Profile of a Possible Savior: Keno Davis

Third in an occasional series.

My big brother, also known as TVP, has enlisted me to help cover the wide field of potential saviors that we could hire at season’s end.  Just as he says, I too make no representations about the accuracy of this post, except that I'm doing more homework than Lee Fowler did in 2006…and hopefully not nearly as much research as Debbie Yow will be doing this year.

Today’s potential savior: Keno Davis, who is 38 and in his third season as head coach in Providence.  Davis is an alum of the University of Iowa and the son of the long time Iowa basketball coach Dr. Tom Davis.  Prior to his stint at Providence, Davis was the head coach for one season at Drake, and has 16 years of prior assistant coaching experience.


Important Questions, In Rough Order Of Importance:


1. Has he coached teams that have won a national title, made multiple deep NCAA tournament runs, and/or consistently been highly ranked?




2. Has he built a program from the ground up?


Maybe?  Keep in mind that Keno was the top assistant to his father at Drake the four years before he took over as head coach when his dad retired.  Under Dr. Tom, the Bulldogs only posted one winning season (in his final season), but it can be argued the first four years set the stage for the younger Davis’s 28-5, Missouri Valley Championship season as head coach.


Of course it can be questioned what was really built given Drake’s slide back to the bottom of the MVC since Davis’s departure, but how much of that is on Davis and how much is on current HC (and former Sendek assistant) Mark Phelps is debatable.


3. Has he substantially improved the program from when he took over?


No.  In Tim Welsh’s last four seasons at Providence, the Friars had one winning season (with an NIT bid) in ’06-‘07and zero appearances in the NCAA tournament.  Davis led the Friars to a 19-14 (10-8) record his first year, as well as an NIT bid, but took a step back last year with a 12-19 (4-14) season.  This year was looking to be much the same, with an 11-8 (0-6) start…but the Friars have turned it around with back-to-back wins over #15 Louisville and #7 Villanova.


Also keep in mind that he had a somewhat tumultuous off-season, kicking their leading scorer from the ’09-’10 season off the team, losing two other players to dismissal or transfer, losing an assistant coach, and having two top recruits decommit (one for the ’10 class, one for the ’11 class).  How much of this is on Davis and how much was bad luck…hard to say.


4. Has he succeeded at more than one head coaching job?


His one year at Drake was very successful, and Providence appears to be improving, but there has not been sustained success so far.


5.  Does he have significant high-major experience as either a head coach or an assistant?


Yes.  He was an assistant to his father at Iowa from 1991-1995.  Between 1995 and returning to the bench with his dad at Drake in 2003, Davis was an assistant for someone other than his father at Southern Indiana (to Bruce Pearl) and Southeast Missouri.


6.  Is his team one of the best in its conference right now?


No.  The Big East clearly has some power teams and Providence is currently 2-6 in the conference.  However, as noted above, they have taken a turn for the better in the past two games with big upset wins over ranked teams.  It is conceivable that they could make a run at a NCAA Tournament bid if they keep this up.  Ken Pom predicts them currently to finish in a 3-way tie for 12th in the Big East.


7.  Do his teams actually play, what is this thing called, "defense"?


Yes and no.  They are currently ranked 95th by Ken Pom in defensive stats which is better than NC State’s 131st, and is a dramatic improvement over last year’s 237th place finish (which set a Big East record for horribleness), and better than his first year where they were 131st.  The Friars average a little over 8 steals a game, which is top 50 in the nation right now and Davis likes to run a high-pressure defense (in fact he even wrote a book on it).


In his one year as the head man at Drake, the Bulldogs were 77th rated by Pomeroy.


8.  Any indication that he can recruit McDonald’s All-American-type players?


He pulled in the #7 SG in the nation in last year’s class, Gerard Coleman.  The 2011 class is pretty run-of-mill, but as noted above he had a major commit drop off the list.  However, the 2012 class includes the #1 rated SG Ricardo Ledo.  He is a RI native.  His classes seem to be a solid mix of stars and role players with good offer lists.


9. Does he run the Princeton offense?


Most certainly not.  Providence is currently ranked 12th in adjusted tempo this year, was 5th and 10th in his other two seasons with the Friars.  Their offense is currently ranked 55th by Ken Pom, last year they were 19th and 2009 they were 52nd.  So a pretty fast paced, high-scoring offense.  This was a pretty dramatic shift from Tim Welsh’s teams.  Both their turnover percentage (currently ranked 36th on Ken Pom) and offensive rebounding percentage (currently 15th) look good though their effective FG % is pretty low and was the main culprit behind their six-game slide to start Big East play.  The team is a bit on the small side (they start two 6’9" and three 6’5" and smaller guys), which may contribute to their lack of FT attempts.  About 34% of their shots are threes, which is ranked about 140th in the nation per Ken Pom, but they’ve only been making about 31% of them (ranked 287th), so the lack of threes might be because they lack guys who can shoot them.


I’ve seen the Friars a few times, and they definitely like to get up and down the court in transition.


10. Does he have any connection to NC State, North Carolina, or the ACC?


Nope.  All of Davis’s coaching experience was in the Midwest until his move to Providence.


11. Any other random red flags or positives?


As noted above, there were the player issues at Providence this off-season, and the recruit decommits.  Again, it is always hard to say how much of that is the coach’s fault and how much is the fault of the players in question.  The team seems to have rebounded nicely despite this adversity.




Would he be better than Sid?




Would he be better than Herb?


Probably.  There isn’t a ton of evidence to go off of yet, but his team seems to be defensively on par with Herb’s while having a much more up-tempo offense with better rebounding and one that takes care of the ball.


Would he take the job if offered?


Yes.  Providence is a small private school that is trying to compete in a bloated Big East with a lot of schools that have more resources, better name recognition, and better recruiting tools.  While I think Providence is probably a Top 10 job in the Big East, it isn’t a marquee location.  It has also historically been a springboard for coaches to go to other BCS-level jobs.  Rick Pitino went from Providence to Kentucky, Rick Barnes to Clemson, and Pete Gillen to Virginia.  Davis moved on very quickly from Drake to a much better situation at Providence, leading me to believe he would make a similar jump here.  I think the risk exists that with success here he could jump to a job above ours, but that is a little down the road. 


How would I feel if he were hired?


I would be a little skeptical but open.  He runs an exciting offense, a pressing defense, has a good coaching pedigree, and has had some success.  He is doing pretty well on the recruiting trail at a somewhat difficult place to recruit to.  Not ecstatic, but not upset would be my reaction.  I would be open, especially considering the athleticism on our roster right now, and a fast offense and a pressing defense are two things I’m really looking for in the next coach.


How would the fan base as a whole feel if he were hired?


Similar to the reaction to Darrin Horn, I think the majority of the fan base would be skeptical at first, but would probably talk themselves into it given his father’s success.  A lot would depend on how Providence finishes the season.  Should they continue their current hot streak and end up with 20 wins and a .500 or better record in the Big East, I think people would be more excited than if they go back to struggling and end up in the NIT.  He probably isn’t a serious candidate unless the winning continues, so I think the latter reaction isn’t as likely.  Youth and relative head coaching inexperience would probably make some weary.