Finally, with Florida’s suprisingly ugly loss to Michigan yesterday, we can toss the last bit of dirt on the 2012-13 SEC basketball season. It seems the league’s disappointing season had one last disappointment to deliver before we could lower it into the ground.
For those who care about such things, the Southeastern Conference has now fallen to 9th in conference RPI rank behind the Big Ten, Big East, Mountain West, ACC, Big XII, Pac-12, Atlantic 10, and Missouri Valley. Ouch.
But despite a poor season on the whole, there were some solid coaching jobs turned in by a few of the league’s coaches. In our view, offseason attrition — not poor coaching — should be counted as the main reason for the conference’s woes this past season. That said, below are the final marks from MrSEC.com for all 14 of the conference’s head instructors.
Billy Donovan, Florida — A+
Record: 29-8 (14-4 in SEC)
RPI Rank: 9
Florida was picked to finish second in the SEC this year, but the Gators were in fact that cream of the conference. Donovan’s squad — for much of the season — featured one of the nation’s most suffocating defenses. At 6-5, the Gators were the only SEC team to finish with a plus-500 record against the RPI top 50. The team wobbled a bit while sixth-man Will Yeguete was sidelined, but the Gators did reach their third consecutive Elite Eight. UF fans are probably smarting today, but there’s no question Donovan still places among the top five or 10 coaches in all of college hoops. Make the Elite Eight, get an A+ on the report card.
Andy Kennedy, Ole Miss — A
Record: 27-9 (12-6 in SEC)
RPI Rank: 45
This one was a toughie. Kennedy took a chance on Marshall Henderson and, despite some bad pub, that worked out well. His two forwards — Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner — made up one of the league’s best frontcourts. The Rebels reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time under Kennedy and they guaranteed their slot in the field by getting hot in March and cutting down the nets at the SEC Tournament. That’s all good. But. It must be stated that the Rebels had a horrible non-conference schedule and they suffered a pair of what could have been bubble-bursting losses to sub-200 RPI teams. In the end, however, Kennedy managed the chemistry on his team well — no easy task with a lightning rod like Henderson present — and he led them past the opening round of the NCAA tourney. That’s pretty good work from a guy who might have been fired had his team missed the tourney altogether. Oh, and victory-wise it was Mississippi’s best record ever. A solid A grade for Kennedy is the result.
Johnny Jones, LSU — B+
Record: 19-12 (9-9 in SEC)
RPI Rank: 93
The Tigers’ first-year coach left many on the Bayou wondering what he might have been able to do with the team Trent Johnson had a year earlier. Jones’ team jumped out to a 9-2 start against so-so non-conference competition, but unlike so many other SEC squads, his team didn’t turn into a pumpkin when league play began. After an 0-4 start, LSU finished 9-5 in its last 14 conference games (10-6 if you count the tourney) to finish mid-table in the SEC standings. With a top recruiting class coming in, Tiger fans should be happy about what they’ve seen from their alumnus/coach in his first season.
Anthony Grant, Alabama — B
Record: 22-13 (12-6 in SEC)
RPI Rank: 64
Meh. Solid, but not special. Good, but not great. It’s likely that had senior guard Andrew Steele been healthy all season, the Tide might have been an NCAA Tournament team. But he was lost for the month of December and Alabama went 2-5 during that non-conference stretch. He then missed eight of Alabama’s last 12 games and he was less than 100% in at least four more contests. Despite Steele’s absence, Grant managed to work his team into the NIT where a one-point home loss to Maryland cost it a trip to Madison Square Garden. Again, good, not great.
Frank Haith, Missouri — B
Record: 23-11 (11-7 in SEC)
RPI Rank: 41
Haith cobbled together a team of transfers for 2012-13, but his overall team never matched the strength of its individual parts. The Tigers were a top-three pick in the SEC as well as a preseason top 15 club nationally. After a hot start, they climbed into the nation’s top 10. But Mizzou finished just 8-7 down the stretch. The Tigers lost close road game after close road game finding new ways to blow late leads nearly every week. Then, after nabbing an NCAA bid, they went down without a fight in their first tourney game against Colorado State. Not a bad season by any stretch — a B grade is a good grade — but certainly less than what was expected from Mizzou.
Cuonzo Martin, Tennessee — B
Record: 20-13 (11-7 in SEC)
RPI Rank: 67
The Volunteers were a bubble-worthy team. A break here or there and UT might have been the SEC’s fourth NCAA Tournament team (though it’s clear the league’s three bids were plenty fair). Like Grant at Alabama, Martin has a shroud of “what if” hovering over him and his squad. The Vols unexpectedly lost Jeronne Maymon — a first-team All-SEC selection by the coaches in preseason — and it took until the new year for them to recover. The Volunteers finished the regular season on an 8-1 roll, but they flamed out against Bama in the SEC tourney and then were doused by Mercer in the NIT. On the whole, a pretty good coaching job, but certainly nothing special.
Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt — B
Record: 16-17 (8-10 in SEC)
RPI Rank: 113
Stallings said he might have turned in his best coaching job this season. Considering all that his team had to replace from 2011-12, that might not be an exaggeration. Stallings’ Commodores got stronger as the year wore on winning eight of their last 12 games. That stretch included an SEC Tournament upset of Kentucky that slammed the door on the Wildcats’ NCAA hopes. The record doesn’t adequately reveal Vanderbilt’s improvement from the start of the season to the finish. The credit goes to Stallings.
Rick Ray, Mississippi State — C+
Record: 10-22 (4-14 in SEC)
RPI Rank: 230
Take a quick look at the numbers and you may wonder how in the heck Ray could come close to a C+ grade. But like Stallings, MSU’s new coach had to deal with a reconfigured roster. Only Ray’s lacked the depth of Stallings’ roster. Toss in numerous injuries and suspensions and Bulldog fans had to feel a bit like Old Testament Egyptians, wondering which plague they would be hit with next. Yet after a 13-game losing streak, Ray’s team closed with three wins in its last five games and narrowly avoided the SEC basement. All things considered, State’s first-year coach did better than average work.
Mike Anderson, Arkansas — C
Record: 19-14 (10-8 in SEC)
RPI Rank: 99
In BJ Young and Marshawn Powell, Mike Anderson had two of the SEC’s best players at his disposal. But the Razorbacks simply weren’t consistent. In SEC play, they never won or lost more than three games in a row during any stretch. Then they lost four of their final six games to eliminate themselves from postseason consideration. The only thing that was consistent about UA was its inability to win on the road. The Hogs finished 1-9 away from home and the one win came at sad sack Auburn. Not a bad record, but not what Arkansas fans had been hoping for, either.
John Calipari, Kentucky — C
Record: 21-12 (12-6 in SEC)
RPI Rank: 57
Another tough coach to grade. Calipari is a victim of his own success. He had made the tear-it-down-build-it-up-tear-it-down approach look so easy that it was expected this past year’s wave of future NBA’ers would pick up where his previous groups had left off. Not so. But this year’s Kentucky team lacked chemistry and a willingness to listen. In the end, Calipari was undone by his own decision to pursue one-and-doners (and by a season-ending injury to Nerlens Noel). The record and league mark aren’t bad, but with so much talent on one roster, there’s no denying the Cats underachieved this year. It was bound to happen at some point, but don’t expect history to repeat next season.
Mark Fox, Georgia — C
Record: 15-17 (9-9 in SEC)
RPI Rank: 142
Going into the season, it was expected that UGA would field a dangerous, but middle-of-the-pack team in 2012-13. Turns out, that’s exactly what these Bulldogs were — dangerous on occasion, but more often than not just average. Every time the Dawgs looked ready to put things together, a losing spell would follow a short-lived winning streak. And in the end, Georgia was just 0-7 against RPI top 50 foes. Hmmm. Maybe a C- should’ve been the grade.
Billy Kennedy, Texas A&M — C
Record: 18-15 (7-11 in SEC)
RPI Rank: 105
The Aggies finished the year in the bottom half of the SEC as predicted. But Kennedy’s team really experienced two seasons in one. First there was the 12-3 start culminating in a surprisingly easy win at Kentucky. Then came a 6-12 finish that dashed the promise and hope created by A&M’s early form. Up, then down. Average overall. Aggie brass will no doubt be eyeballing Kennedy closely when he begins his third season later this year.
Frank Martin, South Carolina — C-
Record: 14-18 (4-14 in SEC)
RPI Rank: 229
The Gamecocks turned out to be exactly who we all thought they were — a bad basketball team. Granted, Martin took over a weak roster. His best player was probably football convert Bruce Ellington. But at no point after SEC play began did Carolina record back-to-back victories. Worse, the squad’s overall schedule was exceedingly poor and it finished just 1-5 in its last six games. Unlike Ray, Martin’s team never managed to stop its bleeding. In fact, Mississippi State ended Carolina’s season in the SEC Tournament. Thus Martin gets a slightly lower first-year grade than Ray.
Tony Barbee, Auburn — D
Record: 9-23 (3-15 in SEC)
RPI Rank: 250
Quite simply, Auburn was one of the worst teams in the nation this year. Somehow the Tigers even managed to finish below South Carolina and Mississippi State in conference play. Unlike Ray and Martin, Barbee gets no pass for a weak roster because — in his third-year — he had a big hand in his roster. He also had a veteran team featuring nine juniors or seniors. According to a few of the players, some on the team failed to buy in to Barbee’s system and style. The only reason Barbee gets a D rather than an F is that everyone saw a crash coming. It’s just that no one saw how bad a crash it would be. Barbee is most definitely on the hot seat moving forward.