NCAA Tournament 2012: Power Ranking the Sweet 16 Coaches

Scott HenryFeatured ColumnistMarch 20, 2012

NCAA Tournament 2012: Power Ranking the Sweet 16 Coaches

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    Ohio University head coach John Groce appears to be begging for something in the above photo.

    Whether he's begging for a call or begging his players to up the intensity or begging someone to listen to his story about the one he caught that was "THIS big," his desire is palpable.

    It was effective, too, as his Bobcats knocked out a pair of power-conference opponents, Michigan and South Florida, to reach the Sweet 16 of the 2012 NCAA tournament.

    Now it gets very interesting for Groce and his team, as he stands among a who's who of college basketball's coaching giants. Six of the Sweet 16 head coaches have won a national championship and three others have been to at least one Final Four.

    Trying to rank these leaders of men is a tremendous task, one that should spark a vigorous debate. If your team's coach isn't No. 1, bear in mind that there's probably someone with an impressive resume in front of him, too.

16. John Groce, Ohio

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    85-55 W-L record (.607), 4 seasons
    2 NCAA tournament appearances

    There are four teams in the Sweet 16 from the state of Ohio, and John Groce's Bobcats are the biggest surprise package of the group.

    Two tournament appearances in four seasons make for an impressive start to one's head coaching career. Even though he hasn't been the head man for many big games, Groce has certainly been in the building for a few.

    Groce followed Thad Matta from Butler to Xavier to Ohio State and was on the bench for OSU's runner-up finish in the 2007 NCAA tournament.

    His recruiting touch helped bring players like Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Daequan Cook to Columbus. The Bobcats' current run is being keyed by the jewel of his efforts in Athens, guard D.J. Cooper.

    Cooper didn't get much attention from the top programs out of high school, but after his freshman year, that allegedly changed thanks to feelers from schools like Tennessee and Baylor. Cooper staying in the MAC is a testimony to not just Cooper's integrity, but the job that Groce has done in making his players feel at home in Athens.

15. Chris Mack, Xavier

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    73-29 W-L record (.716), 3 seasons
    3 NCAA tournament appearances

    The Xavier assembly line continues to roll out impressive head coaches. A lineage spanning Pete Gillen, Skip Prosser, Thad Matta and Sean Miller now extends to include Chris Mack.

    Mack took his first Xavier team to the Sweet 16 behind the scoring of Indiana transfer Jordan Crawford and the point guard play of sophomore Terrell "Tu" Holloway.

    This season's Musketeers were a dark horse Final Four pick in the preseason, and Holloway was expected to be an All-America candidate. The December 10 brawl with Cincinnati threw both of those expectations into serious doubt.

    Xavier struggled under the weight of extensive suspensions, never really recovering much of a rhythm. It split its last 12 games, squeaking into the tournament as a No. 10 seed.

    Mack will have to manage the best coaching job of his brief career so far to steer the Musketeers past the larger Baylor Bears.

14. Mark Gottfried, NC State

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    302-167 W-L record (.644), 15 seasons
    8 NCAA tournament appearances

    This season's dream ride for Murray State isn't the first time it's finished a season in the AP Top 25. The first was the 1997-98 season, and the man on the bench for that one was Mark Gottfried.

    Gottfried has only missed the NCAA tournament or the NIT three times in his 15 seasons as a head coach, but of the eight trips to the Big Dance, his teams have managed only six wins.

    A 2004 trip to the Elite Eight was the deepest in Alabama's history. The Tide followed up in 2005 with a first-round loss to 12th-seeded Wisconsin-Milwaukee, coached by future SEC nemesis Bruce Pearl.

    Out of coaching for nearly three years, Gottfried has turned around North Carolina State's fortunes even faster than he did Alabama's. The Wolfpack made no NCAA tournaments in five years under former star Sidney Lowe, so their reaction to being selected this year is quite understandable.

13. Mick Cronin, Cincinnati

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    182-111 W-L record (.621), 10 seasons
    4 NCAA tournament appearances

    Xavier's assembly line is impressive, but Murray State's beginning to build one itself. Mick Cronin joins Mark Gottfried as former Racer bosses in this year's Sweet 16.

