Pac-12 Basketball: Ranking Coaching Performances

Javier MoralesCorrespondent IMarch 7, 2014

Pac-12 Basketball: Ranking Coaching Performances

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    Only one Pac-12 basketball coach has reached the Final Four, and that was 15 long years ago for Mike Montgomery at Stanford.

    Only one other Pac-12 basketball coach has advanced as far as the Elite Eight—Arizona's Sean Miller, who went that distance with Xavier in 2007-08 and Arizona in 2010-11.

    A majority of the Pac-12 basketball coaches have experienced March Madness, except for a couple of hard-luck coaches—Oregon State's Craig Robinson and Stanford's Johnny Dawkins—who have been at their respective institutions long enough to get that far.

    Other coaches, such as UCLA's Steve Alford, Oregon's Dana Altman and Washington's Lorenzo Romar, are long-term coaches who yearn for the ever-elusive late-round success in the NCAA tournament.

    The Pac-12 brands itself as the Conference of Champions, but that distinction does not yet extend to its head coaches. The ACC has Jim Boeheim, Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski (seven NCAA titles among them). Two-time champ Rick Pitino will join that group with Louisville next season.

    Whereas the Pac-12 does not have the star coaching firepower of the ACC, it has a credible group of younger coaches who know how to get the most out of their teams. Their teams are playing at a higher level, with at least six teams forecast for the NCAA tournament compared to five from the ACC.

    Four of the best coaches in the Pac-12 this season (Alford, Colorado's Tad Boyle, Utah's Larry Krystkowiak and Miller) are 51 or younger. Their average age is 48.5. The average age of Boeheim, Williams, Krzyzewski and Pitino: 65.

    Give these Pac-12 coaches some time and see what they can achieve. For now, it looks very promising.

    The following is a slideshow ranking the performances of the Pac-12 coaches with an emphasis on the season but also with a look at their overall careers.

12. Washington State's Ken Bone

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    Washington State coach Ken Bone is man enough to admit he is to blame for his shortcomings, which will probably cost him his job at season's end.

    If coaches are judged only on principle, and they are not, Bone's straight-to-the-vest style would put him among the league's best. Washington State's potential third last-place finish in the Pac-12 in Bone's five years at Pullman define him more than anything.

    “Doggone, it’s my fifth year and we haven’t been able to put it together," Bone told Seattle Times columnist Bud Withers recently. "We’ve had a hard time getting there because of certain situations. Obviously, that’s on me.”

    Unfortunate injuries to top players and Bone's personnel decisions at the most important position on the court, point guard, are his death knell.

    Upon his hire in 2009, Bone recruited Reggie Moore, a capable player, but the Cougars already had Tony Bennett-holdover Xavier Thames at that position. After Bone named Moore the starter, Thames left for San Diego State, where he is now a solid contributor for the highly ranked Aztecs. Moore was eventually booted off the team by Bone after he was busted for marijuana possession in 2011.

    Bone recruited junior college transfer Danny Lawhorn to be his point guard this season, but Lawhorn quit after he was suspended indefinitely in October for a violation of team rules.

    No point guard in the past two years has translated into a horrid offense, averaging only 61.8 points a game, which ranked 337th out of 345 Division I teams as of March 7.

11. Oregon State's Craig Robinson

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    Unless a miracle happens in the Pac-12 tournament, Oregon State is destined for its 24th consecutive year without an NCAA tournament berth.

    Oregon State coach Craig Robinson, known as President Obama's brother-in-law, is in his sixth season in Corvallis and eighth overall after a two-year stint at Brown. He has not even advanced to the postseason NIT in his first seven seasons. With Oregon State 15-14 as of March 7, Robinson may be destined for his fifth College Basketball Invitational appearance.

    This season could have been a breakthrough for the Beavers, who were atop the Pac-10 during Ralph Miller's heyday 35 years ago, but they remained on a downhill slope.

    Despite having three of the more talented players in the league (Roberto Nelson, Devon Collier and Eric Moreland), Robinson's attempt at finishing in the upper tier of the conference has failed again.

    The Beavers have struggled in two important discipline areas—defense and turnovers. They rank 286th nationally, allowing 74.5 points a game, and 321st in turnover margin (minus-2.6).

