Heat Check CBB offseason roundtable: Underrated coaching hires, teams with improved stock, storylines

The Heat Check CBB staff breaks down the biggest early topics of the college basketball offseason.

The college basketball offseason pushes ahead as the Heat Check CBB staff is back with another roundtable to get you up to speed with the latest.

In case you haven’t been following along, the first four weeks since Baylor’s national championship have been remarkably hectic in the world of college hoops. With several notable names hitting the transfer market and high-major coaching switches, it will be a busy summer of speculation and projections across the country.

Evaluating bold predictions from ’20-21 season
First look at new D-I team St. Thomas
SUBSCRIBE to Heat Check Premium today!

Let’s dive into a roundtable discussing the big topics in college basketball.

Q: It has been a wild offseason so far. What has been your biggest takeaway from the past three weeks?

Eli Boettger: It isn’t much of a surprise but the biggest takeaway has to be the exploding transfer numbers. As of this writing, over 1,500 players have entered the transfer portal this offseason. Plenty of conversation has focused around the long-term effects of transfers on the sport’s future but I’m more so interested in how various teams will line up this fall. It will take plenty of time for casual fans to acclimate themselves to old faces in new places and the talent level in college basketball should be especially high this coming season. There will probably be teams that begin the season outside of the AP Top 25 that look like Top 10-15 rosters on paper in typical seasons. This should all lend its way to a fascinating season.

Connor Hope: I guess my biggest takeaway is that culture has appeared to play a huge part in this round of coaching hires. With the exception of Indiana hiring alumni Mike Woodson and Marquette hiring Shaka Smart, the coaching hires have all been sizable steps up for coaches from great culture programs. Tommy Lloyd got his much deserved head coaching gig, AT ARIZONA. Oklahoma, Cincinnati, and Utah  hired three of the best mid-major coaches in Porter Moser, Wes Miller and Craig Smith. Texas Tech, UNC and Loyola-Chicago have all gone internally to find their continuity. UNLV went internally with Kevin Kruger, the son of Lon Kruger, so they get the continuity and the pedigree in the same move. All in all, it seemed like some of the nations top programs decided that the right fit was more important than the biggest names, a departure from some of the hires made in the past decade.

Brian Rauf: Everyone’s saying it but the offseason movement. Players are entering the portal while entering the draft and signing with an (NCAA approved) agent and keeping the door open to return to their original school. At this point, I don’t know who is playing where and when and for who. And, even though the one-time free waiver rule finally (and rightfully) passed, players who have already transferred once still need a waiver! The landscape looks so different than it did three weeks ago and it’ll look completely different three weeks from now, I’m sure.

Andy Dieckhoff: I think my biggest takeaway is that disapproval and/or dissatisfaction with the NCAA has absolutely become entirely commonplace, even among media outlets that might normally ride the fence or even carry water for the governing body. But the NCAA absolutely invites frustration when they approve rule changes and then limit those improvements with arbitrary caveats (like the transfer waiver situation Brian mentioned above). It absolutely invites distrust when its Board of Governors buries the announcement of President Mark Emmert’s four-year contract extension in the “Other Business” section of its monthly minutes online. Considering the string of recent bad PR on Emmert’s watch, it’s not surprising that the NCAA has lost some serious face with the public… but it does feel notable just how uncontroversial it has become to criticize the organization’s top-ranking members.

Q: Which team has improved its stock the most this offseason?

EB: We’re not even a year removed from hyping up Arizona State to only watch the Sun Devils collapse out of the tournament picture. But Bobby Hurley’s staff has had a heck of a run in the transfer market this offseason in what figures to be a pivotal campaign. Few teams, if any, have landed the quantity and quality of transfers this spring. Joining the fold are Robert Morris big AJ Bramah (21.0 ppg, 10.3 rpg), Boston College guard Jay Heath (14.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg), Illinois State guard DJ Horne (15.1 ppg, 42.4 3P%) and Toledo guard Marreon Jackson (18.1 ppg, 5.9 apg). Ohio State transfer Luther Muhammad will be coming off a redshirt season and the Sun Devils have a Top 30 recruiting class coming to campus as well. 

CH: The Texas Longhorns, and I am not even sure it is that close. Not only did the bring in some of the best transfers on the market in Bishop, Disu, Allen, and Askew, they also managed to retain key rotational pieces Andrew Jones and Jase Febres. In addition to these key additions, Courtney Ramey is back, and the only losses to the portal were deeper bench players. But their improvement is all centered on the biggest coaching hire of the 2021 offseason, with Chris Beard returning home from Lubbock, and bringing Top 30 former Texas Tech recruit Jaylon Tyson with him. If Texas isn’t an immediate Top 10 team, I am not sure what the voters are looking at.

