Ranking college basketball's underappreciated coaches

Would a national title change the way we feel about Lon Kruger, Bob Huggins or Scott Drew? Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Last month, the Cleveland Cavaliers shocked the basketball world when they announced they'd hired Michigan's John Beilein to lead the franchise.

Beilein led Michigan to the 2013 and 2018 national title games. Seven of his players were selected in the first round of the NBA draft. That's why new Michigan head coach Juwan Howard talked about enhancing the program's culture during his introductory news conference and not building it.

Despite Beilein's achievements, however, he didn't secure the same adoration his peers with similar résumés have enjoyed.

In short, Beilein's accomplishments weren't acknowledged at the collegiate level the way they should have been. That made us think about other coaches around the country who haven't been properly appreciated.

Here's our list of the most underappreciated coaches in America (each tier features different criteria).

Coaches who are underappreciated because they've never won titles (The John Beilein/Gregg Marshall category)

1. Gregg Marshall: Last season was the Wichita State head coach's worst in a decade. Yet, he still won 22 games one season after losing first-round pick Landry Shamet along with key pieces from a senior class that had won 112 games over four years. Marshall continues to do this with unheralded talent, yet four Shockers have gone on to the NBA in the past five years, a list that includes Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet and Shamet, a promising rookie with the LA Clippers. Marshall has rejected multiple offers from other schools because he's making nearly $4 million per year in a city where he's beloved. It's easy to forget how good he has been with the Shockers during his time with the program.

2. Lon Kruger: Kruger and Tubby Smith are the only two coaches in Division I history to take five or more teams to the NCAA tournament. Think about that. Last season, Kruger secured his 17th 20-win season, an achievement that spans nearly 40 years and includes six teams. He has two Final Four appearances (1994 with Florida and 2016 at Oklahoma). Kruger is just good. No rings, but he has been a consistent presence in college basketball. After losing Trae Young to the NBA, Oklahoma won more games than it had with the future pro star -- and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Kruger's longevity defines his legacy. He has one of the more underappreciated résumés on this list.

3. Scott Drew: Last season, Baylor lost Tristan Clark, the team's No. 2 scorer who had accrued the top field goal percentage in the country (73.7) at the time, to a season-ending knee injury in early January. Makai Mason and King McClure also missed significant time because of injuries. Yet, Baylor entered the month of March with a 10-5 record in conference play and a real shot to capture the league's title. The Big 12 is one of the best leagues in the country and Baylor was still playing top-tier basketball while missing key players. That success has been the norm for Drew, who has led Baylor to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament four times. He doesn't get enough credit for that.

4. Mick Cronin: Few expected UCLA to pick Cronin. The Bruins had reportedly reached out to John Calipari and other high-profile candidates before solidifying a six-year, $24 million deal with Cronin. The backlash about the hire was the result of UCLA seemingly striking out on bigger names (Rick Barnes said he shut down talks with UCLA when the school wouldn't pay his $5 million buyout) but also because Cronin doesn't get a lot of respect for his achievements. He has won a pair of American Athletic Conference titles and racked up 89 wins over the past three seasons at Cincinnati. And he did that with gritty, blue-collar talent. With the four- and five-star recruits to whom he'll have access in Los Angeles, Cronin could rule the Pac-12.

5. Randy Bennett: Bennett has been the "other guy" in his league for nearly 20 years. Without Gonzaga's shadow, Bennett's work at Saint Mary's would draw more national hype. The Gaels are the only reason Gonzaga hasn't won every West Coast Conference title since 2001. Saint Mary's broke up the streak by winning the crown outright in 2012. Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova, former Saint Mary's standouts under Bennett, won NBA titles in 2014 and 2016, respectively. Bennett has won 25 or more games in nine of the past 12 seasons. He also has seven NCAA tournament appearances in a league where games against Gonzaga consistently supply the only opportunity for a signature victory.

6. Chris Holtmann: Since accepting the Ohio State job in the summer of 2017 following Thad Matta's dismissal, Holtmann has won 45 games and finished within the top 25 in KenPom's adjusted defensive efficiency rankings in both seasons. Last season, he ended a challenging 2018-19 -- top players CJ Walker (shoulder injury) and Kaleb Wesson (suspension for violating athletic department policy) missed a total of four key games down the stretch -- with a win over Iowa State in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It was his sixth consecutive 20-win season, a streak dating to his final season at Gardner-Webb in 2013. Though the Ohio State football shadow trumps anything that happens on campus, Holtmann is off to an impressive start. And with next year's incoming fleet of talent, Ohio State should be a top-25 team again.

