Sunday, January 4, 2015

SEC Basketball, Part II

In our last entry, we covered Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, and Florida.  Here are the next five schools:

Year:  Coach (Nat'l Ranking):  Record (NCAA seed, if any)
2002:  Jim Harrick (25):  22-9 (3 seed)
2003:  Jim Harrick (19):  19-8
2004:  Dennis Felton (76):  16-14
2005:  Dennis Felton (222):  8-20
2006:  Dennis Felton (109):  15-15
2007:  Dennis Felton (60):  19-14
2008:  Dennis Felton (91):  17-17 (14 seed)
2009:  Dennis Felton (203):  12-20
2010:  Mark Fox (84):  14-17
2011:  Mark Fox (59):  21-12 (10 seed)
2012:  Mark Fox (108):  15-17
2013:  Mark Fox (103):  15-17
2014:  Mark Fox (72):  20-14

Georgia's program was wrecked by a very serious academic scandal involving Jim Harrick, which ended his career and sent what had been a pretty solid program off the rails.  Dennis Felton -- who was one of the best coaches Western Kentucky ever had -- effectively ended his own career trying to turn things around at Georgia, but never could get the talent he needed to compete in the SEC.  (It is literally true that none of Felton's Georgia teams were as good as his last two teams at Western, both of which were ranked in the top 60 nationally).  Felton got an extra year because of his team's miracle run through the windblown 2008 SEC Tournament, but the program was in pretty bad shape when Mark Fox arrived from Nevada.  In his first two years, Fox appeared to be turning things around very nicely, but there was a major backslide in 2012 and 2013.  I expected Fox to be fired after the 2014 season, but he surprised everyone with a 12-6 run in SEC play, and right now he has the Dawgs ranked number 32 -- which would be their best team since Harrick left.  Georgia is patient with basketball coaches, and if Fox can make the NCAA's this year, he could have security for the next few years.  Grade for the Georgia basketball program from 2002-14:  D.  Grade for the current coach:  C plus.

2002:  Tubby Smith (12):  21-10 (4 seed)
2003:  Tubby Smith (2):  32-4 (1 seed)
2004:  Tubby Smith (10):  27-5 (1 seed)
2005:  Tubby Smith (8):  28-6 (2 seed)
2006:  Tubby Smith (22):  22-13 (8 seed)
2007:  Tubby Smith (14):  22-12 (8 seed)
2008:  Billy Gillespie (67):  18-13 (11 seed)
2009:  Billy Gillespie (56):  22-14
2010:  John Calipari (3):  35-3 (1 seed)
2011:  John Calipari (5):  29-9 (4 seed) (Final Four)
2012:  John Calipari (1):  38-2 (1 seed) (Final Four) (Nat'l Champs)
2013:  John Calipari (67):  21-12
2014:  John Calipari (11):  29-11 (8 seed) (Final Four) (Runners-Up)

From 2002 to 2005, the University of Kentucky went 108-25, a winning percentage of .812.  The Cats won the SEC regular season title in 2003, 2004, and 2005, and won the SEC Tournament in 2003 and 2004.  At one point during this stretch, they beat Billy Donovan's Gators 8 times in a row.  If any of those UK teams had reached the Final Four -- and they were all capable of doing so -- I think Tubby Smith would still be the head coach at Kentucky.  As it was, you can see that those pundits who criticized UK for replacing Smith after the 2007 season had a valid point -- the national rankings show that UK's 2006 and 2007 teams weren't as bad as most people thought, and the program plummeted as soon as Smith was replaced by Billy Gillespie.  On the other hand, from 1999 to 2007 Tubby never won an NCAA game that he wasn't expected to win -- and he lost a bunch of NCAA games where the Cats were favored.  The UK fans thought that the right coach could do better, and John Calipari has shown that the fans were right.  (By the way, Calipari's 2013 team was ranked 16th in the country before Nerlens Noel was lost for the year against Florida -- we'll never know what sort of run they could have made in the tournament.)  Grade for the Kentucky basketball program from 2002-14:  A.  Grade for the current coach:  A plus.

Louisiana St:
2002:  John Brady (66):  18-15
2003:  John Brady (26):  21-11 (8 seed)
2004:  John Brady (70):  18-11
2005:  John Brady (43):  20-10 (6 seed)
2006:  John Brady (9):  27-9 (4 seed) (Final Four)
2007:  John Brady (54):  17-15
2008:  John Brady (103):  13-18
2009:  Trent Johnson (49):  27-8 (8 seed)
2010:  Trent Johnson (199):  11-20
2011:  Trent Johnson (244):  11-21
2012:  Trent Johnson (97):  18-15
2013:  Johnny Jones (100):  19-12
2014:  Johnny Jones (58):  20-14

