Barry Hinson and Saluki Basketball Find Themselves In Big Trouble In Little Egypt

One might think five transfers in the last 23 days would represent the darkest hours for Saluki basketball under Barry Hinson.

To the contrary, Monday’s announcements of the transfers of freshmen Jordan Caroline and Deion Lavender — and the press conference that followed — did the opposite.

Instead of a dark cloud, Monday provided light exposing real, tangible problems for Southern Illinois’ men’s basketball program.

Hinson can talk about a society that wants instant gratification. He can complain about not being immune to the transfer epidemic that has featured 1,200 such occurrences over the last two years.

In fact, he did just that, taking it upon himself to call a press conference, neglecting the wishes of higher-ups in the department who suggested he didn’t. Consider it the latest move that left SIU administrators upset with Hinson, according to a source.

You can read the entire transcript here.

SIU is in murky waters as it attempts to convince players to stay on a sinking ship, while also luring recruits with the promise that better days are ahead.

That is a tough sell considering Hinson has lost a total of 7 of the 19 players he has recruited to Carbondale. And we can’t forget about players who he inherited that left such as Treg Setty, Dantiel Daniels and Harry Whitt.

And we really can’t forget about Bobo Drummond, who Hinson had lined up to be his point guard from Day 1.

Drummond was a virtual lock to be in the fold. The signing was supposed to be the first step in repairing the school’s relationship with the Illinois Wolves AAU squad, led by Mike Mullins, the father of former SIU star PG Bryan Mullins. Hinson has never seen eye-to-eye with Mullins, but keeping Drummond was supposed to be an olive branch of good faith. So much so, Hinson referenced him in his opening press conference, only to not follow up with Drummond in the recruiting process. The lack of communication led to Drummond’s de-commitment.

Hinson also botched the recruitment of Gallatin County’s Andrew Drone, a large 6-10 regional kid who ended up at Rice. Needless to say, Hinson got off on the wrong foot early in his tenure and has had a few missteps along the way.

Barry Hinson wants you to know that you’re stuck with him, whether you like it or not.

“[T]hey are going to have to put up with me for at least three more years because I have a contract,” Hinson said in a press conference Monday afternoon, when asked about calls for his job.

Hinson signed a five-year deal to replace Chris Lowery in 2012 But after flirting with Texas Tech in 2013 and Tulsa in 2014, SIU AD Mario Moccia added a sixth year to his contract with an undisclosed raise believed to be in the $400,000 range to keep Hinson in Carbondale.

A Southern Illinoisan report references a $100,000 buyout that was tied to his original five-year deal. However, when asked about the nature of the buyout, three different sources couldn’t come to an agreement on whether or not the buyout was strictly if Hinson was to initiate termination of the contract or if the university was to do so.

But that’s just the beginning. A source Monday said Hinson’s contract has more terminology that is deemed more friendly for SIU in the event it wasn’t happy with how things went with their new coach.

That would line up with this 2012 report by Joe Ragusa from the Daily Egyptian. The following graph stands out:

[Associate AD Mark] Scally said Hinson’s contract has more specific language in it for academics and player retention, which were problems during Lowery’s tenure. Player recruiting and retention is specifically described as a responsibility for Hinson, while only recruiting is listed in Lowery’s.

(Aside: Bold portion per editor.)

A source suggested SIU administrators could see five transfers in 23 days as grounds for firing Hinson with cause, citing the portion of the agreement that discusses player retention. However, it is unknown as of this time whether or not that specific language was changed when Hinson was given his extension.

In any case, SIU does not have an athletic director with the power to make a move like that at this time. And that’s unfortunate. SIU hopes to have a new AD in place in May.

There are several strong candidates who have applied for the position, though the best candidate might be on Southern’s own search committee.

