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Michigan State's Tom Izzo tops our list again
The national championship hardware remains in the state of Kentucky, but Athlon Sports’ top coach honors remain in East Lansing.
Last season, we ranked Michigan State’s Tom Izzo the No. 1 coach in the country, and we saw little reason to change that in 2012-13. The Spartans were in the thick of the Big Ten all season, finishing one game behind Indiana for regular season title in the toughest league in the country. Michigan State then reached the Sweet 16 for the fifth time in six seasons.
Izzo is 13 seasons removed from his only national title, but he’s also reached the Final Four four times since then.
That number may beg the question why Izzo, and not a more recent national champion, is our top coach. Simply put, he excels in all areas as a college basketball coach: NCAA Tournament success, regular season consistency, recruiting and player development.
Consider that no senior who has started with Izzo has finished his four years without reaching the Final Four. And Izzo has had this success without the benefit of churning out NBA Draft picks as freshmen and sophomores every year as many of his counterparts do. There’s nothing wrong with recruiting one-and-dones and sending them to the Draft, but Izzo has a formula that has worked for nearly two decades despite all the changes in the sport.
*A few things to note as we are ranking coaches: We are attempting to look at the whole package of gameday acumen, recruiting, player development, and regular-season and postseason success. We are also keeping in mind a coach’s career trajectory.
And now, on to the debate. Feel free to chime in at @AthlonSports on Twitter or Athlon Sports on Facebook.
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Big Ten | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC
1. Tom Izzo, Michigan State
Record (all at Michigan State): 439-178 overall (.712), 209-95 Big Ten (.693)
NCAA Tournament: 39-16, six Final Fours, one national championship
Tom Izzo will have two McDonald’s All-Americans on his roster in 2013-14 in Keith Appling and Gary Harris, a rarity for the longtime Spartans’ coach. Few coaches have weathered the changes in college basketball as well as Izzo — the changes in the NBA Draft rules, the ups and downs in the Big Ten and all the challenges that come with recruiting. Izzo has assembled the Big Ten’s most consistent program without a glut of first-round draft picks (none since 2006) or early entries to the NBA Draft (none during the one-and-done era). Consider this: Appling and Adreian Payne are looking to avoid becoming the first senior class to play all four years with Izzo and miss the Final Four.
2. Rick Pitino, Louisville
Record at Louisville: 310-111 overall (.736), 137-67 Conference USA/Big East (.672)
NCAA Tournament: 48-16, seven Final Fours, two national championships
Pitino further added his name to the record book by becoming the first coach to win an NCAA title at two different schools. He’ll have a chance to add a third title to the mantle as the Cardinals enter 2013-14 as a top-three team. In the AAC, he has no peer has an Tournament coach. His 48 NCAA wins are 15 more than the other nine coaches in the league combined. His teams are generally among the best defensive squads in the country with their ability to force turnovers. Pitino also is an excellent in-game tactician. But the legendary coach also has softened his demeanor in recent years. Just ask Peyton Siva and Russ Smith.
3. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke
Record at Duke: 884-238 overall (.788), 350-153 ACC (.696)
NCAA Tournament: 82-25, 11 Final Fours, four national championships
Since 2007, Duke has lost in the NCAA Tournament to an 11th-seeded VCU, seventh-seeded West Virginia and 15th-seeded Lehigh. In that span, Mike Krzyzewski still managed his fourth national title and four 30-win seasons. Krzyzewski has passed Bob Knight on the all-time wins list and now chases Pat Summitt’s 1,098 wins in NCAA basketball. With a preseason top-five team on his hands in 2013-14, Krzyzewski remains at the top of his game.
