We’re in the off season, but there are still things to talk about in the Big Ten, particularly as we inch closer to basketball season. Schedules are finalized, and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge is set for its 18th year.
The off season is also the time to look forward towards coaches possibly on the hot seat. And, helpfully, ESPN’s Jeff Goodman created just that sort of list.
Big Ten Coaches on the Hot Seat
It’s that time of year when news outlets put out rankings of anything and everything. It’s really a time killer, although I’m not sure what it says about me that I’m writing something about the rankings, at least I’m not ranking the various rankings though.
ESPN ranked, in descending order, those Big Ten basketball coaches on the hot seat entering the 2016-2017 college basketball season. (ESPN used the phrase “stability ranking,” which is softer than hot seat.) It’s not a terribly surprising list, with John Groce (Illinois) and Richard Pitino (Minnesota) as the most unstable. Both of those coaches need to show marked improvement this season.
Groce’s seen his record regress in each season as Illinois head coach, from 23 wins to 20 to 19 and then last year to 15. Another year of regression, and it may be his last in Illinois. Considering Groce’s decline in success, as well as all the off-court transgressions, the idea of him being on the hot seat makes sense. The only problem is Groce currently has a strong 2017 recruiting class (highlighted by five-star center Jeremiah Tilmon), meaning that class could fall apart if he’s fired after this upcoming season.
Particularly for Pitino, with new boss Mark Coyle watching, he’ll need to demonstrate that he can re-route the program to the right path (both on and off the floor). His record is 51-51 through three seasons, but last year going 8-23 was messy, especially with all of the off court issues plaguing the program as of late.
Somewhat surprisingly, Tim Miles (Nebraska) came in with a fairly unstable ranking (in fourth place, or eleventh place depending on how you look at the list). He’s reinvigorated the Nebraska program, but it hasn’t yet led to consistent winning. (Through four years, he’s 63-67 overall.) After going 11-7 in the Big Ten in 2013-2014, the Cornhuskers have dropped to 5-13 the next year, and 6-12 in 2015-2016.
Don’t get me wrong, Nebraska has made great strides and the fans are energized, creating a great home environment. The Cornhuskers just need to start winning more consistently and move closer to their 2013-2014 Big Ten record. Miles has brought plenty of hype and fan support to the program, but eventually it will need to lead to wins within the conference.
Less surprisingly, Tom Izzo (Michigan State) and Greg Gard (Wisconsin) find themselves first and second on the list, respectively. (In other words, ESPN’s Jeff Goodman considers them the most secure.)
It would take an extraordinary event for Michigan State to fire Tom Izzo, or for him to leave. He’s already flirted with the NBA and decided not to transition to pro ball. With that out of his system and without another college job worth pursuing at this point, he’s not going anywhere, and Michigan State doesn’t want him to.
Gard’s work last year, after the abrupt retirement of Bo Ryan, was excellent. He turned around a team that looked completely out of sorts. They were not projected to make the NCAA tournament. Not only did the Badgers make the tournament, Gard led them to the Sweet Sixteen. (He signed a five-year contract in early March.)
What these rankings mean is up for debate, but they’re fun to read and talk about heading in to the season. At certain points in the list, Goodman’s splitting hairs among people like Mark Turgeon, Matt Painter and Fran McCaffery (they’re all really secure).
But, the polls are where it gets interesting, because it sets an expectation coming into the season. Change the course of the program, or we may see some new faces on Big Ten sidelines. That holds particularly true for several programs, including Illinois and Minnesota, both of which have had new Athletic Directors hired.