Power Ranking Every Big Ten College Basketball Head Coach in 2016-17
The Big Ten is one of the best conferences for men's college basketball on an annual basis, and we can thank great coaches like Michigan State's Tom Izzo and Ohio State's Thad Matta for that.
Power ranking the coaches in the Big Ten was no easy task. No. 1 and No. 2 were no-brainers, and it wasn't a challenge to figure out which ones belonged in the bottom six. However, the minutiae separating Chris Collins from Richard Pitino in the basement and the differences between Matt Painter and Tom Crean in the top five were minuscule enough that we went back and forth on the exact order several times.
These 14 coaches were ranked based on what they have accomplished to this point in their careers with success over the past five seasons serving as something of a tiebreaker for spots that were too close to call.
Some of them have been head coaches for more than 20 years.
One has barely been a head coach for more than 20 games.
But they all appear somewhere on our list—even the ones that might be lucky to survive the summer without getting fired.
The Bottom 5
14. Richard Pitino, Minnesota
Four years, .515 career win percentage, .500 win percentage at Minnesota, no NCAA tournaments
Pitino inherited a solid roster when Minnesota fired Tubby Smith three years ago, but he wasted little time in letting the program devolve into a dumpster fire. Between a social media scandal that resulted in the suspension of three players, an 8-23 record and the suspension of an incoming transfer due to allegations of criminal sexual conduct, Minnesota has spent the past seven months putting up quite the fight with Rutgers, Boston College and Missouri for the title of "Biggest Major-Conference Disaster."
13. Pat Chambers, Penn State
Seven years, .489 career win percentage, .442 win percentage at Penn State, one NCAA tournament
Penn State has a .500 record over the past three seasons and has done surprisingly well in the 2015 and 2016 recruiting classes. However, the Nittany Lions have yet to finish higher than 10th in the Big Ten standings in five years under Chambers. They need to take that next step soon.
12. Steve Pikiell, Rutgers
11 years, .552 career win percentage, first season at Rutgers, one NCAA tournament
It took a little while to get going, but Pikiell built Stony Brook into a perennial minor-conference contender. The Seawolves went 20-67 in his first three seasons before winning at least 22 games in six of the last seven years. They just weren't able to get the job done in the American East tournament until this past March.
After 10 consecutive sub-.500 seasons, Rutgers is desperately hoping he can bring some of that magic to Piscataway.
11. Chris Collins, Northwestern
Three years, .505 career win percentage, .505 win percentage at Northwestern, no NCAA tournaments
"Winning record" and "Northwestern" don't often go hand-in-hand. In fact, last year's 20-12 record was the first time the Wildcats won at least 59 percent of their games in a season since 1959—this despite losing Vic Law to a shoulder injury just days before the season began. But slightly exceeding Northwestern's minimal expectations isn't quite enough for Collins to rank as a top 10 coach in the Big Ten. Get to a tournament and we'll talk.
10. Tim Miles, Nebraska
Nine years, .464 career win percentage, .485 win percentage at Nebraska, two NCAA tournaments
Miles was put in one heck of a position to fail, inheriting a roster losing five of the seven leading scorers from a 12-18 season. Yet, he made the NCAA tournament in his second year with help from transfers like Terran Petteway and Leslee Smith. But that was Nebraska's only winning record in his four seasons, as the Cornhuskers seem to be in a constant state of replacing their most important players.
9. John Groce, Illinois
Career: Eight years, 162-117 (58.1%), three NCAA tournaments
Tenure with Illini: Four years, 77-61 (55.8%), one NCAA tournament
No, that isn't Edvard Munch's "The Scream," it's Illinois head coach John Groce, possibly trying to scare away the injury bug that has ravaged his roster in recent years.
The Illini had the pieces to compete in 2015-16, but they lost presumed starting point guard Tracy Abrams to a torn Achilles in July and had to play the first few weeks of the season without a stud wing, as Kendrick Nunn rehabbed a thumb injury. Within a week of Nunn's return, they lost both Leron Black and Mike Thorne for the season.
The one game they were able to play at close to full health was a 14-point win over a pretty good UAB team—a depressing glimpse into what could have been.