4. John Calipari, Kentucky
Record at Kentucky: 123-26 overall (.826), 52-14 SEC (.788)
NCAA Tournament: 38-13, four Final Fours, one national championship
Calipari had his worst season since 2004-05 at Memphis as Kentucky went 21-12 and lost to Robert Morris in the NIT. True, this was not a typical Calipari team, but the Wildcats were on the verge of the NCAA Tournament before star Nerlens Noel went down with a leg injury. But Calipari should rebound in a way only he can. While his 2012-13 team plodded through an unimpressive SEC, Calipari was assembling one of the best recruiting classes of all time. Calipari could turn an NIT embarrassment into another Final Four appearance or more in 2013-14.
5. Bill Self, Kansas
Record at Kansas: 300-59 overall (.836), 137-27 Big 12 (.835)
NCAA Tournament: 35-14, two Final Fours, one national championship
The names and faces outside of Lawrence keep changing, but Kansas hasn’t fallen from its perch in the Big 12. Self has won at least 30 games in four consecutive seasons and reached the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in six of the last seven seasons. Even when the Jayhawks looked vulnerable for 2013-14 after losing all five starters, they signed the presumptive No. 1 draft pick, Andrew Wiggins, and landed transfer Tarik Black from Memphis. The new faces, including a signing class that ranked only second to Kentucky, will present a challenge for Self. He’s had the luxury of developing players like Cole Aldrich and Thomas Robinson from role players to All-America-type stars. Perry Ellis fits that mold for KU, but he's one of the few players with experience in the Big 12.
6. Jim Boeheim, Syracuse
Record (all at Syracuse): 920-314 (.746) overall, 362-191 (.655)
NCAA Tournament: 52-29, four Final Fours, one national championship
Last season was quite a year for Jim Boeheim. He crossed the 900-win mark (joining KrzyzewskI and Knight) and became the fourth coach to take a team to the Final Four in four different decades (joining Rick Pitino, Dean Smith and Krzyzewski). Now, one of the founding fathers of Big East basketball will try his hand at the ACC. In case you were wondering: Boeheim is 3-4 all-time against Duke and North Carolina.
7. Roy Williams, North Carolina
Record at North Carolina: 282-79 (.781) overall, 117-45 ACC (.722)
NCAA Tournament: 62-21, seven Final Fours, two national championships
Despite his stellar record, Roy Williams gets knocked for a few things: His teams crumble in the NCAA Tournament, and his teams don’t play defense. To those, we have two retorts. Williams has a better NCAA Tournament record at North Carolina (28-7) than he had at Kansas (34-14), a difference of nearly 10 percent and two national titles. And in 10 seasons under Williams, North Carolina has ranked in the top 25 nationally in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings eight times.
8. Billy Donovan, Florida
Record at Florida: 415-166 overall (.714), 174-110 SEC (.635)
NCAA Tournament: 31-11, three Final Fours, two national championships
Donovan is the only coach standing in the way of Kentucky hegemony in the SEC. The Gators needed some time to regroup after back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007, but they’ve won the SEC regular season title in two of the last three seasons. The Gators have lost in the Elite Eight in each of the last three seasons, but most teams would take three consecutive trips to the regional finals. Few programs will recruit to the same level as Kentucky, but Donovan never lacks for elite prospects in Gainesville.
9. Thad Matta, Ohio State
Record at Ohio State: 250-73 overall (.774), 111-45 (.712)
NCAA Tournament: 22-11, two Final Fours
More often than not, Matta has had the most talented roster in the Big Ten, especially since the Thad Five led the Buckeyes to the national championship game in 2007. The Buckeyes have advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in four consecutive seasons, though the 2011 team that stalled in the Sweet 16 was a major postseason disappointment. In 13 seasons as a head coach at Xavier, Butler and Ohio State, Matta has claimed at least a share of a regular season title an astounding eight times.
10. John Beilein, Michigan
Record at Michigan: 112-85 overall (.589), 55-53 Big Ten (.509)
NCAA Tournament: 13-8, one Final Four
Beilein is, in college basketball coaching terms, a self-made man. He’s never been an assistant, making his route to Michigan that much more unique. But now that he’s made the journey from community college to Le Moyne to Canisius to Richmond to West Virginia to Ann Arbor, we’re getting an idea of what Beilein can do at a Big Ten powerhouse. Beilein is the most successful coach at Michigan since the Fab Five days, and he shows little signs of slowing down. He’s signed elite recruits like Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III while developing a point guard Ohio State ignored in its own backyard (Trey Burke) into the national player of the year.
