Sizing up 20 top Coach of the Year candidates, more Hoop Thoughts
Of all the major awards, the Coach of the Year is by definition the least, well, defined. Often times, it goes to the coach whose team has exceeded preseason expectations, but why should someone be rewarded just for proving a bunch of media people wrong? The guys with the most talented players usually don't warrant consideration, even though we all agree that recruiting is the most important part of the job.
I like to find a combination of those two criteria, but I also tend to take a larger view. It takes several years for a coach to build up a program. Sometimes my Coach of the Year vote really goes to someone who is the best Coach of the Last Several Years. It's my ballot and I'll define it how I want to.
Here, then, is my take on the top 20 candidates to this point. I'm sure opinions will fluctuate over the next few weeks, but the choice for the top spot should be obvious: Miami's Jim Larranaga. I'm sure that if the balloting would be held today, he would be a runaway choice. Still, there are five weeks until the start of the NCAA tournament, and as we've all seen this season, anything can happen -- and usually does.
As Casey Kasem would say ... on with the countdown:
Other Hoop Thoughts
? Anybody else noticing that Syracuse's Michael Carter-Williams seems to be regressing?
? I was very sad to hear about the passing of Steve Lavin's father, Cap. He was a great player, teacher, and basketball enthusiast, and he was very close with Steve. I remember covering Lavin's UCLA teams at the NCAA tournament and watching Cap stand at halfcourt in his sweatsuit while the Bruins went through their pregame warmups. My condolences to Steve and his family.
? UConn's backcourt duo of Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier get a lot of well-deserved praise, but 6-5 freshman Omar Calhoun has been playing as well as either of those guys the last few weeks. I love guards who can rebound.
? I've been saying that Oklahoma State freshman point guard Marcus Smart could be, pound for pound, the best player in America (especially when you factor in his intangibles). But his backcourtmate, 6-3 junior Markel Brown, has been terrific as well. Brown had a team-high 28 points in the big win at Kansas, and he added 25 (on 7-for-8 three-point shooting) in a win at Texas Tech Wednesday night. If the Cowboys had better frontcourt scoring, they would be Final Four good.
? According to my favorite RPI guru, Jerry Palm, the Mountain West Conference is ranked No. 1 in the conference rankings, ahead of the Big Ten. I don't doubt the numbers, but that does not make any sense to me.
? I've been one of those who have argued that when a team is up three with under 10 seconds to play, the smart play is to commit a foul so the opponent can not attempt a three-point shot. Several studies have confirmed this strategy, but Ken Pomeroy recently did his own that casts doubt on the certainty of previous findings.
? Notre Dame only needed one overtime to beat DePaul Wednesday night. Must have felt like a vacation.
? From the consistently inconsistent department (otherwise known as every-situation-is-different-department): I think the WCC's overall weakness is giving Gonzaga a false sense of security and robbing the Zags of toughness they will need for the NCAA tournament. But I think the Conference USA's overall weakness is giving Memphis some badly-needed confidence that will make the Tigers harder to beat in the NCAA tournament.
? I'm normally very much against schools firing coaches during the season, but I see how USC has played since getting rid of Kevin O'Neill (won four out of six, including three in a row) and how Old Dominion has played since getting rid of Blaine Taylor (won first conference game at Drexel, then the next two by seven points combined), and I kinda get it.
? I'm digging the no-tie look from John Calipari. Shoot, if he can do it, everybody can. Bet he's a lot more comfortable on that sideline.
? Have you seen LaSalle senior guard Ramon Galloway yet? You should. The dude's a jet.
? Texas sophomore point guard Myck Kabongo finally took the floor for the Longhorns after sitting out all season because of an NCAA suspension. The results: 13 points, seven assists, four rebounds and four turnovers in a double-overtime win over Iowa State. It's still a longshot for this team to get an at-large bid, but the Longhorns at least have a chance to prove to the selection committee that they are a much better team with Kabongo on the court.
? Arizona State has now lost three of its last four games, including at Utah on Wednesday night. That's not the look of a team headed for an at-large bid.
? Baylor freshman forward Isaiah Austin has reached double figures in scoring once in his last four games. Just making sure you knew.
? Don't count out Air Force for an at-large. The Falcons have home games remaining against Colorado State, Wyoming and New Mexico. They have road dates at Boise State, Fresno State and San Diego State. If they can win those home games and take two out of the three road games, they'll be 11-5 in the No. 1-rated conference in the RPI. That's a tournament resume.