    Nelson, Collier and Moreland are all seniors. Robinson faces another rebuilding effort next year. Rebuilding may not be the right word. Restructuring?

    The athletic director position at his alma mater, Princeton, has an opening. It's the right time for Robinson to take advantage of that golden opportunity.

10. Stanford's Johnny Dawkins

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    After losing its past three games, Stanford went from a sure bet as an NCAA tournament team to one on the bubble.

    If the bubble bursts, Dawkins' career in Palo Alto may go with it.

    Stanford is 18-11 with a competitive Utah team coming to Maples Pavilion on Saturday. The Cardinal could end the regular season on a four-game losing streak. Stanford will need at least two wins in the Pac-12 tournament to resurrect their hopes of finally being part of March Madness under Dawkins.

    In his sixth season, he has yet to advance to the NCAA tournament after the once-proud Cardinal program went that far in 13 of the 14 seasons before his arrival.

    Another double-digit-loss season raises questions of Dawkins' ability to get the most out of his players. Other programs would love to showcase players such as Dwight Powell, Chasson Randle and Josh Huestis, a nucleus that is far better than Stanford's 36-25 record in the last two years.

9. Southern Cal's Andy Enfield

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    This is only Andy Enfield's first season at USC. Otherwise, he would be ranked lower on this list.

    Only in his third year as a head coach overall, it's far too early to judge Enfield's coaching ability. His one year of success, last year's dream season with Florida Gulf Coast, is not enough. Although his "Dunk City" brand of basketball took Florida Gulf Coast to the Sweet 16, the Eagles still had 11 losses.

    Enfield is campaigning for himself, although he is 11 months into his job as USC's head coach. According to Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News, he is making it known to USC's boosters that he has high-level recruits and transfers joining the Trojans next season. 

    As it stands now, USC is tied for last place with woeful Washington State after the Trojans' win in Pullman Thursday. The Trojans' only other win was against a California team that has struggled to find an identity.

    Enfield has two decent wins to his credit, over Xavier and Dayton early this season, but his coaching ability remains a mystery. All we have to go off of for now is USC's 11 defeats by double digits in Pac-12 play.

8. Washington's Lorenzo Romar

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    Similar to his in-state counterpart Ken Bone at Washington State, Lorenzo Romar has heard plenty of rumblings about his job security in Washington.

    Romar has become a victim of his own success after recruiting highly talented players who have bolted to the NBA prematurely in recent years, including after the 2011-12 season when the backcourt of freshman Tony Wroten and sophomore Terrence Ross left. Five players have also transferred since 2010 because of a lack of opportunities.

    Injuries in the last four years to expected contributors such as power forwards Tyreese Breshers (career-ending leg injury) and Shawn Kemp Jr. (limited this season because of Graves' disease) have affected Washington's inside game.

    Another forward, Jernard Jarreau, suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Huskies' first game.

    Seattle Times readers cited Romar's recruiting shortcomings in the past few years as a reason for Washington's struggles in a recent poll. The Huskies, at 16-14, appear headed to their third consecutive season without an NCAA tournament berth. They are 58-41 overall in that span.

    Attendance at Hec Edmundson Pavilion (once a loathed place for visitors)  has dwindled by 20 percent from last season, a sign that Washington's fans are losing interest in the program. Empty seats can become an eyesore for potential recruits, but more importantly, for Washington's boosters and administrators.

7. California's Mike Montgomery

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    Mike Montgomery has plenty of NCAA tournament experience, going that far in four of his five previous years at Cal. Before that, with Stanford, he had 10 straight NCAA tournament appearances, including a Final Four achievement in 1998 and an Elite Eight appearance in 2001.

    With how his team has played lately, losing three straight games and four of the past five, Montgomery will be fortunate to reach the Final Four...of the Pac-12 tournament.

    The Golden Bears, once 5-0 in the Pac-12, are 9-8. They could finish as low as ninth in the conference regular-season standings with a loss to visiting Colorado on Saturday. Their victory over No. 1 Arizona on Feb. 1 seems like an eternity ago.

    Instead of becoming vitalized by that upset over the Wildcats, Cal has become mired in a 3-5 stretch.

    “Emotionally, we’re just pretty spent,” Montgomery told the Daily Californian. "We got to find a way to have fun. We got to find a way to make this fun again.”

