As I went to rank who I think the top 10 college basketball coaches are heading into this year, what you can’t judge with a stat is what a guy does with talent. I think even in basketball that’s a little bit easier to assess when you’ve only got five guys on the court at a time and 12, 13, 14 guys on a team which is a little bit harder to do in football.
I’m going to list my top 10 coaches in order, my honorable mentions, and some guys that are hard charging, firing up the radar quickly and then an overrated list.
So my top 10 in order are:
1. Coach K – and I don’t think it’s close
2. Tom Izzo – and I do think it’s close especially two through five
3. Jay Wright
4. Bill Self
5. John Calipari
Here’s where I jumped into a little bit of other metrics with the eye test:
6. Gregg Marshall
7. Sean Miller – who did let us down by not winning it all last year
8. Tony Bennett
9. Roy Williams – no matter what list you look at you won’t find Roy Williams lower than my list
10. Chris Mack
First couple guys out in the honorable mention: Mark Few, Dana Altman, Tommy Amaker and Mike Brey. Those aren’t necessarily guys in that order but those are guys I considered moving into that top 10. I think Mark Few is a guy I really, really considered hard and it came down between Few and Chris Mack for me and it really wasn’t close because I think Mark Few would have been in my 15-20 range which is kind of where John Beilein is prior to this last year but he really hard charged his way to the top.
One of the guys I feel really gets a raw deal is Bill Self. First of all, I always admire consistency. I always put a ton on the regular season. I understand what March Madness is and it’s my second favorite sporting event ever as well after the NBA Playoffs. But I think sometimes we lose sight of how consistent you have to be over the course of a four month grind to hang a banner for winning a regular season championship. Him doing so 13 consecutive times in the Big 12 in addition to doing it two times back-to-back in the Big Ten at Illinois is insane. Yup he’s lost when he’s been a higher seed but he’s earned those higher seeds. I think more of Bill Self. He’s better at Xs and Os than he gets credit for. He’s good at player development and he also recruits really well.
The two guys I think are Xs and Os geniuses on this board are Gregg Marshall and Chris Mack. Those are two guys where you could take Grand Valley State’s squad, put them in the MAC and Gregg Marshall and Chris Mack could put them in unbelievable positions on both ends of the floor. Chris Mack with the changing defenses. Gregg Marshall with just really tough man to man. And then offensively, both guys do an amazing job of putting their teams in position to make plays. That’s why Gregg Marshall is kind of higher on my list than he would be on any other list.
John Calipari at five you could argue that’s a little low. But for me with the talent that he’s had he’s got to win it all more. It’s not always about that for everybody and it might seem that I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth when I don’t have Roy Williams that high for a guy with the glory of being a multiple banner winner. But when you have the type of teams and the type of talent that John Calipari’s had and I don’t care that you’ve only had them for one year, everyone has guys for one year now, that’s how long Coach K is having them. When you’ve this kind of success at Kentucky, he’s 249-53, and dominated the way he’s dominated in the SEC in I think year nine and you’ve only won it all once, I think you’ve got to cut down nets more. I think that’s why I have him at five after Jay Wright and Bill Self.
Sean Miller is just a guy that I feel like it’s just right there. I feel like he’s on the brink more than anyone else. I think he’ll have his best team that he’s ever had this year. You also can’t forget his crazy success at Xavier. He was 120-47, made an Elite Eight and Sweet 16. I think he’s a guy who is just really on the verge.
Tony Bennett is doing it at a place where it’s not super easy to do it. He has not had the post season success that he would have liked to have. Winning the ACC in back to back years is something at that school which is really strong – back to back 30 win seasons and what was his problem in those two years? He ran into two really good Michigan State teams that knocked them off both times. So I’m a little bit higher on Tony Bennett I think.
