Tec's Takes: Coach of the Year Candidates
Earlier in the season, I saw a tweet that was circulating asking about who the coach of the year was in college basketball, and I looked through the replies and noticed a common theme. “It’s not even close” accompanied several names, which means that it actually is pretty close.
After sitting with it for a couple of weeks, I’ve amassed my list of Coach of the Year candidates to this point.
The Top of my List
Pat Kelsey, College of Charleston (17-1): Anybody who writes about college basketball should be including Pat Kelsey on a list like this one. It just has to be done. Charleston has the nation’s longest active win streak at 16, and KenPom has them favored to win the remainder of their games. The Cougars’ lone loss came in the first week of the season to No. 1—at the time—North Carolina. Since then, they’ve beaten three teams that rank in the top 100 on KenPom. Just for the fun of it, imagine Kelsey leading this group to a 30-1 record going into the postseason. I don’t care who you are or where you coach, that’s deserving of being a finalist for Coach of the Year.
Jerome Tang, Kansas State (15-1): Truth be told, this is who I would vote for if the season ended today. I thought Jerome Tang was a home-run hire for Kansas State, but I don’t think that even the most optimistic Tang supporters could have expected this start in year one. The fact that the Wildcats are undefeated in Big 12 play is astounding. It’s the toughest league in the sport, and they’ve already won at Texas and at Baylor. Regression to the mean is likely on the way for Kansas State because there aren’t easy games in the Big 12, but if Tang can keep the Wildcats operating toward the top of the league, he should be in the running for Coach of the Year.
The Next Group
Nate Oats, Alabama (14-2): As of Friday, January 13, a case could be made for Alabama being the best team in the country. I might be the one making the case. The Tide have only lost to UConn and Gonzaga, and they have wins at Houston, at Arkansas, at Mississippi State, at home to Kentucky, at home to Memphis, and against North Carolina on a neutral. This wasn’t projected to be a team the was this good. Most prognosticators and metrics had Kentucky and Arkansas at the top of the SEC, and Alabama was fifth on the SEC preseason media poll. At this point, Oats is a no-brainer candidate for COY.
Matt Painter, Purdue (15-1): Matt Painter has a perennially great program in West Lafayette. This was supposed to be more of a down year for the Boilermakers after losing Jaden Ivey—the No. 5 pick in the NBA Draft—and Trevion Williams—a multi-year starter. However, Matt Painter and the Boilers have been getting it done so far. A resume that includes wins over Marquette, West Virginia, Gonzaga, Duke, Ohio State and Penn State is as good as it gets in the sport right now. Their lone loss came against Rutgers who is proving to be a thorn in Purdue's side. Painter had Purdue as the No. 1 team in the country for just the second time in school history, and he has them playing like the Big Ten's best team after being picked fifth in the league preseason.
Sean Miller, Xavier (14-3): This might be a little bit of a weird pick to some, but Sean Miller has Xavier playing as well as anyone in the country right now in his first year back. As I said for Jerome Tang, I’m not sure that anyone expected Xavier to be this good right away. They’re back to being Xavier. This was a program that was as consistently in the NCAA Tournament as anyone not named Kansas, Michigan State or Gonzaga for several years. Their only losses have come to a fully healthy Indiana, Duke and Gonzaga. They’re riding a 10-game winning streak that includes wins over UConn, Villanova, Creighton, Seton Hall, St. John’s, Cincinnati and West Virginia. All of those schools rank in the top 75 on KenPom.
Also considered: Ed Cooley (Providence), Dennis Gates (Missouri), Rick Barnes (Tennessee), Rodney Terry (Texas), Dusty May (FAU), Bill Self (Kansas), TJ Otzelberger (Iowa State).