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11 hot mid-major coaching names to watch this season

If your team’s coach is on this list, you’re probably in for a good season. But you may be in a fight to keep him when it’s done.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Columbus Practice Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

As we sit on the cusp of the 2019-2020 season let’s do something responsible and talk about what comes afterwards. Few things generate more excitement in college basketball than the coaching rumor mill, and when it inevitably spins following the season there will be mid-major names involved.

Here are 11 coaches that high majors could seek out.

The Obvious Tier

Craig Smith, Utah State

It was an explosive first year for Smith in Logan, as he engineered a powerful offense behind Sam Merrill and toppled a heavily-favored Nevada to take a share of the Mountain West regular season crown and the league’s auto bid. With a big recruiting win already to his name — sophomore center Neemias Queta — and the Aggies poised for another successful season, the 46-year old may be among the top names power programs consider next offseason.

Mike Rhoades, VCU

The latest apple off the Shaka Smart tree had VCU firing last season, as the Rams breezed through the A-10 with a 16-2 record on the back of the seventh most efficient defense in the country. VCU comes into 2019-2020 with big expectations, and it’s not the first time he’s put a program on an ascending path. In the last of his three seasons at Rice, Rhoades led the Owls to their most wins (23) since the Eisenhower administration. The VCU pedigree, attractive style and, most importantly, results, should have Rhoades in high demand.

The Their-Time-is-Soon-and-Maybe-Now Tier

Chris Jans, New Mexico State

Jans has done nothing but win in Las Cruces since replacing Paul Weir in 2017. That includes an eye-catching 14-0 combined mark in games against rivals New Mexico and UTEP, and “rival” Grand Canyon. Whether it was an elite defensive team in his first year or well-rounded, impossibly deep team his second year, he’s batting 1.000 in getting to NCAA Tournaments. Whether or not that streak gets to three — and the smart money is it will — Jans should be a hot name next offseason.

Matt McMahon, Murray State

McMahon has been the latest winner at the Kentucky-based cradle of college coaching. He’s gone 87-42 (50-18 Ohio Valley) over four seasons at Murray State, including back-to-back regular season championships and NCAA Tournament appearances. As impressive, he’s identified and developed Ja Morant (the gift that keeps on giving), Jonathan Stark and Terrell Miller.

John Becker, Vermont

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round- Florida State vs Vermont David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a surprise no high major team — particularly on the East coast — has poached Becker yet. He’s done nothing but own the America East heading into his ninth season at Vermont, which has included three trips to the NCAA Tournament. His Catamounts have finished in the KenPom top-76 four times, and never worse than 151. With Anthony Lamb and another strong team in 2019-2020, Becker should yet again be drawing buzz following the year.

Russell Turner, UC Irvine

Turner has churned out a defensive juggernaut — and big-time winner — over 10 seasons at UC Irvine. This now includes a First Round win over Kansas State in last year’s NCAA Tournament, to go along with a solid track record of recruiting and development, particularly in the post.

Travis DeCuire, Montana

The 2018 Big Sky Coach of the Year followed up a tremendous season by getting the Grizzlies yet again into the NCAA Tournament field last year. He’s kept a strong program rolling, playing an aesthetically-pleasing brand of high efficiency offense and recruiting major talent along the way (particularly off the transfer market).

Scott Nagy, Wright State

The fourth-year Wright State head coach has had success in multiple roles. At South Dakota State, he led the Jackrabbits’ transition to Division I and built them into a Summit League power. In his current role, he took a strong Raiders program and brought it to the next level, including 66 wins and an NCAA Tournament appearance over three seasons in charge. As a bonus, he’s got Nate Wolters, who recruited at SDSU, as a feather in his cap.

The Outside-the-Box Tier

Anthony Grant, Dayton

NCAA Basketball: Battle 4 Atlantis-Dayton vs Virginia Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Grant has been a hot name before, and perhaps may find himself there again. Dayton took a big step forward in his second season, and figures to be an A-10 contender yet again this year led by Obi Toppin. He did a more-than-respectable job at Alabama, and at just 53, may be an attractive candidate for a second shot at the high major level.

Michael Huger, Bowling Green

The longtime Jim Larranaga assistant doesn’t have the luster of an NCAA Tournament appearance on his resume, at least not yet. He’s steadily built a strong program at Bowling Green, and was Buffalo’s main challenger for MAC supremacy last year. The Falcons may well be the league favorite heading into this season, and a big-time year could propel Huger into the coaching conversation.

Mark Pope, BYU

Pope’s postseason credentials — three CBI appearances in four years at Utah Valley — don’t stack up to many of the others on this list. He’s also yet to coach a game in the higher profile BYU job he just landed, but that’s where the potential lies. The charismatic former NBA player is a proven recruiter and talent developer, and while BYU may be a hard job for him to leave, a banner first season could make him an appealing, somewhat outside-the-box option for power conference athletic directors on the West Coast.