    Cronin was tapped to guide his alma mater through its second season in the Big East, and there were growing pains, to be sure. It took four years before the Bearcats broke into the Big East's top 10, but once a team manages that standing, they're almost guaranteed a trip to the NCAA tournament.

    Much like Chris Mack, Cronin had to do an extreme amount of damage control following the Crosstown Shootout brawl on December 10, but unlike the Musketeers, Cincinnati caught fire. Cronin can be commended for his balanced discipline and tactical skill in turning what could have been a debilitating event into a rallying point.

    Winning 10 of their next 11 games after the brawl put the Bearcats firmly into the tournament discussion, and their win over Texas was Cronin's first March Madness victory as a head coach. His next task is an unenviable one, facing in-state rival Ohio State.

12. Scott Drew, Baylor

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    176-134 W/L record (.568), 10 seasons
    3 NCAA Tournament appearances

    Scott Drew's record isn't as numerically impressive as his Sweet 16 contemporaries, but only Rick Pitino can speak of taking over a program in anything near the shape that Baylor was in when Drew arrived.

    After an assortment of shady activities in the program ranging from illegal payments to murder, the NCAA handicapped Baylor with severe recruiting restrictions, among other penalties. The Bears were ineligible for the Big 12 Tournament in his first year and played no non-conference games in his third season, a sanction that amounted to a half-season death penalty.

    Drew spent four years digging out of the rubble, recruiting players like Curtis Jerrells, Kevin Rogers and Tweety Carter. Led by those players as well as freshman LaceDarius Dunn, Drew's fifth year in Waco was a 21-win campaign. Two years later, the Bears were crashing the Elite Eight.

    This year's Baylor team climbed as high as third in the AP rankings, despite inconsistent effort from star forward Perry Jones III. If Jones comes to play in the next two games or guard Brady Heslip continues his torrid shooting effort, Drew could equal or better his best Tournament finish.

11. Buzz Williams, Marquette

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    110-61 W-L record (.643), 5 seasons
    4 NCAA tournament appearances

    Buzz Williams makes his fourth NCAA trip in as many seasons as Marquette's boss, and his second consecutive appearance in the Sweet 16.

    Many coaches feel the burden of following a wildly successful predecessor, but Williams has picked up well from Marquette's previous coach, Tom Crean. After only one season as head man at a New Orleans program struggling to rebound from Hurricane Katrina and one season as a Marquette assistant, Williams' hire as head coach was a major surprise to alumni and fans.

    Four seasons in, Williams has a team stacked with his recruits, and there are several reasons to believe that he may be able to equal Crean's 2003 Final Four appearance.

    While the Golden Eagles don't get to face Missouri, due to the upset by Norfolk State, there will be a high-octane offensive game between Marquette and Florida. The potential exists for many great highlight plays, and where there's a Marquette highlight, there's always the potential for Buzz Williams to break into spontaneous dance.

10. Tom Crean, Indiana

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    245-170 W-L record (.590), 13 seasons
    6 NCAA tournament appearances
    1 Final Four (2003)

    Having cut his teeth under the likes of Jud Heathcote, Ralph Willard and Tom Izzo, Tom Crean arrived at Marquette ready for anything Conference USA could throw at him. He proved capable of handling that and more, riding a gifted recruit named Dwyane Wade to a 53-13 record and a Final Four over the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons.

    From there, the Big East tapped Marquette to join, and the Golden Eagle program didn't miss a beat. A school that had only managed a pair of 19-win NIT appearances after Wade left rose to 69 wins and three NCAA tournament trips in three seasons. Crean's tenure was impressive enough that he was tapped to lead a rebuilding effort at Indiana following the disastrous downfall of Kelvin Sampson.

    When Crean arrived in Bloomington, Indiana was not quite the smoking crater that Scott Drew walked into at Baylor, but the heavy hand of the NCAA was still evident. A coach who had never suffered a losing season managed only six wins in his first season at IU.