7. Buzz Williams: I think the most surprising thing about Williams, Texas A&M's new coach, is that he's only 46 and already on his fourth head-coaching gig. Barring the one rocky season he spent with New Orleans a year after Hurricane Katrina, he has left each stop in good shape. He was a young assistant who replaced Tom Crean after the latter left for Indiana in 2008. Williams led Marquette to the Elite Eight in 2013 and he won 20 games at Virginia Tech two years after James Johnson's 9-22 campaign. The Hokies hadn't been to the NCAA tournament in a decade before Williams guided them there in 2017, the first of three consecutive appearances. He's consistent.

8. Ed Cooley: Cooley's flirtations with Michigan reminded folks of his value to Providence. The Providence men's basketball website posted a giant photo of Cooley with the words "Staying Home" after Cooley signed a multiyear extension and ended the conversation with the Wolverines. Before Cooley returned to his alma mater in 2011, the Friars had appeared in five NCAA tournaments in a 25-year span. Cooley has led the Friars to five NCAA tournament appearances and he has finished outside the top four in league play only three times.

9. Steve Prohm: No coach in recent history did more to "save" his alma mater than Fred Hoiberg, who returned to Iowa State during the 2010-11 campaign following four consecutive losing seasons under Greg McDermott. It's not possible to overestimate the love Iowa State fans had for a local hero who'd restored their favorite program's name and led the Cyclones to four consecutive NCAA tournaments. Following Hoiberg was not an easy act for Prohm, who recently signed a three-year extension through 2025 after leading the Cyclones to their third NCAA tournament appearance in four years. Considering the emotions attached to Hoiberg, Prohm's run could have been a disaster. He could have been rejected. That didn't happen. Because he didn't allow it to happen.

10. Greg Gard: Months after losing to Duke in the 2015 national title game, Bo Ryan announced his retirement following a home win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, days before Christmas. It was a stunning move for a coach who had turned Wisconsin into a Big Ten powerhouse. The timing and the fallout -- it was later revealed that Ryan had been accused of an affair by a woman who subsequently sued the university -- left the Badgers without direction. Nothing made sense in Madison. But Gard led that team, which was 7-5 when Ryan retired, to the Sweet 16. The Badgers reached the Sweet 16 the following season, too, after winning 27 games. This could have been -- perhaps should have been -- a chaotic ride for a program that was basking in the glow of its back-to-back Final Four appearances. But Gard helped the team avoid a collapse after a midseason change, a feat that's often overlooked.

Coaches who are underappreciated because they've won so often their success is taken for granted (The John Calipari category)

1. John Calipari: The popular assessment of Calipari at Kentucky is this: He gets multiple five-star kids each year so his job is easy. But that take belies reality. Only two freshman-led collectives have won national titles (Kentucky in 2012, Duke in 2015) in the one-and-done era. Calipari's ability to recruit a fleet of NBA prospects each season and mold that group into a contender is an amazing feat. With teams mostly led by teenagers at Kentucky, Calipari has won fewer than 26 games only once (2012-13). Plus, he's backed by a fan base that expects Final Four runs each season. Calipari never attempts to minimize the high expectations. He acknowledges them and, most seasons, meets them. The critics claim he should have more titles, but that's a shortsighted take that ignores the challenge he embraces each season.

2. Bill Self: The Kansas head coach's Big 12 title streak ended last season after 14 consecutive years as a champion or co-champion of a great league, a Division I record. Teenage Jayhawks fans only know a life full of Big 12 titles. But, like Calipari, Self has one national title. And that's the constant knock from those who downplay his achievements. Yet, 10 of Self's 16 seasons in Lawrence, Kansas, have included runs to the Sweet 16 or beyond. The Jayhawks have continued to compete for titles over a lengthy stretch that has included massive changes within the collegiate landscape.

3. Leonard Hamilton: The youngest 70-year-old in the world, Hamilton has been an icon in Tallahassee since he accepted the job in 2002 following a tough stint with the Washington Wizards. He has shown no signs he intends to slow down. He followed an Elite Eight run in 2017-18 with a 29-win season and a Sweet 16 finish in 2018-19. He's also one of the few coaches with a winning record against Virginia (3-2) over the past four seasons. This summer, Mfiondu Kabengele could become the third Florida State player to be selected in the first round of the NBA draft since 2016. Hamilton has seven top-five finishes in the ACC, a league that has claimed three of the past five national titles and competed in four of the past five national title games. Hamilton is an elite coach.

4. Bruce Weber: During the buildup to last season, Weber made the case that his program hadn't received the respect it deserved months after an Elite Eight run. He was right. The Wildcats split the Big 12 crown with Texas Tech last season, ending rival Kansas' streak of conference championships at 14. Weber was hired in 2012 following his dismissal from Illinois, where he led the program to the national title game in 2005 but couldn't duplicate that mark in the years that followed. But he has stabilized Kansas State, a team that has won a share of two Big 12 titles under Weber. His other underappreciated achievement over his seven years? He has led his team to finish inside the top 50 of KenPom's adjusted defensive efficiency rankings five times.