    This could become the ninth consecutive season as a head coach at Stanford and Cal that Montgomery does not reach at least the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. Opportunities are dwindling for Montgomery, who turned 67 on Feb. 27.

6. Oregon's Dana Altman

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    Oregon's early five-game losing streak and 3-8 start in the Pac-12 are significant reasons why attendance has decreased slightly at Matthew Knight Arena this season.

    Oregon coach Dana Altman felt the need to make surprise visits to Oregon's library, recreation center and fraternity houses to drum up support from students before the Ducks defeated ASU on Tuesday night. Oregon won its sixth consecutive game in front of 9,125 fans, which is about 3,000 less than the capacity at Matthew Knight Arena (12,364).

    Tuesday night games are rare, but Oregon will have no excuse for a less-than-capacity crowd Saturday when No. 3 Arizona visits. Altman has made the necessary adjustments to have Oregon on a six-game winning streak heading into that showdown after the Ducks were on life support for an NCAA tournament berth.

    Altman is a credible coach who put himself in a difficult situation trying to mesh seven transfers on his roster, including the top three scorers—junior guard Joseph Young (Houston), senior forward Mike Moser (UCLA and UNLV) and senior guard Jason Calliste (Detroit).

    The chemistry worked early in the season when the Ducks started 13-0 with a No. 10 ranking. Dominic Artis and Ben Carter were suspended for the first nine of those games for selling shoes supplied by the university.

    Oregon won the first four games with Artis and Carter, but two of the wins were in overtime. The five-game losing streak followed. Oregon has won its last six games, but four were against teams not bound for the NCAA tournament (Oregon State, Washington, Washington State and USC), and one was a double-overtime survival against a UCLA team without suspended stars Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams.

    A true test of Altman's coaching ability will come Saturday against Arizona, which has the defense to match Oregon's potent scorers.

5. Arizona State's Herb Sendek

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    Arizona State coach Herb Sendek has taken only one of his teams to the NCAA tournament in his seven previous seasons in Tempe, but his ability to maintain a competitive program despite critical personnel issues proves his coaching ability.

    Under normal circumstances, Sendek would be on the hot seat, as he's one game away from another double-digit-loss season. He has won only 54.7 percent of his games at ASU with a 140-116 record.

    Sendek has five seasons of 20 wins or more to his credit, however, including this season, despite unexpected player turnover.

    The transfer of Evan Gordon to Indiana after last season was the fourth defection of a backcourt player from Sendek's program since 2010. Demetrius Walker (New Mexico), Keala King (Long Beach State) and Corey Hawkins (Cal-Davis) went elsewhere within the last four years.

    Trent Lockett, a standout forward, transferred to Marquette after the 2011-12 season to be closer to his mother after she was diagnosed with cancer.

    Despite losing these high-impact players, Sendek is in position to get his team to the NCAA tournament this year. Landing hometown recruit Jahii Carson in 2011 and shot-blocker extraordinaire Jordan Bachynski in 2010 was beneficial. Attracting Jermaine Marshall from Penn State before this season has kept ASU afloat.

    Bachynski's development this season is an indication of how Sendek can get the most from his players in a short period of time.

4. UCLA's Steve Alford

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    The knock on Steve Alford is that he can't win in the NCAA tournament. He has advanced to the Sweet 16 only once, when he was in his fourth year at Southwest Missouri State in 1999.

    He will get another opportunity this year with UCLA, coaching most of the talent left by predecessor Ben Howland. His top freshman player, Zach LaVine, was also recruited by Howland.

    UCLA headed into this week's games at the Washington schools (where the Bruins finished last season as well) with a 22-7 record, identical to Howland's record a year ago. UCLA, which beat Washington 91-82 Thursday night, can finish the regular season one game ahead of last year's pace with a win at last-place Washington State on Saturday.

    The Bruins lost last year at Beasley Coliseum to the Cougars, a signal that Howland's tenure was nearing an end.

    Although UCLA may finish only one game better than last year in the regular season, UCLA players have a different outlook about their postseason chances with Alford in charge, despite his shortcomings in March Madness (remember, his heavily favored New Mexico team lost to Harvard last year).

