It’s a fluid process, with many meriting consideration, but as we motor toward March Madness 2014, here are the leading candidates, listed alphabetically, for the top college basketball coach this season.
The Final Five:
Tony Bennett, Virginia
Though somehow they may be seeded lower than Duke and Syracuse in March Madness, Virginia won the ACC with a week to play. No “expert” expected this, and the Cavs have been under-appreciated all season.
The Cavaliers finished the season with a 25-6 record and were 16-2 in the ACC.
Larry Brown, SMU
An under-the-radar 2012 hiring of the only coach to win both an NCAA and NBA championship proved savvy. The 73-year-old took a campus more known for a 1987 football “death penalty” and the George W. Bush Presidential Library to a 23-win, Top 25 hoops team, which didn’t lose consecutive games until the final week of play.
The Mustangs finished 23-8 and were 12-6 in the American Athletic Conference.
Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
Marshall’s team followed up a remarkable 2013 Final Four appearance with an undefeated 2014 season. In any conference that’s outstanding and a spot as a number one seed should require no additional information — unless you’re a sheltered member of the mainstream sports media.
Marshall led the Shockers to a 34-0 record and they finished 18-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Greg McDermott, Creighton
Unranked preseason and picked fourth as new Big East members, Creighton was supposed to be down this year. Losing their starting center, and a knee injury to sixth-year point guard Grant Gibbs hurt, but with leadership from the best player in America, the Bluejays won 24 games. Also undefeated at home, the Bluejays could be on their way to a three seed Sunday.
The Bluejays finished 24-6, and were second in the Big East with a 14-4 record.
Tim Miles, Nebraska
Nebraska was picked dead last in the B1G preseason poll. In just his second season, Miles brought the Huskers to the top half of arguably nation’s best conference, including many more impressive road wins than the Blue Devils or Orange. Downtown Lincoln’s beautiful new arena - where UNL lost just once – was packed every night in a city more known for clinging to its underachieving football program.
The Huskers finished the regular season with a 19-11 record and were 11-7 in the Big Ten.
John Beilein, Michigan: Winners of the nation’s toughest conference despite losing arguably their best player early in the season and two others to the 2013 NBA Draft.
Jim Crews, St. Louis: Though the Billikens, unranked preseason, struggled down the stretch, they were a Top 10 team deep into February and won a league that could get more teams in the field than the ACC.
Billy Donovan, Florida: With 23 straight triumphs, the Gators became the first to ever to go undefeated in SEC conference play, finishing 29-2 overall, in a year where nearly every other “major” team stumbled often.
Steve Fisher, San Diego State: Won 90 percent of his games, including a stirring finale, and another title in the rugged Mountain West. The Aztecs were also the only team to beat the Kansas in Lawrence this season.
Bill Self, Kansas: Despite losing all five starters, KU won the nation’s deepest conference (for the 10th consecutive time), and have a decent shot at a No. 1 seed.
Jay Wright, Villanova: If Creighton didn’t exist, the Wildcats would have just one loss all season. They’re Big East champs despite being chosen fourth in October, and are headed for a one or two seed in NCAA Tournament.