The Case for Davidson's Bob McKillop as NCAA Basketball Coach of the Year

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystFebruary 19, 2015

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Both the beauty and bedlam of college basketball's annual Coach of the Year debate is that there is nothing close to defined criteria to take into consideration.

However, it typically comes down to this debate: Should the award go to the coach of the nation's best team, its most improved squad or its most overachieving team?

I've always felt that the coach of the most overachieving team is worthiest of these awards. The ability to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts is Great Coaching 101.

That's why Davidson's Bob McKillop should win coach of the year.

But if you prefer choosing a coach from one of the best teams in the country, there's no shortage of great options.

Kentucky's John Calipari has done an incredible job of coaching outstanding players to a still-undefeated record (26-0). Tony Bennett's defensive scheme at Virginia has been so impenetrable that it recently led ESPN's Myron Medcalf to wonder if it's so good that it's actually bad for college basketball. Mike Krzyzewski, Bo Ryan, Mark Few and Jay Wright each has his team in position for a potential No. 1 seed after opening the season ranked in the top 13 of the AP Top 25.

For coach of the most improved team, look no further than Utah's Larry Krystkowiak. Many expected the Utes to have a solid season that ultimately led to a spot in the NCAA tournament, but good luck finding anyone who thought they would be contending for a No. 2 seed with less than four weeks remaining until Selection Sunday.

To be sure, if any of those seven coaches were to be named either the AP or Naismith Coach of the Year, it would be well-deserved.

But how can you be anything less than enamored with what McKillop has accomplished in what was supposed to be a transitional year for Davidson?

Bob Leverone/Associated Press

McKillop for Coach of the Year is hardly the popular opinion. Seth Davis recently posted his top 10 candidates for Coach of the Year for Sports Illustrated, and McKillop's name didn't even make an appearance.

However, consider where he has the Wildcats compared to what many expected from them, because preseason prognostications for Davidson were...not good.

According to the A-10 media poll, the Wildcats were supposed to finish in 12th place in their inaugural season in the conference. Both Jerry Palm and Jon Rothstein predicted Davidson would finish in dead last in CBS Sports' A-10 preview. I infamously wrote that the Wildcats were so unlikely to win the A-10 regular-season title that they might go 0-18 in their new conference.

Yet, they're just one game back of first place after Wednesday night's road win over George Washington.

"If you were to read everything that goes on today, you can get distracted," Coach McKillop recently told Bleacher Report in a phone interview. "I certainly don't have control over what's written or what's said on TV or the radio. But I'm old enough and experienced enough to know that you don't want to waste energy there.

Nov 22, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; Davidson Wildcats Bob McKillop (center) looks on during the first half as his team plays against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit:  Rob Kinnan-USA Today.
USA TODAY Sports

"The battle to be successful in Division I college basketball is difficult enough."

McKillop did have some control over what the local newspapers wrote, though.

In early July, David Scott of The Charlotte Observer spoke with McKillop about the difficult transition from the Southern Conference to the A-10.

"I don't know that our community of fans understands how big a jump this is," McKillop said. "This is a big-league leap. ... Our roster is a Southern Conference roster, so we have significant work to do and a significant distance to catch up."

Over the next few months, that evolved into the general sentiment about Davidson's chances this season.

KenPom.com rated the Southern Conference as the 30th-best league in the country in 2013-14finishing slightly ahead of the MEAC and SWAC, which have combined to produce 21 No. 16 seeds over the past 13 years.

As such, it was an extremely big leap for Davidson to move to the eighth-highest rated league, the A-10, particularly after losing three starters from a team that failed to even earn the 2014 SoCon auto bid.

Though McKillop recognized and noted the seismic shift ahead, he wasn't afraid of it.

"The great poet [Robert] Browning said it best, 'Man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?' That's sort of the guiding light for why we don't put expectations on ourselves."

McKillop may not have had explicit expectations for this season, but the Wildcats have certainly exceeded the number of wins that most of us expected them to grasp.

Dec 30, 2014; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Davidson Wildcats guard Tyler Kalinoski (4) dibbles the ball around Virginia Cavaliers guard Malcolm Brogdon (15) in the first half at John Paul Jones Arena. Mandatory Credit: Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

The Wildcats began the season 9-1, averaging 87.7 points per game, but it was their final nonconference game that really got the Davidson discussion going. The Wildcats held a four-point halftime lead at undefeated Virginia and finished the game with 72 points.

Despite a "Southern Conference" roster that was already shorthandedthey lost frontcourt starter Jake Belford to foot surgery just six games into the seasonthe Wildcats are still the only team to score more than 70 points in regulation against the Cavaliers.

Though they ultimately lost the game, it was proof that they could score on and hang with one of the best teams in the country.

"It's the leadership of Tyler Kalinoski, Brian Sullivan and Jack Gibbs," said McKillop. "Even out of uniform [while recovering from a torn meniscus], Jack's been an exceptional leader. And it's been a coaching staff that is young and energetic. They're as intimately familiar with what we do here as any coaching staff I've had because three of them played for me."

Throw in Jordan Barham as the team's most efficient scorer and offensive rebounder as well as Peyton Aldridge and Oskar Michelsen, who have performed beyond admirably as freshmen, and McKillop's "26th class of sons," as he fondly calls his players, is 9-4 in A-10 play.

Not too shabby for a team that was supposedly in an unwinnable conference.

After a recent home loss to Davidson, La Salle head coach John Giannini had nothing but praise for the Wildcats, telling Dave Zeitlin of CSNPhilly.com: "I thought Davidson was stunningly good in mental toughness and execution. I thought they were the best offensive team we’d play when I saw them on tape—and they were even better than that in person."

"It was amazing," Giannini said. "It was one of the better games I've ever seen another team play against us."

It's worth noting that La Salle played games against Villanova and Virginia earlier this season, so that's a very strong statement about what McKillop has done with this Davidson team.

The remaining schedule is far from easyhome games against George Washington and VCU and a road game against Rhode Island could each provide significant challengesbut nothing about this season was supposed to be as simple as the Wildcats have made it seem.

That's a credit to arguably the best coach in the country.

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.

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