Friday, January 2, 2015

SEC Basketball, Part I

Now that the Louisville game is behind us (yes, a write-up is coming), we can start thinking about SEC play.  There is a perception that the SEC is terrible at basketball, but the truth is a bit more complicated.  I want to talk about each of the programs in the SEC and discuss what they've done since 2002 (the first year for which Ken Pomeroy has national rankings).  That will give us a better sense of what these programs have been doing and where they are right now.  This post will look at the first four teams in alphabetical order:

Year:  Coach (Nat'l Ranking):  Record (NCAA seed, if any)
2002:  Mark Gottfried (28):  27-8 (2 seed)
2003:  Mark Gottfried (51):  17-12 (10 seed)
2004:  Mark Gottfried (34):  20-13 (8 seed)
2005:  Mark Gottfried (19): 24-8 (5 seed)
2006:  Mark Gottfried (50):  18-13 (10 seed)
2007:  Mark Gottfried (63):  20-12
2008:  Mark Gottfried (85):  17-16
2009:  Mark Gottfried (96):  18-14
2010:  Anthony Grant (62):  17-15
2011:  Anthony Grant (47):  25-12
2012:  Anthony Grant (27):  21-12 (9 seed)
2013:  Anthony Grant (60):  23-13
2014:  Anthony Grant (92):  13-19

From 2002 to 2006, Mark Gottfried had Alabama in the Tournament every year, so it makes sense that the Tide would give Gottfried three years after 2006 before they finally gave up and let him go.  (Gottfried is currently in process of following a very similar pattern at NCSU).  It also made sense to hire Anthony Grant, who had taken Virginia Commonwealth to the tournament in 2007 and 2009, and who famously upset Duke in the 2007 Tourney.  And during his first three seasons in Tuscaloosa, Grant seemed to be making progress.  But Alabama showed a big drop-off last year, and I wouldn't be surprised if the school goes in a different direction after this year.  Grade for the Alabama basketball program from 2002-14:  C.  Grade for the current coach:  C minus.

2002:  Nolan Richardson (56):  14-15
2003:  Stan Heath (146):  9-19
2004:  Stan Heath (98):  12-16
2005:  Stan Heath (76):  18-12
2006:  Stan Heath (19):  22-10 (8 seed)
2007:  Stan Heath (42):  21-14 (12 seed)
2008:  John Pelphrey (38):  23-12 (9 seed)
2009:  John Pelphrey (135):  14-16
2010:  John Pelphrey (123):  14-18
2011:  John Pelphrey (111):  18-13
2012:  Mike Anderson (132):  18-14
2013:  Mike Anderson (79):  19-13
2014:  Mike Anderson (52):  22-12

It almost appears that Arkansas was deliberately sabotaging itself.  The Razorbacks dropped 90 points in the rankings in the year after they replaced Nolan Richardson with Stan Heath, and it took several years before they were back in the tournament.  But after Heath had led them to two consecutive NCAA appearances, the Razorbacks fired him to bring in John Pelphrey.  As much as I hate to admit it, Pelphrey was a disaster who squandered any gains that Heath had made.  Now the Razorbacks have Mike Anderson, who once again has them on an upswing.  But will they stick with him, or pull another Stan Heath?  Grade for the Arkansas basketball program from 2002-14:  D minus.  Grade for the current coach:  B.

2002:  Cliff Ellis (93):  12-16
2003:  Cliff Ellis (53):  22-12 (10 seed)
2004:  Cliff Ellis (79):  14-14
2005:  Jeff Lebo (141):  14-17
2006:  Jeff Lebo (108):  12-16
2007:  Jeff Lebo (82):  17-15
2008:  Jeff Lebo (134):  14-16
2009:  Jeff Lebo (55):  24-12
2010:  Jeff Lebo (106):  15-17
2011:  Tony Barbee (226):  11-20
2012:  Tony Barbee (144):  15-16
2013:  Tony Barbee (207):  9-23
2014:  Tony Barbee (129):  14-16

In 1999, Cliff Ellis led Auburn to a 29-4 record.  In 2000, Ellis's Tigers went 24-10.  In 2003, they went 22-12.  The 2003 team went to the Sweet 16, where it lost to Carmelo Anthony and Syracuse by only one point.  Syracuse went on to win the National Championship.  Two years later, Ellis was replaced by Jeff Lebo.  Ellis (a highly underrated coach who has spent his career at schools where it is extremely difficult to win) has since won three regular-season conference titles at Coastal Carolina, and took the Chanticleers to the NCAA Tournament last year.  Auburn, meanwhile, has had only two winning seasons since Ellis left, and has not returned to the Tournament since its loss to Melo.  The Tigers replaced Barbee after last season with Bruce Pearl, and are hoping that he will take them to the Promised Land.  Grade for the Auburn basketball program from 2002-14:  F.  Grade for the current coach:  Incomplete.

2002:  Billy Donovan (7):  22-9 (5 seed)
2003:  Billy Donovan (15):  25-8 (2 seed)
2004:  Billy Donovan (29):  20-11 (5 seed)
2005:  Billy Donovan (10):  24-8 (4 seed)
2006:  Billy Donovan (1):  33-6 (3 seed) (Final Four) (Nat'l Champs)
2007:  Billy Donovan (1):  35-5 (1 seed) (Final Four) (Nat'l Champs)
2008:  Billy Donovan (44):  24-12
2009:  Billy Donovan (42):  25-11
2010:  Billy Donovan (48):  21-13 (10 seed)
2011:  Billy Donovan (16):  29-8 (2 seed)
2012:  Billy Donovan (11):  26-11 (7 seed)
2013:  Billy Donovan (2):  29-8 (3 seed)
2014:  Billy Donovan (3):  36-3 (1 seed) (Final Four)

It's ironic, but true, that almost no one appreciates Billy Donovan as much as Kentucky fans do.  His own fans don't know enough about basketball to realize how great he is, and the national media doesn't give him the credit he deserves.  The media would have you believe that Tom Izzo is the greatest coach whose name doesn't start with K.  Donovan has a better winning percentage at Florida than Izzo has at Michigan State.  Donovan also has more national titles (two) than Izzo (one).  Florida has been to the Elite Eight in six of the last nine seasons.  During that same stretch, they have three trips to the Final Four and two National Championships.  If they had been able to make any outside shots in the tournament against UConn last year (they went 1-10 after shooting 36 percent during the season), Donovan might already have his third national title.  Billy Donovan isn't just good in the sense of someone like Dick Vitale saying, "And I'm telling you this guy can really coach."  He is a Hall-of-Famer who should go down as one of the greatest coaches in history.  I thought he was bored with college hoops after winning back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007, and I was hoping he would go to the NBA.  But the arrival of Coach Calipari at UK seems to have revitalized him, and he may now be good for another 20 years.  Grade for the Florida basketball program from 2002-14:  A plus.  Grade for the current coach:  A plus.

1 comment:

  1. I can't tell you how much I am going to appreciate this series of posts. My only wish is that the timespan was at least strung back to when Sonny Smith was at Auburn. That's really where I left off before picking back up with the last year or two before Coach Cal.