Top 5 Coach of the Year Candidates
Who has done the best job leading their team this season?
by David Cassilo / @dcassilo
Talent does not always meet expectations. Ask Tom Izzo, Frank Martin and Mark Few about that. However, the opposite is equally as true. With about three weeks until major conference tournaments begin, three (Texas, Notre Dame and Wisconsin) of the top-10 teams in the country were unranked to start the season.
While voting for Coach of the Year is still about a month away, here are nation’s top contenders as of today.
5) Steve Lavin, St. John’s
When Lavin took over for Norm Roberts at St. John’s, he brought with him a personality that would instantly endear himself to the citizens of New York City. Soon he used that personality to bring in one of the most highly-touted recruiting classes in the country for the 2011-12 season. With that, college basketball pundits agreed the Red Storm were on the rise, but their time would come next season.
Lavin, though, has fast forwarded his team’s arrival date to this season. He has used Madison Square Garden to his team’s advantage and has already defeated Duke, Notre Dame, Connecticut and Georgetown there this season. At 16-9 overall and 8-5 in the Big East, the Red Storm appear poised to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002.
4) Rick Barnes, Texas
There was no question about the level of talent on Texas’ roster before the year, but after last season’s collapse it was unclear if all of those players were capable of playing with each other. After being unranked to start the season, Texas might be a win this weekend away from seizing the No. 1 spot on Monday. The Longhorns are 11-0 in the Big 12 and have won 17 of their last 18 games, with the only defeat coming in overtime by a point to Connecticut.
Barnes’ decision to start both Cory Joseph and Dogus Balbay in the backcourt has proved to be the right choice to complement the talented trio of forwards, headlined by Big 12 Player of the Year candidate Jordan Hamilton.
3) Sean Miller, Arizona
The Pac-10 and Arizona weren’t on anyone’s radar to start the season, but Miller has the Wildcats ranked No. 12 in the country. After leaving Xavier for Tuscon, it didn’t take too long for Miller to put perennial contender Arizona back on the national radar. Since an 87-65 pounding at home at the hands of BYU on Dec. 11, the Wildcats have went 13-2.
The recent success has come despite Arizona being virtually a one-man team. Outside of Derrick Williams, no Wildcat is averaging double-figures in scoring. Regardless, Miller has been able to run the offense through Williams and gives the Pac-10 a legitimate Final Four threat with his 21-4 Wildcats.
2) Jim Calhoun, Connecticut
No team was a bigger early season surprise than the Huskies, and although the Big East schedule has slowed them down, they still sit at No. 13 in the country.
Of course, you can’t talk about UConn without talking about Kemba Walker, but it is the development of the team’s other players that Calhoun deserves credit for. Alex Oriakhi, Jeremy Lamb and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel have all made tremendous strides during the season making the Huskies much more than a one-man show. After missing the NCAA tournament last season, this group is poised to return. Not bad for a team picked to finish 10th in the Big East before the season.
1) Mike Brey, Notre Dame
Although St. John’s and Connecticut have surprised this season, no team has turned more heads in the Big East than Notre Dame. After a 3-3 start in conference play, Notre Dame has reeled off seven straight victories.
The Fighting Irish did not receive a single AP vote before the season and had lost last season’s best player, Luke Harangody, to the NBA, but they sit at No. 8 in the nation and appear nearly a lock for a top-2 seed in the Big East Tournament. Brey has had NCAA tournament teams before, but this group has transformed into Final Four contenders.