clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Pourover: The right coach, moreso than the right program, is how you win big.

Maybe Dennis Gates is the right guy!

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament East Regional-Florida Atlantic vs Kansas State Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

While Georgetown was busy luring Ed Cooley away from Providence, the folks at Field of 68 (mainly Rob Dauster and Jeff Goodman) were on Twitter pushing back against Providence fans in trying to convince them Cooley was taking a job with a higher ceiling than he had at Providence.

Here’s the thing about the phrasing of using “ceiling” though; they’re just flat wrong about it. There’s a wide difference between a program’s ceiling and how good of a job it might be. With the structure of the NCAA tournament and the evidence we’ve seen play over and over and over again, anyone can win a National Championship.

So first things here, is Georgetown a better job than Providence?

Easily enough, the answer is yes. The DMV (D.C./Maryland/Virginia) area is ripe, full of elite talent. The donor base is deep. The history and fan support are there. Georgetown is at worst one of the 25 best jobs in the country, and at its best might be within the top 10. It was a long time ago, but when Big John Thompson had things rolling, they won a National Title (1984) and went to 14 straight NCAA Tournaments and 18 of 19 in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. Then things got rolling again under John Thompson III as the Hoyas went to 8 of 10 tournaments from 2005 to 2015.

Providence, meanwhile, is in a sleepier area for basketball talent. Rhode Island has easy access to major metropolises in the northeast, but with density comes competition. Prep Schools in the northeast used to have a ton of talent, but those schools have been stripped away a bit as Prep Schools have popped up all around the country at a higher rate, which has spread the talent out. Providence’s strongest most sustained run has been under Ed Cooley. They’ve played in 7 of the last 9 NCAA Tournaments, but have just one Sweet 16 to show for it.

Rick Pitino took Providence to one of the program’s two Final Fours. He also took Kentucky to three of them, and he took Louisville to three of them. Butler went to two Final Fours when Brad Stevens was the coach. Stanford went to two under Mike Montgomery. Mark Few has taken Gonzaga to two Final Fours also. Those three programs have never been to a Final Four without that coach on the sideline.

Georgetown has been to 5, in the same company as UConn (well, until last night), Illinois, Oklahoma and Florida. So Georgetown is better, yes. But looking at it in that context it’s far from elite. It’s merely better. For that matter, I’m not sure those jobs aren’t better than the Tennessee job, which has zero Final Fours.

That doesn’t mean you can’t still win big at Providence. We know because Rick Pitino did it. Ed Cooley almost got there. Who knows, maybe Kim English is that guy?

The better descriptor here is Margin of Error

The lead image above is of Dusty May. Early returns on May are that he’s a fantastic basketball coach. He was also a blown defensive assignment away from going home after the first round.

In Florida Atlantic’s 30 years as a Division 1 basketball program they’ve played in the NCAA Tournament twice. Before this season, the Owls won 20 games just once. But being a pretty good football program got them bumped up to Conference USA, where they hired Dusty May and he’s built the rest.

Now they’re going to a Final Four. But as you can see from the tweet above (thanks, Watkins!) the margin of error is pretty thin. If Memphis blocks that shot they’re likely the team in the Sweet Sixteen facing Tennessee. If Purdue doesn’t get upset by Fairleigh Dickinson maybe they dispatch of the Owls in the second round. If Tennessee can find any semblance of offense, or if Keyontae Johnson doesn’t have foul trouble... all these ifs could have sent FAU home packing. But instead they’re going to Houston for the Final Four.

Dusty May won 28 games this year in the regular season in Conference USA. That’s a good league, albeit a bit top heavy. North Texas and UAB are also really good and probably should’ve been in the NCAA Tournament. The Owls have now won 35 games this year.

They will face the winner of Creighton and San Diego State. Two teams with a combined ZERO trips to the Final Four. Greg McDermott and Brian Dutcher have quietly built up really consistent and good programs at places without the resources of a place like Georgetown.

Texas Tech hired Chris Beard and in the third season he had that team in the National Final. Houston hired Kelvin Sampson and it had been 30 years and 4 NCAA Tournament trips since their last Final Four appearance. He took them back in 2019.

Texas Tech and Houston aren’t better jobs than Georgetown. Neither is Florida Atlantic. Those schools got to the Final Four because they made smart coaching hires, they invested in their coach, and they gave them the environment they needed to succeed. It took Sampson four years to make his first tournament. Texas Tech got there in two years. This is McDermott’s 13th season and he’s made 8 tournaments. It’s Butcher's fourth tournament in six years.

Dennis Gates made the tournament his first year

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round-Princeton vs Missouri Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

This gets me to the point of all this, and my point isn’t to anoint Gates as the right coach. He’s off to a good start, no doubt.

My point is that for Missouri to get over the elusive Final Four hurdle they need the right coach. There are better programs, with richer history, larger donor bases, bigger NIL funds, and more recent success. Those programs are just as fallible as a place like Mizzou with the wrong coach.

Kentucky hired Billy Gillispie. North Carolina hired Matt Doherty. UCLA hired Steve Alford. All good coaches, but not the right ones. Mizzou has hired quite a few of the wrong coaches in recent years. But nothing in College Sports is fixed. Especially not now. Not with NIL impacting recruiting, and the transfer portal. If anything, coaches like Dennis Gates and Jerome Tang have put pressure on newly hired coaches to turn things around faster. Everyone believes you can flip a script in one offseason. Turnover might get even worse as programs struggle to find a seat when the music stops in the NCAA Tournament game of musical chairs.

We watched FAU waltz into a Final Four while knowing either Creighton or San Diego State will get to their first as well. Then knowing one of those three teams will be playing for a National Title next week shouldn’t make you sad for Mizzou. It should remind you how important it is to be in the game.

You have to get there first. Once you’re there, you need to be either an awesome basketball team, or you need some luck. And even if you’re awesome you still need some luck along the way. The hope with Gates is that he’s the right coach. That he’s able to build this thing sustainably, and become a fixture in the NCAA Tournament. If he does that, he’ll break through at some point. Maybe it’s in year 2, maybe it’s year 10. Just keep giving yourself a chance.