Cinderella runs in the NCAA Tournament are no longer surprises to college basketball fans. The question no longer is will there be a Cinderella, but how many teams will try on the slipper in a given year. The deep run in the tournament not only brings attention to the school and its players, but the coach as well. With the high rate of turnover in college basketball, the NCAA Tournament has become a pseudo-audition of sorts for many coaches of mid-major programs.
It is an interesting concept. Many NBA scouts complain that GMs put too much stock into a three-weekend tournament when evaluating talent. Everyone is captivated by the NCAA Tournament, and given that the games are on a national stage, it makes sense as to why a talent evaluator could fall in love with a guy who gets hot at the right time and leads his team to the second or third weekend.
Take a guy like Gordon Hayward, for example. Hayward was smart because he realized that after leading Butler to their first National Championship appearance, and being the driving force behind that run even though Butler very much played with a team-basketball concept on both ends of the floor, his stock could not get any higher than it was at that point. Hayward is a fine player, and probably will become a solid rotation player in the league, but ask the Utah Jazz whether they would change their minds if they could do it over again and you’d likely get a pained look and a head nod.
Well, this is not a unique concept just to players. Coaches of mid-major programs are beginning to use the tournament as a spring board into the off-season, where a successful March can translate into major bargaining power with their current schools or an opportunity to move on to a more high-profile gig. The point is, guys who lead an underdog to the Sweet Sixteen or beyond may not necessarily leave a Naismith trophy, but they won’t leave empty handed.
It used to be that the mid-major coach was as good as gone once they led their team to the second weekend, but that paradigm took a big turn after the ’05-’06 season when Jim Larranaga chose to take a big extension at George Mason rather than bolting for one of the many higher profile programs that had expressed interest, including his alma mater Providence. Instead, Larranaga took a pay raise and a whole bunch of extra years on his contract and stayed put…
Well, until this past off-season, when he signed with Miami.