Starting 5: Who does North Carolina hire next? Is Texas back? Who wins the Final Four matchups?
Welcome back to the Starting 5. The Starting 5 is written multiple times per week by Adam Spencer to keep you up-to-date on all the news and events in the world of college hoops. You can follow Adam on Twitter at @AdamSpencer4 and @SDSBasketball.
1. The Opening Tip
Most of us thought it was an April Fools joke when we first saw the news on Thursday. But, alas, it was true — Roy Williams has retired as North Carolina’s men’s basketball coach.
The 70-year-old coach won 3 titles with the Tar Heels, in 2005, 2009 and 2017. But, he says he’s not sure he’s the right guy for the job anymore:
Roy Williams: "I didn't feel like I was touching the right buttons for my players… I don't feel like I was doing the job I wanted to do…
"…Some other things confirmed that (retiring) was the right thing to do."
— Ross Martin (@RossMartin_IC) April 1, 2021
That’s a tough quote to read. But, when you feel like your heart isn’t in it, it’s probably time to hang up the whistle. Williams was a heck of a coach.
Now, the question becomes who will take over as the Tar Heels’ coach? The favorite for the job is Williams’ right-hand man, Hubert Davis. UNC-Greensboro coach Wes Miller is also in plenty of rumors.
Should the Heels hire a North Carolina guy? Or, should they go for the best coach? That seems pretty obvious (go for the best coach, right?) but not in college athletics, where boosters often want a guy with loyalty to the program.
You’ll hear all kinds of names brought up with the UNC opening, and that’s because it’s probably a top-3 job in college basketball. This article from The News & Observer names Mark Few of Gonzaga and Jay Wright of Villanova as potential candidates.
I don’t think so.
I don’t think Few is ever going to leave what he built at Gonzaga, and for good reason, especially if he wins the national championship this year. Wright, I think, is also firmly entrenched at Villanova after winning 2 titles with the Wildcats.
Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens is also being mentioned, but if he didn’t take the Indiana job, I’d bet he’s staying in the NBA.
Still, this UNC search will be an interesting one, even if it ends in hiring Davis. Following a 3-time national champion won’t be easy!
Now, let’s dive into some other coaching news.
2. Coaching news
On Thursday, the calendar flipped to April, and that meant Chris Beard’s buyout dropped from $5 million to $4 million. Almost immediately, the Texas Tech coach dropped the “Tech” from his title, heading to Austin to take over as the head coach of the Texas Longhorns.
It’s not a huge surprise, as he’s a Texas graduate and former assistant. And, with Shaka Smart leaving for Marquette last week, the Longhorns’ position was very much open. Smart clearly saw the writing on the wall and got out ahead of the April 1 deadline for his job.
It’s worth wondering at this point, though, if the Texas job is better than Texas Tech. Beard took the Red Raiders to the national championship game in 2019. He also made it further in this year’s tournament than the Longhorns, losing in Round 2 to Arkansas while the Longhorns lost in Round 1 to Abilene Christian.
Yes, Smart led Texas to the Big 12 Tournament title this year, but after losing to an in-state 14-seed, the discontent in Longhorn land was palpable.
Beard had better be prepared for what he’s stepping into. The Texas boosters are notorious for not having much patience and for being big-time meddlers. He’ll have to navigate that if he wants to have success at his alma mater.
But, kudos to AD Chris Del Conte. He has now hired Beard and football coach Steve Sarkisian in the past couple of months. He has his guys. If Texas isn’t “back” soon, Del Conte could be shown the door along with the coaches he just hired.
- So, where does this leave Texas Tech? In a very, very frustrated place, apparently. AD Kirby Hocutt did not hide his displeasure with Beard’s decision to head to Austin. He said the Red Raiders weren’t even given a chance to make a counteroffer:
Texas Tech AD Kirby Hocutt said “we were not given an opportunity to make a counter offer” to Chris Beard. Hocutt said Beard told him it was not a decision made for financial reasons.
