On Wednesday, the Naismith Award announced their 15 finalists for coach of the year in men’s college basketball. There has een some extraordinary coaching around college hoops this season, and here are the top 5.
Tom Izzo – Michigan State
Izzo and the Spartans have had to deal with the injury bug almost all season. First, it was senior Matt McQuaid and junior Kyle Ahrens who missed action due to minor injuries. Then, they lost third-leading scorer Josh Langford for the season to a fracture in his right foot. To make matters worse, Nick Ward fractured his left hand and is out indefinitely. The job Izzo has done this season, with all the injuries, to put his team in a position to grab a one seed in the Big Dance is remarkable. He also has the Spartans tied for first in the Big Ten race with Purdue with only three games left.
Chris Mack – Louisville
Picked to finish 11th in the preseason ACC poll, Chris Mack wasted no time in his first season at Louisville. Yes, the Cardinals have struggled as of late, but before the season, not many would’ve believed this team would almost be a lock for the tournament come March. The Cardinals’ returning leading scorer was sophomore Jordan Nwora at 5.1 PPG. The fact Mack had to recruit almost the entire team to come back and play for him, go out and add three graduate-transfers and beat the likes of North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Michigan State says a lot about his ability to coach.
Nate Oats – Buffalo
Being able to handle expectations says a lot about a coach. After returning almost everybody from a team that upset Arizona in the NCAA Tournament last season, Nate Oats has met those expectations. With a record of 24-3 and a projected six or seven seed in the tournament, the Buffalo Bulls might be the next Gonzaga or Wichita State: a mid-major program that not only makes the Big Dance, but advances. Led by senior CJ Massinburg, Buffalo has the pieces to make the Sweet 16 and beyond. Nate Oats is a name you will want to remember regarding open Power Five coaching positions this offseason.
Matt Painter – Purdue
After losing guys like Isaac Haas, Vincent Edwards, Dakota Mathias and PJ Thompson, expectations in West Lafayette were not high. Having a player like Carsen Edwards back helps a lot, obviously, but Matt Painter needed role players like Matt Haarms and Ryan Cline to step up. They have, and the Boilermakers, as of March 1st, are sitting in a tie for first place in the Big Ten. Especially after getting off to a 6-5 start to the season, this may be Matt Painter’s best coaching job since he’s been at Purdue.
Rick Barnes – Tennessee
Rick Barnes’ Vols may have lost two of their last three. But don’t forget this is the same team that, at one point, was on a 19-game winning streak. At 25-3, the Vols share first place in the SEC with LSU and Kentucky, and at worse, will be a three seed in the NCAA Tournament. You can tell the relationship Barnes has with his team, as they embody the toughness and discipline of their coach. In his fourth season in Knoxville, he’s taken Tennessee to new heights and has brought optimism and excitement back to Tennessee.
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