Ranking the Top Candidates for 2013-14 College Basketball Coach of the Year

Thad NovakCorrespondent IFebruary 25, 2014

Ranking the Top Candidates for 2013-14 College Basketball Coach of the Year

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    An impressive won-lost record is a prerequisite for a college basketball Coach of the Year candidate, but it’s not the only factor that decides which coach takes home the hardware. Coaxing unexpected success out of a less heralded team—as Jim Larranaga did at Miami a season ago—can go a lot further than “merely” helping a preseason favorite live up to its potential.

    Rick Barnes’ Texas squad, for instance, was picked to finish eighth in its own conference by the Big 12’s coaches. Instead, his Longhorns are No. 23 in the country heading into March, having scored the league's biggest upset by handing front-running Kansas its first Big 12 loss of the year.

    Barnes has certainly made an impression, but will it be enough to earn him national acclaim? Read on to see where he ranks among the 20 most deserving contenders for Coach of the Year this season.

20. Steve Alford, UCLA

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    Steve Alford’s Pac-12 debut has run into a few speed bumps, but he’s still done an impressive job of translating his New Mexico triumphs to a far bigger stage.

     

    Success: B

    The Bruins are alone in second place in a deep Pac-12, but they’ve taken some ugly losses (Utah, Oregon State) away from Pauley Pavilion.

     

    Surprise: B+

    Alford’s own iffy track record from his Iowa days, plus the departure of floor leader Larry Drew II, kept expectations in Westwood lower than usual.

19. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke

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    The winningest coach in Division I history, Mike Krzyzewski shows up in the CoY debate almost every year.

     

    Success: A

    Even with the regular-season ACC title out of reach, Duke stands at No. 6 in the country and still has a real chance to land a No. 1 seed.

     

    Surprise: B-

    Yes, they did lose three terrific seniors, but the Blue Devils also landed freshman sensation Jabari Parker, a fact that helped them start the year at No. 4 in the polls.

18. Brad Brownell, Clemson

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    Now in his fourth season in the Tigers’ top job, Brad Brownell is building the kind of impenetrable defense that Clemson had in mind when he was hired.

     

    Success: B-

    Consistency has been an issue for a squad that’s lost to Auburn and Notre Dame, but when it's on, the nation’s No. 2 scoring D can play with anybody.

     

    Surprise: A+

    After last year’s 5-13 ACC record, nobody saw this team coming.

17. Bill Self, Kansas

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    He’s had some NCAA tournament issues, but Bill Self’s regular-season performance continues to be one of the few things more successful than Bill Self’s recruiting.

     

    Success: A+

    The latest batch of superstar freshmen has KU right back in the top five, again.

     

    Surprise: B-

    Kansas winning the Big 12 is somewhere between death and taxes on the certainty meter.

16. Phil Martelli, Saint Joseph’s

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    Six years removed from his last trip to the Big Dance, Phil Martelli has the Saint Joseph Hawks in second place in a brutal Atlantic 10.

     

    Success: B 

    St. Joe’s has taken a couple of bad losses (including Temple in Big Five action), but wins over UMass, VCU and Drexel have them at a strong 19-7 on the year.

     

    Surprise: A

    Coming off a pair of NIT seasons and without shot-blocker C.J. Aiken, these Hawks are flying far higher than anticipated.

15. Sean Miller, Arizona

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    Two years worth of dazzling recruiting are paying off in spades for Sean Miller, whose Arizona Wildcats have so much talent that even Brandon Ashley’s season-ending foot surgery hasn’t derailed them.

     

    Success: A+

    With a favorable remaining schedule, third-ranked Arizona is a heavy favorite for a No. 1 seed.

     

    Surprise: B-

    Between the veterans in the backcourt and the Aaron Gordon-led parade of NBA talent up front, Arizona hasn’t been ranked lower than No. 6 all year.

14. Tim Miles, Nebraska

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    In his second season in Lincoln, Tim Miles has started a genuine turnaround for a perennially ignored hoops team at Nebraska.

     

    Success: B

    The unranked Cornhuskers are only 16-10 overall, but they have a very real chance at finishing with 11 wins in the Big Ten, and they’ve already beaten Ohio State and Michigan State.

     

    Surprise: A+

    This is a program that hasn’t had a winning conference record since 1998-99.

13. Fran McCaffery, Iowa

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    Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes have joined a long line of success stories to come out of the NIT title game (which they lost to Baylor last spring).

     

    Success: B+

    Nobody in the Big Ten has been able to go on a long winning run this year, but 20th-ranked Iowa is holding its own.

     

    Surprise: A

    Never ranked in 2012-13, the Hawkeyes have been a revelation, thanks to phenomenal depth and some intimidating size (No. 3 nationally in rebounding).

12. Lon Kruger, Oklahoma

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    Still going strong in his 30th season as a head coach, Lon Kruger is looking to make the Oklahoma Sooners the fifth team with which he’s won an NCAA tournament game.

     

    Success: B+

    Oklahoma has been in and out of the Top 25 while making plenty of noise in the Big 12 (a sweep of rival OK State, road wins over Texas and Baylor).

     

    Surprise: A

    Last year’s team did sneak into the Big Dance before getting thumped by San Diego State. Still, the graduations of three senior leaders (including top scorer and rebounder Romero Osby) left them well off the national radar in the preseason.

