With the NCAA tournament field down to the Sweet 16, the pressure is mounting on coaches as well as players. At this time of year, there are few assets more valuable to a team than a coach who knows how to win in do-or-die postseason games, from making in-game adjustments to keeping his players from tightening up and beating themselves.
It says something about the quality of this year’s pool of coaches that Bill Self (with one national title already under his belt) doesn’t even merit a spot in the top five. The Kansas bench boss has accomplished a lot in his career, but he’s up against some all-time greats in this tournament.
Read on for a closer look at Self and the coaches above (and below) him in the pecking order for the 2013 Sweet 16. For purposes of these rankings, postseason success was weighted a good deal more heavily than regular-season wins, though both factors were considered in many cases.
Andy Enfield may yet turn out to be a mastermind. At the very least, he’s sure to get a few offers for higher-profile jobs after getting the 15th-seeded Eagles this far.
However, Enfield is also in just his second season as a head coach at any level, making this his first trip to the NCAA tournament. It’s a lot harder to prepare your players for the Sweet 16 when you’ve never been to the Big Dance yourself.
Like Andy Enfield, John Giannini is making his first appearance in March Madness. Unlike Enfield, Giannini at least has a substantial body of head-coaching experience to draw on.
The Explorers’ bench boss has been running Division I teams since 1996-97, even if he’s only amassed 267 wins in that time.
Another minor asset for Giannini is that he's coached in a postseason tournament before, though his La Salle squad lasted just one game in last season’s NIT.
Although Gregg Marshall is coaching in his ninth NCAA tournament (and second at Wichita State), postseason success has largely eluded him. His two wins so far this March raise his career total of Big Dance victories to three.
In Marshall’s defense, most of his postseason experience came at Winthrop, where anything above a 15th seed was a rarity.
However, his postseason track record is hardly the kind to inspire confidence, though his underdog Shockers already have plenty of that themselves.
Having spent the bulk of his career at Creighton, Dana Altman is well accustomed to the underdog’s role in the Big Dance. He probably didn’t expect to get yet another double-digit seed in his first trip with Oregon, though.
Altman’s teams have pulled the occasional first-round upset in the past, but he’s in uncharted waters now.
As he prepares for his own Sweet 16 debut, he’ll be leaning heavily on veteran players such as Arsalan Kazemi and E.J. Singler to keep his team on track.
The good news for the Michigan Wolverines is that coach John Beilein has enjoyed some significant NCAA Tournament success in his career. He’s gotten as far as the Elite Eight, and he’s coaching in his third Sweet 16 overall.
The bad news, as Maize and Blue fans are well aware, is that none of those winning postseason runs came at Michigan.
Since leaving West Virginia, Beilein has struggled to recapture his tournament touch, putting an extra-large dose of pressure on him to succeed this weekend.
Although Buzz Williams is one of the least experienced head coaches left in the tournament, he’s already made some noise in his postseason career. The Golden Eagles’ head man has made the tournament in each of his first five seasons with the program.
Even more impressive, Williams is in his third consecutive Sweet 16, a streak few coaches can beat even in this company.
However, he’s also never made it past this stage, and that lack of a deeper run keeps him from catching the remaining coaches on this list.
The overwhelming majority of Jim Larranaga’s postseason experience came in one tournament, but what a tournament it was.
His George Mason Patriots tied the record for the lowest-seeded team ever to play in a Final Four, beating North Carolina, Michigan State and UConn as an 11th seed to reach the national semis in 2006.
Though Larranaga has coached in March Madness on a few other occasions, he hadn’t won any other games until this year.
Still, if he could get George Mason as far as he did, it’s hard to discount his chances with a Miami team loaded with both seniors and talent.
While Jim Larranaga made his lone Final Four trip behind a team playing better than the sum of its parts, Tom Crean made his by riding one transcendent star.
