For more on Steve Fisher, Rick Barnes and Jim Calhoun, check out the rest of our Coach of the Year debate in the Nation blog. For now, here are 10 other coaches who deserve praise for a job well-done this season:
Rick Pitino, Louisville: This was supposed to be a gap year for the Cardinals and gap years aren’t traditionally pretty in the Big East. Instead, Louisville -- picked to finish eighth in the league -- is tied with equally surprising Notre Dame (see below) for second. Pitino has reinvigorated his team by going back to his roots, playing a more uptempo offense and solid defense. His buddy and associate head coach Ralph Willard has said this is Pitino’s best coaching job. Hard to disagree.
Chris Mack, Xavier: His best shooter, Brad Redford, blew out his ACL in October. His top reserve, Jay Canty, hurt his knee at the end of December. His best recruit, Justin Martin, was ruled academically ineligible. So what does Mack do with nine scholarship players? The same thing Xavier always does… win. The Musketeers are 7-0 and tied atop the Atlantic 10 standings. They ditched preseason favorite Temple and just roasted Richmond on the road. The beat goes on.
Dave Rose, BYU: Yes he has The Jimmer, but Fredette isn’t the only reason BYU is rolling. Lost in the Fredette Frenzy is the fact that the Cougars are solid defensively, have surrounded their superstar with great talent, are playing unselfish basketball and have hit the boards hard. That’s coaching. Mix in the fact that Rose is the guy managing The Jimmer mania, helping to keep his player and his team from soaring too high in the crowd, and you’ve got a maestro coaching performance to go with a maestro player.
Thad Matta, Ohio State: OK, some might argue: How hard it is to coach a team loaded with so much talent? Well remember, the Buckeyes lost a lot of talent too, in the form of national player of the year Evan Turner. Yet Matta has Ohio State atop the rankings as the nation’s only unbeaten team, exploiting opponents with its balanced offensive attack and solid defense. Is there plenty of talent on hand? Sure. But give credit where credit is due.
Randy Bennett, Saint Mary’s: A season after Saint Mary’s surprising Sweet 16 run and after losing Omar Samhan to graduation, Bennett has the Gaels right back in the thick of things. Saint Mary’s won the first showdown with rival Gonzaga on the road -- its first victory in Spokane since 1995 -- and is in position to score an at-large bid even without a conference tourney title.
Matt Painter, Purdue: For a team that had such high expectations in the preseason, the heartbreaking, season-ending ACL injury to Robbie Hummel on the first full day of practice was absolutely devastating. Many counted out Purdue right then and there. And while it’s true the Boilermakers can’t be considered a true national-title contender at the moment, it’s also true that they’ve hung in there quite fine, thank you. With Painter steadying the ship, Purdue is in second place in the Big Ten and 18-5 overall.
Ron Everhart, Duquesne: Threatening for years in the Atlantic 10, Duquesne appears to have finally arrived. Seasoned by a tough nonleague schedule (aside from a loss to Robert Morris, none of the Dukes’ defeats are bad ones), Duquesne is rolling through the A-10 at 7-0. Standout players Bill Clark and Damian Saunders have been joined by the missing piece to Everhart’s puzzle, a savvy, scoring point guard in the form of freshman T.J. McConnell. The unselfish Dukes lead the nation in assists, averaging 19.2 per game.
Mark Turgeon, Texas A&M: Like his team, Turgeon constantly flies under the radar. Texas A&M isn’t flashy, doesn’t have a turn-the-head superstar and their coach isn’t going out and stumping for attention. It’s possible you haven’t heard of any of their players, but the Aggies are as reliable as an old slipper. They will play lockdown defense, will be in the top 25 and will be in the NCAA tournament.
Mike Brey, Notre Dame: All Brey has done this season is reinvent how Notre Dame plays. Successfully. Reliant on Luke Harangody for four years, the Irish now have gone to the perimeter, relying on the hot-shooting of Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis to lead them to a surprising 17-4 start. Brey may have found a secret to his team’s success at the end of last season when he was forced to slow things down while Harangody was injured. This team is now comfortable going up and down the court (80-75 win against Marquette) or forcing the tempo toward a snail’s pace (56-51 win at Pittsburgh).
Cliff Ellis, Coastal Carolina: Looking for a mid-major to rally around for the NCAA tournament? Why not a Coastal Carolina team that hasn’t been to the Big Dance in 18 years. Last season, Ellis -- the former longtime coach at Auburn and Clemson -- took the Chanticleers to unprecedented heights, winning the Big South regular-season title and a school-record 28 games. What’s changed this year? Not much. Despite losing three seniors and despite having to dismiss star transfer Mike Holmes a month ago, the Chanticleers haven’t lost since Nov. 18, reeling off 18 consecutive victories to improve to 20-2.