Coaches like to say it’s all about the players, but don’t let them kid you. They enjoy a little glory, too.
And why wouldn’t they?
Even though their job isn’t as physically demanding, coaches work just as hard as the athletes we see on the court. They endure the same amount of stress, work ridiculous hours that cause them to be away from their families, and are the subject of criticism and ridicule after every loss—and sometimes after wins.
The bottom line is that coaches need pats on the back sometimes, too. And that’s where King’s Court comes in. Less than a week from now news outlets across the country (including this one) will unveil various postseason awards to honor players.
But right now let’s recognize the guys on the sideline with the “King’s Court Coaches All-American Team.”
Note: I based these choices on various factors. I considered what teams lost from last season, off-court distractions and injuries that could’ve caused a squad to crumble, and feats and milestones accomplished at various schools.
Tony Bennett, Virginia—While the rest of us spent the whole season doting on Duke, Syracuse and North Carolina, Bennett was busy leading the Cavaliers to their first outright ACC title in 33 years. The schedule certainly worked in Virginia’s favor, as Bennett’s squad only had to play the Blue Devils, Orange and Tar Heels one time each. Still, there is no reason to put an asterisk by this mammoth accomplishment.
Larry Brown, SMU—The people who lampooned SMU for hiring Brown two years ago have egg on their face. The Mustangs are headed to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1993 thanks to the Hall of Fame coach, whose team should be even better next season. Moody Coliseum is becoming one of the toughest places to play in the American Athletic Conference. Even if Brown stays only one more season, his hiring was worth it.
Gregg Marshall, Wichita State—Wichita State became the first team in 10 years to finish the regular season without a loss. If the Shockers win this week’s Missouri Valley Conference tournament, they’ll become the first squad since UNLV in 1991 to enter the NCAA tournament undefeated. That’s a credit to Marshall, whose team is even better than the one that reached last year’s Final Four.
Bill Self, Kansas—The Jayhawks lost all five starters but still found a way to win the nation’s toughest conference for the 10th consecutive year. Kansas’ string of Big 12 championships is the most since UCLA won 13 straight from 1967-79. Self’s ability to sustain success at such a high level is remarkable in an era defined by one-and-dones and transfers. Yes, Kansas freshmen Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins may be the top two players selected in this summer’s draft. But coaching top-flight talent can be difficult. Just ask John Calipari.
Roy Williams, North Carolina—Last year’s best player (Reggie Bullock) left school early for the NBA, and this season’s top scoring threat (P.J. Hairston) never played a game and was eventually dismissed from the team amid allegations of NCAA violations. With Williams leading the way, the Tar Heels blocked out the distractions and posted non-league victories over Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky. They’re currently on a 12-game winning streak.
Rick Barnes, Texas—So much for being on the hot seat. One season after finishing 16-18 and missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in 14 years, Barnes’ squad was a Top 25 staple for most of the season. Texas owns victories over Kansas, North Carolina, Iowa State, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. And the Longhorns did it despite losing their top four scorers from last season. Barnes clearly hasn’t lost his touch.
John Beilein, Michigan—Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. left school early for the NBA, and Mitch McGary was lost for the season with a back injury. None of it was enough to keep the Wolverines from winning the Big Ten title. Beilein continues to enhance his reputation as one of the top tacticians in the game. A second straight Final Four run is hardly out of the question.
Mick Cronin, Cincinnati—The Bearcats lead man doesn’t get nearly enough credit for making Cincinnati one of the toughest, most physical teams in the country. Beating Louisville and Memphis on the road are two of the best victories by any team all season. If Cincinnati wins its last two games against Memphis and Rutgers it will be guaranteed no worse than a share of the American Athletic Conference title.
Sean Miller, Arizona—The Wildcats may be the best defensive team in all of college basketball. That’s a tribute to Miller and the tone he sets within his program. Miller has groomed Nick Johnson into one of college basketball’s greatest leaders, and overall, there is a genuine air of selflessness when Arizona is on the court. Some people wrote off the Wildcats’ NCAA title hopes after they lost Brandon Ashley to a knee injury. But Miller’s squad regrouped and is now playing its best basketball of the season.
Jay Wright, Villanova—A November victory over Kansas in the Battle 4 Atlantis set the tone for an outstanding season for the Wildcats, who have been one of the biggest surprises of the season. Villanova has just three losses: two against Creighton and one against Syracuse. The Wildcats need just one more win to clinch the Big East title outright, and their 26 wins are a school record. Seriously, who saw this coming?
