Mid-season coaching changes: Good or bad?

IN COLLEGE HOOPS, should the coach of a struggling team finish out the season, or do circumstances warrant a change regardless of the calendar? In the case of Oregon State's Jay John, he was let go midseason. Scout.com's National Basketball Columnist Frank Burlison weighs in on the subject, and takes a look around the landscape of college hoops.

*Three head coaches (at USF, Pepperdine and Oregon State) have already been show the door and we're not even into February yet.

Memo to all college CEOs, athletic directors and anyone else who has a say in deciding if it's time to replace a head coach, even if we're (more or less) still in the middle of a season:

This isn't the NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB, folks.

Coaches shouldn't have to look over their shoulders, wondering if their next loss is going to be their last.

Unlike in the aforementioned ranks, a college coach can't cut players, mid-stream, make trades or search out players to sign to 10-day contracts. Coaches who are coaching game-to-game are tempted to make decisions that aren't necessarily good for the players', and programs', long-term progress.

Should a coach violate NCAA rules or commit some other offense, immediate termination should be a viable and legitimate option.

But a coach shouldn't be forced out just because boosters, an athletic director or a school's president wants to get the search for a new coach started a lot sooner than in March.

Off the soap box and onto this week's schedule:

Washington State at Arizona State
Frank Says: The Cougars' defense, especially in transition, got torched (55 percent/76 points) in Tucson Thursday night. And the Sun Devils dropped their first home game (to Washington) on the same evening. Look for this to be more of a half-court, slug-it-out affair, with the winner to score something in the range of 55 to 58 points.

Washington at Arizona
Frank Says: Meantime, in Tucson, the pace will be fast and furious when the Huskies and Wildcats have at one another. For all of the jump shots that are going to be launched by both clubs, the individual matchup to check out will occur inside, where Jon Brockman and Jordan Hill, two of the best power players in the country, will engage in a battle that will be nothing if not physical.

USC at Oregon Frank Says: The Ducks let a very winnable game with UCLA Thursday night slip away. Their upper-division in the Pac-10 and at-large hopes would take a major hit if they're swept this weekend. And the Trojans are gaining considerable momentum and could return home next weekend against the Arizonas with a four-game winning streak if O.J. Mayo and Davon Jefferson can help them outscore the Ducks. Stanford at Cal
Frank Says: Sure, it's a bit too early to be calling games "must wins" for teams. But that seems to be the case for the host Golden Bears (2-4 in conference, with three of those losses in Berkeley). The Cardinal (4-2) plays its next three games on the road. Brook Lopez vs. Ryan Anderson = an NBA talent evaluator's delight.

Gonzaga at Memphis
Frank Says: The conventional wisdom is that if the top-ranked Tigers (18-0, with only one of their victories by a margin of less than double figures) are going to lose before the NCAA Tournament, it's going to come in this game or on Feb. 23. That's when a certain team from Knoxville comes to town. I tend to buy into that line of thinking because I'm just not sold on the notion that UAB, Houston or Central Florida (off to a 4-0 Conference USA start) have go the juice to slow John Calipari's team, or the talent to just "outscore them". The Bulldogs are at as close to "full strength" as they've been all season and have won six in a row since dropping a 10-point decision to Tennessee in Seattle four days after Christmas.

Connecticut at Indiana
Frank Says: Suddenly, the Huskies are resembling a team that is going to be snapping up one of those 34 at-large bids on March 16, collecting consecutive Big East wins over Marquette (a blowout at home) and Cincinnati (a road win!) This game will resonate with the NCAA Tournament selection folks who gather in Indy, for multiple reasons: Connecticut's at-large resume and a relative comparison of the strengths of the Big East and Big Ten. Does anyone else out there in CBL (College Basketball Land) think the Hoosiers' D.J. White is getting unfairly neglected in NPOTY (National Player of the Year) talk?

Saint Joseph's at Temple
Frank Says: The visiting Hawks already have a sweep against Massachusetts on their resume, with 6-9 junior Ahmad Nivins averaging 25.5 points, 12.0 rebounds and 4.5 blocks against the Minutemen. Six-five junior Dionte Christmas (20.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game) is having a very jolly junior season for the Owls.

Georgetown at West Virginia
Frank Says: How balanced is this conference? As of Friday afternoon, 13 of its 16 teams had at least three wins, and, among those, only Syracuse didn't have an at least .500 winning percentage. And the Hoyas are the only club with as few as one conference loss. That could change in Morgantown, where Bob Huggins' team hasn't lost this season. For the defense: The Mountaineers have allowed as many as 70 points only twice.

