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November 8, 2008
Roundtable: Which coach is on hottest seat?
At the College Basketball Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the coverage staff for their opinion about a topic in the sport.
This week's question: Which coach is on the hottest seat entering the season?
I have to say that picking which coach is on the hottest seat is sort of like Lay's potato chips. Betcha can't pick just one! For me it comes down to a small list of criteria.
First, is it a basketball school? Second, do you have the things in place to be competitive, i.e. great conference, location, TV exposure, history and tradition? Third, have you had enough time to put your stamp on the program? Fourth, can you recruit?
Well after carefully looking at the list and checking it twice, I come up with Norm Roberts from St. John's.
Now to be fair, the Big East has become a power conference unlike any other. But St. John's doesn't have the facilities to compete with the beasts of the Big East. But the most telling stat about a program that was once a proud representative of this conference and where making it to the Big Dance was an afterthought is this: Since Roberts has been at the helm the Red Storm has made it to the conference tournament only once. I think Roberts is a fine man and a good coach, but his time at St. John's can only be described as unsuccessful.
I think it's Norm Roberts at St. John's.
This once-proud program is foundering and has fallen far out of the national consciousness. League coaches are talking about getting nine or 10 teams into the NCAA tournament – and the Red Storm are not in that picture. St. John's was 11-19 last season, including 5-13 in the Big East.
Given the amount of returning talent in the league, it's hard to see the Red Storm improving on that league record. Roberts, who was hired off Kansas' staff because of his recruiting ties on the East Coast, is 19 games under .500 overall with the Red Storm and 26 games under .500 in Big East play in his four seasons.
St. John's has qualified for the league tourney just once in his tenure. Unless the Red Storm miraculously turns it around this season, we'll be talking about what a new St. John's coach needs to do next year at this time.
The question is whose seat is the hottest, not necessarily who isn't going to survive.
For me the answer is Bill Carmody at Northwestern. I promise you he will not return as coach of the Wildcats if they aren't better – and I mean much better – than they were a year ago (8-22 overall, 1-17 in the Big Ten). Wisconsin won more league games (16) last season than NU has in the past four (15-51).
That said, Carmody is in a position to survive because this might be the best team he has had since going .500 in the league in 2003-04. Four starters return, including leading scorer Kevin Coble (15.9 ppg) and 3-point marksman Craig Moore (13.4 ppg). In fact, only two Big Ten teams return three double-digit scorers – Northwestern and preseason top-10 team Purdue.
Now maybe that puts added pressure on Carmody. The bottom half of the Big Ten is horrible. If NU can't win 7-9 conference games this season, he should be looking for a job.
No high-major coach has more to worry about than St. John's leader Norm Roberts heading into this season, at least not in terms of job security.
Northwestern's Bill Carmody is certainly on the hot seat. The guy has won only three Big Ten games in the last two seasons. But Carmody can probably save his job by finishing in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten. That's not all that tough. The bottom half of Big Ten is loaded with mediocre teams.
Roberts faces a far more daunting task because St. John's is in the Big East. The 16-team league has never looked so deep or so difficult. There is talk of 10 Big East teams going to the NCAA tournament, and St. John's, which was picked 14th in the league preseason poll, isn't one of them. The chances of the Red Storm even going to the NIT look slim at best, and Roberts will likely need to reach the postseason in order to return next year. Basically, it's the worst possible time for a Big East coach to have his job on the line.