Despite the later start than usual to the college basketball season, some teams have already played as many as seven games through the first three weeks, which typically represents 20 to 25 percent of a team's season. So while acknowledging that the season is still young and many teams' schedules are still fluid, it may not be too soon to begin making big-picture analysis of teams, players and coaches.
NCAA.com counted 28 men's basketball teams with a first-year head coach this season, including interim head coaches. Coaches who served as interim head coach during the 2019-20 season and who then had the interim tag removed in the offseason were not counted as a first-year head coach for the 2021 season.
In order to see how teams led by first-year coaches have performed, NCAA.com analyzed each team's adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency ratings, as well as each team's adjusted tempo, which is calculated by the average number of possessions that are in a team's games this season. We then compared each team's efficiency ratings and tempo to its marks from last season, and if a first-year head coach had previously served as head coach at the Division I level, then we compared his current team's ratings to those of his last team at his previous school.
Advanced stats courtesy of kenpom.com.
Statistics current through the games played on Wednesday, Dec. 16. Once again, it's worth acknowledging that it's still relatively early in the season and that these coaches and teams didn't have a traditional offseason, but all things considered, this is a look at how they're faring so far.
Note: Alabama State hasn't played a game this season through Dec. 16 and Tarleton State is in its first year competing at the Division I level, which means Alabama State doesn't have any data for this season and Tarleton State doesn't have any DI data available for last season.
How they compare offensively
Teams with first-year head coaches are overwhelmingly worse on offense this season.
On average, teams are 3.66 points worse on offense per 100 possessions than they were last season. Among schools with a first-year head coach who had previously been a DI head coach, those teams are an average of 7.50 points per 100 possessions worse offensively than their head coach's previous school was on offense in his final season.
The teams and coaches that have bucked that trend are listed below:
Compared to last season:
- Jeff Linder, Wyoming: +7.3 points/100 possessions
- Takayo Siddle, UNC Wilmington: +5.8 points/100 possessions
- Stan Johnson, Loyola Marymount: +2.5 points/100 possessions
- Andy Kennedy, UAB: +2.3 points/100 possessions
- Mike Magpayo, UC Riverside: +1.0 point/100 possessions
Penn State interim head coach Jim Ferry has overseen a Nittany Lions offense that's seven points better per 100 possessions than his last team at Duquesne in 2017.
On average, teams with first-year coaches are shooting almost two percent worse from 2-point range compared to last season. Their average 3-point percentage is up, but barely, with an average improvement of 0.26 percentage points per team.
How they compare defensively
Based on the early returns of the 2020-21 men's basketball season, it has been much easier for schools with first-year coaches to improve defensively than offensively.
On average, teams with a new head coach are 2.92 points per 100 possessions better than last season. It's roughly a wash when you compare first-year head coaches' teams to their previous stop as a DI head coach.
First-year head coaches who had previously been a DI head coach, on average, have a team that's just 0.06 points per 100 possessions better than their last team at their previous school.
Here are some of the teams with first-year head coaches that have most improved on defense from last season:
- Bryce Drew, Grand Canyon: 13.0 points per 100 possessions
- Montez Robinson, UT Martin: 11.5 points per 100 possessions
- Andy Kennedy, UAB: 7.6 points per 100 possessions
- Bucky McMillan, Samford: 6.3 points per 100 possessions
- Joe Scott, Air Force: 6.1 points per 100 possessions
- Rob Jeter, Western Illinois: 5.4 points per 100 possessions
- Mark Byington, James Madison: 4.9 points per 100 possessions
- Brad Korn, Southeast Missouri State: 4.8 points per 100 possessions
- Landon Bussie, Alcorn State: 4.3 points per 100 possessions
Here are head coaches who are in their first season at their current school, which has posted a better defensive efficiency than the coach's last team at his previous school:
- Jim Ferry, Penn State: 14.7 points per 100 possessions
- Andy Kennedy, UAB: 10.2 points per 100 possessions
- Bryce Drew, Grand Canyon: 2.3 points per 100 possessions
Similar to the relative lack of difference in the average 3-point percentage on offense for teams with first-year coaches, there has been very little movement on those teams' defensive 3-point percentage. They're holding opponents to a 3-point percentage that's just 0.11 percentage points lower than last season, on average.
However, those teams have seen their defensive 2-point percentage improve by an average of two percentage points.
Below is a scatter plot of how every DI men's basketball team with a first-year head coach (excluding Alabama State and Tarleton State for the reasons outlined above) have performed compared to last season, with the change in offensive efficiency on the X-axis and change in defensive efficiency on the Y-axis.
A team that's to the right of the scatter plot has improved more year-over-year offensively compared to a team to its left, and a team toward the top of the scatter plot has improved more year-over-year defensively compared to a team whose data point is below it.
How they compare in terms of tempo
When a new coach is hired at a school, he'll often talk about playing fast, running in transition or playing an exciting brand of basketball, which is also code for playing fast or running in transition.
Well, so far, teams with first-year coaches are playing faster than they did last season, on average.
Those teams are averaging 1.76 more possessions per game than last season, and first-year head coaches who were previously a DI head coach at another school are currently leading teams that are playing an average of three more possessions per game than their last team at their previous school.
Here are the teams with first-year head coaches that are playing the fastest compared to last season:
- Andy Kennedy, UAB: +8.5 possessions per game
- Stan Johnson, Loyola Marymount: +7.4 possessions per game
- Steve Smiley, Northern Colorado: +6.3 possessions per game
- Mike Magpayo, UC Riverside: +4.5 possessions per game
- Jeff Linder, Wyoming: +3.7 possessions per game
In fact, only five of the coaches/teams examined are playing slower so far this season, and two of the teams are only marginally slower:
- Joe Scott, Air Force: -5.3 possessions per game
- Todd Lickliter, Evansville: -2.6 possessions per game
- Will Ryan, Green Bay: -1.8 possessions per game
- Brian Burg, Georgia Southern: -0.6 possessions per game
- Isaac Brown, Wichita State: -0.4 possessions per game
Here are the first-year head coaches who have picked up the pace the most compared to their last stop:
- Rob Jeter, Western Illinois: +6.9 possessions per game
- Jeff Linder, Wyoming: +5.4 possessions per game
- Todd Lickliter, Evansville: +3.8 possessions per game
- Andy Kennedy, UAB: +3.2 possessions per game
- Joe Scott, Air Force: +2.7 possessions per game
- Rick Pitino, Iona: +2.5 possessions per game