SEC Tournament Preview: Which Coach Has the Most on the Line During This Postseason?Posted by Brian Joyce on March 11th, 2014
In anticipation of all the action at the Georgia Dome later this week, the SEC microwriters will be previewing the SEC Tournament all week by answering several of the key questions heading into the event in a roundtable format. Today’s burning question has to do with the personalities on the sidelines. Postseason tournaments can make or break a coach’s reputation. Which coach has the most on the line during this postseason?
Brian Joyce (@bjoyce_hoops): The coach with the most on the line during this postseason is Tennessee’s Cuonzo Martin. Volunteer fans are clamoring for former head coach Bruce Pearl to return to the sidelines in his orange blazer after serving time on a three year show cause penalty. Pearl took the Volunteers to six NCAA appearances in his six seasons in Knoxville, including an Elite Eight and two Sweet Sixteen appearances. Pearl was wildly successful in orange, but one thing he never did was win an SEC tournament championship. Meanwhile, Martin hasn’t even made it to Saturday in the SEC tournament, much less Sunday for the championship game. Tennessee hasn’t won more than one game in the SEC tournament under Martin. The Vols didn’t make an NCAA tournament appearance either in his first two seasons at the helm, instead settling for early round exits in the NIT. Tennessee finally has a chance to return to the Big Dance as long as the Vols don’t slip up in the quarterfinals on Friday against fellow bubble team Arkansas, or worse, bottom dwellers Auburn or South Carolina. There is unrest in Knoxville, and it will only get louder with a slip up in the Georgia Dome. An untimely loss in the SEC tournament could ultimately leave Martin’s team on the wrong end of the bubble come Selection Sunday, and then the murmur among fans could become a full on uproar. The only way to quiet the desire for Pearl is to create your own success, and Martin and Tennessee have a chance to do that this March.
Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell): There are a lot of good options, all involving seats of varying degrees of warmth. Cuonzo Martin has the ghost of Bruce Pearl swirling around him, Frank Haith is in charge of an underachieving team for the second straight year, Tony Barbee is very much in the line of fire, and Mike Anderson has yet to make the tournament. But Tennessee looks solidly in, Missouri AD Mike Alden went out on a long limb to hire Haith and won’t abandon him yet, Barbee is already in deep trouble and Anderson’s history in Fayetteville will probably buy him at least one more year, no matter how things shake out. So, I’ll go with Billy Kennedy. Before the season Texas A&M AD Eric Hyman reportedly said it was essentially postseason or bust for the third year Aggie coach. Kennedy guided Texas A&M to a somewhat respectable 17-14, 8-10 record split despite injuries and the loss of J-Mychal Reese, which included a sweep of Tennessee. Still, the Aggies are on the fringes of the NIT picture (Hyman didn’t define the word postseason), as the latest NIT Bracket Project projection has them currently as an “other team considered.” Beating Missouri and giving Florida a decent game could be enough to slide Texas A&M into the NIT and make Kennedy feel that much more secure.
David Changas (@dchangas): No coach has more to prove during the SEC Tournament than Missouri’s Frank Haith. Somehow, there are seven teams seeded higher than the Tigers, despite the fact that Missouri has a dynamic trio of guards – two of whom are likely to play in the NBA - that is as good as any in the league. The Tigers struggle on the defensive end, though, and often give less than maximum effort. This was never more apparent than in Saturday’s regular season finale, in which they were crushed by Tennessee. Haith’s run in Columbia is in its third year, and while he has a gaudy record (74-26), his first season ended with a stunning first-round loss as a 2-seed to 15-seed Norfolk State, and last year’s team woefully underachieved on its way to a first-round defeat. This year’s team has spent the entire campaign on the bubble, and, despite its struggles, still has some hope of making the Big Dance. But the Tigers have a lot of work ahead. If they can get by Texas A&M on Thursday, they’ll have a date with the nation’s No. 1 team, Florida. Given their status as a bubble team currently on the outside looking in, it’s an opportunity Haith’s team should relish, as an upset of the Gators could possibly be the type of win that would earn Missouri a bid. If the Tigers’ run in Atlanta ends in disappointment, the pressure on Haith will start to mount, and despite his excellent win-loss record as Missouri’s coach, he would be squarely on the hot seat heading into next season.
(By the way, I realize that the losses are technically second round, but I just refuse to say that).
Christian D’Andrea (@trainisland): With Haith and Kennedy already taken, I’ll go in the opposite direction with this one. No one expected Mark Fox’s Georgia team to put up much of a fight in league play after starting the season 6-6. In fact, the SEC’s preseason media poll had UGA slated to finish 11th in the conference after losing their one-man wrecking crew Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to the NBA Draft. Instead, the Bulldogs have gone 12-6 in the SEC thanks in part to a team that came together to support their coach after the death of his father. Fox has turned around a program that had tallied back-to-back losing seasons by finishing third in the conference in 2014. More importantly, he’s done so by getting the most out of a roster whose sum is much greater than its parts. If he can push his troops to the SEC title game (or beyond), he won’t have to worry about the words “coaching hot seat” for a while.