    Two more seasons got only marginally better, but were still hideous by Indiana's lofty standards. Finally, this season, Crean may have found his Dwyane Wade, that talismanic player that can take a decent program onto the game's biggest stage.

    Freshman Cody Zeller was touted as a program-changer, and he has fit right in. Zeller provides some inside presence to go with a deadly group of shooters that has made Indiana one of America's most dangerous perimeter squads.

    The Hoosiers face the same Kentucky squad that they stunned on a Christian Watford buzzer-beater in December. The Wildcats will be motivated for revenge, while Indiana remains hungry to return to its perennial form as a Final Four contender.

9. Bo Ryan, Wisconsin

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    298-127 W-L record (.701), 13 seasons
    11 NCAA tournament appearances

    The above numbers represent Bo Ryan's Division I CV, which is only the tip of his coaching career's iceberg. Ryan was a four-time national champion in Division III, where he oversaw Wisconsin-Platteville's rise up from NAIA membership.

    After two seasons at Milwaukee where his record was only three games over .500, Ryan managed to beat out then-Utah coach and Milwaukee native Rick Majerus for the head coaching position at Wisconsin-Madison, where he had spent eight years as an assistant.

    Ryan is the only coach to steer the Badgers to a top-five Associated Press ranking, topping the poll in February 2007. Before he arrived, the program had only experienced seven NCAA tournament trips. Ryan has taken it to 11 in a row. Only Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Barnes, Tom Izzo, Bill Self and Mark Few have longer current streaks.

    This season represents Ryan's fifth Sweet 16 appearance in his 11 years in charge of the Badgers, including one trip to the Elite Eight. He'll face a Syracuse squad that has been only somewhat fazed by the loss of talented center Fab Melo. Should Wisconsin win that game, this season's third date with Big Ten foe Ohio State could loom.

8. Thad Matta, Ohio State

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    321-95 W-L record (.772), 12 seasons
    10 NCAA tournament appearances
    1 Final Four (2007)

    Some coaches' records are impressive for the fact that they have not endured a losing season. Thad Matta's record pats those marks on the head and tells them to get home for supper.

    Not only has Matta never had a losing season at Butler, Xavier or Ohio State, but he has never endured a season of fewer than 20 wins. His 2007-08 team went 19-13 heading into the NIT, but then ran the table and won that event one season after losing Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Daequan Cook off of an NCAA runner-up squad.

    The only other season Matta's teams have missed the NCAA tournament was his first at Ohio State, a year in which the Buckeyes were ineligible for postseason play after former coach Jim O'Brien's illegal payments to a Yugoslavian recruit were brought to light.

    Only once has Matta failed to steer his team out of the first round, and that was a two-point loss as a No. 8 seed. Perhaps his biggest NCAA disappointment was the 2006 team, led by Big Ten Player of the Year Terence Dials and guard J.J. Sullinger, whose brother is a current Buckeye star. As a No. 2 seed, that crew lost in the second round to Georgetown.

7. Bill Self, Kansas

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    473-157 W-L record (.751), 19 seasons
    14 NCAA tournament appearances
    1 Final Four (2008)
    1 National Championship (2008)

    Seeing Bill Self near the middle of this pack is a testament to how powerful the coaches ahead of him really are. Self has been a part of the NCAA tournament every season since 1999.

    Before arriving at Kansas, Self steered both Tulsa and Illinois to Elite Eight finishes. Bruce Weber's first Illinois team, comprised of Self recruits like Deron Williams, Luther Head and James Augustine, made it all the way to the national championship game.

    In nine seasons at Kansas, Self has made the Sweet 16 six times. An impressive run, to be sure, but those finishes are counteracted by first-round losses to Bucknell and Bradley and a second-round stunner against Northern Iowa.

    Self has a better winning percentage in Lawrence than his predecessor Roy Williams, as well as a greater percentage of Sweet 16 trips. It must be taken into account that Self has only been to one Final Four in his career, while Williams went to three in his 15 years at Kansas. This despite 25 future NBA players passing through Self's programs at Tulsa, Illinois and Kansas.

