Our 2013-14 season preview continues with the Dagger's look at 10 coaches under the most pressure to win. Check back every morning for the next six weeks for more college hoops preview content.
Tony Barbee, Auburn
Why the pressure's on: Even though Barbee didn't create the mess known as Auburn basketball, he also has yet to demonstrate he's the man to fix it. Barbee inherited a sparkling new basketball arena yet he has gone 35-59 in three seasons at Auburn, a stretch that culminated in last season's disastrous 9-23 record and last-place finish in a memorably bad SEC. Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs offered a vote of confidence for Barbee after the season yet also made it clear the 2013-14 season will be make-or-break for the fourth-year coach. "My expectation is for our program to show significant improvement under coach Barbee's leadership," Jacobs said in mid-March. Can Barbee make enough progress this winter to give Jacobs reason not to buy out the remaining three years of his contract? It won't be easy. Auburn lost three starters to graduation including leading scorer Frankie Sullivan and highly touted sophomore Shaq Johnson was dismissed in July as a result of an arrest for possession of marijuana.
Rick Barnes, Texas
Why the pressure's on: Since Barnes led Texas to two co-Big 12 titles and a pair of Elite Eights from 2006-2008, his program has slid into mediocrity. The Longhorns haven't advanced past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament and have only finished higher than a tie for fourth in the Big 12 once, a slump that worsened last year when they lost 11 league games and missed March Madness for the first time in Barnes' 15-year tenure. A turnaround appears unlikely in the near future too considering the attrition Texas endured this offseason and the way Barnes is struggling on the recruiting trail. Five underclassmen left the Texas program early between March and August including standout point guard Myck Kabongo (NBA draft) and transfers Ioannis Papapetrou, Sheldon McClellan and Julien Lewis. Worse yet, Barnes hasn't replenished the roster because top in-state recruits typically haven't even considered Texas recently, flocking instead to national powers or to Baylor or SMU. Another down season appears inevitable for Barnes this winter. Then the question will become whether the Texas administration shows patience with Barnes or decides to try to lure a high-profile coach with Texas ties to begin the rebuilding process anew.
Ken Bone, Washington State
Why the pressure's on: Matching the standard set by predecessors Dick and Tony Bennett figured to be a challenge for Bone at Washington State, but lately he has fallen further short than expected. The Cougars went 13-19 last season and 4-14 in the Pac-12, giving Bone a record of 26-46 in league play in his four seasons in Pullman. Hastening last year's slide were a rash of marijuana arrests in previous years that led to the dismissal of starting point guard Reggie Moore, one of the team's two most accomplished players. Without Moore, the Cougars were turnover-prone and lost eight games by five points or fewer. Another bottom-tier finish in the Pac-12 might put Bone's job in jeopardy two years before the expiration of the original seven-year contract he signed, but it's going to be difficult for Washington State to make much headway in an improved league. The bad news is No. 1 and No. 3 scorers Brock Motum and Mike Ladd both exhausted their eligibility. The good news is the rest of the roster returns intact and the Cougars could get a boost from two players who sat out last season — highly touted freshman wing DeMarquise Johnson and center Jordan Railey.
Ben Braun, Rice
Why the pressure's on: Every aspect of Braun's five-year rebuilding plan appeared to be coming together just 18 months ago. The Owls had just completed a 19-16 season and returned enough talent to dream of making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1970 the following March. The optimism didn't last long, however, thanks to a flurry of transfers that sent the program tumbling backwards. Arsalan Kazemi (Oregon), Omar Oraby (USC) and Dylan Ennis (Villanova) were among the six players with eligibility remaining who left the Owls program prior to the 2012-13 season, a series of crippling losses that led to a disastrous 5-26 campaign last year. Kazemi has since alleged he and Oraby transferred in part because of racially insensitive remarks made by athletic director Rick Greenspan, but the fact Braun apparently had little to do with it may not help his job security. Rice will have a new athletic director and a threadbare roster depleted further by the decision of leading returning scorer and rebounder Julian DeBose to transfer to Florida Gulf Coast. Unless Braun can salvage a bad situation and provide reason for hope again next season, it would be easy to envision the Owls seeking a fresh start.
Jeff Bzdelik, Wake Forest
Why the pressure's on: Of all the coaches under pressure entering the upcoming season, few have more vocal critics than Bzdelik. He hardly arrived with unanimous approval in 2010 after going 36-58 the previous three seasons at Colorado. He became even less popular after winning just five ACC games his first two seasons en route to a pair of 12th-place finishes. And by the time Bzdelik concluded a 13-18 campaign in his third year in Winston Salem, fans were doing everything from erecting billboards, to taking out newspaper ads, to launching websites to try to get him fired. The man responsible for Bzdelik getting a fourth season to prove himself is Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman, who hired Bzdelik three years ago and appears to see something in him few others do. Wellman's defense of Bzdelik is that the coach's primary responsibility his first two seasons was to cut loose some holdovers from the previous regime and rebuild the character of the program. Six ACC wins including a victory over league champion Miami this past season also give Wellman some incremental progress to help keep the detractors at bay. How much success will Bzdelik need in year four to earn a fifth season? Only Wellman can answer that. But if the tandem of Travis McKie and Devon Thomas can't spark a breakthrough season this winter and losing under Bzdelik continues, Wellman risks having his fan base's anger turn to apathy.