Notre Dame at Villanova
Frank Says: There should be jump shots-galore in this contest between teams that are definitely "perimeter-oriented". At some point the Irish have to win on an opponents' home floor (where they are 0-2, with 16- and 19-point losses to Marquette and Georgetown, respectively) before it can be considered for grouping with those teams "likely" to get at-large bids. Sophomore Luke Harangody averaged 22.0 points and 11.0 rebounds over Notre Dame's past five games.

Wisconsin at Purdue
Frank Says: At 6-0 (16-2 overall) and 5-1 (and 14-5), respectively, these are teams that are actually playing better at this point of the conference season than most had anticipated. If the Badgers escape West Lafayette with a W, they should officially be considered a "tri-favorite", with the obvious others (Indiana and Michigan State) to finish atop the conference standings. The Badgers have won four games on opponents' courts since getting whacked at Duke by 24 points on Nov. 27. And how about the production that Purdue coach Matt Painter is getting out of his freshman class, eh?

BIG 12
Texas Tech at Texas
Frank Says: Bob Knight's team has three impressive victories (over Gonzaga, Texas A&M and Missouri) in its 11-7 overall record. But the Red Raiders have just one of those wins (vs. Alaska-Anchorage), in five attempts, on an opponents' floor. The 15-3 Longhorns' last two victories have been of the "eke out" variety (by two points each over Colorado and Oklahoma State, a couple of teams we won't see in the NCAA Tournament). Texas sophomore Damion James is averaging 12.3 rebounds over the past 13 games.

Oklahoma at Baylor
Frank Says: Do you think the Bears have caught up on their rest after their 65-minute tilt in College Station Wednesday night? Great Stat Department: Baylor has five guards averaging at least 9.2 points per game apiece, led by Curtis Jerrells' 14.3.

UNLV at San Diego State
Frank Says: Two of the three best teams in the conference hook up, and you've got to like the Aztecs' chances at home. And Steve Fisher's team came oh-so-close to knocking off BYU in Provo Wednesday night, which would have left the Aztecs the clear favorites to win the regular-season title. Lon Kruger, by the way, is doing another sensational job coaching the Rebels.
Mississippi at Mississippi State
Frank Says: When was the last time these in-state rivals hooked up with not only conference, but national implications attached to it as well? The Bulldogs' Jamont Gordon has put himself firmly in the hunt for SEC POY honors.

Utah State at New Mexico State
Frank Says: The host Aggies were bounced in Las Cruces by Nevada Thursday night so their conference title hopes would take a significant hit if they are knocked off by the Aggies/Logan, Utah-variety. USU's Jaycee Carroll (21.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists per game, .541 FG percentage, including .516 behind the arc) is having a season that few, if any, two guards have equaled this season.

Xavier at Massachusetts
Frank Says: If the Musketeers win this one, I will declare them "clearly the best team in the A-10 right now". How is that for bold? OK, maybe it would be a bit too bold, considering the competitive balance in this conference this season.

Duke at Maryland
Frank Says: The Terps haven't played since they gave North Carolina its first loss last Saturday so they will have plenty of prep time for the Blue Devils who, at least for the time being, are playing a lot better on the defense than are the Tar Heels. Duke held up well in its last (and only) two "true" road games, winning by 13 points vs. Florida State last week and by 17 against Virginia Tech Thursday night.

Vanderbilt at Florida
Frank Says: The best matchup in this conference this weekend. I like the chances of the Gators (17-3 with an incredibly favorable non-conference schedule) getting into the NCAA Tournament. But I'd like them a lot better if they were able to finally beat a real good team. This would qualify as such.

Are the Memphis Tigers going to run through the rest of the regular season unbeaten? One of the biggest roadblocks to that happening is going to show up in Memphis Saturday. There is another dandy non-conference contest on tap for Saturday, as well. Location: Bloomington, Ind.
Bouncing around the country:

*Scott Drew (Baylor), Bill Self (Kansas), Keno Davis (Drake), Andy Kennedy (Mississippi), Herb Sendek (Arizona State) and Bo Ryan (Wisconsin) are the names that come immediately to mind when discussion turns to "Coach of the Year candidates".

All apologies are offered to those whose names didn't come to my mind so quickly.

*Too bad that the Baylor-Texas A&M, 5-OT affair in College Station Wednesday night wasn't digitalized and fired up to some satellite. I would have loved to watch it, although I'm sure it would still be a part of a 10- or 11-game backlog on my DVR right now.

*It was quite the Thursday night in the Pacific 10 Conference.

Wins by Washington (over Arizona State) and Arizona (over visiting Washington State) earlier in the evening left just an Oregon victory over UCLA in Eugene from throw things into a four-way deadlock (at 4-2, among the Bruins, WSU, Stanford and ASU) for first place in the conference.

But Kevin Love (26 points and 18 rebounds) and his UCLA teammates didn't cooperate and rallied to knock off the Ducks, 80-75.

Inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame in April, 2005, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's national basketball expert and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.frankhoops.com

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