    “We’re having fun," Jordan Adams told the Los Angeles Times. "Coach Alford lets you just go out there and play your game, and not worry about anything. I’m happy.”

    UCLA ranks ninth nationally with 82.9 points per game. Give credit to Alford for coaching to his players' skill sets.

    He is also hitting the recruiting trail hard in his backyard, something Howland was criticized for not achieving.

    Two high-profile Los Angeles-area recruits are headed to UCLA—Thomas Welsh, a 7'0" center from Los Angeles Loyola High, and Aaron Holiday (brother of former UCLA standout Jrue), a junior at North Hollywood Campbell Hall.

3. Colorado's Tad Boyle

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    Tad Boyle's guns-a-blazing demeanor rubs off on his players, who mirror the coach's intensity on the court.

    Other teams would have folded after a star player such as Spencer Dinwiddie went down with a season-ending knee injury on Jan. 12. Boyle wouldn't allow it, structuring his execution around frontcourt standout Josh Scott with credible backcourt players Xavier Johnson and Askia Booker providing balance.

    Boyle's ability to work the ball to Scott and make him effective is a credit to his coaching ability. Scott has led Colorado in scoring and rebounding in the same game 10 times, including the last three games.

    Scott's effectiveness, with a team-high 16.4 points and 9.4 rebounds in the last five games, is a result of Boyle's aggressive style of pounding the paint. 

    The intangibles of Boyle are as important as the statistical output. He makes his players play with an edge about them that few teams possess.

2. Utah's Larry Krystkowiak

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    Larry Krystkowiak is restoring the pride in Utah basketball to what it was when Rick Majerus was calling the shots.

    Although he has not reached Majerus' level at Salt Lake City yet, he is making Utes fans believe another strong run is possible. Krystkowiak is assured of at least a .500 record in the Pac-12 in only his third season after finishing 3-15 in conference play and 6-25 overall in 2010-11.

    Krystkowiak's background in the NBA as a player and coach for more than a decade is noticeable in how his teams play.

    They run multiple sets on offense and frequently switch defenders. They play with a physical brand but can also beat teams from the perimeter with players like Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge.

    Utah's emergence in the Pac-12 tournament last year, when the Utes upset Cal to reach the semifinals, has people believing they can do some damage again. 

    Utah defeated Cal again on the road Wednesday and stands a good chance to improve upon its 20-9 record at struggling Stanford on Saturday. 

    Krystkowiak is the reason for the optimism. As long as he's in Salt Lake City, Utah will be an upper-division Pac-12 team, which is saying a lot after how the program fell on hard timeswhen Majerus left (six losing seasons in nine previous years).

1. Arizona's Sean Miller

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    ESPN's loquacious commentator Bill Walton calls Sean Miller the "gold standard" of the Pac-12.

    Walton may go off on a tangent at times, but he speaks the truth about Miller.

    The 45-year-old coach is doing the unthinkable in the shadow of Lute Olson, who rebuilt Arizona's program from the ground up. Miller has Arizona playing to the level of Olson's golden-era teams, the ones that featured Sean Elliott, Steve Kerr, Damon Stoudamire, Miles Simon, Mike Bibby, Jason Terry, Jason Gardner and Richard Jefferson.

    No coach in Arizona history, including Olson, had ever won 21 consecutive games, something Miller and the Wildcats accomplished to start the season. During that streak, Arizona ascended to the No. 1 ranking in college basketball for eight weeks, the longest consecutive stretch in school history.

    Miller could give Olson a run for his money for Tucson mayor; that's how popular the young coach has become in Southern Arizona.

    For the first time in his 10-year coaching career, Miller has meshed together highly rated recruits into an impeccable team system. McDonald's All-Americans Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson have bought into Miller's process, as he calls it, of focusing on team objectives in practice first and foremost and not being concerned about being the star during the games.

    That process has run smoother this season with Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell running the point guard position. The addition last season of McDonald All-Americans Grant Jerrett and Brandon Ashley and Xavier transfer Mark Lyons also had positive results, but not to the degree of what Miller is experiencing this year. 

    A concern for his Pac-12 coaching counterparts: Miller is only at the beginning stages as a coach of an annual Top 10 program.

     

    Javier Morales also writes a blog for AllSportsTucson.com