A good basketball team starts with a great coach. In college sports, this theory is even more important. These are developing stars who have yet to perfect their game and they look up to their coaches as inspirational role models.
College basketball has a huge following in the USA with thousands attending games and many more tuning into live broadcasts. Those coaches have a vital role to play and here are some of the best in the business.
Mark Few: Gonzaga Bulldogs
It will be a constant source of frustration for Mark Few that his Gonzaga team have yet to win the national championship under his leadership. Even if he leaves the Zags’ dugout without a pennant, he can be mightily proud of his achievements.
Few took over as head coach at Gonzaga back in 1989 which makes him one of the longest serving basketball coaches of all time. Under his reign, he has led the team from obscurity to becoming regular NCAA tournament contenders.
Could this be the year that Mark Few gets his ultimate reward? The latest ncaa basketball odds show that Gonzaga are joint favorites for the championship and that would be a fitting accolade for such a respected coach.
John Calipari: Kentucky Wildcats
Another college basketball coach with huge experience, John Calipari has been in the Kentucky Wildcats’ hot seat since 2009. Prior to his appointment, the former UNC Wilmington Point Guard was in charge at the University of Memphis and the University of Massachusetts.
Calipari is one of just just two coaches to lead three separate colleges to the final four. In 2012, he landed the big prize as his Wildcats team won the NCAA Championship and he continues to field a competitive squad each year.
Kelvin Sampson; Houston Cougars
This current season could lead to a first NCAA Championship medal for coach Kelvin Sampson. This would be a serious accomplishment as his Houston side were not among the favorites for success at the start of the campaign.
Previously in charge of Oklahoma and Indiana, Sampson has over 600 career wins to his name. A typical Kelvin Sampson team is one which is built on solid defensive plays and the stats show that he’s marshaled a top 25 defense in each of the last five years. Could this be the season that those tactics produce tangible dividends?
Tony Bennett: Virginia Cavaliers
The Cavaliers’ Tony Bennett began his coaching career with Washington State before crossing to the John Paul Jones Arena in 2009. He is known by many to be the best defensive coach around, and he has the stats to back up that claim.
According to the recognized Kenpom ratings, Bennett has guided teams into the defensive top ten in ten of his 16 years as a college coach. He’s also turned those numbers into genuine success. Virginia Cavaliers have won five ACC Conference titles since 2013/14 and were overall NCAA Champions in 2019.
Tom Izzo: Michigan State
For a coach that maintains consistency over a number of years, it’s tough to match the record of Michigan’s Tom Izzo. He’s closing in on his 40th anniversary with the university and, after 12 years as an assistant coach, he took the head role in 1995.
The ultimate prize wasn’t too far away as Michigan won the NCAA Championship in 2000. Further success has proved elusive but the Spartans continue to produce those consistent results under Izzo.
Michigan has made the NCAA tournament for 24 years in succession while their coach has led them to the Big Ten trophy on ten occasions.
Scott Drew: Baylor Bears
Perhaps the best college coaches are those who can transform the nature of a team. When Scott Drew took over at Baylor in 2003, the Bears were described in some quarters as a ‘laughing stock’.
In a short space of time, Baylor became contenders and have been one of the more consistent sides across nearly twenty years of Drew’s reign. With back to back Big 12 Conference titles in his pocket, Scott Drew may just have a claim to being the best of the current crop of NCAA coaches.
Striking the Right Chord
While there are exceptions, the profile of the best college coaches follow similar patterns. These are experienced men, many of whom are in their sixties and have been involved in the NCAA for most of their careers.
In the professional NBA, there is a trend for younger coaches to step in. Over at the Boston Celtics, 34-year-old interim coach Joe Mazzulla is younger than some of the players.
Perhaps it needs an older, and more experienced head to guide the college youngsters. It may also be the case that those with bigger egos in the NBA need to identify with someone closer to their own age.
Experience alone doesn’t, however, make a good coach and the names on this list are the proven best in their field.