Setting Expectations for Each of College Basketball's Top 20 Coaches in 2014
Even for college basketball’s most celebrated coaches, not every team is national championship material. Expectations for any given year have to be modified based on the available talent on the roster.
One fine example of that principle for next season is Butler’s Brad Stevens. No matter how well Stevens manipulates his X’s and O’s, the Bulldogs’ lack of scoring will leave them in for a long year in their Big East debut.
Read on for more on Stevens and the prospects for the rest of the nation’s top 20 coaches (as we ranked them earlier in the offseason) in 2013-14.
20. Dana Altman, Oregon
On the one hand, coming off his first career Sweet 16 appearance—with wins over Oklahoma State and Saint Louis—raises the stakes for Dana Altman in 2013-14.
On the other hand, those expectations have to be tempered by the graduation of Oregon’s entire starting frontcourt (plus top reserve Carlos Emory).
Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson make a fine backcourt to build around, but next year’s Ducks will definitely be under construction rather than a finished product.
Look for a middle-of-the-pack finish in the Pac-12, with another double-digit seed in the NCAAs to go with it.
19. John Beilein, Michigan
The last freshman-heavy Michigan team to fall in the national title game made it right back to the finals the following year (1993).
It’s hard to see John Beilein’s squad duplicating that feat, but the Wolverines will be in the thick of the Big Ten race next season.
The departures of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. will take a bite out of the offense, but Beilein’s corps of long-range marksmen (plus offensive rebounding machine Mitch McGary) will still put up more points than most opponents can handle.
Another regular season in the territory of 25 wins (including a stab at the Big Ten crown) and another trip to the Elite Eight are entirely plausible for these Wolverines.
18. Thad Matta, Ohio State
Thad Matta’s sensational 2010 recruiting class loses another member with Deshaun Thomas’ NBA departure, but the few who remain as rising seniors have a great shot at earning a third Big Ten title for their college careers.
The backcourt of Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. will once again anchor a first-rate defense in Columbus.
Matta’s real challenge for next year will be finding enough scoring in Thomas’ absence—a task with which rising junior LaQuinton Ross should help immensely.
The Buckeyes have every reason to be thinking Final Four in 2014, and it’s not impossible that Craft and Co. will finally land the national title that’s stayed just out of reach so far.
17. Mike Montgomery, California
The biggest challenge to Cal’s success next season is the loss of Pac-12 scoring leader Allen Crabbe.
Fortunately for Mike Montgomery, he found a great replacement option on the recruiting trail, bringing in McDonald’s All-American Jabari Bird to take over at SG.
Most of the rest of Montgomery’s core roster returns, making the Golden Bears one of the few teams in a position to threaten Arizona’s presumptive Pac-12 title.
A No. 5 or No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament seems like a safe bet for Cal, and Montgomery’s experience may help his charges advance a bit beyond their seeding.
16. Jim Crews, Saint Louis
As the defending Atlantic 10 champion, Jim Crews’ Saint Louis squad will have a target on its back next season. Even so, look for Crews’ hard-working defense to carry the team to another conference crown.
Rising senior Dwayne Evans is a leading Player of the Year prospect in the A-10, and he’s got other experienced winners around him. The Sweet 16 trip last year’s Billikens couldn’t quite make is very much a possibility for 2014.
15. Andy Enfield, USC
The good news for the Trojans is that they landed one of the brightest young stars of the coaching circuit in Andy Enfield. The bad news is that Enfield will have a lot more star power than anyone on his roster for 2013-14.
USC’s individual leaders in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocks are all leaving, and Enfield’s late arrival prevented him from adding anything to a lackluster recruiting class.
The new coach’s fast-paced style should get the most out of what talent he has available, but it’s hard to imagine the Trojans doing better than a near-.500 finish and an NIT berth next year.
14. Shaka Smart, VCU
In just four years at the VCU helm, Shaka Smart has taken the Rams from implausible NCAA tournament Cinderellas to Top 25 contenders.
