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SEC Basketball – Coaching Grades

I’m working on a project that I alluded to in my post about Indiana basketball recently in trying to assign a “star value” to a team instead of just individual players. It takes into consideration the number of stars a player has and how many minutes he plays for his team. Weighting these value and aggregating them gives me a star value. I’m also going to take experience into consideration here using Ken Pomeroy’s experience metric.

Using both I’ll assign a grade to each coach. The following table will be my guide and I’ll discuss each afterwards. I’m only going to rank relative to league. Thus even though Auburn wasn’t the #1 most experienced team in the nation, they were in the SEC thus they get a “#1”.

Team Coach Record W% Talent Experience
Kentucky John Calipari 29-2 .935 1 12
Vanderbilt Kevin Stallings 23-7 .767 3 9
Tennessee Bruce Pearl 23-7 .767 4 2
Mississippi Andy Kennedy 21-9 .700 8 7
Mississippi St. Rick Stansbury 21-10 .677 6 3
Florida Billy Donovan 20-11 .645 2 8
Alabama Anthony Grant 16-14 .533 5 4
South Carolina Darrin Horn 15-15 .500 9 5
Auburn Jeff Lebo 15-16 .484 12 1
Arkansas John Pelphrey 14-17 .452 10 10
Georgia Mark Fox 13-16 .448 11 6
Louisiana St. Trent Johnson 11-19 .367 7 11

Now for the Report Cards!

Kentucky – John Calipari/Grade = A

Why not an “A+” for a coach who currently is 29-2 and poised to possibly win the SEC Tournament and receive the overall #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament? I stopped short of giving Calipari the A+ grade because he’s 29-2 and not 31-0. The one thing that struck me about my weighted star system is just how good Kentucky really is. Nobody is remotely close to them as far as talent is concerned. They are the youngest team among all teams in the Big 6, but not by that wide of a margin. Both Iowa & Indiana are close to UK when it comes to inexperience. I don’t think UK is going to win the national title. There are some flaws. They are not elite when it comes to offensive efficiency. They can turn the ball over a bit and if they come in flat with their outside shooting they can be beat. There are times when John Wall has completely taken games over and won them himself, but at some point UK is going to play a team who can run just as well, play exceptional defense, and force UK into mistakes. This Kentucky team is simply an incredible exception. Kudos to Calipari for taking freshman and making them into the best team in the nation. It sounds ridiculous, but this is the one team in the country who probably should be 31-0. That would have given Calipari an A+ grade. You almost expect this team to be 29-2 at this point. That’s how far ahead they are.

Vanderbilt – Kevin Stallings/Grade = A-

Stallings gets an “A-” for having a very talented Vanderbilt team at 23-7. He doesn’t get an “A” because there are some interesting losses on the schedule. Losing to Western Kentucky, Georgia & South Carolina seem like give aways. The loss to Illinois seems odd now too. This team could easily be 27-3 and in the top-10. Vanderbilt is a fairly young team, but what gets overlooked sometimes because it’s Vandy is the talent that Stallings has amassed in Nashville. This team talented enough to be considered one of the best 25 teams in the nation on talent alone. Given Stallings coaching acumen, it only makes them that much better. Vandy likes to run, play good defense and they are efficient with the basketball. A very solid team moving forward that won’t have the defections Kentucky will.

Tennessee – Bruce Pearl/Grade = C+

I give Pearl a C+ here because I think a 23-7 record here is underachieving. This is the 4th most talented team in the SEC combined with the 2nd most experience. That’s the best combination in the league. The 23-7 mark is a solid one and good enough for the 2nd best record in the league, but something is missing. The Vols were 15-1 at home this season and 8-6 on the road/neutral site. The loss to USC is a little disturbing as is the road loss to Georgia. The other 6 losses really can’t be considered too bad given the opponents. Still, 25-5 looks better and UT should have at least split with Vanderbilt possibly making them 26-4. This is an outstanding defensive team that can create havoc on opponents and shut down a 3pt-game. They don’t shoot free throws particularly well which makes their offensive efficiency a bit low. This is a season Pearl could have made a hellacious mark on the SEC. I think he missed, but could redeem himself with an SEC Tournament win or getting to the Final-4. Tennessee is capable of both.

