By my count, there were nearly a dozen high-major coaches who entered this season needing a big year (perhaps even needing to make the NCAAs) in order to stave off being fired. Four of those coaches have turned their fortunes, though a lot of work remains in the next six weeks. Let's check in on those four guys.
(All references to projected NCAA Tournament seeding are according to Jerry Palm's most recent Bracketology outlook.)
Brad Brownell, Clemson: The No. 20 Tigers' loss at Boston College Tuesday night was a major damper on the résumé, giving Clemson a third bad loss this season. It also leveled the Tigers with Virginia in the ACC loss column. Nevertheless, Clemson is 18-5 and still a good story here in early February. Brownell's season of adjudication was the lead subject of the Court Report two weeks ago. At 236 victories, he's the winningest coach in Clemson history; I think he should be safe regardless. With the BC loss, the Tigers have the résumé of a No. 10 seed as of now.
Jeff Capel, Pitt: The program was a peat bog when Capel got the gig, but nobody thought he'd be 27 games under .500 in the ACC (29-56) midway through his fifth season. In 2022-23, Capel's finally created something worth watching. The 16-7 Panthers are pacing toward at least matching their win total from the past two years combined (21). Pitt's a bubble team for now, sitting with a No. 11 next to its name earlier in the week. After the Panthers' fifth win in their last six vs. North Carolina — and their third straight at the Dean Dome — the arrow is pointing ever higher.
Chris Collins, Northwestern: The only coach to ever take Northwestern to the tournament in 80-plus years. But that doesn't get Collins a lifetime deal. He had to have a huge year to stay on, and that's the case right now — to the surprise of a ton of people in the Big Ten. The Wildcats lost at Iowa on Monday, but if this team is truly tournament-worthy, then it will view Thursday night's home game against 11-10 Michigan as comfortably winnable, not worrisome. NU was on the 8-line in Palm's bracket on Monday. It needs to beat the Wolverines to get back to that spot come Friday.
Kevin Keatts, NC State: The Wolfpack fanbase gets restless and disgruntled even after one year of not making the tournament. Keatts had a borderline tourney team in 2020, but we never got that tournament. His only appearance came in 2018, his first season on the job. This season had to bring change, and it has. After a sub-.500 season, Keatts has NC State as an 8-seed and climbing so fast, in fact, that State makes the cut in this week's Hey Nineteen.
Come take a look.
Hey Nineteen Power Rankings
Reminder: My rankings are not solely about whom I think is "best." This is a weekly encapsulation of the 19 hottest, most successful and/or most *interesting* teams, combining team quality with win quality but also having no shame for recency bias and rewarding significant winning streaks. All records shown are vs. D-I competition.
|Record: 22-1 | Last week 2. Mackey Arena has been around since 1967 and never saw a player drop as many as nine 3-pointers in one game, but Boilermakers junior Mason Gillis ended that. Coming off the bench no less, Gillis had a career-high 29 points on 9-of-12 shooting from deep in Purdue's 80-60 win over Penn State on Wednesday. The Boilers set a season-high with 14 treys overall. Atop the AP Top 25 again this week, Purdue is the first unanimous No. 1 this season.|
|Record: 17-3 | Last week: 5. I'm not saying I think Virginia is the second-best team in the sport right now; however, when you power-rank the hottest teams in the country on a weekly basis, and most of the top 10 has lost a game in the previous 10 days, you go with the teams continuing to stack wins. The Cavaliers have won seven in a row after winning their fifth straight game at Syracuse. The Orange haven't hit 70 points on UVa in the past 15 games they've played. A road game at Virginia Tech is next, then a tasty home one vs. NC State. |
|Record: 19-3 | Last week: 1. What you want to see in a team that has title aspirations: Following a surprising defeat, which Bama suffered with its noncompetitive 93-69 takedown at Oklahoma last Saturday, the Tide came back and eviscerated Vanderbilt 101-44 Tuesday. It was the program's largest win in league play ever (57 points). Nate Oats' team is 9-0 in conference play for the second time in three seasons.|
|Record: 18-4 | Last week: 3. The Vols were a lock for No. 2 this week until they delivered a pratfall on the road Wednesday night at Florida. The Gators had the best 3-point shooting performance of any team against UT this season, hitting 35% of their 3s en route to a 67-54 win. Games like that one are exactly why some will fade Tennessee come March. The Vols have stretches of offensive fall-off that breed concern. |
|Record: 18-4 | Last week: 8. Sir'Jabari Rice's emergence has given UT another weapon to deploy; he's had 42 in his last two games. The Longhorns sit atop the Big 12 by one game (7-2). The last time UT claimed a share of a Big 12 regular-season title was 2008. I'm thinking it won't end the drought in March, though. Texas has roadies against K-State, Kansas, Baylor and TCU all still coming.|
|Record: 18-5 | Last week: 12. I'm more impressed with Tyler Kolek almost every time I watch him. The third-year point guard doesn't get pushed around by anyone and is the spiritual center of a Marquette team that safely registers among the biggest surprises in college hoops. Barring a collapse, Shaka Smart is going to easily capture Big East Coach of the Year. I plan to see MU in person Tuesday in Hartford for the UConn game. |
