In 2015-16, the head man in Lexington will be the most accomplished coach in the league.
At least in that way, the SEC coach lineup is fairly standard.
Yet the 13 coaches around John Calipari represent a drastic shift in the SEC’s coaching roster. The moves in this season’s coaching carousel may be unprecedented in the league’s history.
A two-time national champion and potential Hall of Famer left the conference for the NBA, but in Billy Donovan’s place, SEC teams added two coaches who have been to a combined four Final Fours and another coach who has been to the NBA Finals. And that doesn’t count, Mike White, who won 83 games in the last three seasons before taking over for Donovan.
With the return of Bruce Pearl last season, few leagues have improved their coaching lineup more than the SEC in the last two years.
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Ranking the SEC Basketball Coaches for 2015-16
1. John Calipari, Kentucky
Record at Kentucky: 190–38, 82–20 SEC
NCAA record: 47–15, six Final Fours, one championship
Number to note: Calipari has reached the Final Four five times since 2008. Michigan State’s Tom Izzo (three times) is the only other coach to make it there more than twice in that span.
Why he’s ranked here: The newly inducted Naismith Hall of Fame coach is one of the most divisive figures in the sport, but he’s done arguably the best coaching job of his career in just the last year or so. Kentucky regrouped to reach the Final Four as a No. 8 seed in 2014. The following season, Calipari balanced NBA-bound egos for a balanced, defensive-minded team that started 38–0.
2. Ben Howland, Mississippi State
Record at Mississippi State: First season
NCAA record: 19–10, three Final Fours
Number to note: What kind of team will Howland have at Mississippi State? His last team at UCLA ranked 30th in adjusted tempo on KenPom, but eight of his 10 teams in Westwood ranked outside of the top 100 in tempo, including five outside of the top 200.
Why he’s ranked here: Howland will have a fresh start at Mississippi State after his tenure grew stale at UCLA. He already proved he could continue to recruit at a high level, landing legacy Malik Newman.
3. Bruce Pearl, Auburn
Record at Auburn: 15–20, 4–14 SEC
NCAA record: 10–8
Number to note: Auburn’s three SEC Tournament wins to cap Pearl’s first season were as many as the Tigers had from 2001-14. In that run, Auburn defeated NCAA Tournament hopefuls Texas A&M and LSU.
Why he’s ranked here: Last season was Pearl’s first losing campaign as a college basketball coach, including his years at Division II Southern Indiana. With the way he’s recruited at Auburn, it might be his last losing season for a while.
4. Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt
Record at Vanderbilt: 313–206, 127–135 SEC
NCAA record: 6–8
Number to note: A sign things are about to turn at Vanderbilt: The Commodores ranked 19th in offensive efficiency on KenPom last season. Stallings’ best teams at Vanderbilt from 2010-12 all ranked in the top 30. Vanderbilt returns all but two notable players from last year’s team.
Why he’s ranked here: Stallings doesn’t always get his due, and that’s understandable. His teams have reached only six NCAA Tournaments at Vanderbilt, and only two advanced to the Sweet 16. But he’s also the fourth-longest tenured coach in a power conference after Jim Boeheim, Mike Krzyzewski and Tom Izzo.
5. Rick Barnes, Tennessee
Record at Tennessee: First season
NCAA record: 21–22, one Final Four
Number to note: Barnes has missed the NCAA Tournament only once since 1996.
Why he’s ranked here: While it’s tough to go to the NCAA Tournament nearly every year for two decades, Texas didn’t reach its full potential under Barnes. In 17 seasons with all the resources at Texas, Barnes reached the Final Four once and never won the Big 12 tournament. The Longhorns failed to reach the Sweet 16 or even claim a share of the Big 12 title in his last seven years. Could a change of scenery do him good?
6. Mike Anderson, Arkansas
Record at Arkansas: 86–48, 39–31 SEC
NCAA record: 8–7
Number to note: Anderson’s teams at UAB, Missouri and Arkansas have ranked in the top 40 in defensive turnover rate in all but one year of his career and in the top 20 11 times.