11. Shaka Smart, VCU
Record (all at VCU): 117-37 overall (.750), 50-20 Colonial/Atlantic 10 (.714)
NCAA Tournament: 7-3, one Final Four
Smart’s 117 wins through his first four seasons matches Brad Stevens’ record for the most wins in the first four seasons in of a career. If VCU wins 23 games this season, he’ll have the record for most wins in his first five seasons. More than wins, Smart’s teams have an identity based on the havoc defense. The Rams have led the nation in turnover rate the last two seasons, forcing turnovers on more than a quarter of possessions.
12. Bo Ryan, Wisconsin
Record at Wisconsin: 291-113 overall (.720), 144-60 Big Ten (.705)
NCAA Tournament: 16-12
The 2013-14 season was further testament that no matter what happens, Bo Ryan will have a top-four team in the Big Ten. Point guard Jordan Taylor moved on, then heir apparent Josh Gasser was lost for the season with a torn ACL in October. No matter, Wisconsin still finished 12-6 in the Big Ten, finishing in the top four in the league ever season under Ryan. Ryan has good reason to be confident in his formula: He’s been able to develop players in his system year in and year out. In 11 seasons at Wisconsin, Ryan’s teams have ranked in the top 10 in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency eight times and in the top 30 of offensive efficiency eight times. The only knock, though, is Wisconsin’s bad luck in the NCAA Tournament. The Badgers haven’t advanced beyond the Sweet 16 since 2005.
13. Sean Miller, Arizona
Record at Arizona: 96-43 overall (.691), 48-24 Pac-12 (.667)
NCAA Tournament: 11-6
It may be too early to say Sean Miller has returned Arizona to Lute Olson levels, but the Wildcats aren’t too far off. After a 16-15 mark in his first season, Miller has led Arizona to an 80-28 record in the last three, including a trip to the Elite Eight in 2011 and Sweet 16 in 2013. With a star-studded freshman class led by Aaron Gordon, Miller has a team that will contend the Final Four, a milestone the Wildcats haven’t reached since 2001.
14. Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh
Record (all at Pittsburgh): 262-86 overall (.753), 115-57 (.669) Big East
NCAA Tournament: 11-9
The 2011-12 season turned out to be a blip for Jamie Dixon at Pittsburgh. The Panthers went 5-13 in the Big East and missed the NCAA Tournament for his worst season as Pitt’s head coach. The Panthers quickly rebounded in 2013-14. Overall, a few numbers to consider: Dixon has one more Big East win than Boeheim since Dixon became head coach in 2003-04. Dixon also had 16 more Big East wins than Jim Calhoun from 2003-04 through the UConn coach’s retirement last season. And lastly, Dixon had only three fewer Big East wins (92) than Louisville’s Rick Pitino (95) when both programs were in the league. The only thing that’s missing is postseason success: Dixon has reached the Elite Eight and won Big East Tournament only once each.
15. Mike Montgomery, Cal
Record at Cal: 109-59 overall (.649), 59-31 Pac-12 (.656)
NCAA Tournament: 18-16, one Final Four
By going 12-6 in the Pac-12 last season, Montgomery is the first Cal coach to win 10 or more conference games in five consecutive seasons since Pete Newell did it in the ‘50s, a run that included the 1959 national championship. Montgomery may not replicate his run at Stanford, but Cal has proven it will be in the mix for an NCAA Tournament slot each season, no matter the changing personnel.
