Where Does Tom Izzo Stand Among Current Big Ten Basketball Coaches?
The Big Ten has been the best conference in college basketball for the past few seasons, thanks in large part to the well-renowned head coaches that run each of these programs. Two of the 12 on this list have won an NCAA Championship, while an additional two have reached the Final Four at some point in their careers.
At the conclusion of the 2011-12 season, Illinois' Bruce Weber and Nebraska's Doc Sadler were both fired from their respective schools after disappointing seasons. John Groce has taken over the helm in Champaign, while Tim Miles is the new leader in Lincoln.
When compiling this list, I took into account both how this coach has performed at their current Big Ten school, as well as their previous coaching experiences before joining the Big Ten. If you would like to see where the two new hires, along with the other 10 returning coaches, stand within the deep Big Ten basketball coaches' ranking, then continue reading.
12. Pat Chambers
Despite coaching in the Big Ten last season, Chambers is still the least experienced head coach of the 12. He only has three years of head coaching under his belt, two years at Boston University before coming to Penn State last season.
Chambers compiled back-to-back 21-14 seasons at BU, with the second season ending in an NCAA Tournament berth. Before coaching Boston U., Chambers was an assistant coach under Jay Wright at Villanova, where he coached and recruited a number of star guards.
Chambers had a rough first season in Happy Valley, although certainly not unexpected. The Nittany Lions finished the year with a 12-20 record, winning four of 18 Big Ten contests and finishing in a tie for last place in the Big Ten standings with newcomer Nebraska.
Penn State was primarily a football school before all of the news about the football program, which is now on a four-year bowl ban. It will be interesting to see if more fan support goes to the basketball team now. Getting the Nittany Lions to the NCAA Tournament within the next few seasons would be huge for Penn State right now.
11. Tim Miles
Miles has certainly worked his way up the coaching ranks during 17 successful seasons as a head coach. He first started at an NAIA school, Mayville State, before moving to Division II SW Minnesota State. He then got the call to coach at North Dakota State before most recently coaching Colorado State this past season.
As a Divison I coach, though, Miles' first NCAA Tournament appearance was this season when CSU fell to Murray State on the opening day of the tournament. In fact, Colorado State lost its first game in the NIT and CBI the two previous seasons before that.
Despite not winning in the postseason, Miles has taken over lowly programs and turned them into very respectable basketball schools. North Dakota State made the transition to D-I under Miles, before going 20-8 in his final season there, after defeating Wisconsin in Madison the season before. Miles also took over a Colorado State program that went 0-16 in his first season in the Mountain West before finishing 20-12 and making an NCAA Tournament appearance four years later.
Miles should expect to have some tough times during his first few seasons in Lincoln, Nebraska, just as he has experienced before. Nebraska is upgrading its basketball facilities and now has more recruiting leverage as a Big Ten school, giving Miles and Cornhusker fans some hope. Give Miles a few years to recruit his own players, and Nebraska will become very competitive again.
10. John Groce
After four years of coaching the Ohio University Bobcats, Groce comes to Illinois after Bruce Weber was fired in March. Groce, who is familiar with the Big Ten having been an assistant coach at Ohio State, was not the Fighting Illini's first choice following Weber's firing, but Groce is out to let people know that they made the right choice.
Ohio nearly advanced past North Carolina this year in the Sweet 16 after the Bobcats defeated Michigan and South Florida previously. Groce's team finished the year with a 29-8 record, and this was their second NCAA tournament appearance in a three-year span.
Before getting the Ohio head coaching position, Groce assisted under Thad Matta at Ohio State, Xavier and Butler. Groce heavily recruited the likes of Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Evan Turner, all of which were outstanding players for the Buckeyes.
Groce inherits an Illini team that fell apart the last few months of the season, and on top of that, loses Meyers Leonard to the NBA. He does have some experienced players returning, but will need to bring in his own talent to change the identity of Illinois basketball and get them back to competing for Big Ten titles as they did in the early 2000's.
9. Fran McCaffery
After two seasons in Iowa City, McCaffery already has Hawkeye fans more excited about basketball than they have been for quite some time. McCaffery was previously at Siena, where he went to three straight NCAA Tournaments, two of which ended in the Round of 32. Siena went 46-8 in the Metro Atlantic Conference during that same three-year span.
Before Siena, McCaffery also coached at North Carolina Greensboro and Lehigh, where he made one tournament appearance at each school, respectively. He acted as an assistant coach at Notre Dame in between the time he coached at Lehigh and North Carolina Greensboro as well.
In McCaffery's first Big Ten season, the Hawkeyes struggled and finished with an 11-20 record with only four conference wins. In 2011-12, however, Iowa finished 18-17 and topped the season off with an NIT win at home over Dayton.
