Grading all the 2021-22 new hires in Division I

We saw a lot of new coaches on the sidelines for this season. Some took over powerhouse programs while some took over massive rebuilds or programs just in need of a steady captain.

We graded each of the first-year hires taking into account each of their situations relatively to what they could get done.

 

ACU MBB – Brette Tanner: A-

After Joe Golding took the UTEP job, Tanner was a logical choice to take over the program. It’d create some continuity with an experienced backcourt returning entering a tougher conference.

The Wildcats took a small step back this year but were still one of the most aggressive defenses in the nation ranking first in turnover percentage and second in steals and non-steal turnover percentage per Kenpom. Of course, losing go-to bigs like Joe Pleasant and Kolton Kohl and playing in the tougher WAC this year led to more blemishes on the record, but finishing 25-11 following last year’s breakout run isn’t anything to be disappointed with. ACU had an identity, and it looks to be staying that way.

Baylor WBB – Nicki Collen: B

One of the most difficult tasks in sports is succeeding a legend. Nicki Collen was brought in to replace a Hall of Famer who didn’t even retire, she just took another job. So, the comparisons to Kim Mulkey’s Baylor (28-7) as well as Kim Mulkey’s current LSU teams were going to follow Collen around. Admittedly, things started off shaky. The Bears almost lost to Texas State in the opener and dropped early Big 12 games to Kansas State and Oklahoma.

Collen’s perimeter-based play took some time for the team to get used to, especially with a small rotation. Baylor eventually got back on track and won another Big 12 regular season title but lost to Texas in the conference tournament before getting wrecked by a South Dakota team that baited them into a shooting contest. But there were of plenty ups in Collen’s first season, and she finished the recruiting cycle well. Plenty of questions remain about how the thin roster was built and how it will be molded going forward now that NaLyssa Smith moves on.

Lamar MBB – Alvin Brooks Jr.: D-

This rough first season wasn’t entirely down to Alvin Brooks. Lamar (2-27) is a program in need of rejuvenation and dealt with tons of injuries. Their two best players – Davion Buster and Kasen Harrison – both missed upwards of 13 games as did transfer point guard Jordyn Adams. Thirteen players played over 15 games for Lamar this year when Brooks was just fishing for bodies, including six underclassmen.

That doesn’t help in a deep conference like the WAC. Although harsh, this grade isn’t indicative of Brooks’ qualifications for the job, and we’ll be able to evaluate him better next season. If players like Adams stick around, he along with guys like freshman Brock McClure are pieces to build around. The grade is harsh because we had to assign one, but an N/A is probably more appropriate for Brooks' first year.

Rice WBB – Lindsey Edmonds: B-

Edmonds had a tough task taking over for Tina Langley who built Rice (13-13) into one of the most dominant mid-majors of the last few seasons. And she had to do it without the Owls’ defensive stalwart in Nancy Mulkey, and Lauren Schwartz who both followed Langley to Washington. She also lost Sydne Wiggins and Jasmine Smith to SMU.

But Edmonds has a promising group at her disposal and finished .500 with a cast of freshmen and sophomores that include new cornerstone players in Ashlee Austin (16.4 ppg), Malia Fisher (8.6 rpg) and Destiny Jackson (4.5 apg). If Edmonds can hold this group together, the Owls could be an interesting darkhorse contender in CUSA next season.

SMU WBB – Toyelle Wilson: B+

Toyelle Wilson walked into a very unstable situation. SMU essentially didn’t play in 2020-21, cancelling its season before conference play due to COVID-19, and lost one of their brightest prospects in Rhyle McKinney to Texas Tech prior to Wilson’s arrival.

The Mustangs went 14-15 in Wilson’s first year and finished as one of the best defenses in the AAC ranking top three in field goal percentage allowed, 2-point percentage allowed and points per play allowed and earned a WNIT bid. It’s hard to say how SMU’s first year could’ve gone better taking everything into account.

Texas MBB – Chris Beard: B-

This one’s a mixed bag. On one hand, you have a Texas (22-12) team that made the second round for the first time since 2014-15. But on the other hand, you had a team that struggled early against less-than-stellar Big 12 competition and arguably never found the chemistry you’d hope when you bring in the likes of Marcus Carr, Timmy Allen, Tre Mitchell, etc. Not to mention when you bring back key contributors like Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey all to be coached by one of the best in the nation, you’d probably have greater aspirations than one tournament win.

But it wasn’t a bad year by any means. Beard brought the defensive edge he’s known for in the no-middle defense and Texas finished in the Top 15 nationally in Kenpom in adjusted defensive efficiency and that allowed Texas to go toe-to-toe with Kansas and notch a huge win over Tennessee. But considering the home run hire Beard was tabbed as and the influx of ready-made all-conference talent, was that enough to call this year an outright “success”?