16. Mark Few, Gonzaga
Record (all at Gonzaga): 374-93 overall (.801), 178-22 West Coast (.890)
NCAA Tournament: 15-14
The West Coast Conference has become more competitive since Few took over in 1999-2000, but the Bulldogs continue to sit atop the league. Only once in his tenure has Gonzaga failed to win neither a West Coast regular season nor tournament title (2011-12). Gonzaga followed that with the best regular season in school history with a 32-3 record, 16-0 league mark and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. That season was spoiled by a round of 32 loss to Wichita State, the fourth consecutive season Gonzaga failed to reach the second weekend of the Tournament.
17. Tom Crean, Indiana
Record at Indiana: 84-82 overall (.506), 33-57 Big Ten (.367)
NCAA Tournament: 9-7, one Final Four
Crean has brought Indiana back to national prominence in a way that’s been lacking since the Bob Knight era. Crean reestablished Indiana’s recruiting clout in state, starting with the signing of Cody Zeller and continuing with Yogi Ferrell and Jeremy Hollowell. After a breakthrough season which saw Indiana win only its second post-Knight Big Ten title, it’s time to see if Crean can keep Indiana on top.
18. Buzz Williams, Marquette
Record at Marquette: 122-54 overall (.693), 60-30 Big East (.667)
NCAA Tournament: 8-5
Buzz Williams’ name keeps getting thrown out for other major jobs, but the stat-minded Texan is doing just fine in Milwaukee. Marquette is one of only four teams to reach the Sweet 16 in each of the last three seasons, joining Florida, Kansas and Ohio State. And he’s done this without the benefit of McDonald’s All-Americans. And despite the departure of Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom before last season, Marquette won a share of the Big East title.
19. Bob Huggins, West Virginia
Record at West Virginia: 133-75 overall (.635), 60-48 Big East/Big 12 (.556)
NCAA Tournament: 27-20, two Final Fours
West Virginia’s first season in the Big 12 truly was an aberration for Huggin. The 13-19 season was only the second losing season of his career and second losing conference season (the first for both being his first season at Akron in 1984-85). Perhaps Huggins had a mix that simply didn’t jell last season with Deniz Klicli trying to mesh with a handful of transfers and freshmen. Still, Huggins has made things work with wayward souls throughout his career, and he’ll try to do the same in 2013-14. The Mountaineers have regressed each season since reaching the 2010 Final Four, so there’s an element of concern here.
20. Jim Larranaga, Miami
Record at Miami: 49-20 overall (.710), 24-10 ACC (.706)
NCAA Tournament: 7-6, one Final Four
When Larranaga left George Mason for Miami, it seemed to be a cushy last job before he retired. Turns out Larranaga had a few more surprises. Seven years after taking George Mason to the Final Four, Larranaga won an ACC Tournament and regular-season title at Miami — the last ACC team other than Duke or North Carolina to do both in the same season was a David Thompson-led NC State team in 1974. Nearly as remarkable: Larranaga has had one losing conference season since 1993-94 while at Bowling Green.
21. Dana Altman, Oregon
Record at Oregon: 73-37 overall (.664), 32-22 Pac-12 (.593)
NCAA Tournament: 4-9
Who would've pegged Altman this close to the 500-win club? Odds are the Ducks coach will get there this season. He’s won 20 games in 14 of the last 15 seasons with Oregon and Creighton. Not bad for an interesting start to his tenure. He wasn’t the first choice for the Ducks, but Altman has been a success in Eugene. His teams have changed quite a bit in three seasons due to transfers in and out of the program, but three consecutive 20-win seasons is the best run at Oregon since 1935-39.
22. John Thompson III, Georgetown
Record at Georgetown: 209-89 overall (.701), 99-57 (.635)
NCAA Tournament: 8-9, one Final Four
Thompson’s tenure at Georgetown has been marred by early NCAA Tournament exits, but consider three of the last five teams that knocked the Hoyas out of the Tournament: Florida Gulf Coast, a Final Four-bound VCU and a Stephen Curry-led Davidson. Thompson’s career shouldn’t be defined by those exits. Georgetown surprised last season by winning a share of the Big East title, the third time the Hoyas have won the regular-season championship under Thompson.
