Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Matt Painter and the Return of the Boilermakers

These are my top 10 college basketball coaches. In compiling this list, I took into consideration a number of factors:
-success: wins and losses and consistency
-recruiting: ability to attract top flight talent and, for those coaches not
fortunate enough to coach at UNC or UCLA, ability to find talent in unusual places
-X’s and O’s
-player development
-Tom Crean factor: if you’re name is Tom Crean, you get bonus points
It should be noted that this is a ranking of the top 10 college basketball coaches right now. In other words, I’m looking at where these programs are headed, mindful of where these coaches have been. Obviously, if I was ranking the Top 10 greatest active coaches based on their entire careers, Ben Howland wouldn’t be number 1, Rick Pitino would have cracked the top 10, and Thad Matta wouldn’t even be on this list.
Here we go.

1) Ben Howland—UCLA
The guy built Pittsburgh’s program and rebuilt UCLA’s. He may not have any championships, but it’s just a matter of time. The most amazing thing about the turnaround at UCLA is the change in culture around that program. Watching the Bruins during the Lavin era was pathetic: five NBA-level athletes jacking up fade-away jumpers, posturing for the media, and playing matador defense. I don’t know of a single player that actually got better under that idiot. Under Howland: five NBA-level athletes playing as a unit. I can promise you that placing Howland at #1 has nothing to do with UCLA’s current ascendance in the polls. Rather, it has to do with a combination of things. His teams are always prepared. They play hard-nosed basketball, a rarity for a team with so much talent. At Pitt, he had a point guard, three two-guards, and an overweight tweener scrapping against more talented opponents. At UCLA, he’s got four thoroughbreds and that Lorenzo Mata guy. Also favoring Howland, UCLA is, well, UCLA. And it’s in L.A., so the players are going to keep coming. Combine these factors with the fact that his players seem to actually enjoy playing for him and Ben Howland is Jim Calhoun with a likable personality.

2) Roy Williams—North Carolina
Runs a classy program. This is truly becoming his program, which is weird for me because I really liked Roy at Kansas. Honestly, this is one of only a handful of guys that could possibly coach in the Dean Dome. His players genuinely seem to enjoy playing for him, and there seems to be no shortage of talent eyeing a career in Chapel Hill. Plus, the NBA is dotted with his former players.

3) Thad Matta—Ohio State
The man can recruit, but the most impressive thing about Thad Matta is the way his teams performed in his first two seasons in Columbus. He came into a pretty average program and won the Big 10 championship in his second season. And he’s won everywhere he’s coached. The recent successes of the Butler and Xavier programs, two teams off to great starts this year, have a lot to do with Thad Matta. Now Matta has talent, and the sky’s the limit. Despite how great he is as a recruiter, the guy might be just as good with the X’s and O’s.

4) Jim Calhoun—UCONN
It takes a lot for me to put Calhoun this high on the list. Despite my general dislike of the man, he obviously deserves the ranking. He recruits top-flight talent, AND he finds unheardofs and turns them into NBA lottery picks. Plus, with the exception of one Rudy Gay, the man knows how to develop a ball player. My only gripe: there never seems to be much joy in it. Not for him. And not for his players. You’d think his players were laboring away in the gulags the way they carry themselves on the floor. And I’m taking points off for constantly catering to players of questionable character. Marcus Williams comes to mind.

5) Mike Krzyzewski—Duke
How can Coach K be rated this low? I used to defend Coach K against his detractors that called him a whiner and a son of a bitch. I can’t anymore, since I’m pretty convinced he’s an asshole. Basically, I am sick of the whining. I’m sick of his holier than thou demeanor. I do respect the fact that he seems to run a clean program and seems to take academics relatively seriously. (Although at this point it seems silly to even make mention of academics in the same context as college basketball.) And though I think he’ll continue to win games and probably another championship, Coach K is on his way down. With Roy Williams right across the road, Duke’s going to lose recruits to the Tar Heels. And if I was a high school prospect, I’d watch the way Coach K gets in his players’ faces. How he hasn’t gotten his ass kicked I don’t know. Oh wait, I do know. He recruits people like Cherokee Parks and Josh McRoberts. Honestly, Coach K is looking more like Bobby Knight all the time, and at Awesome USA, that’s not a good thing.

