From up-and-coming figureheads who have built something out of nothing to stalwarts who have had their programs dancing in March for decades, this NCAA men’s basketball tournament will feature the cream of the crop when it comes to coaching talent.
So who is best of the coaching best in this field of 68?
Of course familiar legends of the sport like North Carolina’s Roy Williams, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Kansas’ Bill Self and Iona’s Rick Pitino will be pacing the sidelines of Indiana, but we’ll mention a few guys who are sitting at the top of the sport heading into the tourney.
Mark Few, Gonzaga
Very much belonging on the list of aforementioned legends is Gonzaga’s Mark Few, who has amassed 625 career wins with the Bulldogs and has taken the program to the tournament every year since 1999.
With three AP All-Americans including a potential top-three NBA Draft pick in freshman guard Jalen Suggs, Few’s 26-0 top-seeded Bulldogs have the chance to become the first team since Bobby Knight’s 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers squad to run the table.
Nate Oats, Alabama
We’re dangerously close to a world where Alabama can conceivably claim both a College Football Playoff title and an NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament title in a span of roughly three months, and Nate Oats is to blame.
After taking Buffalo to three NCAA Tournaments in four seasons, Oats came to Tuscaloosa in 2019 where he’s one 40 games in two seasons, and last week led the Crimson Tide to their first SEC Tournament championship since 1991. With an eye for analytics, the Tide has been one of the more prolific offenses in the nation this year, led by SEC Player of the Year and Third-Team AP All-American Herb Jones.
Chris Beard, Texas Tech
Chris Beard has been one of the fastest rising coaching names in college basketball for the last half-decade, and has built Texas Tech into a title contender.
After leading Little Rock to a dominant 30-5 season in 2016, Beard took his talents to Lubbock where he previously coached under Bobby and Pat Knight. From there he’s led the Red Raiders to the Elite Eight in 2018, and the national title game in 2019 where they fell to Virginia in overtime.
Expect to hear Beard’s name mentioned repeatedly over the course of the next few weeks as a primary candidate for the Indiana job.
Eric Musselman, Arkansas
With a mix of NBA and college coaching experience, Eric Musselman is another name rising near the top of the coaching ranks.
After leading Nevada to a CBI championship and three NCAA appearances, Musselman arrived to Arkansas last year and stepped on the gas immediately. Winning 20 games in his first season, he followed that up with a 22-win campaign this winter that featured a tempo-based offense, one of the most efficient defenses in the nation and a potential NBD Draft lottery pick in Moses Moody. For their efforts, Arkansas earned themselves a three-seed.
Scott Drew, Baylor
It cannot be overstated enough the herculean job Scott Drew has done in taking a Baylor program that was in shambles in 2003 and turning it into a national championship contender.
Drew’s teams have been consistently in the mix for the tournament since 2008 and this season may be his best coaching job yet with the Bears finishing 22-2 on the season and winning the Big XII regular season title after an 18-0 start. The Jared Butler-led group will be a one-seed and are among the favorites to reach the title game.
Dennis Gates, Cleveland State
One of the biggest turnaround jobs in college basketball has been accomplished by Cleveland State’s Dennis Gates, who led the Vikings to a Horizon League Tournament title and their first NCAA tournament bid since 2009.
A longtime Florida State assistant, Gates took over a Vikings program in 2019 that had only won a combined 40 games over the previous four seasons. After an 11-win year to start off, he quickly turned Cleveland State around this year and has emerged as a name to watch in college basketball.
Matt Langel, Colgate
Langel has established Colgate as the class of the Patriot League, leading the Raiders to three straight Patriot League regular season titles and an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2019.
The key to their success has been their frantic ability to score on offense, ranking second in the nation in scoring with 86.3 points per game. Despite only playing Patriot League games this season, they are still ranked No. 9 in NET ratings.
Jay Wright, Villanova
Wright has been a fixture at Villanova for two decades but has really vaulted towards the top of the sport over the last six years. Since 2015, Wright has led the Wildcats to four Big East Tournament championship victories and two national titles along with sending several solid players to the NBA.
Wright and Nova will have their work cut out for them in this tournament with the injury to Collin Gillespie.
Tony Bennett, Virginia
His teams may not play the most aesthetically pleasing form of basketball, but Tony Bennett has no doubt turned elevated Virginia from a middling ACC program to a national power that is a thorn in the sides of everyone they play.
Since 2013, Bennett has led the Cavaliers to five 29+ win seasons, including a national championship in 2019. This, of course, came just one year after the debacle in 2018 where they become the first No. 1 seed to fall to a 16-seed in the first-round, proving his ability to motivate and persevere.
The defensive minded head coach and his team now enter the tournament having to overcome recent COVID issues within the program.