Ranking the Top SEC Basketball Head Coaches

Bruce Pearl and John Calipari may be two obvious adds here, but who else? In this article, I dive into coaching records and NCAA Tournament appearances that make each coach worthy or not worthy of being ranked amongst the top five coaches in the SEC.
Miami v Auburn
Miami v Auburn / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages
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The SEC has become one of the premier conferences in college basketball due to an elevation in coaching. Along with coaching, an influx of player talent has come through the league as well.

Until the last decade or so, SEC basketball was synonymous with the Kentucky Wildcats and their Head Coach John Calipari. And that was about it. Now, that has changed with the elevation in coaching.

As an example, at the conclusion of the 2013-2014 season, the Florida Gators and Kentucky Wildcats were the only two ranked teams in the AP Poll. At the conclusion of the 2022-2023 season, there was four.

That may not seem like much, but when there are 351 teams and amongst 32 conferences in Division one basketball, four is quite impressive.

In this article, I rank the top five SEC head coaches as of the end of the 2023-2024 regular season.

Rick Barnes (5)

Rick Barnes had quite the run as Head Coach of the Texas Longhorns, and that has continued in Knoxville as Head Coach of the Tennessee Volunteers where Barnes has been since the 2015-206 season.

During his nine seasons so far in Knoxville, Barnes has led the Vols to six NCAA Tournament appearances. Four of those seasons have come with 24 wins or more.

Those are some pretty impressive stats, but the number of early round exits for Barnes during his time in Knoxville is the reason we see him at number five in the rankings and not higher.  

Nate Oats (4)

96-43. That was Nate Oats’ record as Head Coach of the University of Buffalo Bulls where he coached four seasons from 2016 to 2019. He also coached the Bulls to three NCAA Tournament appearances in those four years.

Oats has continued his success in the SEC as Head Coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide where he has been since the 2019-2020 season. In only his second season, Oats led the Tide to the NCAA Tournament with a record of 26-7.  His team posted another impressive record of 31-6 a few seasons later.

Oats has led the Tide to four tournament appearances in the last four years. The last time the Tide accomplished this feat would be all the way back in the early 2000’s under former Head Coach Mark Gottfried.

For a program that does not have much national recognition in basketball, Oats has changed the conversation around the Tide. And given that he was able to do the same at his previous stop, he is worth of the number four ranking.