My top 10 candidates for coach of the year; plus nationwide musings
Of all the major season-ending awards, coach of the year is the hardest to define. Most people seem to believe the coach of the year should be based on a one-year evaluation period where the main criterion is exceeding preseason expectations. But to me, there should be a lot more to it than making a bunch of poll voters look dumb. If that's the most important measurement, half the coaches in Division I should get a trophy.
Perhaps I'm in the minority, but I view the COY as more than a one-year deal. Many elements that go into being a great coach take more than a year to unfold -- recruiting and player development, for starters. And just because a coach's team was ranked highly in the preseason doesn't mean he isn't doing a COY-worthy job.
So bear all of this in mind as you read through my top 10 candidates for coach of the year. I considered about two dozen coaches for this list, but I have to say my selection for the top spot was extremely easy. Here, then, in reverse order, I give you my current pecking order:
• You've got to feel good for a kid like Texas sophomore guard J'Covan Brown when he comes off the bench to score 23 points (including 17 in the second half) to spur the Longhorns' stunning comeback over Kansas on Saturday. Not only did Brown have to spend a year in postgraduate prep school because he could not get academically qualified, but he has spent his two seasons in Austin backing up a freshman point guard. Last season it was Avery Bradley, this year it's Cory Joseph. It is an incredible luxury to bring such a gifted offensive player off the bench and still get older while you do it.
• Meanwhile, on the Kansas front, it's becoming increasingly apparent that freshman guard Josh Selby is not the savior Jayhawks fans were hoping for when his NCAA suspension was lifted on Dec. 18. Selby scored 21 points, including a dramatic game-winning three-pointer, to beat USC that day, but he hasn't played that well since. Selby had four points and one assist in 21 minutes against Texas, and he had just three points in 13 minutes against Nebraska on Jan. 15. That wouldn't be such a concern if his backcourtmate, junior Tyshawn Taylor, were picking up the slack, but in four Big 12 games Taylor is averaging 4.8 points and has made just one three-pointer.
• Whatever lingering concern there has been over why Illinois freshman forward Jereme Richmond isn't starting, it's about to come to end. Word out of Champaign is that Bruce Weber is seriously considering starting Richmond following his team-high 18 points off the bench during Saturday's loss to Ohio State. That was coming off a 14-point performance in the win over Michigan State. And
• Speaking of that Illinois-Ohio State game, did you ever notice that whoever Aaron Craft is guarding seems to have a rare off-night? Craft held Illinois guard Demetri McCamey to a season-low five points on 2-for-11 shooting.
• Here's another guard who's a better defender than you realize: UCLA junior Malcolm Lee. On Saturday he held Stanford guard Jeremy Green, a 40 percent three-point shooter, to 12 points on 4-for-15 shooting. In the previous game, Lee held Cal's Allen Crabbe, who averages 11.5 points per game, to five points through the first 37 minutes. After Lee fouled out with three-and-a-half minutes left, Crabbe scored 12 more.
• Villanova's 11-point win at Syracuse on Saturday was one of the more impressive road wins you'll see all season. Besides having to deal with the 33,000-plus who were jammed into the Dome, the Wildcats managed to attempt 24 free throws against a zone defense that is ranked 28th in the country in defensive free throw rate. 'Nova also made 22 of those attempts. That's how you get Capone.
• On the subject of Syracuse, I have to say with all due respect to Jim Boeheim that I really do not understand what he is doing with Fab Melo. The kid has started all 19 games this season, yet Boeheim usually yanks him after just a few minutes. (Melo averages 10.7 minutes on the season, but just 7.5 in Big East games.) If Melo is not good enough to play, he shouldn't be starting. Seems like this method is just embarrassing the kid more than anything else.
• This week's award for best use of Yiddish by a Polish Catholic guy from Chicago goes to Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, who told ESPN's Andy Katz that Kyrie Irving was "not this little schmuck." I therefore declare Coach K an honorary MOT for the rest of the season. Mazel tov.
• By the way, you know who else on the Duke roster is not some little schmuck? Sophomore forward Ryan Kelly. He has really emerged as a versatile scorer, rebounder and defender. With Nolan Smith struggling through a 6-for-22 shooting performance, Kelly poured in a career-high 20 points in the Blue Devils' win at Wake Forest Saturday. Kelly also had 11 points and eight boards in Duke's win at N.C. State.
• Arizona coach Sean Miller pulled a very classy move when he lashed out at members of the national media (you know who you are) for "disrespecting" Washington guard Isaiah Thomas. That came after Thomas had 22 points and 10 assists in Washington's win over the Wildcats. Herb Sendek could have said the same thing Saturday about Huskies forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning after he hung a career-high 30 points and nine boards on Arizona State. I'm telling you, kids, this is a real good basketball team.
