College Basketball: 5 Coaches in the Running for National Coach of the Year

Brian LendinoCorrespondent IIFebruary 15, 2012

College Basketball: 5 Coaches in the Running for National Coach of the Year

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    As college basketball enters its final month of play, five coaches have managed their way onto the short-list of candidates for National Coach of the Year.

    Past winners include the likes of Jim Boeheim, Bill Self, Tom Izzo, Jim Calhoun and Bob Knight.

    Like I previously stated, there are five coaches that have stood out above the rest and, while their importance can’t be easily identified in points per game or defensive efficiency numbers, these guys have shined brightest on all stages.

    Here are the five most worthy candidates for National Coach of the Year in college basketball.

5) Mike Brey, Notre Dame

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    After starting the season with four losses in their first nine games, while also losing their best player Tim Abromaitis to a season-ending knee injury, many people wrote the Notre Dame Fighting Irish off.

    Since that time they’ve gone 12-4—including 9-3 in the Big East—that includes huge wins against Pittsburgh, Louisville, Syracuse, Connecticut, Marquette and at West Virginia.

    Much of, if not all of Notre Dame’s success, needs to be credited to Mike Brey’s coaching job.

    Many would consider it tough to justify the head of an eight-loss team for a coach of the year award, but given the circumstances in South Bend, Mike Brey is certainly deserving.

    He is down to one true post player in Jack Cooley and has found a way to maximize his production. The Irish have two sophomore guards that see at least 35 minutes per game in Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins.

    Mike Brey has pulled out every possible stop to keep his team competitive since losing his preseason all-Big East player after only two games. His work needs to be recognized on the national level because having this team ranked in mid-February is simply incredible.

4) Steve Prohm, Murray State

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    The level of competition isn’t the same, but when a team doesn’t register a loss until the 25th game of the season, you deserve your props.

    The Racers have three wins against the RPI top 100. That number isn’t great, but the Racers can prove a lot to a national following with a BracketBusters game on Feb. 18 against Saint Mary’s and a rematch with the only team to beat them this season, Tennessee State, on Feb. 23.

    Prohm doesn’t have the same name recognition of these other coaches, but his coaching job has been simply phenomenal.

    He lost three starters from last years team and plays with this season with a rather small line-up, seeing as not one player over 6’7” averages over 2.5 points or 2.5 assists per game.

    Murray State has strong guard play which is led by Isaiah Canaan. Steve Prohm will look towards him coming down the home stretch and deep into March.

3) John Calipari, Kentucky

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    John Calipari has done another masterful coaching job at Kentucky, but will people give him all the credit he deserves?

    He has arguably the most talented bunch of players in the nation and had it not been for a freak three-pointer in a hostile Indiana road environment, his Wildcats would be undefeated.

    Aside from all of that, what impresses me most about this year’s Kentucky team is how quickly they’ve matured on offense to compliment how stout they are on defense.

    Anthony Davis is a one-man wrecking crew and essentially allows Calipari to play an inverted “Box-In-One.” Meaning, he can have Davis man a zone in the paint while the other four players play a man-to-man defense.

    It’s phenomenal.

    Calipari isn’t the most liked figure among the head coaching fraternity in college basketball, but his Kentucky Wildcats are the undisputed No. 1 team in the country, as well as the consensus favorite to cut down the nets in early April.

2) Steve Fisher, San Diego State

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    Steve Fisher’s 2011 San Diego State Aztecs finished the season with a 34-3 record after a run to the Sweet 16. In the offseason, Coach Fisher lost Kawhi Leonard, D.J. Gay, Billy White and Malcolm Thomas who—combined—accounted for about 50 points and 25 rebounds per game.

    With that being said, you’d be wise not to put your money on the Aztecs doing much of anything this season.

    Fisher and the San Diego Aztecs are currently sitting at 20-4 on the season, with two of their losses being by a combined four points to ranked opponents.

    No one, and I mean no one, expected Steve Fisher to court a highly competitive team with out the talent that he had last year and that’s why he’s in serious consideration for national coach of the year.

1) Frank Haith, Missouri

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    Frank Haith was not the sexy coaching hire that Missouri Tiger fans wanted in Columbia after Mike Anderson departed for Arkansas.

    However, now, “Faith in Haith” can be heard ringing throughout Missouri’s campus because what Haith has accomplished has been simply remarkable.

    The Tigers are arguably the fastest and most efficient offense in the country. They shoot the three-pointer at an alarming 39 percent as a team and know how to close out games from the free throw line—where they convert at a 76 percent rate as a team.

    What may be most impressive is that Haith only employs seven scholarship players, meaning that the Tigers are not a deep team at all.

    The Tigers start four guards and, despite only having one true big man in the 6-foot 9-inch Ricardo Ratliffe, the Tigers have beaten teams like the Kansas Jayhawks and Baylor Bears twice.

    If you were to ask a hardcore Missouri Tigers fan if they could have predicted a 23-2 record on Valentine’s Day, they would simply shake their head and comment on how exhilarating of a ride it has been.

    At this point in the season, Frank Haith is the clear front-runner for national coach of the year.