Hubert Davis vs. Tony Bennett, Kelvin Sampson vs. Penny Hardaway and more coach of the year battles

Associated Press

We're accustomed to projecting the college basketball players we expect to excel each season via our preseason honors lists. Coaches usually have to wait until their season is over, however, to get the same accolades.

Until now.

Here, we've predicted the top 2022-23 men's college basketball coach in each league based on the following criteria: the talent they've retained or added to their roster -- critical in the transfer portal and NIL eras -- their history of exceeding expectations and their ability to help their squad reach its highest potential. We've also looked at the coaches who could give our candidates their stiffest competition.

Yes, some of this is subjective. Most of the coaches are at this level because they've proved they're good at what they do.

Send all complaints to my fellow ESPN experts Jeff Borzello and John Gasaway. Kidding.

Navigate to each league:

American | America East | ACC | Atlantic Sun | A-10| Big 12 | Big East | Big Sky | Big South | Big Ten | Big West | CAA | C-USA | Horizon | Ivy | MAAC | MAC | MEAC | MVC | MW | NEC | OVC | Pac-12 | Patriot | SEC | SoCon | Southland | SWAC | Summit | Sun Belt | WCC | WAC

American Athletic Conference

Kelvin Sampson, Houston Cougars

Sampson has a lot to work with in this Final Four potential squad, with Marcus Sasser (17.7 PPG) and Tramon Mark (10.1 PPG) both back after missing most of last season due to injury, and top-10 recruit Jarace Walker now anchoring his frontcourt.

Penny Hardaway, Memphis Tigers

With the NCAA infractions case behind him, Hardaway will guide a team led by SMU transfer Kendric Davis (19.4 PPG) and returnee DeAndre Williams (11.1 PPG), who should give the Tigers a shot at the AAC title, despite losing multiple starters from last season.

America East Conference

Jared Grasso, Bryant Bulldogs

A year after taking the Bulldogs to their first NCAA tournament as a Division I squad, Grasso could lead Charles Pride (17.7 PPG, 8.6 RPG) and former Saint Peter's hero Doug Edert (9.5 PPG), who transferred after the Peacocks' magical Elite Eight run, to a league title in the team's debut season in the America East.

John Becker, Vermont Catamounts

Yes, he has lost most of his starting five from last year's NCAA tournament team. But Vermont has won or shared six consecutive regular-season conference championships, and Becker will find a way once again to compete for the top spot in the league, especially with former Bellarmine star Dylan Penn (16.6 PPG) on his side.

Atlantic Coast Conference

Hubert Davis, North Carolina Tar Heels

Anything short of an ACC title and another deep run in March -- with Armando Bacot (16.3 PPG, 13.1 RPG) back and healthy after last season's national title run -- will feel like an incomplete season. But Davis has the ability to live up to all of the hype in his second season at the helm.

Tony Bennett, Virginia Cavaliers

Bennett's Cavaliers won 21 games last season but missed the NCAA tournament -- a rarity for the program. With all five starters, including Kihei Clark (10.0, 4.4 APG), returning, though, they should bounce back.

Atlantic Sun Conference

Ritchie McKay, Liberty Flames

McKay can lead his team to another ASUN regular-season championship after retaining star Darius McGhee (24.6 PPG, 39% from 3) -- significant in an offseason where a multitude of mid-majors lost their top players to Power 5 schools.

Scott Davenport, Bellarmine Knights

The loss of Dylan Penn (16.6 PPG) impacts this team's ceiling. But Davenport has won 20 or more games in 13 of his past 14 seasons, including last season's 20-13 run that ended with the ASUN tournament title. (Bellarmine remains ineligible for the NCAA tournament for two more years because of NCAA rules for schools transitioning to Division I.)

Atlantic 10 Conference

Travis Ford, Saint Louis Billikens

Yuri Collins (11.1 PPG, 7.9 APG) and Javonte Perkins (17.1 PPG in 2020-21; missed last season with a knee injury) have returned, and with them the possibility Ford's squad could make its first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2019.

Anthony Grant, Dayton Flyers

Grant has DaRon Holmes II (12.8 PPG, 2.3 BPG) and the nucleus of a Dayton team that finished top-40 in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom returning -- meaning the Flyers will be viewed as the favorite to win the A-10 and could also make noise in March.