What is a coach to do when things beyond his control spiral out of control, though? Prior to last year, Groce was on a decent run, winning at least 19 games in six straight seasons—three with Illinois and three with Ohio.
But this is not a fanbase content with "decent." After successful decades of Lou Henson, Lon Kruger, Bill Self and (at least the first few seasons of) Bruce Weber, Illini fans are already fed up with finishing in the bottom half of the Big Ten standings. Meanwhile, the team is ranking among the national "leaders" in arrests per month—including Tuesday afternoon's announcement that they have dismissed Nunn from the program.
Just about the only things separating Groce's current situation from where Tom Crean was with Indiana one year ago are one player hitting another with a car and a bounce-back season to earn the admiration of those who have been booing him. We'll let you decide which is more likely to happen.
8. Greg Gard, Wisconsin
Career: One year, 15-8 (65.2%), one NCAA tournament
Tenure with Badgers: Same as above
Welcome to the Big Ten, where 23 games is enough experience to be ranked ahead of six other coaches.
Of course, it's the prior 23 years of tutelage under Bo Ryan that lead us to assume Wisconsin is still in great hands with Greg Gard and that led us to consider putting him even higher on the list.
He may not have been the head coach, but Gard was an integral part of 15 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances with 27 wins in those dances. And he proved by reviving a lost 2015-16 season that he wasn't just some innocent bystander, fattened up to be taken to the slaughter when he finally did get a head coaching job. The man knows a thing or two about leading a team.
Still, two-thirds of one season isn't much for us to work from—especially considering it came during one of the weakest seasons for the Big Ten in the past 15 years.
If Wisconsin lives up to our way-too-early 2016-17 expectations as a top 10 team, though, look for the national love affair with Gard to rival that of Connecticut's Kevin Ollie after he won a national championship in his second season as a head coach.
7. Fran McCaffery, Iowa
Career: 20 years, 369-263 (58.4%), eight NCAA tournaments
Tenure with Hawkeyes: Six years, 118-86 (57.8%), three NCAA tournaments
Casual college basketball fans primarily know Fran McCaffery for his outbursts and propensity for technical fouls, but he has been one of the best under-the-radar coaches for the past decade.
When McCaffery left UNC-Greensboro for the opening at Siena, he signed up for a program in shambles. The Saints went 6-24 in the season before his arrival, thanks in part to injuries to a pair of key players. He turned things around almost overnight, going 15-13 in his first season before posting a 77-26 record with three NCAA tournament appearances in his final three seasons.
Similarly, Iowa was a bit of a mess when he took over. Under Todd Lickliter, the Hawkeyes had three consecutive losing seasons and were barely even competitive in conference play. But it only took one transitional year (11-20 in 2010-11) before the Hawkeyes were playing as well as they did in the glory days of Lute Olsen and Tom Davis.
Not long removed from serving as one of the doormats in the Big Ten, Iowa has won at least 20 games and finished .500 or better in conference play in each of the past four seasons.
And perhaps most impressive during that stretch is how well McCaffery's teams have weathered attrition. The Hawkeyes lost Roy Devyn Marble, Zach McCabe and Melsahn Basabe after the 2013-14 season, but they got even better. And despite losing Aaron White, Gabriel Olaseni, Josh Oglesby and Trey Dickerson last summer, their winning percentage improved yet again this past year.
If they can somehow survive the losses of Jarrod Uthoff, Adam Woodbury, Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1999, McCaffery might go down in Hawkeye history as more of a wizard than a coach.
6. Mark Turgeon, Maryland
Career: 18 years, 364-218 (62.5%), seven NCAA tournaments
Tenure with Terrapins: Five years, 114-59 (65.9%), two NCAA tournaments
With a 49-63 record in his first four seasons between Jacksonville State and Wichita State, Mark Turgeon didn't exactly hit the ground running as a head coach.
However, JSU had been a D-I program for just three years when he took the reins, and it had been 11 years and three coaches since WSU won so much as 17 games in a single season. If he had stormed out of the gates with 80 wins in four years in those situations, there would have been statues erected and documentaries filmed in his honor.
Since then, Turgeon's teams have won better than two out of every three games, finishing 14 consecutive seasons at least two games over .500. In just five seasons at Maryland, he already has as many seasons with at least 27 wins as Gary Williams had in his 22 years with the Terrapins.
