With the season winding down, I felt it was time to rank the SEC’s basketball coaches, with evaluation based solely upon the work they did this year.
As for Billy Donovan, Billy Gillispie, and Jeff Lebo: I might shift them up or down a slot if they win the NIT.
Also, I’ve taken into consideration scheduling, injuries, returning veterans, etc., when compiling this list. In other words, don't expect this to be a slightly disguised standings chart; some real thought went into this.
Some coaches got more out of less. Others got less out of more. So who was the SEC’s Norman Dale in 2008-09?
1. Trent Johnson, LSU
Pluses: Johnson gets the top spot because he got his team to buy into his extremely disciplined system. He also conveys an old-time sense of class both on the court and in post-game press conferences. To boot, he won the SEC regular season rather easily.
Minuses: He inherited a veteran club in a youthful league. LSU was considered by some a co-favorite in the SEC West heading into the season. They played way too soft a schedule with few non-conference road games, and we saw his team struggle after claiming the outright SEC title.
2. Andy Kennedy, Ole Miss
Pluses: Yes, Kennedy gets the No. 2 spot. He overcame the loss of three good guards early in the season and kept the Rebels competitive throughout the year. He inspired his team to believe despite the injuries, and he got the absolute most out of Terrico White.
Minuses: Well, there was the whole "arrested-for-punching-a-cabbie-in-Cincinnati" thing.
3. Darrin Horn, South Carolina
Pluses: Like Johnson, Horn was able to get more than expected from his team. His players embraced his up-tempo system. He also engaged the Carolina fanbase and the student body’s "Garnet Army" in a PR push. Horn’s team earned a share of the SEC East title.
Minuses: Like Johnson, he inherited a veteran club in a youthful league. His team played their worst basketball toward the end of the season. The Gamecocks’ share of the East title was marred by losing both games to co-champion Tennessee.
4. Bruce Pearl, Tennessee
Pluses: Pearl, once again, set up one of the top three schedules in the country. Tennessee’s 19-12 regular season record would have read 22-9 had he dumped Gonzaga, Kansas, and Memphis in favor of Longwood, Missouri-Kansas City, and Florida Gulf Coast (as Billy Donovan did). Pearl also won the East’s top seed in the SEC Tournament.
Minuses: Pearl never could get his team to play like a "Pearl team;" they didn’t press and didn’t play fast. They remained "consistently inconsistent," as the coach himself said. He had to replace four guards in his rotation, and the Vols failed to live up to pre-season expectations.
5. Jeff Lebo, Auburn
Pluses: Led his team to an unexpected midseason turnaround that garnered Auburn a No. 1 seed in the NIT and at least got them onto the NCAA bubble.
Minuses: Weak scheduling hurt Auburn in the long run. Had one of the three most veteran teams in a youthful conference.
6. Rick Stansbury, Mississippi State
His team underperformed in the regular season, but he did put on a nice four-day run to the SEC Tournament title. His team got better as Kodi Augustus became more involved late in the season.
7. Billy Donovan, Florida
It was an season of underachievement for the Gators. Donovan’s weak scheduling probably cost his team an NCAA bid. He did, however, have to deal with the preseason departure of Jai Lucas, which wasn’t easy.
8. Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt
Usually one of the SEC’s most steady coaches, Stallings couldn’t get his team to play with any consistency in 2008-09. A lingering injury to A.J. Ogilvy and the roster being filled with youngsters were too much to overcome.
9. Billy Gillispie, Kentucky
Gillispie had two of the SEC’s best players on his roster, and he got the Wildcats off to a 5-0 conference start...but that only served to further magnify UK’s late-season swoon. Gillispie didn’t help himself on the PR front with his bizarre snubs of ESPN’s Jeannine Edwards. At the same time, it’s tough to win in the SEC when you don’t have a point guard.
10. John Pelphrey, Arkansas
Early in the season, it looked as though Pelphrey was going to lead the Razorbacks to another surprisingly successful season, as he did last year. But after non-conference upsets of Texas and Oklahoma, the wheels fell off. While the Hogs won just two of 16 league games, his team never quit: They led in the second half in most of their games.
I decided not to rank Mark Gottfried and Dennis Felton (who were both fired midseason) nor Philip Pearson and Pete Herrmann (due to their short bodies of work).
Agree with my rankings? Or do you disagree? Post a comment to let me know.