While Jim Larranaga has all but locked up the National Coach of the Year award at this point in the season, there aren’t five coaches in the country that have done a better coaching job than Kevin Ollie has this year. As of today, he’s the Big East’s Coach of the Year, hands down.
Let’s ignore, for a second, the fact that this is a team that, quite literally, has nothing to play for this season beyond pride.
Kevin Ollie has taken a team whose front line consists of Tyler Olander, Niels Giffey, Deandre Daniels and (if he’s reinstated) Enosch Wolf and turned them into a darkhorse threat to finish in the top four of the Big East standings. After yet another overtime win, this one coming via a 73-66 victory over Cincinnati at the XL Center in Hartford, the Huskies are sitting at 8-5 in the Big East and 18-7 overall. They’ve beaten Michigan State. They have a win over Syracuse, which may be the last time those two rivals square off this season.
That alone makes them a lovable bunch of misfits.
They get pounded on the glass game after game, but their back court has provided enough of a spark to carry them to twithin two games of first place in the Big East. And Ollie isn’t the only Husky angling at some postseason hardware. Shabazz Napier has had a sensational season a long way from the national radar. He entered Thursday night averaging 16.3 points and 4.8 assists, scoring 34 points in the 25 minutes of overtime that UConn had played. Against Cincinnati, Napier finished with 27 points, including 11 points — and two huge threes in the final two minutes — in OT.
Now take into account that UConn isn’t playing for seeding in the NCAA tournament or the Big East tournament. They don’t have a postseason this year. Their horrific APR numbers from four years ago took that away.
And yet here they are in February, sending Cincinnati just a little bit closer to the bubble and knocking off Syracuse when they are sitting atop the Big East.
The Huskies are the ultimate spoiler this year because they’re good enough to be a contender.
And they’re doing it despite the fact that they’ll be watching March Madness couchside, just like the rest of us.
That is why Ollie has to be in the conversation for any and all Coach of the Year awards.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.