Athlon: Izzo is the best coach in the game

Every year, the same debate continues: Who’s the greatest coach in the game?

Coach K? Calipari? Bill Self?

You really can’t make the wrong choice … in a perfect world, of course. In our flawed, college hoops world -- one that consists of fanatics, pundits, critics, journalists, coaches, players and parents -- you are wrong if you don’t choose the coach that they admire most.

But that didn’t stop Athlon from compiling a list of the best coaches in college basketball.

No. 1, according to their rankings? Michigan State’s Tom Izzo.

Spartans fans unite. As for everyone else … let the outrage begin.

Athlon based its rankings on Izzo’s “sustained success during the regular season” and “recruiting players to fit his system.” Izzo is a proven winner and he attracts the right players for his style (see Draymond Green) to East Lansing. He’s definitely one of the greatest coaches in the game.

Athlon offered more flattery for the Big Ten maestro:

“Although the NBA has been interested in Izzo, it’s tough to imagine him coaching anywhere else. Izzo has his system at Michigan State down to a science. While we can’t say Michigan State overachieves -- the Spartans get their share of McDonald’s All-Americans and sends players to the NBA -- Izzo has a way of getting the most from his players. Only two Spartans have declared early for the NBA Draft in the last decade and none since 2006. Michigan State has continued a run of 15 consecutive NCAA Tournaments despite producing only one lottery pick since 2001 and no first round picks since 2006. Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams are the only active coaches with more trips to the Final Four than Izzo’s [six].”

Mike Krzyzewski, John Calipari, Bill Self, Jim Boeheim, Rick Pitino, Roy Williams, Billy Donovan, Bo Ryan and Brad Stevens (in that order) complete the list. It’s a solid chart with a reasonable explanation for each coach’s position.

But the argument will never cease.

You could make a “best coach in the game” case for most of the coaches in the Top 10.

Here’s my Top 10:

  1. Mike Krzyzewski -- This is the Michael Jordan v. Kobe v. LeBron argument. Check the numbers. He’s been doing this for 30 years. And he’s still winning.

  2. John Calipari -- Calipari has mastered the art of coaching in the one-and-done era. He’s adapted in ways that some of his coaching peers have not. He brings elite players to Lexington and he teaches them to play together. Not easy.

  3. Tom Izzo -- He’s led the Spartans to six Final Fours without a fleet of lottery picks. He’s the best developer in the game. And few programs possess Michigan State’s continuity.

  4. Roy Williams -- He has a pair of national titles (2005, 2009) and he signs nationally ranked recruiting classes each year. He made his first Final Four appearance in 1991. And North Carolina will enter this season as an ACC and national title contender more than 20 years later.

  5. Bill Self -- Nine. Kansas could earn its ninth consecutive Big 12 title this year. Self loses talented players to the NBA and replaces them. He endures turnover as well as any coach in America.

  6. Billy Donovan -- He upped his clout with back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007. But the success didn’t stop there. Donovan has led the Gators to the last two Elite Eights.

  7. Rick Pitino -- More than 16 years after leading Kentucky to the 1996 national title, he’s still relevant. He put on a coaching clinic last season. Louisville faced injuries all year. Yet, the Cardinals reached the Final Four.

  8. Jim Boeheim -- Last year was a rough one for the Orange. But the program weathered it through Boeheim’s leadership. Many anticipated a collapse after the Bernie Fine allegations. But, the Orange fought through the drama and reached the Elite Eight.

  9. Thad Matta -- He’s often overlooked on these lists even though he’s made multiple Final Four appearances. He’s won five Big Ten titles. He signs top recruiting classes each season. And Ohio State is usually a statistical and Big Ten leader. He’s just missing that ring. One ring and he’ll be Top 10 on everyone’s list.

  10. Bo Ryan -- He competes against a Big East contender (Marquette) that’s vying for the same in-state kids he covets. He doesn’t play the run-and-gun offensive style that top prospects often crave. But he still wins. Every year. The Badgers haven’t missed the tournament under Ryan.

Who’s in your Top 10?