It is correct that I am upset that Bruce Pearl was fired. Yes, I love Bruce Pearl–I think he’s an excellent basketball coach whose record speaks for itself at Tennessee and the other stops he’s made throughout his career. He’s also one of the more entertaining coaches out there–just a straight shooter, doesn’t give the same old line of BS that some of the vets in college basketball get away with. My thing is, if you don’t think this stuff is going on at almost every program in the country, you’re dreaming. Bruce got himself into trouble for lying about a secondary recruiting offense, then there were a couple other alleged incidents after. Tennessee’s athletic program is a mess right now and just couldn’t handle it. That’s all well and good, but 2 things: first, the guy made UT’s basketball program relevant again–does that buy him any leeway? and second, how do guys like Jim Tressel keep their jobs while guys like Bruce Pearl or getting fired. I guess a 30-point loss in the first round of the tournament doesn’t help…
Anyway, I guess that is my introduction to the blog, and since I’m fairly certain that a) no one is reading this quite yet and b) no one really cares about what my personal history is, let’s get to some blogging!
First question: Of the Final 4 teams, which has had the best coaching performance of the tournament?
My guess would be that the overwhelming answer to this question if you asked the general population would be Shaka Smart from VCU. I mean, kind of hard to argue with that right? The guy is making himself more money for the inevitable next job offer coming at the end of this tournament with every victory–which is funny considering every college basketball pundit was up in arms that VCU was even included in this tournament. Smart is undoubtedly going to be a hot name in the off-season, which basically tells you how overrated both players’ and coaches’ performances in the NCAA tournament are. I love Shaka’s intensity, though, and his animation on the sidelines. You can tell the guy connects with his players. When it comes to VCU though, it is your typical case of a team getting blazing hot at the right time. I mean, how much does coaching have to do with a team going 9-15 from three-point range in the first half. Don’t get me wrong, I like everyone else have become a Shaka Smart fan, but the question is: who’s been the best coach of the tournament?
For my money, give me Brad Stevens all day long. I am continually blown away by this guy. From the moment he took over at Butler, at age 31 by the way, all he has done is win. The run that Butler made last season is well-documented. Conventional wisdom might say their run last season takes away from what they have done this year, but I couldn’t disagree more. Consider that they lost probably the best player to ever come through their program from last year’s team in Gordon Hayward. Consider they got utterly disrespected with an 8-seed in this year’s dance. Consider they have been a legitimate underdog (remember there was a ton of love for Old Dominion at the start of the tourny) in every game of this tournament. Brad Stevens has conditioned his team to play in all kinds of games–they can play up-tempo, they can slow it down, they can slug it out with a team like Pitt or Wisconsin, they can play a finesse game with a team like Florida. That is all coaching. Sure, it helps that they have some experience in guys like Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack, but these guys have gotten to where they are because of a coach like Stevens.
Butler has been unflappable in close games in this tournament–three out of their four wins by three points or less. Utterly unheard of. Again, that confidence comes down from the coach. Not letting the situation get too big for you and keeping your cool under pressure is instilled in a team by its head coach. Having faith in your teammates in crucial situations is instilled by the head coached. Stevens has created an impressive culture at Butler where they know they aren’t the most talented team on the court; but they are the smartest, they work the hardest, and they truly believe they are going to win every game. On a side note, has anyone else noticed that Butler plays perhaps the best team defense of any college basketball team I have ever seen? For pure basketball fans out there, their weak-side slides and the way they beat the man to the spot and go straight up is a thing of beauty. Let me tell you something, no one does that anymore. Not collectively as a team, anyways. And not to belabor the point, but once again that’s all coaching. Stevens has gotten his team to buy into a philosophy that is all about the team and all about winning. And doesn’t he seem like a guy who is going to stay at the same place for a long time? I’m sure now that I’ve said that he’ll be gone in a year, but couldn’t you just see him staying at Butler forever? Just a sense I get.
Don’t get me wrong, all four coaches in this Final 4 have done an impressive job. Sometimes coaches who have a history of success get forgotten about in this topics of conversations–check to see how many NBA Coach of the Year awards Gregg Popovich has won. Jim Calhoun’s record speaks for itself, but it’s hard to put him up there when he has one guy doing so much for him in Kemba Walker. John Calipari is a guy who gets a bad rap for getting these one-and-done guys–but in terms of what that means for a coach having to reload every year with new, young talent and still win… it’s actually very, very impressive. Again, hard to put him above Stevens or Smart given the talent gap there, but it’s worth noting that Calipari is probably one of the most underrated coaches in college basketball even though he is held in fairly high regard.
That’s it for me. What’s next?