23. Jay Wright, Villanova
Record at Villanova: 257-144 overall (.641), 114-90 Big East (.559)
NCAA Tournament: 12-10, one Final Four
Villanova bounced back from a losing 2011-12 season by going 20-14 overall and 10-8 in the Big East last year. The Wildcats aren't competing at the same level as they were in the late 2000s, but they’re showing signs of getting back. Villanova defeated each of the Big East’s tri-champs (Louisville, Marquette and Georgetown) at least once last season plus Syracuse. Wright also has a point guard in Ryan Arcidiacono who is poised to be one of the league’s breakout stars. After reaching the NCAA Tournament in eight of the last nine seasons, 2011-12 was an aberration.
24. Steve Fisher, San Diego State
Record at San Diego State: 281-171 overall (.622), 113-97 MWC (.538)
NCAA Tournament: 23-12, three Final Fours, one national championship
Fisher’s San Diego State tenure alone would give him top honors in the Mountain West. He took over a program that had never won an NCAA Tournament game and turned it into a regular conference contender and top-25 team. The last two seasons ended in disappointment as the Aztecs lost in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament to double-digit seeds, but Fisher has led San Diego State to a 55-23 league record in the last five seasons while improving the program’s recruiting profile significantly.
25. Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt
Record at Vanderbilt: 277-176 overall (.611), 111-115 SEC (.491)
NCAA Tournament: 6-8
Stallings may always wonder how his team with the core of Jeffery Taylor, John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli never made it out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Now, the Commodores are in a rebuilding phase after those three left school with school’s first SEC Tournament title in 61 years. The overall record isn’t flashy, but Stallings has built a consistent program at Vanderbilt, not an easy feat. He’s one win a way from tying Roy Skinner for the most wins in program history.
26. Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
Record at Wichita State: 139-70 overall (.665), 66-42 Missouri Valley (.611)
NCAA Tournament: 5-9, one Final Four
Marshall perhaps went underappreciated nationally before taking Wichita State to the Final Four last season, but perhaps more should have seen a breakout coming for the Shockers. Marshall increased his win total each season in Wichita and improved the Shockers’ postseason results each season. Before Wichita State, Marshall led Winthrop to the NCAA Tournament in seven of nine seasons.
27. Leonard Hamilton, Florida State
Record at Florida State: 219-143 overall (.605), 89-89 ACC (.500)
NCAA Tournament: 6-7
Hamilton knows something about degree of difficulty: He has won a share of the Big East regular-season title at Miami and an ACC Tournament title at Florida State. After losing seasons in ACC play in five of his first six years at FSU, Hamilton has gone 52-30 in the conference in the last four seasons. The defensive-minded Hamilton turned FSU into a factor in the ACC after more than a decade of irrelevance.
28. Matt Painter, Purdue
Record at Purdue: 176-95 overall (.649), 84-56 Big Ten (.600)
NCAA Tournament: 8-7
Painter knew he would be rebuilding after the Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore class left campus. The Boilermakers performed admirably under the circumstances in a loaded Big Ten last season, finishing 8-10. This could be a key season for Painter, though, as his program enters the second season of the post-Hummel era.
29. Mike Brey, Notre Dame
Record at Notre Dame: 285-142 overall (.667), 136-79 Big East (.633)
NCAA Tournament: 6-11
Stability is the name of the game here as Notre Dame has won 20 games in each of the last seven seasons, reached in the NCAA Tournament in six of the last seven years and protected its homecourt. Still, Notre Dame has not reached the second weekend of the NCAA since Brey’s third season in 2003.