The latter status is a safe bet for next season, when the Rams will again be battling for the top of the Atlantic 10 standings.
Smart’s celebrated Havoc press has plenty of weapons returning, most notably Briante Weber (likely to start next year after averaging 2.7 steals a game off the bench).
With veterans Treveon Graham and Juvonte Reddic to anchor the offense, a deep NCAA tournament run, and maybe even another Final Four, are attainable goals.
13. Steve Alford, UCLA
A first-round NCAA tournament exit helped get Ben Howland fired at UCLA, but his successor should be safe from that threat. Steve Alford inherits a strong enough roster that even the Sweet 16 isn’t entirely out of reach.
With top recruit Zach LaVine joining last year’s freshman stars (Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams), the Bruins will have the firepower to finish near the top of the Pac-12.
It’s unlikely that they (or anyone) will beat out Arizona for the conference crown, but at least UCLA has the athletes to play the Wildcats tough.
12. Brad Stevens, Butler
Strong defense has been a given at Butler under Brad Stevens, and there’s not much chance of that trend reversing in 2013-14.
The question for the Bulldogs is whether Stevens can piece together an offense in the absence of Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith.
Swingman Roosevelt Jones, the team’s leading returning scorer, will need lots of help from the likes of Kellen Dunham and Alex Barlow in the backcourt.
Even with a fairly generous estimate of Butler’s point production, the Bulldogs will be doing well just to make the NCAA tournament in their first season in the tough Big East.
11. Mark Few, Gonzaga
Mark Few’s Gonzaga teams are used to exceeding postseason expectations, so it came as quite a blow when last year’s Zags underperformed so badly in the Big Dance.
The 2014 tournament won’t end quite so early for Few and Co., but they won’t have nearly so high a seed, either.
Kevin Pangos and a strong backcourt will keep the Bulldogs in the Top 25, but with the overall weakness of the WCC, even another undefeated conference title probably won’t be worth more than a No. 4 seed.
The Sweet 16 is eminently reasonable for Few’s squad, but much beyond that will require some of Gonzaga’s upset magic of yore.
10. Jim Larranaga, Miami
No coach on this list has as daunting a task ahead of him as Jim Larranaga.
One year after raising the ‘Canes from an NIT-level team to their first-ever ACC title, Larranaga must try to preserve even a fraction of that momentum despite losing every major contributor on the squad.
With the likes of Shane Larkin and Kenny Kadji off to the NBA, top recruit Deandre Burnett instantly becomes the best player on an extremely thin roster.
The freshman SG will get his points, but with the ACC as tough as it is, it’ll take a minor miracle for Larranaga to get this team to .500, let alone anywhere near the NCAA tournament.
9. Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
Gregg Marshall shattered expectations better than any coach last season, and WSU’s Final Four run will keep the Shockers from sneaking up on anyone.
Of course, it also means that next year, just making the Big Dance—a virtual guarantee for the Missouri Valley’s best team—isn’t good enough anymore.
With Cleanthony Early and several other deadeye shooters back, Wichita State should be safe from a first-round upset.
However, Marshall’s troops will be doing well to reach the Sweet 16 after losing frontcourt warriors Carl Hall and Ehimen Orukpe.
8. Bill Self, Kansas
Bill Self’s job for 2013-14 got a good bit easier when he landed the nation’s top freshman, Andrew Wiggins, two weeks ago. Of course, with that kind of star power comes elevated hopes from the always demanding Jayhawk fanbase.
Wiggins’ arrival means that yet another Big 12 title will merely be par for the course in Lawrence, despite the loss of all five of last season's starters.
The talent of Wiggins and his co-stars (Perry Ellis, Naadir Tharpe) should be enough to carry KU back to the Sweet 16, but a lack of tournament seasoning will mean the youngsters will be unlikely to get any farther.
