BATON ROUGE, La. — The 2016-17 LSU basketball season looks to be reaching its only inevitable conclusion. ESPN.com and The Times Picayune are both reporting that Tigers head coach Johnny Jones will be fired at the end of the season, which could be as soon as Wednesday night.
It was a historically awful season for the Tigers, who went 10-20 (2-16 SEC) in the regular season and set a school record with 15 straight losses. Jones has made one NCAA tournament appearance in five years at his alma mater.
Jones’ fate was long sealed as the season spiraled out of hand. Thus, athletic director Joe Alleva has has had plenty of time to consider his replacement. He’s got no excuse for messing this one up, though that certainly does not preclude the possibility of him doing so.
Here are the top 5 names that should be on LSU’s wish list.
Chris Collins, Northwestern
Realistic? Probably not. But if Alleva wants to back up a Brinks truck, this is the guy to send it to. Collins has Northwestern on the brink of its first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history.
The connection here is personal. For 13 years Collins was one of Mike Kryzyzewski’s assistants at Duke. And for the first eight seasons of that tenure, Alleva was their boss. If their personal relationship was a good one, Alleva might have the ability to talk (and pay) Collins into coming to Baton Rouge.
The SEC is a step down from the Big Ten in basketball, but Northwestern is the toughest job in that league. There’s no guarantee of sustained success there, because it’s never happened. The Wildcats won’t even have an on-campus home next year because the outdated Welsh-Ryan Arena is undergoing a massive renovation.
LSU would have to overpay to woo Collins, and might not hang onto him long-term if Duke eventually tabs him as Coach K’s successor. But no one on the market can match his upside.
Scott Drew, Baylor
If this was going to happen, you feel like it would have already — the Tigers have hired two coaches (Trent Johnson and Jones) in the time Drew has been at Baylor. But maybe the third time will be the charm.
Like Collins, the allure to jump would be strictly financial. (Unless Drew has really fond memories of Baton Rouge from the ages of 2-6 when his dad was one of Dale Brown’s assistants). But he is worth the cost. Drew has made three Sweet 16 and two Elite 8 appearances since LSU fired John Brady.
Most notably, the Bears have frequently been built on prep standouts from Louisiana. LaceDarius Dunn (Monroe), Tweety Carter (Reserve) and Rico Gathers (Reserve) are among the best players he’s recruited to leave the state.
Even a triple’s OK
Tom Crean, Indiana
Crean has made nine NCAA tournament appearances in 16 seasons, and three of the misses came in years where Indiana was reeling from sanctions induced because of Kelvin Sampson’s scandal-plagued regime.
He is a flawed candidate, of course, or he would not be available. (And there’s still a chance IU will retain him). Crean is a long way separated from his greatest success, a 2003 Final Four bid that came on the back of Dwyane Wade at Marquette. Although he isn’t cutting it by the standards of a basketball blue-blood like Indiana, he’s certainly won enough to get a moribund fanbase excited.
Eric Musselman, Nevada
Former NBA head coaches are becoming all the rage in the southeast these days, as evidenced by Avery Johnson turning up at Alabama and Mike Dunleavy Sr. at Tulane. (Only Johnson is working out thus far).
Musselman, who previously coached the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors, is certainly on LSU’s radar after serving as Jones’ top assistant in 2014-15 before taking the job at Nevada. Though he only has two years as a college head coach after bouncing around the NBA and the defunct Continental Basketball Association, the early returns are promising. On Tuesday he was named the District VIII (Mountain States) Coach of the Year by the US Basketball Writers Association.
Most notably, the Wolf Pack plays defense. This year Nevada is ninth in the nation against the 3-pointer. LSU is 322nd. According to kenpom.com, LSU is also 322nd in effective defensive field goal percentage. Nevada ranks 64th in that category and was 27th in Musselman’s first year.
Kermit Davis, Middle Tennessee State
A mid-major grinder who has earned a second shot at running a power program. Davis has turned MTSU into the power program of Conference USA, going 17-1 in league play this year following last season’s NCAA Tournament upset of No. 2 seed Michigan State.
Davis has led the Blue Raiders since 2002-03, when he was hired after five years as John Brady’s top LSU lieutenant. He hasn’t had a losing season in 10 years. However, there are a lot of “buts” with Davis.
He flopped badly in his last go-round with a major program. Just 31 when he took over at Texas A&M, Davis was so lousy at cheating that he went 8-21, got the Aggies on probation and earned a two-year show-cause penalty that busted him down to the junior college ranks.
He’s 57 now, so he’s not exactly a young up-and-comer. And his style of play might not pack the seats at PMAC.
Middle Tennessee is also one of the more methodical teams in the country, ranking 270th or lower in tempo three times in the past four years. Anyone who saw Pete Maravich or LSU’s epic tilt with Loyola Marymount in 1990 would potentially revolt watching a Davis offense.
What about Mark Gottfried?
Gottfried’s name has been thrown around the message-board circuit since his dismissal at North Carolina State, which is a sad commentary on the current state of LSU basketball.
There are a couple of things that make him an unlikely fit. For one, he and Jones are very close. Coaching is a cutthroat business, but even in that context it is unusual to see someone leap over the carcass of one of their best friends.
On top of that, Gottfried’s career path looks a bit too similar to that of well-traveled NBA coach Scott Skiles — every stop starts out promising before a total flameout. Gottfried led Alabama to a pair of SEC titles and initially did well at NC State, but was dismissed from both places midseason. That’s an extraordinarily unusual thing in college basketball.
In theory, the Tigers can do better.