Sure, there have been transfers leaving the program in droves in recent years—of the eight non-seniors to score at least 10 points during the 2012-13 season, six would eventually play for another college—but that just opened the door for better recruits and transfers to shine. It's not much a long-term strategy, but it helped turn around a Maryland program mired in its longest tournament drought in two decades.
As is the case for Fran McCaffery at Iowa, though, this coming season will be the real test. Turgeon loses at least four starters from last year's team with Melo Trimble still on the fence about the NBA draft with just hours remaining until the withdrawal deadline. Even if Trimble does return to College Park, it might take one heck of a coaching job to take this team dancing for a third straight year.
5. Matt Painter, Purdue
Career: 12 years, 263-139 (65.4%), nine NCAA tournaments
Tenure with Boilermakers: 11 years, 238-134 (64.0%), eight NCAA tournaments
All the cards on the table: I had no idea Matt Painter was doing this well with Purdue before looking at the data for this list. Granted, he hasn't actually won a NCAA tournament game since Robbie Hummel's senior year (2012), but eight trips to the Big Dance in 11 years—all as a No. 10 seed or better—are more than I would have guessed.
The mark of a good Painter team has always been defense—specifically, the man-to-man defense that he learned while playing for and briefly coaching under Gene Keady. It isn't world-renowned like Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone. It doesn't have a cool name like Tony Bennett's pack-line defense. But when it's working, his teams are lethal.
In seven of Painter's 12 seasons as a head coach, his teams have ranked in the top 35 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com. Each of those teams earned a No. 9 seed or better in the NCAA tournament and won an average of 25.7 games per year.
Considering some of the names that have come through the program in recent years—Hummel, Carl Landry, JaJuan Johnson, Chris Kramer, A.J. Hammons—it probably shouldn't be a surprise that Purdue has consistently excelled with defense.
But when is that going to turn into a deep tournament run?
At just 45 years young, Painter could be on the fast track to one heck of a coaching career. However, a sub-.500 tournament record (8-9) and no trips beyond the Sweet 16 have kept him from breaking through the glass ceiling into the national limelight. And though he has a better career winning percentage than the two coaches directly ahead of him on this list, it's tough to stack up against their Final Four appearances without ever producing an Elite Eight squad.
4. John Beilein, Michigan
Career: 24 years, 482-298 (61.8%), 10 NCAA tournaments, one Final Four (2013)
Tenure with Wolverines: Nine years, 189-123 (60.6%), six NCAA tournaments, one Final Four
Pick any stop in John Beilein's coaching career and try to not be impressed by the job he has done.
In the four seasons prior to each of his jobs (Canisius, Richmond, West Virginia and Michigan), those programs were a combined 214-261 (45.1 percent) without a single NCAA tournament appearance.
By his third season at each school, his teams had won at least 21 games in a season.
By his fourth season, each team had appeared in the NCAA tournament.
Beilein isn't the only coach to lead four different teams to the Big Dance—in fact, Lon Kruger and Tubby Smith have each done it with five teams—but Beilein might be the only one to have revived four dead programs along the way.
Because of that caveat in his chronicles, it's hard to hold Beilein's mediocre career winning percentage against him. Rather, it's incredible that he has won nearly 62 percent of his games with three Elite Eights and a title game appearance while spending about a third of his career in rebuilding mode.
3. Tom Crean, Indiana
Career: 17 years, 338-215 (61.1%), nine NCAA tournaments, one Final Four (2003)
Tenure with Hoosiers: Eight years, 148-119 (55.4%), four NCAA tournaments
In transitioning from the hottest of hot seats to the No. 3 Big Ten coach in our power rankings, Tom Crean had himself a fine 2015-16 season.
That's a bit of a strange statement to make about someone who merely led the preseason No. 15 team to the Sweet 16—where the Hoosiers were summarily trounced by North Carolina—but it ended up being arguably the best coaching job in the country, losing a star player early in a struggling season and somehow getting much better.
