His résumé sparkles. Tony Barbee, 38, starred at UMass under John Calipari, contributing 12.1 points per game as the Minutemen advanced to the Sweet 16 in 1992. After playing overseas for two years, the former forward served as an assistant at UMass and Wyoming before joining Calipari at Memphis in 2000, where he quickly became the team's top recruiter. In 2006, Barbee was named head coach at UTEP. Since then the Miners' win total has increased—from 14 in 2006--07 to 19 to 23 last year—and now the 26--6 Miners are the Conference USA regular-season champions and a No. 12 seed in the West region.
What could a deep tournament run mean to Barbee, whom Calipari calls "one of the great young coaches in college basketball"? Perhaps a job at a major-conference school, such as DePaul, which finished 8--23 this season and is searching for a new coach. At UTEP, Barbee has assembled a deep roster that features junior guard Randy Culpepper (18.0 points per game), who was named the conference's player of the year, and junior forward Derrick Caracter, who leads the team in rebounding (8.0) and is second in scoring (13.8).
"My philosophy, which comes from Coach Calipari, is wrapped around one word: pressure," Barbee says. "We are going to come at you for 40 minutes. And I think our team is built to succeed in the tournament. Guards win games in the tournament and big men win championships. We've got both. I do know I wouldn't want to play us."
Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt could also have limited time left on his team's sideline, but for a different reason. Just six years ago Hewitt guided the Yellow Jackets to the national championship game—Tech lost to UConn 82--73—and Hewitt was widely regarded as one of the game's up-and-comers. But the Yellow Jackets haven't won an NCAA tournament game since 2005, haven't had a winning ACC record in six years and needed a deep run in the conference tournament (they lost in the finals to Duke) to secure a No. 10 seed in this year's tournament. It's no wonder that things have turned so sour in Atlanta for Hewitt. "The season hasn't gone the way we would have hoped, but I still think we could surprise a lot of people in the tournament," Hewitt says. "We have talent."
That's true—the Yellow Jackets have three former McDonald's All-Americans, including the conference's top freshman, 6'10" forward Derrick Favors—but a 22--12 record has Hewitt fighting for his job. The coach hasn't helped his case with comments he posted recently on Twitter. "Are you a critic or a supporter of this team?" he tweeted on Feb. 24. "Supporters will continue to watch this team fight," he continued. Now the question is: How much fight does Tech—and Hewitt—have left?