By Andrew Kahn
Shaka Smart, Ben Howland, and Rick Barnes are among the coaches in their first year at their school. How have they all fared so far? Here’s a look at the new coaches in major conferences.
Shaka Smart, Texas
Record: 11-6 (3-2)
The Longhorns beat North Carolina at the buzzer earlier this season for Smart’s first signature win in Austin. Big center Cameron Ridley has missed the last six games with a broken foot and is out indefinitely. His absence has hurt Texas on both ends of the floor, but defense is where Texas is really struggling compared to Smart’s VCU teams. The Longhorns are ranked 70th in the country in defensive efficiency (per KenPom), far behind Smart’s last four VCU teams. A big factor is they’re not forcing turnovers, but expect that to change next year as Smart’s aggressive style takes hold. Texas has a brutal schedule this week: at West Virginia and at Kansas.
Steve Prohm, Iowa State
Record: 14-4 (3-3)
Expectations were higher for Prohm than perhaps any other new coach. Iowa State had been a three seed in the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons and returned preseason All-Big 12 forward Georges Niang as well as Monte Morris and Jameel McKay (who both made the honorable mention). When Fred Hoiberg left for the Chicago Bulls, Iowa State hired Prohm, who had been at Murray State the previous four years and won the OVC regular season title each year. The Cyclones started this season 9-0, which included a win over Iowa, but lost to Northern Iowa and dropped three of their first four league contests. Prohm has kept the Iowa State offense humming, and the Cyclones posted a huge home win over No. 1 Oklahoma on Monday night.
Rick Barnes, Tennessee
Record: 9-8 (2-3)
Refusing to fire his assistants, Texas decided to fire Barnes after last season. If he can duplicate the success he had in Austin, Tennessee fans will be very pleased. It won’t happen overnight. The Vols beat Florida at home, the only decent win on their résumé, but keep in mind this team finished 16-16 last year. Their defense has been bad, partly because they give up a ton of offensive rebounds. That could be a result of their lack of size. Tennessee ranks 347 out of 351 in KenPom’s “effective height” metric, more than 100 spots behind the next major conference team and more than 150 behind the next shortest team in the SEC.
Ben Howland, Mississippi State
Record: 7-9 (0-4)
After two seasons away from the bench, the coach who took UCLA to three straight Final Fours is rebuilding a Mississippi State program that has finished under .500 three years in a row and hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 2009. The Bulldogs have been competitive in the SEC (one-point loss to Texas A&M; six-point loss at Kentucky) but that signature Howland defense hasn’t been up to par. State has not kept opponents off the boards and that’s part of the reason Howland is abandoning the zone defense. We’ll see how it works, starting with a game tonight against Florida.
Michael White, Florida
Record: 11-6 (3-2)
After four straight Elite Eight appearances (including a Final Four visit), the Gators did not make the NCAA Tournament last year, and Billy Donovan left for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Enter the 38-year-old White, who never reached the Big Dance in his four years at Louisiana Tech but did win the regular season title the past three. The Gators failed to pick up a major nonconference win (Purdue, Miami, and Michigan State were opportunities). They are sixth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency but have not shot the ball well. Florida picked up a nice road win at Ole Miss, where White was an assistant for seven seasons, on Saturday and has two favorable home matchups (Mississippi State and Auburn) this week.
Avery Johnson, Alabama
Record: 10-6 (1-3)
The former NBA point guard, best known for his time with the Spurs, only had NBA coaching experience when Alabama hired him. This is his first coaching job since the Nets fired him in December 2012. His first college season has been impressive so far. The Tide won neutral court games against Wichita State and Notre Dame, beat Clemson on the road, and handed South Carolina its first loss last week. Alabama is playing solid defense but turning the ball over way too much.
Greg Gard, Wisconsin
Record: 3-4 (2-4)
Gard is different from all others on this list in that he did not start the season as head coach. He took over after Bo Ryan announced his retirement following a game on December 15. The Badgers, which lost a ton of talent from last season’s national runner-up squad, were struggling up to that point. Gard wants the interim tag lifted, and Sunday’s thrilling win over Michigan State could help his case.
Bobby Hurley, Arizona State
Record: 11-7 (1-4)
Hurley only spent two years as a head coach (at Buffalo) before getting the Arizona State job, replacing Herb Sendek. He’s notched some nice nonconference wins (at Creighton; home against Texas A&M) but has struggled in the Pac-12 so far. Hurley’s memorable moment was not a positive one: He was issued consecutive technical fouls at the end of a loss to Arizona and did not leave quietly.
Chris Mullin, St. John’s
Record: 7-12 (0-6)
Mullin had no prior coaching experience of any kind, and as the record shows, his first year has been a struggle. The Big East is tough, but losses to Fordham, Incarnate Word, and NJIT are tough to swallow. But, like all first-year coaches, the results must be analyzed in context. The team’s leading returning scorer averaged just 1.5 points last season and its top recruit and only true point guard was ruled ineligible before the start of the season. St. John’s has a full week off before its next game on Saturday.
Dave Leitao, DePaul
Record: 6-12 (0-6)
After three successful years at DePaul from 2003 to 2005, Leitao left for Virginia. He lasted four seasons there, moved to the D-League, and returned to college as an assistant. DePaul brought him back when Oliver Prunell resigned. Retread hires are rarely exciting, but maybe Leitao can get the Blue Demons to the Big Dance in his second season, as he did during his first stint. A turnover-prone offense means it won’t be happening this year.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com and you can find his Scoop and Score podcast on iTunes. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn