In general, NBA teams are set up by the talent on hand. That is not the case in college ball in which a coach can carefully select players to fit his personal style. The coaching carousel after the 2014-15 season landed a number of high profile coaches in new spots. This week, we will look at the new Tier 1 game planners (and next week, we will examine some of the new hires at non-power conference schools). Some coaches specialize in taking an assembled roster and pushing it one step further (also known as the Frank Haith Special). It may take other coaches a few years until they are cooking with their own groceries to be successful.
Texas Longhorns: Shaka Smart
Since taking the VCU Rams to the Final Four in 2011, Smart has been one of the hottest commodities on the college coaching job market. It took the deep pockets of the Texas program to lure Smart away from Richmond. Although Smart was not able to bring the Havoc moniker, there is little doubt that future Longhorn teams will rely on pressure defense and up tempo offense. Under former coach Rick Barnes, Texas played excellent defense and rather formless offense. The team will have a two-way identity with Smart in charge. The roster has plenty of talent, including guard Isaiah Taylor (13.1 points, 4.6 assists). It will be interesting to see what Smart does with bigs Connor Lammert and Prince Ibeh.
Mississippi State Bulldogs: Ben Howland
Among the new coaches, Howland has the best track record. Less than 10 years ago, he took UCLA to three straight Final Fours with players such as Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook. He was let go by the Bruins two years ago and took his time to find his new spot. There were problems at UCLA in recruiting from the southern California talent pool at the end of Howland's tenure, but attracting talent overall was not a problem. At UCLA, Howland liked to play at a slow tempo and pound opponents with defense. It appears that Howland has a solid building block in freshman Malik Newman. The Bulldogs also have 6-9 center Gavin Ware, who provided at least 10.0 points and 7.1 rebounds for the second straight season.
St. John's Red Storm: Chris Mullin
You can go home again. Mullin, who has no coaching experience, will look to lift the Red Storm to the top of the Big East like he did in his playing days in the mid-80s. The good news is that Mullin was part of the brain trust that put the Golden State Warriors together. The three-time Big East Player of the Year (he twice shared the award with Patrick Ewing) could favor an offense that relies on ball movement and perimeter marksmanship. Unfortunately, Mullin inherits a roster from Steve Lavin that does not have much returning talent. Shot blocker extraordinaire Chris Obekpa is the team's leading returning scorer at 5.8 points. The jewel of Mullin's first recruiting class is point guard Marcus LoVett, a big time scorer from Chicago. LoVett will need to be cleared academically to play.
Arizona State Sun Devils: Bobby Hurley
After two successful seasons at Buffalo, former Duke point guard Bobby Hurley has moved up to Tier 1. He replaced Herb Sendek who had been on the Sun Devil bench for nine seasons (reaching the NCAA tournament twice). At Buffalo, Hurley led a high octane offense that averaged at least 74.0 points with Javon McCrea and Justin Moss leading the way. The Sun Devils have an interesting prospect in 6-6 wing Savon Goodman who provided 11.2 points and 7.6 rebounds in 26.2 minutes last season. Sophomore Tra Holder could get a point guard education from Hurley. One interesting note is that Hurley will be an opponent to Johnny Dawkins, another former Blue Devil point guard, who is the coach at Stanford.
Alabama Crimson Tide: Avery Johnson
Alabama never took off under Anthony Grant who was fired after taking the team to the Big Dance just once in six seasons. The Tide has turned to former NBA coach Avery Johnson in his first attempt at coaching in college. Johnson was the proverbial coach on the court for 14 seasons and led the Mavericks to success from 2005 to 2008 (but Dallas won their championship after Johnson was replaced by Rick Carlisle). The diminutive Johnson is known for his control over the game, which can work both ways. Johnson won't get the opportunity to coach his son in 2015-16 after Avery the Younger transferred from Texas A&M. Former Longwood transfer Michael Kessens is a player to keep an eye on.
Tennessee Volunteers: Rick Barnes
It didn't take Barnes long to find a landing spot after being dismissed from Texas after 17 years. He only missed the NCAA tournament once and reached the Final Four in 2002-03. Barnes excelled at recruiting talented players, including future lottery picks T.J. Ford, Kevin Durant, and D.J. Augustin. Texas also played excellent team defense, so what was the problem? Barnes did not appear to favor an offense that pushed passing to find the open man. With the Volunteers, Barnes will be the third coach in the last three seasons. Cuonzo Martin left for California prior to the 2013-14 season and Donnie Tyndall was fired after being investigated for improprieties while at Southern Miss. The Volunteers return leading rebounder Armani Moore and freshman point guard Lamonte Turner could be an interesting prospect.
Florida Gators: Michael White
The SEC leads the way with four new coaches among the Tier 1 conferences. Florida was the only school that did not fire its coach. Billy Donavan took the leap to Oklahoma City to help the former charges of Ben Howland and Rick Barnes. It's funny how things work out. After three straight seasons of Elite Eight success, the Gators fell off last year and did not make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009. Donovan did not leave much on the cupboard for new coach Michael White, who left Louisiana Tech. In the past three seasons, the Bulldogs won at least 27 games, but did not play in the NCAA tournament. Sophomore Devin Robinson showed flashes in the second half of the season. Freshmen power forward Kevarrius Hayes and small forward Keith Stone could play a lot of minutes.
DePaul Blue Demons: Dave Leitao
Oliver Purnell's time as the coach of the Blue Demons was not successful, but at least it ended up on an upswing. Last season, DePaul equaled its season high in wins (12) and won twice as many Big East games as in any other season under Purnell (six conference wins). Maybe the stage is set for mini-resurgence under Dave Leitao, who takes the reigns for DePaul for the second time. Leitao parlayed three decent seasons from 2002 to 2005 into a spot at Virginia. There is some young talent for Leitao to mold. Juniors point guard Billy Garrett Jr. and center Tommy Hamilton both provided at least 10 points. Freshman Elijah Cain could improve the Blue Demons on the wing.