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April 21, 2010
Big Apple Carousel
Part Two

by Asher Fusco

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Today Asher concludes his two-part look at the fast-spinning coaching carousel in the New York City area. (Part one is here.)

Hofstra (19-15, 10-8 Colonial): 130 KenPom, +0.07 conference efficiency margin
Out: Tom Pecora (155-126 in nine years) to Fordham
In: Tim Welsh (215-148 in 13 years at Providence, Iona) from ESPN
What happened? Tom Pecora inherited a program in transition. Immediately before his installation as head coach in 2001, The Pride made the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons before leaving the America East for the Colonial. Pecora struggled out of the gate but eventually stabilized Hofstra as a consistent middle-runner in the CAA, breaching the 20-victory mark four times in nine seasons.

Even more than his results at Hofstra (no NCAA appearances, three NIT bids), Pecora's New York roots may have helped him earn a shiny Atlantic 10 gig. Pecora was part of a coaching staff, led by now-Nova head man Jay Wright, that rose from 9-18 in the North Atlantic Conference in 1995 to 26-5 in the America East and the NCAA tourney in 2001. The coach drew heavily from New York City prep ranks in recruiting, plucking 2010 Colonial player of the year Charles Jenkins from Queens.

What now? The Pride hands the reins to Tim Welsh, who dominated at Iona in the 1990s, found some success at Providence in the early 2000s and spent the past two seasons broadcasting at ESPN. Welsh was the coach behind Providence's most recent glory days, which included forward Ryan Gomes, a pair of 11-5 Big East records and corresponding NCAA trips. In three seasons at Iona, Welsh made two NITs and an NCAA tournament and won the Metropolitan New York Coach of the Year award twice.

Welsh played collegiately at SUNY-Postdam and worked as an assistant at Syracuse and Iona, so his ties to the area are strong. He'll lose just two seniors from a roster that finished 19-15 (10-8 Colonial) last season. The aforementioned Jenkins, a 6-4 senior-to-be, has the size to create shots and the ability to make them. Jenkins used 28 percent of Hofstra's possessions in 2010, posted a 55.6 True Shooting percentage and drew five-plus fouls per 40 minutes. Halil Kanacevic, a 6-8, 245-pound forward, is unpolished on offense but good on the boards at both ends of the floor.

Iona (21-10, 12-6 Metro Atlantic): 112 KenPom, +0.05 conf. EM
Out: Kevin Willard (45-49 in three years at Iona) to Seton Hall
In: Tim Cluess (120-33 at Suffolk CC, C.W. Post) from C.W. Post (Division II)
What happened? Iona won 21 games in its third season under Kevin Willard, who took over a program coming off a 2-28 finish in 2007. Willard posted 12 victories and finished seventh in the MAAC in his first two seasons at Iona before the team vaulted to 12-6 and third in the conference this past season.

Willard got things done at Iona by improving his team's defense each season. The year before his arrival, Iona ranked 222nd nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. In Willard's first season, the Gaels jumped to 138th, in his second to 86th. Last season Iona ranked 43rd and second in the MAAC. Willard also improved the Gaels' offense from terrible (324th in 2007) to not-so-terrible (209th in 2010), but defense and pace control were Iona's calling cards under his watch.

What now? Cluess has won and won and won some more in his 19 seasons as a high school, junior college and Division II coach on Long Island. According to an Iona press release, he won 77.2 percent of his games at St. Mary's High in Manhasset, before moving on to Suffolk CC and C.W. Post, where he went a combined 120-33 in five seasons.

The situation at Iona seems to bode well for Cluess. The program is coming off a season in which it made a name for itself in a respected conference, Cluess is very familiar with the prep and junior college ranks from which he will pull players, and the inherited roster isn't too shabby. Guard Rashon Dwight, the most active defensive player on last season's stingy team, returns for his senior season. Dwight is a painfully ineffective shooter (making 31 percent of his twos), but his defense earns him minutes. Also due back are guard Scott Machado and forward Alejo Rodriguez. Machado used better than 28 percent of the team's possessions last year by attacking the basket (better than one free throw attempt for every two field goal tries). Rodriguez made 68 percent of his twos while posting the nation's ninth-best offensive rebound percentage.

Columbia (11-17, 5-9 Ivy): 301 KenPom, -0.14 conf. EM
Out: Joe Jones (86-108 in seven seasons at Columbia) to Boston College (assistant)
In: TBA.
What happened? Joe Jones coached Columbia to a KenPom ranking in the 300s, a negative efficiency margin in Ivy League play, and zero winning conference seasons in seven tries. Given those facts alone, Jones would seem ripe for a firing. Instead, Boston College plucked Jones away to fill the top assistant position on the staff of fellow Ivy veteran Steve Donahue.

