This season’s battle for Big Ten Coach of the Year is tight and very interesting. Four programs have front-running head coaches, but after looking at a compilation of this season’s body of work to date, there is really only one clear winner.
Fran McCaffery, Iowa
The Iowa Hawkeyes failed to appear on anyone’s radar screen before the season, only receiving a few votes for the Top 20 preseason. Picked to finish mid-pack, Iowa suffered an embarrassing second game loss at home to Augustana and then lost the first two games of the Advocare Invitational to Dayton and Notre Dame in November. Unlike how Indiana managed that same scenario in the Maui Classic, Iowa actually enhanced its NCAA resume when Coach Fran McCaffery saved the weekend by having his team ready for then–No. 20 Wichita State and crushed the Shockers by 22 in the seventh-place game of that tournament. That’s right, seventh place.
At this point in the season, Iowa was living up to its preseason hype. A middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team, it appeared. Then, following a near-miss to highly rated Iowa State, the Hawkeyes reeled off an unexpected nine consecutive wins, four over ranked opponents including then–No. 1 Michigan State, and saw their rank rise from not-rated to 9th in the nation. With that, the Hawks also found themselves right in the thick of the Big Ten regular-season race. McCaffery has clearly and cleverly pulled a rabbit out of his hat this season, and won.
Tom Crean, Indiana
All eyes in this part of the country are on Indiana coach Tom Crean and the job he has done with his Hurryin’ Hoosiers this season.
Even with IU positioned to potentially win the outright Big Ten regular-season championship, this team has done well in spite of Crean rather than because of him. Let’s be real, the mid-season James Blackmon injury changed the entire season—for the better. Before his injury, the team was struggling for an identity, struggling with leadership issues, and striving to find balanced scoring.
If Blackmon weren’t hurt, would Crean bench him? When looked at in retrospect, this event ultimately led to this group finding the consistency and cohesiveness which has since consumed and solidified the team since his departure. There is absolutely no way Crean takes Blackmon’s nearly 20 points per game out of the rotation. So in the long run, without the injury, all of those bad habits remain and IU is less successful than they are currently. Clearly Crean is a solid second, but only because of his overachieving players.
Tom Izzo, Michigan State
Michigan State has been up and down because of key injuries this season, but throughout it all, the Spartans remained highly rated and highly competitive. Why? Tom Izzo. Several games this season, the veteran coach has reverted to “inspiring” halftime tirades to inspire his charges.
Izzo’s subject matter may change and his players may come and go (mostly go after one year) but season after season Izzo’s Spartans are in the hunt for the Big Ten and usually in the conversation for the Final Four. He could win this award every year and for that reason, even though he is one of the best coaches in America, he has not done enough to win this award. Izzo is a solid three.
Mark Turgeon, Maryland
Many have Maryland coach Mark Turgeon as the front-runner for Coach of the Year, and why not? The Terps have been highly ranked in the polls all season and were packed with good returning players.
Melo Trimble, Rasheed Sulaimon, and Diamond Stone—three players who deserve to be on the all “Name Team”—have kept Maryland in the Top 10 and led them to a potential No. 1 seed in the upcoming tourney. Those, paired with starters Robert Carter and Jake Layman, Turgeon “The Surgeon” as he was known in his playing days at Kansas, have led his team through the Big Ten jumble with few snafus so far. But even with all his success, Turgeon still does not win this year. He may be National Coach of the Year, but not Big Ten.
Other Coaching views:
Matt Painter, Purdue
Probably would be good for Matt to dust off the resume. Obviously, this is Purdue’s best team since Robbie and the gang, but still his Boilers struggle at times. A good point guard would make this team a contender, but not until then. Painter’s days could be numbered with a quick exit from the Big Ten and NCAA tourneys.
Greg Gard, Wisconsin
If the Badgers don’t make the tournament, interim coach Greg Gard will be gone. Mostly, this has to be a disappointing season for the team and school. If he stays, it will be interesting to see how empty former coach Bo Ryan left the cupboard as far as recruits go. The Badgers could be in rebuilding mode.
Eddie Jordan, Rutgers
Hold on, Eddie. With as little talent as the Scarlet Knights have on their roster, it is no wonder Rutgers hasn’t cracked the win column in the Big Ten yet. There is a certain security for coaches in another rebuilding year. Right now, there are two walk-on players on the roster. That is never a good sign.
Pat Chambers, Penn State
The Nittany Lions were almost competitive this year. In games against top competition, Chambers coaching mattered little. But it did give his team plenty of opportunities to practice situations. Beating IU defined their season.
Thad Matta, Ohio State
After many solid years as a coach-of-the-year candidate, this season’s Buckeye team couldn’t be consistently good. No rap on the coach, just a lack of talent like OSU fans are not used to seeing, especially now that top player sophomore sensation Jae’Sean Tate is out for the rest of this season for surgery.
Chris Collins, Northwestern
Collins is the perfect coach if you want to stay near the middle of the Big Ten. The Wildcats have enough talent to beat decent teams occasionally, which might just be enough to keep the fans and administration interested in Collins. Remember, it’s all about the academics at NU.
Tim Miles, Nebraska
If Miles were ever to be in the Big Ten hunt, he would need a wardrobe change. Some of his outfits are just downright ugly. But the Cornhuskers are a player or two away from the upper half of the Big Ten. If Miles could recruit more talent, he would naturally get a nod in this coach’s race.
Richard Pitino, Minnesota
Success hasn’t come as quickly to Richard Pitino as was originally thought when he was hired. Pitino built a Gopher team that was very competitive with, say, Mid America Conference teams. But when the Big Ten rolled around, the lack of great players really showed. Keep recruiting, Richard.
John Beilein, Michigan
This Michigan team could be good if it could just get out of its own way. The Wolverines have won some big games, but then just looked bad on other nights. It is for this reason Beilein wasn’t nominated.
John Groce, Illinois
So many great coaches have come through Illinois. I’m not so sure Groce is one of them. His teams have not been up to the quality talent-wise as former teams. I mean, when you own recruiting in the state of Illinois and Chicago, you should be relevant every year.