Sweet 16: Who is the Best Coach?

1. John Calipari, Kentucky: If there’s an award for sticktoitiveness, Calipari’s the front-runner. How can the coach of the country’s preseason No. 1 team be in a category recognizing phenomenal coaching feats? Because the country’s best talent on paper never translated into the country’s best team. Until now. Maybe. Calipari didn’t stop believing in this young group no matter how ugly it got with turnovers, attitudes and lack of cohesiveness. He kept coaching, and in this era of one-and-dones, Calipari is proving that the best talent can be molded and sculpted together to form a title contender in eight months if players buy in and a bunch of McDonald’s All-Americans become a team.

2. Tony Bennett, Virginia: Here’s a guy who’s turned a program around without hauling in a star-studded recruiting class. Bennett has used a slow-tempo offensive system and a disciplined man-to-man defense to turn a cast of good players into a great team. To beat the Dukes and North Carolinas (and now Syracuses) of the ACC, it took a four-year plan that is coming to fruition this season. Bennett steered the Cavaliers to a No. 1 seed following ACC regular-season and tournament titles. He’s done it with the senior leadership of Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell and a cast of unselfish players who all trust Bennett. That’s a culture that’s difficult to foster and Bennett might be the best at it.

3. Steve Fisher, San Diego State: The Aztecs were supposed to be in a rebuilding year. Funny how that worked out. Fisher turned a group of role players into overachievers this season. San Diego State has only four losses and much of that is a credit to the type of program the former Michigan coach runs at SDSU. Xavier Thames has enjoyed a breakout season, averaging 17.4 points a game, and that’s because Fisher sculpted the offense around his star, who was a role player on last year’s team. And for the Aztecs, it all starts on defense — an area Fisher has been helping the program excel at for years now.

4. Cuonzo Martin, Tennessee: The Volunteers were on the NCAA tournament bubble, but three tourney wins have all but erased any memories that Martin’s job was in jeopardy, if it ever was. Martin has Tennessee peaking at the best time possible and keep in mind this team played Florida down-to-the-wire in the SEC tournament semifinals. Martin has taken a program that needed remodeling and given it a face much, much different than the one that preceded it. Martin heard criticism from fans for a lack of charisma. But his demeanor has rubbed off on his team, and, well, winning can change even the narrowest form of skepticism.

5. John Beilein, Michigan: When it was determined Mitch McGary would be done for the season in December, it seemed to be downhill for Michigan. The Wolverines finished as the Big Ten regular-season champions en route to a No. 2 seed, and much of that is a product of All-American guard Nik Stauskas’ development as a pure marksmen into a dynamic guard off the dribble and off the ball. But we can’t credit Stauskas’ improvement without first crediting Beilein, who’s rallied a less-talented team than last year’s NCAA runner-up by orchestrating Michigan’s guard-oriented offense. Some coaches will remain stubborn and keep their same system if a key player goes down. Beilein’s more humble. He went back to the drawing board, and it’s paid off this March.

Written by Nick


Nick the Quick White is an avid fan of basketball and hip hop, and a contributing writer with WJS since 2013. Nick has interviewed rappers, ballers, rapper ballers, and baller rappers on the site and continues to preach that the NBA should have a team in Europe. Maybe because Nick currently lives outside London where to them Football is actually played with your feet, can you believe this fatuousness?

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