With a full month of conference action in the books, the Big Ten is firmly the most unpredictable group in college basketball.
To their credit, the uncertainty can be attributed to the overwhelming depth of the conference. Even Rutgers is playing tough, having dropped Nebraska at home and taking Wisconsin into overtime at Madison Square Garden.
For the most part, the Big Ten is a relatively safe place for coaches these days. With that said, a few programs are feeling the weight of mounting losses and unmet expectations. In this article, we will sift through the Big Ten to find which head coaches could have an uncertain future and which coaches are sitting pretty.
Big Ten Hot Seat Breakdown:
Tier 1: Eternally Frozen (Extremely Secure)
-Tom Izzo, Michigan State
You can call Tom Izzo, Mr. Freeze, because his seat will never be hot. He has a lifetime pass at Michigan State and barring any major scandal, will leave the Spartans on his own terms.
Tier 2: Ice Cold (Very Secure)
-Mark Turgeon, Maryland
With a fresh group of newcomers, Mark Turgeon and company are mortal locks for the NCAA Tournament. Following their Sweet 16 run in 2015-16, this year’s team could surpass last year’s success. Turgeon has been a massive success in College Park, he will be the next Big Ten coach to surpass 10 years on the job.
-Matt Painter, Purdue
Painter, a former Purdue guard, has a 255-139 record in 12 seasons. He survived back-to-back losing seasons in 2012-13 and 2013-14, eventually getting the program back on top in the past three seasons. It wouldn’t surprise me if Painter was on the Purdue sideline for the next 10 years.
-Chris Collins, Northwestern
Collins has completely changed the culture at Northwestern. This season will be the first year that the Wildcats make the NCAA Tournament. That alone will keep Collin’s seat ice cold going forward.
-Fran McCaffery, Iowa
Following the Todd Lickliter disaster, McCaffery got the Hawkeyes back to relevancy. He has no problem getting quality recruits to Iowa and will certainly be safe for a long time.
-John Beilein, Michigan
Besides being a proven winner, Beilein will be able to hang his hat on the 2012 National Championship appearance for awhile. They have high expectations in Ann Arbor, but as long as he doesn’t bottom out the program, he’ll be safe.
-Greg Gard, Wisconsin
The longtime Badger assistant has a lot of equity with Wisconsin. He is in the midst of a five-year contract and will be in Madison for the full length, at least.
-Steve Pikiell, Rutgers
First-year head coach Steve Pikiell has orchestrated a legitimate turnaround in New Jersey. He should be at Rutgers for the long haul, especially when you take into consideration the previous head coaches. The bar isn’t set too high for Scarlet Knight basketball, and that will certainly work in Pikiell’s favor.
Tier 3: Thawing Out (Will Coach Next Year, At Least)
-Tim Miles, Nebraska
Although, Miles is a beloved figure, his overall record is nothing to write home about. Currently in his sixth season at Nebraska, Miles has only one NCAA Tournament appearance to his credit. With this year’s team also on the outside looking in, he will need a tournament appearance soon to keep his job.
-Thad Matta, Ohio State
Coming into the season, the Buckeyes were returning their top-six scorers from 2015-16. With a loaded arsenal, Matta’s team has disappointed and is in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year. He will get next year at least, but needs to get them back to the tournament. And quick.
-Patrick Chambers, Penn State
Since basketball isn’t the focal point in Happy Valley, Chambers should be safe going into next year. Through his first five seasons as head coach, Chambers is yet to get the Nittany Lions into the NCAA Tournament. Nothing has changed this year, as Penn State will again be on the outside looking in.
However, with a strong freshman class in 2016-17, the Nittany Lions have shown signs of life and are an improved team. With that said, Penn State brass will certainly expect results next season.
-Tom Crean, Indiana
Crean was able to cool off his hot seat last season, but this year has been a mess. Fans are not happy and rightfully so. A powerhouse program like Indiana should be in the NCAA Tournament every year. If the Hoosiers miss the tournament in 2016-17, it will be the fifth time in Crean’s nine year tenure that they failed to do so.
Injury problems haven’t helped his case, as major contributors OG Anunoby and James Blackmon Jr. remain on the sideline. With that said, the Hoosiers were inconsistent at best, even with a full lineup. Crean needs to right the ship quickly, or he could be looking for a new job.
Tier 4: Getting Hot (Unsecured, Could Be Out After 2016-17)
-John Groce, Illinois
Coming into the year, Groce was firmly on the hot seat. So far in 2016-17, the performance by Illinois hasn’t done Groce any favors.
With seniors and experienced players galore, this team was designed to win now. Instead, they have struggled on defense, ranking No. 188 in defensive efficiency. They’ve been extremely inconsistent, currently sitting at 13-10 overall, including a wretched 3-7 conference record.
To make matters worse, there has been games where Illinois hasn’t shown up at all. On six occasions, Illinois has lost by double figures, including three by more than twenty. In addition, Groce’s team has suffered two separate three-game losing streaks, as well as an embarrassing loss at home to Winthrop.
With eight games remaining on their conference schedule, and the Big Ten tournament, Illinois still has a sliver of a chance to save their season. However,
When overall effort and defense is in question, normally the first person to go is the coach. With most of the Fighting Illini rotation graduating, it’s a fairly safe bet that Illinois gives someone a fresh start after this season.
Trevor Vallese of The Champaign Room published an in-depth article as to why Illinois needs to move on from Groce. You can find it here.
-Richard Pitino Jr., Minnesota
Just a few weeks ago, the Gophers were the “Cinderella” story of the conference. They had started the year 15-2, garnering national attention in the process. At that point, the thought of Richard Pitino Jr. being on the hot seat would have been unfathomable.
Now with February right around the corner, Minnesota has lost five straight Big Ten games and are in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament. With losses at home to Maryland and Wisconsin, coupled with three road defeats, you could argue that their struggles are a product of tough scheduling. However, Pitino came into the year on the hot seat, leaving him little room for error in 2016-17.
His fate will be decided in the next month and a half. If Pitino can get Minnesota back on track and into the NCAA Tournament, he will be walking the sidelines at “The Barn” next year. However, if they continue their slide and are back in the NIT, the fourth-year coach will most likely be served his walking papers.