SEC Burning Questions: Who’s Feeling Pressure?

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 10th, 2015

For a conference that has been viewed for a while as a basketball underachiever, the SEC’s coaching seats are surprisingly cool. There are a number of factors, of course, that go into that determination. For one, the league turned over nearly a third of its coaches during the offseason with four new hires at Florida, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Alabama. There are also several stalwarts who aren’t going anywhere unless they choose to do so — guys like Kentucky’s John Calipari and Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings – and several more trending toward that status in Georgia’s Mark Fox and Ole Miss’ Andy Kennedy. But college athletics wouldn’t be what it is without some modicum of hot seat speculation, so here are the four SEC coaches feeling the most pressure in 2014-15.

Johnny Jones has a talented team and a potential top-5 pick in Ben Simmons. Will that be enough to pick up his first tournament win at LSU? (

Johnny Jones has a talented team and a potential top-5 pick in Ben Simmons. Will that be enough to pick up his first NCAA Tournament win at LSU? (

  • Johnny Jones, LSU. Jones has won at least 19 games in each of his three seasons in Baton Rogue; he was extended through 2019 before last season; he is an LSU alumnus; and he has brought a lot of NBA talent to campus. That’s the long way of saying his job is relatively safe no matter what happens this year. Nevertheless, Jones could quiet a lot of his critics by taking a very talented team to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Despite an NBA-caliber frontcourt, there were some inexplicable low points for the Tigers last year — losing the conference opener to Missouri and the SEC Tournament opener to Auburn are but two notable examples. LSU then capped off its inconsistent year by blowing a 14-point halftime lead to lose to NC State in the final minute of the Tigers’ NCAA Tournament opener. Similar letdowns this season would only perpetuate the idea that Jones can’t get the most out of his talent. On the other hand, some clever coaching could make this team a match-up nightmare since both Ben Simmons and Tim Quarterman are big, versatile players with the appropriate skill set to run an offense. Cobbling together a productive frontcourt, however, could be a challenge. Jones will need to find the right combination of Arizona transfer Craig VictorBrian Bridgewater, Aaron Epps, Darcy Malone and Elbert Robinson to support Simmons and his talented backcourt. One solution could be to go small with Simmons playing power forward, but the injury to Keith Hornsby could make that difficult early in the season. In short, the Tigers’ roster poses both a number of challenges and intriguing possibilities, but the ultimate goal of getting deep into the NCAA Tournament would go a long way towards silencing Jones’ detractors.

  • Billy Kennedy, Texas A&M. It has been now been four full seasons since Kennedy replaced former Texas A&M head coach Mark Turgeon, and the Aggies have still not been back to the NCAA Tournament. Like Jones at LSU, however, things appear to be trending in the right direction. There were rumblings last year that Kennedy was given a “postseason or pink slip” mandate, and if those rumors were true, the Aggies’ subsequent appearance in the NIT appeared to be good enough. The NIT appearance capped off a disappointing end to a mostly positive season, though, as Texas A&M dropped four of its last five games (including winnable games against Alabama and Auburn) to fall out of the NCAA Tournament bubble picture. Kennedy’s recruiting is going great, but the specter of Turgeon’s shadow as Maryland has rejoined the national conversation is salt in the wound. The Aggies had become a consistent NCAA Tournament participant and Big 12 threat to Kansas, but the school’s move to the SEC and four-year absence from March Madness has halted that momentum. All signs point to Kennedy breaking that streak this year since he has three outstanding seniors in Alex CarusoDanuel House and Jalen Jones who are likely to make a postseason all-SEC team, and he brings in an excellent recruiting class that features four four-star recruitsEverything appears to be in place for Kennedy to succeed this season, but another disappointing year could really turn up the heat in College Station.
Billy Kennedy might have saved his job with a NIT appearance last season. A run to the Big Dance would also do wonders. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Billy Kennedy might have saved his job with a NIT appearance last season. A run to the Big Dance would also do wonders. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

  • Kim Anderson, Missouri. It’s hard to gauge what the Tigers need to accomplish this season for Anderson to feel confident about holding on to his job. He’s coaching under an athletic director who did not hire him and is relying on a roster with very little proven experience or production. This is especially the case in Missouri’s frontcourt, where the Tigers need heavy minutes and contributions right away from JuCo transfer Russell Woods and sophomore Jakeenan Gant. While it’s true that Anderson inherited a tough situation in Columbia from his predecessor Frank Haith — fascinatingly chronicled by Rock M Nation‘s Sam Snelling in an interview with former assistant Tim Fuller, as Haith went transfer heavy with players like Keion Bell, Alex Oriakhi, Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson —  there aren’t many nine-win campaigns that will pass muster in Columbia. For Anderson’s part, he didn’t panic and pull too much from the JuCo ranks for this year’s recruiting class, and freshman guards Terrance Phillips and K.J. Walton are certainly intriguing prospects. It’s unreasonable to expect a massive turnaround this season, but how much patience will Mack Rhoades show the second-year coach if the Tigers finish at the bottom of the SEC standings yet again?
  • Mike White, Florida. No, White’s job security is not in danger during his first year in Gainesville, but Florida is under a lot of pressure as a program to define exactly what it is in the post-Billy Donovan era. Will the Gators’ success continue unabated or will there be a natural dropoff? That question won’t be answered this season, but White finds himself in a unique position by following a coach who, with all due respect to Lon Kruger, single-handedly built a football school into a national basketball powerhouse. On a micro-level, there is significant pressure on junior Kasey Hill and sophomore Chris Chiozza to anchor White’s first Florida team with steady point guard play.
Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) (231 Posts)

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