Big East Basketball: Power Ranking All the Head Coaches
The rapidly evolving national college football landscape (yes, football is the primary motivation for realignment) will soon rip apart Big East basketball as we know it. For now, the conference remains a cluster of marquee hoops programs.
At the forefront of every squad's foundation is a head coach with plenty to prove. These leaders are under pressure at all times, although each university carries its own unique expectations.
Some coaches enter every season with championship-or-bust expectations. Other are simply attempting to make positive steps forward and show definite improvement.
As the regular season nears its conclusion, it's an appropriate time to assess the performance of these coaches.
Here's a look at how the leaders of all 15 Big East basketball programs currently stack up against their conference contemporaries.
15. Mike Rice, Rutgers
Mike Rice arrived at Rutgers following the dramatic and disappointing Fred Hill tenure. He hasn't done much to restore hope for a frustrated Scarlet Knights fanbase.
Rice is 15-37 versus Big East opponents through nearly three seasons on the job. He's been unable to duplicate the magic he created at Robert Morris, where he led the team to two straight NCAA Tournament appearances.
New Rutgers AD Tim Pernetti has done a lot for the university's athletic prowess (particularly securing a move to the Big Ten), but the jury remains out on Rice. Pernetti suspended the coach earlier this season for his practice behavior.
14. Oliver Purnell, DePaul
Purnell rose to prominence with NCAA Tournament runs at Old Dominion and Dayton. He emerged as a hot commodity after leading Clemson to three consecutive tourney berths, although each ended with a first-round exit.
His coaching star has dimmed since he bolted Clemson for a more lucrative payday at DePaul in 2010. The Blue Demons are 6-40 in conference play with Purnell leading the way.
The team is 1-13 since Jan. 5, raising questions about the direction DePaul is headed under Purnell.
13. Kevin Willard, Seton Hall
Willard is trying to reawaken a dormant program at Seton Hall. Recent struggles have substantially lowered expectations, and his first battle is to win back blue-chip recruits (still a work in progress).
After reaching the second round of NIT action last March, the Pirates have taken a step back. Seton Hall is just 3-13 against Big East opponents this season, losing nine of its last 10 contests.
12. Stan Heath, South Florida
Stan Heath was the talk of Tampa last season, when he led South Florida to its first NCAA Tournament appearance. However, the Bulls have been unable to live up to heightened expectations this year.
USF is sitting in the Big East basement with a conference record of 2-14, and the Bulls are a mess on the offensive end. Heath, now in his sixth season at South Florida, is sure to come under fire after the program's rapid descent down the Big East ladder.
11. Ed Cooley, Providence
Providence dealt with growing pains last season in Cooley's first year with the team. Providence finished 4-14 in the conference, but is playing with a lot more confidence this season.
The Friars are 8-8 against Big East opponents and fighting to reach the NCAA Tournament. Cooley, 43, has provided this program with more vigor than it's seen in years past.
Providence has won six of its last seven games.
10. Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
Cronin built his reputation on a pair of NCAA Tournament runs with Murray State, but he hasn't exactly taken the Big East by storm with Cincinnati.
Now in his seventh season at the helm, he has led the Bearcats to two tournament appearances (2011 and 2012).
His latest team is a bit of an enigma, sitting at 8-8 in conference play. Cincinnati could be headed back to the big dance and will look to better its 2012 Sweet 16 appearance.
9. Steve Lavin, St. John's
Once a rising coaching star at UCLA, Lavin has settled in quite nicely with St. John's. The Red Storm remain in the hunt for a second NCAA Tournament berth in his three-year tenure, and he's held his own against Big East teams (26-26 versus conference foes).
Known as a relentless recruiter, Lavin seems to have St. John's back on track after years of mediocrity. The team has toppled two nationally ranked teams (Cincinnati and Notre Dame) during 2013 Big East play.
