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7 mid-major head coaches off to great debut seasons

These guys have gotten the party started the right way.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia State at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Over a month into the regular season, all the plans to score points and play fast trumpeted by first-year coaches have been put into action. For some, the early returns have been good.

The most recent edition of the Other Top 25 sees three teams with debutant coaches in the mix — BYU (10th), Buffalo (18th) and Nevada (25th). With those three included, here are seven first-year coaches that have gotten off to fast starts and, presumably, energized their respective fan bases.

Jim Whitesell, Buffalo

Record: 6-3
Best win: @ DePaul

Nate Oats is gone, and Nick Perkins, Jeremy Harris and CJ Massinburg are out of eligibility, but Buffalo still appears to be a factor in the MAC after the season’s first month. Former Bulls assistant Jim Whitesell has kept the team playing fast, and has overseen smooth transitions into bigger roles for junior Jayvon Graves (17.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG) and senior Davonta Jordan (13.4 PPG, 5.2 APG). And believe it or not, the Bulls own a pair of KenPom wins (Harvard, DePaul) better than they had to this point a year ago. This team may not be a 30-win, nationally-ranked steamroller, but it’s still got forward momentum.

Jeff Boals, Ohio

Record: 7-3
Best win: @ St. Bonaventure

Boals has continued to win buy games, and while the Bobcats also started 7-3 a year ago, this year’s version is more impressive. Ohio had to replace its two leading scorers, and in the process sophomore point guard Jason Preston has taken an explosive step forward as a walking triple-double threat (16.9 PPG, 8.6 APG, 5.8 RPG). Boals’ underclassmen-heavy rotation owns road wins at St. Bonaventure and Iona, and is currently riding a four-game winning streak. The biggest difference from a year ago? Ohio is taking more three’s, and making them at a much higher rate.

Todd Golden, San Francisco

Record: 8-2
Best win: Yale

The Dons went with the continuity hire in elevating Golden to the top job when Kyle Smith left for Washington State. The 34-year old has kept the ship moving in the right direction, orchestrating a top-46 KenPom offense despite USF losing its leading scorer (Frankie Ferrari) and rebounder (Matthew McCarthy) to graduation. The Dons were able to bounce back from competitive losses against Hawaii (a sneaky-tough trip) and Arizona State by beating Cal at home on the second night of a Pac-12 back-to-back. They seem ticketed for another 20-win season and bright future under the former Saint Mary’s point guard.

Mark Pope, BYU

Record: 8-4
Best win: @ Houston

Dave Rose certainly didn’t leave the cupboard bare in Provo, but Pope had to navigate the first nine games of the season without his best player (the suspended Yoeli Childs). He has the Cougars in the at-large hunt nonetheless, as they relied heavily on newcomers Jake Toolson and Alex Barcello to pick up wins over Houston and fellow first-year coach buddies UCLA and Virginia Tech. As Childs is worked back into the mix, the Cougars offense is as potent as it has been per KenPom efficiency (23rd) since the last time they made the NCAA Tournament in 2015.

Steve Alford, Nevada

Record: 7-4
Best win: Bowling Green

It figured Alford would eventually win at Nevada, but many may not have it would be this soon. Eric Musselman’s transfer bonanza hadn’t completely left Reno when Alford took over, as Jazz Johnson, Lindsey Drew, Nisre Zouzoua and Jalen Harris (who sat out last year) were on the roster. But, of those players, Drew had missed the past season and a half with an Achilles injury and Zouzoua had gotten sparse playing time a year ago. Alford has been able to work them both into primary roles, while already seeing some of his own players — like freshman forward Zane Meeks — have an impact. This may not be an at-large team, but it already seems able to win plenty of games in the Mountain West, blowout loss to BYU notwithstanding.

Rob Lanier, Georgia State

Record: 6-3
Best win: @ Cal Baptist

They may not have an eye-popping win, but the Panthers have played everyone on their schedule close — including Duke — and are currently riding a five-game winning streak. Losing Ron Hunter was a big blow to GSU and the Sun Belt, but Lanier, a longtime Rick Barnes assistant, has started strong in Atlanta despite losing D’Marcus Simonds and a trio of key seniors from last year’s team. The perimeter trio of Corey Allen (17.1 PPG), Kane Williams (13.8 PPG) and Justin Roberts (11.2 PPG) look poised to make GSU a factor yet again in the Sun Belt.

Danny Sprinkle, Montana State

Record: 6-3
Best win: @ UNC Greensboro

Sprinkle took over a program losing an iconic scorer in Tyler Hall, and has already turned in one of its best wins in recent memory. The Nov. 16 win at tough-as-nails UNC Greensboro was an early statement for Sprinkle, and the Bobcats have kept it up. At 6-3, it’s only the second time since 1997 they’ve started a season with that mark or better. The defense has improved per KenPom efficiency since a year ago, and they’ll continue to rely on Norwegian senior Harald Frey to provide more thrills throughout the Big Sky season.

Also considered: Casey Alexander (Belmont), Eric Henderson (South Dakota State), Darrin Horn (Northern Kentucky), Geno Ford (Stony Brook), Billy Donlon (Kansas City), Carm Maciarello (Siena).