Billy Donovan, Florida—The Gators start four experienced seniors in the worst major conference in college basketball. Still, Donovan did an excellent job of coaching his team during bouts of adversity early in the season, when injuries and suspensions forced him to use makeshift lineups. He also had to deal with distractions caused by freshman Chris Walker’s eligibility status with the NCAA. Still, Florida beat Kansas, Memphis and Florida State in nonconference play and is one win away from going 18-0 in the SEC.
Steve Fisher, San Diego State—The Aztecs lost leading scorers Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley from a salty 2012-13 squad—yet they somehow managed to get better. Fisher has developed Xavier Thames into one of the nation’s top point guards. And he beat out a handful of suitors for Tulane transfer Josh Davis, who is among the nation’s top rebounders. San Diego State’s victory over Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse was one of the best wins by any team this season.
Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State—Four double-digit scorers graduated from last year’s Sweet 16 squad, but the Cyclones haven’t missed a beat. They opened the season with 14 straight wins (including victories over Iowa, Michigan, Baylor and BYU) and are 22-7 overall entering Saturday’s regular-season finale against Oklahoma State. Hoiberg is one of college basketball’s top young coaches.
Lon Kruger, Oklahoma—Basketball is big again in Norman thanks to Kruger, whose squad could finish as high as second in the Big 12. What’s remarkable about Oklahoma’s 21-8 record is that it was accomplished despite the loss of Romero Osby, Steven Pledger, Amath M’Baye and Andrew Fitzgerald—four of the top six scorers from last season’s NCAA tournament team. In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, the Sooners actually improved.
Bo Ryan, Wisconsin—The Badgers are headed for their 13th straight NCAA tournament appearance under Ryan, who has never finished lower than fourth in the Big Ten standings. This year’s squad won its first 16 games—no easy feat with a nonconference schedule consisting of games against SEC champion Florida, ACC champion Virginia and Saint Louis, along with Marquette, Wisconsin-Green Bay and West Virginia. Wisconsin hasn’t lost since Feb. 1.
MVC: Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
Best Rookie: Craig Neal, New Mexico
Mid-major Coach of the Year: Brad Underwood, Stephen F. Austin
Best Transfer: Steve Alford (New Mexico to UCLA)
Comeback Coach of the Year: Herb Sendek, Arizona State
Most Underrated Coach: Tim Miles, Nebraska
This Week’s Grades
A: Marcus Smart—The Oklahoma State sophomore has taken some good-natured ribbing in this column for flopping and for losing his cool and shoving a Texas Tech fan, drawing a three-game ban. But let’s give credit when it's due. Smart has been fabulous since returning from the suspension. He’s averaging 18 points in his last four games (all victories) and helped the Cowboys punch their NCAA ticket with back-to-back wins against Kansas and Kansas State. Smart is performing like a top-five player.
B: Scott Drew—Baylor’s NCAA chances appeared nonexistent after losing eight of its first 10 Big 12 games. But Drew kept his player’s spirits high and coached them to six victories in their past seven contests. Tuesday’s win over Iowa State was the most impressive, as Baylor became the first team all season to hold the Cyclones to below 70 points. The victory all but assured Drew’s squad a spot in the NCAA tournament.
C: Floundering teams—Kentucky, Iowa, Pittsburgh and Creighton will all make the NCAA tournament. But it’s hard to feel good about their chances of making a significant postseason run considering how much they’ve struggled in recent weeks.
D: The media—Bob Knight is not happy with us. I caught up with the former Indiana coach in the Koch Arena tunnel after Wichita State’s victory over Missouri State on Saturday and tried to ask him about the Shockers ending their season without a loss, but he cut me off before I could finish my question. “I’m tired of hearing about their undefeated record,” he told me. “You better be talking about a team that’s playing well and wants to go into the tournament well. I didn’t even know we were undefeated when I was coaching.” I then asked if Wichita State’s undefeated record could put more pressure on the Shockers entering the tournament. “Yeah, because you guys talk about it all the time,” he said. Knight is right. We should’ve never mentioned that Wichita State is 31-0. Should’ve completely ignored it. How silly of us.
F: Over-hyping freshmen—One of the reasons we consider the freshmen at Kentucky and other schools to be a bust is because we—and I’m talking about media, recruiting experts and fans—had unfair expectations for them in the first place. I’m not convinced the Harrison twins, James Young, Dakari Johnson, Wayne Selden, Kasey Hill, Jarrell Martin and plenty of others won’t turn into solid highly medaled college players or solid pros. Sometimes it just takes certain players longer than others. If this season has taught us anything it’s that we need to temper our expectations for incoming freshmen in the future.
