The 2017 Effy Awards, Part I: Celebrating greatest coaching performances
SI presents The Effys: the least ambiguous and least prestigious postseason awards in college basketball. Every award is based on efficiency or other advanced metrics. No voting—just analytics.
Effy Coach of the Year: Mark Few, Gonzaga
This season was a precarious experiment for Few, who had to break in nine guys who'd never before played a minute for the Zags. Seven of them ended up in his rotation, which led to Gonzaga ranking 323rd nationally—one spot behind Kentucky—in playing-time continuity from '15–16 to '16–17.
That degree of turnover doesn't typically set a coach up to have a great defense, but Few built the nation's No. 1-ranked D in adjusted efficiency on kenpom.com—not to mention the No. 1 team overall in adjusted efficiency. The Zags went 37–2 and came within a few possessions (and a Nigel Williams-Goss ankle sprain, and a few questionable whistles) away from winning the national title.
Biggest Turnaround Orchestrated by a Debut Coach, Major Conferences: Brad Underwood, Oklahoma State
Underwood left for Illinois in March, concluding his tenure in Stillwater after just one season. But it was one impressive season, as he took a team that finished 12–20 and 98th in adjusted efficiency in Travis Ford's final campaign and upgraded it to a 20–13 NCAA tournament team that ranked 22nd in efficiency. The Cowboys' one-year, efficiency-margin improvement of 14.7 points per 100 possessions was the best of any major-conference team with a new coach—just ahead of TCU, which improved by 14.5 P/100P in Jamie Dixon's first season.
Biggest Turnaround Orchestrated by a Debut Coach, Non-Major Conferences: Ryan Odom, UMBC
This is the type of under-the-radar turnaround that the Effys were made to recognize. The first-year D-I coach who made the biggest advanced-stats impact on his team wasn't Underwood or Dixon, but rather Odom, who improved the Retrievers' efficiency margin by 14.8 points per 100 possessions. Odom, the son of former Wake Forest and South Carolina coach Dave Odom, translated that gain into wins, too, as UMBC went 21–13 and had its first over-.500 season in the America East since '07–08.
Biggest Two-Year Turnaround Project by a New Coach: Eric Musselman, Nevada
Nevada had a nice run in the mid-2000s under Trent Johnson and then Mark Fox, but it was in a dismal state when Musselman took over in the 2015 off-season, having just finished 9–22 and 271st in efficiency. Musselman, a former head coach of the NBA's Kings and Warriors, refashioned Nevada into the Iowa State of the Mountain West, mixing quality transfers (such as Marcus Marshall) with under-the-radar talent (such as Cam Oliver). In his second season in Reno, Musselman led the Wolf Pack to a Mountain West Conference title and a No. 12 seed in the NCAAs—and their efficiency margin was a stunning 21.9 points per 100 possessions better than it was in '14–15, the final year of Musselman’s predecessor, David Carter.
Biggest One-Year Turnaround, Non-Debut Coach: Richard Pitino, Minnesota
To set himself up for this, Pitino had to endure a miserable 2015–16, when the Gophers went 8–23 and finished 192nd in efficiency. Externally, little was expected of Minnesota this season—SI had the Gophers 97th in its preseason projections—and thus their run to a No. 5 seed in the NCAAs and a No. 37 kenpom ranking was a major surprise. Pitino's 155-spot jump in the adjusted efficiency rankings, as well as his 18.7 P/100P improvement in efficiency margin, were the best of any D-I coach.
Best At Beating SI's Projections: Grant McCasland, Arkansas State
By this metric, North Texas, which plucked McCasland away from Arkansas State in March, made a promising hire. He took over from John Brady at Arkansas State in the 2016 offseason, had a roster that SI's projection system viewed as the 290th-best team … and finished with it ranked 124th, beating projections by the largest margin of any team in the nation. The runner-up here is Kyle Smith, whose San Francisco team—in Smith’s first season after leaving Columbia—finished 111th in efficiency after being projected at 256th.
Best At Beating SI's Projections, Major Conference: Josh Pastner, Georgia Tech
Last fall, a certain member of the punditry made the now-infamous claim that Pastner was presiding over one of the worst major-conference rosters ever. SI's projection system wasn't that harsh, but it didn't love the Yellow Jackets, ranking them 204th in the preseason. Pastner proceeded to build the nation's No. 6-ranked defense around rim-protector Ben Lammers. That helped Tech upset North Carolina, Notre Dame, Florida State and Syracuse in the regular season, finish as the NIT runner-up and rank 77th in efficiency.
Best At Exceeding NCAA Tournament Expectations: Frank Martin, South Carolina
Neither the people, nor the metrics, foresaw the Gamecocks' incredible postseason run. Just 0.6% of brackets filled out on ESPN.com had South Carolina in the Final Four. Kenpom.com's log5 analysis of the tourney field gave Martin's team a 1.7% chance of reaching Glendale, Ariz., and the composite metric I used in bracket analysis on SI.com gave the Gamecocks just a 1.0% chance. They came into the tourney as an offensively challenged team, with no winning momentum, in a loaded East Region … and closed the tourney as its biggest surprise story.
After-Timeout Efficiency King: Steve Alford, UCLA
There's a debate to be had about whether this is due to coaching or the Lonzo Ball Effect. But either way, when strength-of-schedule adjustments are applied to Synergy Sports Technology's after-timeout efficiency data, the Bruins come out at No. 1, averaging 1.053 points per possession. Given that Alford completely overhauled his offense to maximize the effectiveness of Ball and complementary weapons Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton and T.J. Leaf, the coach has to get at least some credit for this, right?
After-Timeout Efficiency King, Non-Major Conferences: Mike Rhoades, Rice
This was a result I didn't see coming. Rhoades's Owls ranked 109th in overall adjusted offensive efficiency, making them the fourth-best offensive team in Conference USA. But when it came to ATO efficiency, Rice was elite, ranking fifth in adjusted ATO PPP, at 1.026. VCU, which was a middling ATO team last season, has to be hoping that Rhoades, whom it hired in March, can bring some of that clipboard magic to Richmond.
Part II of the Effys—the Offensive Awards—will run later this week on SI.com.