30. Lon Kruger, Oklahoma
Record at Oklahoma: 35-28 overall (.556), 16-20 Big 12 (.444)
NCAA Tournament: 14-14, one Final Four
Oklahoma knew what it would get when it hired Kruger, and the well-traveled coach delivered. No coach is more reliable at taking over a tough situation and putting the program on the right track. Kruger went 11-7 in the Big 12 in his second season at OU and became the first coach to take five different teams to the NCAA Tournament (Kansas State, Florida, Illinois and UNLV were the others). Kruger has done his work with a minimal amount of flash — he’s never coached a consensus All-American, hasn’t won a regular-season conference title since 1998 and hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2008. But programs don’t hire Kruger expecting John Calipari.
31. Tad Boyle, Colorado
Record at Colorado: 69-38 overall (.645), 29-23 Big 12/Pac-12 (.558)
NCAA Tournament: 1-2
Colorado is one of the lucky basketball programs that has seen conference realignment work in its favor. The Buffaloes are 21-15 in the Pac-12 with back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since 1962-63. Boyle, who also laid the groundwork at Northern Colorado, has restored interest in basketball in Boulder, both from fans and aspiring NBA Draft picks.
32. Fran Dunphy, Temple
Record at Temple: 158-75 overall (.678), 80-32 Atlantic 10 (.714)
NCAA Tournament: 3-15
A staple of Philadelphia’s Big 5, Dunphy is as consistent as they come. In the last 24 seasons at Penn and Temple, Dunphy has finished outside of the top three of the conference standings only twice. While he has a reputation as a good defensive coach, he’ll adjust: His 2010 team, for example, was a slow-it-down team that excelled in defensive efficiency. With Khalif Wyatt the last two seasons and with Dionte Christmas early in his tenure, his teams have pushed the tempo (relatively speaking) and have been stronger on the offensive end. With a young group in a new league, Dunphy will have to find a new formula for 2013-14.
33. Tony Bennett, Virginia
Record at Virginia: 76-53 overall (.589), 32-34 ACC (.485)
NCAA Tournament: 3-3
Bennett’s preferred style of play isn’t the most exciting, but it is effective. He’s reversed the fortunes of Washington State and Virginia while making stars of Klay Thompson, Mike Smith and Joe Harris. The Cavaliers went 11-7 in the ACC last season, but this could be a breakout season for program that hasn’t reached the Sweet 16 since 1995.
34. Dave Rose, BYU
Record (all at BYU): 209-66 overall (.760), 100-28 Mountain West/West Coast (.781)
NCAA Tournament: 4-6
BYU’s two-year tenure in the West Coast Conference hasn’t been as impressive as the Jimmer Fredette-led seasons in the Mountain West, but that could change this season with Tyler Haws returning. Still, Rose has never failed to win 20 games in his eight seasons as a head coach. Last season was the first under Rose in which BYU lost double-digit games.
35. Bob McKillop, Davidson
Record (all at Davidson): 452-279 overall (.618), 275-103 Big South/Southern (.728)
NCAA Tournament: 3-7
If you thought Davidson and Bob McKillop was just the Stephen Curry, you’d be sorely mistaken. True, Davidson and McKillop were never better than when Curry brought the Wildcats to the brink of the Final Four, but this has been one of the most consistent mid-majors in the country. Davidson has gone 51-16 the last two seasons with a pair of SoCon regular season and tournament titles.
36. Rick Byrd, Belmont
Record (all at Belmont): 273-165 overall (.623), 167-57 Atlantic Sun/Ohio Valley (.746)
NCAA Tournament: 0-6
The 273 wins there doesn’t list Byrd’s victories at the NAIA level, which brings him up to 663. In only 13 years as a Division I program, Byrd has made Belmont one of top mid-majors. The Bruins have reached the NCAA Tournament in three consecutive seasons, including a 30-5 year in 2010-11.
37. Fran McCaffery, Iowa
Record at Iowa: 54-50 overall (.519), 21-33 Big Ten (.389)
NCAA Tournament: 2-5
McCaffery resurrected Iowa to NIT status the last two seasons, and he should have the Hawkeyes in contention for their first NCAA Tournament since 2006. If Iowa reaches the Tourney, it will be the fourth reclamation job McCaffery has led to the Big Dance, joining Lehigh, UNC Greensboro and Siena.
38. Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State
Record (all at Iowa State): 62-39 overall (.614), 26-26 in the Big 12 (.500)
NCAA Tournament: 2-2
Only Iowa State could have hired “The Mayor,” who spent more time in NBA front offices than on the coaches’ bench at any level. Hoiberg returned to Ames to make his alma mater competitive, going 23-13 in the Big 12 in the last two seasons. Iowa State needs to be creative to stay competitive, and that’s what it got in Hoiberg. He’s succeeded with Division I transfers in Royce White, Korie Lucious, Will Clyburn, Chris Babb and now DeAndre Kane. And Hoiberg has been among the best in applying advanced statistical analysis and scouting to his program. The Cyclones led the Big 12 in points per possession and effective field goal percentage last year.
39. Frank Martin, South Carolina
Record at South Carolina: 14-18 overall (.438), 4-14 SEC (.222)
NCAA Tournament: 6-4
Martin’s intense coaching style isn’t for everyone. South Carolina’s exodus of transfers may be an indication of that. If he can replicate what he did at Kansas State, Martin will have a formidable program at South Carolina. The Wildcats reached the NCAA Tournament three times in four seasons under Martin, including the Elite Eight in 2011.
40. Larry Brown, SMU
Record at SMU: 15-17 overall (.469), 5-11 Conference USA (.312)
NCAA Tournament: 19-6, three Final Fours, one national championship
Here’s a dilemma: Where should Larry Brown rank as SMU’s coach? His past credentials are impeccable with a national title at Kansas and a Final Four at UCLA (both were in the 1980s), plus an NBA championship and NBA coach of the year with two different franchises. Coaching in college and coaching in the NBA require different skill sets. Moreover, coaching in college in 1988 requires a different skill set than in 2013. Can Brown be as good a program CEO as Fran Dunphy, who we have listed ahead of him? We don't know right now. Brown's debut season at SMU was unimpressive, but the Mustangs were building for their new conference. Brown has brought in a slew of transfers and a major recruit in Keith Frazier. With better personnel against tougher competition in the American Athletic Conference, Brown will have a better gauge of what his third stint as a college coach will bring.
41. Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
Record at Cincinnati: 135-100 overall (.574), 57-67 Big East (.460)
NCAA Tournament: 3-5
Cronin doesn’t have look of an intimidating coach, but the Cincinnati native successfully whipped his alma mater back in shape. In the last three seasons, Cincinnati went 32-22 in the Big East, reached the NCAA Tournament each year and upset No. 3 seed Florida State to reach the Sweet 16 in 2012. The recruiting connections Cronin has built into New York and New Jersey will be tested as the American Athletic Conference is geographically separated from the area.
42. Chris Mack, Xavier
Record (all at Xavier): 90-44 overall (.672), 48-16 Atlantic 10 (.750)
NCAA Tournament: 4-3
This could be a critical season for Mack’s momentum at Xavier. A Cincinnati and Xavier product through and through, Mack led Xavier to A-10 titles in his first two seasons and to the Sweet 16 twice in his first three seasons. With a depleted roster, Xavier slipped to 17-14 last season. The Musketeers have a potential All-American in sophomore Semaj Christon, so Mack should expect to return to form in his fifth season.
43. Steve Lavin, St. John’s
Record at St. John’s: 51-47 overall (.520), 26-28 Big East (.481)
NCAA Tournament: 11-7
Lavin’s record technically includes the majority of the 2011-12 season when he missed all but the first four games while recovering from successful treatment for prostate cancer. The Red Storm’s record with Lavin on the bench is 20-17 in the Big East. Beyond the record, Lavin has brought momentum back to St. John’s. Lavin took a veteran team to the NCAA Tournament in 2011, but he has replenished the program with standout recruiting classes in recent years. St. John’s should be a consistent contender in the new Big East.