• I can't remember the last time I saw a really good shooter go through a prolonged slump the way Michigan State guard Korie Lucious has. Lucious, remember, is the guy who hit the game-winning three-pointer to beat Maryland in the second round of last year's NCAA tournament after Kalin Lucas got hurt. Lucious also scored 20 points in the loss at Duke in November. Yet over his last 10 games, Lucious has gone just 14-for-64 (21.8 percent) from the floor and 8-for-39 (20.5) from three-point range. He had six points on 2-of-7 shooting in the Spartans' 10-point loss at Purdue Saturday night.
• Guess we can all cancel those plans to write the Michael-Jordan's-kid-leads-his-team-to-the-NCAA-tournament stories. Marcus Jordan's UCF Knights, who had a cup of coffee in the rankings following their 14-0 start, have since lost four in a row and sit at the very bottom of the Conference USA standings.
• You've heard of Glue Guys? Wisconsin senior forward Tim Jarmusz has glue hands. Jarmusz has played 408 minutes this season. He has committed three turnovers. Total. He has committed one turnover in his last nine games. I assume his nickname is Velcro. Or Stick Em. (Think he's ever heard of Lester Hayes?)
• I'm just glad the SEC West doesn't have an automatic bid.
• Xavier coach Chris Mack didn't make my top 10 coach of the year candidates, but he is the easy choice right now for COY in the Atlantic 10. The Musketeers have suffered every personnel and injury issue you can think of, yet they knocked off Temple at home over the weekend to improve to 5-0 in the league. Tu Holloway, who has turned into a better version of Jordan Crawford, is averaging 20 points on 35 percent three-point shooting to go along with 4.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists.
• The NCAA tournament without Gonzaga or Butler? Say it ain't so.
• It's getting to be that time where we can start to call certain matchups bubble games. St. Johns' loss at home to Cincinnati falls into that category. The Johnnies went 12-for-26 from the foul line in the loss. In a word: Oy.
• Old Dominion has quietly been a bit of a disappointment. The Monarchs, who beat Notre Dame in the first round of last year's NCAA tournament, nearly knocked off Georgetown at home in their season opener, but right now they're sitting in a tie for fourth place in the CAA with a 5-3 record. ODU has always had problems scoring, and right now they're having trouble making outside shots. The Monarchs are ranked 11th in the CAA in three-point percentage and 10th in free throw percentage.
• Seriously, how in the world did Florida State lose to Auburn?
• I'm sure you're as happy as I am that we didn't watch Marshall knock off West Virginia last Wednesday. The teams combined for 64 fouls and 70 free throws. Besides that, it was a purist's delight.
1. Ohio State (2)
Dropped off my ballot: West Virginia (17), Gonzaga (23), Colorado (23), Missouri State (25).
I was one of just six AP voters who ranked Kansas No. 1 last week, but Ohio State is nearly a unanimous choice this time around (getting 63 of 65 first-place votes). The real question for me was who to rank second. I had Duke ahead of Pittsburgh last week, but the Panthers just look like a better team to me right now. If I feel differently next week, I'll switch 'em back. Meanwhile, Texas' win over the Jayhawks also elevated two other teams the Longhorns have played recently, UConn and Texas A&M.
I pledged a few weeks back that I would not rank San Diego State higher than 10th until they played at BYU, but after Kentucky lost at Alabama I ran out of teams to put ahead of them. I don't foresee the Aztecs going too much higher, even if they win in Provo on Wednesday night. After all, their best win to date was on the road at Gonzaga, which looks a little bit less impressive with each Zags loss. Still, if the Aztecs continue to run the table in the Mountain West, I will be happy to give them their due. I refuse to play the villainous role of mid-major hater.
Tennessee is back on my ballot thanks to its win at Georgia, which came on the heels of a win at home over Vanderbilt. To assess Tennessee, you have to decide whether you want to rank the good Tennessee or the bad Tennessee -- kind of like deciding between the thin Elvis or the fat Elvis. I decided to split the difference and reinstall them at No. 23, though I think they're better than that. I also put Michigan State back in my rankings. To be honest, I left out the Spartans out last week purely as an oversight. They should have been in there after their win over Wisconsin, so I brought the Spartans back even though they lost twice last week. (Not that there's any shame in losing on the road to Illinois and Purdue.)
Maybe I overreacted too much to one loss by dropping West Virginia out after their loss at Marshall, but there's so little difference between 15 and 30 right now that as a voter I'm looking for any crack of light to differentiate between them. Elsewhere, I imagine Mick Cronin is pulling out what's left of his hair and wondering what his Bearcats have to do to get in my top 25. The answer: Beat a team that has appeared in my rankings at any point this season. So far, Mick, you're 0-3, but you've got seven more swings at the plate.
I had a hard time deciding between Belmont and Arizona for my final spot. I went with Belmont partly for sentimental reasons -- I'm a little guy myself, so I understand how hard it is to get noticed in a crowd -- but I also think there's a strong case that the Bruins should be ranked. They've lost just three games this season, twice to Tennessee and once at Vanderbilt. Not only that, but their 10 wins in the Atlantic Sun have come by an average of 26.3 points. Rick Byrd has taken Belmont to three of the last five NCAA tournaments. Believe me, you don't want the name of your favorite team to pop up next to Belmont on the CBS Selection Show.