We're halfway into the 2015-16 college basketball season, the perfect time to check in on coaches who are spending their first year at a new school. Here's 10 of the most notable:
Ben Howland, Mississippi State (7-8, 0-3 SEC)
It’s going to take time for Howland to push the Bulldogs back to the top of the SEC. The program hasn’t enjoyed a winning season since 2011-12 and made its most recent NCAA tournament appearance in 2009. Burly forward Gavin Ware (131.3 offensive rating) has been a rock in the paint, but poor 3-point shooting (28.2 percent) has crippled the Bulldogs. Their best victory? Against Tulane, no. 195 in the Pomeroy Ratings
Michael Huger, Bowling Green (11-5, 2-1 MAC)
Huger returned to his alma mater after a decade gleaning pearls of wisdom from Miami coach Jim Larranaga. The Falcons picked up a solid road win at conference rival Ohio on Tuesday night. Inside-outside combination Spencer Parker (13.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and Zack Denny (13.2 ppg, 45.0 pct on 3s) should keep Bowling Green in the mix for the MAC title until the end
Bobby Hurley, Arizona State (10-6, 0-3 Pac-12)
Facing a schedule rated 21st most difficult in the nation by KenPom.com, the Sun Devils defeated top-50 squads Texas A&M and Creighton in the nonconference. Life has been harder in the deep, balanced Pac-12, though. Hurley was ejected late in a loss to rival Arizona and the Sun Devils went 0-for-2 on their L.A. swing last weekend. They allowed their first three conference opponents to shred the nets with an effective field-goal percentage of 57.8
Avery Johnson, Alabama (9-5, 0-2 SEC)While folks in Tuscaloosa were focusing on the football team’s pursuit of another national title, rookie coach Johnson was making progress on the basketball court. The Crimson Tide defeated Wichita State and Notre Dame in Orlando and appeared headed for a breakout season. But the Tide suffered a debilitating blow when a fractured left foot ended the season for freshman point guard Dazon Ingram on Dec. 10. Avoiding turnovers has been an issue since - Alabama is 305th nationally in turnover percentage.
Eric Konkol, Louisiana Tech (13-3, 2-1 CUSA)
Another Larranaga protege in his first season as the head man, Konkol has the Bulldogs positioned as KenPom.com’s co-favorite (with UAB) to win the regular season conference title. La. Tech defeated Ohio State and UT-Arlington in the nonconference and sophomore guard Dayon Griffin is a bright light for the future. Griffin had 28 points on 11 shots in a 93-90 overtime win over Charlotte on Saturday.
Matt McCall, Chattanooga (14-3, 3-1 Southern)
The former Florida assistant inherited a loaded roster from Will Wade (who is 11-5 overall and 3-0 in the A10 in his first year at VCU). The Mocs shook the college basketball landscape on opening night with a win at Georgia, and have won 9 of 10. Even more impressive is they’ve been on this roll without their best player, injured guard Casey Jones (12.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg). Jones should return from an ankle injury in about 10 days and start driving the Mocs train again.
Chris Mullin, St. John’s (7-10, 0-4 Big East)
Names and locations have changed in the Big East since Mullin starred for St. John’s, yet the strength of the conference has remained constant. The Johnnies have dropped seven games in a row, sputtering due to erratic offense. St. John’s is 284th or worse in 2-point percentage, 3-point percentage and free throw percentage, while also committing turnovers on 20.5 percent of possessions (291st).
Dave Paulsen, George Mason (6-10, 0-3 Atlantic 10)
Another program facing a long, arduous climb back to those winning days, Mason gave its passionate fan base hope when it defeated Oklahoma State and Ole Miss in the Charleston Classic in November. Happy moments have been scarce since. Mason dropped its first three Atlantic 10 games by an average of 16.3 points. Freshman guards Otis Livingston and Zaire Grayer have shown flashes but the Patriots 45.4 effective field-goal percentage is more than any team can bear.
Mark Price, Charlotte (4-11, 1-2 CUSA)One could understand if the sharpshooting former All-Pro wanted to insert himself into the Niners lineup at times this season. Stopping teams from scoring is where Charlotte has really struggled. They’re allowing teams to shoot 53 percent on 3-pointers and 42.4 percent on 3-pointers. Freshmen like Andrien White offer promise of better days. He’s scored in double figures in four consecutive games, including a 27-point outburst against Old Dominion.
Steve Prohm, Iowa State (12-4, 1-3 Big 12)
The former Murray State coach probably inherited as much as talent as anyone on this list. The Cyclones cruised through the nonconference slate, peaking at No. 4 in the AP Top 25. So far the Big 12 is taking its toll on Prohm and a thin seven-man rotation. An elite offense (ninth in adjusted efficiency) and average defense (124th) likely forecast an inconsistent run through the conference slate.
Shaka Smart, Texas (10-6, 2-2 Big 12)
Smart and the Longhorns have encountered the second most difficult schedule in the nation per the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI). There was a thrilling win over North Carolina and point guard Isaiah Taylor was amazing again in Tuesday night’s win over Iowa State (28 points, six rebounds, six assists). The Longhorns have missed just one NCAA tournament since 1999. A 4-3 record against the RPI top 50 and only one bad loss (by one point at TCU) puts the program in position to pursue another at-large bid. Havoc hasn’t taken full effect in Austin. The Longhorns force turnovers on 19.4 percent of opponent’s possessions. Smart’s last four teams at VCU ranged from 23.6 percent to 28.5 percent and led the nation in three seasons
Michael White, Florida (10-6, 2-2 SEC)
The Gators have an elite defense (sixth in adjusted efficiency) and slightly better than average offense (1.04 points per possession), which indicates White has his team playing hard and with purpose. Florida just lacks the firepower to hang with the nation’s elite. The Gators are 0-3 vs. teams ranked 1-25 in the RPI, but 3-3 vs. teams 26-100. Making the NCAA tournament field remains an attainable goal. Florida has an RPI of 28 and six games remaining against teams in the KenPom.com top 30. Better 3-point shooting (29.0 percent) would help