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Weekend Preview: Coaches, former powers face pressure
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If there's one aspect that the majority (not all) of these coaches have in common, it's that they have difficult jobs.
Jerry Wainwright, DePaul – Wainwright was fired earlier in the month after a 4½-year run in which the Blue Demons were more than 20 games below the .500 mark. Tracy Webster has taken over on an interim basis.
Fred Hill, Rutgers – Came into his fourth season at the helm with a 32-60 overall mark and this season is winless in six Big East games and 9-9 overall. Add to it the fact that his best frontcourt player, Gregory Echenique, transferred to Creighton after the first semester and it's not looking good for Hill and his long-term future.
Jeff Lebo, Auburn – After an NIT appearance last season, the Tigers are just 10-9 overall and 1-3 in SEC play. This is Lebo's sixth season and he's 91-85 overall and hasn't shown much sign of improvement.
Ernie Kent, Oregon – The Ducks head coach seemingly has more lives than anyone else. Oregon was 8-23 and 2-16 in Pac-10 play last year and while his overall record is 219-157 in his 12 years in Eugene, the Ducks are just 10-8 overall this year and have lost four straight in Pac-10 play to fall to 2-4.
Sidney Lowe, N.C. State – The Wolfpack had a huge win against Duke earlier in the week, but the reality remains that Lowe is staring at a fourth consecutive season of not making the Big Dance. N.C. State is 13-6 overall and 2-3 in league play, so you can't count the Wolfpack out just yet.
Greg McDermott, Iowa State – A terrific mid-major coach at Northern Iowa who just hasn't been able to get over the hump. He entered the season with a 44-51 record in his three seasons and the Cyclones, who boast one of the best players in America in Craig Brackins, are 12-6 overall and 1-2 in Big 12 play. However, McDermott took a hit when shooter Lucca Staiger up and left to play pro ball back home earlier in the week.
Norm Roberts, St. John's – Roberts obviously needs to win after entering the season with a 64-85 career mark since taking over. The Red Storm don't appear to be an NCAA tournament team after a 12-6 start and a 2-4 Big East record, but will an NIT appearance be enough?
Todd Lickliter, Iowa – The former Butler coach is in only his third season, but he entered the year with a 28-36 overall mark and 11-25 in Big Ten play. The Hawkeyes are 7-12 this season and 1-5 in league action.
Ed DeChellis, Penn State – The Nittany Lions went to the NIT last season in a 27-win campaign in which DeChellis won 10 league games. However, an 84-103 overall mark and a 29-71 record in Big Ten play, coupled with an 0-6 start in the league will have some questioning his future.
Bobby Gonzalez, Seton Hall – The Pirates got a much-needed home win against Louisville, but they are still tied for 11th in the Big East with a 2-4 mark. Having said that, Gonzo & Co. have started league play with a brutal slate and should finish strong. Gonzalez has been on his better behavior lately and entered his fourth year with a 47-46 overall mark.
Stan Heath, South Florida – The former Kent State and Arkansas head man is in his third year, but he'll need to show progress soon. The Bulls finished tied for 15th his first season, 14th in the league a year ago and are 11-7 overall and 1-5 in league play thus far this season. Heath needs to get Gus Gilchrist back soon to turn it around.
Jeff Bzdelik, Colorado – Another coach in his third season. The Buffs have some young talent but need to start to show improvement in the standings. A 21-42 mark in his first two seasons and a 10-8 overall record and a 1-3 start in league play won't be enough.
Doc Sadler, Nebraska – The Cornhuskers have made the NIT each of the last two years, so Sadler should be fine after this season despite the 0-3 start in league play. But Sadler, considered a terrific game coach, will have to find a way to get more talent to Lincoln -- which isn't an easy task.
Pat Knight, Texas Tech – I never understand why anyone had him on the "hot seat" to begin with, but some did even though he'd only been the head coach for a year and a half. The Red Raiders are 13-5 overall and 1-3 in Big 12 play, but are clearly making progress.
OK, now we'll take a look at the weekend's action:
CAN'T MISS: Not just because I'm going to be there, but I'm going with the Texas-UConn game in Storrs Saturday at 4 p.m. It's unlikely that Jim Calhoun will be on the sidelines while he remains out due to health reasons, but this one is critical for a Huskies team that still hasn't beaten any lock NCAA tournament teams. Texas entered the week at the No. 1 team in the nation, but we'll see how the Longhorns respond from their first setback of the year Monday night at Kansas State.
UNDERCARD: Ohio State at West Virginia, Saturday at 2 p.m. – A healthy Evan Turner and the resurgent Buckeyes take to the road against a West Virginia team that is still one of the best in the Big East.
REAL DEAL?: Kansas State as Final Four contenders – The Wildcats are coming off a huge victory against Texas in Bramlage and need to make certain they don't suffer a setback at home against Oklahoma State on Saturday. Then it's off to Baylor before a home date against rival Kansas.
UPSET SPECIAL: Arkansas knocking off the final unbeaten – No. 1 Kentucky. I just have a feeling on this one. Courtney Fortson is back for the Razorbacks and he's quick and athletic enough to give the Wildcats problems. The key will be whether John Pelphrey -- a former Kentucky star -- can get enough up front from Michael Washington.
MID-MAJOR MATCHUP: UAB at Marshall, Saturday at 7 p.m. ET – UTEP's win at Memphis gave us more evidence that Conference USA is wide open. Marshall nearly knocked off West Virginia earlier in the week and Donnie Jones' team and UAB are both undefeated thus far in league play.
MUST-WIN ON BOTH SIDES: Duke and Clemson both have a shot to win the ACC, but the loser of Saturday night's contest will suffer its third league setback already and that'll be a difficult hole to climb out of. Duke hasn't fared well in true road games this season -- losing at Wisconsin, Georgia Tech and N.C State earlier this week.
IMPORTANT: Georgia Tech is on a roll, winning three of its last four and knocking off three consecutive ranked teams, but the Yellow Jackets will travel to Florida State -- a team that beat them earlier this season at home. This time Tech will have Iman Shumpert and this is a big game for both teams and their chances to battle for the ACC and an NCAA tournament berth.
DANGEROUS: Tennessee heading to Athens to play a Georgia team that is well-coached and has exceeded expectations already this season. The Bulldogs may be winless in three SEC games, but they nearly beat Kentucky in Rupp, were one call away from knocking off Mississippi State in Starkville and also gave Ole Miss a run at home. Oh yeah, Georgia also has a win against Top 25 Georgia Tech in Athens.
UNDER-THE-RADAR: Virginia at Wake Forest – The Cavaliers are the one team without a loss in the ACC and the Demon Deacons are 3-2 in league play after a road win against North Carolina earlier in the week. The two teams will meet Saturday at 4 p.m. ET.
PERFECTION AND REJECTION: OK, we've got the last team standing -- which is Kentucky. However, Alcorn State (0-18) and Bryant (0-19) are battling for the unenviable distinction of the final D-1 team to win a game.
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