Three Coaches Who Could Win Coach of the Year

In a season filled with more parity than we’ve seen in recent history, a lot of coaches have gone above and beyond on the sidelines. Bobby Hurley looked like an early favorite at Arizona State after blowing out Xavier and Kansas. Chris Holtmann is getting an Ohio State team that was supposed to be very bad into the NCAA tournament. Chris Beard has turned Texas Tech into a defensive power. And don’t forget Brad Brownell most likely saved his job at Clemson with the year he’s having. That said, I think the National Coach of the Year award is a three man race. Let’s take a look.

  Matt Painter

Last year was supposed to be Purdue’s year. They had an All-American and future NBA player. The Boilermakers did have a successful campaign last year as well. They won the Big Ten outright and had a Sweet 16 appearance. Nothing to scoff at. But you’re not supposed to lose your best player and become better than last year. That is exactly what Matt Painter and Purdue are doing.

A big reason for the improvement year over year is Painter not having to play two bigs together. Last year with Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas, he felt pressured to have them both play together, even if the situation didn’t call for it. This year it’s just Haas, and allows Purdue to match up better on both ends of the floor. A second reason is the huge jump Carson Edwards has taken from last year. The sophomore has upped his scoring 6 points per game and has a better assist-to-turnover ratio from last season. Painter may not win the award, but Purdue is one of three teams that looks like a legit title contender right now.

  Bruce Pearl

Like him or not, you have to appreciate what Bruce Pearl is doing at Auburn this season. The Tigers were picked ninth in the SEC this year. That was when Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy were expected to play. Then, the FBI scandal hit, and those two were held out of play. All that Pearl has done is lead the Tigers to first place in the SEC, with a two game lead over everyone else. Teams are not supposed to be good when they lose their best player, let alone their best two.

But here we are. Auburn is good, and they’re getting offense from a range of players. Some nights their leading scorer, Bryce Brown, will lead them. Some nights it’s Mustapha Heron. And other nights its Jared Harper. The Tigers don’t wow you, but they just keep on winning. As Gary Parish pointed out on his podcast, Pearl could lose out on the award because of his ties to shady recruiting. He had his issues at Tennessee and Auburn was named in the FBI report in September. While those arguments are certainly fair, you have to respect the coaching job Pearl is doing right now.

  Tony Bennett

In my mind, Tony Bennett is the front runner for National Coach of the Year. Bennett gets the edge over the others because he has Virginia in the conversation for #1 overall seed come March. This is the same Virginia team that was picked sixth in the ACC in the pre-season poll. All they’ve done since is essentially win the ACC regular season championship and lead the country in defensive points per game. The Cavaliers hold opponents to under 53 points a game. No ACC team has scored 65 on them this year. And that’s inclusive of Duke, UNC, Clemson and Louisville.

Bennett has done a tremendous job taking a down roster and making them one of the most feared teams in the country. They have a make up that is suitable for a deep March run. Kyle Guy is a go to scorer. De’Andre Hunter has been tremendous off the bench. They have senior leaders in Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins.  And, the best defense in the country doesn’t hurt either. There have been a lot of great coaching jobs this year, but none of them compare to what Tony Bennett has done thus far.

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