Picking a national coach of the year in men's college basketball has always been a "dealer's choice" sort of proposition.
Do you go with the coach of the best team? Or the coach of the team that most outperformed preseason expectations? Maybe it's the one overseeing the best "whole is greater than the sum of its parts" type of roster that wins despite limited star power? Perhaps it's the one who does the best job of checking all three of those boxes?
On Tuesday, we asked B/R app users to tell us their current choice for national coach of the year.
Before we dive in, I just want to say how shocked I was by the lack of support for Marquette's Shaka Smart. There were multiple nominations for each of Brad Underwood, Greg Gard, John Calipari, Eric Musselman, Jeff Linder and others, but through the first 300 responses, I didn't see Smart's name a single time.
Maybe it's because the Golden Eagles have lost three of their past four games and people have forgotten how little was expected of this team this season, but he was easily one of the top handful of candidates in late January.
But here are your top four candidates if the season ended today.
@J_Cooper Mark Adams. He had 4 players to start off in April after Beard attempted to sabotage the program on the way out. Now they're a Top 10 team and poised to make a deep run in the tourney!!
@jdjdjdk Mark Adams
@Derek_Harper Mark Adams
Stadium's Jeff Goodman recently put out a ranking of which teams he feels did the best and worst jobs of "portaling" this past offseason, in which he had Texas Tech at No. 5.
But I just don't see how anyone could put the Red Raiders anywhere other than No. 1 on that list.
Sure, Auburn and Kentucky have both been a little bit better than Texas Tech and are worthy candidates for the top spots. But Auburn benefited from a former 5-star from North Carolina (Walker Kessler) as well as a ball-dominant guard from Georgia (KD Johnson), and Kentucky's most noteworthy acquisitions came from West Virginia (Oscar Tshiebwe) and, again, Georgia (Sahvir Wheeler).
Meanwhile, Mark Adams cobbled together a mid-major all-star team.
Bryson Williams (via UTEP), Davion Warren (via Hampton) and Kevin Obanor (via Oral Roberts) have started every game for the Red Raiders, and Adonis Arms (Winthrop) has been a starter and indispensable contributor for the majority of the past two months. Texas Tech also has Mylik Wilson (Louisiana) coming off the bench with insatiable defense for around 20 minutes a night.
Adams also had to endure multiple absences by top returning players Kevin McCullar and Terrence Shannon, and yet he has this unheralded bunch in great position for a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament.
It hasn't gotten as much national attention as the job Tommy Lloyd has done with Arizona—perhaps in part because Texas Tech is still likely to finish in third place in the loaded Big 12—but all things considered, there's a strong case to be made that Adams is putting together the most impressive first-year coaching performance in the country.
Pearl Before Swine
@eaanderson Bruce Pearl!! WDE
@lanceleonard93 Pearl hands down
As previously mentioned, Bruce Pearl did some incredible work via the transfer portal, which he pretty much had to do after losing both Sharife Cooper and JT Thor to the 2021 NBA draft. Not only did he bring in Kessler from UNC and Johnson from UGA, but he also found a pair of diamonds in the rough in Wendell Green (from Eastern Kentucky) and Zep Jasper (from Charleston).
He also brought in a well-known diamond in highly touted freshman Jabari Smith Jr.
But when top returning scorer Allen Flanigan suffered a serious Achilles injury in early September, Pearl was left to rely even more heavily on those five guys who did not play for Auburn last season.
All five have panned out incredibly well for the potential No. 1 overall seed in this year's NCAA tournament. Smith and Kessler are both legitimate National Player of the Year candidates. Green and Johnson are both averaging double figures. And Jasper has adapted admirably to his role as a "glue guy."
Pearl deserves high praise for the way all those pieces have optimally meshed together.
What's also impressive is that this team plays nothing like the one Pearl led to the Final Four three years ago.
Those 2019 Tigers were incredible at forcing turnovers and shot three-pointers like there was no tomorrow. These Tigers are much more dependent on Kessler's shot-blocking, Smith's mid-range game and a faster pace of play, as they are going to be one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the NCAA tournament field.