— Sam Khan Jr. 😷 (@skhanjr) April 1, 2021
- Let’s just say it sounds like Beard won’t be welcomed back to Lubbock with open arms moving forward:
Texas Tech AD Kirby Hocutt on Chris Beard: “You have somebody that walks away to go to an in-conference school, an in-state school, absolutely that frustrates you.”
— Sam Khan Jr. 😷 (@skhanjr) April 1, 2021
- One name to keep an eye on in the Red Raiders’ search is Grant McCasland, the coach at North Texas. The Mean Green upset Purdue in the NCAA Tournament this year, so McCasland’s stock is high. Sam Blum of The Dallas Morning News outlines some top candidates here.
- Find someone who loves you like Mike Woodson loves Mike Woodson. The new Indiana basketball coach loves to refer to himself in the third person:
Mike Woodson referred to himself in the third person 4 (!!!) times during his introductory press conference.
Adam Spencer finds that to be very strange.
— Adam Spencer (@AdamSpencer4) March 29, 2021
- That’s way too many times to reference yourself in the third person, in my opinion. The reaction to Woodson’s hire has been pretty mixed so far. Yes, he’s an Indiana guy, so that’s a plus. But, he hasn’t been in the college game in a really long time. The Indiana program is a mess right now. If fans aren’t patient (which, I mean, haha), nothing will change for the Hoosiers. Mike Woodson is going to need to be the best Mike Woodson Mike Woodson can be.
Now, let’s take a look at some recent big-time transfer news.
3. Transfer news
Tis the season for players entering the NCAA transfer portal, and boy, is it ever a busy season. Like never before, players are entering the portal and exploring their options.
In the SEC, several teams have had multiple players enter their names in the portal. Not many players have committed yet, but Kentucky is doing a better job than most at landing players.
During the 2020-21 season, West Virginia big man Oscar Tshiebwe committed to John Calipari’s program. And, this week, Davidson sharpshooter Kellan Grady committed to the Wildcats.
Grady’s commitment is huge, because it signals a shift in the way Coach Cal is approaching the game. Grady is a 3-point shooter, and Kentucky had major issues from beyond the arc this past season. Meanwhile, the Wildcats are also in the mix for Auburn transfer Justin Powell, who showed his 3-point prowess last season before suffering a concussion and never returning to the court.
If Cal embraces the 3 and has guys like Powell and Grady on the court, Kentucky will be back in the top 4 in the SEC standings next year.
- The 2 current players in the portal who were rated the highest as recruits are Walker Kessler from North Carolina and Khristian Lander of Indiana. Kessler could be the prize of the group, and he could end up in the SEC. Before committing to UNC, Kessler — who is a Georgia native — was thought to have had Auburn and Duke as his top 2 schools:
Entering Walker Kessler's official visit to North Carolina, his two leaders were thought to be Duke and Auburn. Officially visited both schools. But he arrived in Chapel Hill on a Friday and by the time he left on Sunday, he was ready to commit. Made his announcement that night.
— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) February 27, 2021
- Obviously, he ended up in Chapel Hill, but if he wants to head closer to home, the Tigers would welcome him with open arms.
- Meanwhile, for Lander, a number of teams are also reaching out, including Florida:
Indiana transfer Khristian Lander has heard from NC State, Florida, Pitt, and Nebraska, per source.
— Tipton Edits (@TiptonEdits) March 31, 2021
- Mike White hasn’t done the best job with transfers not named Colin Castleton lately, though, so it’ll be interesting to see where Lander ends up.
- One of the more surprising SEC guys to enter the portal is Georgia’s Toumani Camara, who just had his decision reported on Thursday, and it wasn’t an April Fools joke:
Georgia's Toumani Camara confirms to me via text that he has indeed entered the NCAA Transfer Portal.
