Some friendly advice for team schedule makers: Avoid Georgia, Missouri, St. John’s and Richmond in the near future. Unless you don’t mind losing.
Those schools represent four college hoops programs on the rise. Missouri and Richmond are already enjoying resurgences, while Georgia and St. John’s - thanks to new coaches brining in better recruits - are on their way.
Looking back, we might be calling this the summer of St. John’s. When Steve Lavin was hired in May, some wondered if the former UCLA coach would still have his recruiting touch. Um, check. Lavin’s snagged commitments from four 4-star recruits this summer, including local product Maurice Harkless. That’s crucial for the Red Storm, who are usually ignored by NYC talent.
Big deal, right? Lavin hasn’t been on the sidelines since 2003, and coaching Xs and Os were never his strong suit. (Ask any UCLA fan.) That’s why Lavin hired veteran Mike Dunlap, a premier tactician, and ex-Purdue coach Gene Keady as an advisor. Lavin, 46, is older, wiser and destined to avoid the same mistakes he made as a young coach in Westwood.
There’s no such coaching doubt regarding Georgia‘s Mark Fox. He took Nevada to three NCAA tournament in his five-year stint, averaging almost 25 wins a season. Pundits wondered if he could do the same in the SEC. A 14-17 debut season surpassed all expectations. Wins against Tennessee, Illinois and Florida proved that.
Switching coasts didn’t hurt Fox’s recruiting, either. He secured a commitment from in-state star Kentavious Caldwell, a five-star shooting guard, who’ll be flanked by capable role players. Georgia’s biggest issue is their SEC division. Playing against Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida and Vandy doesn’t allow for any missteps. (Improving the defense would be a big help.)
That’s called a quick turnaround. Chris Mooney did the slow build at Richmond.
After plodding along in the A-10, the Spiders progressed from 8 wins in 2006-07 to 26 last season, mostly because a series of solid recruiting classes jelled into a solid defense. (Having guard Kevin Anderson morph into one of the A-10’s finest players doesn’t hurt either.)
This season, Anderson’s a senior and Richmond’s expected to be an A-10 contender because of the pressing, frenetic defense. But more importantly are the additions of freshmen Cedrick Lindsay and Derrick Williams. They’re like the current Richmond players - solid players who can help the Spiders stay among the A-10’s best.
But perhaps the best rebuilding job goes to Mike Anderson at Missouri. The Tigers plummeted at the end of the Quin Snyder era, leaving Anderson to clean house and re-fashion the team in his preferred image - one that features a full-court defense and frustrated opponents.
The payoff? A trip to the Elite Eight in 2009 and a return trip to the Big Dance last season. That hadn’t happened in Columbia since 2003. (Another sign your program’s on the rise? Your coach is in demand.)
And, like any program seeking to maintain its momentum, Anderson’s done well with recruits. He stocked the roster with loads of three-star recruits, then scored big with his 2010 haul that featured speedy point guard Paul Pressey, rugged forward Ricardo Ratliffe (both four-star players) and five-star power forward Tony Mitchell.
Mitchell may not play because of eligibility issues, but his commitment marks an important step for Anderson’s program. He’s the first five-star guy in nearly a decade. Winning games and recruiting hauls? That’s a promising program.