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The top eight college basketball coaches at a new school set up for success in their first season

Athletic directors across the country often cite the need to “go in a new direction” or to “reset the culture” when making a coaching change. In many instances, that decision is warranted — sometimes even expected.

But just because making a change is right or overdue doesn’t mean it’s a path with an instant turnaround in sight. Because let’s face it: rebuilding behind a new coach is a tough task. Coaches lose their job because they lose support. And to lose support, the roster is either below expectations, the performance is sub-par, or recruiting isn’t meeting the standard. If a coach is ousted for even one of those reasons, it makes it more difficult for their successor to find success, much less early on.

The good news, though, is difficult does not mean impossible. In rare cases, coaches move on to bigger and better jobs. They retire. They quit. So when the old guard moves out, the new guard is ripe for success. Below are eight coaches in a position similar to that who, for one reason or another, are set up for success in the first year of their arrival at new destinations.

1. John Brannen, Cincinnati

2018-19 record: 28-7

Projected top scorers: Jarron Cumberland, Keith Williams, Tre Scott

Analysis: Brannen was long overdue for a promotion. He took over a Northern Kentucky program that won 33 combined games in the first three years of its Division I existence and won 81 games in the four seasons he was there, which included two NCAA Tournament berths from a traditional one-bid league. At Cincinnati he inherits a win-ready roster that brings back its top three scorers — including preseason favorite to repeat as AAC Player of the Year: Jarron Cumberland. 

2. Mark Pope, BYU

2018-19 record: 19-13

Projected top scorers: Yoeli Childs, TJ Haws, Jake Toolson

Analysis: When Mark Pope left Utah Valley for BYU, the team’s top scorer, Jake Toolson, followed him. With Toolson in tow and Yoeli Childs and TJ Haws still in place, Pope’s BYU team should be rock solid despite Childs set to miss nine games due to an NBA draft paperwork error. Gonzaga is still the WCC favorite, but BYU has the talent in place to be a preseason sleeper in a league that is positioned to send two representatives to the Big Dance.

3. Eric Musselman, Arkansas

2018-19 record: 18-16

Projected top scorers: Isaiah Joe, Jimmy Whitt Jr., Mason Jones

Analysis: Even after losing Daniel Gafford to the NBA, Arkansas is set up for success in 2019-20. New coach Eric Musselman has graduate transfer Jimmy Whitt Jr. to add to a talented trio of young guards in Isaiah Joe, Mason Jones and Jalen Harris, the former of which could be a first-round talent as early as 2020. The Hogs have a chance to go from 8-10 in conference play to 11-7 or better if things come together correctly.

4. Nate Oats, Alabama

2018-19 record: 18-16

Projected top scorers: Kira Lewis Jr., John Petty Jr., James Bolden, Herbert Jones

Analysis: Under Nate Oats’ fast-paced, run-and-gun style, Buffalo won 59 games the last two seasons. His resume demanded a promotion — and he got it. Now he’s inheriting even better weapons to deploy his system in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Led by point guard Kira Lewis Jr. and graduate transfer James Bolden, the Tide project to be on the rise. Mark me down as a believer.

5. Jay McAuley, Wofford

2018-19 record: 30-5

Projected top scorers: Nathan Hoover, Storm Murphy

Analysis: Wofford lost its top two scorers (including all-everything Fletcher Magee) from its 30-win squad. But Mike Young left the cupboard stacked for his successor, Jay McAuley. Guards Nathan Hoover and Storm Murphy should see their roles increase significantly. And young players like Messiah Jones and Isaiah Bigelow should help fill in holes with quality depth. The Terriers likely won’t be favorites in the Southern Conference, but they’ve got enough juice to be darkhorse contenders.

6. Darrin Horn, Northern Kentucky

2018-19 record: 26-9

Projected top scorers: Tyler Sharpe, Jalen Tate, Dantez Walton

Analysis: The Western Kentucky era of Darrin Horn was an undeniable success. But he left for South Carolina in 2008, where his tenure there was an unmitigated disaster. That experience should do him well as he returns to the Bluegrass State. At NKU, he inherits three of the team’s double digits scorers from a season ago — and on a team that won 26 games and won the Horizon.

7. Mark Madsen, Utah Valley

2018-19 record: 25-10

Projected top scorers: Isaiah White, Brandon Averette, Connor MacDougall

Analysis: Mark Pope took his best player with him when he bolted UVU, but long-time Lakers assistant Mark Madsen should still should be primed to log more wins than losses in his inaugural season. Madsen inherits a transfer-heavy roster that should aid him this season led by Oklahoma State guard transfer Brandon Averette and New Mexico forward transfer Connor MacDougall. Returning cogs TJ Washington, Isaiah White, Richard Howard should all play bigger roles this season, too.

8. Carmen Maciariello, Siena

2018-19 record: 17-16

Projected top scorers: Jalen Pickett, Manny Camper, Elijah Burns

Analysis: Jamion Christian left Siena for George Washington after only one season, and he left a foundational piece behind in point guard Jalen Pickett. Even with Evan Fisher and Sloan Seymour — the leading and third-leading scorers — not on this iteration of Siena’s basketball team, Carmen Maciarello has Pickett. In a one-bid league like the MAAC, that may just be enough to be respectable right away.

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