Track and field head coach Connie Price-Smith is the most resourceful coach on campus and was one of the smartest people I covered while writing about Saluki athletics. Despite a tight budget and a notably tough schedule, Price-Smith’s teams are nationally competitive and always ahead of the curve on and off the track. It’s that type of balance and knowledge that SIU needs in its AD chair. Unfortunately, that’s just a pipe dream. It’s a shame, too, considering how highly she is thought of in the community.

As for SIU’s former AD, he accepted the same position at his alma mater (New Mexico State) this past fall. Luckily for him, he doesn’t find himself fielding questions about the department’s shortcoming, Hinson’s future and his own future. And maybe he should, any way, considering how things have continued to go south even after Lowery’s dismissal.

It is no secret that Hinson wasn’t SIU’s first choice to replace Lowery. But after Bruce Weber turned down Southern’s offer, the finalist list included Dan Muller (currently at Illinois State), Ray Giacoletti (Drake) and Greg Gard (currently an assistant at Wisconsin).

Hinson was a long shot when the process began. He had Missouri Valley Conference ties, but had not coached after being fired at Missouri State in 2009. Hinson did well with recruits left behind by Bill Self at Oral Roberts and Steve Alford at Missouri State, but never made a NCAA Tournament. In the end, Hinson laid down just enough charm to essentially sweet talk his way into back into the head coaching ranks.

Hinson was a beloved personality in Springfield, Mo., though, that hasn’t necessarily been the case in Carbondale. Attendance and interest dropped this season, as did the team’s record. Last year’s rant at Murray State was polarizing, as it was seen as energizing to some and off-putting to others.

While making interview rounds after The Rant, Hinson said parents had contacted him with support, saying they would want their kids to play for Hinson. If he is as wise as he is made out to be, he would be on the line with those parents right now asking about their child’s eligibility.

Drama with the basketball team has put the football team’s issues into a different perspective.

Even though the Salukis haven’t made the playoffs since 2009, they have been in contention enough to keep head coach Dale Lennon off the hot seat.

The state of SIU football reminds me of an old Mayor Richard J. Daley quote: “Don’t make no waves, don’t back no losers.” It’s a political ideology and formula Daley followed to success. And Lennon is doing the same in Carbondale.

Unlike his basketball counterpart, Lennon keeps a low profile, as have his student athletes. Lennon’s teams do not have a lengthy history of bad behavior or mass transfers. It’s a low bar, but Lennon has given the Salukis a puncher’s chance. And while that isn’t good enough for a team that made the playoffs seven straight years, things could be a lot worse.

We would be remiss if we didn’t note the spiral began with the last three years of Chris Lowery’s reign in Carbondale, which was littered with off-the-court issues, mass transfers and JUCO busts.

With the benefit of hindsight, I would venture to say it’s a shame Lowery didn’t get started on a full-scale rebuild until it was too little, too late. The recruitment and development of Setty, Daniels and Drummond could’ve been decent building blocks with Desmar Jackson transferring in from Wyoming to provide additional scoring punch.

Truth be told, after the mass exodus that saw Kevin Dillard and Anthony Booker leave town, someone should’ve sat Lowery down and given him a pep talk. Something along the lines of: “We need a fresh start. We need to get back to our identity and what made us successful. We need to recruit high school seniors and build them up. No relying on junior college transfers. It’s going to take some time, but you have our support in this full-scale rebuild.”

Lowery could’ve easily pointed to players like Jamaal Tatum, Tony Young and Randal Falker as players who benefited from redshirting and hard work to become stars in Carbondale.

To be honest, that is the kind of talk SIU needs to have with Hinson right now. But we might be too far down past that road to do so.

While it took a certain amount of gumption to face the press after announcing two of your players with the highest upside were departing, it does not take away from the fact that Coach Hinson has a self-made mess on his hands and is a long way from cleaning it up.


Nikola Mirotic’s Post All-Star Game Push Leads Bulls Back To Playoffs

Last year, I ate major crow and enjoyed it as I begrudgingly welcomed the Bulls into the playoffs.

