College basketball season is winding down, with conference tournaments already underway in the smaller leagues and the big boys ready to follow suit next week.
But while the focus soon will be on the Big Dance, another wildly compelling part of the college basketball season will begin as conference tournaments wind down: the coaching carousel. NC State got things ramped up a couple weeks ago by firing Mark Gottfried, and it’ll only get crazier from there.
With a handful of big-time jobs (Illinois, Missouri, possibly Indiana) opening up, who are the mid-major coaches who might step up into one of those power conferences? Here are 11 names to keep an eye on:
Archie Miller, Dayton
Dayton doesn’t feel like a mid-major though it technically is. As Miller gets set to lead the Flyers to their fourth straight NCAA Tournament (the Flyers made a run to the Elite Eight in 2014), it doesn’t appear as if he’s in a rush to leave the school.
At some point Miller will leave, but it appears that it will be for only the perfect situation. Every indication is he has no interest in the NC State vacancy (even if it is his alma mater) and is waiting on Indiana, Ohio State or another program of similar prestige to open up before leaving Dayton. That could be this year.
Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
By definition, Miller is a mid-major coach and could leave for a bigger program. The question is when (or ever)? He was courted heavily by Alabama two years ago and turned down the Tide, meaning he is probably staying in Wichita unless he is offered an Indiana-level type job.
Marshall makes over $3 million a year, so it will be pricey if someone wants to pry him out of Wichita. However, Marshall is worth the cost. He has led the Shockers to five straight NCAA Tournament appearances (likely six this year) including the 2013 Final Four.
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Will Wade, VCU
Wade took over for his former boss, Shaka Smart, in the spring of 2015, and the program hasn’t missed a beat during the transition. Last season, the Rams went 25-11 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. They are 23-6 this season and appear poised to return to the tournament.
The only real question with Wade isn’t his resume; it's his age. At just 34, he’s one of the youngest coaches in the sport. Is a high-major athletic director willing to take a risk on a guy so young? And is Wade willing to leave for anything other than a premier job?
Kevin Keatts, UNC-Wilmington
While Miller, Marshall and (to a smaller degree) Wade seem likely to stay put until the opportunity is perfect, Keatts very well could be on the move this offseason after three years at Wilmington. And if a high-major school nabs him, it will get a coach with one of the most unique back stories in the sport.
Incredibly, Keatts was coaching in high school just six years ago, before heading to Louisville as an assistant and then Wilmington as head coach in 2014. Since then, the Seahawks have won three straight regular-season conference titles and advanced the NCAA Tournament a year ago (and almost upset Duke). Wilmington is 26-5 this season, with six wins in its past seven games.
Joe Dooley, Florida Gulf Coast
Dooley had the thankless task of taking over for Andy Enfield in “Dunk City,” but he has put his own stamp on the program. He has won at least 20 games in all four of his seasons and helped the school qualify for its second ever NCAA Tournament last year.
And this has been Dooley’s best season in Fort Myers, as the Eagles (24-7 overall) won the Atlantic Sun regular season title with a 12-2 conference record. The A-Sun Tournament is underway, and the Eagles won their opener Monday night.
Kermit Davis, Middle Tennessee State
Davis has been at Middle Tennessee since the 2002-03 season and has slowly built a mid-major juggernaut. Last season, the Blue Raiders went 25-10 and shocked No. 2 seed Michigan State in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. And they might be even better this season. Middle Tennessee is 25-4 and 15-1 in Conference USA play entering the final week of the regular season.
The only question is whether Davis, 57, wants to start over somewhere else (after 15 seasons in Murfreesboro) or remain at Middle Tennessee the rest of his career.
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King Rice, Monmouth
The Hawks were one of the NCAA Tournament’s biggest snubs a year ago, missing out on an at-large bid despite wins over UCLA, Notre Dame, USC and Georgetown during the regular season. But Rice and his players have bounced back this season with a 26-5 record, including a 16-game win streak to close the regular season.
Regardless of whether Monmouth can take care of unfinished business and make the tournament, Rice will be one of the hottest names on the coaching market.
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John Becker, Vermont
Becker doesn’t have the name recognition that some of the other guys on this list do, but he has quietly put together a mid-major monster at Vermont. The Catamounts have won at least 20 games in all six of Becker’s seasons at the school and earned a postseason berth each year, including a trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2012.
However, Becker has saved his best work for 2016-17. The Catamounts finished the regular season at 26-5 overall with a sparkling 16-0 record in America East play. Becker will try to get Vermont to its second NCAA Tournament in five years when it opens conference tournament play Wednesday.
Steve Forbes, East Tennessee State
Forbes’ story is rather remarkable. He was part of the Tennessee staff that was fired as part of Bruce Pearl’s infamous barbecue in 2011 and has worked his way back up through the coaching ranks -- first at a Florida junior college, then as an assistant at Wichita State before landing at East Tennessee State.
In year two, he has things rolling at the school, as the Buccaneers sit at 24-7 and atop the SoCon standings entering the conference tournament.
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Dan Muller, Illinois State
While Wichita State has gotten all the pub in the Missouri Valley, Illinois State has been just as good. The Redbirds closed out the regular season at 25-5 overall and 17-1 in league play, splitting two games with the Shockers.
Muller’s name is hot in coaching circles, and with his top two scorers both graduating this year, this might be a good time for him to move to the next job. However, Muller still doesn’t have an NCAA Tournament bid on his resume. If the Redbirds somehow miss out on the field of 68, can a high-major athletic director really justify bringing in a new head coach who has never been to the Big Dance?
LeVelle Moton, North Carolina Central
Moton is one of college basketball’s quiet success stories, taking North Carolina Central from a Division II program, to a DI independent, and into the MEAC, where it is the conference’s premier program. The Eagles are 22-7 overall, 13-2 in league play and on the verge of a second NCAA Tournament bid in four years.
If Moton can do all that a cash-strapped MEAC program with no DI history before him, what could he do at a high-major program?