Of course, that wasn't Crean's first turn-around run with the Hoosiers. After the Kelvin Sampson recruiting violations that rocked the program to its core, Indiana entered wholesale rebuilding mode. Of the 14 players to score a single point for Indiana in 2007-08, Kyle Taber (28 points) and Brett Finkelmeier (two) were the only ones to appear in another game for the Hoosiers.
With 12 freshmen on the roster, they went 6-25 in Crean's first season.
By year four, though, he had a legitimate contender on his hands. And if we remove those first three seasons during which any coach in the world would have struggled, Crean has never finished a season below .500 and has a career record of 310-149 (67.5 percent).
Standards for winning are higher at Indiana than most programs, but it's kind of crazy that a sizable portion of the fanbase ever wanted to run Crean out of town.
2. Thad Matta, Ohio State
Career: 16 years, 422-139 (75.2%), 13 NCAA tournaments, two Final Fours (2007 and 2012)
Tenure with Buckeyes: 12 years, 320-108 (74.8%), nine NCAA tournaments, two Final Fours
With Thad Matta, the time has come for your periodic reminder that gaps in ranked lists are not created equal. The difference between Fran McCaffery at No. 7 and Tom Crean at No. 3 isn't exactly the Grand Canyon, but Matta is in a class of his own at No. 2, well ahead of that quintet while still well behind No. 1.
At just 48 years of age, Matta is already in one heck of an exclusive club. There are 10 coaches in D-I history with at least 420 wins and a career winning percentage of at least 75.0 percent. Their names, you ask? Adolph Rupp, John Wooden, Dean Smith, Jerry Tarkanian, Mark Few, John Calipari, Bill Self, Roy Williams, Mike Krzyzewski and Matta.
Whether at Butler, Xavier or Ohio State, Matta has never finished a season with fewer than 20 wins. Despite losing 65 percent of their scoring from the 2014-15 season, the Buckeyes still managed to win 21 games this past season—in what ended up being the worst single-season winning percentage of his career.
Must be nice to win 21 games in a disappointing year. That's a privilege typically reserved for, well, the other nine coaches listed above, as well as the final coach on our list.
One other thing setting Matta apart from the crowd is his tournament success. Getting there 13 times in 16 seasons is impressive, but so is Matt Painter dancing in nine of 12 seasons. The difference is Matta has three times as many wins in his trips.
Long before Brad Stevens started leading the Bulldogs to national championship games, Matta brought Butler its first tournament win since 1962. He won five tournament games in three seasons with Xavier, including leading the Musketeers to their first Elite Eight in school history. And in the past decade with the Buckeyes, he has been to five Sweet 16s, three Elite Eights, two Final Fours and a title game.
1. Tom Izzo, Michigan State
Career: 21 years, 524-205 (71.9%), 19 NCAA tournaments, seven Final Fours (1999, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2010 and 2015), one national championship (2000)
Tenure with Spartans: Same as above
As if there was any doubt, Tom Izzo takes the cake with room to spare.
He's the only active Big Ten coach with a national championship and has been to nearly twice as many Final Fours (seven) as the other 13 combined (four). And while Thad Matta has a solid 24 wins in 13 tournament appearances, Izzo has 46 wins in 19 dances.
How many times over the past decade has someone suggested that we just rename the month of March after Izzo because he has owned it so frequently? At least a few hundred, right?
What's most impressive about Izzo's two decades of Big Ten and NCAA tournament dominance is the lack of NBA talent with which he has done it.
While renowned coaches like John Calipari and Mike Krzyzewski are sending guys off to the lottery seemingly every year, Izzo hasn't produced a lottery pick since Jason Richardson in 2001. In the 15 years since then, the best Spartan to play in the NBA is Draymond Green and the second-best is Shannon Brown or Gary Harris. Either way, it isn't a future Hall of Famer.
But despite almost entirely eschewing the one-and-done era and instead building around four-year guys, Izzo just keeps getting the job done.
Because he didn't become a head coach until the age of 40, he'll never come close to the top of the all-time wins leaderboard. However, he's currently tied with Rick Pitino for fifth place on the list of Final Four appearances, trailing only Krzyzewski (12), John Wooden (12), Dean Smith (11) and Roy Williams (eight).
If he isn't already there, Izzo might just be one or two more national semifinals away from being considered one of the best coaches in college basketball history.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.