DAVE SKRETTA, AP Sports Writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Rick Barnes fired at Texas. Anthony Grant sent packing at Alabama. Rick Ray ousted at Mississippi State and Oliver Purnell let go by DePaul.
There were no fewer than 40 coaching changes in men’s Division I basketball last season.
So, which noteworthy coaches enter this season facing similar stress? Here are some possibilities with the season beginning in earnest this week:
TOM CREAN, INDIANA
Crean topped the list of coaches on the hot seat last year, when a trip to the NCAA Tournament saved him for at least one season. But continued off-the-court issues combined with a one-and-done ouster at the hands of Wichita State have landed him back on the list. The high expectations that accompany the Hoosiers this season are a blessing and a curse.
Led by Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr., they have the potential to challenge Maryland and Michigan State for conference supremacy. But if freshman forward Thomas Bryant fails to live up to expectations, and Indiana struggles again, it could be Crean who pays the price.
“This team has got to understand what it’s going to take for them to take the next step in every area,” Crean said, “whether it’s our shooting, whether it’s our ability to penetrate, whether it’s our break, whether it’s our full-court defense, half-court defense, certainly the rebounding. So that’s where that understanding level of how long they’ve been here needs to jump.”
BRIAN GREGORY, GEORGIA TECH
Paul Hewitt was fired after 11 seasons that included five trips to the NCAA Tournament and runner-up finish to Connecticut in 2004, all of which has made the first four seasons of Gregory’s tenure even more disappointing.
True, he took over a program in 2011 that lacked a lot of talent. And true, things were going in the right direction after back-to-back 16-win seasons. But Georgia Tech went just 12-19 a year ago and has still has not made the NCAA Tournament since the former Dayton coach took over.
“Last year we had a problem matching up with two teams, North Carolina and Virginia. We just had match-up nightmares all over the court,” Gregory said. “But in the other 15 games, you know, the games that we won, we competed, and we just were not able to finish.”
They’d better learn how in a hurry. Otherwise, Gregory will be finished.
TRAVIS FORD, OKLAHOMA STATE
He’s been coaching for nearly two decades and still looks young enough to suit up for Kentucky, but the pressure is starting to mount on Ford in Stillwater.
Ford has led the Cowboys to five 20-win campaigns in seven seasons, but has been unable to supplant Kansas atop the Big 12. Meanwhile, rivals such as Iowa State and Oklahoma have managed to pass them by. Oklahoma State was 18-14 last season and ousted in its NCAA Tournament opener by Oregon.
JOSH PASTNER, MEMPHIS
Wins and losses matter most, and Memphis has had far too few wins lately. Adding to the pressure on Pastner is the departure of some of his best players, including Austin Nichols, who bolted for Virginia. Memphis missed the postseason entirely for the first time in 15 years last season. Without a whole lot of experience, the Tigers may need to get back to save Pastner’s job.
JOHN GROCE, ILLINOIS
The years of perpetual contenders brought by Lou Henson, Lon Kruger and Bill Self have been replaced by sporadic years of success — and far too many failures.
Groce, who won 29 games his last season at Ohio, has missed the NCAA Tournament the past two years in Champaign — the first time that’s happened at Illinois since the early ’90s.
Like his predecessor, Bruce Weber, Groce has struggled to reel in recruits from talent-rich Chicago and Indianapolis, instead watching many of them head out of state. The result has been two seasons of injury-riddled mediocrity that haven’t sat well with the Orange Krush.
“I love the character of our locker room right now. I love the versatility of our team. That’s a big thing,” Groce said. “We’ve continued to add talented people and players to our team through recruiting. So I’m excited about that.”
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