8. Kevin Ollie, Connecticut
Kevin Ollie inherited a uniquely interesting situation in Storrs for his first season at the helm of the Huskies. Connecticut is banned from postseason play (including the Big East Tournament) and he is trying to fill the shoes of three-time national champion Jim Calhoun.
The former Huskies point guard and NBA role player has impressed under duress so far, leading his team to a 19-9 record and 9-7 mark in the Big East. UConn's performance earned Ollie a five-year contract extension in December.
Connecticut has picked off two ranked Big East opponents this season and took conference leader Georgetown to double overtime last week.
7. Jay Wright, Villanova
It wasn't long ago Wright was considered an NBA coaching candidate. He flirted with the Philadelphia 76ers job in 2009 before ultimately staying put, but his program was in better shape at that point.
Villanova reached seven straight NCAA tourneys between 2005 and 2011, but the team is in a bit of a lull these days. The Wildcats are 14-21 against Big East opponents over the past two seasons, and an inconsistent 2012-'13 season seems destined to end in the NIT.
6. Mike Brey, Notre Dame
Now in his 13th season at Notre Dame, Brey has reached the NCAA Tournament eight times during his tenure. The Fighting Irish (22-7, 10-6 in Big East) are on the verge of pushing that mark to nine appearances.
Now it's time for the bad news.
Notre Dame has never advanced beyond the Sweet 16 under his watch. In fact, the Fighting Irish have reached the Sweet 16 just once since Brey was hired in 2000.
5. Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh
The 10-year Panthers veteran has maintained a model of consistency at Pittsburgh. He reached the NCAA Tournament in each of his first eight seasons with the program.
Even when Dixon's squad failed to qualify for the Big Dance in 2012, the Panthers claimed a C.B.I. postseason title. Pittsburgh has rebounded this season and currently owns an 11-6 record in conference play.
Dixon is certainly headed back to the NCAA tourney, where Pittsburgh has lost in the opening round just once during his tenure (2005).
4. Buzz Williams, Marquette
The 40-year-old is a rising star in college coaching ranks. He has done a great job of building on the program's success since Tom Crean departed for the Indiana job. Williams' Marquette teams have reached the NCAA Tournament every season under his watch and are in line to earn a favorable seed in the upcoming tourney.
Consecutive trips to the Sweet 16 (2011 and 2012) set the stage for a successful campaign this winter. Marquette is currently 21-7 and has beaten three straight nationally ranked opponents.
3. John Thompson III, Georgetown
Thompson's implementation of a rare game plan has paid dividends at Georgetown. He brought lessons learned under Princeton coaching legend Pete Carril, and the Hoyas have flourished.
Georgetown has reached the NCAA Tournament in six of the past seven years. Led by National Player of the Year candidate Otto Porter, Thompson's latest squad appears ready to make a run toward the team's first Final Four appearance since 2007.
The Hoyas have won 11 games in a row and can lock up Thompson's third Big East regular-season title this week.
2. Rick Pitino, Louisville
Pitino is considered one of the game's great recruiters, but that has yet to translate into a national title at Louisville. The 60-year-old is 289-110 in 12 seasons as the program's head coach and consistently keeps his program in conference-title contention.
The Cardinals have advanced to six straight NCAA Tournaments and are weeks away from making it seven postseason visits in a row. Louisville has reached at least the Elite Eight in three of the past five seasons, including a 2012 Final Four run.
1. Jim Boeheim, Syracuse
The 2005 Basketball Hall of Fame inductee has been referred to by some as an overrated figure in the world of college hoops.
The 900-game winner and five-time Big East Tournament champion is 1-for-3 in his visits to the Final Four, highlighted by a 2003 title run with freshman phenom Carmelo Anthony.
He claimed the 2010 AP Coach of the Year, and his squad rarely struggles for prolonged periods of time.
Syracuse started this season 18-1, but has stumbled to a 4-6 record since. The Orange recently owned a 38-game home win streak, but have dropped two straight home games and are free-falling at the wrong time.
Still, with a deep rotation and talented scores, don't be surprised if Syracuse finds a way to rally in the postseason.