BR: Texas is the correct answer here but Connor covered them already, so I’ll give a quick shoutout to UNLV. New head coach Kevin Kruger has brought in seven new transfers that both provide newfound depth upgrade the roster’s overall talent level. The Rebels still aren’t projected to be a tournament team, but these additions should put them significantly closer than they have been.

AD: I agree that Texas is probably the best revamped team, but they were already in a pretty good spot, relatively speaking. That’s why I am going way off-book here and saying Portland. The Pilots were one of the worst programs in the country over the past five seasons under Terry Porter, never finishing better than 272nd in KenPom and registering two seasons ranked worse than 320th (including last year). Enter new head coach Shantay Legans, who is fresh off a great few seasons with Eastern Washington and whose Eagles almost upset Kansas in the Big Dance. This hire is exactly the shot in the arm that the program needed, and Legans has already been active in bringing in talented players. The results might not be immediately evident, but this program has gone from “dead in the water” to “intriguing rebuild” in very short order.

Q: Which coaching hire isn’t being talked about enough?

EB: Not enough people are talking about the job Mike Woodson’s staff has done at Indiana so far. The Hoosiers could be in complete disarray as far as roster talent is concerned given the nature of the college basketball offseason. Instead, Trayce Jackson-Davis is back for Year 3 along with Race Thompson, Rob Phinisee, Jerome Hunter, Trey Galloway and Khristian Lander, along with UT Martin sit-out transfer Parker Stewart. The IU staff has also hit the market hard as well, bringing in Pitt transfer Xavier Johnson and Northwestern’s Miller Kopp, both of whom are double-digit scorers. IU’s freshman class is ranked 35th nationally, led by four-star guard Tamar Bates. This could be a Top 25 team.

CH: For me it is probably Pat Kelsey going to Charleston. This is probably the best mid-major hire this offseason, and I doubt most casual fans even know it happened. In his nine seasons at Winthrop, Kelsey led the Eagles to eight Top 3 finishes, four conference regular season titles, and three conference tournament titles. That string of success is something that most teams would kill for. He is a hire that should bring Charleston back to the NCAA Tournament sooner, rather than later.

BR: Wes Miller! Cincinnati was in a program tailspin and opted to look for a new coach after most major openings had already been filled. Instead of having one of those disastrous searches, a la Tennessee football, the Bearcats got one of the best young coaches in the sport. He has quickly put their roster back together and has the future looking bright.

AD: Craig Smith at Utah comes to mind. Without having to move very far, he’s established himself at a Power 5 school, brought with him a successful backcourt pairing in former Utah State guards Rollie Worster and Marco Anthony, and also courted former UNLV and South Dakota State shooter David Jenkins Jr. Add that to some returning talents from the Utes’ 2020-21 roster, and Smith could see early success in Salt Lake City.

Q: Come November, what do you anticipate will be the biggest topic in college basketball?

EB: The dialogue around Gonzaga will be worth monitoring. Mark Few could again have the best on-paper roster in college basketball but will the bulk of the national media turn on the Bulldogs after a letdown in the national title game? As it currently stands, Gonzaga is set to have Drew Timme, Andrew Nembhard, Rasir Bolton, Anton Watson and a pair of five-star recruits in Chet Holmgren and Hunter Sallis. There might not be a better group in the country come November but I’m not sure the media will buy in after the Baylor debacle. The narrative around this program is beginning to feel more and more similar to what was said about Tony Bennett and Jay Wright prior to their championship rings. 

CH: There is still going to be a ton of non-traditional faces in the preseason Top 10. My guess is that there will be a lot of talk about how those schools (Alabama, Maryland, Purdue, etc.) and Gonzaga are overrated because the 2012 National Championship went to Kentucky. The narrative in the preseason never changes, so why should I expect it this season?

BR: How good the freshmen are. The transfer portal has taken over college basketball and, given the relatively minimal impact freshmen had on the sport last year, the annual tradition of getting overly excited about newcomers has more to do with transfers than freshmen. There are a myriad of reasons why freshmen largely struggled last year, not the least of which being the lack of a true offseason, and this class will be back on a normal schedule. I think we see many freshmen have a big impact across the country.

AD: “A new normal” vs. “A return to normalcy.” With a record amount of transfers, a new freshman class incoming, and some seniors returning despite having already had their Senior Day, next year’s rosters are going to look very different. But it’s not just the players — a ton of coaches have been on the move as well., both at the high-major and the mid-major levels. But it’s not even just that! We’ll also have a new Division I team in St. Thomas and a handful of other mid-major realignment moves. That said, despite all these changes, we may also be celebrating life getting back to normal if MTEs, other non-conference games, and postseason tournaments return to their usual locations and schedules. Hopefully having a “regular” season will quiet some of the hate from people who dislike “how much the game has changed.”