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Xavier Coaching Search: Sorting through the candidates

There will be no shortage of names in the hat for a coveted Big East head coaching spot.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Milwaukee Practice Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Xavier is now back in an unfamiliar position. Unlike smaller schools where turnover is part of the gig, Xavier has been a relatively stable place to be for the last nine years. Chris Mack is gone now, and AD Greg Christopher now has to sort through the hundreds of names that will be thrown at him as suggestions to take over a wildly successful program. The Big East champions are now on the clock to find a new coach. As incomprehensible as that seems, it’s the reality facing Xavier now. There are a lot of names being bandied about right now, and certainly more will be added and subtracted in the coming days.

The likely candidates

Travis Steele: 9/5

Xavier’s assistant coach is far and away the most likely choice no matter what kind of search takes place. He landed Edmond Sumner and Trevon Bluiett, he’s widely recognized as a borderline genius offensive mind, and Xavier has paid him well to keep him from taking head coaching spots elsewhere. Add in myriad endorsements from former (and a couple of current) players on Twitter and reading the tea leaves isn’t all that difficult here.

Pat Kelsey: 5/1

The next name on the list is also one with Xavier ties. Kelsey both played and was an assistant coach at Xavier (sound familiar?) before taking the job at Winthrop. Kelsey was literally minutes from being announced as the UMass coach last year when he backed out, citing “personal reasons” to return to Winthrop. That utterly bizarre circumstance is the biggest mark against Kelsey, as he’s been successful at Rock Hill playing a blazing fast styled predicated on getting up a lot of three pointers. If that sounds exciting, that’s because it is.

In with a chance

John Brannen: 12/1

There’s a gap between the top two names on this list and everyone else. There’s a reason for that, and it’s Xavier’s desire for continuity. Brannen somewhat fits that bill by being a local guy with a hand in the local recruiting base. Brannen has head man experience at Alabama and now at NKU, where he’s done nothing but win. In three years with Brannen at the helm, the Norse have gone from 255th in the KenPom to 92nd. That’s an amazing rise. Plus, Brannen would be likely to take a job where he didn’t have to share venue with a local mid-major.

The mid-major guys: 30/1

Here is where you find Porter Moser (Loyola Chicago), Ryan Odom (UMBC, just signed an extension), Matt McMahon (Murray St), Dan Muller (Illinois St), and Nate Oats (Buffalo). None of these guys have any big strikes against them and all of them have been successful where they are, but all are also facing a big step up to Xavier.

The big names

Gregg Marshall: 75/1

Yes, I think that Marshall would leave Wichita St for Xavier if they came calling. Marshall has a track record and a shiny new gig in the AAC, but the AAC isn’t the Big East (or really even close). There’s no reason to stay with Shockers other than loyalty, and Xavier can buy that out if they so choose to give Marshall a raise over the $3 million he makes right now.

Shaka Smart: 200/1

This would have been really exciting four years ago. Smart has gotten Texas turned around to some extent, but he’s not quite the rising star he was. Smart also makes over $3 million per year and has some serious bonuses in his contract. You’ll see this name out there, but X would have to really raise their head coach salary to make this work

Sean Miller: 250/1

Miller makes a ton of money at Arizona. If X wants him he’s either taking a pay cut or they are really going up in salary. On the other hand, there’s that little matter of an FBI investigation ongoing and something of a lukewarm endorsement from his supervisors. If Miller leaves or is shown the door, he could well land with the Musketeers if a minor miracle occurs.

That one guy that people keep talking about

Thad Matta: 1000/1

Xavier fans loved Matta in his stint with the school and he’s still the Xavier coach to have come the closest to actually winning an Elite Eight game. He’s a huge name, he’s a continuity hire, and he has instant cachet. He also pulled one of the sleaziest most backbiting moves in the history of college sports when he announced that he was staying at Xavier and then signed a contract with Ohio State hours later. He could either come back as a great redemption story, or he could cause a riot.