Arkansas hasn't been to a Sweet 16 since 1996 -- the same year Pokémon was first released. Razorback fans have seen a lot since then including 10 NCAA Tournament appearances, but the major success former coach Nolan Richardson enjoyed has mostly eluded the Razorbacks. However, new Arkansas coach Eric Musselman has injected newfound hope in a program that craves it.
While there's work to do yet in the SEC for Arkansas to get to the NCAA Tournament in his first season, in nine short months Musselman has reinvigorated the Arkansas program and its passionate fanbase. And Musselman is winning in recruiting -- particularly within the borders of the state -- and he's winning on the court at a level not seen in years.
That's why a little past the halfway point of the college basketball season, Musselman grades out at the top of our report card for coaches in their first season on the job at new school in a major conference, which you can see here:
|Eric Musselman||14-3||Musselman's not only given this program new life through recruiting at a high level, but he's managed to get Arkansas off to its best start to a season in more than two decades.||A+|
|Mike Young||13-5||After Buzz Williams left Blacksburg -- along with the team's top five scorers -- the rebuild was expected to be a brutal one for Young. What we didn't take into account in that estimation: that Mike Young might be a wizard. The rise of freshman Landers Nolley has certainly helped kick off his first season, but the Hokies have a 5-13 roster and a 13-5 resume, replete with wins over Michigan State, NC State, Syracuse, Clemson and others. All those years Young cut his coaching teeth at Wofford has prepared him to be one of the most tactically sound in the ACC.||A|
|Ron Hunter||10-8||Tulane was in bad shape last year. It went 0-18 in conference play, and the program looked lifeless in what amounted to be Mike Dunleavy's last at the helm. In stepped Hunter, and voila, Tulane's a respectable 10-8 on the season and already 2-4 in AAC play. The Green Wave are sliding a bit having lost two-straight at home, but considering what he inherited he's already exceeded expectations regardless of how the rest of the season unfolds.||A|
|Kyle Smith||12-7||Washington State went 11-21 last season before hiring Smith. Since 2013, it hasn't won more than 13 games in a season. And yet 19 games into the season, Smith has the Cougars at 12-7 overall and 3-3 in Pac-12 play. He knows how to win. Even in a generally weak Pac-12, Wazzu finishing in the top half of the league standings is in play -- which would be a first since the league expanded from the Pac-10.||A-|
|Mike Anderson||12-7||What we saw from St. John's in nonconference play hasn't quite aligned with what we've seen from the team in-conference: the Red Storm are 1-5 in Big East play. That doesn't jive with their 11-2 non-league start, which included wins over a pair of top-50 KenPom teams in West Virginia and Arizona. Still, Anderson's had his team playing hard despite their recent skid of five losses in six games. There's probably more bad St. John's than good ahead this season, but the direction of the program shouldn't be questioned -- at least not yet. Anderson's instilling a new culture and still has managed to keep this team competitive in the here and now.||B-|
|John Brannen||11-7||Brannen guided a Northern Kentucky program -- one that's less than a decade-old at the Division I level -- from cellar-dwellar status to two-time Horizon League winners. His coaching chops need not be tested. Nonetheless, it's a surprise to see that a ready-made Cincinnati team he took over has yet to string together a winning streak longer than three games, with the team struggling to maintain consistency all year. The Bearcats are still quietly lurking as contenders in the AAC despite the shaky 11-7 start and have won three of their last four.||B-|
|Aaron McKie||10-7||Replacing the legendary Fran Dunphy was always going to be a tall task, but Aaron McKie's off to a fine start despite losing leading scorer Shizz Alston: Temple's 10-7 overall with a pair of top-100 wins this season over USC and Wichita State. The rub among Temple fans is McKie's anemic offense, which rates 243rd in adjusted efficiency nationally -- second-worst in the American -- despite an upperclassmen-laden roster. If the defensive numbers matched the offense, McKie might have the third-best team in the AAC.||C|
|Mick Cronin||9-9||It's been mostly bad for Cronin in his first season in L.A. with home losses to Hofstra and Cal State Fullerton dampening the outlook. It will get better. The only other time he guided a sub-195 defense, he turned around and won 24 games the following year and got Murray State to the NCAAs. Granted: Murray is not UCLA. And that's mostly my point. At UCLA, he's got all the resources and recruits he could ever want in Westwood to turn this thing around in a jiffy. Getting five-star Daishen Nix in next season will expedite the process.||C|
|Nate Oats||10-7||Alabama's roster underwent a tiny makeover after Nate Oats took over, but he did inherit Kira Lewis, John Petty and Herbert Jones -- three key pieces of this year's team. One could argue Alabama should be in a better spot -- and losses to Penn, North Carolina and Rhode Island don't help the opposite side of that argument. We'll wait to pass judgement on Oats' first year dependent upon how this season ends, but Alabama's mostly been good-not-great in his first season at the helm.||C|
|Buzz Williams||8-8||Williams has been a big winner at Marquette and at Virginia Tech, and turning programs into consistent winners is his forte. If I were betting, I'd take the UNDER on time it takes to turn Texas A&M around. He's already won eight games in a year in which the team is hitting the full reset, and he's had the Aggies competitive, too, despite a dismal offense that hinges on a horrific 3-point shooting team. That'll change soon.||C-|
|Mark Fox||8-10||Cal posted consecutive eight-win seasons before turning to Fox, a long-time Georgia coach, to turn its program around. He's already won eight games (which might actually be where this team ends its season). This team is just not good. He inherited an empty cupboard. It'll take time for him to get this program back to where it was but he's already squeezed a lot out of a void roster.||D|
|Jerry Stackhouse||8-9||Vandy's been unable to capture the same success it once did under Kevin Stallings, and it's one of the most challenging jobs not just in the SEC, but in major conference hoops. Stackhouse has his work cut out for him. He has a winning track record at the NBA level, but recruiting and developing young talent is an area he's still not proven himself in -- yet. Given how bad Vandy was when he took over, he's in a tough spot to try and turn this thing around.||D|
|Fred Hoiberg||7-11||Context is everything, and no better example of that than Hoiberg, who basically turned over his entire roster upon arrival in Huskerland. The expectation was always that he had a rebuild ahead. That's been reality, as Nebraska's 7-11 and 2-5 in Big Ten play. I'm buying that Nebraska's long-term gamble on Hoiberg will eventually pay off, but we can only judge based off results and the results have been not great: five sub-100 KenPom losses and only two wins over top-25 KenPom teams -- both at home.||D|