Placebo effects and new coaches

Not every hire can work out this well. (He probably promised a faster pace.)

Not every hire can work out this well. He probably promised a faster pace.

All new-coach hires are alike; each coaching departure is unhappy in its own way.

For example at Missouri the past couple years, Frank Haith’s been turning things around:

Haith was an instant positive energy on the sidelines and on the practice court. Practices were higher intensity and more structured. Film sessions became analytic. The strength and conditioning program went from a team perspective under [Mike] Anderson to an individualized approach under Haith.

Haith replaced Mike Anderson, who was hired by Arkansas in 2011. When he arrived in Fayetteville, Anderson promptly started turning things around

“We’re remodeling some of the offices; we’re gonna remodel the mindset of our players,” Anderson said. “And at the same time, remodel our fans and get them engaged.

“Our fans have always been a part of Razorback basketball.”…

“We appreciate coach just spending that time and working with us and giving us time to adjust to his system,” [Marshawn] Powell said. “I just can’t wait. I’m excited; I’m ready.”

A talented group of four incoming freshmen are also being counted on for the Razorbacks, though Anderson warned, “They’re not gonna be the savior.” The highly recruited group includes Ky Madden, Devonta Abron, B.J. Young and Hunter Mickelson, and Madden said they’ve blended quickly with the upperclassmen.

Tomorrow Haith and Missouri will host UCLA, where Steve Alford is turning things around:

Many of these UCLA kids are former coach Ben Howland’s players, but they look nothing like the last 10 years of Howland’s teams. They sprint constantly, pass quickly, shoot furiously. They played defense only occasionally, but it’s a blast to watch them swoop, particularly revelation Zach LaVine, the best freshman in these parts since Kevin Love. They have scored at least 80 points in their last seven wins, the first such streak since the national championship team in 1995.

Says guard Kyle Anderson: “We have more freedom, you’re not so tense with the ball, we’re not being robots.”

Adds guard Norman Powell: “It’s a joy to play, and Coach is a joy to be around.”

Alford was hired away from New Mexico, where he’s been replaced by longtime assistant Craig Neal. This season in Albuquerque, Neal is turning things around:

While he did run the offense for the past six seasons, Neal wasn’t making the final decision on tempo and pace of the game under his predecessor Steve Alford.

“I’ve always told myself when I was going to get a chance that I was going to push the pace the first 15 seconds (of each possession) to try and get either an early touch in the paint or a good drive to the basket where you get fouled or a good shot,” Neal said. “… I’ve always thought all along, even when I played, that the easiest offense is getting a stop, then (get out in) transition.”

New coaches can indeed turn things around, of course. Haith went 30-5 in his first season in Columbia, and the Tigers secured their highest NCAA tournament seed in 18 years. In that same vein, I  suspect Alford this season may have the best offense of his 19-year career, with Jordan Adams being for him roughly what Marcus Denmon was for Haith in 2011-12. (“Hi, I’m the new coach here. Hey, what’s this? One of the five most efficient high-volume scorers in Division I? That’ll be handy.”)

But probability dictates that every once in a while a new-coach headline like this would be closer to the truth:

New Hire “Totally Doomed,” Say AD, Players
Coach Vows to Slow Pace Way Down, Bulldoze Practice Facility

As for Alford’s specific case, he’s turning things around. UCLA has indeed been going fast, but the Bruins went fast in Howland’s last season too and no one outside of SoCal found that particularly noteworthy.

The big difference is that UCLA’s been unconscious from the field. Part of that’s a soft schedule, naturally, but the presence of Adams and freshman Zach “This Year’s Stauskas” LaVine suggests that some portion of this excellence may turn out to be a movable feast. Anyway, it’s not like playing against the Washington and Oregon State defenses will constitute a harrowing ordeal. If anything the Bruins’ numbers may improve.

Lastly, now that Adams no longer has to vie for attention with a teammate who had hypnotic consecutive “z”s in his name, observers may finally notice that the sophomore is one of the best offensive performers in the nation. Transformative new coach Steve Alford, I salute you!