Texas A&M-CC MBB – Steve Lutz: A+

When the Islanders (23-12) brought in Steve Lutz, the idea was clear: Hire a well-known recruiter from a powerhouse program that knows the state. Lutz came by way of Purdue and before that, Creighton. But he cut his teeth working under former SFA and Texas State head coach Danny Kaspar. The Texas A&M-Corpus Christi rebuild seemed to be a long-term play, but Lutz had the Islanders playing a brand of aggressive high-effort defense that also translated to the other side. TAMU-CC ranked 18th nationally in defensive turnover percentage and 19th in offensive rebounding percentage and made its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 15 years.

What more could you have asked for? Now Lutz must flash his recruiting acumen and why he was credited with bringing the likes of Carsen Edwards from Humble Atascocita all the way to Purdue.

Texas Tech MBB – Mark Adams: A

Understandably, Texas Tech (27-10) was left scrambling following Chris Beard’s departure. Adams, Beard’s right-hand man and no-middle architect, was seen as a natural replacement to keep Tech’s status as a rising power going.

But 2020-21 wasn’t exactly a strong year by Tech and Beard’s standard so not much was expected from the Red Raiders in Adams’ first season. And then the Red Raiders finished with the top ranked defense in the nation per Kenpom. Savvy additions like Bryson Williams and Kevin Obanor created a scoring punch that Beard’s teams never got from the interior and the Lubbock community rallied around their new head man boasting the best home court advantage in college basketball. A small knock on the grade for finishing Big 12 play a little rocky losing to both TCU and Oklahoma State in the final three games but Tech’s in perfect hands going forward.

UTA MBB – Greg Young: C

Following the sudden departure of Chris Ogden, UTA (11-18) made a wise move promoting longtime assistant Greg Young, who’d seen the highs of the Scott Cross era and Ogden’s rebuilding seasons in hopes of finding stability on the bench. It was an overall mixed bag with some intriguing moments such as a series split with regular season champ Texas State, but ultimately, the Mavericks never got going offensively finishing toward the bottom of the Sun Belt in efficiency, and that was with the likes of David Azore scoring at a high level.

UTEP MBB – Joe Golding: B

Golding’s appointment is a long-term play for UTEP (20-14). When he was given the time to fully implement his vision at ACU, the Wildcats became one of the most aggressive defenses in the nation that culminated in their upset of Texas last year.

But he was inheriting a roster that struggled on both sides of the ball despite having clear offensive talent. Under Golding, UTEP saw rapid improvement on the defensive end finishing second in the conference in turnover percentage and fifth in 3-point percentage defense. After a rocky start to non-conference, UTEP hit a groove in CUSA play at one point winning six straight and knocking off North Texas in the final game of the regular season. For dealing with a roster that isn’t his, Golding’s first year can be chalked up to being a moderate win.

UTRGV – Matt Figger: C

Matt Figger was given arguably the most difficult task of any of the new hires this year. He was brought in to replace the late Lew Hill who tragically died during the 2020-21 season and was a beloved figure at UTRGV and around the country.

That circumstance is already hard enough to deal with, but it also wasn’t a smooth transition on the court either. Hill’s teams were built on defense while Figger’s Austin Peay squads were known for more open styles of ball movement often finishing in the top half in the nation in effective field goal percentage, offensive boards and low offensive turnovers.

The Vaqueros (8-23) weren’t the cleanest team to watch at times, finishing near the bottom of the nation in offensive turnovers but managed to be aggressive at getting to the line finishing second in the nation in free throw rate. They picked up an impressive early season win over Cal St. Fullerton and UTSA. WAC play was rough but if pieces like Justin Johnson (17.7 ppg), Rayquan Taylor and LaQuan Butler return, Figger should look for a natural step forward next year.

UTSA WBB – Karen Aston: B-

Okay so hear me out, UTSA’s basketball programs are not in a good space. The Roadrunners won one game a year ago and haven’t won double digit games since 2016-17. Karen Aston inherited a less-than-bare cupboard but still racked up seven wins with a tough schedule and a team with a respectable defense.

UTSA finished 13th in the nation in offensive boards per game and 20th in overall rebounding. Finishing 7-23 isn’t anything to celebrate, but when you have a project like Aston does at UTSA, starting off with the most wins in a few years and remaining respectively competitive is a solid foundation. Not to mention, they knocked off UTEP in the CUSA Tournament, who was expected to be a conference contender in preseason.

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