ESPN Events: Craig "Noodles" Neal
Jimmy Patsos (pictured) has a spotlight on him, and only a handful of coaches around the country know how he feels. The former head coach at Loyola (Md.) is now the head man at Siena, replacing Mitch Buonaguro. One of the most difficult duties of coaches whose teams play in ESPN Events' early-season tournaments is scouting the opposition. There's plenty of player turnover on nearly every team from a season ago. And there are just a few game tapes from this season to develop a game plan. It's even more difficult if you're facing a school with a new coach. While the number of coaching changes this past offseason was down from previous years, there are still 46 Division I schools with new staffs. Four of those teams, including Patsos', play in ESPN Events' tournaments. Here's a look at the new guys:Butler: The move nobody—except Boston Celtics president Danny Ainge—saw coming. When Ainge nabbed Brad Stevens to be the Celtics' new coach, NBA observers were stunned. So was the college basketball world. The Bulldogs moved quickly to promote assistant Brandon Miller, who had just been hired in April after spending a year on Illinois' staff. The 34-year-old Miller, a Butler graduate in his first head coaching job, convinced the six incoming freshmen to stay at the school.
That's important because Butler has just two seniors and top returning scorer and rebounder Roosevelt Jones is out for the season with an injured wrist. Miller, who spent six years as an assistant under former Butler coach Thad Matta at Ohio State, was able to get some extra work with his team this summer during a 10-day, four-game trip to Australia. But that's also when Roosevelt was injured.
Miller, who opened practice last weekend, faces a challenge, and then some. Not only are the Bulldogs moving to the Big East this season, they play in the stacked Old Spice Classic Nov. 28-Dec. 1. Butler opens against Washington State in an event that includes Memphis, Oklahoma State, Saint Joseph's, LSU, Purdue and Siena.
Cal State Fullerton: Dedrique Taylor is another first-year head coach. Taylor replaced interim coach Andy Newman, who had taken over for Bob Burton. Taylor had worked as an assistant at Arizona State since Herb Sendek was hired there in 2006. Before that, the 39-year-old Taylor was on the staffs at Nevada, Portland State, Loyola Marymount and UC Davis, where he played.
Known as an elite recruiter with ties to the Los Angeles area, Taylor will try to stockpile talent in Fullerton and improve a team that went 14-18 overall last season, including 6-12 in the Big West. Not only is it a homecoming of sorts for the Pomona, Calif., native, Taylor could face his old boss in the Wooden Legacy Nov. 28-Dec. 1. The Titans are set to play Marquette in the first round on Thanksgiving, but also in the field is Sendek and Arizona State. The rest of the tournament includes College of Charleston, Creighton, George Washington, Miami and San Diego State.
New Mexico: The guy with the best nickname of all the new coaches around the country has to be Craig "Noodles" Neal. The 49-year-old was promoted when Steve Alford left for UCLA. Neal, a close friend of Alford, had worked under him at Iowa and for the past six seasons at New Mexico. Neal, who was a finalist a year ago for the head job at his alma mater, Georgia Tech, will take over a Lobos program on the rise. Neal lost Tony Snell early to the NBA, but reigning Mountain West player of the year Kendall Williams is back for his senior season. All-conference second team center Alex Kirk returns, too, from a club that went 29-6 last season.
Neal and the Lobos head East to play in the Charleston Classic Nov. 21-24 on the South Carolina coast. New Mexico plays UAB in the first round. Other teams in the event include Clemson, Davidson, Georgia, UMass, Nebraska and Temple. Oh, and why is Neal called "Noodles?" It comes from his skinny frame when he was a high school star in Muncie, Ind. When he joined Bobby Cremins' team at Georgia Tech as a freshman, he was 6-foot-5 and just 160 pounds.
Siena: The guy with the best press conferences of all the new hires around the country may be Jimmy Patsos. The always colorful Patsos left his head coaching job at Loyola (Md.) when he was offered the Siena position in the offseason. He replaces Mitch Buonaguro, who was fired after the Saints tied a school record for losses in a season by going 8-24 in 2012-13.
The move also allows the 47-year-old Patsos to stay in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. His old school, Loyola, is moving to the Patriot League. He took some heat for his bizarre coaching decision against Davidson's Stephen Curry nearly five years ago. But sometimes lost among the bombastic sideline rants is how he turned around a Greyhounds team that was coming off a 1-27 season when he arrived and made it a regular contender in the MAAC. Patsos reached the NCAA tournament in 2012 and last season's team went 23-12.
Patsos got a look at his new squad when it played exhibition games in Montreal this summer. But the competition will get tougher quickly. The Saints will open against Memphis in the Old Spice Classic on Thanksgiving. No matter the result, you might want to stick around for his postgame comments.