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Sports Journee

Second-year coaches — who’s ascending, who’s stagnating

The preseason focus on coaches typically centers around the fresh and new — first-year head coaches — and the almost done — the dreaded hot seat. But what about second-year head coaches? Generally, a program has to show some signs of progress by the end of Year 2 or the questions on job status begin in Year 3. So it’s time for a pre-Year 2 report card for the second-year head coaches in the major conferences; which coaches have their program on the upswing, what challenges lie ahead and which coaches are already stagnating?

Penny Hardaway, Memphis Tigers

There’s not a coach in the country entering the season with more hype than Hardaway, and not a program in the country entering the season with more buzz than Memphis. The Tigers bring in the nation’s No. 1-ranked recruiting class, the first school to break the Duke-Kentucky hegemony at the top of the class rankings since 2012, led by James Wiseman, the nation’s No. 1 incoming freshman. Hardaway has done nothing to quell the preseason adulation, even telling The Athletic recently: “We’re going to win a national championship.”

Hardaway was hired to bring the buzz back to Memphis, get the Tigers recruiting five-star prospects again and keep the best players in the area home for college. He has done all that — but it’s now time for the next step. He has to win.

Memphis showed flashes last season, and although they didn’t make the NCAA tournament, it’s clear Hardaway has an identity for his team. The Tigers played fast, they were aggressive defensively and they stayed in attack mode. Now that Hardaway has upgraded the personnel on his roster, that identity mixed with talent should yield results. There’s a lot of hype, but Memphis has the pieces to live up to it.

Chris Mack, Louisville Cardinals

While Memphis has more preseason hype, Mack has his team in the best position to make a run at a Final Four in Year 2. The Cardinals are a consensus top-10 team in the preseason, battling with Duke, North Carolina and Virginia at the top of the ACC. Taking over a scandal-scarred program last season, Mack and Louisville got off to a 16-5 start overall, 7-1 in the ACC. Things fell off after that, but with five players back who started 11 or more games and a top-10 recruiting class that includes four ESPN 100 prospects, there’s plenty of optimism for the Cards.

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