Publish Date: 03/15/2018
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster
College Basketball much more so than the NBA is drastically affected by coaching. A longer shot clock allows significantly more control for each coach every time down the floor. That is a huge reason why coaching plays such a big factor in March. It seems every year we hear about the same names, Roy Williams, Mike Krzyzewski, Jay Wright and others but, the job these five men below have done to build once struggling programs can’t be overlooked. The ability to rebuild programs from in some cases almost nothing is an art form and there may not be five better at it in the country than these coaches below. Unfortunately, the only problem for you is that these coaches are not only underrated but, poised to bust your bracket this March. Here are five underrated coaches you DON’T want to face in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
To say John Beilein has done an amazing job to turn around the Michigan’s Men’s Basketball program would be a complete understatement to what he’s managed since arriving in Ann Arbor in 2007. Prior to Beilein taking over, the Wolverines hadn’t made the tournament since 1998! Now, they have made it 8 of the last ten years, winning at least one game seven times. The reason for all this great team success is Beilein’s ability to get the absolute most out of his players every single year. Although we think of Michigan as a major power program largely due to the Fab Five era, they simply aren’t and, are often at serious talent disparities especially on their bench against major blue blood programs. What Beilein is able to do is create space with his motion offense, being one of the first to fully embrace the three-point shot in major College Basketball. This space allows veteran, lesser talented players to flourish (see Trey Burke and Nik Stauskas in 2013 for the best example). The main reason you don’t want your team to face one of Beilein’s in the tournament is simple, they will always find a way to score the ball, no matter who they’re playing or who they have on the floor and that is a testament to John Beilein.
When Ed Cooley arrived at Providence College from Fairfield in 2011, the Friars had finished above .500 just twice since 2011 and had only made the NCAA Tournament twice since 1997. Now, with Cooley, the Friars have made it five years in a row. Cooley brought to Providence his intense style of defense but more than anything, an ability to get the most out of his guards. Players like Kris Dunn and Bryce Cotton have gone from professional afterthoughts to longtime pros and in Dunn’s case, the fifth overall selection in the NBA Draft. Cooley has a great ability to get the absolute most out of his players from the moment they step on campus until they leave. Providence will likely never have the talent to matchup with the major powers of even their own conference like Villanova but, what they do have is a consistent never say die attitude that seems destined for an NCAA tournament run in the not too distant future.
At one point in College Basketball history, the Virginia Cavaliers were one of the country’s most dominant programs, boasting one of the sports all-time greats, Ralph Sampson. But in 2009 when Tony Bennett arrived, the once mighty Cavaliers were anything but, having not made the sweet sixteen since 1995. Now with Bennett, the Cavaliers have made the tournament six of seven years and added two conference tournament titles, something the ‘Hoos’ hadn’t done since 1976. The Cavalier’s playing style can be summed up in two words, slow and defense. Under Bennett, Virginia consistently churns out one of the best defenses in the country with significantly less talent than any of the ACC elite. His three regular season titles are a testament to a brand of basketball that imposes its will on the more talented and higher recruited programs he sees nightly in the ACC and forces them to play their brand of slow paced physical basketball. 2018 may be Bennett’s best work as his Cavaliers have the number one overall seed in the tournament and one both the ACC regular season and tournament titles for the first time in school history. If Bennett’s Cavaliers stand in the way of your team advancing, your team may have more talent but, it’ll be anything but easy and that’s exactly how Tony Bennett wants it.
It is entirely possible that Mark Few has put together one of the most impressive College SPORTS coaching careers, let alone basketball. Prior to Few arriving in Spokane, the Gonzaga Bulldogs had offered a men’s basketball division 1 program since 1957 and had made the NCAA tournament ONCE. Not even NBA Hall of Famer John Stockton could lead the Bulldogs to the tournament. Since Few has been hired, he has made it every single season. Yes, Mark Few took a program that made the tournament once in 41 years and has made it 19 straight times. To say that is remarkable is a massive understatement and the fact he has done this in a low mid-major conference that more often than not sends a maximum of two schools, often one, to the tournament is astounding. Gonzaga has the fourth longest active streak of NCAA tournament appearance ahead of schools like North Carolina and Kentucky not to mention, it’s the sixth longest streak all time. After finally breaking through to his first career Final Four last season, Few’s Zags are looking to make another run in 2018. Few runs a fairly traditional offence with multiple big men on the court but with his own modern twist, always surrounding the big fellas with great shooters around them and smart, savvy guards. Last season Gonzaga got its first taste of College Basketball’s grandest stage and Mark Few’s squad will do anything, including knocking off your school, to get back.
Jim Larrañaga has done something no one else in the history of the University of Miami’s men’s basketball program has ever done, develop a consistent threat. The interesting thing about Larrañaga is that rebuilding the Hurricane’s program isn’t what he’s most known for. The year was 2006, the site the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, home of that year’s Final Four. Three teams there didn’t seem out of the ordinary. UCLA, Florida and LSU were all seen as relatively obvious combatants for the national semifinals and then, there was George Mason. Yes, Larrañaga is the man responsible for ruining yours, and everyone else’s brackets with one of the great Cinderella runs in tournament history. After building up that program at George Mason, Larrañaga took the challenge of Miami and has done extremely impressive things. In 2013, he leads them to their first-ever conference tournament title and, just the second (at the time) sweet sixteen in program history. For the first time since 2000 and only the second time in program history, the ‘Canes’ are in their third tournament in a row. Larrañaga has made his career on the defensive side of the floor, constantly giving major programs fits with an aggressive but extremely detail oriented system. But, the main reason 2018 is the year you don’t want Larrañaga facing off against your school is simple, this team can score the ball. 2018 could be the year Jim Larrañaga goes on his first major run past the Sweet Sixteen in Miami and, cements his legacy as the talented coach he is.