As much as Dwyane Wade deserves most of the credit for Crean’s deepest tourney run at Marquette, though, Crean does have some other successes on his postseason ledger.
Now in his fifth season at Indiana, the coach has guided his Hoosiers to their second consecutive Sweet 16 trip. For his career, he’s a solid 9-6 in NCAA tournament play.
A youngster in this crowd at age 44, Sean Miller is in his fourth year in the top spot at Arizona. Between the ‘Cats and his days at Xavier, he’s already established an impressive record of making his postseason trips count.
Miller has made six NCAA tournaments and won at least one game in five of them. He’s already been to two Elite Eights, with this season marking the fourth time he’s gotten at least as far as the Sweet 16.
Although Thad Matta has seen some extremely talented teams come up short of the national title, that’s about all he’s failed to accomplish in 13 years as a head coach.
He’s taken the Buckeyes to a pair of Final Four appearances in his first nine years with the program, and this season marks his fifth Sweet 16 with OSU.
Even before he arrived in Columbus, Matta had established his postseason bona fides by going 6-4 in March Madness play (including an Elite Eight trip) with Butler and Xavier.
His tournament performance may not match his extraordinary regular-season success just yet, but he’s still proven himself as a fine Big Dance coach.
Any coach whose teams make 15 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances—as Bill Self’s have—is going to hit a few bumps in the road.
Although Self has suffered a couple of very high-profile upsets in his career at Kansas, he’s also taken the Jayhawks deep into the tournament more often than not.
Five of Self’s seven career trips to the Elite Eight have come with KU, including two Final Fours. One of those, of course, ended in a 2008 overtime thriller that brought the national title back to Lawrence for the first time in 20 years.
There’s no faulting Jim Boeheim for lack of experience in his 31st trip to March Madness. Despite his 915 career wins, though, Boeheim hasn’t made all that many deep runs once he’s gotten to the tournament.
Aside from the Carmelo Anthony-led squad that won the 2003 title, only two other Boeheim-coached teams have even made the Final Four.
He does have five total Elite Eight visits, though even that figure isn’t a great percentage for a coach who’s been here so often.
As one of just two coaches left in the tournament with multiple national titles, Billy Donovan has a legitimate case for the No. 2 spot on this list.
However, it’s hard to treat the 2006 and 2007 championships as two completely separate coaching jobs when the entire starting five returned for a second go-round.
Moreover, Donovan hasn’t yet run up the kind of gaudy Final Four totals that the coaches ahead of him here have managed.
Including the 2006 and 2007 tourneys, the Florida head man has compiled a respectable but hardly historic total of three trips to the national semis.
In contrast to conference rival Thad Matta, Tom Izzo has established a reputation for overachieving when the NCAA tournament comes around.
He’s had plenty of time to do it, too, as Izzo has guided the Spartans to 16 straight tournament appearances.
For his career in East Lansing, Izzo has taken the Spartans to six Final Fours, tying for fourth place all-time. One of those visits turned into a national championship, courtesy of Mateen Cleaves and company in 2000.
The first coach to take three different programs to the Final Four, Rick Pitino is also the only such coach who hasn’t had any of his trips vacated after the fact.
In all, Pitino has run up six Final Four appearances in 17 NCAA tournament appearances, capped by the 1996 national title at Kentucky.
The gap between Pitino and Tom Izzo for purposes of these rankings is so small as to be almost meaningless. Pitino, though, gets the second-place nod on the strength of his 660 career victories, over 200 more than Izzo has managed as yet.
Saving the Coach K-vs.-John Wooden debate for another time, there’s no measure by which Mike Krzyzewski isn’t the best active coach in college basketball.
His 11 Final Four appearances are only one behind Wooden’s record, and he’s won four national titles in his incomparable career at Duke.
On top of all that, of course, Krzyzewski holds the career victories record at 956 and counting. When it comes to getting an edge from its head coach, there isn’t a program in the country that can top the Blue Devils right now.