One argument that I seemingly always get involved in is whether or not the Atlantic Coast Conference is the best conference in college basketball. While it contains some of the most successful and most storied programs in the game, it also is the home of teams that have certainly been on the decline in recent seasons (namely Wake Forest, Boston College, and Virginia Tech).
In the offseason, all three of those teams made moves to acquire new head coaches after having yet another bleak season. Boston College fired Steve Donahue after four years with the team and only finishing above .500 once. Wake Forest fired Jeff Bzdelik, whose initial hire was questionable, after four seasons of work and only one winning season. Finally, Virginia Tech made a move to fire James Johnson after two short and disappointing seasons with the Hokies.
Virginia Tech was the first school to get a new coach. They made a slam dunk hire with Buzz Williams, whose leaving of a high-quality and high-paying job at Marquette shocked mostly everyone in the college basketball world. Williams had been coach of Marquette since Tom Crean left for Indiana, and has seen success at the school, including an Elite Eight appearance. Williams is an excellent recruiter, who had signed two four star players in the class of 2014, which also added to the surprise of his decision to leave. He’s also known for his ability to succeed with junior college players.
I see Williams being successful, but it will certainly take some time. Williams is a good coach and, as I mentioned earlier, his recruiting ability will be why he succeeds. He’ll have to pitch his reputation as a coach to recruits, as the prestige of Virginia Tech basketball alone will not sway recruits.
He is perhaps one of the best coaches that the Hokies could have gotten and I see him having Virginia Tech back on track within three seasons, if that. The Hokies have only been in the NCAA Tournament twice since 1996, but I see it being a regular trip for them here soon.
Wake Forest is a school that is no stranger to success. In the mid-1990’s, they were extremely successful, led by future NBA star Tim Duncan. In previous seasons, however, they’ve been lovingly referred to as the “fifth-best team in North Carolina”. They’ve certainly been on the decline since hiring Jeff Bzdelik and a change was imminent. They needed success and reached out and hired one of the most successful college players of all time: Danny Manning.
Manning was the coach of Tulsa for the past two seasons, doing an excellent job of bringing that team back to prominence. The Golden Hurricane made their first tournament appearance since 2003 after winning the Conference USA Tournament. Manning’s coaching stock was rising, but I don’t think anyone expected him to get a big name job this quickly.
Nevertheless, he’s seemingly found a formula for success and his personal experience with the game certainly adds another element. He understands what works for a player, which will be needed in a league of veterans like the ACC.
He is a young coach without much of a track record. He may have been successful before his stop with the Demon Deacons, but that doesn’t mean that the success will translate. Wake Forest had a mediocre season last year, but they’re getting better by small steps, not large leaps. Manning’s style will be a refreshing change of pace in Winston-Salem and I can see him getting them to twenty wins by 2016.
The Boston College Eagles were the other team to make a head coaching change in the offseason. After firing fourth year coach Steve Donahue, who was hired after his Sweet Sixteen appearance with Cornell, the Eagles made an unexpected (not in a bad way) hire and brought in Jim Christian. Christian, the former coach of the Ohio Bobcats, took over for John Groce after he left for Illinois.
In his two seasons with the Bobcats, Christian has posted 24 and 25-win seasons, yet he has never been to the NCAA Tournament with them. He has largely capitalized on the success of his predecessor, but that’s not to take any credit away from him.
Boston College has not seen a winning team since 2011, which is difficult for them, given their mid-2000’s success. Christian is a coach who has lots of postseason experience, as he saw lots of success when he was the coach of Kent State for six seasons. It’s hard to gauge how successful he’ll be with the Eagles, seeing as the last successful mid-major coach they hired didn’t turn out so great. If Boston College allows him time, they can certainly see some sort of success. Honestly, I don’t see them making the tournament again any time soon.