Ranking the Current Coaches Never to Win an NCAA Championship

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystSeptember 14, 2016

Ranking the Current Coaches Never to Win an NCAA Championship

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    Ohio State's Thad Matta is one of the best active coaches without a national championship.
    Ohio State's Thad Matta is one of the best active coaches without a national championship.Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

    Most of the top active men's college basketball head coaches have national championships to their names, but where do the greats such as Bob Huggins, Sean Miller and Thad Matta rank in comparison to the others who have yet to win a title?

    The following coaches were ranked based on a variety of factors, including career winning percentage, consistency of success, recruiting prowess, conference titles and NCAA tournament success. There's no magic formula that was used to mathematically rank them, mostly because each coach's situation is different. For instance, Lon Kruger and John Beilein had wildly different career paths than Mark Few and Bob McKillop.

    As a general rule, though, winning conference titles and reaching Sweet 16s was a good way to get noticed.

    Let us know which of your favorite coaches we ranked too low, and which ones you think are most likely to finally break through that national championship barrier in 2017.

Honorable Mentions

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    Dana Altman
    Dana AltmanMark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    There are a lot of great college basketball coaches who have never won a national championship. There are so many, in fact, that we have more honorable mentions than we have ranked coaches, and there were even a handful of difficult omissions from this slide.

    Here are those honorable mentions, listed in alphabetical order.

    Dana Altman, Oregon: Turned Creighton into a perennial Cinderella candidate and has transformed Oregon into a legitimate national power.

    Tommy Amaker, Harvard: The Michigan portion of his career was a bit rough, but anyone who can win at Harvard is pretty good in our book.

    Rick Barnes, Tennessee: A great recruiter and a solid regular-season coach, but his teams always seem to save their worst for March.

    Tom Crean, Indiana: Despite the love/hate relationship with Hoosiers fans, Crean brought this program back from the ditch that Mike Davis and Kelvin Sampson drove it into.

    Mick Cronin, Cincinnati: One Sweet 16 appearance in 13 seasons isn't a ringing endorsement, but Cronin has led Cincinnati back to within a stone's throw of how good it was under Bob Huggins.

    Jamie Dixon, TCU: A slightly disappointing finish to the Panthers portion of his career made many forget that Pittsburgh was an annual threat to win the national championship from 2006-11.

    Scott Drew, Baylor: Before Drew, Baylor had never been to two consecutive NCAA tournaments and was mired in one of the worst scandals in college basketball history.

    Jim Larranaga, Miami: Neither George Mason nor Miami is anything close to a blue-blood program, yet Larranaga's teams have finished 18 consecutive seasons above .500.

    Bob McKillop, Davidson: Fourteen regular-season championships in the past 21 years, but aside from one magical, Stephen Curry-fueled run in 2008, McKillop has never won a game in the NCAA tournament.

    Archie Miller, Dayton: He's only 37, but he's one high-caliber job opening away from being as highly regarded as his older brother (Sean Miller).

    Dave Rose, BYU: Has won at least 20 games in each of his 11 seasons as a head coach, despite minimal recruiting power and an eternally confusing roster situation due to LDS missions.

    Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech: Everyone questioned his decision to leave Marquette for Virginia Tech, but if the Hokies have the type of year we think they can, look for Williams to be heralded as one of the top geniuses of the coaching industry.

10. John Beilein, Michigan

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    John Beilein
    John BeileinJohn Minchillo/Associated Press

    Career Record: 24 years, 482-298 (61.8 percent)

    Conference Titles: Four

    NCAA Tournament Wins: 17

    Final Four Appearance: 2013

    John Beilein has been a career fixer-upper.

    He started out at Canisius, which was 49-84 in the five seasons before hiring him. His first year (10-18) was a struggle, but he won the MAAC regular-season title in year No. 2 and had the Golden Griffins in the NCAA tournament by his fourth year.

    The turnaround at Richmond came even faster, as the Spiders won an NCAA tournament game in Beilein's first season therewhich came on the heels of Bill Dooley going 43-69 over the course of four years. In five years with Richmond, Beilein won 100 games.

    Lather, rinse, repeat for the West Virginia portion of Beilein's career, which went 8-20 in the year before his arrival yet was in the Elite Eight by his third year.

