Posted: 4:42 p.m. Monday, Aug. 12, 2013
By Green Akers
Let's have a look at the best of the men calling the figurative and literal shots- the head coaches.
For purposes of this discussion, we're primarily considering the accomplishments of these coaches at their current schools. Sorry, Minnesota and Northwestern fans, I know this shuts your guys out before the conversation even starts, but the title of the article is "Ranking The B1G Basketball Coaches," so if your school's coach has yet to coach in a single B1G game, we don't really have much to discuss. That's not meant to imply Pitino and Collins can't or won't be successful at their new gigs, though each certainly has their work cut out for them given the states of their rosters and the brutal competition in this conference. Feel free, though, to argue that time spent tearing up the Sun Belt will totally translate to instant success in the country's toughest basketball conference.
In putting this list together, I'm mostly relying on straightforward resume items. The graph below is an attempt to compile all the relevant numbers assembled. I think the categories are straightforward, but to be perfectly clear, the data represents overall record, conference record, regular season titles, B1G Tournament titles, NCAA Tournament appearances, and the best NCAA result achieved by that coach. Regular season titles include shared titles. If the coach has gone the same depth into the NCAA tournament multiple times, only the most recent appearance is given.
Third Round (2013)
Sweet Sixteen (2013)
NIT Runner Up (2013)
Runner Up (2013)
Runner Up (2007)
Sweet Sixteen (2010)
Elite Eight (2005)
Numbers are one thing, but of course, there's more to being a successful coach than wins and losses. We also wouldn't want to do anything preposterous like grounding our conclusions entirely in objective data (this is the INTERNET, you guys), so I also include the general feeling the program has at the moment. Is this coach, and his program, trending up, or down? What are the expectations for this season, and for the future?
One factor which I decided to omit from this calculus is number and position of NBA draft picks. I understand that, to an extent, programs are now partially evaluated by many people based on how many pros they churn out. If you were to include this measure, Thad Matta would have to be higher on this list, as there's no doubt Ohio State has attracted and sent forth the most NBA talent of any team in the conference during his tenure. However, I have concluded that the amount of top-tier talent that has come through Columbus is probably properly reflected in OSU's success of late, and thus felt no need to include it as a separate metric. Dispute my conclusion if you like, but that's how I decided to roll.
Honorable Mention-Fran McCaffrey, Iowa
So I cheated and ranked a sixth coach. Sue me. I wanted to give a quick nod of the head to the coach of what I view as the conference's fastest-rising program. "But G.A.," thou doth protest. "Iowa has yet to make an NCAA appearance under Fran's watch, while [insert your school's snubbed coach here] has accomplished [insert cherrypicked favorable stat or outlier season here]." Right you are, friend. That guy and that accomplishment are quite impressive in their own right.
But Fran has taken a program that, on his arrival, was unwatchable in every sense of the word and, in three seasons, turned it into a team that's now getting plaudits as a dark-horse to win the conference. I don't like to bash previous coaches too much, but Lickliter left a real mess at Iowa. Fran has, in fairly short order, installed a system much more conducive to not making fans' eyes bleed, and has even gone toe-to-toe against blue-bloods on the recruiting trail and won a couple victories there, as well. The results haven't been there in the record column quite yet, but all signs are pointing up in Iowa City.
5. Tom Crean, Indiana
Somewhat like McCaffrey, Crean has, in somewhat short order, restored the confidence of a dispirited fan base and revived a program. The difference between them is that in Crean's situation, he not only inherited a roster cored by Kelvin Sampson's indiscretions, but a fanbase of one of college basketball's true name brand programs thirsty for both a return to glory and a renewed sense of pride in their team after painful NCAA sanctions.
After five seasons, the Hoosier faithful are back on board, and with good reason. The first seasons under Crean's watch were as brutal as expected, but with a boost from homegrown players, Crean assembled the best squad in the conference in 2012.
It is fair to say that, with all the talent on the roster and the regular season success, a Sweet Sixteen exit was a bit of a disappointment. Moreover, the Hoosiers' roster will be without four of last year's starters (Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford, and top-5 picks Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller) when next season tips off. Still, the Hoosiers' strong recruiting of late has the candy-striped faithful confident of continued success, and even if 2013's team takes a step back, Crean looks to have restored a winning program in Bloomington.
