Earlier this week, over at SI.com's One and One blog, Brian Hamilton published a list ranking the top 10 college basketball head coaching gigs to come open at any point to date in 2014. Hamilton ranks Boston College ninth, ahead of Auburn but behind Tulsa (eighth) and ACC-foes Virginia Tech (seventh) and Wake Forest (sixth; score one for the Deacs in #TheRivalry). Missouri, Marquette, and Houston top the list, in that order.
Given how little the college basketball media seems to think of BC, I'm not surprised that Hamilton puts BC behind Tulsa; to be honest, I find nothing inherently wrong with ranking Tulsa ahead of BC should the criteria of the list dictate that conclusion. For example: if proximity to the rodeo were a key metric, Tulsa would be a more attractive gig. My issue with Hamilton's list is that there seems to be as much logic - or lack thereof - behind his rankings as the order of the "21 Most Memorable Celebrity Couples of Coachella" featured in this Buzzfeed list.
Hamilton never actually sets his scale, like how much he values conference affiliation vs. a winning tradition vs. ability to win now, etc. Of course, his assessment of BC itself misses the mark anyway, especially when considered in context with what Hamilton says of Wake Forest and Virginia Tech. Of the bottom half of the list, here's what Hamilton writes:
6. Wake Forest
The expectations should be relative. It’s not whether new coach Danny Manning has the tools in order to win an NCAA championship. Or maybe even an ACC title in a ridiculously top-heavy league that will include Duke, Syracuse, North Carolina and Louisville. (The Demon Deacons haven’t won the league tournament since 1996.) Even in a basketball-mad region, the job may have inherent limitations. But in the 15 seasons from 1991-2005, Wake Forest made 12 NCAA tournaments. Consistent .500 or better league finishes, and therefore postseason bids, should be attainable.
7. Virginia Tech
Since 1996, the Hokies have made exactly one NCAA tournament. There is basically no culture for basketball and no track record that the program can achieve success regularly. The refurbished ACC makes that chore even more difficult. On the other hand, the new athletic director (Whit Babcock) comes from Cincinnati and therefore knows basketball success, and the new coach is Buzz Williams, who should have unflinching support and free rein to build the kind of solid teams he had at Marquette. Recruiting the D.C./Baltimore corridor is feasible. Williams will make the job, not the other way around.
The upward trajectory really is limited to the 2014 invite to the NCAA tournament, which was the first for the program since 2003. Living off history as a launching pad for the likes of Nolan Richardson, Tubby Smith and Bill Self en route to better gigs is no way to live at all. But at least there’s history. The program should be able to mine the leftovers of Texas recruiting, if not compete for players with second- or third-tier Big 12 and SEC schools. The move to the American Athletic Conference means a slightly higher profile, though new coach Frank Haith probably needs to finish in the top third of that conference every year to guarantee NCAA tournament berths.
9. Boston College
It seems like madness to suggest an ACC program with history somehow pales in comparison to Tulsa. But Boston College spends only a little more on basketball ($4.5 million) in 2012-13 than did Tulsa ($3.9 million), and the gap might close. Success can be had in Chestnut Hill. But, as mentioned, the ACC is preposterously tough. The team just down the road, Connecticut, just won another national title to look like a much more viable option for nearby talent. Right now, it looks like new coach Jim Christian will scrape just to finish .500 in the league, and that’s a rough spot to be in.
The job isn’t good just because Bruce Pearl took it. It might eventually get there thanks to the former Tennessee coach, but as Pearl himself reiterated to SI.com’s Stewart Mandel recently, not even he considers it a top 5 job in the SEC. Both Pearl’s energy and the campus’ proximity to the Atlanta area should provide conduits to talent. But the program never, ever will be a primary consideration for anyone. Not as long as the school fields a football team, anyway. That may be true of any SEC program save the ones in Lexington and Gainesville, but Pearl started at a place that hasn’t seen the NCAA tournament since 2003. He’s working with much less than nearly any other coach taking over a program this spring.
Let's first consider Hamilton's take on Wake Forest; can't nearly the same thing be said for BC?