Mississippi – Andy Kennedy/Grade = B

The grade might deserve to be a bit higher. Mississippi was average in both talent & experience, but reason a 21-9 year for the Rebels & Andy Kennedy doesn’t go up to a B+/A- ranking is that Johnny Reb didn’t do much in beating his opponents. Against Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Florida & Mississippi St., the Rebels were 0-6! A home loss to Arkansas hurts a bit too. They should be in the NCAA Tournament and currently they are on a 4-game winning streak beating on the weak sisters of the SEC West. They don’t get to the line that often which hurts their offensive efficiency a bit, but they play solid defense and are actually pretty good with their interior defense. They got big wins over UTEP & Kansas St., early in the season, but they just didn’t do too much within their own conference. Being 21-9 at Ole’ Miss is wonderful, but I’m sticking with “B”.

Mississippi St. – Rick Stansbury/Grade = B-

A tick lower than their state rivals. Being 21-10 isn’t bad, but it seems like the Bulldogs fell below expectations a bit. Like Mississippi they didn’t beat any of the good teams from the SEC East while also having some head scratching losses from the likes of Arkansas, Rider, Western Kentucky & Auburn. That right there is 25-6 which looks a whole lot better than a double-digit losing season. MSU had average talent but a lot of experience with a junior dominated squad. They’ll all be seniors next season with Dee Bost being a junior, but next year they won’t have Jarvis Varnado being the defensive stopper in the middle. I’m not sure you can go lower than B-. Unlike Tennessee, I don’t think MSU had the expectations the Vols had on them before the year began. Still, they should have avoided double digit losses.

Florida – Billy Donovan/Grade = D+

Brutal year for the Gators. This team is too talented to be 20-11 and on the bubble according to some pundits! Florida should at least be able to hold serve at home against teams they are more talented than. Losses to South Alabama, Richmond, Xavier & Vanderbilt probably shouldn’t have happened. They also lost one on the road to Georgia which is odd. Those 5 games right there give Florida a 25-6 record which is a lot more palatable. Wins over Michigan St. & Florida St. are solid, but that’s pretty much it. I’ve only seen Florida few times but good grief they are a plodding team. They are pretty efficient both offensively and defensively but don’t do anything spectacularly. They are spectacularly atrocious from 3-pt land if that counts.

Alabama – Anthony Grant/Grade = C+

Given the talent/experience combination for this Alabama team, I’d expect a bit more than 16-14 especially given how soft the SEC West has played this year. Still, Grant is in his first year as HC of the Crimson Tide so I can’t go off the deep end. Losses to Arkansas & Auburn are tough, but both were away games. There really are no bad losses on the schedule while Alabama did get a solid win over Baylor on a neutral court early in the season. Statistically this looks like a poor man’s Billy Donovan team which make sense because Grant is from the Donovan coaching tree.

South Carolina – Darrin Horn/Grade = B

The Gamecocks aren’t overly talented and their talent level is right where it should be for a team that is 9th best in the SEC. I would have liked to have seen the experience correlate with a couple of more wins though. The odd thing about SC is that they don’t really have any bad losses on the schedule but they have huge wins over Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Florida, Richmond & South Florida. They Vandy win was on the road! I don’t particularly care for the 15-15 record, but they pretty much played like they should have with a few big wins thrown in there so I’ll bump Horn from a B- to a B. The Gamecocks are somewhat analogous to a ball-hawking type of defense. If they can start to wreak havoc with creating turnovers, they can be a dangerous team.