    And at Michigan, he was faced with the task of rebuilding a program still reeling from the Fab Five scandal, but Beilein had the Wolverines in the NCAA tournament by year No. 2 and in the national championship game by his sixth season.

    His career winning percentage isn't great, but Beilein has been able to build something solid at each of his stops.

9. Mike Brey, Notre Dame

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    Mike Brey
    Mike BreyAlex Brandon/Associated Press

    Career Record: 21 years, 455-229 (66.5 percent)

    Conference Titles: Three

    NCAA Tournament Wins: 12

    Final Four Appearances: None

    Prior to reaching the Elite Eight in both 2015 and 2016, Mike Brey was regarded by most as a good-not-great coach. In his first 14 seasons with the Fighting Irish, he won one conference title (2001), went to one Sweet 16 (2003) and otherwise did just enough to not get firedthough Notre Dame fans were screaming for his head in the mid-2000s when the team missed three consecutive NCAA tournaments.

    But it's funny how one or two great seasons can completely change the way we view a head coach.

    Following a dreadful ACC debut in 2013-14, Brey led the Fighting Irish to 32 wins in 2015, coming one desperation shot away from beating undefeated Kentucky to reach the Final Four. And last year might have been even more impressive, getting back to the regional finals once again, despite losing Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton from the previous year's roster.

    Now, Brey is seen as one of the best coaches to never reach the Final Four and one of the better ones who has yet to win a national championship.

    It's just too bad for Brey that Notre Dame doesn't attract basketball talent like it does football stars. Dating back to 2003 in the 247Sports database, Notre Dame has not signed a single 5-star recruit, and its best national ranking came in 2013 with the 15th-best class. Usually, the Fighting Irish can only get 3-star players and end up with a class that ranks somewhere around 50th nationally.

    It's impressive that Brey has been able to consistently win from that starting point.

8. Lon Kruger, Oklahoma

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    Lon Kruger
    Lon KrugerEric Gay/Associated Press

    Career Record: 30 years, 590-361 (62.0 percent)

    Conference Titles: Two

    NCAA Tournament Wins: 20

    Final Four Appearances: 1994, 2016

    Lon Kruger's career winning percentage doesn't stack up well against the remaining coaches on this list, but it's kind of hard to win three out of every four games when you spend half of your career rebuilding programs.

    Kruger has been the head coach for six different programs over the past 34 seasons: Texas-Rio Grande Valley, Kansas State, Florida, Illinois, UNLV and Oklahoma. In his first season with those six schools, his combined record was 92-89 (50.8 percent). Pretending for a moment that 2015-16 was his final year with Oklahoma, his combined record in his last season with those teams was 124-66 (65.3 percent).

    With the exception of UT-RGVwhich has never been to the NCAA tournamenthe took each of those schools to at least two NCAA tournaments, reaching the Final Four with Florida and Oklahoma, the Elite Eight with Kansas State and the Sweet 16 with UNLV.

    Most of these coaches have thrived in one or two places, but it's remarkable that Kruger has won at least 20 games with six different programs.

7. Gregg Marshall, Wichita State

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    Gregg Marshall
    Gregg MarshallJohn Minchillo/Associated Press

    Career Record: 18 years, 424-168 (71.6 percent)

    Conference Titles: 10

    NCAA Tournament Wins: 10

    Final Four Appearance: 2013

    In the eight years before Gregg Marshall became the head coach of Winthrop, the Eagles went 65-155 and didn't even sniff a Big South championship. But in his nine seasons at the helm, they won 70 percent of their games, six conference titles and their only NCAA tournament game, upsetting No. 6 seed Notre Dame in 2007.

    After that brief Cinderella story, it was off to Wichita State, where he took what was a good program under Mark Turgeon and turned it into one that would eventually build on a Final Four appearance with a perfect regular season.

    Take out the first two seasons with the Shockers in which he was forced to rebuild what Turgeon left behind, and Marshall has won more than 75 percent of his games over the course of nearly two decades.

    It's a testament to Marshall's coaching legacy that any time a high-profile job opens up, his name is the first one mentioned as a possible replacement. And it might not be until he leaves Wichita State for a major-conference gig that we finally come to some sort of agreement on where he ranks against his peers.