Starting Five: Predictions as the Regular Season Comes to a Close
1. Syracuse will lose in the NCAA tournament’s round of 32. If the Orange can’t beat ACC bottom-feeders Boston College and Georgia Tech at home (on Senior Day, no less) then I don’t see how it can get past a team such as Connecticut, Iowa, New Mexico or even VCU on a neutral court.
2. All-American teams will be all over the place. Doug McDermott is a lock for first team and probably Jabari Parker, too. But the parity and lack of elite teams in college basketball will make choosing this year’s first-, second- and third-team All-American squads a difficult chore. One media outlet’s selections could look completely different from the next. For instance, how do you choose between C.J. Fair and Tyler Ennis at Syracuse? Or Cleanthony Early and Fred VanVleet at Wichita State? There’s no wrong answer.
3. At least one No. 1 seed will fail to advance to the Sweet 16. I say this not as a knock on Arizona, Wichita State, Florida and any of the other potential No. 1 seeds. But I simply don’t think there’s a huge difference between the top 25-30 teams in America. In other words, Florida losing to a No. 8 seed such as Oklahoma State wouldn’t be that earth-shattering of an upset. Same with Wichita State falling to a team such as Arizona State—or Arizona losing to Memphis. Those are just hypotheticals, mind you. But would it really be all that shocking?
4. Predictions—some of them zany—for next week’s conference tournaments: Oklahoma State in the Big 12, Louisville in the AAC, Michigan State in the Big Ten, Xavier in the Big East, Kentucky in the SEC, Arizona in the Pac-12 and Duke in the ACC.
5. Just when we thought it was going to be a relatively quiet offseason in terms of coaching changes, an opening will surface at one of college basketball’s top programs. Just a hunch.
A Dozen Words on My Top 12 Teams
1. Arizona—Wildcats’ last three wins have come by an average of 22.7 points.
2. Florida—The Gators are proof that seniors, chemistry and experience often trump talent.
3. Wichita State—Gregg Marshall’s Shockers are more than deserving of a No. 1 seed.
4. Duke—Jabari Parker averages 18.8 points, but people forget about his 8.9 rebounds.
5. Virginia—Tony Bennett was 11 the last time the Cavaliers won the ACC.
6. Villanova—Wildcats are on the cusp of their first league title since 2006.
7. Michigan—Nik Stauskas is the favorite for Big Ten Player of the Year.
8. Kansas—Bill Self’s Jayhawks show flashes of greatness. But can they be trusted?
9. Louisville—Never count out a team that’s been to two straight Final Fours.
10. Wisconsin—The consistency of the Badgers’ program under Bo Ryan has been remarkable.
11. Oklahoma State—Just in time, the Cowboys have regained their early-season form, swagger.
12. North Carolina—After starting league play 1-4, the Tar Heels have won 12 straight.
Will make the NCAA tournament: Oregon
Won’t make the NCAA tournament: Missouri
Should make the NCAA tournament: Arkansas
Shouldn’t make the NCAA tournament: Florida State
Appears to be safe: Mark Fox, Georgia
Could be in trouble: James Johnson, Virginia Tech
Don’t get in his face: Mick Cronin
How could anyone not like: Holly Rowe and Shannon Spake
Would love to see a shoot-off between: Brady Heslip and Nik Stauskas
Would love to see a dunk-off between: Tekele Cotton and Andrew Wiggins
Hope they have a great Senior Day: Doug McDermott and Grant Gibbs
Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurants, Kansas City—I’ll admit, the name scared me off a bit at first. I’m not a wine drinker and never will be. But friends kept telling me how good the food was at this dining establishment on the Country Club Plaza, so I tried it out last week.
I’m glad I did.
I never thought I’d see the day when I ordered something called pork belly nachos, but they turned out to be the best non-wing appetizer I’ve had in a while. I was told to get the short rib risotto as my main course, and that turned out to be a wise choice as well.
The only problem was that my meal was so rich and filling that I didn’t have enough room to sample one of the delicious-sounding desserts such as the banana caramel ice cream sandwich or the chocolate pretzel bread pudding. I’ll make sure to do that next time. And there will be a next time at Cooper’s Hawk, which also serves all sorts of sandwiches, burgers and salads for the less hoity-toity crowd.