Auburn – Jeff Lebo/Grade = C-

I’ll give Lebo a C- despite Auburn being 15-16. To be honest it’s a pretty efficient offense and the Tigers do like to get out and run. Auburn proves the dichotomy between talent & experience. You want to have an experienced team, but if you get too experienced in college basketball, for the most part it means you didn’t recruit top level guys with NBA futures to begin with. You don’t have to have an NBA-lite team (see Kentucky) nor do you need players who are going to be fixtures in the NBA, but you need a couple of players who at least attract the attention of NBA scouts. The SEC West wasn’t great and Lebo still put in a sub-.500 conference record. I probably could have bumped him to a C+, but losses to Troy & Sam Houston St. at home seem egregious. They also lost to Central Florida. Those 3 make them 18-13 which seems a lot better. Lebo needs to talent upgrade.

Arkansas – John Pelphrey/Grade = D+

I think Pelphrey has the right idea, but he’s guiding a team with no talent and no experience. I don’t know how much faith the fanbase in Fayetteville have for Pelphrey but I think he’s got to be skating on thin ice. At one point he had this team at 13-11 (6-3), but Arkansas lost 6 of their last 7 to finish 14-17. I like how this team likes to run and they aren’t a completely terrible team given the circumstances, but the D+ has to be given because Arkansas has some insane losses to Morgan St., E. Tennessee St., South Alabama & LSU. Those 4 games put them at 18-13, but those first 3 were early ones and with that mini winning streak they went on, the Razorbacks could have been 16-8 (6-3) with lots of momentum moving forward. They had bad losses and bombed at the end. Pelphey has 3 solid recruits already coming in next year. They need to make a big jump forward.

Georgia – Mark Fox/Grade = B

Georgia wasn’t great at 13-16, but the SEC East was loaded with Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt & Florida. There simply wasn’t a lot of wins to go around. You probably think a split with SC is fine meaning that Georgia in all likelihood should have been happy with 1-9 against its SEC rivals. Fox also was in his first year as head coach for the Bulldogs after doing a phenomenal job at Nevada. I’m giving Fox a solid “B” because there weren’t any horrific losses and they managed to come up with solid wins against Illinois, Georgia Tech, Tennessee, Vanderbilt & Florida. For a team with absolutely no talent and mid-level experience, I’d say it was a successful season on the whole.

Louisiana St. – Trent Johnson/Grade = D-

No big wins but no horrific losses either. Johnson had a terribly young team with not much talent and guided them to an 11-19 mark. You can’t be 11-19 and expect a fantastic grade, but it’s not like Johnson was working with a tremendous team outside of Tasmin Mitchell to begin with. LSU is a very slow plodding team that is terrible inefficient on offense. Why you would want fewer possessions knowing you have a hard time scoring is beyond me. Given everything that happened at LSU over this season, it would be easy to give Johnson a C- grade, but I’m going with D- because it didn’t seem like he wanted to adjust at all down the stretch to possibly take the team in a different direction after what he had been trying failed to work. The Tigers were 3-17 in their last 20 games! This team was 8-2 to start the season, but in their last 20, Johnson completely lost this squad.


Calipari – A
Stallings – A-
Kennedy – B
Horn – B
Fox – B
Stansbury – B-
Pearl – C+
Grant – C+
Lebo – C-
Donovan – D+
Pelphrey – D+
Johnson – D-


March 8, 2010 - Posted by | Basketball, SEC


  1. You gave Pearl a C. I can't believe that you of all people would give him a C. You may have to resign as the president of the Bruce Pearl Fan Club.

    Big Timber

    Comment by Anonymous | March 9, 2010 | Reply

  2. It was a C+!!! He only gets that because I think the talent/experience on this UT team is the best in the SEC and he probably should be better than 23-7. I've seen where one reputable website (Rush the Court) has the Vols going to the Final-4!

    Make no mistake, I certainly wish he was roaming the bench down in Bloomington!

    Comment by College Football Mafia | March 9, 2010 | Reply

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