6. Shaka Smart, Texas

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    Shaka Smart
    Shaka SmartReese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

    Career Record: Seven years, 183-69 (72.6 percent)

    Conference Titles: Zero

    NCAA Tournament Wins: Seven

    Final Four Appearance: 2011

    Shaka Smart doesn't turn 40 until next April and already has 183 career wins to his name. So, unless this upcoming season is a complete disaster, he'll have at least 200 wins before celebrating that 40th birthday.

    For what it's worth, Mike Krzyzewski won his first national championship shortly after turning 39 and entered his age-40 season with 195 career wins.

    That isn't to say Smart is on his way to being known as Coach S, but it's an interesting similarity to arguably the greatest coach in the history of the sport.

    And Smart did the majority of his damage with a program that had no recruiting power, winning at least 26 games in each of his six seasons with VCU. Now that he's at Texas and is already signing 5-star recruits, his career is about to really take off.

    But despite great expectations and a magical Final Four run in 2011, we couldn't quite rationalize putting Smart in the top five, partially because he hasn't yet won a regular-season title. Give it until 2020, though, and Smart might have the pedigree to rank No. 1 on this listprovided he hasn't already won a national championship by then.

5. Tony Bennett, Virginia

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    Tony Bennett
    Tony BennettGeoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    Career Record: 10 years, 234-105 (69.0 percent)

    Conference Titles: Two

    NCAA Tournament Wins: Nine

    Final Four Appearances: None

    Tony Bennett was the toughest coach to rank.

    On the one hand, he has been successful with programs that typically aren't. Prior to his arrival at Washington State, it had been more than a decade since the Cougars won so much as 14 games in a season. They were in the Sweet 16 by his second season and went back to the basement of the Pac-10/Pac-12 just three years after he left. Likewise at Virginia, the Cavaliers were barely a .500 program in the dozen years before he showed up, and now they're an annual threat to win the ACC.

    Moreover, Bennett has had this success while playing at a deliberate pace without any stars. His best seasons with Washington State came before Klay Thompson, and he has yet to sign a 5-star recruit at Virginia, routinely finishing ahead of Duke and North Carolina with players those ACC blue-bloods never even considered recruiting.

    But how long will it be before all that regular-season prowess translates into postseason achievements?

    In six trips to the NCAA tournament, Bennett has never been to the Final Four, hasn't beaten a higher-seeded team and has been eliminated by an inferior opponent four times, including blowing a 16-point second-half lead against No. 10 seed Syracuse this past March.

    Bennett is quickly becoming to college basketball coaches what Billy Beane is to MLB general managers. He's able to win more often than not in the regular season without top-notch guys, but his unorthodox approach tends to stop working once the playoffs begin. Fair or not, that's the stigma he'll need to live with until at least reaching a Final Four.

4. Bob Huggins, West Virginia

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    Bob Huggins
    Bob HugginsFrank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Career Record: 31 years, 719-296 (70.8 percent)

    Conference Titles: 11

    NCAA Tournament Wins: 29

    Final Four Appearances: 1992, 2010

    In college basketball history, there are only 13 coaches who won at least 700 games with at least a .700 winning percentage. Ten of those coaches (Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim, Bob Knight, Dean Smith, Adolph Rupp, Roy Williams, Lute Olson, Jerry Tarkanian, Rick Pitino and Phog Allen) won at least one national championship, leaving Bob Huggins, Eddie Sutton and E.A. Diddle as the only ones who didn't.

    But despite three decades of success, it's what Huggins has done in the past two years that really sets him apart as one of the best coaches in the game today.

    After making the Final Four in 2010, West Virginia dropped off a cliff, posting a 13-19 record just three years later. Rather than simply sticking to his guns at the age of 60, Huggins completely revamped his program, transforming it into Press Virginia.

    Though viewed by many as a gimmick that would neither last for long nor work against quality programs, it has turned the Mountaineers into the one program nobody wants to face. At this point, most college basketball experts don't even care who the players are, putting faith in the system to work regardless of its individual components. West Virginia lost three key pieces from last year's roster without gaining much of anything in return, and Huggins' squad will probably still open the season ranked in the AP Top 25.

    And as Boeheim has proved over the past couple of decades at Syracuse, when you can make the same defense work year after year, you're one heck of a coach.

