By MIKE McCURRY & ADAM ZAGORIA In Part I of our Heat Check series, we identified nine head coaches potentially on the hot seat. Here we flip the script, pinpointing 10 guys on the rise that could use the month of March to springboard toward a dream job, or a better job at the very least. In addition to the names below, don’t forget about Tom Crean. The former Marquette and Indiana coach turned ESPN analyst has two Big Ten regular-season titles plus a Final Four under his belt, and it’s only a matter of time until he is back where he belongs on the sidelines.Chris Mack, Xavier: Mack being the favorite to fill the anticipated Louisville opening is the worst-kept secret in college basketball. He has led Xavier to four Sweet-16s in eight full seasons, and the Musketeers are presently in first place in the Big East and a No. 1 seed if the NCAA Tournament started today. The man has nothing left to prove. Why would he leave? The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, but jobs of Louisville’s caliber simply don’t open up often. It might require multiple years for Mack to restore order at the blueblood program, but that’s a risk only a handful of coaches across the country wouldn’t take. Mark Schmidt, St. Bonaventure: If Xavier doesn’t have a contingency plan in place for losing Mack, they’re foolish. At the top of that list should be Schmidt, who is in the midst of his third straight 20-win campaign at St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies’ impressive at-large profile has them on the precipice of a second NCAA Tournament bid in seven seasons. Schmidt was an assistant at Xavier under the late Skip Prosser, helping the Musketeers land the likes of James Posey and David West. Having spent the past 17 seasons as the head coach at Robert Morris (6) and St. Bonaventure (11), Schmidt is well-acquainted with the Big East region. Danny Hurley, Rhode Island: The perceived favorite at UConn if Kevin Ollie is shown the door—Hurley has Jim Calhoun’s seal of approval, for what that’s worth—the sixth-year Rhode Island coach is in no rush to jump ship (just ask Rutgers!) and is signed thru 2023-24. That’s not going to stop boatloads of high-majors and once-proud programs from hitting his cellular, however. The Rams are 22-4, 14-1 in league play, and recently reeled off 16 straight wins. At the command is a 45-year-old firecracker quickly mounting the school he loves to the class of the Atlantic 10. It must be nice being Hurley right about now, as he has all the leverage in the (college hoops) world.Eric Musselman, Nevada: This isn’t your run-of-the-mill third-year collegiate head coach. Musselman, who has also run the show in the NBA (Warriors, Kings) and D-League, nearly took the Cal job a year ago. Staying put looks brilliant, considering the Wolf Pack are 24-5 and a veritable bracket-buster next month. He is 76-26 (.745) at Nevada following assistant coaching stints at Arizona State and LSU. Should Georgia tire of Mark Fox, who ironically came from Nevada, Musselman would be a sensible replacement. He’s also an inspirational must-follow on Twitter (@EricPMusselman). Kermit Davis, Middle Tennessee: Davis sees your cute little March springboard and raises you. In 2016, the 15th-seeded Blue Raiders stunned 2-seed Michigan State. In 2017, they knocked off 5-seed Minnesota. No Big Ten squad, let alone any high seed, wants to see Middle Tennessee (22-5, 14-1 CUSA) in March, which is a testament to Davis’ sensational reign in Murfreesboro. But after 16 seasons, isn’t it time for a new challenge? He has been heavily linked to the Ole Miss opening and would reportedly accept an offer. His SEC ties include playing at Mississippi State and serving as an associate head coach at LSU for five seasons under John Brady. OTHER ATTRACTIVE CANDIDATES SURE TO DRAW INTEREST
- Earl Grant, College of Charleston: The 41-year-old, previously an assistant at Clemson and Wichita State, is 47-16 in his last two seasons at Charleston. The Cougars are on the verge of going dancing for the first time since 1998-99.
- John Becker, Vermont: He turned down an offer from Duquesne last spring. More alluring programs are sure to make their pitch now that Becker is 162-75 in seven seasons at Vermont, a heavy favorite to defend their America East crown.
- Joe Dooley, Florida Gulf Coast: Dunk City hasn’t missed a beat replacing Andy Enfield with Dooley, Bill Self’s former right-hand man at Kansas. The Eagles, 111-56 in five seasons under Dooley, appear headed to a third consecutive NCAA Tournament.
- Steve Forbes, East Tennessee State: Kudos to East Tennessee State for trying to keep Forbes by giving him a raise and extension earlier this week. At a mid-major school, that contract carries as much weight as a Rick Pitino statement nowadays. The previous Wichita State assistant has led the Buccaneers to a 74-26 mark and very likely a second straight NCAA bid on the horizon.
- Porter Moser, Loyola Chicago: The Ramblers, who generated some buzz upon upsetting Florida back in December, are running away with the Missouri Valley in Moser’s seventh season. It probably merits mention that just down the road, DePaul may be looking to shake things up.