    Then again, Roy Williams never won a national championship until he got to North Carolina.

6. John Calipari, Kentucky

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    543-154 W-L record (.779), 20 seasons
    14 NCAA tournament appearances
    3 Final Fours (1996, 2008, 2011)

    According to the NCAA, Rick Pitino is the only coach to take three different schools to the Final Four. Despite the governing body's ham-fisted attempts to legislate events out of existence, John Calipari has coached in the Final Four with Massachusetts, Memphis and Kentucky.

    The careers of Pitino and Calipari have taken very similar trajectories. Both made their names at unfashionable schools in the Northeast, taking those teams to the Final Four.

    Both have had only one losing season, coming early on in their careers. Calipari's was his first, and it has yet to be joined by another.

    Both had very mixed results in their detours to the NBA.

    Both have taken over Kentucky's program at difficult times in the Wildcats' history.

    Calipari holds two major advantages over Pitino. The first is that Calipari is making his seventh consecutive appearance in the Sweet 16, the longest active streak in America.

    The second is that Bob Knight absolutely refuses to speak Calipari's name or the name of his school. That's got to count for something.

    To see Pitino's advantage over Calipari, click "Next."

5. Rick Pitino, Louisville

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    625-229 W-L record (.732), 26 seasons
    17 NCAA tournament appearances
    5 Final Fours (1987, 1993, 1996, 1997, 2005)
    1 National Championship (1996)

    The fourth line above illustrates precisely why Rick Pitino is placed ahead of John Calipari.

    Pitino's 1996 Kentucky squad gets serious nods on CBS Sports' choices of the best teams of all time. Those Wildcats also tie an unofficial record for having the most future NBA players on a single roster.

    Given the choice, would you take a pickup squad led by Antoine Walker, Tony Delk, Ron Mercer and Derek Anderson or one led by Rick Fox, George Lynch, Eric Montross and Hubert Davis?

    Pitino's early stop at Providence bore Final Four fruit in only his second season, while Calipari took eight years (and an agent slipping cash under the table to Marcus Camby) to reach the semifinals with UMass.

    Pitino has struggled to duplicate his Kentucky success at Louisville, appearing in only his fourth Sweet 16 in 11 years. He faces a difficult battle against Tom Izzo's Michigan State squad, while Calipari is the prohibitive favorite to lift the trophy with his underclassmen-heavy Wildcat team.

    Would that propel Calipari's career past Pitino's? Discuss amongst yourselves.

4. Billy Donovan, Florida

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    420-177 W-L record (.704), 18 seasons
    12 NCAA tournament appearances
    3 Final Fours (2003, 2006, 2007)
    2 National Championships (2006, 2007)

    The two men who precede Billy Donovan in these rankings have also succeeded wildly in the SEC. However, succeeding at Kentucky is a very different beast from succeeding at any other school in the conference where football is king.

    Florida had made a grand total of five NCAA tournament appearances, with one Final Four trip, before Donovan arrived in 1996. It took a pair of losing seasons spent reminding recruits that basketball is actually a sport played in Gainesville, but Donovan put the program on the map with his 1998 freshman class.

    Future pros Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem, along with mad gunner (and future pot activist) Teddy Dupay, led the Gators to a Sweet 16 and a national title game before Miller went pro.

    Six years later, Donovan unearthed another group of future pros in Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer and rode them to a pair of national championships. Of the 12 schools currently in the SEC and the two preparing to join, Florida and Arkansas are still the only two outside of Kentucky to claim national championships in basketball.

    Not that fans in Tuscaloosa or Auburn particularly care, mind you. They're too busy counting the days until spring football practice.

3. Jim Boeheim, Syracuse

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    889-303 W-L record (.746), 36 seasons
    29 NCAA tournament appearances
    3 Final Fours (1987, 1996, 2003)
    1 National Championship (2003)

    Only once in Jim Boeheim's 36 years, all spent at his alma mater, has his team failed to reach either the NCAA tournament or the NIT. That 1993 season was cut short by NCAA sanctions.

