Rebuilders: UNM's Pitino, SJSU's Miles leading biggest turnarounds in college basketball - Albuquerque Journal

Rebuilders: UNM’s Pitino, SJSU’s Miles leading biggest turnarounds in college basketball

Lobos head coach Richard Pitino (left) and San Jose State coach Tim Miles exchange pregame greetings during their 2022 game in the Pit. (Mike Sandoval/For the Journal)

When Tim Miles invited his old Big Ten coaching buddy Richard Pitino onto the “Inside the Mind of Miles” podcast on Dec. 21, 2020, who could have known just how intertwined their journeys would be over the next few months and next couple of years?

Miles, the one-time coach at Colorado State who was on a coaching hiatus at the time after being fired by the Big Ten’s Nebraska Cornhuskers, was hosting a podcast, and often he asked coaching buddies to be guests.

Pitino at the time was the 6-0 head coach of Minnesota in his eighth season with the Golden Gophers.

A lot has changed since that podcast — one in which the two talked about coaching in COVID, ironically how neither were particular fans of the NCAA’s then-new immediately-eligible transfer rule, and game-day routines.

Pitino was fired from Minnesota in March 2021 and hired a couple of days later as the head coach of the UNM Lobos. Miles was one of the other two finalists who interviewed for the job.

Miles instead ended up getting back into coaching at San Jose State.

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Tuesday night, the two meet for the third time as Mountain West coaches in the Pit and each have this proud claim to fame: they have led two of the most impressive turnarounds in all of college basketball in the past season and a half — the Lobos back onto a national stage after finishing that 2021 season ranked No. 303 in the NCAA NET rankings and 294th in KenPom.com while the Spartans finished ranked 333rd in both the NET and KenPom.

Tuesday, both teams, thanks in part to immediately-eligible transfers neither coach seemed to like while on that podcast, sit at 3-2 in Mountain West play. SJSU is 12-6 overall and UNM is 16-2. They have made the largest and second largest leaps of all 363 Division I teams in the NET and KenPom since Miles and Pitino took over the two previously downtrodden programs.

UNM has jumped 267 spots in the NET (to 36 on Monday) since the end of the 2021 season and a 234-spot jump in KenPom (to 60). San Jose State has jumped 212 spots in the NET (to 121) and 200 spots in KenPom (to 133).

And both have garnered national attention.

“Each had a really tough gig in (the Big Ten), and now look at each spot,” said Jeff Goodman, national college basketball analyst for Stadium and one of the co-founders of the Field of 68 Media Network, which was home to Miles’ podcast. “Those guys did as much as they could at those spots.

“It’s great to see both of them having success now in the Mountain West. Richard has done far more than I imagined. I thought it would be tough for him because he had no real experience on the West coast and San Jose is one of the toughest jobs in the country. Those guys have been phenomenal so far and both are high-character coaches who don’t take themselves too seriously.”

Tuesday in the Pit, as both try desperately to continue their programs’ rapid rebuilds, the nationally-televised game will also feature the two friends back on the mic together. The FS1 crew broadcasting the game will have microphones on both coaches and share their interactions with players, referees and anyone else throughout the live broadcast.

“It’s one of those deals where, like, you get invited to a Christmas party like a month before Christmas. ‘Yeah, I’ll go,’ ” Pitino explained about the hot-mic scenario. “Then the day before, you have all types of regrets. Like you don’t want to go. That’s the same thing with this thing. …

“The goal is to win (Tuesday night), and I know Tim’s the same way, but the goal is to keep our jobs after the game and not say anything stupid. So it’ll be it’ll be interesting.”

HOUSE HONORED: For the first time in his Lobos career, guard Jaelen House on Monday was named the Mountain West Player of the Week after helping the Lobos to a 2-0 week, including a monster Saturday night performance in which he scored 21 of his game-high 29 points in the second half of UNM’s 76-67 road win over No. 23 San Diego State.

For the week, House averaged 22 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.5 steals and 2.5 assists.

He was also a perfect 14-for-14 at the free throw line.

And for those interested in history, in the game after playing in Viejas Arena a season ago, House went off for 42 points, 8 rebounds and four steals (and six turnovers) in a 91-77 win at Air Force.

FALCON FRESHMAN: Along with House’s Player of the Week award announced Monday, Air Force guard Marcell McCreary was named the league’s Freshman of the Week.

McCreary averaged 19.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in Air Force’s surprising 2-0 week with wins over Colorado State and Fresno State. In AFA’s road win over the Rams, McCreary scored 26 points.

POLL POSITION: No Mountain West teams were ranked in Monday’s new Associated Press Top 25 men’s basketball poll, but three — including the Lobos — were in the “others receiving votes” section.

Following losses at Fresno State and at home to UNLV, the Lobos went from No. 21 in the country two weeks ago to just two points, appearing on only one ballot, last week.

Then, after wins over Oral Roberts and then-No. 23 San Diego State, the Lobos received 67 points in Monday’s poll and are sitting four spots outside of Monday’s poll (No. 25 Arkansas has 115 points).

The Aztecs dropped from No. 23 to six spots out of being ranked with 44 points. Boise State, UNM’s opponent this Friday in the Pit, is the only other MWC team to receive any votes, getting six points and appearing on five of 60 voter ballots.

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