? Billy Donovan didn't like the effort he saw in practice from his point guard, Scottie Wilbekin, so he didn't start Wilbekin against Mississippi State. Wilbekin responded with seven assists to just two turnovers in 33 minutes. As the saying goes, a coach's best motivator is the bench.
? Last Saturday I was skeptical when my CBS colleague Doug Gottlieb told me that Cal guard Allen Crabbe would be a first-round draft pick. I've always thought Crabbe was too one-dimensional, but later that night, Crabbe proved his mettle by scoring 31 points in a big win at Arizona. I'm still not ready to say Crabbe will get drafted in the first ronnd, but at 6-6 with a nice outside shooting touch (he's shooting 35.8 percent from three), he is an intriguing prospect. Kinda reminds me of Allan Houston.
? The word is out around the Atlantic 10: You gotta get physical with Butler's guards. They don't like it.
? Love seeing Buzz Williams rock the 1970s plaid blazer in honor of the late Al McGuire. Buzz is a proud clotheshorse, so for him to don something so hideous, you know it had to be heartfelt.
? It's nice to see Pittsburgh freshman center Steven Adams getting more comfortable, but I really think he would do himself a disservice if he went to the NBA. What's the hurry, young fella? Get stronger, work on your game, come back to school, and go to the league when you're ready to have an impact.
? Another guy who absolutely, positively needs to come back to school is Kentucky freshman guard Archie Goodwin. In the Wildcats' 11 SEC games, Goodwin has has more turnovers (33) than assists (25), and he has made just 1-for -9 from three-point range. Just a hunch, Archie, but I think the NBA is a little bit tougher than the SEC.
? Yo, Villanova: Do you want to be in this tournament or don't you?
? I am a big fan of Bill Walton, both personally and as a broadcaster. But what he is doing to Ben Howland is patently unfair. I don't believe broadcasters should be advocating for coaches to get fired, especially considering Howland has been to three Final Fours and has the Bruins in good shape to be a factor in the NCAA tournament this year. Hate to break it to you, Bill, but John Wooden is not walking through that door.
? If Belmont fails to win the OVC tourney, it will set off one of the most interesting bubble debates in years. The Bruins are ranked 21st overall in the RPI, but they have only one win over a team in the top 50 (home vs. Middle Tennessee State). Since no power conference coach in his right mind would schedule a true road game at Belmont, I would bend over backwards to find a spot for this team in the field of 68.
? I never knew what a "tifo" was until last week. It's a huge banner put together by a group of fans, and it usually comes from the world of soccer. But some Georgetown fans put together an amazing tifo last week promoting the so-called Catholic 7 schools. The title read: "Basketball is our religion." Well played, people.
The Gophers have been hard to watch because they are so careless with the ball, but stylistically Wisconsin should be a comfortable matchup. Plus, Minnesota needs to start building a stronger at-large case.
The Buffaloes will have revenge on their minds after their controversial loss in Tucson last month. More important, this is a must-win for Colorado to make the NCAA tournament.
Here's another desperate home team. Saint Mary's does not have any wins over teams ranked in the top 50 of the RPI. You probably know about Matthew Dellavedova, but the Gaels have a trio of good three-point shooters that includes 6-4 junior guard Stephen Holt and 6-6 junior forward Beau Levesque.
The Hoyas have a shorter bench without Greg Whittington, but they have managed because Otto Porter Jr. has been arguably the best player in the Big East. That should bode well against a Bearcats team that struggles to score.
Let the post-Nerlens Noel era begin. When that kind of an injury strikes, the short-term response is often that the rest of the players band together and play their guts out. I don't know if Kentucky can sustain that long-term, but I think it will be enough to get by a Tennessee squad that is barely treading water in a mediocre SEC.
Kansas State has had all week to lick its wounds following that beatdown at Kansas on Monday. That's bad news for a Baylor team that is long on skill but short on toughness.
The Tar Heels had a good showing before losing at Duke on Wednesday night. This game is pivotal to their NCAA chances, and while it will be no fun trying to grind it out against Virginia, I think they'll rise to the occasion.
The Runnin' Rebels have been horrendous on the road this season, including on Wednesday night when they got drilled at Air Force. But they've been pretty good at home, which should put them in position to knock out a San Diego State team that has had its own problems away from home, especially with respect to outside shooting.
I like the way the Buckeyes are improving, but they are still limited offensively, and Wisconsin is just too tough at home.
The Redbirds have been quietly playing some very good basketball since 6-4 senior guard Tyler Brown returned from his one-game suspension for violating team rules. They have now won seven of their last eight, including on the road at Creighton. I don't think they can get an at-large bid, but a win here would at least put them back in the conversation.