Rising up the coaching ranks isn’t easy in college basketball, but there are some coaches who let their winning ways speak for themselves.
With a lot of coaching turnover each offseason, fans are always wondering who the next big names in coaching will be.
There are a ton of possible options, so this is far from a complete list. I could just as easily make this a top 50 list because there are a plethora of great coaches at the mid-major level.
But here are seven mid-major coaches who are undoubtedly on the rise as they head into the 2019-20 season.
7. Mike Rhoades (VCU)
It was a successful second season for Rhoades at VCU, as he led the Rams to a 25-8 record and an NCAA Tournament berth.
Of course, the program has had no shortage of great basketball coaches in recent years, and Rhoades certainly seems to fit the mold thus far.
Practice is underway. Time to go to work!
— VCU Basketball (@VCU_Hoops) September 26, 2019
What’s even better is that he has a potential top 25 team on his hands this season, with the Rams sporting the playmakers and intangibles needed to be a force in March.
The reigning Atlantic 10 coach of the year knows what he’s doing, and it should result into another fun season in Richmond.
6. Scott Nagy (Wright State)
Nagy enters his fourth season with the Raiders after earning three NCAA Tournament appearances in his final five seasons at South Dakota State.
He has already led Wright State to one tournament bid in three seasons, and his teams have notched 20 or more wins in each of them.
Take a look back at our trip to Italy!
— Wright State MBB (@WSU_MBB) September 4, 2019
When I talked to him this summer for Blue Ribbon, it became evident that he and his staff had one glaring problem heading into this season – he could only play five players at once.
That’s a problem because his roster is loaded with depth and experience. So, it’s easy to understand why the Raiders are the favorite to win the Horizon League.
They have the talent, but they also have a tremendous coach in Nagy.
5. Matt McMahon (Murray State)
The Ja Morant era is over for the Racers, but the positive is that they’re in good hands with McMahon, who is set to enter his fifth season on the job.
Identifying elite talent hasn’t been a problem for the 41-year-old, as he has helped develop playmakers like Morant, Jonathan Stark, and others since first joining Murray State as an assistant back in 2011.
First full week of practice! Season #20 coaching college basketball. Still can’t believe it! Thankful for the opportunity & excited about the possibilities ahead for the 2020 Racers!!#RacerTradition 🐎🐎🐎 pic.twitter.com/mDoDz1Wz6Q
— Matt McMahon (@CoachMcMahon) September 30, 2019
The Racers are 54-11 the past two seasons with back-to-back NCAA Tournament bids, and they’ll once again likely battle with Belmont to secure a third-straight appearance this season.
Either way, Murray State has been home to several eventual power conference head coaches (see: Mick Cronin, Steve Prohm, and Billy Kennedy), and McMahon could be the next one on the list.
4. Joe Pasternack (UC Santa Barbara)
What Pasternack has accomplished in his two years with the Gauchos is nothing short of remarkable.
He took a team that finished 6-22 in 2016-17 and turned into a 23-game winner in his first season. Then, he followed it up with a 22-10 campaign last season.
— UC Santa Barbara Basketball (@UCSBbasketball) September 28, 2019
So, it’s easy to understand why the former Arizona assistant is on the rise. I picked UC Santa Barbara to win the Big West in my Blue Ribbon preview for this season, and it’s due to a combination of talent and coaching.
If Pasternack is able to lead the Gauchos to a conference title and an NCAA Tournament berth in just his third season (especially considering where the program was when he took over), his stock will continue to rise as one of the most underrated coaches in the nation.
3. Earl Grant (Charleston)
Luring away the Charleston native won’t be easy for any program, but Grant has built a reputation that could have him in high demand in the near future.
The 42-year-old has led the Cougars to three straight seasons of 24 or more wins, and there’s a good chance they hit that mark again this season thanks to the return of standout guard Grant Riller, who averaged 21.9 points per game during the 2018-19 campaign.
WATCH: Grant Riller @G_getsbuckets enters his senior season for @CofCBasketball. He and @EarlGrantCofC on what they're excited about for him heading into the year @Live5News @CofCSports pic.twitter.com/qv3PnJhT22
— Kevin Bilodeau (@KevinLive5) September 26, 2019
It’s also worth noting that his teams have finished in the top 25 nationally in turnover percentage and in the top 60 in free throw shooting in each of the past three seasons. Having a disciplined team is crucial to success at any level, and he has instilled that at Charleston.
Grant is a former Wichita State and Clemson assistant with a lot of experience at the Division I level, and he’s someone that will continue to be on coaching hot board lists each offseason just because he’s an excellent coach.
2. Steve Forbes (East Tennessee State)
Speaking of former Wichita State assistants, Forbes has been connected to several high-profile jobs the past few offseasons. The reason? Because, as DJ Khaled once said, all Forbes does is win.
Since taking over as East Tennessee State head coach back in 2015, he has led the program to 24 or more wins in each of his four seasons. He’s now 100-39 during his tenure in Johnson City.
— ETSU Mens Basketball (@ETSU_MBB) September 27, 2019
Forbes’ teams have been great on defense, finishing in the top 60 in turnover percentage defense the past three seasons. They’ve also been able to turn that into easy offense, as East Tennessee State has ranked in the top 65 in effective field goal percentage in all four years he has been on the job.
The Bucs earned an NCAA Tournament bid in 2017, and they have an opportunity to get back there this season as the preseason favorite in the Southern Conference.
Forbes is simply no stranger to success as a former assistant at Tennessee and Texas A&M (as well as leading Northwest Florida State to two straight NJCAA Division I title games), and he’s certainly one of the best mid-major coaches in college basketball.
1. Chris Jans (New Mexico State)
Three former Wichita State assistants in a row? It’s clear that Gregg Marshall knows what he’s doing when it comes to hiring coaches.
Jans went 58-11 in his first two seasons at New Mexico State, which included back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances.
— NM State MBB (@NMStateMBB) September 27, 2019
The 30 wins a season ago were the most in school history, and what’s even scarier for WAC opponents is that the Aggies return seven of their top nine scorers this season while adding several talented players to the mix. When I talked to him for Blue Ribbon this summer, his excitement was obvious for his third season.
Jans has accomplished a lot in just two years, and with another 30-win campaign potentially in the works, he’s helping New Mexico State continue its dominance in the WAC.
Blake Lovell is a national college basketball writer for ClutchPoints. He’s also a contributor for the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook and Athlon Sports College Basketball Preview magazine. He hosts two podcasts: Marching to Madness (CBB) and Establish the Pass (NFL).