It was a momentous day for people who love both football and NCAA basketball on Saturday. It was the first complete weekend of play for the 2023–24 campaign, with several ranked clubs in action. TCU was one of them; the previous season, they qualified for the CFB playoffs. Deion Sanders, the new head coach, and Colorado were their opponents.
Before taking over the Buffaloes, the Hall of Fame former NFL cornerback led Jackson State to some of its best seasons ever. The Buffaloes finished 1-11 last season, including a couple of blowouts. It was difficult to predict how well this fully redesigned roster would turn out in the end.
It works out rather well. To start the first week, Colorado pulled off a huge shock by defeating TCU 45–42 away from home. Shedeur Sanders, Deion's son, had a record-breaking first game, throwing for 510 yards and four touchdowns. Travis Hunter, a two-way star, played cornerback and made three tackles, an interception, and 11 receptions for 119 yards.
All eyes will be on Deion Sanders and his incredible coaching debut at Colorado, and rightfully so. However, this has me wondering: from a purely hype perspective, what are the NCAA Basketball equivalents of this? Undoubtedly, there are certain coaches who not only possessed considerable buzz but also exceeded even the most skilled NBA Expert Picks expectations to become well-known figures in the country today.
Here is a list of five names that, like Coach Deion Sanders, generated a lot of national attention within the last five years or so, along with their current program status.
#1. Jerome Tang – Kansas State Wildcats
Perhaps the coaching carousel from the previous year is the closest analogy to Sanders. Tang was a member of the Baylor coaching staff that won the NCAA Basketball Championship in 2021. Bruce Weber, who was successful at Kansas State but couldn't keep up a sub.500 performance for three years, was replaced by him.
It's funny to note that nobody anticipated Tang's first season with the Wildcats to go well. On paper, the roster didn't appear all that impressive, and Keyontae Johnson—a transfer from Florida who missed the previous two seasons due to a cardiac incident—was the most well-known of the newcomers.
Indeed, Johnson was completely fit and performed at a level worthy of an All-Big 12 player. Additionally, guard Marquis Nowell played at an All-American calibre, helping Kansas State win 26 games in all and come just minutes short of qualifying for the Final Four. Coach Tang rose to fame nationally and experienced his share of viral events.
The Wildcats are expected to play a significant role in the Big 12 once more, and they have their sights set on many top-50 prospects from the 2024 and 2025 recruiting classes. The program has had an amazing turnaround under Tang's leadership, and if he continues in this vein, expect him to be considered for even greater positions.
#2. Tommy Lloyd – Arizona Wildcats
For the past 20+ years, Mark Few has been regarded as one of the best coaches in NCAA basketball. He transformed Gonzaga from a little-known mid-major from the West to a national powerhouse that has appeared in numerous national title games. His helper Lloyd, who gained a reputation as one of the best foreign recruiters in the business, stood by his side during those years.
He was linked to several positions before landing at Arizona, where he parted company with Sean Miller following some problems with recruitment that resulted in program sanctions. Whether Lloyd could succeed on his own without Coach Few setting an example was the key question.
That inquiry has had a pretty simple solution in the two years that have passed. The Wildcats have won 61 games overall, including a regular-season Pac-12 championship and a Sweet 16 appearance in their inaugural season as the number-one seed. Azuolas Tubelis became an All-American, Kerr Kriisa became an all-around international starting guard, and Oumar Ballo became an All-Pac 12 player under Lloyd's tutelage.
Right now, Arizona and Gonzaga are competing for the best program in the West and all of NCAA Basketball. Coach Lloyd has proven to be even more impressive than the hype and has quickly risen to the top of several coaching lists. Now, all he needs is to run in March to guarantee it.
#3. Penny Hardaway – Memphis Tigers
Memphis has improved as a top NCAA basketball team, consistently winning at least 20 games and qualifying for the NCAA Tournament, even since John Calipari took over the team at the beginning of the century. But after a few less-than-impressive seasons under Head Coach Tubby Smith, the Tigers hired Penny Hardaway, a well-known former player and Player of the Year, to take over.
After Hardaway was hired in 2018 as a coach at a nearby high school in the city and a former NBA all-star, he quickly rose to the position of one of the best recruiters in NCAA basketball. Along with other five-star players, he selected James Wiseman, the top overall prospect, in his first full class. And a few years prior, he pulled off one of the most spectacular offseason coups that the whole world was watching when he signed Jalen Duren and Emoni Bates, who went on to defeat Kentucky and Duke for the first overall pick.
Nevertheless, the squads' star power hasn't been entirely reflected in the win-loss record. He's never advanced past the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament and has experienced ups and downs with many well-known players, including Bates.
Nevertheless, it's evident that players still connect with Coach Hardaway given that Memphis has one of the strongest offseasons in terms of roster building this year. If he achieves his breakthrough year and makes a run at the Big Dance, the Tigers will undoubtedly become a nationally-ranked program.
#4. Juwan Howard – Michigan Wolverines
Juwan Howard, a former player and part of the famed "Fab 5" squad in the nineties, made a triumphant return to his alma mater. He left the NBA to become an assistant coach, replacing John Beilein when he departed for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Howard's arrival was met with considerable fanfare and excitement, given Michigan's prominent status in NCAA basketball over recent decades.
The Wolverines quickly became a sought-after destination for prospective talent. Over the last four years, numerous five-star recruits, including notable names like Moussa Diabate and Caleb Houston, committed to the program. These recruits played pivotal roles on Sweet 16 teams coached by Howard. In 2021, following a season that saw the team achieve a 23-5 overall record, Howard earned the title of Big Ten Coach of the Year.
However, Coach Howard has faced challenges as well. Despite having Hunter Dickinson, an All-American athlete, on the roster, the program had a disappointing season recently. Additionally, they saw Kobe Bufin and Jett Howard both selected in the top 15 of the most recent NBA Draft. While their upcoming team may not be expected to make the NCAA Tournament, Howard has the potential to engineer another surprise.
Furthermore, the Wolverines continue to attract elite talents from upcoming recruiting classes, with Coach Howard maintaining a strong presence on the recruiting trail. Nonetheless, a breakthrough season will be crucial for him to recapture the momentum he had previously built.
#5. Eric Musselman – Arkansas Razorbacks
Thus far, I have discussed the vaccination of two prominent assistants and two well-known alumni. However, as the head coach at Nevada, Coach Musselman originally came from the mid-major levels. He gave the Wolf Pack skilled experienced rosters that were good enough to qualify for the NCAA Tournament by using the transfer portal before it was ever a thing.
It was therefore quite interesting to watch how things would work out when he took the job at Arkansas. Although the position has a rich history and many resources, the SEC, under the direction of Kentucky's John Calipari, is a challenging organization overall. The squad has won 20 or more games each of the last four seasons, including back-to-back trips to the Elite 8 in 2021 and 2022, so the former Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year hasn't let that stop him.
Under Musselman, the Razorbacks have grown to be one of the most formidable teams in NCAA basketball. In addition to the major transfers that have come in, he is currently bringing in five-star players. Guards Nick Smith and Anthony Black were among the three he already had from the previous season alone. Additionally, this incoming lineup is strong enough to be picked to finish in the top 10 this season in the polls.
Although Musselman came into the position with a lot of hype, he is currently considered one of the finest in all of NCAA basketball. And moving forward, the excitement surrounding him and the Razorbacks is enormous. Could Calipari become the new face of the SEC if he ever departs Kentucky?