’s prospectus and thus must be considered near the top of the list of important factors in handicapping. Let’s look at each change and try to get a feel for how it might affect that team’s won-lost record as well as its style of play.
2019-20 record: 8-24 SU, 15-15 ATS, 12-20 O/U
Former coach: Lewis Jackson (15 seasons)
New coach: Mo Williams (CS-Northridge assistant)
Analysis: Mo Williams is a former NBA guard who won a championship playing alongside LeBron James with Cleveland in 2016. He comes over from CS-Northridge for his first head-coaching gig, taking over a team that won just eight of 32 games a season ago. Williams has very little experience back, with just one starter and 36% of player minutes returning. If Williams brings the Matadors’ style of play with him, they averaged 1.3 effective possessions more than Alabama State last season.
Better or worse in 2020-21: Worse; challenging start for Williams
2019-20 record: 15-15 SU, 12-14 ATS, 17-9 O/U
Former coach: Montez Robinson (five seasons)
New coach: Landon Bussie (Prairie View assistant)
Analysis: The other SWAC coaching change besides Alabama State occurs at Alcorn State, where conference rival Prairie View loses a top assistant to the Braves. Landon Bussie takes over after five years of ho-hum results under Montez Robinson. Only one starter is back as well as just 40% of player minutes, so Year 1 could be a struggle. Expect just a slight bump up in tempo.
Better or worse in 2020-21: Worse; .500 record again would be a real stretch
EAST TENNESSEE STATE
2019-20 record: 30-4 SU, 16-13 ATS, 15-15 O/U
Former coach: Steve Forbes (five seasons)
New coach: Jason Shay (assistant)
Analysis: East Tennessee State was one of four teams to win 30 games last season and was a popular pick to be the last remaining Cinderella team in the NCAA tournament. Naturally, bigger-name schools came calling for Steve Forbes. He left for Wake Forest and was replaced by assistant Jason Shay. In that sense, the transition should be relatively pain-free. However, with a full new starting lineup and just 10% of player minutes returning, don’t expect the success of 2019-20 to carry over in Shay’s first season.
Better or worse in 2020-21: Much worse; perhaps the biggest season-to-season decline of any team
2019-20 record: 20-13 SU, 13-14 ATS, 13-17 O/U
Former coach: Mark Byington (seven seasons)
New coach: Brian Burg (Texas Tech assistant)
Analysis: Texas Tech’s ascent to national power in the last few years elevated the status of the program’s assistant coaches. Brian Burg took advantage as he moves to his first head gig with Georgia Southern. He’s inheriting a program that won 20 games a season ago, but he will be hard-pressed to match that success with just one starter and 18% of player minutes returning. Expect Georgia Southern to adopt the more deliberate, physical style of the Red Raiders, with the pace off by about 4.0 possessions per game between the teams in 2019-20.
Better or worse in 2020-21: Worse; inexperience and a new system typically lead to decline
2019-20 record: 13-17 SU, 10-18 ATS, 18-11 O/U
Former coach: Dan Majerle (seven seasons)
New coach: Bryce Drew (ESPN analyst; previously Vanderbilt coach)
Analysis: The popular Dan Majerle was the face of Grand Canyon basketball for seven seasons, and the program flirted with success and a climb to another level. His departure leaves a void, but GCU didn’t exactly poach a nobody. Bryce Drew is a well-known commodity, having left his job as an ESPN analyst for this opportunity. He last coached in the 2018-19 season for Vanderbilt, who played at a nearly identical pace to Grand Canyon a year ago. Drew welcomes back two starters and 55% of RPM.
Better or worse in 2020-21: Slightly worse; Drew will be working in new systems
2019-20 record: 18-17 SU, 19-15 ATS, 13-21 O/U
Former coach: Steve McClain (five seasons)
New coach: Luke Yaklich (Texas assistant)
Analysis: Basketball mediocrity is not what UIC brass had in mind, and after five seasons the school parted ways with Steve McClain, who fell into an assistant’s role at Georgia. He is replaced by Texas assistant Luke Yaklich, who spent his younger years just a couple of hours from Chicago. Unlike McClain’s final team at UIC, the one Yaklich commands is not very experienced, with two returning starters, neither of whom averaged double-digit scoring. The Longhorns have been known for a deliberate style, as their pace was nearly three possessions per game fewer than the Flames’ in 2019-20. Totals could be down a bit for this program.
Better or worse in 2020-21: Worse; inexperienced roster won’t approach .500
2019-20 record: 12-17 SU, 12-16 ATS, 12-17 O/U
Former coach: Tim Cluess (10 seasons)
New coach: Rick Pitino (former Louisville, Kentucky, Providence coach)
Analysis: Undoubtedly the biggest coaching splash came from Iona. The Gaels plucked Rick Pitino from what was thought to be retirement. Pitino is not only a name brand, he is a championship-winning coach. He eventually hopes to elevate Iona to a Gonzaga level. That might be overzealous and it certainly won’t happen right away because when he landed at Iona, he found nine open scholarship spots.
