basketball

Starting Five: Coaching hires have been slam dunks

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The NCAA Tournament is in full bloom and so is the college coaching carousel. In the past few days Illinois, N.C. State, Missouri and Washington all filled openings. Indiana remains as the big opening. National Analyst Eric Bossi discusses the latest coaching moves

Recruiting lookback: NCAA Tournament standouts

1. UNDERWOOD A SPLASH HIRE AT ILLINOIS

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Brad Underwood
USA Today Sports Images

Talk about a stealth hiring, just a day after Oklahoma State was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament Brad Underwood left for Illinois and a gigantic raise.

It was just two weeks ago that I wrote in this column that I thought Oklahoma State was in great hands with Underwood. Now that he's at Illinois, my mind has changed one bit.

Underwood comes from a great coaching tree having worked for Frank Martin and Bob Huggins before landing his first Division I head coaching job at Stephen F. Austin. He has personality, works recruiting like a hungry assistant coach and most importantly he can coach. In three years at SAF he went 53-1 in conference play and made the NCAA Tournament each year. In his lone year at Oklahoma State he led the Cowboys into the NCAA Tournament.

Underwood has some ties to Illinois after spending 10 years as an assistant coach at Western Illinois and he looks like a good bet to keep the Illini's current recruiting class together. If current Illini interim coach Jamall Walker is retained as is expected to happen, consider Illinois the heavy favorite to add unsigned four-star guard Mark Smith from Edwardsville (Ill.) High to its haul.

I really like this hire for Illinois and I think Underwood is the guy who will get the program headed back in the right direction.

2. MARTIN HIRE COULD PAY INSTANT DIVIDENDS AT MIZZOU

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Cuonzo Martin
WRCB

It didn't take long after the end of California's season for Missouri to reel in Cuonzo Martin.

Before Cal, Martin also had stints at Tennessee and Missouri State, and he's proven that he can win at each stop. Above all his teams play with toughness and he is quite committed to the defensive end of the floor. He's also done a nice job recruiting landing five-star prospects at Tennessee (Jarnell Stokes and Robert Hubbs) and Cal (Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb).

It's the ability to recruit that Mizzou fans are counting on the most. As we have detailed, recruiting local talent has been a major issue for Mizzou (only 1-18 on four-star or better prospects from the state through 2017).

In the more immediate future, the question is now whether he'll land his first five-star recruit at Missouri and if it will be the nation's top player, Michael Porter Jr. Porter's father was an assistant at Washington and is said to have a spot waiting for him on Martin's staff if he wants it. If Porter Sr. heads to Missouri, Michael Jr. undoubtedly follows and then the Tigers likely land 2018 Jontay Porter (who could enroll for 2017), who has already decommitted from Washington.

3. KEATTS ARRIVES AT NC STATE WITH TRACK RECORD OF SUCCESS

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Kevin Keatts
TheWolfpacker.com

Whether it has been as a prep school coach, an assistant coach or as a Division I head coach at UNC Wilmington, all Kevin Keatts has done is win. NC State fans are hoping that trend continues and I personally think that it will.

I've known Keatts for nearly 15 years and his energy, ability to relate to kids and how he manages personal relationships have always stood out for me. Kids and families that he is recruiting seem to feel that he has genuine care for them and their futures. He represents interesting new blood heading into the ACC and he's going to shake things up.

Likely, a turnaround isn't going to happen overnight in Raleigh. However, the contacts that Keatts has built up over the years as a killer prep school coach at Chatham (Va.) Hargrave Academy, a top assistant for Rick Pitino at Louisville and leading a D-I program in Wilmington should pay dividends down the road. He has the type of personality that a fanbase will rally around and will likely prove to be much more of a competitor than his good guy persona and recruiter reputation have suggested.

4. HOPKINS A SURPRISE PICK AT WASHINGTON

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USA TODAY Sports Images

Easily the biggest surprise hiring of this year's coaching carousel is Washington tabbing Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins as its guy.

A native of Southern California who played his high school ball at powerhouse Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, Hopkins played his college ball at Syracuse and has spent his entire coaching career as an assistant for the Orange. On top of that, in 2015 he was formally tabbed as the head coach in waiting for when Jim Boeheim retired.

Frankly, I don't know a ton about Hopkins personally but Syracuse has never struggled in recruiting and he's certainly been a big part of that. Early reports are that he will retain current Huskies assistant (and former player) Will Conroy as an assistant and that's an excellent first move.

As much as any program in the country, former players are heavily involved at Washington. Particularly those from the Seattle area. Those that played for Lorenzo Romar aren't too happy about his firing and keeping a well-liked guy such as Conroy on staff should help to bridge the gap and give the Huskies an edge when it comes to keeping local four-star prospects Jaylen Nowell and Daejon Davis signed. Most likely Michael Porter Jr. is gone but it's key to keep Nowell and Davis open.

I'm not so sure how this one will pan out. Given how quickly he was hired, there has to be something about Hopkins that Washington athletic director Jen Cohen really likes. Husky fans are counting on her gut instinct to go off the radar and hire somebody without head coaching experience.

5. INDIANA OPENING LOOMS LARGE

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Steve Alford
USA TODAY Sports Images

By firing Tom Crean, Indiana created the best job opening on the market. Early rumors are that current UCLA head coach – and former IU star – Steve Alford is the favorite to land the position.

Alford has been asked about the position a few times now and while he's given the expected response about being focused on his team and its current run to the Sweet 16, he hasn't exactly said anything to quiet rumors that he could be looking to return home.

Many thought he was on a hot seat to start the year in Westwood but the Bruins have been terrific and play a wildly entertaining brand of basketball. Alford and his staff have also crushed it in local recruiting – something that will be of the utmost importance for whomever ends up getting the Indiana job.

However, Indiana needs to be sure that it explores all options. The Hoosiers can afford to pay top dollar for the best candidates and it would be foolish to not heavily explore others such as Wichita State's Gregg Marshall, Xavier's Chris Mack, Dayton's Archie Miller or any number of other candidates might have interest.

Bottom line, the Hoosiers offer a big-time job and if the search is handled properly they should be able to land a top tier coach.

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