4. John Beilein, Michigan
After multiple disappointing seasons following his arrival from West Virginia, Beilein's atypical system finally bore fruit last year in the form of a run to the National Championship game. Though the Wolverines fell short of claiming the title, it would be a mistake to assume that they will fall back into mediocrity with the departure of All-Everything point guard Trey Burke. Plenty of returning talent, combined with Beilein's steadying presence, should ensure at least a top-3 finish in the conference in 2013.
As with Crean and McCaffrey, Beilein stepped into his job to find a moribund program. After an adjustment period that saw some less-than-impressive performances and plenty of questions about whether he could be the man to return Michigan to glory, he now has the Wolverines competing on a level they haven't in 20 years.
3. Thad Matta, Ohio State
Continuing something of a theme on this list, Matta began his tenure at Ohio State dealing with his predecessor's problems. Unlike Beilein, Crean or McCaffrey, however, Matta came into possession of a team with the talent to compete immediately, and compete they have.
Since sitting out the 2005 postseason due to self-imposed sanctions, the Buckeyes have been near-constant fixtures at or near the top of the conference. Matta has assembled three distinct cores of elite talent, and took the first (Greg Oden-Mike Conley) to a title game appearance, the second (Evan Turner/David Lighty/Jon Diebler) to back-to-back regular season and conference tourney titles, and the third (Jared Sullinger & Co.) to another Final Four.
If there is a knock on Matta, it might be that, with such consistently excellent talent, he should perhaps do even better. But it's hard to be critical of a 71% conference win record and two Final Four appearances in nine years.
2. William Francis "Bo" Ryan, Wisconsin
Although my appreciation for beautiful things in general and entertaining basketball in particular makes me grind my teeth as I type this, there is at this point no reasonable argument to challenge the efficacy of Bo Ryan's trademark coaching style. The perennially underrated Badgers continue to plod, flop, and bruise their way to one top-4 conference finish after another, along with an uninterrupted series of NCAA appearances. This, despite deploying rosters typically bereft of household names or probable NBA players, makes Bo an elite coach both in the conference and nationally.
It will, by the way, probably be the same story this season. Having lost their entire starting front-court and with Ben Brust as their most prominent returning player, preseason rankings will likely ignore the Badgers. They'll probably struggle through the non-conference, and then...they'll win a couple of conference games. Then a couple more. They'll beat Indiana on the road because that's just what they do. Then, before you know it, it's Valentine's Day and a Wisconsin team that wasn't supposed to be any good is lurking a game out of first place. And they will never go away.
That is what Bo Ryan has built in Madison, relying mostly on local players with relatively little fanfare. There do remain questions about whether Bo's style translates to tournament play well enough to allow the Badgers to hang banners, but the numbers speak for themselves, and no one but no one looks forward to a trip to the Kohl Center.
1. Tom Izzo
In the interest of full disclosure, I will acknowledge that I am an MSU alumnus and enthusiast. But even if I didn't feel a deep and abiding bromance toward the man, it's difficult to dispute who is the sitting godfather of B1G coaches.
After missing the NCAA tourney in his first two seasons, Izzo has rattled off a string of 16 straight berths, including 5 Final Fours and the National Championship in 2000. He's also found plenty of success in the conference, bringing 7 regular season and 3 tournament titles to East Lansing.
His noted emphasis on defense and rebounding often leads to slow-developing teams, and the Spartans are typically much better at the end of the season than the beginning. This, combined with Izzo's propensity to schedule the best teams he can possibly find, often leads to high-profile defeats in the non-conference that push the Spartans below the national radar for a good portion of the year.
That will not be the case this season. With the substantial majority of last year's team returning, MSU is favored to win the B1G, and should be ranked no lower than #3 by any poll worth its salt. Given Izzo's postseason acumen, MSU has a better chance than most teams of derailing Calipari's Kentucky juggernaut-to-be come March.
Looking at the whole picture- regular season success, postseason achievements, and present and near-future expectations- Tom Izzo is the best of the B1G's coaches.