Better or worse in 2020-21: Worse before better; expect this program to be more competitive as the season wears on
2019-20 record: 9-21 SU, 8-19 ATS, 16-13 O/U
Former coach: Louis Rowe (four seasons)
New coach: Mark Byington (Georgia Southern coach)
Analysis: It’s hard to judge a move from Georgia Southern to James Madison as a huge upgrade, but Mark Byington is a Colonial Athletic Association guy and a former standout player at UNC Wilmington. JMU was going nowhere under Louis Rowe and managed to yank a respected coach from a team that won 20 games last season. Both teams played high-tempo basketball, so little should change in the pace department. Two starters and 51% of RPM are back for the Dukes, and I would expect them to get double-digit wins and improve a bit. Byington caught a break when point guard Matt Lewis decided to forgo turning pro to return for his senior season.
Better or worse in 2020-21: Slightly better; slate wiped clean
2019-20 record: 11-21 SU, 16-14 ATS, 15-16 O/U
Former coach: Mike Dunlap (six seasons)
New coach: Stan Johnson (Marquette assistant)
Analysis: Loyola Marymount retains only the name of the team fans fell in love with in the days of Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble. The program hasn’t been anywhere near that level since. Enter former Marquette assistant Stan Johnson, who takes over for Mike Dunlap after six forgettable seasons. Johnson figures to get just one starter back, but that player is pretty good. Eli Scott was one of the better players in the West Coast Conference last season. If Johnson brings anything about Marquette’s pace of play to L.A., the change might look closer to the Paul Westhead days than what fans have seen lately. The pace difference between the programs last year was about 7.5 possessions per game!
Better or worse in 2020-21: Eventually better; tempo upgrade will inject some life into the program
2019-20 record: 22-9 SU, 19-9 ATS, 15-13 O/U
Former coach: Jeff Linder (four seasons)
New coach: Steve Smiley (top assistant)
Analysis: Steve Smiley was the associate coach under Jeff Linder, who took off after a 22-win season for the greener pastures of Wyoming. Smiley inherits a situation that should be fairly continuous, as three starters are back and players have already bought into the system.
Better or worse in 2020-21: Similar; expect a fourth straight 20-win campaign
2019-20 record: 10-23 SU, 7-21 ATS, 19-10 O/U
Former coach: Scott Padgett (six seasons)
New coach: Bucky McMillan (high school coach)
Analysis: Samford never quite reached the expectations established with Padgett’s hiring. But hiring from the high school ranks of Alabama could be a real reach for the Bulldogs. McMillan is a well-known commodity locally, but obviously this is an enormous step up in rank. He’ll have one starter back and just 8% of RPM.
Better or worse in 2020-21: Worse; and that’s even with a 10-23 record last year
SOUTHEAST MISSOURI STATE
2019-20 record: 7-24 SU, 12-17 ATS, 16-13 O/U
Former coach: Rick Ray (five seasons)
New coach: Brad Korn (Kansas State assistant)
Analysis: Korn was an assistant for three seasons under Bruce Weber at Kansas State. He has an immense challenge awaiting him, as just one starter is back for SEMO and COVID-19 severely limited the team’s ability to work together. Interestingly, Kansas State and SEMO averaged the exact effective possessions per game last season at 65.2.
Better or worse in 2020-21: Similar, if not worse
2019-20 record: 21-11 SU, 15-15 ATS, 14-16 O/U
Former coach: Danny Kaspar (seven seasons)
New coach: Terrence Johnson (assistant)
Analysis: Texas State has been a 20-win program three of the last four years. But under the accusation of making racially insensitive remarks, Danny Kaspar resigned after seven years. Insert Terrence Johnson, an assistant who will be manning this ship under the interim tag in 2020-21. The roster is in good shape with three starters back and 70% of RPM. How the team deals with the adversity of the unexpected coaching change will mean everything.
Better or worse in 2020-21: Slightly worse; interim coach after unexpected coaching change
2019-20 record: 19-13 SU, 15-15 ATS, 15-14 O/U
Former coach: Robert Ehsan (four seasons)
New coach: Andy Kennedy (TV analyst; former Ole Miss coach)
Analysis: UAB made a flashy hire in bringing former Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy back into the fold. After leaving Ole Miss following the 2017-18 season, Kennedy actually moved to Birmingham to be closer to his alma mater, not knowing he would eventually land the job there. He spent the last two seasons as a TV analyst. The Blazers’ program is in pretty good shape, and Kennedy should be able to take it even higher.