Boston College's decision makes more sense after considering Jones' entire resume. Jones took over a Columbia program coming off a 2-25 (0-14) season and immediately turned the team into a threat to win every time out, if not an Ivy title contender. Columbia's turnaround from 0-14 to 6-8 in Jones' first season was the third-best single-season turnaround in Ivy League history. After a three-year 13-29 in-conference turn-around period, the Lions went 21-21 over the next three seasons before slipping to 5-9 this past campaign.

What now? Columbia's problem the past two years has been its offense, or lack thereof. The Lions finished seventh and eighth in the Ivy League in KenPom's adjusted offense the past two seasons, respectively.

A look at the team's offensive components proves baffling: Columbia made 38 percent of its three-point tries last season, 43rd best in the nation. It made just 42 percent of its two-point attempts. Simple math would suggest shooting from beyond the arc was the way to go for the Lions. But Columbia only used 24.7 percent of its field goal attempts on threes, 327th most in the nation. That explains a lot.

Columbia's yet-to-be-appointed new coach will inherit second team All-Ivy League guard Noruwa Agho. Agho, a 6-3 junior-to-be, is active (used 25.5 percent of Columbia's possessions) and fairly efficient (103.7 Offensive Rating). None of Columbia's other returning starters managed an Offensive Rating better than 80.4 last season.

St. Francis (NY) (11-18, 8-10 Northeast): 310 KenPom, -0.04 Conf. EM
Out: Brian Nash (47-99 in five years at St. Francis), resigned
In: TBA
What went wrong? Nash, who resigned April 7 for personal reasons, was charged with a near-impossible task from day one. St. Francis is one of five programs that have existed since the beginning of the NCAA tournament and never made the field. The team plays at the Pope PE Center, capacity 1,200 and is funded by the eighth-most thrifty athletics department in the nation, according to BasketballState.com.

Given that context, it's hard to call Nash's tenure a failure. But in his five seasons, Nash failed to lead the Terriers to a finish better than eighth in the NEC or a KenPom standing better than 248th. Last year wasn't his worst season in terms of record, but the team lost eight of its final 10. The 2010 edition must have been a sight to behold, as it forced the seventh most turnovers in the nation while coughing the ball up on 23.5 percent of its own possessions (318th). The Terriers also made just 61.5 percent of their free throws, 338th nationally.

What now? Good question. According to a St. Francis release, the school has formed a search committee and is looking for a new head coach. Chances are the low-major Terriers' next coach will come from the ranks of area assistants or lower-divison coaches.

Assuming no mass defections, St. Francis' next coach will inherit a roster with quite a bit of experience. Guards Akeem Bennett and Ricky Cadell, the team's top two contributors, are slated to return for their senior seasons. Bennett and sophomore-to-be forward Akeem Johnson were the Terriers' most efficient options for an offense that scored just 0.88 points per trip. There's a lot of work to be done before St. Francis can hope to compete with conference leaders Robert Morris and Quinnipiac, or even cross-borough conference-mates Long Island U.

Wagner (5-26, 3-15 Northeast): 335 KenPom, -0.14 conf. EM
Out: Mike Deane (94-114 in seven years), fired
In: Dan Hurley from St. Benedict's Prep, NJ (223-21)
What went wrong? The Seahawks lost a ton of games in 2010. After six years of steady play under Deane, Wagner fell to 5-26 in 2010, thanks to a starting five with three underclassmen, as well as a general propensity for turning the ball over. Wagner is playing from the same hand as St. Francis (NY): Both are small schools (sub-2,500 enrollments) without huge athletic budgets playing in the lower tier of a Northeast Conference featuring several larger schools outside of New York City.

What now? Dan Hurley, though he lacks any prior college head coaching experience, could be the biggest name among the NYC-area new hires, excepting only Steve Lavin. On top of enjoying remarkable success in his own right at St. Benedict's, Dan is the son of famed St. Anthony High coach Bob Hurley, so his pedigree isn't in question.

Hurley has a score-first guard in junior-to-be Chris Martin, who used 29 percent of Wagner's possessions in 2010 and hit 34 percent of his threes. After a 5-26 season, there won't be much pressure on Hurley's first team to win big, but it should be interesting to see how one of the nation's top high school coaches fares on a D-I bench.

Asher Fusco is a writer in New York City.

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