Big East Conference

Greg McDermott, Creighton Bluejays

Former South Dakota State star Baylor Scheierman (16.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 4.5 APG) had multiple major offers this offseason after he entered the transfer portal. McDermott convinced him to pick the Bluejays, the favorites to win the Big East and make their first Final Four appearance.

Kyle Neptune, Villanova Wildcats

If the first-year head coach can lead Villanova into contention for the Big East crown following Jay Wright's retirement -- Caleb Daniels (10.3 PPG), Eric Dixon (9.1 PPG) and NBA prospect Cam Whitmore will all help, while Justin Moore should return at some point after last season's Achilles tear -- he could have a potent squad by the time the NCAA tournament begins.

Big Sky Conference

David Riley, Eastern Washington Eagles

The 33-year-old will need his six transfers to make up for the loss of two key starters. But Steele Venters (16.7 PPG) is one of the best players in the conference, which is why Riley could win Coach of the Year in his second season on the job.

Danny Sprinkle, Montana State Bobcats

Only two of Sprinkle's starters from last season have returned. But one of those is Jubrile Belo, the reigning Big Sky player of the year who averaged 12.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG and 1.8 BPG last season.

Big South Conference

Griff Aldrich, Longwood Lancers

The former attorney and oil salesman (seriously) returns four starters, led by Isaiah Wilkins (12.7 PPG and 39% from 3), from a team that won the league tournament and reached the NCAA tournament last season.

G.G. Smith, High Point Panthers

The son of former coach Tubby Smith is set for a turnaround this season, with five upperclassmen returning, including Zack Austin (14.4 PPG, 8.0 RPG).

Big 12 Conference

Mark Adams, Texas Tech Red Raiders

The reigning Associated Press Big 12 Coach of the Year could win the award again, despite adding nine new players -- including transfers Fardaws Aimaq (18.9 PPG, 13.6 RPG at Utah Valley) and De'Vion Harmon (10.8 PPG at Oregon) -- because the former junior college coach is so comfortable with change.

Top Competition: Scott Drew, Baylor Bears

Two years after leading the Bears to their first national title in school history, Drew could very well take his group -- with veterans Adam Flagler (13.8 PPG) and LJ Cryer (13.5 PPG) joining five-star recruit and projected lottery pick Keyonte George -- on another run.

Big Ten Conference

Juwan Howard, Michigan Wolverines

By bringing back Hunter Dickinson (18.6 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 1.5 BPG) and adding his son, Jett Howard (No. 41 in the 2022 recruiting class), Howard has justified all the preseason hype.

Mike Woodson, Indiana Hoosiers

The experience of Trayce Jackson-Davis (18.3 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 2.3 BPG) and Race Thompson (11.1 PPG, 7.5 RPG) could position Woodson to win the Big Ten title in his second season as head coach, and potentially lead the Hoosiers to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament for just the fourth time since 2002.

Big West Conference

Dan Monson, Long Beach State Beach

The longtime head coach will chase his fifth Big West regular season title, and second in a row, as Joel Murray (16.7 PPG) and two others starters return. Monson's goal, though, is to take Long Beach State to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2012.

Eran Ganot, Hawai'i Rainbow Warriors

Ganot has the benefit of depth, with 10 players returning -- including Samuta Avea (10.8 PPG in 2019-2020 then missed the past two seasons) -- from a team that finished second in the league in offensive efficiency last season.

Colonial Athletic Association

Pat Skerry, Towson Tigers

After winning a slice of the conference title during the regular season but losing in the CAA tournament and missing out on the NCAA tournament berth, Skerry's squad, led by Nicolas Timberlake (14.4 PPG, 41% from 3), is determined to hear its name called on Selection Sunday.

Martin Ingelsby, Delaware Blue Hens

Both Jameer Nelson Jr. (13.6 PPG) and Jyare Davis, the reigning CAA rookie of the year, are back for Ingelsby's squad after last season's NCAA tournament run.

Conference USA

Andy Kennedy, UAB Blazers

Kennedy has found his rhythm at his alma mater. The program's momentum should continue after he hit the transfer portal hard to give Jordan Walker (20.3 PPG, 40% from 3) more support.

Rick Stansbury, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

Both Dayvion McKnight (16.2 PPG) and Jamarion Sharp (8.2 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 4.6 BPG) are back for a team that weathered a five-game losing streak to finish 9-2 in the last 11 games of the season.

Horizon League

Darrin Horn, Northern Kentucky Norse

Horn has won 64% of his games in three years at Northern Kentucky. A year after losing to Wright State by a point in the tournament title game, he hopes to avenge the result with a group anchored by four returning starters.