An NCAA Tournament appearance within the next year or two is not unrealistic for Iowa, as it brings back the bulk of last year's key contributors. McCaffery recently signed a contract extension after landing an excellent recruiting class for the upcoming season. Look for the young Hawkeyes to improve even more within the next few seasons.
8. Bill Carmody
Bill Carmody hasn't coached in the NCAA Tournament in 14 years. Lucky for him, no other coach has led Northwestern to the NCAA Tournament, and Carmody has been the closest in doing so. After eight straight seasons without postseason play, the Wildcats have now made four consecutive NIT appearances and have won 20 games during two of those seasons.
Having been so close to the promised land over the past four years, Carmody is poised to get there by bringing in recruits that Northwestern was previously unable to land. Before coming to Northwestern in 2000, Carmody coached at Princeton for four seasons. During that time, the Tigers made two NCAA Tournament appearances and went undefeated in the Ivy League both of those years.
Carmody is famous for running the Princeton offense, an offense that only a handful of other Division I teams run. His team's almost always play in a 1-3-1 zone defense, hoping to put pressure on the outside ball handlers and not allowing the opponent to get the ball inside as easily.
The Wildcats could very well be on the fringe of making the NCAA's again in 2013, but will likely need to win at least half of their games in the deep Big Ten Conference in order to do so. For the first time in Carmody's tenure at NU, though, he will have the luxury of a deep and talented bench. How he uses this depth is still unknown.
7. Tom Crean
Spots 4-7 on this list were nearly a toss-up, and despite the chance that I receive negative feedback for having Crean so low on this list, I think it is the right choice for time being.
In 2003, Crean made a Final Four appearance with Marquette, where it was blown out to Kansas. He stayed at Marquette for five more seasons, but only won one more NCAA Tournament game during that time.
After Kelvin Sampson's quick stay in Bloomington, Crean decided to take the job there. After three years of serious rebuilding, the Hoosiers look to be back on track after a Sweet 16 appearance in 2012. The Hoosiers went a combined 8-46 in conference games during Crean's first three seasons in Bloomington.
The Hoosiers are the favorite to win the Big Ten, and maybe even the National Championship in 2013, but until that happens, the fact remains that Crean has only won seven NCAA Tournament games in 13 years of coaching. I believe Crean to be one of the best recruiters in the business, but his coaching ability leave you wanting more at times.
For the Hoosiers to reach the upper echelon of college basketball in 2012-13, the team will need to improve defensively, which I'm sure Crean is aware of. Another key factor to IU's success is how long Crean will be able to get NBA talents like Cody Zeller to stick around school.
6. Tubby Smith
Minnesota is Smith's fourth stop on the coaching carousel since becoming the head coach at Tulsa in 1991. After leading Tulsa to back-to-back Sweet 16s, Smith left for Georgia where he only stayed two seasons. He was able to get the Bulldogs to the Sweet 16 there as well, though.
In 1997, Smith became the head coach at Kentucky, where he won the National Championship in his first season, defeating the Utah Utes. Smith stayed in Lexington for nine seasons after winning the title, reaching three Elite Eights and two additional Sweet Sixteens while reaching the NCAA Tournament every season.
After Kentucky fired Smith, Minnesota gladly made the hire in 2007. During Smith's five years in Minneapolis, the Golden Gophers have gone through some ups and downs, the downs being transfers, academically ineligible players and untimely injuries. Minnesota has made the NCAA Tournament twice under Smith and the NIT twice as well.
Smith's best chance to finally win an NCAA Tournament game since taking the Minnesota job may be this upcoming season. With plenty of returning talent and the return of Trevor Mbakwe, the Gophers should be a preseason Top 25 team. The talent has always been there under Smith in Minneapolis, but putting together a complete season is another task.
5. John Beilein
John Beilein has coached at more levels than any other coach in the Big Ten, helping him become the only active college basketball coach that has won 20 games at four different levels: junior college, NAIA, Division II and Division I. He is also one of eight coaches ever to take four different teams to the NCAA Tournament.
Canisius, Richmond and West Virginia were Beilein's three stops on the bus before making his way to Ann Arbor in 2007, taking over for Tommy Amaker. The Wolverines reached the NCAA Tournament three times in the past four years after a long drought that Amaker was never able to break.
In 2011-12, the Wolverines even got a share of the Big Ten title, along with Michigan State and Ohio State. Beilein reached the Elite Eight and 16 Sixteen on separate occasions at West Virginia, where his son played for him.
Beilein is bringing in an outstanding recruiting class for 2012 to accompany an already solid core of returning players. The Wolverines will not have any seniors in their starting lineup, leading me to believe that 2013-14 could be the year that the Maize and Blue make it back to the Final Four.
