We’re so close, so, so, close to the best sporting event of the entire year: March Madness. The upsets, the buzzer beaters, the cutting down of the nets, the tears of both fans and athletes, everything about it. It’s the best and if you disagree, well then you’re wrong.
Anyways, the casual basketball fan knows that there are a few factors that go into your team cutting down the nets at the end of the season. You have to be playing well at the right moment, you need a big man that doesn’t necessarily have to be skilled, but their presence must be felt, and you need the veteran leadership of the guys who have played in the big games before, unless you have teams like the 2012 Kentucky and 2015 Duke squads that were littered with extremely talented freshman. But the most important aspect to succeeding in March, at least in my opinion, all comes down to coaching.
There have been numerous teams that have won the NCAA Tournament throughout the years that did not have the most talent or any player that went on to have success in the NBA, and that was because they had a coach that could get the most of out his team, and probably had a pretty damn good game plan to go with it. Going into the tournament this year, there are those few teams you can count on to do well because of their legendary coaches, as well as the talent they have on the court.
As a South Carolina fan, I’m well aware that our program has not really had a history of success in the tournament, or really basketball for that matter, so the fact we have a good chance at making the tournament is enough for me, although I’d love to see us cut down the nets one day. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a big Frank Martin fan and love how he has turned around the program, but I wouldn’t consider him a top-tier coach in the sport, and if one of these following guys got offered the job at South Carolina within the near future, let’s just say I wouldn’t be upset. So for all you college basketball fans with a chance at winning the whole thing this year, here are the five best coaches (in my opinion) going into the NCAA Tournament this year.
5. Bill Self – Kansas
Born: Okmulgee, Oklahoma
Start with Current Team: 2003
Rock Chalk, baby. Bill Self and his Kansas Jayhawks have basically owned the Big 12 since he first made his mark with the team back in 2003, by winning seven Big 12 Tournament Championships, as well as 13 consecutive Big 12 regular season championships starting back in 2005. Although he’s only led Kansas to two Final Four appearances, both of those times resulted in trips to the National Championship, where he and his Jayhawks cut down the nets back in 2008. Besides his great postseason success in Lawrence, Self has done it in the regular season as well. From 2006-2012, Self had the best six-year record of any coach in Division I history going 197-29, and has had a 202-10 home winning record (.957 win percentage) since his start with the school. And if all of that doesn’t do it for you, he’s been named National Coach of the Year three times. With a strong team this year, don’t be surprised if Self and Kansas bring back another national title to Lawrence.
Coaching Achievements with Kansas: 406-85 record, one National Championship, seven Big 12 Tournament Championships, 13 Big 12 regular season championships, 3x National Coach of the Year, 4x Big 12 Coach of the Year
4. John Calipari – Kentucky
Born: Moon Township, Pennsylvania
Start with Current Team: 2009
Say what you will about Coach Cal, but there is no better recruiter in all of college basketball than Cal. Since he’s been in Lexington, the guy has been producing NBA talent left and right with the likes of John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Karl Anthony-Towns, and Eric Bledsoe, to name a few. With all the talent he’s been getting, you’d like to think he should have more than just one National Championship to his name, but he’s getting a new roster every year, and as I said before, it’s important to have those veteran guys on your team. With that being said, I still think that he’s great at getting the most out of his young players. During the start of his tenure with Kentucky, he led the Wildcats to four Final Four appearances, two National Championship Games, one of which they won in 2012, four SEC Tournament Championships, and five SEC regular season championships. With another team full of talented freshman again this year, it will be interesting to see just how far Cal and his boys can go in the tournament.
Coaching Achievements with Kentucky: 242-52 record, one National Championship, 5x SEC regular season championships, 4x SEC Tournament championships, 1x Naismith Coach of the Year, 3x SEC Coach of the Year
3. Rick Pitino – Louisville
Born: New York, New York
Start with Current Team: 2001
Kentucky fans will probably have something to say with me putting Pitino over Calipari on this list, but I’m the one making the list and this what I believe. For starters, he has more National Championships than Calipari, even though the first one was with Kentucky, and while Louisville does have a great program and brings in great recruits each year, they don’t have nearly the talent that Kentucky does, and I think he’s able to do just as much with his team as Calipari does with his. Since he’s been at Louisville, the team has gone to four Final Fours and won numerous regular season and tournament conference championship. Yeah, I know he’s had a bunch of knocks against him lately both personally and professionally with some sketchy recruiting tactics, but I’d kill to have Pitino as the coach of my team, and wouldn’t be shocked if he took Louisville on a deep tournament run this year.
Coaching Achievements with Louisville: One National Championship (two overall), 411-137 record, 4x regular season conference championships (Big East, C-USA, AAC), 5x Conference Tournament championships, 1x C-USA Coach of the Year
2. Roy Williams – North Carolina
Born: Marion, North Carolina
Start with Current Team: 2003
Roy Williams is a good coach, a damn good coach I should say. If you don’t believe me, his four Final Four appearances with North Carolina should prove my point. The Tar Heels have gotten back to where they should be since he went back to his alma matter in 2003, and has helped lead UNC to two National Titles, and could have won a third if it hadn’t been for a miraculous buzzer beater by Villanova’s Kris Jenkins in the title game last year. While UNC fans love that Williams has brought their team postseason success, I can’t imagine that they’re thrilled with his 11-17 record against hated rival Duke, but fortunately for them, they may not even play Duke in the tournament at all this year, depending on how the brackets come out that is. Now I’ll admit to you that I don’t like UNC at all, but I think that they’re going to win the National Championship this year. Williams has a strong team this year with its share of both strong play from veterans and freshman, with most of the production coming from upperclassmen Joel Berry and Justin Jackson. Title #3 could be headed Roy’s way this year.
Coaching Achievements with North Carolina: 2x National Championships, 390-114 record, 8x ACC regular season championships, 3x ACC Tournament championships, 1x Coach of the Year Award, 2x ACC Coach of the Year
1. Mike Krzyzewski – Duke
Born: Chicago, Illinois
Start with Current Team: 1980
I really don’t know what else can be said about Coach K at this point. The man is widely viewed as not only the best coach in college basketball, but one of the best coaches of all time. Only the great John Wooden has more National Championships than Coach K with 10 (which is absurd by the way), but his five titles are pretty damn impressive as well. I get that everyone hates Duke and what not (I do not, for what it’s worth), but the fact that guy has been to TWELVE Final Fours is downright outrageous. And the thing is, I don’t think he’s stopping anytime soon. One of the more impressive things that Coach K ever did was completely change the way he recruits players, because with the One-and-Done Rule, elite high school players were only staying in college for one year before jumping to the NBA, which is not what he was accustomed to since he’s been at Duke, but once he realized that, he was able to recruit players in a different way, and fit his coaching style to their playing styles, which led to a National Championship title where he had three freshmen in the starting lineup. The Duke team this year perplexes the hell out of me, because I can either seem them getting bounced in the first round, or going all the way to the Final Four. With Coach K at the helm, I’m willing to bet that it’s the latter.
Coaching Achievements with Duke: 992-269 record, 5x National Championships, 12x ACC regular season championships, 13x ACC Tournament championships, 3x Naismith Coach of the Year, 5x ACC Coach of the Year