Scott Nagy, Wright State Raiders

Yes, Nagy lost key players Grant Basile and Tanner Holden -- who averaged 38.5 PPG combined -- to the transfer portal. But three starters are back. And, Nagy has averaged nearly 22 wins per season over the last six years at Wright State.

Ivy League

Steve Donahue, Pennsylvania Quakers

Since 2011, Penn has been the only team not named Harvard, Yale or Princeton to win a share of the Ivy League title. Donahue & Co., including Jordan Dingle (20.9 PPG), could crash the party again this season with another league crown.

Mitch Henderson, Princeton Tigers

After winning 23 games overall and the Ivy League title outright, Henderson returns Tosan Evbuomwan (16.0 PPG, 6.7 RPG) to lead his team back to the top of the conference.

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

Rick Pitino, Iona Gaels

Pitino continues to find success in the latest chapter of his Hall of Fame career at Iona, where Nelly Junior Joseph (13.0 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 1.9 BPG) could lead the Gaels to their second consecutive MAAC title.

Kevin Baggett, Rider Broncs

Dwight Murrray Jr. (13.1 PPG) is one of four starters returning for Baggett's squad that won three of its final four games last season.

Mid-American Conference

John Groce, Akron Zips

Groce returns both Xavier Castaneda and Enrique Freeman, the duo who combined to score 32 points in the Zips' 57-53 loss against UCLA in the first round of the 2022 NCAA tournament.

Tod Kowalczyk, Toledo Rockets

After winning at least a share of six MAC regular-season titles, Kowalczyk's mission to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time in his career could finally come true this season. Four starters return to a squad that shot 38% from 3 in league play.

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

Robert Jones, Norfolk State Spartans

Few leagues in the country have been impacted by the transfer portal more than the MEAC. But Jones managed to keep Joe Bryant Jr. (16.7 PPG) and three other starters from a crew that won the league's regular-season and conference tournament championships last year.

LeVelle Moton, North Carolina Central Eagles

Over the past nine seasons, Moton's NCCU squads have finished below third in the league standings only twice -- a stretch of consistency that should continue with Justin Wright (13.7 PPG) returning.

Missouri Valley Conference

Darian DeVries, Drake Bulldogs

With Roman Penn (11.1 PPG) healthy again -- he missed seven games because of a foot injury last season -- DeVries' group could dominate a league that lost Loyola Chicago to the Atlantic 10.

Bryan Mullins, Southern Illinois Salukis

In a league full of new faces, Mullins should benefit from the experience of his top two scorers from last season: Marcus Domask (15.1 PPG) and Lance Jones (14.7 PPG).

Mountain West Conference

Brian Dutcher, San Diego State Aztecs

Dutcher has the talent -- see: Matt Bradley (16.9 PPG, 40% from 3) and Nathan Mensah (2.2 BPG) -- to make a run to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2014.

Jeff Linder, Wyoming Cowboys

The leader of a squad that plays in a home arena that sits 7,200 feet above sea level has lofty aspirations this season, which will feature All-American candidate Hunter Maldonado (18.5 PPG, 6.3 APG, 5.7 RPG).

Northeast Conference

Joe Gallo, Merrimack Warriors

In the final year of the program's four-year transition to Division I men's basketball -- and the last season it will be ineligible for the NCAA tournament -- Gallo and Jordan Minor (15.1 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 2.4 BPG) could capture a second regular-season conference title in four years.

Rob Krimmel, St. Francis (PA) Red Splash

Last year's 9-21 season was rough for Krimmel and his squad. But the four returning starters are upperclassmen on a mission to compete for the NEC title.

Ohio Valley Conference

Brian Barone, SIU Edwardsville Cougars

Only 26 of the league's 50 starters from last season are back this year. So the stability of Barone's squad -- Ray'Sean Taylor (17.6 PPG) is one of four of these -- will be both a strength and a rarity in the OVC.

Darrell Walker, Little Rock Trojans

Walker's squad is one of three new teams in the OVC. It's also the only one in the league with all five starters returning, albeit from a team that finished 9-19 a year ago.

Pac-12 Conference

Dana Altman, Oregon Ducks

After last season's NIT appearances, Altman is determined to take the Ducks back to the Sweet 16 with Will Richardson (14.1 PPG, 39% from 3) and Kel'el Ware, a McDonald's All-American.