It was a strange year as the Bulls took on several different life forms before settling into an odd incarnation of the try-hard Bulls led by a facilitating center, an efficient reserve point guard and a more cohesive offensive unit triggered by jettisoning their longest tenured player.

Still, their untimely first-round exit left many with a sour taste in their mouths.

A year later, the Bulls are celebrating a seventh straight postseason berth with a team that is as deep as any of its six predecessors. The emerging star of that group is rookie Nikola Mirotic.

Most rookies hit a wall in the second half. Mirotic has proven to be the exception to the rule.

In 18 games since the All-Star Break, Mirotic is averaging 17.9 points per game and doing most of his damage from inside the arc, shooting 55.6 percent on 2-point attempts, and at the free-throw line, where he is shooting 82.5 percent.

Most importantly, Mirotic is getting it done in crunch time.

The Montenegrin import via of Spain has been Mr. 4th Quarter for the Bulls since the break. Just check out his fourth quarter averages and league ranks.

  • Scoring: 7.9 points (4th)
  • Free-throw attempts: 3.0 (6th)
  • Free-throw makes: 2.6 (5th)
  • Free-throw percentage: 86 (3rd, minimum 3 FTA per 4th quarter)
  • Made field goals: 2.4 (3rd)
  • Field goal percentage: 47.1 (7th, minimum 4 FGA per 4th quarter)
  • Minutes: 10.1 (5th)

The advanced stats look good for Mirotic, too.

  • Usage rate: 32.0 percent (3rd)
  • True shooting pct.: 62.1 percent (10th)
  • Effective FG%: 52.9 percent (6th among players with a minimum 4th quarter usage rate of 25%)

I’m wary of saying something about Mirotic peaking at the right time, because the “right” time to peak would be during the playoffs. With that said, Mirotic’s performance has been invaluable to a team constantly being pestered by injuries and/or off-the-court drama.

Mirotic’s performance of late has been a beacon of light during a story stretch for the Bulls which has featured the loss of Derrick Rose (again), Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and an ongoing saga between the front office and its head coach.

Credit the aforementioned front office for stashing Mirotic in Europe after acquiring his rights by making a trade with the Rockets in the 2011 draft — which also netted Butler, for what it’s worth. Additionally, credit the front office for valuing offense and perimeter shooting, which had sorely been lacking during in recent years.

I can’t say whether or not this year will be different for the Bulls because they will only go as far as their health will allow them to go.

But with added scoring depth — led by Mirotic’s late-season emergence — their odds are better now than they have been in recent years.

On retaining Jay Cutler, trading Brandon Marshall and finding offensive balance for the Bears

The Chicago Bears have been active members in the transaction wires this winter as it cleaned house by dismissing their old GM and head coach (Phil Emery, Marc Trestman) in favor of a new regime (Ryan Pace, John Fox).

That trend was expected to continue into the spring as the organization focused its rebuilding efforts to the on-field talent.

If you were awake around 2 a.m. — and why wouldn’t you be? — you might’ve seen that ESPN’s Chris Mortensen was reporting that Jay Cutler was fully expected to be the team’s quarterback in 2015.

This coming three days after the Bears had agreed to trade Brandon Marshall to the New York Jets. The trade of Marshall, who was Cutler’s top target in both Denver and Chicago, resulted in myriad polarizing opinions.

In a sense, it’s difficult to justify trading someone as productive as Marshall was statistically. He racked up 31 touchdown receptions in three years, averaging 93 catches and 1,175 per season.

Bigger picture, check out how much Marshall’s production accounted for over the last three years:

  • 27.8 percent of targets and 26.4 percent of receptions from Bears pass-catchers
  • 29.9 percent of the team’s receiving yards
  • 37 percent of the team’s receiving touchdowns

That’s a healthy chunk of production that needs to be replaced. Much of it will likely fall on Alshon Jeffery, the 25-year-old receiver who has averaged 87 catches, 1,277 yards and 8 touchdown receptions over the last two seasons.

