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Should Mediocre Recruiting Be Rewarded in Coach of the Year Race?

February 16, 2012

Mike Brey has and Notre Dame have won some big games this season with an an undermanned roster...that he is responsible for.

There are times when I wonder if some of the people who get paid to write about sports have any idea whatsoever what they are talking about (I generally assume that I don’t, in case you were wondering). Usually that time is limited to Baseball Hall of Fame announcement time (FREE DAVEY CONCEPCION!!!!!), but occasionally it slips into other sports. Now is one such time.

Driving to work this morning, I got to catch a few minutes of The Leach Report, which airs in Lexington on NewsRadio 630 WLAP – the same station that carries my Sunday Morning Sports Talk show – and I heard one of the dumbest things I could possibly imagine (Not from Tom, of course, he’s the best. He was just the messenger). The topic had turned to Coach of the Year qualifications. That’s been a hot topic around here since Jeff Goodman of tweeted his Top 8 for potential Coach of the Year honors, a list which did not include John Calipari.

Goodman mentioned later in a tweet to Leach that he voted for Coach of the Year based on guys who did more with less – teams that overachieved.

That criterion led me to this question: who’s responsible for the rosters they’re playing with? Yeah, Mike Brey has overachieved and has some pretty impressive wins with a somewhat limited roster, but why is his roster limited? This isn’t the NBA where a general manager (or Isaiah Thomas) hands you a team and you have to figure out how to win with them. In college, obviously, a coach’s talent level is a direct reflection of his recruiting ability. Essentially, Goodman seeks to reward guys who can’t or didn’t recruit well yet somehow manage to win games, while punishing coaches who do that part of their job at a high level. And it’s stupid.

Until such a time as college coaches no longer recruit their players (Dec. 21, 2012, according to the Mayans), Coach of the Year voting should include all aspects of a coach’s job, and that includes recruiting the best players. To use some nostalgic Hoosiers-inspired criteria should cost you your vote.

As I mentioned in my last post, I am not the world’s biggest Cal fan sometimes (except, again, for the wins of course), but to eliminate him from Coach of the Year consideration shows an absurd lack of understanding of what the job is. Does Cal have the best talent at Kentucky? Heck yeah he does. So if you are ranking this year’s coaches, you rank him 1 for recruiting and then move to the next criteria. The only thing Cal does maybe as well as recruiting is managing his team. Say what you will about the “one and done” rule, but Cal is a master of bringing in the best players available and getting them to play within a team concept (in some cases for the first times in their basketball lives). That’s no small feat. He should get a pretty high ranking there. I’ll leave the Xs and Os to somebody else; I’m no expert, but my guess is that Cal’s Xs and Os are good enough that he should stay in the conversation.

I have another problem with Goodman’s list and his methodology. The Goodman list includes Missouri’s Frank Haith, Kansas’ Bill Self and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo. The idea that these guys are “winning with less” is absurd.

Haith is winning with a senior-laden roster that was primed to be good this year. Their lowered pre-season ranking was as much a question of how the Tigers would respond to a coaching change as it was about talent.

Self lost three players early to the NBA (if you can count Josh Selby as a loss) and two senior starters. So what? He returned a junior player of the year candidate, a three-year starter and two more regulars from a team that won 35 games a year ago. Kentucky lost two players early to the NBA, including the leading scorer and one other starter and replaced them with freshmen. Are UK’s freshmen better than KU’s? Yep. But again, that’s part of the job. Finally, Kansas was ranked 13th in both major preseason polls and are 4th (AP) and 5th (ESP/USA Today) in a year where you could probably shake up 5-15 in a hat and pull them out in any order you wanted. To say they’ve overachieved is a little generous.

Michigan State is the one team of those three who you can truly say has a ranking that looks better than its roster, but it doesn’t look better than the Spartans’ schedule. They played two of the three best teams they will face all year in the first two games of the season in North Carolina and Duke – both losses.  They then ran off 13 straight wins against a truly dreadful schedule, plus a youngish Indiana team playing its first tough road game (as Kentucky was at Indiana). The Spartans have two wins that nobody would question – at Wisconsin and at Ohio State. Other than that they look pretty average. They have gone from unranked to No. 7 or 8 depending on what poll you look and they feel WAY overrated at that ranking.

I don’t know who the Coach of the Year is. Given a vote, I think I’d probably be inclined to give it to Jim Boeheim (also not on Goodman’s Top 8). He has a great roster that does a lot of things well — they’ve only lost once; they may well be the best team in the country and they have done all of this in a season that started off with scandal and turmoil.

If I had to pick a slate of coaches, Cal would be No. 2, and until recruiting isn’t a part of college coaching he should always be near the top of the list.

  1. Texas Wildcat permalink

    Wonderful stuff, Meister. But is also makes me wonder how many people really care about Coach of the Year anyway? If you win the greatest tourney in sports, you ought to be the Coach of the Year. Or, whoever gets the hardware would gladly trade the trophy for the guy who gets to cut down the nets on Monday Night in April. Oh, and while we’re at it, why are there basketball rankings? Really?

    • Thanks! Cal said the other day that HE doesn’t care about Coach of the Year, so he’s obviously not losing sleep about this. I just thought the standard Goodman was using was dumb — whether he is applying it to UK, Ohio State or anybody.

  2. Um…following the loss of 3/4 of his incoming Freshman class, this is Bill Self’s thinnest and most inexperienced team ever at Kansas…by a long shot. Robinson was poised for a monster season, but, then what? Taylor was a huge question mark. Withey was a huge question mark. The rest of the squad was some sort of B squad on the floor out of necessity. Conner Teahan is a friggin’ SCHOLARSHIP PLAYER on this team. The fact that he has THIS team performing as well as it is, in the hunt for another conference title and on track for a top-2 seed in the NCAAT speaks volumes.

    Not saying he should be COY, but to say he hasn’t done an amazing job with THIS team…is anything but “absurd.”

    • OK, absurd may have been too strong (first time for everything), but Kansas returned as many known commodities as Kentucky did (although I didn’t realize until I just looked it up that Lamb and Miller were double figure scorers on average last year). Both spent a lot of last season as sort of streaky and inconsistent. The team regularly starts three freshmen and two sophomores. I guess my point is that Self’s base at the end of last season wasn’t appreciably worse than Kentucky’s and he wasn’t able to bring in better pieces to put around it. I think that part of the equation should be considered in the voting.

      • He brought in the pieces…they were just declared ineligible. Had Anderson, Traylor and McLemore actually played this year and Kansas was in the Top 5, competing for a conference title and looking at a top seed in the tourney, then I would agree with you if Self was in the talks for COY. But, they didn’t. So, expectations were (rightfully) adjusted down, and he has still managed to get what was left of that team to perform well above those expectations.

  3. Why were they ineligible again? There’s an off chance I forgot about that, or never realized it in the first place. I point back to the disclaimer in the first paragraph.

    • “Partial qualifiers.” If you want more of an explanation than that, you’ll have to ask the NCAA.

      • You well know that I am filled with NCAA loathing. I’m happy to just stipulate that the organization sucks.

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