Over the past few weeks, a new feature at ESPN called ESPN Forecast has been dropping a list of the top 50 coaches in college basketball. Some ripples were made a couple of weeks ago when North Carolina's Roy Williams was listed at number 16. Now the entire list is out, and Florida's Billy Donovan has been pegged as the country's top coach.
For discussion purposes, here is the top 20:
As it relates to Williams, the primary criticism that seems to have landed him so low was the recent off-court issues. ESPN's Eamonn Brennan sums it up like this:
The last few years have taken some of the polish off. Williams' teams have vacillated between good and above-average, but worst of all is the intimation that North Carolina isn't as special as it insists, that it's just another school offering cheap grades to star athletes, that Williams and the rest of the athletic department allow it to happen. There's a faculty whistleblower, and a former player and public accusations back and forth. Whatever the truth about UNC's African-American Studies department is, that cool gentility that personified UNC has faded, even if slightly. The fact that one of the three men to win two national titles in the past decade didn't crack the panel's top 15 just about sums it up.
So apparently Williams is being penalized by the panel for the AFAM scandal as well as the PJ Hairston issue. Meanwhile Brennan praises the coaching job Williams did last season and his consistently good recruiting:
Because on the court, Williams has been excellent, and the 2013-14 team was some of his finest pure coaching work in years...
Oh, and Williams is recruiting well, just as he always does. The 2014 class is especially impressive. It comprises three players, all of whom are at least top-three at their position nationally
This kind of thing is not new for Williams, as he consistently fares poorly on these kinds of lists. Who can forget him being ranked as the most overrated coach by his peers just a few years ago? Brennan notes that the list was finalized two weeks before the Rashad McCants accusations on ESPN's Outside the Lines but the ranking was released shortly after the piece aired. So they don't really have anything to do with each other, except that apparently they do since a significant portion of the article refers to the academic troubles of basketball, which were not crystallized until the McCants interview. It reads more like a justification of why a Hall-of-Famer with two national titles, 724 career wins, and seven Final Fours doesn't even rate the top-15, much less the top-10.
As for the rest of the list, Williams is the second lowest-ranked of the coaches who have actually won a national championship (only Steve Fisher of San Diego State, who won a title 25 years ago at Michigan is lower, at #18), and all of the coaches who have won multiple titles are in the top 5, except of course for Williams. The top 15 suffers from a healthy dose of The Next Big Thing(TM), which is likely why Fred Hoiberg, Tony Bennett, Shaka Smart, Sean Miller, Kevin Ollie, and Gregg Marshall are all listed ahead of Williams. At least Smart and Marshall have actually been to the Final Four, and Ollie is certainly the flavor of the month after catching lightning in a bottle and leading UConn to the title this year. Bo Ryan sort of fits in this category as well with this year's Final Four appearance being only second time in his 13 years at Wisconsin that the Badgers have advanced past the Sweet Sixteen.
There is no real argument with the top six in any order as all have won a national title (or more) and have multiple Final Fours under their belt. If you wanted to put Williams at number seven in that group, OK, but as Inside Carolina pointed out, Williams beat #2 Calipari, #3 Izzo, #4 Krzyzewski, and #5 Pitino last season alone. Plus Izzo is 0-7 vs. Williams at UNC, and Pitino is 0-5 vs. UNC in his career. There is also an argument for Jim Boeheim being tragically under-ranked as well at #12. If this list is supposed to be as much a measure of recent success as anything, then Syracuse's last five years aren't too shabby: averaging 30 wins a year, plus a Final Four and another Elite Eight appearance. Hardly any team in the country can match that.
The purpose of these kinds of lists is usually to drive discussion as well as page views. But you do like these kinds of lists to have some semblance of common sense and objectivity and ranking Williams and even Boeheim outside the top 10 would seem this list was short on both.