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The USBWA has announced its list of ten finalists for the Henry Iba Award for college basketball coach of the year. They are:
- Mike Anderson, Missouri
- John Calipari, Memphis
- Jeff Capel, Oklahoma
- Jamie Dixon, Pitt
- Mike Montgomery, Cal
- Stew Morrill, Utah State
- Matt Painter, Purdue
- Oliver Purnell, Clemson
- Bill Self, Kansas
- Brad Stevens, Butler
The biggest issue I have with this list is some of the names that were left off.
For starters, how about Trent Johnson down at LSU? Did anyone expect anything out of the Tigers this year? The SEC may be down, but in his first year Johnson has led the Bayou Bengals to an outright SEC title.
Remember, this is a team that went 13-18 (6-10 in the SEC) in '07-'08, struggled so much that they got John Brady fired just two years removed from a Final Four, and lost lottery pick Anthony Randolph to the NBA.
What about the job that Lorenzo Romar has done out in Seattle for the Washington Huskies? U-Dub was picked to finish fifth in the Pac-10 preseason poll, but Romar has led the Huskies to a 22-7 record and at least a share of the conference title (they will win it outright if they beat Wazzu this weekend).
I would even put Bruce Weber from Illinois on this list. The Illini didn't add much to a team that struggled through the '07-'08 season, but Weber has his guys near the top of the Big Ten and headed back to the tournament.
As far as I'm concerned, those three guys are far more deserving that Jamie Dixon, Jeff Capel, or Stew Merrill. Don't get me wrong, all three are fantastic coaches and are having great seasons. I just don't see how they have been better than some of the coaches that were left off the list.
Pitt has been a top-five team all season, and is right in the mix for the Big East regular season title. But it was supposed to be. Pitt would be considered a disappointment if it wasn't having this kind of season. Is it coach-of-the-year worthy to just live up to expectations?
Oklahoma is having a great season, but isn't the knock on them that they are Blake Griffin and then everyone else? Is it really a great coaching job when you ride the best player in the country?
As good as Utah State has been in the WAC, I just can't give this team too much credit. They have one good win (at home against Utah), they have 12 wins against teams with RPIs of 200+, and they have lost three of their last five (all to teams in the top 100). I just don't think that beating up on a bunch of poor-to-mediocre teams qualifies you as a coach-of-the-year candidate.
So who is the coach of the year?
If I had to decide today, I would probably narrow it down to three guys: Brad Stevens, John Calipari, and Bill Self.
Stevens lost everyone except Matt Howard from last year's Butler team, but he has managed to keep the Bulldogs atop the Horizon League on the strength of two freshmen (Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack) and Howard.
Everyone in the world knows what Self lost last year—six of his top seven scorers, five of whom went to the NBA.
Only sixth-man Sherron Collins and seldom-used Cole Aldrich came back, but Self has managed to mold a group of talented freshmen and junior college transfers into the top team in the Big 12. The Baby Jayhawks control their own destiny as they try to win their fifth straight conference title.
But my pick for coach of the year goes to Calipari. Just like Self, he lost a ton of talent to the NBA in Derrick Rose, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and Joey Dorsey.
He returned a team with all sorts of athletic potential, but that was devoid of a point guard and consistent shooters. Trying a number of different lineups, he finally settled on using freshman Tyreke Evans at the point, and Memphis has not lost since he made the change.
The Tigers are still playing their menacing style of defense (they have given up more than 70 points just five times this year, and not once since Jan. 3). Cal has taken this team from inconsistent bunch that lacked confidence to a serious threat to make a second straight Final Four.
I think Buzz Williams at Marquette and Leonard Hamilton at Florida State should also get a mention for the season that their respective teams are having, as well as Tom Crean for keeping his Indiana team fighting through the abysmal season it is having.