In an effort to keep basketball fans engaged in the off-season, a panel of ESPN college basketball experts has ranked the top 50 college coaches currently in the game. This ranking is supposedly based on recent success, with very little emphasis on lifetime achievement. They recently unveiled the top 25 coaches and tagged Bill Self as the 6th best coach on their list. This is a couple spots lower than I had expected. I really believed he would get the nod at #3 or #4.
At this point, a legitimate argument could be made for any one in a group of six coaches to take the top slot. It is basically splitting hairs when trying to judge these coaches against each other. That being said, if you solely look at on-court success over the last 10 years, especially in the NCAA tournament, it is difficult to leave John Calipari or Billy Donovan out of the top two.
Initially, the two NIT visits in 2008 and 2009 clouded my view of how good Donovan has been in the tournament. In reality, outside of those two years, Donovan has taken his teams to six Elite Eights, three Final Fours, and has won two National Championships. These stats make it hard to not crown him number one.
I am not a John Calipari fan at all, quite the opposite, in fact. While I don't believe Coach Cal has the coaching acumen of many others in this list, his recruiting, record, and ability to meld young egos cannot be ignored. He has a slew of appearances in the Elite Eight, Final Four, and National Championship that ultimately negate the occasional NIT visit. Begrudgingly, I will give him the two spot.
Coach Izzo (a coach I really appreciate) and Coach Self have similar 10-year track records. What separates the two is Self's two visits to the championship game, winning one and losing the other. Izzo only has one visit in the last 10 years, which his team lost. Based on this, I give Izzo the #4 spot and reserve #3 for Self.
Coach Pitino has a long track record of success at the collegiate level. A National
Championship in 2013 and three Final Four visits over the last 10 years help him stand
out, but he loses a point for an NIT visit during the same stretch. He slides in at #5.
Coach K is Coach K and, unfortunately for the objectiveness of any poll, he gets the benefit of the "Michael Jordan effect." For many fans, he is the greatest and they cannot fathom how anyone would think otherwise. In fact, Coach K is great and has been for a long time, but of this group, he has the least amount of tourney success in the last 10 years. Remove the win over Butler in the 2010 National Championship game and his past 10 year tourney record is surprisingly subpar. He gets the nod at #6.
My honest (and surely biased) opinion is that Kansas has one of the greatest minds in basketball leading the team. Self has been
successful with freshman, 5th year seniors, and everything in between. I am not sure there is a program that develops big men better than KU. His consistency is unrivaled and his success has spoiled all Jayhawk fans. He has had a couple of early NCAA tournament exits with teams that possibly could have gone all the way, but that can be said about anyone in this group.
An additional Final Four visit or National Championship for any one of these six coaches could shoot them to the top of the list. This top six is interchangeable with a definite drop off after that.
I am interested in your thoughts on Self's rank. If you had to choose one coach out of the top 50 to replace Self, who would that be?