So, how can the Bears justify letting Marshall go? Obviously, there was the never ending rumor mill of Marshall being a locker room distraction. But statistically, Marshall probably wasn’t going to be as much of the offense’s focal point if the Bears stay true to what John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase have done over the years.

Since John Fox began his head coaching career with the 2002 Carolina Panthers, his teams have ranked in the top 10 in rushing attempts seven times. The last two seasons, Fox’s Broncos teams finished with the 11th and 12th most rushing attempts, respectively. So, in 13 years of coaching, Fox’ teams have finished near the top third in rushing attempts nine times.

The commitment to running the football seems to be real. That’s the difference between Fox and Marc Trestman, who said he would run the ball, but never followed through.

Marshall thrived in Trestman’s pass-heavy attack. But with Fox and Gase in tow, it was unlikely Jefferey and Marshall were going to put up the astronomical numbers they posted over the last two years.

Check this out: In 2013, the top four pass catchers (Marshall, Jeffery, Forte, Bennett) in the Bears’ offense racked for 501 of 571 quarterback targets. That’s 87.74 percent if you’re keeping track. In 2014, those four accounted for 506 of 608 targets — or 83.32 percent. Overall, we’re talking about 85 percent of the pass offense concentrated around four guys.

That predictability made the Bears’ offense easier to adjust to and stop in 2014. Back in November, I noted that this kind of imbalance in the pass offense was not normal, nor did it seem conducive to a winning brand of football. I also noted that the most efficient pass offenses spread the ball more evenly among targets. That includes Fox’s Broncos, whose top four pass catchers accounted for about 75 percent of Peyton Manning’s targets. You can read about it here.

So, where does Marshall lose value? In the seven seasons in which Fox’s teams were in the top 10 in rushing attempts, here are the target percentages for the top four pass catching targets. In parenthases, I’ll list the target numbers for the top two pass catchers.

  • 2003 (3rd, 522 attempts): 72.6 percent (Smith 142, Muhammad 100)
  • 2005 (10th, 487 attempts): 68.1 percent (Smith 150, Colbert 55)
  • 2007 (9th, 451 attempts): 74.8 percent (Smith 148, King 80)
  • 2008 (6th, 504 attempts): 72.9 percent (Smith 129, Muhammad 107)
  • 2009 (2nd, 525 attempts): 67.3 percent (Smith 129, Muhammad 89)
  • 2011 (1st, 546 attempts): 59.6 percent (Decker 96, D. Thomas 70)
  • 2012 (9th, 481 attempts): 79.4 percent (D. Thomas 143, Decker 122)

So, where does Marshall lose value?

The top target of Fox’s passing offenses averaged 133.9 targets per year, while the second most targeted player averaged 89.

Marshall has averaged 154 targets over the last three seasons.

As you can see above, there are only three seasons in which Fox’s teams had two receivers targeted 100 times or more.

The Marshall/Jeffery tag team accounted for 47.8 percent of targets. Meanwhile, in four of the seven seasons in which Fox’s teams ranked in the top 10 in rush attempts, the top two pass catchers accounted for 46 percent or less of the targets.

If trends stay true for Fox moving forward, Marshall would’ve been nothing more than a luxury item. One that came with a hefty price tag and cap number.

For all intents and purposes, the Bears are replacing Marshall with a younger, cheaper model in Jeffery.

The challenge for GM Ryan Pace isn’t replacing Marshall’s production. Heck, it isn’t even replacing Jeffery’s production.

What’s on Pace’s plate moving forward is a challenge to find more targets in an attempt to create balance in a passing attack that was predictable in 2014.

Luckily for Pace, the Bears already have a quality pass catching tight end in Martellus Bennett, so that solves a portion of the equation. Now, to find someone who is as good as Muhsin Muhammad or Eric Decker without having to pay through the nose. At minimum, find someone better than Keary Colbert.

In a later post, we’ll dive into maximizing the last two year’s of Cutler’s contract — starting with the 2015 season.