The term Mid-Major is often bandied about with out real context. So I’m going to try to create a criteria so it’s better understand who would and wouldn’t be on a list like this. What a mid-major is not is a power conference team. The Power Conferences, often mistakenly referred to as the Power Five, are the six best and most consistently good conferences in the country.
The Big East, the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big Ten, the Big 12, the Southeastern Conference and the Pac 12 make up the these power conferences. There are a few conferences on the fringe, like the American and the Atlantic 10. Both are kind of caught in a netherworld between the mid-majors and the power schools. It’s impossible to refer to UConn or Cincinnati as a mid-major, and certainly Dayton and VCU have had enough success to be considered a step above, probably with Wichita State.
So I guess technically you can include guys like Gregg Marshall and Archie Miller here, we’re going to leave them off because they’ve already established their reputations for success at Wichita State and Dayton. Let’s move on to the other guys who are coming up the pipeline:
- KenPom Before: 280
- KenPom Now: 57
Kevin Keatts seems to be at the very top of every coaching list you can find and with good reason. Keatts took over a good program in the dumpster (sound familiar?). Benny Moss and Buzz Peterson both ran UNC-Wilmington into the ground after Brad Brownell had a nice run of success. Wilmington is a beautiful small town on the coast of North Carolina, so if there’s a place you might want wait things out, you could do a lot worse than Wilmington.
The history on Keatts is a former prep school coach at Hargrave Military Academy, who took a job as an assistant at Louisville and helped them win a National Title in 2013, and took the head coaching job at UNC-Wilmington in 2014. In 2013-14, the Seahawks were 9-23 and finished last in the CAA. Keatts took over and lead the Seahawks to a share of a conference title and an 18-14 record. The next season Keatts went 25-8 and won the CAA, including the Seahawks first trip to the NCAAs since 2006. This season they’re 21-4 and in 1st place in the CAA. Currently ranked 55th in KenPom, the Seahawks have been turned around and done so quite quickly.
Keatts will be tied to pretty much every college head coaching opening this offseason. He’s got everything you could want in an “up-and-coming” coach. His resume is nearly complete, a Power Conference Assistant, experience in the prep school recruiting area, and a successful mid to low-major head coaching job. The next step will be Keatts picking the right Power Conference job and probably at the end of this season.
- KenPom Before: 225
- KenPom Now: 55
Hurley is the younger brother of Bobby Hurley, known for his days with Duke in the early 1990’s. Bobby now coaches at Arizona State, and his brother is mid rebuild at Rhode Island. If you were a college basketball fan in the 90’s you probably remember Dan when he played at Seton Hall. Since his Seton Hall days he’s done a lot of coaching. He went back and worked with his dad at St. Anthony’s in New Jersey, he spent a few years as an assistant coach at Rutgers, then spent time at St. Benedict’s as a prep head coach, before being hired by Wagner.
In taking over Wagner, Hurley was handed a five win team ranked 336th in the country. He left after just two years with a team ranked 101st in the country and a 25 game winner.
So while the turnaround at Wagner was dramatic, the progress at Rhode Island has been a bit more steady and Hurley is still waiting on the breakthrough. The Rams are at 55 in KenPom this year, and still sitting squarely on the bubble with only one good win on their resume. So Hurley may have the chance to bounce from Rhode Island after this season, even if there aren’t a ton of good jobs available.
- KenPom Before: 30
- KenPom Now: 41
Taking over for Shaka Smart after his near legendary run at VCU was always going to be difficult, and Will Wade, a former Smart assistant, was the guy tapped to take over the reigns. Wade is in his fourth season as a head coach after cycling through Clemson, Harvard and VCU as an assistant coach. He jumped from his assistant role under Smart to the head role at Chattanooga.
Chattanooga was a bit of a mess and Wade got to work taking a program from a below 300 KenPom rating to 166th his final year, and putting together a roster Matt McCall has taken over and gotten into the top 100. If you’re a SoCon team in the top 100, you’re doing something right. Wade was the guy who recruited the five seniors who are leading the Mocs today.
VCU has seen a small dip since Wade has taken over but only a slight one. Since 2010 (when Smart took over) VCU has been a top 60 program, and they continue to be despite losing some of the cache with Shaka’s exit.
I spoke about Wade in the “Coaching Landscape” pieces, and its easy to see him being a hot candidate out east considering his history with Clemson, if the Tigers decide to move on. Even without Clemson, I’m sure Wade will have several schools contacting him with an opportunity to move on if he wants.
- KenPom Before: 93
- KenPom Now: 49
Illinois State is a very good Missouri Valley Conference job, and Muller returned to make the program competitive again after some time of being dormant. The Redbirds are 15-1 this year and riding high thanks to the rebuild under Muller, who is a former guard at the school.
Muller spent about 11 years as an assistant under Kevin Stallings at Vanderbilt. He, and Monmouth’s King Rice, left Vandy at the same time, and it coincided with a significant slide of the program that ultimately led to Stallings bolting the job he’d held for years for the job at Pitt.
The one thing Muller hasn’t done is take Illinois State to the NCAA Tournament, and this year may not be the year. They’re 23-5 but only hold one good win against Wichita State, and it doesn’t look like the Valley will be a multi-bid league. Muller could get some looks, but he also may be inclined to stick around Normal-Bloomington for a few more years and really get the Redbirds program going.
Of everyone above, I’d give the best odds of Missouri hiring someone like Muller. A good offensive coach with Midwestern ties, etcetera etcetera. Keatts should be smart and stay in his wheelhouse and stay on the coast. Hurley probably needs another season or two to get Rhode Island over the top.
Wade is probably the wildcard. Clemson would make sense, but at the same time it’s a pretty tough job and Wade has been pretty smart going up the chain. In fact, VCU might be a better gig right now.
At this point I still think Missouri is going to go after a more established Power Conference coach, and I feel like Jim Sterk will be very aggressive.
Next up we’ll take a look at a few guys like Kermit Davis, Eric Musselman and Matt McCall.