NCAA Props Odds and Predictions: Next UCLA Basketball Coach
by Alan Matthews - 3/26/2013
That Round of 64 NCAA Tournament game between Minnesota and UCLA really was quite something as it led to decisions that will cost the schools nearly a combined $6 million in buyouts. The Gophers, a perennial underachiever under Tubby Smith in the Big Ten, beat the Bruins, a disappointment the past five seasons under Ben Howland. So despite the fact that UCLA won the Pac-12 regular-season title, Howland was canned. And Minnesota followed suit with Smith after the Gophers lost their second game to Florida.
The Minnesota job is a solid one, but the UCLA gig stands in a group of I would say five with North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky and Indiana as the best jobs in college basketball (some say the UCLA job has fallen out of that group, but it still has so much potential). Those five jobs all pay extremely well, and the schools have immense tradition and national followings (i.e. can lure recruits from anywhere), but also a ton of pressure to win every year: Just ask Smith, who was also let go at Kentucky in 2007 nine pretty successful seasons, including a national title.
Minnesota and UCLA do have one more thing in common in that both are likely to heavily pursue VCU’s Shaka Smart for their opening. Bovada offers props on the next UCLA coach, and Smart is the 3/1 favorite. That Smart leaves is no sure thing as he turned down nearly $2.5 million a season last year for the Illinois job. I really can’t see Smart taking the Minnesota job because it’s not as good as the Illinois one and certainly not UCLA. The one tie is that current Gophers athletics director Norwood Teague hired Smart when he held the same job at VCU. Smart also is from Wisconsin, but I still think he would have taken the Illinois gig if that mattered.
UCLA can easily outpay Minnesota (but might get into a bidding war with USC for Smart) and offers a built-in super pipeline of local talent, something that Howland failed to take advantage of in recent years: The Bruins have not advanced to the Sweet 16 in five consecutive years -- the longest such streak at UCLA in the post-John Wooden era. Bruins AD Dan Guerrero wants a name to fire up the fan base and his team to play exciting basketball, not the rather boring defensive style favored by Howland. VCU is a defensive-first team, but Smart’s “Havoc” pressure scheme is definitely exciting. Rick Pitino has proved that pressure-heavy defensive teams can succeed on the biggest stage.
I don’t think Smart leaves VCU to move cross country where he has no recruiting in-roads. Plus, it’s quite a step up in scrutiny and pressure from VCU to UCLA. He’ll still have plenty of time to get his pick of jobs when he’s ready to leave Richmond. The job is probably his if he wants it.
Memphis’ Josh Pastner is the second-favorite at 5/1. I’m not sure he’s done enough yet to warranty the UCLA gig. Yes, he’s won big in the regular season and the Conference USA Tournament, but Pastner only got his first NCAA Tournament win this season (barely over Saint Mary’s), and then Memphis was outclassed in the Round of 32 by Michigan State. Frankly, Pastner might be better off staying put as Memphis could be a title contender next year if the right players stay in school and not declare early. He also has an excellent recruiting class coming.
Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin is 6/1, but his Bearcats teams definitely don’t play exciting basketball. It would almost be like hiring Howland. In addition, some of those UC players haven’t exactly behaved at times (i.e Xavier brawl). The Bruins can do better.
I think Villanova’s Jay Wright (7/1) would be a fantastic choice, although he may remind fans too much of Steve Lavin. Wright is good looking and great with the media, not to mention a great coach, and Villanova seems to have capped out under him. Again, though, he has no real ties to the West Coast.
Jeff Van Gundy is 9/1, but he loves his TV gig and has had chances at NBA jobs that pay much more than UCLA would. Pitino is 10/1, but UCLA won’t be luring him from Louisville, where he’s basically under contract for life. Pitino is a horseman as well and loves the Bluegrass State. Billy Donovan (10/1) is also a pipe dream. Former Lakers coach Mike Brown (12/1) is an interesting name on this list. According to CBSsports.com, Brown played at San Diego and his son is a guard at Southern California powerhouse Mater Dei and is being recruited by Pac-12 schools. The guy also did coach Kobe and LeBron, and it’s looking more and more like the Lakers’ disappointment wasn’t his fault.
Brad Stevens (15/1) is the final option, but it’s now pretty clear he’s a private guy who wouldn’t want to live in the bubble a UCLA coach has to. Stevens probably stays at Butler for years, especially with the program moving to the new Big East.
I’m not sure any of these guys gets this gig – names like Marquette’s Buzz Williams, NC State’s Mark Gottfried, Washington’s Lorenzo Romar and Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall have also been mentioned. But I would put some money down on Wright as I believe he has the best shot of the prop options.
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