By the middle of October, every coach for every program sets out to make this season successful and hopes springs eternal. Every week we rank the teams, have fun debating the best freshmen and the best players and after a significant body of work, it's time to discuss the coaches.
Tubby Smith has Minnesota contending in the Big Ten.
Just who are the coaches making an impact this season? My five picks:
Tubby Smith - Minnesota: Smith has brought Minnesota back to relevance and a top 10 ranking. A difficult five-game stretch starting at Illinois will define Gopher season and if they emerge from that then Smith is well on his way to an outstanding season.
Gregg Marshall - Wichita State: Continues to shine despite losing his two best players from last season and crippling injuries this season, Marshall has pieced together another solid year. The offense misses Joe Ragland and Garrett Stutz however defensive efficiency is the best it’s been in the Marshall era.
Larry Shyatt - Wyoming: Quietly one of the last unbeaten teams out there, Wyoming faces a very difficult road within the ultra-competitive Mountain West but Shyatt has done a fantastic job. Loss of Luke Martinez to a broken finger will test the depth and this year there are five quality Mountain West teams worthy of NCAA tournament consideration. It won’t be easy.
Mark Few - Gonzaga: Not surprisingly, team is loaded with talent, however he has them playing at a Final Four caliber with impressive wins against most of the Big12 (Baylor, Oklahoma State, Kansas State). Few’s development of Kelly Olynk into an All-American (he was just a bench player last year) to complement the quartet of returning starters has the Bulldogs talking Final Four.
Shaka Smart - VCU: Don’t let the three losses fool you, this Rams team is extremely tough. They defend as well as anyone in the nation and they improved their offensive efficiency dramatically within the top 20 in the nation.
Sleeper - Kevin Ollie-UConn: Let’s not forget that this is a program that was supposed to be in disarray having lost its coach and its top returning players (four starters) who fled Storrs as if the ship was sinking. Ollie has the Huskies in the Top 25 conversation and back to the NCAA Tournament.
Wildcard - Mick Cronin-Cincinnati: Many thought Cincinnati hit their peak with last season’s Sweet 16 appearance and the key departures of Dion Dixon and Yancy Gates. This year, the Bearcats are amongst the nation’s finest defensive teams, second best in effective field goal defense.
Then there are those who aren’t so fortunate.
The Ides of March, once best associated with the demise of Julius Caesar, has taken new residence with the college basketball community for two months from now starts the beginning of the end for dozens of coaches with their current coaching positions. There are several factors that will determine a coaches fate none more significant than the body of work of the season.
With that in mind here are a few of the coaches feeling the pressure of the proverbial “Hot Seat.”
Jeff Bzdelik - Wake Forest: Currently in his fourth season at the helm and slipping in the ACC. Patience is low with rival North Carolina State ascending.
Tony Barbee - Auburn: Currently in his third year, the results for Barbee are on par with his predecessor, Jeff Lebo, who was run out of Alabama. If Auburn can replace the coach who brought them a national title three years ago in football, they certainly are looking closely at Barbee. Certainly needs a postseason appearance.
Ben Braun - Rice: The coaches’ coach has brought negative attention to the Rice program with a wave of transfers and staff changes. Must win right now, which means probably double digits to clear minefield.
Ben Howland - UCLA: Crippled by last year’s Sports Illustrated expose of the recent troubles of the program, Howland put together arguably the nation’s best recruiting class. Expectations are high in Westwood and without a big finish, a regime change may be in store. Sweet 16 or bust.
Sleeper - Travis Ford-Oklahoma State: Ford has Oklahoma State off to a hot start. Ford has rubbed some powerful people in Stillwater the wrong way with his coaching etiquette and might have a slew of transfers. He must make NCAA tournament.
Wildcard - Rick Barnes-Texas: Has overachieved with young Horns however pressure is on for an NCAA tournament win. Barnes is an easy target with football’s recent struggles.
Leigh Klein was formerly on staff at Texas and Rhode Island and now owns Five-Star Basketball Camps, the nation’s top basketball camp. He contributes to 247Sports.com’s coverage of college basketball. Klein can be followed at @LeighAlanKlein
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