7. Billy Donovan, Florida
Billy Donovan and his Gators would love to add another SEC title to their banners, but it’ll take a heroic effort for even a strong Florida team to overcome Kentucky’s daunting talent.
Even if Florida finishes as runner-up in the conference, though, another No. 2 or No. 3 seed is entirely within reach.
Talented freshmen Kasey Hill and Chris Walker will join veterans Patric Young and Scottie Wilbekin to keep the Florida defense at the top of its game.
The Gators have made three straight Elite Eight trips and should make a fourth, with the Final Four being entirely plausible.
6. Tom Izzo, Michigan State
By Tom Izzo’s lofty standards, the Spartans underperformed by ending last season in the Sweet 16 (even if they did get knocked out by higher-seeded Duke).
Fortunately for the Final Four-happy coach, he’s got a great chance to be back on familiar ground in 2014.
With four starters returning from a team that finished just one game back in the toughest Big Ten in recent memory, Michigan State holds the inside track on a conference crown.
That title would ensure a No. 1 seed, but even from a lower starting spot, these Spartans should be Final Four-bound (for the seventh time in Izzo's brilliant career).
5. John Calipari, Kentucky
Realistically, Kentucky is on the short list of programs that more or less expect a national title every year.
John Calipari's untouchable recruiting prowess has only added fuel to that fire in recent years by ensuring that the Wildcats' rosters are perpetually loaded.
For 2013-14, six McDonald’s All-Americans join a dangerous returning core that includes Alex Poythress’ scoring and Willie Cauley-Stein’s defense.
An SEC title and a Final Four trip are pretty much compulsory to avoid being considered a disappointment, but it will really take a national title to satisfy this talent-rich group.
4. Roy Williams, North Carolina
Even in an obvious rebuilding year, Roy Williams guided North Carolina to a No. 8 seed, and the Tar Heels put up a fight before falling to top-seeded Kansas in the round of 32.
Next year’s edition will have a lot more pressure to overcome, because another ACC title is looking like a distinct possibility.
With Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks joining James Michael McAdoo up front, UNC won’t be nearly as vulnerable to size (or upsets).
First or second place in conference is a must, and these Tar Heels really ought to make the Elite Eight before they’re done.
3. Jim Boeheim, Syracuse
By far the toughest job among last year’s Final Four head coaches belongs to Jim Boeheim. Syracuse loses every reliable member of its backcourt, meaning that even a strong C.J. Fair-led front line won’t be enough to return to the national semis.
Freshman Tyler Ennis will help smooth the Orange’s ACC debut, but a conference loaded with tough road trips will keep ‘Cuse from finishing higher than third or fourth.
That will probably translate into a No. 5 or 6 seed in March, and if Boeheim’s charges turn that into a Sweet 16 visit, that’s a result to be happy with.
2. Rick Pitino, Louisville
Rick Pitino faces a special breed of expectations as the coach of the defending national champs, especially because his Cardinals retained so much of their talent.
Although it’s been seven years since Florida completed the last pair of back-to-back titles, every champion expects to be the best until proven otherwise.
Pitino—who’s losing far less production than he did when he won a title at Kentucky in 1996—should have little trouble taking this team back to the Final Four.
A conference championship (in the new AAC) is almost a lock, and no team has a better chance at cutting down the nets in 2014.
1. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke
Even with uber-recruit Jabari Parker in the fold, Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils aren’t nearly as overwhelming on paper as they have been in seasons past.
A lack of height and strength up front will put Coach K’s reliance on the three-pointer to the test—which makes it just as well that long-range shooters are one asset Duke has in abundance.
These Blue Devils won’t run away with an ACC crown, but they’ll be right in the thick of the race for it (as usual, against arch-rival North Carolina).
Look for Duke to land a No. 3 or No. 4 seed and make it at least as far as the Sweet 16, though the Elite Eight isn’t at all out of reach here.