6) Mark Few—Gonzaga
How can Mark Few be rated this high? Well, he’s built a basketball powerhouse in Spokane. They routinely beat up on the Goliaths of college basketball. So often, in fact, that it’s become more than a little ridiculous to refer to the Zags as Cinderellas every March. I’m not convinced Few would be as successful at a Michigan State or even a Wake Forest, but that doesn’t matter. He’s been extremely successful in Spokane, and college basketball is better for it. He’s an X’s and O’s guy, a player’s coach, and an incredible spotter of basketball talent that too often gets overlooked by the Coach Ks of the world.

7) Lorenzo Romar—Washington
Ten years ago, who would have thought that the Washington Huskies would be relevant in the world of college basketball? Romar has made Washington a Pac-10 power and a legitimate national title contender. His players work their asses off and seem to have fun doing it. Romar is an excellent recruiter. This much has been acknowledged. But there’s something else. For at least a decade now we’ve heard about the importance of having black coaches on staff to recruit black athletes. In fact, there were those who actually said that it would be difficult for white coaches to land the top-notch black recruit. While this prediction hasn’t proven particularly accurate, we are seeing the inability (or possibly, the unwillingness) of black coaches to recruit white athletes. Not so for Romar. After landing Jon Brockman and Spencer Hawes, two of the most coveted white prospects in the nation in the past two recruiting classes, Romar has shown he is more than willing to “integrate” his recruiting strategy. Finally, Romar also seems to be adept at developing his talent. Brandon Roy entered the NBA draft last year as perhaps its most polished prospect.

8) Tom Crean—Marquette
I admit that I love Tom Crean. He should be coaching the Hoosiers right now. That being said, please allow me to defend this pick. Crean is a premier X’s and O’s guy. Marquette basketball is smart basketball. While by no means as formulaic as Bobby Knight’s offense or as free-wheeling as Jim Boeheim’s “every man for himself” scheme, Crean’s players pick their spots, alternately attacking and looking for the open man. The result: an offense as balanced (disciplined yet spontaneous) as any in the nation. Moreover, his teams win with or without talent. His Golden Eagles were picked to finish 12th in the Big East last season. They finished 4th and made the NCAA tournament. Anybody that watched any Marquette basketball last year knew that this was a feat in itself. He also does an excellent job of finding talent where others fail to look. However, the days of beating the bushes for talent may be coming to an end. The 2006-07 Golden Eagles may just bring Crean the national attention he deserves. (By the way, Dominic James is the second coming of Jameer Nelson.)

9) John Calipari—Memphis
I don’t like John Calipari. I’m pretty sure Calipari is crooked. However, talented young men across the nation like to play for him. And when he doesn’t attract enough of these talented young men, he sends his ace recruiters out, and they uncover rock and stone to find guys who can jump out of the gym and dribble penetrate a 2-3 zone with little to no effort. Additionally, his teams are consistent. To be fair, it’s not hard to be consistent in the watered-down C-USA. To Calipari’s credit, he coaches to his players’ strengths. Anyway, Calipari is a cross between Bob Huggins and Rick Pitino, and he deserves to be on this list much to my chagrin.

10) Bruce Weber—Illinois
I don’t mean this in a sexist way at all. However, if you watch an Illinois basketball game with a female, I guarantee that that female will point out that Bruce Weber seems like a nice man. By the end of the game, said female will have fallen for Coach Weber and will keep talking about how sweet he seems. The reason why this isn’t a sexist observation: because we’re all thinking the same things. We’re just far too insecure to say it. If I was a college basketball player, this is the man I would want to play for. I think he does things the right way. He is proof that you don’t have to physically or verbally abuse your players to get them to play hard. His teams play an exciting brand of basketball, and they win games.

3 coaches on the rise:

1) Billy Donovan—Florida
Before people criticize me for not putting Donovan in the Top 10, remember a few things:
a) how soft his Florida Gators have been over the past four or five years (with the exception of last year)
b) how little his players have developed under his tutelage (David Lee comes to mind)
c) how little defense the Gators have played under Donovan (if you can even call what has been going on in Gainesville defense)
That being said, things have obviously changed in Gainesville. Another year similar to the last and I’ll begrudgingly give Billy a spot in the Top 10.

2) Mike Anderson—Missouri
Nolan Richardson without all of the crazy. His 40 minutes of hell defense is simply amazing to watch. At Missouri, he basically gets to run the same defense he ran down at UAB with the same caliber athletes. Only now some of his players can actually hit an open jump shot. And with the decline of the Big 12 (which I am predicting will begin this year), Anderson and his Tigers just may get some well-deserved national attention.

