Any coach who reaches the Final Four qualifies as a pretty good coach. Yes, even Rick Barnes.
But some of the coaches whose teams play in the NCAA tournament’s final weekend are a cut above their peers. They’re the best recruiters, Xs-and-Os guys, savvy managers of egos and smart enough to surround themselves to help them along the way.
That applies to the four guys in New Orleans: Kansas’ Bill Self, Kentucky’s John Calipari, Louisville’s Rick Pitino and Ohio State’s Thad Matta.
But which one would you want coaching your team for one game? We state our cases for each one.
You want John Calipari. He’s got the highest career win percentage of the four coaches, and while he may not have a national title to his credit like Rick Pitino or Bill Self it’s only a matter of time before he does. Of his 13 NCAA tournament teams ten have reached at least the Sweet 16, and that’s not something that happens solely because of the ability to recruit (I don’t worry about vacated records because that’s one of the dumbest punishments in all of sports).
He’s been able to get an immensely talented team to play together with no signs of ego taking over, and more times than not Kentucky ends up in a good position to be successful. The other three coaches may receive more praise for their work with a clipboard, but the judgment of Calipari in that regard seems to be more about perception than reality.
— Raphielle Johnson
*NCAA records. Does not include 42 wins, 2 losses, 2 league titles and 2 tourney titles that were vacated.
The youngest coach among the four, Matta’s also probably the most underrated. He’s been a head coach 12 years and won his conference title nine times, including five in the Big Ten, routinely one of the game’s three best leagues. He won an NCAA tournament game with Butler, took Xavier to the Elite Eight and was in the national title game in just his third year at Ohio State. That’s a career for most guys, not just the start of one.
Yet Matta’s proven himself to be an outstanding recruiter, developer of talent and has a flair for preparation and in-game tactics, too. His Buckeyes were more than ready for Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone last weekend, shredding it with interior passing. He’s made a football school into one of college basketball’s elite programs. That’s no accident. That’s a testament to how good he is and how his players respond to that excellence.
— Mike Miller
Would it surprise you to hear that, after a 29-point loss to Providence earlier this season, Cardinals fans were more likely to discuss the chances that their team missed the NCAA tournament entirely than that the possibility of winning the Big East tournament and reaching the Final Four? That’s the turnaround that Pitino has orchestrated, and he has done it while dealing with myriad of injuries to key players.
There’s more: Pitino has also proven to have a feel for this team, making in-game adjustments — like switching to a man-to-man defense against Florida — that have helped to spark this run. Most importantly, he has no pressure on him or his team. They are supposed to lose to heavily favored — and heated rival — Kentucky. John Calipari is the one with the pressure. Can you imagine the embarrassment of the best team he’s had getting upset by a rival coached by his personal rival? They always say the most dangerous person is the one with nothing to lose.
— Rob Dauster
Bill Self and the Jayhawks did it again in 2011-12, despite losing the Morris twins and two more of his top five scorers from last season. They lost two top recruits, Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor, to eligibility problems. They didn’t have a clear-cut star or go-to guy to begin the season.
He made long-term player development investments, notably Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson, which finally paid off this season. In the short-term, as Pat Forde of Yahoo! points out, Self outdueled Roy Williams in Kansas’ Elite Eight win over North Carolina.
So, for reasons of consistency and the ability to build in both the short-term and long-term, Bill Self is the best coach in the Final Four.
— Daniel Martin
You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.