Predicting Who Will Win NCAA Basketball Coach of the Year

Thad Novak@@ThadNovakCorrespondent IFebruary 21, 2013

Predicting Who Will Win NCAA Basketball Coach of the Year

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    The NCAA basketball season has been full of surprises, which is always good news for those who like an exciting Coach of the Year race. Lists of favorites for that honor routinely emphasize coaches whose teams have exceeded preseason expectations, and 2012-13 has an ample supply of those.

    Oregon entered the year quietly after an NIT quarterfinal finish last March, but the Ducks have made plenty of noise in the Pac-12. Coach Dana Altman has opened a lot of eyes in guiding his team to a one-game lead in the conference over preseason darlings Arizona and UCLA.

    Read on for more on Altman’s efforts, along with the resumes for the rest of the 10 most promising candidates for national Coach of the Year honors.

10. Mark Few, Gonzaga

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    Nobody expected Gonzaga to be a bad team in 2012-13. The preseason No. 21 Bulldogs returned senior forward Elias Harris (a perennial NBA prospect) and several promising guards from a team that had earned a No. 7 seed in last year’s NCAA tournament.

    Still, not many expected the season Gonzaga’s turned in, either.

    Mark Few has the Zags ranked third in the nation (tying his own school record) with a 25-2 overall mark, thanks in large measure to a breakout season from center Kelly Olynyk.

9. Tom Crean, Indiana

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    By definition, the preseason No. 1 team has the country’s biggest bull's-eye on its back. Tom Crean’s Hoosiers have weathered that storm impressively, especially in the weeks since an upset loss to Butler first toppled them from the top spot.

    Playing in the most loaded conference in the country, IU has not only regained the No. 1 national ranking, but also opened up a one-game lead in the Big Ten standings.

    Yes, the Hoosiers have talent to burn, but Crean has made sure his team’s enormous potential isn’t going to waste.

8. Bruce Weber, Kansas State

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    A coach is always going to be at a disadvantage in his first year with a new program. Not only is he working with a roster built for somebody else’s approach, but he’s getting a whole new set of players to buy into his strategy and trust him.

    None of those obstacles has prevented Bruce Weber from taking Kansas State from an unranked team in the preseason to No. 13 in the country and the top of the Big 12 standings.

    Although there’s no doubt Weber inherited a talented roster from Frank Martin, it’s still to Weber’s credit that he’s been able to put all that talent in a position to hit the ground running in 2012-13.

7. John Thompson III, Georgetown

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    Respectability was a reasonable goal for the this year's Hoyas.

    After all, John Thompson III’s roster had lost its top three scorers, so even if Otto Porter Jr. blossomed as expected, the Hoyas would hardly be equipped to compete with the best in the always-tough Big East.

    Of course, that’s exactly what Georgetown has done, earning a No. 11 national ranking and a share of first place in the conference.

    Even more remarkable is that Thompson has kept the Hoyas playing top-notch ball, despite the midseason loss of standout sophomore Greg Whittington, sidelined by academic troubles.

6. Brad Stevens, Butler

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    With the arrival in the lineup of Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke, there was little doubt that Brad Stevens’ Bulldogs would be better than last year’s 22-15 squad. What nobody expected was just how much better Butler could get.

    A staggering upset of No. 1 Indiana in mid-December sent Butler rocketing into the national rankings—peaking, so far, at No. 9—for the first time since November 2010.

    Stevens has already built an ample reputation for winning with underdogs. The fact that he’s maintaining his level of success, despite his team’s move from the Horizon League to the much tougher A-10 deserves consideration for both conference and national coach of the year honors.

5. Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh

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    Coming off a 17-loss season (its worst since 1995-96), Pitt jumped out to a 12-1 start. Conference wins over Georgetown, Syracuse and Cincinnati have helped Jamie Dixon’s squad climb to No. 20 in the national polls.

    Dixon deserves particular credit for reloading so quickly in spite of the graduation of scoring star Ashton Gibbs, one of the only good things about the 2011-12 Panthers.

    He might be higher on this list if back-to-back conference losses hadn’t dropped the Panthers from serious contention for the Big East crown.

4. Buzz Williams, Marquette

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    In 2011-12, Marquette was overwhelmingly a two-man team. With both Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder off to the NBA, Buzz Williams’ program looked to be headed for a rebuilding season this year.

    Instead, the Golden Eagles have overachieved with a vengeance, earning a share of the Big East lead and the No. 17 national ranking.

    Williams’ patience with Vander Blue (15 points per game) has finally been justified, and Davante Gardner has become one of the country’s most impressive sixth men.

3. Travis Ford, Oklahoma State

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    High expectations weren’t exactly a problem in Stillwater this season.

    A sub-.500 Cowboys team had just lost its top scorer to graduation (Keiton Page), and its projected starting frontcourt of Philip Jurick and Michael Cobbins had combined for fewer than nine points per game a year ago.

    Freshman sensation Marcus Smart turned all that around, remaking Travis Ford’s squad into a Top 25 fixture with wins over N.C. State, Kansas (in Lawrence) and Baylor.

    Ford managing to keep his team in the running for the Big 12 title with so little size—and so little experience—says a lot about how much he’s gotten from the few star players he does have.

2. Dana Altman, Oregon

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    After all the preseason hype surrounding Arizona and UCLA, the heavy favorites for the Pac-12 title in late February are…the Oregon Ducks?

    Dana Altman’s No. 23 squad holds a one-game lead in the conference standings, plus a tiebreaker edge on the Wildcats (who don’t face Oregon again).

    Altman has helped OU stay on top of the league, despite the loss of one of his best new additions, freshman PG Dominic Artis, to a foot injury. If the Ducks do win the Pac-12, there won’t be another major-conference champ with so little star power.

1. Jim Larranaga, Miami

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    Even with all the other fine candidates on this list, it will be astonishing if anyone other than Jim Larranaga takes home Coach of the Year honors.

    In just his second year at Miami, he’s overturned decades of ACC expectations and taken his own team to unprecedented heights.

    Picked to finish fourth in the conference in the preseason, the Hurricanes have instead run away with first place, soaring to a 3.5-game lead in the standings with a perfect 13-0 ACC record.

    That kind of run has been the exclusive property of Duke and North Carolina since Coach K got the Blue Devil program on its feet, but Larranaga’s squad has flattened both of those teams by margins of 20-plus points already this season.

    The Hurricanes are now ranked No. 2 in the national polls, a school record, and three more victories will break the all-time Miami wins record to boot.