5. Rick Barnes: In April, UCLA chased Barnes after the veteran led Tennessee to its best season in a decade with a 31-6 record and the team's first No. 1 ranking since the 2007-08 season. Two of his players, Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams, are projected second-round picks in this summer's NBA draft. Barnes arrived in 2015 as the longtime Texas coach who was fired by an athletic director, Steve Patterson, who thought Texas deserved better. Well, Texas fired Patterson months after he'd dismissed Barnes. And Barnes has won more games at Tennessee in the past two seasons (56) than Texas has won over the past three seasons (51). That job, as Shaka Smart has learned, isn't easy. Barnes deserved more respect in Austin and he finally received it in Knoxville.

6. Jay Wright: How can a guy who has won two national championships in the past four seasons be underappreciated? That's what we're trying to figure out. Yes, Wright has been praised for Villanova's achievements in recent years. But he has manufactured a legendary stretch. He has had one of the most decorated tenures in college basketball history and he's only 57. He might do this for another decade. Last season, the Wildcats won 26 games and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament after losing three first-round picks and Wooden Award winner Jalen Brunson from the 2017-18 national title team. Wright might be the best coach in the game right now. And he'll win Villanova's sixth Big East championship in seven years if next season's group lives up to the hype.

7. Mike Brey: With Brey, Notre Dame always seems to have a chance. He's generally viewed as one of the game's top coaches. Whenever talk of Mike Krzyzewski's eventual retirement commences, Brey, a former Duke assistant, is usually mentioned as a potential candidate. He has had a difficult two-year stretch after losing Bonzie Colson to a knee injury in 2017-18 and rebuilding last season. But before those potholes, he had led Notre Dame to a pair of Elite Eight runs over three seasons. He has three top-five finishes in the ACC. Since his arrival in the 2000-01 season, his teams have made at least 38% of their 3-pointers in 12 of his 19 years on the job.

8. Matt Painter: Painter hasn't been properly recognized nationally (or even within his own state) for his efforts over the past decade. Since Mike Davis' run to the national title game in 2002 with rival Indiana (the most recent Final Four appearance for the Hoosiers), Painter's list of achievements includes five trips to the Sweet 16, last season's Final Four near-miss and three Big Ten titles. And if you'd like to play the revisionist history game, you could make the case that Purdue's 2009-10 squad had as much of chance to win the national title as Duke did before the ACL injury that ended Robbie Hummel's season weeks before that year's NCAA tournament. That's the what-if season for Purdue fans, and one that might have changed Painter's profile.

9. Bob Huggins: West Virginia's subpar 2018-19 season ended Huggins' run of four consecutive seasons with 25 wins or more -- the Jevon Carter era -- but the Mountaineers remained a live dog. After Esa Ahmad (12.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG) and Wesley Harris (7.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG) were suspended for violating team rules midway through the season (also, NBA prospect Sagaba Konate missed all but eight games because of injury), West Virginia still managed to knock off four top-50 KenPom squads (Oklahoma, TCU, Iowa State and Texas Tech) and reach the Big 12 tournament semifinals. West Virginia had no depth. But the Mountaineers were still dangerous under Huggins, who has five top-three finishes in league play (Big East/Big 12).

10. Mark Few: Gonzaga has an international pipeline. Players come from all over the world to compete in Spokane, Washington, for Few's program. Few's excellence has been well-documented over his nearly 20 years at Gonzaga. But the cultural elements of his program are often understated. He's not just dealing with athletes from different backgrounds, he's trying to coordinate a group of players who must adapt to cultural norms in a new country. Rui Hachimura, a projected lottery pick in this summer's NBA draft, couldn't speak English when he first arrived in 2016 and struggled to understand the playbook as a result. That's not a hurdle most coaches encounter. The Gonzaga model is proven. But Few's perennial win-loss magic is even more notable when you realize the other elements his job demands.

Coaches who are underappreciated because they're coaching at schools that lack national brands (The Bob McKillop category)

1. Bob McKillop: He's so much more than Steph Curry's former head coach: McKillop is Davidson basketball. He became the head coach in 1989, a decade after a stint as an assistant. You've got coaches who can't survive five years, yet McKillop has hit the 30-year mark. But his longevity is often highlighted over his extensive success. And that's a mistake. Beginning in 1992 when Davidson rejoined the Southern Conference, McKillop has had one sub-.500 season. Just one (2000-01, when the Wildcats finished 15-17). That's incredible. His teams have made at least 75% of their free throws 10 times since the 1999-2000 season, too. (Davidson joined the Atlantic 10 in 2014.) If you've been a Davidson fan in the McKillop era, you've essentially witnessed three decades of elite basketball. How many programs in America can say that?

