We couldn’t boil down the list. That was the amazing thing.
Every year, the U.S. Basketball Writers Association board members and district representatives get together on a conference call to boil down the candidates for player of the year, freshman of the year and coach of the year. Usually it’s not terribly complicated. This season it was.
Not for the first two, but for the third. There were so many choices, we were worried we’d leave someone off.
Which got me to thinking, what would coaches say? Who among their peers would they deem the most worthy?
So I decided to ask. I polled 22 different coaches -- from big conferences and small, West Coast, East Coast, Midwest and South -- and asked them (anonymously so they wouldn't feel strange) to name their national coach of the year and why he earned their vote.
No surprise, there wasn’t a consensus.
A majority, yes, but not a consensus.
Of the 22 people polled, 11 said Wichita State's Gregg Marshall, three picked Florida's Billy Donovan and two chose Cincinnati's Mick Cronin, while Creighton's Greg McDermott, Virginia's Tony Bennett, Villanova's Jay Wright, SMU's Larry Brown, Kansas' Bill Self and Michigan's John Beilein received one vote apiece.
Marshall got the edge for logical reasons. The head coach of the undefeated Shockers has already made history, leading his team not only to the NCAA's first undefeated regular season in 10 years, but also to a 34-0 record and the Missouri Valley regular-season and conference tournament titles.
"They simply haven’t made a mistake," one coach said of Marshall’s Wichita State team.
Added another: "Going undefeated is next to impossible. Going undefeated after a Final Four appearance is beyond impossible because of the target you have to wear into every game."
Donovan earned the respect of his peers for his ability to overcome suspensions and injuries yet still lead his Florida team to 23 consecutive wins, the first 18-0 conference record in SEC history, an SEC regular-season title and just two losses.
"If the guys weren’t hurt or out against Wisconsin, he could have one loss," one coach said of the Gators’ first loss, in which both Dorian Finney-Smith and Scottie Wilbekin did not play. "And he just does his job. That’s it."
Cronin, the only other multiple-vote-getter, earned props for Cincinnati’s relentless style. The Bearcats, picked to finish fourth in the inaugural season of the American Athletic Conference, instead shared the league title with Louisville.
"He’s just done a heckuva job with his team," one coach said. "They play the best defense and he’s gotten so much out of those guys."
Even though McDermott, Self, Wright, Bennett, Brown and Beilein each received just one vote, plenty of coaches mentioned them while whittling down their choices to a single name.
The stakes were raised this year for Creighton with the Bluejays' move to the Big East, yet thanks to McDermott and in no small part to his son, Doug, not much has changed. Creighton finished second in the league.
"I understand he has the best player in the country, but still, to move up a league, that’s impressive," one coach said of McDermott.
In the expanded and ever-more-difficult ACC, Bennett led Virginia to its first conference regular-season title since 1981, losing just two league games in the process.
"Sixteen-and-one and 13 in a row in the ACC is pretty impressive," the one coach who voted for Bennett said before the Cavaliers closed the regular season with a 75-69 overtime loss to Maryland to end that streak.
Villanova, another regular-season conference winner, surprised virtually everyone in the country by not only winning the Big East but racking up a 28-3 record. Wright and his team could be in line for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
"This is an example of how a team with capable college players executing a cohesive brand of basketball can achieve at a very high level," Wright’s voter said. "Jay has masterfully orchestrated this championship team, pushing all the right buttons."
And speaking of unexpected, there is SMU. Larry Brown promised big changes when the school hired him two years ago. No one expected such dramatic improvement so quickly.
"No one else could have done what LB has done at SMU," Brown’s endorser said.
Self, meanwhile, essentially has rebuilt his roster with little change in results. Kansas won yet another Big 12 title, the Jayhawks' 10th in a row despite a roster heavily reliant on freshmen.
"He started brand new and here he is. That’s pretty amazing," another coach said.
Finally, Beilein is almost a combo of Self and Donovan. He led the Wolverines to a Big Ten regular-season title despite losing the player of the year (Trey Burke) and Tim Hardaway Jr. from last year’s national championship runner-up team and Mitch McGary for the better part of this season due to injury.
"At the end of the day, it’s not all just about toughness," one of Beilein's peers said. “We talk about that too much. It’s about execution, and he’s the best execution coach in the game."