Four B1G Coaches Who Have Been Impressive After One Month Of HoopsPosted by Deepak Jayanti on December 12th, 2012
Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.
We have been through over four weeks of hoops and most of the Big Ten teams have played at least eight games on their non-conference schedule. At the beginning of the season, there were a handful of coaches who were not necessarily on the hot seat but definitely had something to prove over the first few games. Tubby Smith had to deal with all of the offcourt issues with Trevor Mbakwe and his assistant coach Saul Smith. There were a few questions about how John Beilein could run his offense without a designated three-point gunner in the halfcourt. Illinois’ John Groce convinced people of his recruiting skills by nabbing a top 25 recruiting class for next season, but his coaching abilities at the top level had yet to be seen. After the first few weeks, let’s examine which coaches from the B1G helped themselves and in some cases just flat-out have surprised everybody with their performance.
- Tubby Smith: The most important task for Smith coming into this season was to divert attention to the game on the court and he has been able to successfully do that during the Gophers’ first 10 games. Even removing all of the all of the issues off the court, Smith had to prepare for some adversity this season because of Mbakwe’s recovery. It wasn’t clear if his star big man would be in 100% game shape after losing the entire B1G season to a foot injury last year, and his other issues made it even tougher for Smith to keep his team focused. But rather than rely on Mbakwe to save his team, he has turned to his experienced guards and wings to produce an impressive 10-1 record thus far. Mbakwe has only averaged 17.9 MPG and has not been the primary offensive option for the Gophers yet, as he averages only 8.5 PPG. Guards Joe Coleman, Austin Hollins and Andrew Hollins have taken a leadership role and have been Smith’s voice on the court. The trio of guards are averaging 35.9 PPG which is 46% of the total offensive production by the Gophers. Putting aside their offensive statistics, it is very clear that Smith is communicating effectively with his guards, and together, they have had a calming presence on the overall Gopher basketball program. As long as the Gophers don’t suffer the injury bug and Mbakwe can slowly recover to dominate the boards again, Smith’s stock will only continue to rise during the rest of the season.
- John Groce: Groce iterated throughout the offseason that the Illini will have a different attitude under his coaching staff and that they will play a tougher brand of basketball. But an unbeaten record (10-0) and a top 10 ranking after just four weeks is beyond the wildest imagination of most fans. The Illini seniors who were recruited by ex-coach Bruce Weber — Brandon Paul, D.J.Richardson and Tyler Griffey — have averaged a combined 41.5 PPG and contributed over 50% to the team’s total offensive production. Groce promised a faster pace of basketball and the Illini have averaged 67.3 possessions per game this season, higher than their 65.4 from last season. Once the conference season begins, they might not control the tempo against better defensive teams but the guards have shown enough skill and poise during the winning streak which leads us to believe that they will compete to win at least eight games in Big Ten play. Toughness is an attribute that can’t be measured by any particular statistic but the Illini have already hit two game-winning shots during the final seconds against Hawaii on the road and Gardner-Webb in Champaign. Those clutch shots prove that Groce is able to instill confidence in the same group of players who started the season 15-3 last year but finished the season losing 12 of 14 and often appeared to be completely lost on the court.
- John Beilein: The Wolverines, despite being ranked in the top five of the preseason polls, had a few outstanding questions regarding their rotations. Beilein has not only proven that he can manage a talented roster but has also shown that he can incorporate new talent very quickly into his offensive schemes. Tim Hardaway Jr. has been extremely patient in finding his shots and Beilein has figured out a way to use him efficiently on the court along with freshman wing Glenn Robinson III. Both are averaging at least 31 MPG and have combined to score 27.6 PPG to form one of the best scoring combinations in the nation. The departure of Zach Novak (41% 3FG) from last season could have left a hole in the Wolverines’ offensive sets, but Beilein quickly recognized freshman Nik Stauskas’ skills and incorporated him into the regular rotation. Stauskas has played 29 MPG so far this year and has shot an incredible 60% from beyond the arc to average 13.7 PPG. After nine wins in nine games, there should be no doubts remaining about Beilein’s ability to handle the high preseason expectations because the Wolverines are here to stay at the top and contend for a national title.
- Tim Miles: When was the last time a Creighton-Nebraska game meant something during the non-conference season? Miles has led the Huskers to surprising wins over Valparaiso and USC, two teams that have the talent to make a run at the NCAA Tournament. Valparaiso is a contender in the Horizon League and the win against USC is still impressive even though they are 3-6 because it shows that Miles can motivate his team to compete on any given night against more athletic competition. Winning by 16 points on the road at an ACC school like Wake Forest is not something that the Husker Nation is used to and even though they lost to the Bluejays by 14, just the fact that the game mattered between the two schools is credit to the new coaching staff. Junior guard Ray Gallegos (12.9 PPG) and the Cornhuskers may not win more than 12 or so games by the end of the season but Miles has shown that he can field a competitive team that could surprise superior competition if they are taken lightly.