The expectations should be relative. It's not whether new coach Jim Christian has the tools to win an NCAA Championship. Or maybe even an ACC title in a ridiculously top-heavy league that will include Duke, Syracuse, North Carolina, and Louisville. (The Eagles haven't been to the league tournament final since 2006, and last won a conference tournament in 2001 in the Big East.) In a pro-sports mad region, the job may have inherent limitations. But in the 15 seasons from 1993-94 to 2007-08, BC made nine NCAA Tournaments. Consistent .500 or better league finishes, and therefore postseason bids, should be attainable.
Tell me if you disagree, but I think that's a realistic view of the BC basketball program. Yet BC not only sits three spots behind Wake on Hamilton's list, but also "pales in comparison" to Tulsa, a program of little historical consequence moving into a lesser conference than the ACC and surrounded geographically by major conference programs of far greater relevance.
Hamilton references the "closing" basketball expenditures gap between Tulsa and BC, but the same can be said of Tulsa and Tennessee, which is fifth on the list but spent only $300k more than BC in 2012-13. Still, if Tulsa's comparatively easy road to the top of its league is what ultimately puts the Golden Hurricane ahead of BC on this list, how is Tulsa behind Virginia Tech?
Virginia Tech, which has "no culture for basketball" and finished dead last in the ACC, is seventh in Hamilton's view seemingly because Buzz Williams is a fantastic hire. Meanwhile, the premise of this list is supposedly about the jobs themselves regardless of "whether they've been filled or not," and Hamilton says the job at Auburn, tenth, "isn't good just because Bruce Pearl took it." Are you as confused as I am yet?
No? Well let's just take a closer look at what Hamilton says of Cal, #4 on the list:
It’s a what-you-make-of-it job. The Pac-12 will be a terrific challenge for Cuonzo Martin in the immediate future; nearly every team should be dangerous next season and the coaching is top-shelf almost throughout. But every conference has heavyweights. The Pac-12 only has two (Arizona and UCLA) to deal with. The nearby Oakland Soldiers AAU program can offer a convenient pipeline to talent, and there’s more talent in Southern California than any one school can take.
"It's a what-you-make-of-it job"... same as just about any job in the history of labor, but OK. Cal's upside is rooted in the local abundance of top basketball talent - fine. But while there's "more talent in Southern California than any one school can take," I guess, as it relates to what Hamilton says about BC, New England produces only enough talent to enable UCONN's success? I think Kentucky (Nerlens Noel), Syracuse (Michael Carter-Williams), and Iowa State (Georges Niang), to name a few, would tell you that there's plenty of talent to go around in MA alone.
Further, unlike Houston (third on the list) and Tulsa, BC is a premier program in its region, behind only UCONN in New England, and Syracuse if you expand to the more broad "northeast" footprint. Even if BC could never net the Noel's and Shabazz Napier's of the world, shouldn't BC be able to "mine the leftovers" of MA, like Tulsa apparently should in Texas? And BC's had some success recruiting SoCal, too, but that's besides the point.
I'm not trying to argue that BC should be as high as Cal on this list or even ahead of Wake Forest, but Hamilton's take on BC is shortsighted at best and underscores the perception problem the program faces. Steve Donahue's era of failure at BC spanned only four seasons - the first of which was decent - and yet the way Hamilton basically ignores the Skinner and even JOB eras, you'd think that Donahue's record is the norm on the Heights.
What annoys me most is the recurring theme among the media - from Blauds to Goodman to Hamilton - that BC is a victim of its own conference affiliation, as if BC would be a more attractive head coach position if it were in the A10. They conveniently forget that BC burst onto the scene in the ACC, appearing in the conference tournament final in the school's first season in the conference, the semi-final in the second, and that BC won more ACC games in its first few seasons any school not named Duke or UNC. Quite frankly, I don't want a coach that looks at the ACC landscape and finds an "easier" job in a lesser conference more attractive than BC. I want the guy who looks at the ACC gauntlet and BC and says, "I can win and want the challenge of winning there, because winning there would prove I'm a damn fine coach."
Sure, the roster's deficiencies are such that a winning record next season will take a minor miracle from Jim Christian, but the same can be said of Virginia Tech and Buzz Williams, and at least BC has Olivier Hanlan. Beyond its current state on the court, BC basketball remains an historically successful program, among the elite of its region (a recruiting hotbed), a member of the nation's best basketball conference, and located in a world-class city. I'll take that over the rodeo and a shot at finishing third in the AAC every time.