Ranking College Basketball's Best Mid-Major Coaches
After ranking seven conferences, we rate the best of the other leagues
By: David Fox | 7/26/12, 6:00 AM EDT
In the last two weeks, Athlon Sports has ranked every coach in the seven powerful basketball conferences -- the ACC, Atlantic 10, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC.
Certainly, those leagues do not corner the market on great college basketball coaches. In particular, non-Pac-12 Western programs have enjoyed some of the best eras in their programs’ histories in the last few years. Therefore, it’s no surprise coaches like Mark Few, Randy Bennett, Dave Rose and Steve Fisher are prominently featured here.
Here are the best of the best from the conferences we have not featured yet -- the West Coast, the Mountain West, the Ohio Valley, the Missouri Valley and more.
Note: Coaches are ranked on a mix of past accomplishments with consideration for career trajectory over the next five seasons or so. Rankings take Xs and Os acumen and recruiting prowess into account along with success in the regular season and postseason.
1. Mark Few, Gonzaga
Overall record: 342-90 (14-13 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Gonzaga: 342-90 (162-22 West Coast Conference)
The gap between Gonzaga and the rest of the WCC has narrowed in recent seasons, but Few still has Gonzaga as one of the nation’s consistent programs. Last season was the first time under Few the Bulldogs failed to win at least a share of the regular-season WCC title or a tournament title. Gonzaga still went 26-7 and reached the NCAA Tournament.
2. Randy Bennett, Saint Mary’s
Overall record: 235-118 (2-4 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Saint Mary’s: 235-118 (102-54 WCC)
Bennett has turned Saint Mary’s into the primary rival for Gonzaga in the WCC, going 58-14 in the conference. The Gaels are 4-5 against Gonzaga the last three seasons, including victories over the Bulldogs in the WCC tournament finals in 2012 and 2010. He’s done this partly by capitalizing on a recruiting pipeline to Australia.
3. Rick Byrd, Belmont
Overall record: 247-158 (0-5 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Belmont: 247-158 (153-55 Atlantic Sun)
The above record doesn’t include his 298 wins when Belmont was in the NAIA nor his wins at Maryville. (Tenn.) College and Lincoln Memorial College, bringing him up to 637 in his career. Next up for Byrd: Conquering the Ohio Valley Conference and winning an NCAA Tournament game.
4. Dave Rose, BYU
Overall record: 185-54 (4-6 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at BYU: 185-54 (12-4 WCC, 78-18 Mountain West)
BYU’s third-place finish in the Cougars’ first season in the West Coast Conference was the lowest a Rose-led BYU team ever finished in the league standings. Still, BYU is riding a streak of six seasons with an NCAA Tournament bid and at least 25 wins each season.
5. Steve Fisher, San Diego State
Overall record: 443-241 (22-11 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at San Diego State: 258-150 (106-91 Mountain West)
After the Fab Five scandal cost Fisher his job at Michigan, Fisher has had impressive second act at San Diego State. The Aztecs had won 20 games in a season once before he was hired in 1990-2000. Since then, Fisher has eight 20 -win seasons, including an 85-20 record and three NCAA Tournament appearances the last three seasons.
6. Stew Morrill, Utah State
Overall record: 563-257 (1-9 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Utah State: 345-119 (83-27 WAC)
Last season was a rarity for Morrill, who failed to take Utah State to the NCAA Tournament and finished fourth in the WAC. Morrill kept alive a streak of 13 consecutive seasons with at least 20 wins, but his 16 losses was the most since going 14-17 in his first season at Colorado State in 1991-92.
7. Blaine Taylor, Old Dominion
Overall record: 378-190 (1-6 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Old Dominion: 237-124 (136-63 Colonial)
A former assistant for Mike Montgomery and Stew Morrill, Taylor has set down roots at Old Dominion, one of the most consistent mid-major programs even before he arrived. Taylor hasn’t disappointed. Old Dominion has finished in the top four of the CAA every season since 2003-04, a run that includes four NCAA Tournament trips.
8. Bob McKillop, Davidson
Overall record: 426-271 (3-6 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Davidson: 426-271 (232-94 Southern)
McKillop’s career is more than just the Stephen Curry years, though finishing 29-7 and only two points from the Final Four remains the highlight of his career. McKillop went 4-24 in his first season at Davidson in 1989-90 but has since gone to the Tournament six times since 1998.
9. Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
Overall record: 303-144 (1-8 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Wichita State: 109-61 (52-36 Missouri Valley)
Wichita State’s MVC record improved every season under Marshall, from 4-14 in 2007-08 to 16-2 and a conference title in 2011-12. Now the Shockers will hope for the consistency Marshall displayed at Winthrop, where he reached the NCAA Tournament seven times in nine seasons.
10. Greg McDermott, Creighton
Overall record: 201-153 (1-4 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Creighton: 52-22 (24-12 MVC)
McDermott never had a winning season at Iowa State, but any Missouri Valley program would be happy to have him. McDermott is 58-32 in the conference in his last five seasons in the MVC at Creighton and Northern Iowa. Four of those five MVC seasons ended in the NCAA Tournament.
11. Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa
Overall record: 129-71 (2-2 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Northern Iowa: 129-71 (66-42 MVC)
Jacobson has never had a losing season in the conference and has won at least 20 games each season, but his signature season came in 2009-10 when the Panthers won 30 games and upset No. 1 seed Kansas to go to the Sweet 16.
12. Steve Alford, New Mexico
Overall record: 356-200 (5-6 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at New Mexico: 126-46 (55-23 Mountain West)
Five seasons after his departure from Iowa, Alford has settled into a groove at New Mexico, going 80-20 the last three seasons in Albuquerque. Alford has protected New Mexico’s impressive homecourt advantage at The Pitt, going 77-10 at home.
13. Josh Pastner, Memphis
Overall record: 75-29 (0-2 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Memphis: 75-29 (36-12 Conference USA)
The youthful Pastner is coming off his best season as head coach at Memphis, going 26-9, winning the C-USA regular-season title and sweeping the league tournament. Now in his fourth season, he’ll have a veteran team built from talented recruiting classes. Time to start winning in the NCAA Tournament.
14. Larry Eustachy, Colorado State
Overall record: 402-258 (3-4 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Colorado State: first season
Nearly a decade after his embarrassing exit from Iowa State, Eustachy reminded everyone last season what a quality coach he is. Southern Miss became the third team he has taken to the Tournament, ending a 21-season drought for the Golden Eagles.
15. Tommy Amaker, Harvard
Overall record: 268-195 (2-2 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Harvard: 92-56 (43-27 Ivy League)
Amaker is another coach on this list who struggled to win in a major conference. Like others, he’s flourished at a lower level. Amaker led Harvard to its first outright Ivy League title and NCAA Tournament appearance since 1946. The same program that struggled to even win 15 games in a season for decades has won 70 in the last three years.
16. Dave Rice, UNLV
Overall record: 26-9 (0-1 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at UNLV: 26-9 (9-5 Mountain West)
Rice’s first season at UNLV wasn’t all that different from seasons under Lon Kruger -- roughly 25 wins, a top-three finish in the Mountain West and a one-and-done appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Rice, though, is determined to bring back the up-and-down pace from when he played for Jerry Tarkanian’s best teams in Vegas. An early season upset of North Carolina showed potential.
17. Dan Monson, Long Beach State
Overall record: 255-200 (3-3 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Long Beach State: 85-77 (50-30 Big West)
Monson set the table for Few at Gonzaga, winning back-to-back WCC titles with the Bulldogs. He struggled at Minnesota, which was recovering from NCAA sanctions during his tenure. He’s back West at Long Beach State, where the 49ers have gone 29-3 in the Big West the last two seasons.
18. Ron Hunter, Georgia State
Overall record: 243-191 (0-1 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Georgia State: 22-12 (11-7 Colonial)
Georgia State improved by 10 wins in Hunter’s first season, the Panthers’ first time over .500 in the CAA since 2005-06. Before Georgia State, Hunter ushered IUPUI into Division I basketball, becoming a consistent contender in the Summit League over the course of 13 seasons.
19. Scott Sutton, Oral Roberts
Overall record: 250-162 (0-3 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Oral Roberts: 250-162 (153-59 Summit League)
Both Eddie Sutton and Steve Sutton are out of coaching, leaving Scott rolling along at Oral Roberts. He’s four seasons removed from his last NCAA appearance, but Oral Roberts is 67-15 in conference play since then.
20. Greg Kampe, Oakland
Overall record: 238-202 (1-3 in the NCAA Tournament)
Record at Oakland: 238-202 (137-75 Summit League)
The above record does not include Kampe’s 252 victories in Division II. The fifth-longest tenured coach in Division I (28 seasons), Kampe has built Oakland into a consistent mid-major program and consistent contender in the Summit League.
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