Following up on the first round of questions, we’re now delving into the topics of national Coach of the Year and the biggest surprises and disappointments in college basketball to this point in the season. Included are two undefeated head coaches and a program that’s hit the ground running in its first season as a member of the Big Ten.
1. Who would be your choice for national Coach of the Year?
Rob Dauster: At this point, I think I’d lean towards Coach Cal for National Coach of the Year. Regardless of whether or not you believe he’s actually using platoons, he’s convinced a team full of future first round picks to buy into this idea that no one plays more than 20-25 minutes a night. He was expected to have a team that could go undefeated this season and he’s managed to outperform expectations. That’s not easy to do.
Raphielle Johnson: I like both Calipari and Turgeon as possibilities, but I have to go with Virginia’s Tony Bennett here. He lost two key starters in Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell, and the Cavaliers haven’t missed a beat. London Perrantes remains solid at the point, and with Malcolm Brodgon and Justin Anderson on the wings they have two talented players capable of giving opponents fits on both ends of the floor. Add in the front court, anchored by Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey, and Virginia’s picked up right where they left off in 2013-14.
Scott Phillips: Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon was at the top of my Coaches on the Hot Seat list this preseason and he’s navigated a young Terrapin team to near the top 10 in the polls and the top of the Big Ten. Turgeon deserves a ton of credit for having his team play so well after the litany of transfers they faced in the offseason all while joining a new conference and dealing with the pressure to win now.
Terrence Payne: Last season, Gregg Marshall won AP Coach of the Year honors after leading Wichita State to a perfect regular season. With that precedent, you’d expect John Calipari and Tony Bennett to be the two prime candidates if their seasons end in similar fashion. But Mark Turgeon, like Rick Barnes did last season, has gone from hot seat to coach of the year candidate after an offseason of turnover. More importantly he did so with injuries to Dez Wells and Evan Smotrycz.
2. Which team has been the biggest surprise?
RD: I’m going with Virginia. I thought that losing Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell would have a much bigger impact on this group than it has. Credit the likes of Justin Anderson and Anthony Gill for taking giant steps forward this season.
RJ: I’ll take Maryland for biggest surprise. I was cautiously optimistic about this team, hesitant to label them a lock NCAA tournament team given the fact that they’ve missed out in each of the last four seasons. But not only are they a lock, they’re also firmly entrenched in the “who’s the best team in the Big Ten” conversation right there with preseason favorite Wisconsin.
SP: For me, it’s Seton Hall. The Pirates have exceeded my expectations from the preseason, the middle of the season and now look like a NCAA Tournament team even without freshman McDonald’s All-American Isaiah Whitehead for the last few weeks. Sterling Gibbs has matured into a really good scoring guard and Kevin Willard has a hard-playing team with a lot of young pieces like Angel Delgado and Khadeen Carrington that are stepping up.
TP: I’ll go with West Virginia despite losing two of three. Bobby Huggins lost two of his three top scorers to transfer this offseason, but the Mountaineers have found a place right in the heart of a loaded Big 12 title race with a host of other ranked teams.
3. Which team has been the biggest disappointment?
RD: I’ll say Michigan, even though their issues are not entirely this team’s fault. Their front line is just simply too young to be ready to compete at this level, and that, in turn, put too much pressure on guys like Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin to be as good as Nik Stauskas and Trey Burke. And now with Caris LeVert’s broken foot, they looked destined for the NIT, at best.
RJ: I’ll take another Big Ten team and pick Nebraska. Coming off of last season’s NCAA tournament appearance the Huskers were expected to factor into the Big Ten race behind Wisconsin, and they haven’t been that team to this point. Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields are guys they can look to for scoring night in and night out, but a consistent third option hasn’t stepped forward. The return of Leslee Smith should help them in the post, but there are still questions to be answered at the point. Nebraska has a lot of work to do if they’re to return to the NCAA tournament.
SP: The most disappointing team has to be Florida. The Gators had high preseason aspirations and they’ve started off 10-7 including getting swept by Miami and Florida State and not beating any legitimate teams this season. Kasey Hill and Chris Walker have both been really mediocre in their sophomore seasons and this team should be way better than their current record.
TP: UConn. The loss of DeAndre Daniels, Neils Giffey and most importantly Shabazz Napier can’t be stated enough. But the cupboard wasn’t particularly bare for the defending national champion entering this season. UConn returned Ryan Boatright, who has battled an injury this year, while adding transfer Rodney Purvis and star recruit Daniel Hamilton.