Andy Enfield, USC Trojans

Enfield must move forward without Isaiah Mobley (14.2 PPG last season), but he has excelled after losing stars in recent years. He will undoubtedly do so again with Boogie Ellis (12.5 PPG, 38% from 3) leading a roster with sleeper potential in the Pac-12 race.

Patriot League

Matt Langel, Colgate Raiders

Langel's Raiders have won four consecutive Patriot League titles and reached the last three NCAA tournaments. The run of success should continue with Tucker Richardson (12.7 PPG, 37% from 3) and the bulk of last season's lineup returning.

Brett Reed, Lehigh Mountain Hawks

Reed retains three starters from a team that shot 42.2% from beyond the arc in league play, the Patriot League's top mark.

Southeastern Conference

Eric Musselman, Arkansas Razorbacks

After last season's Elite Eight run, Musselman has a combination of returning talent (Davonte Davis, 8.3 PPG), talented newcomers (No. 3 recruit Nick Smith Jr.) and incoming experience (Ricky Council IV, 12.0 PPG at Wichita State) to help him compete for the SEC title and beyond.

Buzz Williams, Texas A&M Aggies

Williams retains four starters from last season's talented squad, which won 27 games and made a run to the NIT championship game.

Southern Conference

Bucky McMillan, Samford Bulldogs

Led by first-team all-conference guard Ques Glover (19.2 PPG), McMillan's squad includes three more starters from last season in his quest to capture the school's first league title.

Dan Earl, Chattanooga Mocs

The former VMI coach brought his former Keydats star Jake Stephens with him to Chattanooga. The addition will be a boost after the Mocs lost four starters from last year's NCAA tournament team, and give them a shot in this year's league race.

Southland Conference

Steve Lutz, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders

Lutz retained all five starters, including all-Southland Conference second-teamer Isaac Mushila (13.2 PPG, 9.4 RPG). Bodes well for a group that won last year's Southland Conference tournament and automatic bid.

Austin Claunch, Nicholls Colonels

Ty Gordon (20.8 PPG) could win back-to-back Southland Conference player of the year awards as the leader of Claunch's squad, a top contender in the league.

Summit League

Eric Peterson, South Dakota State Jackrabbits

Peterson's squad (three starters return) is equipped to win the Summit League crown -- especially if A.J. Plitzuweit (19.0 PPG in 2020-21; missed last year while recovering from a leg injury) is the same player he was two years ago.

Paul Mills, Oral Roberts Golden Eagles

With Max Abmas (22.8 PPG) returning along with three other starters, the bar will be high for Mills' team. But Mills has built a deep roster to reach it.

Sun Belt Conference

Terrence Johnson, Texas State Bobcats

The return of Mason Harrell (the Bobcats connected on 51% of their shots inside the arc and 39% from beyond it with Harrell on the floor, per hooplens.com) should position Johnson's squad to be the ones to beat in the Sun Belt.

Mark Byington, James Madison Dukes

Byington's four returning starters, including Vado Morse (15.3 PPG), could be the catalysts for a title-contending debut in the league.

Southwestern Athletic Conference

Landon Bussie, Alcorn State Braves

Bussie will rely on Oddyst Walker (7.3 PPG) and two others starters to capture a second SWAC title in a row.

Sean Woods, Southern Jaguars

With four starters back and Texas Southern transfer Bryson Etienne (8.8 PPG) in the mix, Woods should have Southern competing for the league crown this season.

Western Athletic Conference

Bryce Drew, Grand Canyon Lopes

Jovan Blacksher Jr. (15.8 PPG, 39% from 3) returns, and with him a higher chance for Drew's team to win its second league tournament in three years.

Chris Victor, Seattle U Redhawks

Victor had his interim tag removed after leading Seattle to the WAC title last season. Those highs could continue this year with Cameron Tyson (14.7 PPG) back to anchor the group.

West Coast Conference

Mark Few, Gonzaga Bulldogs

Due to the talent gap between his program and the rest of league, Few is rarely challenged for this award. Maintaining that edge and winning another WCC title without Chet Holmgren, and with a potentially revolving cast at point guard, would make him worthy of recognition once again for this roster led by Drew Timme (18.4 PPG) in his senior season.

Randy Bennett, Saint Mary's Gaels

Bennett has lost more than 34 PPG from last year's squad, but has retained and added enough talent -- including Logan Johnson (11.9 PPG) -- to reach the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row.