Through the last two weeks, Athlon Sports ranked each coach in the ACC, Atlantic 10, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC along with the top 20 coaches from outside those seven conferences.
The rankings presented a difficult task. The job of a college coach is multi-faceted. The best coaches in college basketball excel in a handful of areas -- recruiting, talent development, teaching and preparation, game-day tactics and motivation. The best coaches tend to be well-rounded, able to do handle all with equal skill.
Those were the factors we weighed in our conference-by-conference rankings, and that continues in our national rankings. We also examined each coach’s success in the regular season and the postseason. In many cases, we took into account what the coach has done with his current program in addition to previous stops in his career.
In addition to a coach’s track record, we asked ourselves: Which coaches would their peers prefer not to face. We’re also keeping an eye on the future. In short, can we expect these coaches to continue to produce similar or better results over the next five seasons or so?
All those factors led us to name Michigan State’s Tom Izzo the top coach in the country, as the best mix of all the aforementioned characteristics of a college basketball coach -- sustained success during the regular season against a high level of competition, advancing in the NCAA Tournament, recruiting players to fit his system, ability to teach and develop his roster.
Izzo does not struggle to find talented players to play in East Lansing, but he rarely grabs the elite NBA-ready talent that goes to Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas or even Ohio State in his own conference. Just look at the rate of Spartans leaving early to the Draft, listed below. Despite this strategy, Michigan State often puts up equal or better results compared to programs churning through NBA lottery picks on a yearly basis
It’s a tough call to rank the best of the best, but here’s our best attempt:
Note: Coaches are ranked on a mix of past accomplishments with consideration for career trajectory over the next five seasons or so. Rankings take Xs and Os acumen and recruiting prowess into account along with success in the regular season and postseason.
1. Tom Izzo, Michigan State
Overall record: 412-169 (37-14 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Michigan State: 412-169 (196-90 in the Big Ten)
Although the NBA has been interested in Izzo, it’s tough to imagine him coaching anywhere else. Izzo has his system at Michigan State down to a science. While we can’t say Michigan State overachieves -- the Spartans get their share of McDonald’s All-Americans and sends players to the NBA -- Izzo has a way of getting the most from his players. Only two Spartans have declared early for the NBA Draft in the last decade and none since 2006. Michigan State has continued a run of 15 consecutive NCAA Tournaments despite producing only one lottery pick since 2001 and no first round picks since 2006. Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams are the only active coaches with more trips to the Final Four than Izzo’s five.
2. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke
Overall record: 927-291 (79-24 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Duke: 854-232 (336-149 ACC)
In 2011-12, Krzyzewski continued to add to his long list of achievements, surpassing mentor Bob Knight’s record of 902 Division I wins. The 65-year-old remains one of the game’s elite coaches despite changing times: He is 152-30 over the last five seasons, including 63-17 in the ACC. In the NCAA Tournament, he’s proven he can still win titles, as Duke did in 2011. Meanwhile, he continues to be the coach a handful of fans like to watch lose, as Duke did to 15th-seeded Lehigh in the 2012 Tournament. As always, Krzyzewski will continue to win his share of games. He remains in striking distance of the men’s collegiate wins record, held by Philadelphia University’s Herb Magee (941 wins and counting) and the all-time collegiate record, held by Tennessee’s Pat Summitt (1,098).
3. John Calipari, Kentucky
Overall record: 547-154 (38-13 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Kentucky: 102-14 (40-8 SEC)
Kentucky and John Calipari was the perfect marriage even before the 2012 national championship. Before then, the question was if Calipari would win a title at Kentucky with cycling through a roster of one-and-done players. With a team featuring six NBA draft picks, including the top two selections, Calipari answered. Now, the question seems to be how many titles Calipari could win at Kentucky -- provided he doesn’t dip is toe into the NBA again. Senior Night may be a bygone tradition for Calipari teams, but he’s suffered minimal drop-off from year to year. His 173 wins over the last five seasons at Kentucky and Memphis are more than any other coach in the country. Kansas’ Bill Self is No. 2 at 154.
