Five O26 Coaches Doing Great Jobs This Season…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 23rd, 2018

From major turnarounds to borderline miracles, let’s take a look at some of this season’s best coaching jobs across the mid-major landscape.

Joe Pasternack is doing a masterful job at UC Santa Barbara. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

  • Joe Pasternack — UC Santa Barbara. It’s difficult to overstate just how quickly Pasternack has turned things around at UC Santa Barbara. The Gauchos were 6-22 last season — finishing dead last in the Big West — under longtime head coach Bob Williams. Their offense was especially bad, ranking 343rd nationally in efficiency and 350th (second-to-last) in effective field goal percentage. Williams was ousted after a mostly successful 19-year run, and in came Pasternack. In less that one full season, the longtime Arizona assistant — with the help of some key transfers — has completely revamped the Gauchos’ offense. Santa Barbara now ranks 41st nationally in offensive efficiency and boasts an effective field goal percentage (54.1% eFG) that is 12 points better than a year ago, helping Pasternack’s team get off to an incredible 14-5 (3-2 Big West) start. UC Santa Barbara’s KenPom ranking is up to 97th nationally after finishing 331st in 2016-17, while sophomore guard Max Heidegger (21.4 PPG) has turned into a front-runner for Big West Player of the Year. Despite understandably low expectations, the Gauchos are now the team to beat in the Big West.
  • Steve Forbes — East Tennessee State. The Buccaneers lost four of their top five scorers from last season’s NCAA Tournament team, including First Team All-SoCon guard T. J. Cromer (19.1 PPG). No matter. Instead of taking a step back — and despite middle-of-the-pack expectations — all East Tennessee State has done is jump out to a 16-4 (7-0 SoCon) record and rise from 114th nationally in adjusted efficiency margin to 58th. Much like his former boss, Gregg Marshall, Forbes has built a deep, defensive-minded roster seemingly impervious to personnel turnover. He’s also proving to have a keen eye for quality transfers and JuCo prospects, enabling him to reap immediate contributions from players like Texas Southern transplant Jalan McCloud (11.7 PPG). With a lineup that runs 10 deep and one of the 40 stingiest defenses in America, there’s no reason to think Forbes’ group can’t again reach the Big Dance — and maybe even win a game when it gets there.

  • Leon Rice — Boise State. Rice has officially built a program in Boise. The Broncos (16-4, 6-2 Mountain West) are well on their way to a seventh 20-win season in eight years under the former Gonzaga assistant, the current group proving unexpectedly dominant on defense. Sure, the return of preseason Mountain West Player of the Year Chandler Hutchison (19.9 PPG, 8.1 RPG) has gone a long way, but Boise State’s turnaround on defense — the Broncos rank 15th nationally in defensive efficiency after finishing 112th in 2016-17 — is a testament to Rice’s coaching. Moreover, he’s done a masterful job replacing outgoing transfer Paris Austin (12.4 PPG in 2016-17) and two senior starters with a pair of incoming transfers Christian Sengfelder (Fordham) and Lexus Williams (Valparaiso). The Broncos are projected to receive an at-large NCAA Tournament bid in Joe Lunardi’s latest bracket projection, and Rice has done such a good job generating fan support that he’s taken to wading across rivers in the middle of January.

Niko Medved should be a strong contender for MVC Coach of the Year. (Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Niko Medved — Drake. In his first year since leaving Furman, Medved has taken a roster that finished dead last in the Missouri Valley and turned it into a conference title contender, at least in the early going. Drake is currently tied for first place in the MVC standings at 6-2 thanks to much improved defense and much better shooting, and despite the fact that it was picked dead last in the league’s preseason poll. What makes Medved’s job most impressive is the fact that — unlike most guys on this list — he’s doing it without the infusion of transfers. In fact, the Bulldogs’ roster is essentially the exact same group that went 7-24 a year ago. Impressive.
  • Richie Riley — Nicholls State. The Colonels have not been relevant since they last reached the NCAA Tournament 20 years ago. In fact, they’ve only finished above .500 in Southland Conference play three times this century. In Riley’s first season as head coach, Nicholls State went 10-17 against Division I opponents and finished among the 50 worst teams nationally in efficiency. This season, he had a pair of aces in the hole in transfers Tevon Saddler (UNC Greensboro) and Roddy Peters (Maryland and South Florida), both of whom are averaging more than 16 points per game. Perhaps most interestingly, though, is Riley’s decision to play a significantly more up-tempo brand of basketball, averaging just 14.8 seconds per offensive possession (eighth fastest in the country) compared to 17.2 seconds in 2016-17. The result? Nicholls State has been among the Southland’s most efficient attacks, helping it cruise to a 6-1 league start and its highest KenPom ranking since 2011 (190th). As a comparison, the Colonels started the year ranked 324th.

Also good:

  • Bob Marlin — Louisiana-Lafayette. Despite being picked fifth in the Sun Belt preseason standings, Louisiana-Lafayette is off to a 17-3 start and is unbeaten (7-0) in league play. The addition of three high-major transfers has helped Marlin transform the team’s defense. Currently ranked 55th nationally by KenPom, the Ragin Cajuns’ should be favored in every one of their remaining contests.
  • Chris Jans — New Mexico State. We knew New Mexico State was talented, sure, but wins over Miami (FL), Illinois and New Mexico (twice)? In his first year on the job, Jans has the defensively-stout Aggies looking like a competitive NCAA Tournament team.
  • Nate Oats — Buffalo. The MAC may be a mess this season, but the athletic Bulls most certainly are not. Picked to win the MAC East, Buffalo has managed to exceed expectations by starting 6-0 in league play, beating UAB, and pushing Syracuse for 40 minutes on the road. Its KenPom ranking has risen nearly 80 spots since the season began.
  • Rick Stansbury — Western Kentucky. No Mitchell Robinson? No problem. Despite not landing the super-recruit, Stansbury has led Western Kentucky to a 14-6 (6-1 C-USA) start with wins over SMU and Purdue (seriously, it happened). The Hilltoppers are now a top-50 KenPom squad after beginning the year ranked 230th.
Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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