Below are the SEC’s top 5 coaches looking to lead their teams to the game’s biggest stage.
1) Dawn Staley — South Carolina
Staley has the best resume in the SEC. Since the Gamecocks’ 2017 championship, Staley continues to be a master recruiter. Staley is a player’s coach at heart. She finds the happy medium between a social and winning culture, the primary reason for the Gamecocks being a powerhouse.
Although the Gamecocks lost key pieces like Ty Harris and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, Staley brings a formidable new bunch to the table. Aliyah Boston and Zia Cookie will be at the forefront of next year’s squad. Staley will be in prime position for a championship run.
2) Mike Neighbors — Arkansas
Neighbors has turned the tide in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks finished 10-6 in conference play, tied for third with Kentucky. Having made their way to the semifinals, the Razorbacks were the SEC Tournament’s cinderella.
Expect Neighbors and company to shake things up next year. They should finish third but do not be surprised if they give Mississippi State or South Carolina a run for their money.
3) Nikki McCray-Penson — Mississippi State
McCray-Penson is third only because she has not yet coached a game. But she does bring a resume and a half to Starkville. Under Dawn Staley, McCray-Penson has learned from the best. Like Staley, she is a player’s coach and has plenty of talent and experience at her disposal.
Look for McCray-Penson to be higher on this list after a full season. She will look to Rickea Jackson, Jessika Carter, and Myah Taylor as leaders. All three are capable and will shine when learning from a former player.
4) Matthew Mitchell — Kentucky
Mitchell has transformed Kentucky’s program. But Mitchell has Rhyne Howard. With her, the Wildcats have just as good a shot as anyone.
The key to the Wildcats’ success is Howard’s development and impact on teammates. If Mitchell can develop Howard into a better passer and defender, look out.
5) Gary Blair — Texas A&M
A mentor to former Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer, Blair knows the game. But he did lose Chennedy Carter. Blair cannot recruit like Staley. The Aggies will make noise and possibly win a few upsets but not much else.
Blair has the experience, and his squad will be on the map. The Aggies should get off to a good start but find themselves low in the standings when all is said and done.
Each coach has the requisite pieces to win. But who can use them best? In Mississippi State’s case, McCray-Penson is walking into a perfect situation.