Where do Rick Pitino and John Calipari rank on your list of top college basketball coaches?
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Sources say that ESPN just completed ranking the Top 50 college basketball coaches in America.
A source with intimate knowledge of the story told me that John Calipari of Kentucky was ranked second and Rick Pitino of Louisville placed fifth.
Another media report said that the winner was another guy with ties to our area -- Florida coach Billy Donovan, a Pitino product who worked for him at UK.
I can’t confirm any of the above information with 100 percent accuracy because I have refused to look at the list.
It’s nothing (more than usual) against ESPN. I simply didn’t want to be influenced by the findings before I presented my list.
I stopped ranking coaches after 10 guys. Trying to rank 50 is an overwhelming prospect.
I’ve ranked 25 teams before in the Associated Press college football and basketball polls. Separating Number 21 from Number 22 is like walking into an empty airplane and trying to decide to sit in 21B or 22B. They’re both middle seats.
But I can pick the Top 10 – and correct any mistakes ESPN made (without looking at their list, of course).
10. Kevin Ollie, Connecticut – I still don’t believe his team was the best team in the country last season. In fact, I don’t think the Huskies were one of the top 10 teams in the nation.
But somehow Ollie rallied his group from two ugly beatdowns against Louisville in March, shaking together a national championship run that included victories against teams coached by three guys ranked higher on my list. That earned him a trophy – and Top 10 recognition.
9. Gregg Marshall, Wichita State – This isn’t recognition for winning 35 straight games last season. This is recognition for the 35-1 season and the 2013 Final Four appearance and the seven NCAA Tournament appearances at Winthrop and the career winning percentage of better than 70 percent and the proven ability to get guys to defend and share the ball.
My only question with Marshall is: When does he get a grander stage that Wichita?
8. Steve Fisher, San Diego State -- I believe I once called Fisher the “Barney Fife,” of college basketball coaches. That was during the days when I was convinced that Michigan’s success was 99 percent attributable to Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and Juwan Howard and 1 percent the result of the guys his players called, “Yo, Fish.”
I was wrong.
Yo, look at what Fish has done at San Diego State, which has never been confused with Ohio State or North Carolina State. He’s won 20 or more games for nine straight years and developed guys like Kawhi Leonard. Sold.
7. Bo Ryan, Wisconsin -- Ryan did not require a Final Four appearance to make my list, but it helped. He’s made 13 straight trips to the NCAA Tournament and never finished worse than fourth in the league. That’s absurd.
6. Larry Brown, SMU – I have not looked at ESPN’s list. Promise. But I’m confident that Brown is ranked higher here than he is there.
Why? Never mind the runner-up finish to Louisville at UCLA in 1980 or the national title at Kansas in 1988. I’ll never forget a line Tony Kornheiser once wrote about Brown:
“Wherever he goes, he wins. Wherever he wins, he leaves.”
At nearly 74, Brown is getting a little old for the win-and-run game. But he’s already built a formidable program at SMU, which has not won an NCAA Tournament game since 1988. That statistic will change next season. Brown has a Top 20 team. He’s a remarkable coach.
5. Tom Izzo, Michigan State – It’s easy to undervalue the work that Izzo has done. Michigan State fans do it all the time. They forget that when Izzo took over, the Spartans weren’t even the most dominant program in their state. Now Izzo is as much the face of the Big Ten as Bob Knight, Fred Taylor or Piggy Lambert used to be.
4. Rick Pitino, Louisville – Yes, this is a shift for me. I’ve consistently ranked Pitino ahead of John Calipari. It’s time for a change – after Calipari beat Pitino for the sixth time in their last seven meetings last March in Indianapolis.
But don’t take Pitino off Mt. Rushmore. He’s still the only guy to win titles at two Division I schools – and nobody can match the conference titles Pitino has won in five leagues.
3. John Calipari, Kentucky – You know the list of accomplishments – the 2012 national title, the three Final Fours and the 1.2 million NBA first-round draft picks in five years on the job.
You also know that bigger and bolder things are certain to come. If Calipari stays five more seasons in Lexington, he’ll win at least two more NCAA titles. If he stays a decade, make it three more.
2. Billy Donovan, Florida – I’ve said it before, but in case you missed it, I’ll say it one more time: Donovan is the Most Ordinary Billy in the game.
He’s not consumed with expensive clothes, the next higher-paying job, name-dropping his friends in the world of rap music or making sure that Dick Vitale is always telling the world how great he is.
Donovan is mostly just a coach – a coach who has won two national titles at a football school, a coach who just won 21 of 21 SEC games without a single guy taken in the 2014 NBA Draft. College basketball needs more Billy Donovans.
1. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke – Most of you dislike Duke. I understand that. You snicker at the way Krzyzewski laughs or barks at officials or sometimes gets emotional at post-game press conference. Got that, too.
You’re going to send me e-mails that say Mercer 78, Duke 71 (2014 NCAA Tournament) or Lehigh 75, Duke 70 (2012 NCAA Tournament). I look forward to reading them.
But first, read this: Coach K has won four national titles and could easily have at least three more. He’s not finished. He’s recruiting better at 67 than he did at 37. Sometime in January he’s going to win the 1,000th game of his career – and he’ll keep pushing that number to a safe spot where nobody is going to touch it.
Mike Krzyzewski is Number One. Any list that does not recognize that is simply silly.