Why he’s ranked here: Arkansas steadily improved in each of Anderson’s four seasons before the Razorbacks lost to North Carolina in the round of 32 in the 2015 NCAA Tournament. He’s more or less starting from scratch this season.
7. Frank Martin, South Carolina
Record at South Carolina: 45–54, 15–39 SEC
NCAA record: 6–4
Number to note: South Carolina’s SEC record improved by a modest one win in 2014-15, but the advanced metrics gave the Gamecocks their best KenPom rating (No. 67) and SRS (10.55) since 2005-06 — by a wide margin.
Why he’s ranked here: South Carolina was one of the worst power conference teams during Martin’s first two seasons. The Gamecocks improved marginally in Year 3. Now in his fourth season at one of the toughest jobs in a major conference, Martin can call an NIT bid a success.
8. Mark Fox, Georgia
Record at Georgia: 106–89, 51–51 SEC
NCAA record: 2–5
Number to note: Fox is .500 in the league overall but 23–13 the last two seasons, tied for the third-best record in the league with Arkansas and behind only Kentucky and Florida.
Why he’s ranked here: Fox has had a solid, if unspectacular, tenure at Georgia. Will the Bulldogs win the SEC under Fox? Probably not, but they might not finish in the bottom half very often, either.
9. Andy Kennedy, Ole Miss
Record at Ole Miss: 192–114, 78–72 SEC
NCAA record: 2–2
Number to note: Kennedy became Ole Miss’ all-time wins leader two seasons ago, which says as much about Kennedy as it does the Rebels basketball program.
Why he’s ranked here: With two NCAA appearances in the last three seasons, Ole Miss is a relevant SEC program under Kennedy. That he did it before the Rebels built legitimate SEC facilities is to his credit.
10. Billy Kennedy, Texas A&M
Record at Texas A&M: 71–61, 30–42 Big 12/SEC
NCAA record: 1–2
Number to note: Three of Kennedy’s four teams at Texas A&M have ranked 250th or worse nationally in free throw shooting.
Why he’s ranked here: Texas A&M hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament under Kennedy. While this isn’t one of the top programs in college basketball, that kind of drought — particularly considering the record of his two predecessors — is enough to put Kennedy on the hot seat.
11. Mike White, Florida
Record at Florida: First season
NCAA record: 0–0
Number to note: Louisiana Tech won three Conference USA titles in White’s final three seasons. The Bulldogs won one league title from 1993-2012.
Why he’s ranked here: White has the unenviable task of following Billy Donovan at Florida and at a time when the roster isn’t stocked for quick success. White won at a tougher spot before, just at a place where no one was really watching.
12. Johnny Jones, LSU
Record at LSU: 61–37, 29–26 SEC
NCAA record: 0–3
Number to note: In the last three seasons, LSU has lost to eight teams ranked outside of the KenPom top 100. That includes three losses to teams ranked outside the top 200 and three losses to Auburn.
Why he’s ranked here: Jones’ teams have been inconsistent despite solid talent. Now, LSU has the consensus No. 1 recruit in the country in Ben Simmons.
13. Avery Johnson, Alabama
Record at Alabama: First season
NCAA record: 0–0
Number to note: No first-year Alabama coach has ever made the NCAA Tournament.
Why he’s ranked here: Johnson can match Bruce Pearl’s energy at Auburn, and he’s the only coach in the SEC has coached in the NBA, winning coach of the year honors in 2006. Pro coaches don’t always translate to the college game, so this will be interesting to watch.
14. Kim Anderson, Missouri
Record at Missouri: 9–23, 3–15 SEC
NCAA record: 0–0
Number to note: Missouri and Rutgers were the only two power conference teams ranked outside of the top 200 on KenPom last season.
Why he’s ranked here: The roster isn’t totally his fault, but Anderson, who spent 12 of the last 13 years in Division II, is in a borderline impossible situation.