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California Golden Bears head coach Mike Montgomery and Stanford Cardinal's head coach Johnny Dawkins talk to a referee during their game in the first half at Maples Pavilion in Stanford, Calif., on Sunday, March 4, 2012. (Nhat V. Meyer/Staff)
The college basketball season has arrived and, at least on the men's side, is unlike any we've seen in the Bay Area in many years.
Six teams with six head coaches -- all facing uncertain futures.
Four could be coaching for their jobs; another is dealing with an NCAA investigation; the sixth has a looming date with the toughest opponent of all, Father Time.
With the regular season starting Friday, let's survey the volatile landscape.
Saint Mary's Randy Bennett The headwinds: The Gaels are under NCAA investigation for potential recruiting violations. ESPN.com, which broke the news, reported that former assistant David Patrick, who recruited several Australian players to Moraga, including Patty Mills, has been interviewed by the NCAA. Saint Mary's isn't talking, the NCAA's not talking -- it's radio silence everywhere. The forecast: On the court, it's bright. SMC was picked third in the West Coast Conference's preseason coaches poll and returns all-league guard Matthew Dellavedova. But the NCAA investigation will hang over the program until there is a resolution (and perhaps long after the resolution, if there are sanctions). No timetable has been given. Bennett's seat temperature: Cold, unless the NCAA uncovers major violations.
Stanford's Johnny Dawkins The headwinds: Dawkins enters his fifth season with a new boss (athletic director Bernard Muir) and no NCAA tournament appearances on his résumé. Stanford has finished seventh or lower in the wallowing Pac-12 every season under Dawkins.
"I feel pressure (to reach the NCAAs) every year -- that's always the goal for us,'' Dawkins said. "We always have high standards. It's a matter of trying to realize those standards." The forecast: Stanford was picked fourth in the Pac-12 preseason media poll -- its highest placement under Dawkins -- and has three starters returning from a team that won the postseason NIT. March Madness is within reach if Stanford makes the most of its talent. If the Cardinal falls short, a coaching change could follow. Dawkins' seat temperature: Warm.
Santa Clara's Kerry Keating The headwinds: Keating appeared to have the program turned around in 2011 when he led the Broncos to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament title. But they collapsed last season, becoming the first WCC team to go winless in league play in more than a decade. Keating, who's entering his sixth season, has recruited well and upgraded the talent. But that hasn't translated to consistent success. The forecast: The Broncos were picked sixth in the WCC poll but could provide an upside surprise with forward Marc Trasolini back from a severe knee injury. If they don't, the situation could get dicey for Keating. Keating's seat temperature: Hot.
Cal's Mike Montgomery The headwinds: Montgomery beat bladder cancer last year and claims to be largely unaffected by the experience. "Unfortunately, it didn't change me that much -- I'm still the nut case I always was,'' he said. But Montgomery will turn 66 during the season -- he's more than a decade older than any coach in the Pac-12. The forecast: On the court, it's bright. But Montgomery has long maintained that he wouldn't coach into his 70s. How many more years does he have left? Perhaps the health scare will change his view. Cal's current recruiting class is one of the nation's best, but at some point, opponents will attempt to use Montgomery's age against him -- negative recruiting is a fact of life in major college sports. Montgomery's seat temperature: Cold.
San Jose State's George Nessman The headwinds: After several encouraging seasons -- SJSU made the College Basketball Invitational two years ago -- the program slipped last year. The Spartans were 1-13 in the Western Athletic Conference, their worst showing under Nessman. With a new athletic director (Gene Bleymaier) and the looming move to the Mountain West -- a distinct upgrade in competition -- the pressure on Nessman to produce in his eighth year is intense. The forecast: Bleak. The Spartans were picked ninth (out of 10) in the WAC preseason media and coaches polls. They return just one of their top scorers (guard James Kinney) and are relying on a group of unproven big men. Nessman's seat temperature: Hot.
USF's Rex Walters The headwinds: Walters took over a chaotic situation and in three years led the Dons to a third-place finish in the WCC. But they stumbled last season (fifth place) and encountered significant turnover in the offseason when six players -- yes, six -- transferred out of the program. The departed group included two starters, Perris Blackwell and Michael Williams. The forecast: The Dons were picked seventh in the WCC for good reason: They have one returning starter and are relying on 11 newcomers in a league that should be deeper than it was last year. Walters' seat temperature: Lukewarm.
For more on college sports, see Jon Wilner's College Hotline at blogs.mercurynews.com/collegesports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 408-920-5716.