3. Sean Miller, Arizona

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    Sean Miller
    Sean MillerCasey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

    Career Record: 12 years, 308-108 (74.0 percent)

    Conference Titles: Six

    NCAA Tournament Wins: 17

    Final Four Appearances: Zero

    Though he has 17 wins in nine career trips to the NCAA tournament, Sean Miller has been branded as a coach who can't win when it matters most. He has been to six Sweet 16s and four Elite Eights in the past decade, but the Final Four has repeatedly eluded his grasp.

    But how much of that can simply be attributed to bad luck?

    In the 2008 Elite Eight with Xavier, Miller ran into a UCLA team with Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook en route to its third consecutive Final Four. With Arizona in 2011, Derrick Williams and company were unable to slow down the runaway freight train that was Kemba Walker and the Connecticut Huskies. And in 2014 and 2015, the Wildcats were pitted against a Wisconsin team that was just a little too efficient on offense to be beaten.

    Sooner or later, though, he'll get over that hump. Miller is too good a recruiter to not eventually put together a roster that at least makes it to the national semifinals. And as long as he keeps signing 5-star guysthe only teams that have inked more than eight in the past six years are Kentucky (25), Duke (14) and Arizona (12)it should only be a matter of time before he wins a national championship, too.

2. Thad Matta, Ohio State

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    Thad Matta
    Thad MattaNati Harnik/Associated Press

    Career Record: 16 years, 422-139 (75.2 percent)

    Conference Titles: Eight

    NCAA Tournament Wins: 24

    Final Four Appearances: 2007, 2012

    Without a close second, Thad Matta is the most underappreciated head coach in college basketball today.

    Matta won 75.0 percent of his games at Butler, 77.2 percent at Xavier and is still at 74.8 percent with Ohio State despite a disappointing 2015-16 season. In 16 years, he has never finished a season with a winning percentage below .600, and the only time he had a conference winning percentage below 55.5 was in his first season with the Buckeyes.

    This is largely because Matta has also been an outstanding recruiter. According to the 247Sports team rankings, Ohio State has had a top-six class in seven of the past 11 years, including ranking No. 2 in the nation in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

    Matta has already been to six Sweet 16s, four Elite Eights and two Final Fours. Were it not for the misfortune of running into Florida on a quest for its second consecutive national championship, Matta would likely have a title to his name, too.

    But you wouldn't know it from how long it takes people to get to Matta when listing the best active coaches—if they even get to him at all.

    Among active head coaches, only Mark Few, Roy Williams, John Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski and Bill Self have a higher career winning percentage than Matta. Perhaps he'll finally be mentioned in the same breath as some of those greats once he gets that elusive national championship.

1. Mark Few, Gonzaga

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    Mark Few
    Mark FewDennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

    Career Record: 17 years, 466-111 (80.8 percent)

    Conference Titles: 15

    NCAA Tournament Wins: 21

    Final Four Appearances: Zero

    This will inevitably be a controversial pick for the top spotmostly because of that one time Gonzaga finished the season ranked No. 1 in the nation and got bounced in the round of 32but where would you put a head coach with this type of resume?

    Mark Few has never missed the NCAA tournament, has won 15 of the last 17 regular-season WCC titles and 13 of the conference tournaments. He has one more win in the NCAA tournament than Lon Kruger has in 30 years, and he has more than twice as many wins as Gregg Marshall has in 18 years. His career winning percentage ranks fourth all-time and is No. 1 among guys who have coached in the last four decades.

    John Wooden has 10 national championships and four undefeated seasons, but Few has a slightly better career winning percentage.

    And, yes, Few has had the luxury of coaching in a conference that isn't anywhere near as good as what most of the coaches on this list have had to deal with, but let's not pretend Few has been bringing in can't-miss recruits to beat up on cupcakes. Heck, Adam Morrison was a 2-star recruit in 2003 who stayed home in Spokane, Washington, because he didn't have any better offers.

    Now that Few is starting to get high-major transfers and 4-star recruits on a more regular basis, he might be even more unstoppable.

    Gonzaga will need to eventually reach a Final Four before people start seriously considering Few one of the all-time greats, but this 53-year-old has plenty of years left to make that happen.

    Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports. Coaching records courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.

    Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.


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