College Basketball Predictions: Who Replaces Bruce Pearl at Tennessee?
by Alan Matthews - 3/24/2011
So why does Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton still have a job? After all, this is the guy who got egg on his face when he hired Lane Kiffin as football coach, with Kiffin committing numerous rules violations in his one year in Knoxville and then bolting for Southern Cal.
And Hamilton is the same guy who basically torpedoed his Volunteer men’s basketball team’s hopes in its second-round NCAA Tournament game against Michigan last week. It had long been known that Head Coach Bruce Pearl had lied to the NCAA about some rules violations committed on his watch. Pearl was suspended eight games by the NCAA and had his salary drastically cut by the school. But all along Tennessee said it was behind Pearl.
So then last week, before the Vols faced the Wolverines, Hamilton for some reason decided to suddenly back off his support for Pearl when he went on a Knoxville radio talk show and said the "jury was still out" on whether Pearl would be back next season as Tennessee's coach. Hamilton said there had been a lot of "soul-searching" on whether that was the right thing to do. This was a total 180 from previous comments.
Then the obviously distracted Volunteers went out and lost by 30 to Michigan, the largest margin of defeat in any No. 8 vs. No. 9 game in NCAA Tournament history. And not surprisingly, Pearl did get the axe earlier this week despite leading the Vols to the Big Dance in all six of his years and getting the team to a No. 1 ranking in 2008. It was thought Hamilton changed his mind because he got wind the NCAA was going to hammer the program if Pearl was still around. It still might.
Regardless, now the search is on for Pearl’s replacement and it’s thought the school will move fast as it did when replacing Buzz Peterson with Pearl. The school has plenty of money and is expected to target some big names like Pitt’s Jamie Dixon and Villanova’s Jay Wright, and both coaches could at least talk to UT considering their schools are out of the NCAA Tournament. But with NCAA sanctions likely looking, it’s more likely Tennessee will go with a rising mid-major coach. With that said, WagerWeb offers a betting prop on Pearl’s replacement. And the leader is VCU’s Shaka Smart at +200 followed right behind by Butler’s Brad Stevens (+250).
Smart is much more likely to leave than Stevens, who got a ton of feelers last year when he led the Bulldogs to the national title game, but he got a long new extension from Butler. Smart’s star, on the other hand, may never be higher after his Rams beat USC, Georgetown and Purdue by double digits in the NCAA Tournament. Of course, Smart doesn’t need this distraction with VCU set to play Florida State in the Sweet 16 on Friday night. The second-youngest coach in the NCAA tourney at 33, Smart has already won 53 games in two seasons. Smart figures to be in demand, with schools like Georgia Tech, N.C. State, Oklahoma and now possibly Missouri looking for coaches – Missouri reportedly may lose Mike Anderson to Arkansas.
According to my college basketball predictions, don’t waste your money on Stevens here as he can get a better job at a BCS school that isn’t football first and is about to get slapped by the NCAA and lose its top recruits. The Knoxville newspaper also listed three other candidates for the job: Alabama’s Anthony Grant, Texas A&M’s Mark Turgeon and Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall.
Grant’s not leaving for another SEC school, especially when the Tide are on the rise. The other two are options on WagerWeb with Turgeon at +650 and Marshall at +800. And Marshall probably would jump at the job, but Georgia Tech might beat the Vols to him first.
Frankly, this is probably Smart’s job to lose, although the Vols will probably try and interview Richmond’s Chris Mooney (+450). It could be a matter of which coach goes further in the tournament. If Richmond somehow upsets top-seeded Kansas, you would have to think Mooney moves to the top of the list. If both VCU and Richmond lose in the Sweet 16, the smart money is on Smart.
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