I tweeted 140 characters worth of musings on the college basketball Coach of the Year candidates a few weeks back, but since it’s a fluid process, I can elaborate a bit more here, as this season seems to present more deserving men for Coach of the Year than in years past.
As we motor forward during March Madness 2012, here are the leading candidates, in no particular order (alphabetical actually), for the top college basketball coach in 2011-2012.
The Final Five
Mike Brey, Notre Dame
Picked ninth, the Irish lost three starters then their best returnee, and were 5-4 in early December. They gave Syracuse their only loss Jan. 21, had good road wins, pounded Marquette (a team ‘Cuse was lucky to beat and avoided on the road), and finished third.
Did you know Brey’s teams have won 20 games six years in a row?
Frank Haith, Missouri
Mizzou was picked fourth, which many local writers thought was too high, yet the Tigers were the best team in the Big 12 (and the nation) much of season.
Haith, a controversial hire after a last and ninth place ACC finish the past two years — plus being linked tangentially to the vile Nevin Shapiro — has exceeded expectations. 27-4 is remarkable with a Big 12 schedule.
Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
Picked a distant second in The Valley after missing the Field of 68 last year, Wichita was the second hottest team in America before a hiccup in the MVC semi-finals to 20 win Illinois State Saturday.
The Shockers had been in the RPI & Pomeroy Top 10 most of 2012, and are an NCAA-best 19-3 on the road since the beginning of last season (a most relevant stat since anyone can win at home, and why “mid-majors” succeed in March). And though the MVC was top-heavy this season with Creighton & WSU being Top 25 squads, only two teams had losing records in the nation’s #8 RPI conference.
Wichita should be no worse than a 5 seed (having watched them all season, I would still go 4), which is noteworthy for the at-large school from southern Kansas.
Bill Self, Kansas
The Jayhawks lost four starters, including three to NBA, but the emergence of Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor from bench and role player, respectively, to legit player of year candidates, helped KU win the nation’s best conference with a sparking 16-2 mark, including eight straight wins to close the season.
Buzz Williams, Marquette
The Golden Eagles were picked 6th in the Big East, laid under radar until late February, then made their move, finishing a solid second in the 16 team conference. A top 10 ranking, 14 Big East wins and 25 wins overall.
What do you think?
(There have been so many exceptional coaching jobs this season that I would not object to any of these guys winning the award. Alphabetical order below.)
Tom Crean, Indiana
Fourth year rebuilding a legendary program, undefeated outside the Big Ten, won 24 games after 28 victories the last three seasons combined.
Bryce Drew, Valparaiso
Replacing his father, the 37-year-old first year coach was picked 5th, won the Horizon title, ousting conference king Butler three times in one season, besting the Bulldogs twice in the past nine days.
Scott Drew, Baylor
Top five team much of season, four of six losses to Kansas and Missouri, 25 wins.
Fran Dunphy, Temple
Won a very good Atlantic 10 for first time in 12 seasons after being picked a distant second. 13-3 in conference, 24-6 overall. Wow. As impressive as Duke or North Carolina for sure.
Steve Fisher, San Diego State
Lost his four BEST players off a Sweet 16 team, picked distant third, finished with 24 share of regular season title (top seed in MWC tourney) in fifth best conference.
Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State
Tom Izzo, Michigan State
Arguably the only intrepid major conference coach willing to schedule tough in November and December. After being picked fourth, the Spartans shared the crown in the nation’s best (or second best) conference with Michigan and pre-season king Ohio State.
Rick Majerus, Saint Louis
Second place (12-4) in a conference equal to the ACC, if not better; 24 wins overall for a team that hasn’t made the tourney in 12 years.
Greg McDermott, Creighton
28 wins and a second MVC title for the second year coach with a young team who was in the top 25 nearly all season, up to 15 at one juncture. Son Doug, especially after yesterday’s epic performance, should be national player of the year. Best shooting team in America. Aside from a rough Feb. 4-11 week, CU hasn’t lost a game since December. Blue Jays making first NCAA tourney appearance since 2007.
Steve Prohm, Murray State
First year head coach unbeaten into February. The 37-year-old’s Racers avenged their only loss (Tennessee State) twice, and finished 30-1.
Unlike Greg Anthony recently, I ignored Jim Boeheim, John Calipari, Mike Kryzyzewski, Thad Matta, and Roy Williams because, like managing the Yankees, Phillies or Red Sox — and even moreso in hoops — these coaches did what they should’ve done with such incredibly deep, talented teams.
And of those five coaches, only Matta’s team played in a tough conference this season. Boeheim and Kryzyzewski, in particular, had double blessings, benefiting from lucky scheduling breaks within down years for their conferences. The SEC was less than stellar as well in 2011-2012.
It will be interesting to see how these candidates fare over the next month versus the five aforementioned “big time” coaches. Not challenging your team during the season has resulted in early exits for many of these folks recently, while “mid-majors” make deep runs, even to the Final Four.
Duke, Kentucky and Ohio State did not have a non-conference road win between them this season.
This major problem in collegiate basketball was covered last week by MSF’s own Jon Washburn.