In my opinion, most SEC basketball coaches fail because they don't have enough talent to succeed.  To build a solid SEC program that goes to the NCAA Tournament more often than not, it's not enough to have good-character guys who buy into the system and do what they're told -- you have to get big-time players who can take over games down the stretch.  John Brady -- like Dale Brown before him -- had the opposite problem from most SEC coach:  he was a better recruiter than coach.  Brady's 2006 team (featuring Glen Davis) was the only SEC team since 1998 to reach the Final Four without being coached by Billy Donovan or John Calipari.  Brady was probably fired one year too soon -- the players he left behind went 27-8 for Trent Johnson, and they probably would have saved Brady's job.  Johnson's own players weren't good enough to keep LSU competitive in later years, and Johnson decamped for Texas Christian.  So far, Johnny Jones appears to be doing a much better job than Johnson did, but it's too early to know how much further he can go.  Grade for the LSU basketball program from 2002-14:  B minus (would be much lower if not for the 2006 Final Four).  Grade for the current coach:  B.

2002:  Rod Barnes (33):  19-11 (9 seed)
2003:  Rod Barnes (70):  14-15
2004:  Rod Barnes (127):  13-15
2005:  Rod Barnes (115):  14-17
2006:  Rod Barnes (142):  14-16
2007:  Andy Kennedy (53):  21-13
2008:  Andy Kennedy (54):  24-11
2009:  Andy Kennedy (100):  16-15
2010:  Andy Kennedy (54):  24-11
2011:  Andy Kennedy (79):  20-14
2012:  Andy Kennedy (81):  20-14
2013:  Andy Kennedy (36):  27-9 (12 seed)
2014:  Andy Kennedy (84):  19-14

In eight full seasons at Ole Miss, Andy Kennedy has been to the NCAA Tournament exactly once -- as a 12 seed.  His record in SEC regular-season play is 67-65.  And yet he is now the third longest-serving coach in the SEC (after Billy Donovan and Kevin Stallings) and he is regularly described as a good coach by people who cover the SEC.  The key to his success, it seems to me, is that he has been remarkably consistent.  You will notice that Brady left LSU after his team fell to 103 in the national rankings -- even though he had been in the Final Four only a few years before.  Kennedy has only had one team fall as low as 100, and that was back in 2009.  He's always just there, hanging around the bubble and (usually) winning enough games to reach the NIT.  Eventually, I suppose, he will suffer a rash of injuries or bad luck, and will end up with a team that goes something like 6-12 in the SEC, and that will be the end of his tenure.  But Pomeroy expects Ole Miss to go 8-10 in the SEC this year, and that should be sufficient to keep Kennedy in Oxford.  Grade for the Mississippi basketball program from 2002-14:  D.  Grade for the current coach:  C minus.

Mississippi St.
2002:  Rick Stansbury (22):  27-8 (3 seed)
2003:  Rick Stansbury (11):  21-10 (5 seed)
2004:  Rick Stansbury (14):  26-4 (2 seed)
2005:  Rick Stansbury (33):  23-11 (9 seed)
2006:  Rick Stansbury (102):  15-15
2007:  Rick Stansbury (22):  21-14
2008:  Rick Stansbury (31):  23-11 (8 seed)
2009:  Rick Stansbury (67):  23-13 (13 seed)
2010:  Rick Stansbury (49):  24-12
2011:  Rick Stansbury (117):  17-14
2012:  Rick Stansbury (87):  21-12
2013:  Rick Ray (250):  10-22
2014:  Rick Ray (208):  14-19

Rick Stansbury was the opposite of Andy Kennedy -- Kennedy's teams are consistent, but not all that good.  Stansbury's teams not only varied widely from one year to the next -- they would change dramatically from one game to the next.  In 2010, for example, Mississippi State played two games against a UK team that featured two future NBA stars:  John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins.  In one game (at Starkville), the Cats pulled out an 81-75 win in overtime.  In the SEC Tournament Final, UK should have lost, but hung one for a 75-74 OT victory.  MSU could have been one of the 20 best teams in the country that year, but they didn't even make the tournament, largely because they lost games to Rider, Western Kentucky, and Auburn.  Stansbury's teams did stuff like that all the time.  His last team, in 2012, was good enough to lead Anthony Davis and UK's future national champions 60-53 with just over six minutes to go, but bad enough to lose home games to Akron and Georgia.  Stansbury's teams were obviously talented, but were just as obviously undisciplined -- and in the end, that did him in.  Of course, replacing Stansbury was a big mistake by Mississippi State, as they are very unlikely to find another coach that can take the Bulldogs to six NCAA Tournaments in eight years.  MSU's poor performance in 2013 and 2014 simply underscores what a good job Stansbury did.  Grade for the Mississippi State basketball program from 2002-14:  B minus.  Grade for the current coach:  D minus.

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