3) John Thompson III—Georgetown
Why does JT3 seem so much smaller than his dad? It’s almost like Jumping Bull and his moose of a father. Anyway, watching Allen Iverson University run the Princeton offense is like seeing Karl Malone driving down the highway in a semi-truck on his way to deliver thirty head of cattle to man named Tex who lives in Reno. And by the way, Karl is wearing a cowboy hat and a Big Johnson shirt. And Karl Malone is a millionaire, but he likes to do menial tasks because it makes him feel like he is alive. Oh wait, nevermind, Karl Malone is really weird and actually does stuff like that.

3 coaches on the decline:

1) Tubby Smith—Kentucky
Still a Top 20 coach…I think. I’m just not really sure what’s going on when I watch UK anymore. If you watch Tubby, it’s like he blacks out for minutes at a time. Really bizarre. A few years ago, Tubby was a Top 5 coach. That was before he found that special something in Sheray Thomas that no one else has found.

2) Tom Izzo—Michigan State
I almost put him in the Top 10. It’s just that I feel like he’s become really bitter and kind of weird. When he’s coaching, it’s almost like he’s thinking, “God, I’m not fooling anyone anymore. Not even myself. I better schedule one of those crazy basketball practices in football pads. That always works.” Seriously though, that may not have made a lot of sense, but I think this guy is headed toward a breakdown.

3) Rick Pitino—Louisville
This one hurts. I’m a Louisville fan, and I really don’t think anyone on the Top 10 would do any better at Louisville, but Pitino was an icon at UK. Even during his first few years at UofL, Pitino was larger than life. He’s not anymore. He’s still a great coach. In fact, he’s probably my #11, but he’s fallen from where he was. That being said, Pitino can still recruit and, if he could just stop trying to top Tubby Smith for the most random substitution patterns award, he’ll be just fine.

Alright, please feel free to attack me, but leave Tom Crean out of this.


Blogger Jumping Bull said...

Good post - you may yet regain some of your credibility Mr. Bumpo after your Sammy Sosa post. Also, any thoughts on the most awkward father/son-coach/player tandem? My vote is for Homer and Bryce Drew after Homer basically leg-humped Bryce following the miracle half-courter in the '98 tournament. Other honorable mentions: Bob and Patrick Knight; Tubby and Saul Smith; Muhammad and Laila Ali; Gene Keady and Runs with two horses.

December 6, 2006 at 9:11 PM  
Blogger Natty Bumpo said...

Thanks Jumping Bull. And, by the way, I'm not sure if they were ever a father/son-coach/player tandem, but, if they were, Haystacks Calhoun and KYJELY would get my vote as most awkward duo.

December 6, 2006 at 9:16 PM  
Blogger Golden Balls said...

Why tease me with salacious headlines only for me to find there is no mention of my precious Boilers in your actual post?

How in the hell did Painter line up such a recruiting class? He doesn't even have a reassuring combover.

December 7, 2006 at 6:32 AM  
Blogger Thelonius Monk said...

First of all - Wow. I don't think I have ever agreed more with a list before in my life. You absolutely nailed the three coaches on the decline. With Pitino, as you said, it really is just a matter of how huge he was at one point. It's really hard for me to believe he's happy at UofL with the success of their football team overshadowing the basketball program and the sub-par teams this year and last year. Izzo just seems to have lost the same tenacity that he had 3 or four years ago.

I do, however, disagree with the pick of John Calapari. He's a poor-man version of Rick Pitino. Success at the college level, jump to the pros, return to a C-USA school. Except Rick has done it bigger and better. Pitino has had more success on every level, and his Louisville teams have consistenly beat Memphis.

December 7, 2006 at 12:44 PM  
Blogger Natty Bumpo said...

Golden Balls,
I apologize for the tease. It's just that I wanted to work Coach Painter into the post so much, but I couldn't find a way. And I'm not sure how he landed that recruiting class, but one thing is for sure...Purdue is back, and I'm loving every moment of it.

December 7, 2006 at 1:42 PM  
Blogger Leonard Peltier said...

As I was trying to be witty and think of a response to jb’s father/son query, I googled Nolan Richardson. Turns out he actually created the “40 minutes of hell” D that has become so popular in Missouri. I was gonna say that he ripped it off, but apparently Anderson was a former Razorback’s assistant. And since we’re on the topic of Nolan Richardson fun facts, he’s also apparently been coaching the Panama National Team since 2005. Viva el Nolan!