The Roy Williams thing to me is a tough one. I get it. I think he’s coached 28 years, somewhere in there, 27 or 28 years at Kansas and North Carolina and I think if you gave anyone on my list 28 years at Kansas and North Carolina, they would win just as many championships as Roy Williams has won. He’s coached in the best places that you could possibly ever coach and I actually think that I could cite very specific years where he should have won it all where he didn’t win it all. I think there’s a fair amount of criticism that comes with that. My guess is him being at Kansas all those years and never winning it all is probably something that they would agree with too. I just think if you give Gregg Marshall Roy Williams’ teams, I think if you give Chris Mack Roy Williams’ teams the types of things you might see would be a little bit different.
Honorable mention guys: Mark Few knocking on the door, Dana Altman really knocking on the door just because he’s done it at places that are not easy at all. He coached in Manhattan, Kansas, he coached Creighton, and now he’s doing it at Oregon which basketball wise is not an easy place to do. He’s won the PAC 12 the last two years, made it to a Final Four. I just can’t see a scenario in a few years where he’s not in my top 10. Another weird name to be in there considering what he did at M and the struggles he had there is Tommy Amaker. I think in the next 5-7 years he’s going to continue to have Harvard in a really good spot. He went to four NCAA tournaments in a row. I think he’s a guy if you look it will be interesting to see if he stays in that job, or he if stays in that job too long or he takes another crack at one of those big jobs.
As a student of the Xs and Os side of this and given my belief in Chris Mack, I think if it wasn’t going to be Chris Mack for the IU job, it seemed like it had to be Archie Miller. Archie Miller made a lot of sense. I don’t know if we’ll ever find out if Chris Mack was truly the runner up. Chris Mack is not a great recruiter and I’m sure that maybe made some of the fans down there a little bit leery. If someone else could pick the team, and he could do what he does best, I think that’s the best case scenario. Chris Mack in the NCAA Tournament, when he gets in, he’s been to the Sweet 16 three times, he’s been to the Elite Eight because they’re so good at prep and turnaround, Xs and Os and really versatility in his offensive package is what’s most exciting about the way he coaches the game. On the flip side of that, the Ohio State thing is interesting. My guess is a guy like Chris Mack wanted the Indiana job like everyone else who wanted the Indiana job and was probably a bit bummed that he was in the top group but didn’t get it. I’m not sure how appealing the Ohio State job is depending on where he would want to land or where he would want to end. There’s a lot of issues with that job. You kind of are the top dog at Xavier. You don’t have to worry about the football beast. Who knows where he wants to go after this. If there’s a different job other than Ohio State where he wants to land on or end on. I don’t know, if he wants to be the Notre Dame coach or he wants to be the Michigan State coach. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Chris Mack interest in Ohio State wasn’t as great. My guess is he was a little bummed out that Archie Miller beat him out at Indiana.
Two other groups: guys that are hard charging up the list, actually a handful of guys. Wojo out at Marquette is really doing a solid job on the recruiting trail. He had a solid year this year. Chris Collins now has facilities, they are moving in the right direction at Northwestern, he’s got guys that can play. So I would expect Northwestern to become a consistent upper echelon team in the Big Ten in the next couple of years. Mitch Henderson is a name to keep in mind at Princeton. Really young guy who’s got them going in a great direction. And then Avery Johnson. Interesting, interesting name. I don’t know why he left the NBA and took the Alabama job, I don’t know what he was thinking when he took the Alabama job, but he has started to really tear it up on the recruiting trail and they’re going to have big time players in there for the first time in a long time. In the 17 class, he’s got five commits. Two guys that are in the top 100 which is interesting to see and they have a top 100 kid who they brought in last year as well. So keep an eye on him in Tuscaloosa and what he might get going there.
Finally, my overrated list. Steve Alford is the king of my overrated list. Scott Drew at Baylor. Kevin Ollie. It’s hard to have a really bad year at UConn and now that Jim Calhoun’s players aren’t there, he’s in a big struggle. I think Shaka Smart is a good coach but it’s a little bit of a gimmick system in the Power 5 which he’s finding out doesn’t work. So those are four guys I have on my overrated list.
And then I refuse to rank Rick Pitino. I think he should be fired. I think he’s a disgrace to the coaching profession so I just didn’t put him on my list in any way, shape or form.