College Basketball Betting: Early Season First-Year Head Coach Observations
The sample size isn’t big but there’s been enough basketball played to warrant some analysis on various first-year head coaches. Let’s revisit the power conference hires and how they and their teams have fared thus far.
Alabama – Nate Oats
The main observation I’ve gather from Oats is that he’s no doubt committed — at least for now — to playing up-tempo. The Crimson Tide are averaging around 77 possessions per game. They’ve paid the price for this on multiple occasions with high turnover and poor defensive showings. Most notable was a 104-89 loss to Iowa State. But this is who Oats is and it’s hard to ignore that his teams improved every season at Buffalo and played at one of the fastest clips in the country. But for at least two of those seasons, he had the most talented roster in the MAC, a luxury he certainly won’t have in the SEC. A lot will depend on how competitive Alabama can be in league play. Enough high-scoring beatdowns and Oats may be forced to shorten the game.
Arkansas – Eric Musselman
Unlike Oats, Musselman decided to rebuild Arkansas with defense and worry about pace and points later. The Razorbacks are 0-8 O/U but also 8-0 SU and currently inside KenPom’s top 30. The barrage of unders isn’t so much slow pace as it is Arkansas ranking in the top 10 nationally in a number of defensive efficiency categories. Some of the numbers are unsustainable but the fact that they ranked 10th in the SEC in defensive efficiency last season and are now 10th in the country speaks to Musselman’s ability to coach.
California – Mark Fox
Let’s be honest; any coach other than Wyking Jones was an upgrade. Fox is as milquetoast as you can get and the Golden Bears were completely outclassed against Duke and Texas but at least there’s some semblance of organization and philosophy. Rest assure that come PAC-12 play, Fox is going to try to bog down every game his squad is an underdog.
Cincinnati – John Brannen
It was interesting to see Brannen bench the team’s best player, Jarron Cumberland, earlier this season. Cumberland also left last game with an undisclosed injury. They’ll obviously need him healthy and to buy into Brannen if the Bearcats are going to survive AAC play. Overall, there really hasn’t been much change from Mick Cronin outside of a little faster pace. Every recap has Brannen talking about effort, rebounding, and defense. Tough stretch upcoming with rival Xavier, Tennessee, and Iowa.
Michigan – Juwan Howard
So far so good for Howard. And I certainly didn’t downgrade the Wolverines off of Tuesday’s 58-43 loss at Louisville considering they just got done beating Iowa State, North Carolina, and Gonzaga (by 18!). John Beilein’s fingerprints are still on the program though Howard is allowing them to play with more freedom. He’ll get outcoached a few games in Big Ten play but I’m impressed with how sharp Michigan has looked thus far.
Nebraska – Fred Hoiberg
Hoiberg looks comfortable dying on the up-tempo with no talent hill. The Cornhuskers closed last year ranked 47th. Now they are 146th. KenPom has the look-ahead line of Nebraska’s Big Ten opener at Indiana -17. That may be light.
St. John’s – Mike Anderson
Hard to get a read on whether or nor Anderson is having much of any impact. Thus far, the Red Storm look like a slightly less talented version of last year’s group. The schedule has been light and when asked to step up in class, they lost to Vermont at home and Arizona State by 13 on a neutral floor. When you can convince Saint Peter’s to play a 75-possession game with you, you know over half of practice is dedicated towards transition offense. I would imagine some rough days are on the horizon.
Texas A&M – Buzz Williams
I’ve been playing the Aggies under the total hand over fist and they’ve delivered with a 1-6 O/U mark. All I needed to read was that the team’s manager was helping out in practice due to a lack of bodies. Williams has them guarding but they may be the worst power conference offense in the country. KenPom has A&M going 5-13 in SEC play. I’d gladly bet that under and that’s coming from someone who thinks Williams in a top 10 coach.
UCLA – Mick Cronin
Cronin isn’t going to change for anyone, even if that means losing by 10 at home to Hofstra. Clearly, the stink of Alford’s no-defense coaching is still present. It’s too early to tell if this is a rebuild, throwaway type season. In the Bruins’ defense, Hofstra is super experienced and runs great sets, BYU is no slouch either, and Michigan State is still pretty good despite some early season slip-ups. There are no elite teams in the PAC-12 so it wouldn’t shock me to see UCLA finish at least .500 in league play. KenPom doesn’t agree; he projects 15-16 and 6-12.