Better or worse in 2020-21: Better; Kennedy made an immediate impact in recruiting
2019-20 record: 17-15 SU, 15-13 ATS, 9-20 O/U
Former coach: David Patrick (two seasons)
New coach: Mike Magpayo (assistant)
Analysis: Perhaps being a head coach wasn’t to David Patrick’s liking, as he left UC Riverside after a somewhat successful two-year stint to take an assistant’s gig at Arkansas. Magpayo did the opposite, elevating from assistant to the top job at Riverside. He has a lot to be excited about in 2020-21, as he gets four starters and 73% of the player minutes back from last year’s 17-15 team. The Highlanders will continue to rely on their defense while hoping to improve on somewhat woeful offensive numbers. Don’t expect much in change of pace.
Better or worse in 2020-21: Better; should improve offensively in 2020-21
2019-20 record: 10-22 SU, 12-16 ATS, 12-17 O/U
Former coach: C.B. McGrath (three seasons)
New coach: Takayo Siddle (NC State assistant)
Analysis: C.B. McGrath was fired midway through the 2019-20 season, and assistant Rob Burke handled the team the rest of the way. For this season, Takayo Siddle takes over after serving as an assistant most recently at NC State. However, he was with this program under Kevin Keatts from 2014-17, so there is plenty of familiarity. Siddle loves this program and has four starters and 87% of RPM back. It’s no stretch to think this program should be much improved.
Better or worse in 2020-21: Much better; new life injected into the program by a true UNCW guy
2019-20 record: 13-18 SU, 16-15 ATS, 20-10 O/U
Former coach: Danny Manning (six seasons)
New coach: Steve Forbes (East Tennessee State coach)
Analysis: Danny Manning spent six uninspiring seasons at Wake Forest, and the program never really took off after what was unconsidered a popular hire. Manning never had the recruiting impact that was projected. Enter Steve Forbes, who guided ETSU to a 30-win season in 2019-20 and was widely considered the hottest commodity on the market. Forbes gets only two starters and 33% of RPM back. ETSU averaged about 4.0 effective possessions fewer per game last year, so expect a slower pace.
Better or worse in 2020-21: Slightly worse; implementing an entirely new system in a challenging pandemic-laden offseason
2019-20 record: 5-21 SU, 11-13 ATS, 13-11 O/U
Former coach: Billy Wright (six seasons)
New coach: Rob Jeter (Minnesota assistant)
Analysis: Things should be a lot different at Western Illinois this season after Rob Jeter replaced Billy Wright. But fans of the Leathernecks might not like what they see. Jeter will have zero starters back and just 9% of RPM, which typically wouldn’t be a problem when coming off a 5-21 season. Jeter got little time with his new team, though, so season prep in the new system was limited. And the system will be far more deliberate. Jeter is a disciple of Bo Ryan, and Jeter’s teams at Milwaukee played with that tempo.
Better or worse in 2020-21: Worse; could be a rough season, though Jeter’s recruiting ties in Milwaukee could have an impact down the road
2019-20 record: 13-19 SU, 14-15 ATS, 14-16 O/U
Former coach: Steve Hawkins (16 seasons)
New coach: Clayton Bates (Assistant)
Analysis: After a long tenure at Western Michigan, Steve Hawkins was dismissed. He had a lot of success with the Broncos, but last year’s 13-19 season was proof that the program was not headed in the right direction. Due in part to the COVID-19 situation, one of Hawkins’ assistants, Clayton Bates, was given the job. He’ll get three starters back as well as 63% of total player minutes played from a year ago.
Better or worse in 2020-21: Slightly worse; it’s curious when programs headed downward hire from within
2019-20 record: 17-16 SU, 15-15 ATS, 18-12 O/U
Former coach: Linc Darner (five seasons)
New coach: Will Ryan (D-II Wheeling coach)
Analysis: Fans in Green Bay certainly recognize the name Ryan, as Will Ryan’s father Bo had a stop there before enormous success at Wisconsin. Bo’s style shouldn’t be confused with that of former UWGB and Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett. Though it isn’t as slow, it’s not exactly high-tempo, as the focus is more on quality of possessions than quantity. This will be a change from the days of Linc Darner for the Phoenix, and I would expect a drop of at least five possessions per contest. Will Ryan gets four starters back, and the team should be close to .500.
Better or worse in 2020-21: Similar; but will play at a slower pace
2019-20 record: 9-24 SU, 19-12 ATS, 19-12 O/U
Former coach: Allen Edwards (four seasons)
New coach: Jeff Linder (Northern Colorado coach)
Analysis: Wyoming has been mired at or near the bottom of the Mountain West standings in recent years, so Jeff Linder figured the program had nowhere to go but up. He left Northern Colorado after winning 20-plus games in three of four seasons. The challenge of getting Wyoming back to respectability is big, but three starters and 49% of RPM are back, and the slate is wiped clean. The players are used to a more deliberate style of offense already, and Linder’s defensive philosophy should pay immediate dividends.
Better or worse in 2020-21: Better; good experience back and fresh mindset