If they're able to pull off a regular-season / conference-tournament sweep in the SEC, Pearl should be on the short list of guys receiving votes for coach of the year.
@robertruiz2107 Without a doubt it's Tommy Lloyd
@604040 Lloyd all the way!!!
@ZWOW Is this even up for discussion? Look at what Lloyd has done!
@kugee12 It's Lloyd and nobody should come close
It's certainly not every year that a head coach earns a No. 1 seed in his first year on the job.
The most recent to do so was John Calipari with Kentucky in 2009-10. However, that was nowhere near his first season as a head coach. Same goes for Bill Self, who led Illinois to a No. 1 seed in his first year there (2000-01), but his eighth year as a head coach.
Best I can tell, the last men's head coach to earn a No. 1 seed in his first year as a head coach was North Carolina's Bill Guthridge when he took over for Dean Smith in 1997-98. But he inherited one heck of a roster with Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison, Shammond Williams and Ed Cota as the primary holdovers from a team that earned a No. 1 seed and made the Final Four the previous year.
Suffice it to say, that's not what Tommy Lloyd got at Arizona.
The Wildcats lost four of the six leading scorers from a team that went 17-9 last season. And while Bennedict Mathurin has emerged as a clear-cut lottery pick this year, there's not a single can't-miss, top-50 recruit on this roster.
And yet, in swoops Mark Few's longtime assistant at Gonzaga, putting Arizona not only in position for its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2018, but possibly just its second No. 1 seed since 2003.
Lloyd has certainly brought that Gonzaga flair from Spokane down to Tucson. Arizona had been an average-paced team since before Sean Miller took over in 2009, but Lloyd has these Wildcats playing at one of the quickest tempos in the nation, thriving on excellent interior play. They boast one of the highest assist rates, make better than 57 percent of their two-point attempts, get back more than 36 percent of their misses and limit opponents to 40 percent on their two-point attempts.
It's a lethal formula, and it might carry them to the No. 1 overall seed in a few weeks.
Were it not for what's happening at Providence, Lloyd would be the obvious choice for national coach of the year.
Keep Your Cooley
@hoosiersfan93 Cooley for sure
@BobbyBoucher87 As a Purdue fan it is Ed Cooley from Providence and it's not even close. Every other top candidate has a 1st round NBA player on their team and Cooley doesn't have that at all.
You know how I know Ed Cooley is the correct answer? Because a self-proclaimed Purdue fan and someone whose user name is HOOSIERS FAN 93 both recognize what an incredible, improbable job Cooley has done with the current first-place team in the Big East.
Just so we're clear, this prompt went out on the B/R app several hours before Tuesday night's gigantic Villanova-Providence showdown. But no matter what happened in that game—Villanova ultimately won—Cooley was still arguably going to be the correct answer.
As our resident Waterboy fan noted, Cooley has led Providence to a spot in the AP Top 10 without anything close to a lottery pick or National Player of the Year candidate. Heck, Providence probably doesn't even have a first-team All-Big East guy on the roster, though I would imagine either Nate Watson or Jared Bynum makes an appearance if the Friars finish in first place.
Providence's predictive metrics have been a daily topic of conversation for the past month. And by "daily topic of conversation," what I really mean is Providence fans relentlessly yelling at any bracketologist with the gall to point out that the Friars are roughly the 50th-best team on KenPom, or that a home win over Providence just barely counts as a Quadrant 1 win.
The Friars have the margin-irrelevant wins and losses of a possible No. 1 seed, but they entered play on Tuesday with the exact same average scoring margin (plus-6.3 PPG) as 15-10 Texas A&M. They had nine wins by five points or fewer and a perfect 19-0 record in games decided by 17 points or fewer.
That makes it tough to assess where to seed Providence, and tougher still to get a grasp on whether it would be wise to pick this team to reach the Sweet 16. But what it really makes it tough to do is deny that Cooley should be the national coach of the year.
Tommy Lloyd and Bruce Pearl are extremely deserving candidates who might end up getting the nod if their teams are still in the mix for the No. 1 overall seed come Selection Sunday. No one has done more with less NBA talent than Cooley, though, and that's why he gets my vote.
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.