4. Bill Self, Kansas
Overall record: 476-158 (33-13 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Kansas: 269-53 (124-24 Big 12)
Great players come and go in Lawrence, but Self is leading one of the most consistent winners in the country. Thomas Robinson replaces the Morris twins, the Morris twins replaced Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich, Collins and Aldrich replaced Brandon Rush and Mario Chalmers. Despite the turnover, Kansas has won a share of the Big 12 in eight consecutive seasons, four consecutive outright titles and five of the last seven Big 12 Tournament titles. Self once had the stigma of losing early in March, but Kansas is 17-4 in the NCAA Tournament, including the 2008 title, in the last five seasons.
5. Jim Boeheim, Syracuse
Overall record: 890-304 (48-28 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Syracuse: 890-304 (355-185 Big East)
At the start of the 2011-12 season, Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski were the only coaches with 900 Division I wins. Boeheim should join them early in 2012-13. Like Krzyzewski, Boeheim is winning at as good a rate as he did earlier in his career. Syracuse’s 34 wins last season was a record for Boeheim, topping 31 wins in 1986-87. The Orange’s 17-1 mark in the Big East was also his career best. Meanwhile, Syracuse has reached the Sweet 16 or better in three of the last four NCAA Tournaments. Still, Boeheim is seven seasons removed from his last Big East Tournament title and a decade removed since his last Final Four (and national championship). Even with Kris Joseph, Dion Waiters, Fab Melo and Scoop Jardine gone, Boeheim has plenty of talent on the roster in his final season the Big East, the only conference in which he’s coached.
6. Rick Pitino, Louisville
Overall record: 627-230 (42-16 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Louisville: 275-106 (81-41 Big East)
Similar to the other active Hall of Fame coaches, Pitino keeps winning and keeps adding to his list of accomplishments. He and rival John Calipari remain the only coaches to take three teams to the Final Four. Last season, he joined Roy Williams as the only coaches to take two teams to multiple Final Fours. He’s accomplished this at Louisville without a consensus All-American in his tenure (he had three at Kentucky). Of course, there’s plenty of talent at Louisville. The 2012-13 season won’t be an exception as the Cardinals are likely to start the season in the top five.
7. Roy Williams, North Carolina
Overall record: 675-169 (61-20 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at North Carolina: 257-68 (105-39 ACC)
Tobacco Road rival Krzyzewski has the overall series lead (15-11 and 12-10 since Williams landed in Chapel Hill), but Williams claimed four the last five outright ACC titles. Already an elite coach at Kansas from 1988-2003, Williams became a champion when he returned to North Carolina by winning the 2005 and 2009 titles. Williams-coached teams have missed the NCAA Tournament only twice in his career, his first year at Kansas and 2010 at North Carolina when the bulk of his title-winning roster went to the NBA. After back-to-back Elite Eight appearances, Williams again must restock after losing Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall and John Henson to the NBA.
8. Billy Donovan, Florida
Overall record: 421-178 (28-10 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Florida: 386-158 (160-96 SEC)
Donovan may not lead back-to-back teams to the national championship again, but he’s built a power at Florida that will outlast Al Horford, Joakim Noah, et al. The Gators returned to the Elite Eight the last two seasons, but both times Florida was denied a trip to the Final Four due to late-game collapses. With Patric Young and Kenny Boynton returning, Florida appears to be back among the most consistent programs in the SEC. Once Billy the Kid, Donovan is now the dean of SEC coaches and the most logical consistent foil for Calipari and Kentucky in the conference.
9. Bo Ryan, Wisconsin
Overall record: 298-128 (16-11 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Wisconsin: 268-101 (132-54 Big Ten)
First, we should note the above record does not include Ryan’s 353 wins and four national championships at Division III Wisconsin-Platteville. Before Ryan arrived in Madison, Wisconsin already started to build itself into a respectable program under Dick Bennett. With his swing offense, Ryan took the next step. Under Ryan, the Badgers have never missed the NCAA Tournament and never finished lower than fourth in the Big Ten in 11 seasons. Ryan (71.0) and Bob Knight (70.0) are the only coaches to spend 10 seasons in the Big Ten and win 70 percent of their conference games.
10. Brad Stevens, Butler
Overall record: 139-40 (11-4 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Butler: 139-40 (73-17 Horizon)
By reaching two national championship games, Stevens elevated Butler from plucky mid-major to a national brand. Beyond the NCAA Tournament, no coach has won more games in his first five seasons. The 35-year-old Stevens spurned an opportunity to coach Illinois to bring Butler from the Horizon the tougher Atlantic 10.
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