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43 days ‘til opening day: Coaches with the most to prove in the 43rd president’s home state

NCAA Basketball: Texas-El Paso at Rice Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Nov. 10 couldn’t come soon enough.

As we slide through the final weeks before college basketball returns, we’ll look at one storyline about the upcoming season that lines up with the number of days until opening day. Keep coming back to see if we have the creativity and dedication to pull this off. No promises.

It’s Sept. 28 and we’re just 43 days from opening day.

As promised, the countdown is bi-partisan.

Today we’ll look at the mid-majors in the state where the 43rd president made his name, though it was already a pretty famous name. Like Texas itself, the amount of mid-majors in the state is sprawling.

With 16 programs, there are plenty of coaches with something to prove in 2017-18. Here are five of the most interesting:

5. Tim Floyd, UTEP

In a blink, Floyd is entering his eighth season at UTEP. It’s been a solid run, with a 75-41 C-USA record and two trips to the NIT. Job security is not a question, especially after the Miners rebounded from a 2-13 start to finish last season on a 13-4 tear. They should be good again this year, as Floyd’s teams always defend and he’s got a star in shooting guard Omega Harris. But there are seven newcomers joining the program, and the Miners will likely have to rely on two freshmen — Evan Gilyard and Kobe Magee — at point guard. Floyd may well coach forever, but with a college coaching career that stretches back to 1976, this may be his last big class. Will it keep the solid run rolling?

4. Danny Kaspar, Texas State

It’s easy to forget that it was Kaspar, and not Brad Underwood, that got SFA uncorked. He was there for 12 seasons, and during that time won 139 conference games, signed Thomas Walkup and made the program’s first NCAA appearance in 2009. Going on year five at Texas State he obviously hasn’t reached those heights, but there has been steady improvement. The Bobcats have increased their overall and Sun Belt win totals (and KenPom rating) in each season, culminating in last year’s 22-14 (11-7) campaign. He’s continued to teach the disruptive defense he made famous at SFA, and has an all-league talent in sophomore wing in Nijal Pearson. But the Bobcats do lose a pair of important players in departing seniors Ojai Black and Kavin Gilder-Tilbury. Will the ascent continue for a proven program-builder, or did Texas State max out in 2016-17?

3. Jason Hooten, Sam Houston State

Hooten has done a tremendous job in seven years at Sam Houston State with a 138-98 record and three CIT appearances. He even had a 26-win, top-100 KenPom team three seasons ago. The problem is he’s done it in SFA’s considerable shadow. Here are the Bearkats’ league tournament finishes the past four years:

  • 2014 championship game loss to SFA
  • 2015 championship game loss to SFA
  • 2016 semifinal loss to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
  • 2017 semifinal loss to New Orleans

With SFA still a slight question mark (more below) and New Orleans losing a lot off an NCAA Tournament team, opportunity may be ripe for Hooten to break through. The Bearkats return a great junior point guard in John Dewey, and one of the Soutland’s best rebounders in senior forward Christopher Galbreath. If the time isn’t now, then when?

2. Grant McCasland, North Texas

McCasland has been a great head coach. The issue is that’s he’s been a great head coach for exactly one season. McCasland left Arkansas State for UNT after a 20-win season that included wins over Georgetown and Chattanooga. He showed recruiting chops by signing three good JuCo transfers in Tamas Bruce, Rashad Lindsey and Deven Simms. It was a good year. Does that mean he can translate that success on a longer-term basis in Denton? The Mean Green have floundered since joining C-USA in 2014, never finishing better than 8-10 and bottoming out at 2-16 last season. Can they be a player in the league, and will McCasland make that happen? It’ll take longer than one season to figure out.

1. Kyle Keller, Stephen F. Austin

The Lumberjacks were shut out of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014 in Keller’s debut season in Nacogdoches. Is that an indictment on him? Not at all. SFA didn’t have a bad loss all year and went 12-6 in league play, all while working in a ton of newcomers and dealing with an early season injury to Ty Charles. It was a successful season, and only a step back because the bar had been set ridiculously high. But those expectations are there, and Keller will fairly or unfairly always be judged against them. The Lumberjacks look loaded this season, with Charles, Ty Holyfield (11.7 PPG, 7.2 RPG) and a great recruiting class. Will that be enough to extend the SFA legend?