11. John Beilein, Michigan

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    There are more celebrated coaches in the Big Ten than John Beilein, but there are none who are turning in a stronger 2013-14 performance.

     

    Success: A

    A relatively low No. 16 ranking belies the Michigan Wolverines’ status as near-certain conference champs.

     

    Surprise: B+

    Trey Burke’s absence and Mitch McGary’s injury make this a very different (and much weaker) team than the one that made it to last year’s national title game.

10. Jim Crews, Saint Louis

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    After splitting 2012-13 Coach of the Year recognition with Larranaga, Jim Crews is right back in the thick of the conversation this year with a 25-2 record.

     

    Success: A

    Undefeated in the A-10, the 10th-ranked Saint Louis Billikens came as close to beating Wichita State as any team this season.

     

    Surprise: B+ 

    Most of the same roster that won last year’s conference crown is back under Crews’ direction this time around, but the Billikens still couldn't crack the preseason Top 25.

9. Billy Donovan, Florida

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    Billy Donovan, the last coach to win back-to-back national titles, looks to have a good chance to add a third championship to his resume this season.

     

    Success: A+ 

    It's tough to do better than the nation’s No. 1 ranking, especially considering that the Gators’ losses both came with one of their two dangerous point guards out of action.

     

    Surprise: B

    Only the graduation of Kenny Boynton, the program’s second-leading scorer of all time, kept this loaded roster as low as No. 10 in the preseason polls.

8. Mick Cronin, Cincinnati

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    Mick Cronin has surpassed even his own reputation as a defensive guru this year, as the Cincinnati Bearcats boast the fourth-best scoring D in the nation.

     

    Success: A

    Eleventh-ranked Cincinnati is in the driver’s seat for a share (at least) of the inaugural AAC title.

     

    Surprise: A-

    Although the Bearcats were unranked in the preseason, the return of scoring ace Sean Kilpatrick made them a safe bet to remain in NCAA tournament contention.

7. Greg McDermott, Creighton

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    With considerable help from his All-American son, Greg McDermott has the Creighton Blue Jays ranked No. 9 in the country, a school record.

     

    Success: A

    A season sweep of Villanova means that Creighton has the conference title all but locked up.

     

    Surprise: A-

    Doug McDermott’s return made a Top 25 spot no great leap for the Blue Jays, but they’re still way ahead of schedule in adjusting to the Big East.

6. Jay Wright, Villanova

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    Jay Wright has taken Villanova from the hunter to the hunted in the Big East, as last year’s upset specialists are 12-2 in the league.

     

    Success: A

    Eight-ranked ‘Nova has only three losses, all to teams in the current Top 10.

     

    Surprise: A

    The Wildcats’ lack of star power makes them an even bigger underdog than most of this year’s Top 25 surprises.

5. Larry Brown, SMU

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    A season sweep of UConn has vaulted Larry Brown’s SMU Mustangs into the Top 25 for the first time since 1984-85.

     

    Success: A-

    There have been a couple of bad losses to account for—South Florida and Temple, especially—but SMU has more statement wins (4-1 against ranked opponents) than plenty of bigger-named squads.

     

    Surprise: A+

    Even after Brown reeled in the program’s first-ever McDonald’s All-American (backup guard Keith Frazier), few gave this team much chance of overshadowing the likes of Memphis and UConn.

4. Rick Barnes, Texas

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    Last year’s 16-18 finish had plenty of fans calling for Rick Barnes’ head, but all is forgiven now that Texas is back in the national rankings (and in a second-place tie in the strongest Big 12 in years).

     

    Success: A-

    Even with five conference losses, the squad that beat Oklahoma State and Kansas (not to mention winning on the road in Chapel Hill) is a team to be reckoned with.

     

    Surprise: A+

    A disastrous 2012-13 was compounded by an under-the-radar recruiting class, though freshman Isaiah Taylor has proven vastly better than advertised.

3. Steve Fisher, San Diego State

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    Two decades after his Fab Five glory days, Steve Fisher might have another Final Four team on his hands.

     

    Success: A

    If it weren’t for one tough upset loss at Wyoming, SDSU would still be in the Top 10 instead of "only" landing at No. 13.

     

    Surprise: A+

    Left for dead after the departure of Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley, the Aztecs have soared, thanks to a defense that ranks in the top six nationally in both points and shooting percentage allowed.

2. Gregg Marshall, Wichita State

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    By this time next week, Gregg Marshall will have broken his own Wichita State record for wins in a season, with tournament play still to come.

     

    Success: A+

    In case you haven’t noticed, the Shockers are the only unbeaten team in the country.

     

    Surprise: A

    A Missouri Valley title was a given for last year’s Final Four darlings—ranked 16th in the preseason—but without Carl Hall or Malcolm Armstead, a perfect regular season looked like a long shot to say the least.

1. Tony Bennett, Virginia

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    A year after Miami’s Jim Larranaga grabbed AP Coach of the Year honors, Tony Bennett stands a great chance of keeping the award in the ACC with a squad that leads the nation in scoring defense and ranks eighth in field-goal D.

     

    Success: A

    If it weren’t for tough nonleague losses to Green Bay and Tennessee, the front-runners in the country’s best conference would be ranked a lot higher than 12th nationally.

     

    Surprise: A+

    Plenty of college hoops fans still couldn’t name any of the Virginia Cavaliers’ players, even after 14 ACC wins have lifted them well above their preseason No. 25 spot.