44. Lorenzo Romar, Washington
Record at Washington: 237-129 overall (.648), 118-82 Pac-12 (.590)
NCAA Tournament: 8-7
Washington’s sixth-place finish in the Pac-12 was the Huskies’ lowest in the league since 2007-08, prompting Romar to clean house on his staff. Romar has had little trouble bringing talent to Washington over the last decade, but the Huskies haven’t always had consistent results. Washington has missed the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons, but the Huskies won either the Pac-12 regular season or tournament title in four consecutive seasons from 2009-12.
45. Randy Bennett, Saint Mary’s
Record (all at Saint Mary’s): 263-125 overall (.678), 117-55 West Coast (.682)
NCAA Tournament: 3-5
Saint Mary’s has become a regular challenger for Gonzaga in the WCC, finally breaking the Bulldogs’ stranglehold on the league with a regular season and a conference tournament title in 2012. This is a remarkable feat for a program that went 2-27 the year before Bennett arrived in 2001-02. Bennett has rebuilt the program thanks to an unorthodox pipeline to Australia that has brought point guards like Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova to Moraga. The Gaels have averaged 26.8 wins the last six seasons.
46. Josh Pastner, Memphis
Record (all at Memphis): 106-34 overall (.757), 52-12 Conference USA (.813)
NCAA Tournament: 1-3
Pastner had the unenviable task of following John Calipari at a pressure situation at Memphis. By his fourth season, Pastner turned in his best year at Memphis, winning 31 games, going undefeated in Conference USA and defeating Saint Mary’s in the NCAA Tournament. Pastner’s record against ranked teams and major conference competition isn’t great, but he’s about to get a few more chances to show his mettle against teams like Louisville, UConn, Temple and Cincinnati. With Pastner's recruiting prowess, Memphis should have the talent to go toe-to-toe with this programs on a regular basis.
47. Larry Eustachy, Colorado State
Record at Colorado State: 26-9 overall (.743), 11-5 MWC (.688)
NCAA Tournament: 4-5
Eustachy took over a veteran team in Fort Collins and did what everyone expected by taking his fourth program to the NCAA Tournament. Now that the seniors are gone, there’s little doubt he can maintain the momentum here. Eustachy revived a dormant Southern Miss program and led Iowa State to national prominence before landing in the Mountain West.
48. Steve Alford, UCLA
Record at UCLA: First season
NCAA Tournament: 5-7
Is Alford a better coach than predecessor Ben Howland? Maybe not, but UCLA hopes he’s a better coach for UCLA than Howland was at the end of his tenure. Alford led New Mexico to its best seasons since the late ‘90s, winning the Mountain West regular season and tournament titles in each of his last two seasons. Just as relevant to UCLA, Alford did so with a recruiting pipeline to Southern California. Here’s the catch: Alford’s teams have been seeded third in the NCAA Tournament three times in his last four trips only to lose before the second weekend.
49. Steve Donahue, Boston College
Record at Boston College: 46-52 (.469), 20-30 ACC (.400)
NCAA Tournament: 2-3
Donahue is building Boston College in a similar fashion as he did at Cornell — from the ground up. Donahue reached the NIT in his first season at BC, but he’s had one of the nation’s youngest rosters the last two years, and it’s shown. This season could be the turning point after BC went from 4-12 to 7-11 in the ACC a year ago. By his eighth season at Cornell, Donahue began a run where he led the Big Red to three consecutive Ivy League titles and the Sweet 16 in 2010.
50. Stew Morrill, Utah State
Record at Utah State: 366-129 overall (.739), 186-62 Big West/WAC (.750)
NCAA Tournament: 1-9
Before the last two seasons, Utah State was about as automatic as any program in the WAC. The Aggies won four consecutive regular season titles from 2008-11. He’s essentially college basketball’s Bill Snyder, recruiting junior college prospects at a high level and avoiding tough non-conference competition. Morrill’s peers rate him as one of the best Xs and Os coaches, according to a poll by ESPN, but his program will be tested in a tougher Mountain West.