As far as father/son tandems go, my vote goes to Bill and Luke Walton. Sure, Bill never coached Luke (as far as I know), but my God was he a weirdo. If you’ve never heard the story that Luke tells about seeing his father naked in a teepee in their backyard with Jerry Garcia when Luke was a child, then here’s a little taste ( Seeing the dorky, big-toothed, annoying Walton now on ESPN doing color for basketball games, it’s hard to imagine that he was ever that awesome.

December 7, 2006 at 2:20 PM  
Blogger Natty Bumpo said...

I respect your opinion. However, I must say that I think Bill Walton is more awesome now than ever. In fact, and I'm being serious, I think Bill Walton is probably one of the coolest people in the world. In fact, if I ever go backpacking through the Smoky Mountains, I want to go with Bill Walton and Paul Shaffer.

December 7, 2006 at 2:34 PM  
Blogger Jumping Bull said...

This is how you end up when you walk in on your dad and Jerry Garcia hanging out in a tent naked

December 7, 2006 at 2:45 PM  
Blogger Jumping Bull said...

didn't get it all the first time:

December 7, 2006 at 2:46 PM  
Blogger Runs With Two Horses said...

First, Bill Walton is unbelievably cool. Can you honestly ever turn off an interview involving Bill Walton?

Second, I can't believe you were able to put Calipari on the list. My take on Calipari is identical to yours, and yet I don't think I'd be a big enough man to put him on the list. You swing the big dick Natty, there's no doubt about it.

Ninth, I'm taking a little trip in the way back machine, but Allan and Wade Houston easily eclipse any of the above mentioned father-son coach-player duos. Wade actually got the job at UT just so Allan would go to school there. As Tennessee continued to win 8 games a year despite having one of the smoothest scorers in the game, Allan would routinely hit beautiful orgasmic jumpers, and then give his dad a look as if to say, "Sorry Dad, but I only get to play four years, I don't know what we're going to do when I have to go to the NBA, because I don't have younger brothers that can keep you from becoming unemployed. Hopefully one of these days, the Knicks sign me for a $120 Million dollar contract, and then I'll surprisingly play basketball on a part time basis starting when I turn 27. Anyway, I I love you even though you're a really really terrible coach, and I worry that that Steven Hamer fellow won't be able to save your job."

God I miss my dad, Gene Keady.

December 7, 2006 at 3:44 PM  
Blogger Thelonius Monk said...

I really just want to take this opportunity to address one of the greatest mysteries in the world of coaching college basketball: Bruce Pearl.

I admit, at first I was very fond of Bruce Pearl. He began in Evansville, close to several of our hearts, and is now "coaching" at Tennessee. He removed all of the seats from the student section so they can't sit down during games, and on senior night let the players run down the rows of the student section before the game. There is a lot to like, and I fell in love with the Soprano charm of Bruce Pearl like a giddy school girl.

However, after he snagged Chris Lofton when UK chose not to recruit the greatest Kentucky-born shooter ever, his presence in our state is starting to make me sick. Mason County made him a Kentucky Colonel apparently in honor of recruiting their home-grown star. Ever since then he's been slant-drilling into our soil, stealing our oil. And we all remember what happened to Iraq. The United States of Kicking Ass came over there and killed like 10 or 12 people.

Pearl is going after Darius Miller, another Mason County prospect more highly touted that Lofton. If Kentucky fans are wondering when to stick the fork in Tubby, it will be when Darius Miller becomes an All-American at UT.

Personally, I think Bruce Pearl has risen to fame a little too quickly for the college coaching world. I don't understand the obsession with mid-major coaches who take their teams deep in the tournament. Pearl's style of play is exciting and he sweats like Clark Cave and Matt Rucks combined, but he's stealing from UK's already depleted talent pool and that's not going over well with Kentuckians.

December 7, 2006 at 4:54 PM  
Blogger Runs With Two Horses said...

Bo Ryan deserves an honorable mention on this list. He's probably gotten hyped a little too much, such that he's become the most overrated underrated coach out there, but you have to admit, he wins with whoever he has. He wins ugly, but he wins in a place where football and the band are more important than the basketball team. Additionally, due to John Chaney's retirement, Bo Ryan now hold the torch for Coach Who Looks Most Like His School's Mascot. Peace out bitches.

December 9, 2006 at 6:15 PM  

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