College Basketball: Top 10 Candidates for 2011 Coach of the Year

James PattersonContributor IMarch 1, 2011

College Basketball: Top 10 Candidates for 2011 Coach of the Year

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    They prowl the sidelines, looking for every available advantage and begging their players to leave it out on the floor. They work the refs, make last-minute game decisions and fret over every turnover.

    Every year, a few stand out as examples of excellence in what, for many coaches, is a largely-thankless profession. Coaches who are able to find a spark and fan it into a flame of success that lasts throughout the season deserve to be noticed.

    Here's a look at the top candidates for coach of the year honors as we head into the last week of the 2010-11 regular season in college basketball.

Alabama's Anthony Grant

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    In just his second year with the Crimson Tide, Anthony Grant is making waves in the SEC.

    After finishing with a losing record in conference play last season and no postseason invites, the Alabama basketball faithful were hoping for something more out of the coach who led Virginia Commonwealth to three-straight NCAA Tournament appearances.

    He hasn't disappointed this season, turning the Tide into one of the best teams in the entire conference with a record of 11-3 so far and a lock for the NCAA Tournament.

Wisconsin's Bo Ryan

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    Most Badger fans and many college basketball experts consider Bo Ryan to be one of the most overlooked and underrated coaches in today's game.

    Wisconsin started the season at the bottom of the Top 25 rankings, behind Big Ten powers Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue. But the Badgers have held their own in and out of conference play, quietly compiling a 12-4 conference record and losing only two games out of conference, against UNLV and now-ranked Notre Dame.

    Ryan's team was the first to beat the previously-undefeated Buckeyes, something only one other team has managed to duplicate so far this season.

North Carolina's Roy Williams

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    Only a year ago, Williams' Tar Heels suffered a meltdown of epic proportions. In the offseason, he lost part of his interior backbone when twin forwards David and Travis Wear decided to transfer to UCLA. Then in October, Williams dismissed senior Will Graves from the team.

    But the player upheaval didn't end there, as former starting point guard Larry Drew II shocked the program by announcing he would transfer in the middle of the season.

    Despite one of the largest roster shakeups in the country, Williams has not only survived the changes but thrived in the midst of them. The Tar Heels are 15-2 since they lost to Texas in December.

    North Carolina is also challenging Duke for top honors in the ACC and moving its way up the Top 25 rankings, flirting with the possibility of being as high as a No. 3 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Notre Dame's Mike Brey

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    It's a crowded field in the Big East this year, and Notre Dame has been rising to the top of the pack in conference play. This after the Fighting Irish received exactly zero votes in the preseason coaches' poll.

    Not very many people expected Mike Brey's squad to put up much of a fight in the talented Big East. But not only have they competed, they've also put themselves in position for a top seed in their upcoming conference tournament and possibly a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

    The Fighting Irish's win column reads like a who's-who list of soon-to-be dancing tournament teams: Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Georgetown, UConn, Pitt and St. John's, among others.

George Mason's Jim Larranaga

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    Everyone remembers Jim Larranaga from George Mason's magical run to the Final Four in 2006. Could the Patriots be gearing up for another run in 2011? That's certainly Larranaga's plan, as he's led his team to the Top 25 rankings for the first time in five years.

    The main thing standing in his way may be the Patriots' lack of high-profile wins since they play in the Colonial Athletic Association. But if his team is able to make a significant run in the tournament, don't be surprised to hear Larranaga's name brought up when it comes time for the postseason honors.

Duke's Mike Krzyzewski

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    Sure, Mike Krzyzewski's squad was picked as the prohibitive favorite to repeat as national champions before the season started. But that was before freshman sensation Kyrie Irving went down with a toe injury on Dec. 4 against Butler.

    That injured right toe—and the loss of Irving's 17.4 points per game—scrapped Coach K's plan for a high-flying, free-wheeling offense, shifted Nolan Smith to the point position and forced Duke to look to players other than Kyle Singler for scoring.

    Yet the Blue Devils have lost only three games to this point in the season and still have a shot at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

San Diego State's Steve Fisher

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    Since the 1999-2000 season, former Michigan Wolverines coach Steve Fisher has labored in relative obscurity on the West Coast, leading San Diego State to a few NCAA Tournament appearances, but nothing to write home about.

    This year he has the Aztecs poised to make a deep run in the Big Dance after compiling an impressive regular-season record. Before their loss to BYU on Saturday, the Aztecs were in line for a possible No. 1 seed. They still have a shot to take home the Mountain West Conference tournament championship and lock in a No. 2 seed.

    If Fisher can avoid a loss on the road against Wyoming Tuesday and against Colorado State at home later this week, he will have compiled the best regular-season conference record in his 12 years leading the Aztecs.

BYU's Dave Rose

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    Some people may say it's easy to lose only two games all season when you've got a player like Jimmer Fredette at the helm of the ship. But what's made Dave Rose's job so impressive at BYU is how he has developed and used the players around Fredette.

    The Cougars feature two players averaging over 50 percent shooting for the season—Brandon Davies and Noah Hartsock. Not to mention the fact that Rose lost his core inside presence from last year in Chris Miles and one of the best three-point shooters in BYU history in Jonathan Tavernari.

    With a revamped lineup and a potential Player of the Year in Fredette, Rose has his Cougars charging toward not just a Mountain West Conference title, but possibly even closer to a No. 1 seed and a potential Final Four run.

St. John's Steve Lavin

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    St. John's emerged as one of the premier programs of the 1980s under legendary Lou Carnesecca and then enjoyed some success with Mike Jarvis in the late 1990s.

    But neither of those coaches enjoyed as much success as quickly as has Steve Lavin in his first year with the Red Storm.

    It doesn't hurt that Lavin inherited one of the most experienced rosters in all of college basketball with nine (yes, nine) seniors. That experience, combined with Lavin's basketball know-how, has resulted in one of the best comeback stories in college basketball so far this year.

    After being banished from the rankings for almost the entire last decade, St. John's knocked off powerhouses Notre Dame, Duke, UConn, Louisville and Pittsburgh on its way back to the prestigious polls. The Johnnies are now ranked No. 15 in the country and are poised to make a deep run in the Big East Conference tourney and collect a high seed in the NCAA Tournament come Selection Sunday.

Purdue's Matt Painter

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    Fans have been waiting for a breakout season from Matt Painter since he took over for the legendary Gene Keady after the 2005-2006 season. Last year was supposed to be that season until Robbie Hummel went down with a torn ACL just before the Big Ten Tournament.

    No worries, thought Boilermaker nation. We'll be back next year.

    Not so much.

    You could almost hear a collective groan all over central Indiana as Hummel went down yet again with an ACL tear before the season even started.

    Yet Painter has led Purdue back to the promised land, poised to finish no worse than third in the Big Ten and potentially challenge Ohio State for the conference tournament championship. With the play of JaJuan Johnson, who is averaging over 20 points and eight rebounds per game, Painter has helped the Boilermakers believe they can stand with the best teams in the country, even without Hummel.