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South Carolina Basketball: Coaching Candidates Showcase in NCAA Tournament?


I didn't get to watch the game, but you might have noticed that Wichita St. and Virginia Commonwealth squared off tonight in the NCAA Tournament, with VCU pulling off a classic 12-5 upset over the Shockers. Of course, Wichita St. is coached by Gregg Marshall, who is perhaps the top choice for Carolina's coaching vacancy among the fans. VCU, on the other hand, is coached by Shaka Smart, another popular coaching prospect. Smart is also a guy many Carolina fans would like to have on the sidelines, but--as one of the nation's top overall coaching prospects after a Final Four run last year, with another potential run on deck--it's widely thought that Smart will head for greener pastures and be hired by Illinois. That leaves Marshall for us to go after.

Undoubtedly, some Carolina fans are going to look at tonight's results and say "thanks, but no thanks" to Marshall--and then be disappointed if Eric Hyman does, in fact, make the hire. That's especially true because this loss means that Marshall has only escaped the first round once in eight tries, which gives the appearance of being a mediocre March coach. To me, this is the wrong response. First of all, while tonight's loss is indeed disappointing--we're talking about a WSU team that was ranked for much of the year going down to a 12 seed, although, it should be acknowledged, a 12 seed with a reputation for upsets--Marshall's tourney losses at Winthrop shouldn't be held against him so much. Back then, Winthrop was typically the team with the low seed. Can't be too hard on the guy for losing under those circumstances, and while he lost tonight, we may still find that he's a successful tourney coach when he has the talent in place to earn a high seed.

Another way of putting this is to say that I simply don't think we should put too much stock in March performances by mid-major coaches. That's what got us into the Horn mess. What matters to me about Marshall is that he's a consistent coach who is known for being able to build programs. That says a lot more to me about him as a coach than his NCAAT record, the fact that he has won 20 or more games nine out of his 14 seasons. Do I wish he also appeared to be a clutch tourney coach like Smart? Sure. But I also don't think it's out of the question that he can be that coach with more opportunities. Results in the tourney for mid-majors are oftentimes highly variable. We may find that Marshall, when given the opportunity to combine his program-building skills with access to SEC talent, is able to win more of these games. In short, I still see Marshall as a prime candidate for this opening.

And hey, maybe we'll get him a bit cheaper if this loss costs him in terms of potential suitors.