    This year's Orange are making the school's 16th Sweet 16 appearance during Boeheim's tenure, and only six times have his teams failed to win a game in their postseason trips.

    Still, only three Final Fours in 36 seasons is a puzzling ratio for a coach with such a consistent track record of excellence. Equally puzzling have been some of the tournament losses.

    The Orange were the first No. 2 seed to lose to a 15 seed in 1991, falling to Richmond in the first round. In 2005, Hakim Warrick and Gerry McNamara were unable to lead Syracuse past Vermont. The following year, despite McNamara's explosive run through the Big East tournament, the Orange had nothing left and fell to 12th-seeded Texas A&M in round one.

    Still, Boeheim has only two seasons of fewer than 20 wins. Syracuse can always be counted on to appear in the postseason and do something interesting when it gets there. Whether that's a Sweet 16 run or a first-round loss, no one knows until they get there.

2. Roy Williams, North Carolina

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    674-168 W-L record (.800), 24 seasons
    22 NCAA tournament appearances
    7 Final Fours (1991, 1993, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2008, 2009)
    2 National Championships (2005, 2009)

    An .800 winning percentage indicates that a coach is not simply rolling the balls out and letting the players go to work. When Roy Williams took over at both Kansas and North Carolina, no matter what condition the program was in when he arrived, big things happened quickly.

    Kansas was coming off the 1988 national championship when Larry Brown bolted, leaving behind a program ineligible to participate in the 1989 NCAA tournament. Still, in only his second season, Williams had assembled a team capable of smashing a Rick Pitino-led Kentucky squad 150-95. The following year, the Jayhawks were in the national final.

    At Kansas, Williams' CV lacked one major ingredient: a national championship. While he reached nine Sweet 16s and four Final Fours with the Jayhawks, there were also puzzling losses.

    Ninth-seeded UTEP knocked KU out in 1992. The 1997 team, led by future pros Paul Pierce, Jacque Vaughn, Raef LaFrentz and Scot Pollard, lost to Arizona in the Sweet 16. That was followed by another crashing performance as a top seed, losing to Rhode Island in the 1998 second round.

    Since arriving at Carolina, Williams has put the exclamation point on his career with five Elite Eight trips, three Final Fours and, finally, a pair of national championships.

    His worst season was his first, 19-12 with that Danny Manning-less Kansas team. His only other non-NCAA team was two years ago, a squad that ran to the final of the NIT. Roy Williams wins.

    But one other coach does almost as much with a little bit less. Read on.

1. Tom Izzo, Michigan State

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    412-168 W-L record (.710), 17 seasons
    15 NCAA tournament appearances
    6 Final Fours (1999, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2010)
    1 National Championship (2000)

    On the previous slide, it was mentioned how Roy Williams didn't just roll the balls out and let the players play. However, in comparison to Tom Izzo, Williams has recruited a lot more players who could allow him to do just that if he so chose.

    During Williams' tenure at Kansas, he recruited 14 McDonald's All-Americans. Since coming to North Carolina, he's snagged a whopping 19 in only nine seasons.

    Izzo has made do with only 10 Burger Boys in 17 seasons. What he's accomplished with those players is highly impressive.

    The Spartans made three straight Final Fours from 1999 to 2001, putting Izzo in the select company of Mike Krzyzewski and Ben Howland as the only coaches to accomplish that feat since the tournament field expanded to 64.

    The times that his teams have been upset early in the NCAA tournament, their conquerors have gone at least one round further. In 2004, seventh-seeded Sparty fell to Nevada, which then reached the Sweet 16 by blitzing the No. 2 seed, Gonzaga, by 19 points.

    MSU's 2006 team was a No. 6 seed, but lost in the first round to George Mason. That GMU team merely rolled all the way to the Final Four.

    In between, every player who has used all four years of his eligibility for Izzo has competed in at least one Final Four. While his CV could use another national title to bulk it up, Izzo's teams are usually greater than the sum of their parts.

    While Tom Izzo may not win on the scale of a Calipari or Williams, he does it without picking from a menu of all the nation's best high school talent.

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