4. Matt Painter
After only being the head coach at Southern Illinois for one season, Painter was given the associate head coaching position at Purdue in 2004 before being promoted to head coach in 2005. Painter was an assistant coach under Bruce Weber at SIU and coached along with Gene Keady during the 2004-05 season.
During his one season at head coach in Carbondale, the Salukis compiled a 25-5 record, including 17-1 in the tough Missouri Valley. Painter's first season in West Lafayette was a tough one, but since then, the Boilermakers have made six straight NCAA Tournament appearances, including two Sweet 16s.
2012-13 could be a rebuilding season for Purdue after having lost JaJuan Johnson, E'Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummel in consecutive seasons. From 2007-2011, the Boilermakers finished in first or second place in the Big Ten every season.
The future still looks bright with some deep recruiting classes being brought in. Painter also has experience coaching collegiate USA Championships teams and even declined to take the vacant Missouri head coaching position after the 2011 season.
Painter's loyalty to Purdue, relentless coaching style and ability to always get the most out of his players is what put him just above other coaches, even if he hasn't reached the same level of success in the NCAA Tournament just yet.
3. Thad Matta
In 12 seasons as a head coach, Matta has been to 10 NCAA Tournaments and has also won the NIT. The only year that doesn't account for either of these two accomplishments was in 2004-05, Matta's first season at OSU, when the Buckeyes were ineligible to participate in the NCAA Tournament.
Ohio State went 20-12 that year and would've likely made the tournament field, especially considering it was the only loss that Illinois had that year until the National Championship against North Carolina. Matta was the head guy at Butler for one season, Xavier for three years and has now been at Ohio State for eight seasons.
During those eight seasons, Ohio State has won five Big Ten titles and been to the Final Four twice, reaching the title game in 2007 before falling to Florida. Matta has also been able to bring in more NBA-caliber players to the Big Ten than any other coach, although many of those players have ended up leaving after only one season in Columbus.
Matta is one of the best in the business, and my only gripe on him is that he doesn't play his bench enough, which leaves his starters worn out by season's end. Matta's career winning percentage as a head coach is .773, an incredible feat.
2. Bo Ryan
After winning four Division III National Championships in a nine year span at UW-Platteville, Ryan moved up the coaching ranks to Milwaukee, where he only coached two seasons. For the past 11 seasons, Ryan has been the model of consistency, getting Wisconsin to the NCAA Tournament every season and never finishing worse than fourth place in the Big Ten standings.
The Badgers have been to an Elite Eight and four additional Sweet 16s under Ryan, helping him boast a winning percentage of .726 since arriving at Madison. Ryan is a firm believer in the Swing Offense, often leaving the Badgers with a shot attempt with under 10 seconds on the shot clock.
This slower pace of basketball also helps Wisconsin as a defensive-minded team that recruits to their playing style, which doesn't always translate into top recruiting classes like many other Big Ten teams. While Badger fans are and should be content with consistently reaching the Sweet 16 and being at or near the top of the Big Ten standings, getting over the hump and reaching the Final Four would be even sweeter.
The Badgers should be good again in 2012-13 despite losing Jordan Taylor to graduation. They do, however, bring in Wisconsin's Mr. Basketball in Sam Dekker. With so much talent atop the Big Ten this upcoming year, a top-four finish in the Big Ten is no guarantee for UW, but with Bo Ryan, I wouldn't dare bet against them.
1. Tom Izzo
Izzo has only been the head coach at one place, Michigan State. As the coach of Michigan State for 17 years, Izzo is the longest tenured coach in the Big Ten, and for good reason. The Spartans have made it to six Final Fours under Izzo, winning the National Championship in 2000 and reaching the title game in 2009.
Besides making the NIT in Izzo's first two years in East Lansing, MSU has made 15 consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament and has never finished below .500 in conference play under Izzo. Izzo holds a .709 winning percentage, producing a bevy of NBA players during that time.
Before becoming Michigan State's head coach in 1995, Izzo was an assistant coach there for 12 seasons. Izzo says that he is "a Spartan for life" after turning down the head coaching job for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010.
Michigan State doesn't rebuild when it loses All-Americans like Draymond Green; it reloads. The Spartans shall once again be competitive in 2012-13 with another top recruiting class, headlined by Gary Harris. What makes Izzo better than the rest of these 11 coaches that I have highlighted here is his ability to get his team's to peak in March, which makes them a threat for deep NCAA Tournament runs every season regardless of seed.
Under Izzo, Michigan State has never gone four consecutive seasons without a Final Four appearance. Hypothetically, that means any player who stays four years at Michigan State will reach the Final Four at least once during their career. To be able to say that as a recruiting tool leaves no surprise in determining Michigan State's success for almost two decades now.
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