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Eight NCAA Tournament coaches primed to take the next step

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Each year the NCAA Tournament serves as a showcase for non power conference coaches who are on the rise. National Basketball Analyst Eric Bossi takes a look at eight coaches the country will see this week, like Buffalo’s Nate Oats, who could soon be taking the next step in their careers.

JOHN BRANNEN, Northern Kentucky

John Brannen
John Brannen (AP Images)

A successful assistant at several stops including Alabama, Brannen has flourished since taking over at Northern Kentucky in 2015. He and the Norse just won the Horizon League’s regular season for the second year and a row and he’s now got two Horizon League Tournament titles and NCAA appearances under his belt. He’s a proven recruiter, an excellent in-game coach and I don’t think I’ve ever run across anybody with a cross word to say about him.

TRAVIS DECUIRE, Montana

Travis Decuire
Travis Decuire (AP Images)

A native of Seattle, Decuire developed a reputation as one of the West Coast’s top assistants and recruiters at Cal between 2008 and 2014. Since accepting the job at his alma mater, Decuire has led the Grizzlies to three Big Sky Conference titles and is preparing the Grizzlies for their second NCAA appearance under his leadership. An overall record of 109-57 with a 71-22 conference record is nothing to sneeze at. He should be a hot name for openings on the West Coast.

CHRIS JANS, New Mexico State

Chris Jans
Chris Jans (AP Images)

Jans first crack at a head coaching job ended in disaster when he was fired by Bowling Green for inappropriate behavior/harassment of women at campus area bars. Since getting a second chance at New Mexico State, all he’s done is win. The Aggies are 58-10 in two seasons under Jans and have won both the regular season and conference tournament titles in the WAC. Athletic directors may not be ready to hire him at a higher profile job, but if we are talking coaching ability, he’s ready.

MATT MCMAHON, Murray State

Matt McMahon
Matt McMahon (AP Images)

Since taking over for his former boss Steve Prohm at Murray State, McMahon has continued the Racers' string of success. He’s still pretty young at 40 years old, has won the Ohio Valley Conference the past two years and can lay claim to developing a college superstar in point guard Ja Morant. Add all of that to a 51-10 record over the past two years and he’ll be a big name for any openings in the Southeast.

LEVELLE MOTON, North Carolina Central

Levelle Moton
Levelle Moton (AP Images)

Moton played his college ball for the Eagles and is one of the school’s all-time leading scorers. He’s also been a tremendous coach for his alma mater and has them making their fourth NCAA Tournament in the last six years. Moton is a proven coach who wins and does so with passion and personality. It’s time he gets an opportunity to show what he can do at a job with more resources.

NATE OATS, Buffalo

Nate Oats
Nate Oats (AP Images)

It’s not a matter of if but when Oats takes the next step forward in his coaching career. A highly successful high school coach in Detroit before landing an assistant job at Buffalo and being promoted to head coach after Bobby Hurley left for Arizona State, Oats has been on fire. He’s got the Bulls in the national top 25 and is appearing in the NCAA Tournament for the third time in his four years as head coach. The job offers should be piling up soon.

CRAIG SMITH, Utah State

Craig Smith
Craig Smith (AP Images)

My pick for the National Coach of the Year in 2018-19, Smith looks like the real deal. I know he’s only been at Utah State for one year, but the turnaround he engineered was quite impressive. The Aggies have a real chance to beat a power conference school in the Tournament and that’s usually a big feather in the cap of anybody looking to take a step to the next level.

RUSSELL TURNER, UC Irvine

Russell Turner
Russell Turner (AP Images)

At 48 years old, Turner has been around the block a few times and held a wide assortment of jobs between college and the NBA. He’s been at UC Irvine since 2010 and has built a pretty impressive body of work. He’s led the Anteaters to four regular season titles in the Big West and they’ve finished either first or second in each of the last six years. He’s making his second NCAA Tournament this year and has arguably the best team in California right now.