— Anthony Dasher (@AnthonyDasher1) April 2, 2021
- I think Camara is going to be a guy who has a long NBA career ahead of him, so if he leaves Georgia, it’ll really hurt Tom Crean’s program. Based on my interactions with them, Georgia fans are fed up from Crean. If he has another bad year in 2021-22, he could end up getting fired. We’ll see if he can put together a competitive team next year. He’s going to have to pull from the portal himself to do that.
- One of the more surprising guys to enter the portal nationally is Illinois’ Adam Miller. I’m all for players having the power to do whatever they want transfer-wise until they start actually getting paid, but this one is baffling to me. Miller started 31 games for the Illini last year. The Illini were a top-5 team for most of the season. And, Ayo Dosunmu is off to the NBA Draft, most likely. So, why would Miller leave? He and Andre Curbelo were likely going to be the major stars on the team this coming season. I just don’t get that decision from Miller. Although, maybe he will come back to Champaign? We’ll see.
Now, let’s look ahead to Final Four weekend!
4. Outlet pass
For this section today, I’m going to rank the 4 Final Four games (2 men’s, 2 women’s) by my interest level in them:
- 1-seed Baylor vs. 2-seed Houston (Saturday at 5:14 p.m. ET on CBS) — Houston is a great rebounding team. Baylor won’t be able to give up second-chance points if it wants to win. We’re so close to a Baylor-Gonzaga title game, but we’re not there yet. This will be the toughest test yet for Scott Drew’s crew. Oh, and this game is the unofficial Texas title game. Whoever wins will get to claim supremacy in the Lone Star State.
- 1-seed UConn vs. 3-seed Arizona (Friday at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN) — I love the fact that Paige Bueckers of UConn and Jalen Suggs of Gonzaga are great friends from back in Minnesota and now each are 1 win away from playing for national titles. That’s a great story. But, so is this Arizona squad, led by Aari McDonald and Trinity Baptiste. And, my friend Paige (not Bueckers) is an Arizona alum, so I’ll be rooting for the Wildcats in this one. It should be a great game!
- 1-seed South Carolina vs. 1-seed Stanford (Friday at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN) — Dawn Staley has done an incredible job at South Carolina, turning the Gamecocks into a powerhouse. But, they’ll be slight underdogs in this game. I can’t wait to see if they can pull off another trip to the title game.
- 1-seed Gonzaga vs. 11-seed UCLA (Saturday at 8:34 p.m. ET on CBS) — I think this is where the Bruins have their season come to an end. And, I think Gonzaga cruises pretty easily. I love watching the Bulldogs play, but I think this will be a blowout, so I’m putting it last on my list.
We’ll know soon enough who will be playing for national titles. The women’s championship is on Sunday, with the men following on Monday. There are only 6 total games left in the college basketball season. Let’s hope they’re all great!
5. Buzzer beaters
Now, let’s answer a couple of random questions before we get out of here for the day:
Do you like the new format for the NCAA Tournament, with Rounds 1 and 2 on Friday-Monday and the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 on Saturday-Tuesday?
It doesn’t matter what I think, because the ratings were reportedly through the roof for this past couple of rounds. The Sweet 16 and Elite 8 drew in tons of viewers even in an era when ratings are going down across the board. I don’t personally like the Saturday-Tuesday format, but it’s probably here to stay after how the games performed. At least the Final Four is still on Saturday and the title game is still on Monday.
Who has improved their NBA Draft stock the most during this NCAA Tournament?
It has to be Drew Timme, the Gonzaga big man, right? Jalen Suggs is probably a top-5 pick. Corey Kispert is probably a lottery pick, too. But, no one was really talking about Timme as an NBA prospect. Now, he has to be in the Round 1 discussion. He’s so crafty down low and is a great passer for a big man. He reminds me of Kevin Love without the 3-point shooting. He’s only a sophomore, so we’ll see if he goes pro or not after this season, but he has certainly made himself a lot of money during March Madness.
Enjoy the Starting 5? Have a question? Want to yell at me about something? Follow me on Twitter @AdamSpencer4 or email me at ASpencer@SaturdayDownSouth.com.