|Record: 18-4 | Last week: 13. The Gaels haven't lost since Dec. 18. They quietly continue to rise in these rankings, in the AP rankings, in metrics everywhere. Despite this, skeptics abound. Saturday brings Gonzaga to town, and that's where SMC will have its shot at national validation. It's must-see college hoops TV. 10:30 p.m. ET. At 14.77 PPG, Aidan Mahaney is bordering on top-10 freshman status, what with his fadeaway jumper that beat BYU last weekend. Before Gonzaga, SMC plays San Francisco. A win would give coach Randy Bennett 500 for his life. |
|Record: 19-1 | Last week: 11. FAU's lone loss came in its first D-I game this season, at Ole Miss. Its next game was at Florida, a two-point win. The Owls have been soaring since. The team's thrived despite sending out scheduling requests to close to 100 schools prior to this season. Most said no. Two said yes: Ole Miss and Florida. When Florida agreed, FAU hustled to make sure the contract was signed signed as quickly as possible, just in case Gators coaches changed their mind. (This was when Mike White was there.)|
|Record: 19-3 | Last week: 14. Big one on Thursday for Zona with Oregon coming to town. The Ducks have won eight of the past nine in this series, including four of those games when Arizona was a ranked opponent. Dana Altman has this team's number. Arizona needs to win this game in order to have a chance to catch UCLA for the Pac-12 title.|
|Record: 18-5 | Last week: 9. What a barnburner in Cincinnati on Wednesday night. The Musketeers' 85-83 overtime win against Providence kept the Friars out of the Hey Nineteen and kept X atop the Big East beside Marquette. It was an important win for Sean Miller's team, seeing how the Muskies will not have Zach Freemantle for at least four weeks. Some losses are sure to come between now and then. |
|Record: 20-2 | Last week: 15. The Cougars have won eight of their past nine against Wichita State, their opponent awaiting them Thursday night. This marks Wichita State's first regular-season game against an opponent ranked in the top three of the AP Top 25 since Jan. 4, 1990. Coogs big man Jarace Walker is our Freshman of the Week. |
|Record: 17-4 | Last week: 4. UCLA has four losses this season but none of them have happened at Pauley Pavilion. Matter of fact, since Gonzaga lost its 76-game streak and then Auburn had its 28-game home winning streak expunged by Texas A&M, it's these UCLA Bruins who own the nation's longest run between losses at their home venue. A victory over Washington State tonight will get the streak to 20.|
|Record: 17-4 | Last week: 16. You read about Saturday's Saint Mary's game above, but the Bulldogs need to get past Santa Clara tonight first. The 16-7 Broncos are no pushover. A compelling off-the-court note on the Zags: Our Dennis Dodd reported that Big 12 meetings this week address whether Gonzaga should be seriously considered as an addition to that league. Plot is thickening a bit there.|
|Record: 18-4 | Last week: NR. No surprise to see KU pop right back into the party after being edged out last week. Bill Self's guys took it to Kentucky at Rupp Arena, then exacted revenge on rival K-State on Tuesday. Amid all this, Jalen Wilson continues to astound. He's scored 133 points in his last five games, which is the best stretch for any Jayhawk under Self. At 21.3 points per game, Wilson is tracking to have the best scoring average of any KU player in the past 20 years.|
|Record: 18-4 | Last week: 7. Of course the Wildcats will take a split with Kansas. This group has lost three of its past seven, but they are all upper-Quad 1 defeats (at TCU on Jan. 14, at Iowa State on Jan. 24, at Kansas this week). The Wildcats have the easiest remaining schedule of the top six Big 12 teams. |
|Record: 17-5 | Last week: 17. The Horned Frogs lost Mike Miles in the OT loss to Mississippi State, then won without him on Tuesday against West Virginia. That's enough to keep this team around, though its mettle will be tested. At Oklahoma State, at K-State, home to Baylor, at Iowa State are the next four. Going 2-2 is a win, especially if Miles' hyperextended knee keeps him sidelined until mid-February.|
|Record: 18-5 | Last week: NR. The Wolfpack make their season debut thanks to winning seven of their past eight games. It's the first time the program has ever won 18 games as early as Feb. 2. A big reason for State's sturdy tournament profile: Its five losses are all to teams currently projected in the tournament (Kansas, Pitt, Miami, Clemson, UNC). Next up is reeling Georgia Tech. |
|Record: 16-6 | Last week: 19. The Bears' 76-71 loss Monday at Texas snapped their six-game winning streak, but it was an impressive fight on the road. The next three home games are against Texas Tech, Oklahoma and West Virginia, opening a pathway for BU to move up in the Big 12 standings. A big reason why this team has gotten better is on account of its lack of turnovers; Baylor is averaging 8.0 in its past five games. |
|Record: 20-2 | Last week: 10. An 85-81 home loss to Hofstra promptly knocked the Cougars out of the AP Top 25 this week. I'm a bit more forgiving, however, especially with so many other contenders for this spot losing multiple games (against some better competition, no doubt) in the past week-plus alone. Hofstra ranks in the top 100 at KenPom, so it's not like losing in that spot is unforgivable. Beyond that, it's Charleston's only L since Nov. 11. |