Why the pressure's on: Dawkins is fortunate to still have his job after failing to finish any higher than a tie for sixth in the Pac-12 in any of his first five seasons at Stanford, but his new athletic director has made it clear that expectations are immeasurably higher in year six. "We clearly have set the expectation that we want to be playing this time of the season next year," Bernard Muir told the San Jose Mercury News on March 15. "We want to be playing for a (conference) championship. We think we have the caliber of kids who can do that. And we want to play in the NCAA (tournament)." The good news for Dawkins is he does indeed have more than enough talent and experience to contend for an NCAA tournament bid, even in an improved Pac-12. Senior forward Dwight Powell should be one of the Pac-12's best players, combo guard Chasson Randle has the tools to bounce back from a disappointing sophomore season and senior forward Josh Huestis blossomed offensively last season after already making an impact as a defender and rebounder. Still, that trio served as the core of last year's team too, yet the Cardinal underachieved to a 9-9 record in the Pac-12 and drew 4,530 fans per game. Dawkins' job appears to rest on that not happening again this winter.
Mark Fox, Georgia
Why the pressure's on: In five seasons at Nevada, Fox never won less than 20 games and never finished lower than second in his conference. Needless to say things haven't been so easy in Georgia. Aside from his second season in Athens when Georgia slipped into the NCAA tournament behind Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie, two players inherited from the previous staff, the Bulldogs have not had a winning season under Fox. Last year, Fox had SEC player of the year Kentavious Caldwell-Pope yet could not assemble a competitive enough roster around him to take advantage, finishing just 15-17 overall and tied for eighth in a weak league. That missed opportunity was compounded by Caldwell-Pope's decision to enter the NBA draft. He takes much of the hope for a successful season at Georgia with him as the Bulldogs appear to lack the talent or experience to finish in the upper half of the SEC this upcoming season. The good news for Fox is his athletic director continues to stand behind him publicly, noting that Georgia basketball's track record of changing coaches every four or five years hasn't been helpful. Sooner or later, however, Fox is going to have to put together another successful season to ensure that patience doesn't run out.
Buzz Peterson, UNC Wilmington
Why the pressure's on: Peterson is reportedly the highest-paid coach in the new nine-team CAA, but his performance hasn't been worthy of his paycheck. In Peterson's three seasons in Wilmington, the Seahawks have gone 33-57 and have finished no higher than eighth in the CAA. As a result, they've tumbled into irrelevance at a time when many of their former league rivals have parlayed success into invitations to more prestigious leagues. Peterson wouldn't have gotten a fourth season if many fans had their way, but the school couldn't afford his $1.3 million buyout, nor did it have any deep-pocketed boosters willing to write a check. Instead Peterson is returning with a revamped staff and renewed focus on resuscitating a program that made the NCAA tournament four times from 2000 to 2006 but has fallen on hard times since then. Ascending in the CAA this upcoming season will be a challenge considering two-time first-team All-CAA player Keith Rendleman graduated this past spring. Most prognosticators will likely project UNC Wilmington either eighth or ninth in a nine-team league.
Craig Robinson, Oregon State
Why the pressure's on: For all the publicity Robinson has brought Oregon State as President Obama's brother-in-law, he has accomplished little on the floor. He preached patience after taking over a program coming off a winless 2008 Pac-12 season, but while he has improved the roster's talent level, he has finished better than eighth in the league only once in five seasons. He and Dawkins are also the only current coaches from power conferences to be entering the sixth year of their tenures in search of their first NCAA tournament appearances. A contract that runs through 2017 and a sibling in the White House surely provide some security for Robinson, but restless Oregon State fans need their coach to restore their faith in him by ascending in the Pac-12 this season. There's enough talent to give Robinson hope with Eric Moreland, Devon Collier and Angus Brandt forming a quality frontcourt rotation and Roberto Nelson providing perimeter scoring punch. The question is whether Robinson can find a point guard and overcome Moreland's 14-game suspension to open the season.
Herb Sendek, Arizona State
Why the pressure's on: Even though Sendek has led a school with little basketball pedigree to four 20-win seasons in seven years, the 50-year-old coach still enters his eighth season at Arizona State in a precarious spot. Sendek must accomplish enough with a roster built to win now to prove he deserves to steer the Sun Devils through the rebuilding process that will almost certainly follow this season. Arizona State is set up to contend for an NCAA tournament bid this season thanks to a three-player core with one year apiece left in Tempe. Pac-12 player of the year candidate Jahii Carson is just a redshirt sophomore, but the speedy point guard has already acknowledged he intends to enter the NBA draft next June. Seven-foot rim protector Jordan Bachynski and high-scoring Penn State transfer Jermaine Mitchell are both seniors playing their final year of eligibility this winter. Should that core lead Arizona State to an upper-division Pac-12 finish and an NCAA tournament bid, Sendek would almost certainly build up enough credit to be given the chance to replenish the roster the next couple years. If not, Sendek would graduate his three top players at a time when he would be five years removed from his lone NCAA tournament bid. Usually that's the recipe for an athletic director deciding the program needs a change in leadership.
More from the Dagger's 2013-14 college basketball season preview:
- Sports & Recreation
- Jeff Bzdelik