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How the best hires from 2018 could translate to the 2019 coaching carousel

With the benefit of hindsight, let’s see what worked in 2018 and what that might mean for 2019.

NCAA Basketball: Fresno State at UNLV Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 coaching carousel is slowing to a halt, with North Dakota the last remaining Division I program without a head coach. Before launching into the juicy, juicy content that is grading the decisions that have been made over the past month and a half, let’s take a step back.

With the benefit of a hindsight, the five 2018 coaching hires below turned out to be home runs in year one. But what, you may ask, can we learn from this? From a straight experience standpoint — and not considering the realities of programs inherited, style of play or anything else — here are the five coaches hired in 2019 that seem similar.

Griff Aldrich, Longwood

The Lancers flung up a ton of threes under first-year coach Griff Aldrich, and in the process won more games than in any season since 2009 (16), made their first postseason appearance in program history (the CBI), and beat Southern Miss once there. It was a good season for a program coming off a seven-win campaign, especially when you consider the team’s best player (Isaiah Walton) missed significant time. With a senior-laden team set to return next season, the Lancers could well finish with a winning Big South record for the first time since joining the league in 2012.

Coach that fits the profile: No one can match Aldrich’s background, but he was a “hot thing” hire last offseason, being plucked from Ryan Odom’s staff at giant-slaying UMBC. Lindsey Hunter (Mississippi Valley State) comes with his own one-of-a-kind background (long NBA career, interim NBA head coach), and was mostly recently (2017) on Nate Oats’ staff at Buffalo, one of the hottest mid-major programs of the past few years.

Dana Ford, Missouri State

After an up-and-down non-conference run, Ford had the Bears in contention for the Valley regular season title into the final weeks of the season. His recruiting chops were on full display in year one, as he locked up local prep talent and brought in instant impact transfers in point guard Josh Webster and dynamic forward Tulio Da Silva. That continued into this offseason, as the Bears landed Anthony Masinton-Bonner (Colorado State) and Lamont West (West Virginia) to create a team that should be the Valley’s clear favorite in 2019-20.

Coach that fits the profile: Ford seemed destined for big things the second he began to turn things around at Tennessee State at an impossibly young age. The same goes for T.J. Otzelberger who, albeit by inheriting a roster with Mike Daum, found big success over three seasons at South Dakota State after being the staff recruiting darling at Iowa State and Washington. He steps in at UNLV, which, like Ford at Missouri State, is a program many see with untapped potential, especially for a highly regarded recruiter.

Justin Hutson, Fresno State

Hutson took over a program that had been quietly successful under Rodney Terry, and kept things moving in his first year. The Bulldogs played a slightly faster, freer style that saw an uptick in threes and produced more wins (23) than all but one team in Terry’s seven-year tenure. Star guards Deshon Taylor and Braxton Huggins are gone, but Hutson has a quality point guard in senior Noah Blackwell to headline his second team.

Coach that fits the profile: Hutson came from a conference rival (San Diego State) and had local San Joaquin Valley flavor as a Bakersfield native. That sounds a bit like newly minted Southern Illinois coach Bryan Mullins, who spent the past six years coaching against the Salukis as an assistant at Loyola Chicago. And his local ties go far deeper, having played for SIU from 2005-09, which included a run to the Sweet 16.

Darian DeVries, Drake

The longtime Creighton assistant jumped the state line back to his Iowa roots and engineered a resurgent season at Drake. The Bulldogs won 24 games and earned a share of the Valley regular season conference title, one year after Niko Medved parlayed his own inaugural 17-17 season into a move to Colorado State. DeVries inherited senior center Nick McGlynn and sophomore point guard Noah Thomas but not much else, and, as it turned out, was able to add a number of impact players right away in JuCo transfers D.J. Wilkins and Anthony and Tremell Murphy, as well as Iowa graduate transfer Brady Ellingson. The Bulldogs played a more aesthetically pleasing brand of offense, and had a balanced team that surprised within the Valley.

Coach that fits the profile: Elon’s Mike Schrage most closely fits the bill. Like DeVries, his entire coaching career has been spent as an assistant, with over a decade of experience at high major programs (Ohio State, Butler, Stanford). Mullins, Jay McAuley (Wofford) and Danny Sprinkle (Montana State) fit the assistant-only profile as well.

Craig Smith, Utah State

No first-year coach blew up like Smith, who had a litany of accomplishments during a 28-7 debut in Logan. The Aggies won a share of the Mountain West regular season title, won the league tournament and earned a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It was the first 20-win season in five years for a proud USU program, and the good times figure to keep rolling into 2019-20. Senior guard Sam Merrill returns as one of the country’s most productive players and sophomore center Neemias Queta, a player Smith signed out of Portugal, is primed for his own star turn after nearly averaging a double double as a freshman.

Coach that fits the profile: Smith quietly built South Dakota, a recent Division I entrant, into a contender in the Summit over his four-year tenure. The lack of NCAA Tournament appearances may not have flashed when he got the USU job, but the track record was there. That sounds like BYU’s Mark Pope, who built Utah Valley into a quality program over his own four-year tenure, even if he never cut down the nets in the WAC Tournament.