2. Kelvin Sampson: Whether you think he ruined Indiana basketball or believe the NCAA's five-year show cause for improper phone calls (a result of rules that no longer exist) during this tenure in Bloomington was excessive, everyone can agree that Sampson returned to the game as a polarizing figure. But he has won 60 games over the past two seasons and made consecutive runs to the NCAA tournament with Houston. The Cougars also won the American Athletic Conference regular-season title last season. Before that stretch, Houston had reached the NCAA tournament once in 26 years. He turned Houston into a contender five years into his run and a decade after he was essentially banned from the sport.

3. John Becker: When Florida State entered the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut, for its first-round matchup in last season's NCAA tournament, Leonard Hamilton's team probably figured it had made a wrong turn and ended up in Vermont. Fans of the Catamounts flooded the building and kept their squad alive with their energy. Becker's teams have claimed the past three America East titles. In 2018, when UMBC upset Virginia in the NCAA tournament, Vermont had beaten out the Retrievers for the league crown by three games before suffering a loss in the conference tournament title game. It could have been Vermont instead of UMBC. The latter has the fame, but Vermont has won four of the past six regular-season titles in the America East under Becker.

4. Steve Forbes: In 2017, the former Wichita State assistant broke a seven-year drought when he led East Tennessee State to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010. In his four years with the program, he has averaged 25 wins per season, benefiting from the juco pipeline he has developed throughout his career. Thriving in the SoCon is a difficult task for any coach. Last year, Wofford represented the league in the NCAA tournament, but UNC Greensboro and Furman both enjoyed bubble status throughout the season. The conference had four top-100 KenPom squads last season. But Forbes continues to field competitive squads with postseason ambitions in a tough league, which is why he remains a popular candidate whenever a Power 5 job opens.

5. Johnny Dawkins: UCF's near-upset of Duke in the NCAA tournament helped Dawkins earn the recognition he deserves. (His son, Aubrey Dawkins, nearly finished a putback that would have sealed the win in the second round against Johnny Dawkins' alma mater.) The coach has won 63% of his games with the Golden Knights, and last season led the program to its first NCAA tournament appearance in 14 years -- and the program's first appearance as an at-large team. And he has nearly doubled the program's win total compared to the past three years under Donnie Jones, who preceded Dawkins.

6. James Jones: After being down by 16 points to SEC champion LSU at halftime in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Yale fought back in the second half and closed the gap to three points on a Jordan Bruner 3-pointer with nine seconds to play. The Bulldogs lost, but Jones finally received some of the praise he has earned during a 20-year run with the school. He signed an extension through 2026 after that performance in March. He has won three Ivy League titles in five years, and Yale has made two NCAA tournaments over that stretch, including one in 2016, when it upset Baylor in the first round.

7. Dan Majerle: It's not uncommon to hear a successful coach talk about building a program from the ground up. But Majerle actually did that. He helped Grand Canyon make the transition to Division I basketball. During its six years in the WAC, Grand Canyon has not finished below third in the league's standings. Beyond that, however, Majerle has also created a national buzz about his program. The Antelopes have played Kentucky, Indiana and Duke on the road in recent years. Rick Pitino and Louisville came to Phoenix for a true home game in 2016. The team's fan section is one of the country's most rabid collections of supporters. Majerle is winning and putting Grand Canyon on the map.

8. Ron Hunter: I'm not sure how Georgia State lost Hunter, who'd led the program to three NCAA tournament appearances in five years. That run included the 2015 win over Baylor where the coach fell off his chair after son R.J. Hunter made a buzzer-beater to win the game. Tulane hired one of the best coaches in the country. He has won 24 or more games in four of the past five seasons. That's not easy to do in Atlanta, where the first- and second-level talents are coveted by Power 5 programs around the country. But Hunter found a way to compete, and he'll do the same at Tulane.

9. Travis DeCuire: Last season, Montana's head coach signed a three-year deal that gave him a $20,000 raise to $175,000 per year. He has earned every dime. The 48-year-old won Big Sky Coach of the Year in 2018. He has led his alma mater to back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances after succeeding Wayne Tinkle in 2014. DeCuire also has three regular-season Big Sky championships. Montana continues to play a good brand of basketball under him. Last season, Montana made 56% of its shots inside the arc and 38 percent of its 3-pointers.

10. Greg Kampe: I've walked the Oakland University campus with Greg Kampe near Detroit. He's a hero at that school, where he has been the head coach since 1984, when the program dominated the Division II scene. He has led the program to three Division I NCAA tournaments and sent four players to the NBA, including Kay Felder, who averaged 24.4 points (top five nationally) and a nation-leading 9.3 assists during the 2015-16 season. Kampe's Oakland teams have finished within the top three in the Horizon League four of the past six years. He's the perfect fit for that job. He has given Oakland stability at the head-coaching spot, a rare trait for a mid-major program.