BOZICH | Why I voted for Tony Bennett as Coach of the Year
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – I voted for Tony Bennett of Virginia as the college basketball national coach of the year.
There is no need to reconvene the Warren Commission, call Woodward or Bernstein or release the hounds.
I confess. I'm one of the evil doers.
I voted for Bennett in the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and the Associated Press coach of the year balloting.
Taser me if you must, but I'd do it again – if the ballots were collected in early March instead of when they should be recorded, which is after the conclusion of the NCAA Tournament.
On Monday the news crackled through the college basketball grapevine that I was not alone: Tony Bennett won Coach of the Year from the USBWA.
That, of course, stirred the expected backlash from conspiracy theorists who believe only one guy deserved the award – John Calipari of Kentucky.
Understandable. You win 36 straight games, even in a players first program, there should be a plaque with your name on it somewhere.
The Bennett announcement was as well-timed as a thunderstorm at beach wedding. On Sunday, Bennett's Virginia team was dismissed from the NCAA Tournament by Michigan State. Ouch.
As I noted on Twitter Monday, this was the second consecutive season the Cavaliers were eliminated from the tournament by a team with a lower seed.
And as I said earlier in this column, if the ballots were collected April 7, after the final 15 games of the season, Tony Bennett would not be the coach of the year. He would finish in a 16-way tie for 17th place.
But the USBWA collects its ballots at the end of the regular season, which explains why Rick Pitino and Joe B. Hall also failed to win the organization's Coach of the Year when their favored Kentucky teams rolled to national titles in 1996 (Pitino) and 1978 (Hall).
Pitino lost to Gene Keady of Purdue, and Hall was beaten by the lovable Roy Meyer of DePaul.
The USBWA made its first Coach of the Year presentation in 1959. In more than 50 seasons, two UK coaches have been honored – Adolph Rupp in 1966 (Rupp's Runts) and Tubby Smith in 2003 (the overachieving 32-4 team that was upset in the Elite Eight).
Crazy things happen with the USBWA's player of the year award, too, because of the early balloting. Ask Darrell Griffith, who won the 1980 NCAA title at Louisville but lost the award to Mark Aguirre of DePaul.
In early March, when ballots were due, Bennett was the coach of a Virginia team that finished the regular season 28-2 – winning the Atlantic Coast Conference title, even after the Cavaliers lost their best player (Justin Anderson) for the final four weeks.
Big deal? Actually, it was a big deal.
The Cavaliers were picked to finish fourth (behind Duke, North Carolina and Louisville) in the ACC. In the last four years, Bennett has signed one Top 20 recruiting class.
He's the classic, coach ‘em up, system guy, which explains why people like Pitino were pitching Bennett as the game's best coach in January. (For the record, Pitino made it all the way to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame without a single USBWA Coach of the Year award. It can happen.)
Bennett can sell Thomas Jefferson and Ralph Sampson. He cannot sell Drake, William Wesley, the Craft Center, the Wildcat Coal Lodge or the tradition of eight NCAA titles. Tony Bennett played this season nine McDonald's all-Americans short of a full load.
We're talking about Virginia. Until Bennett arrived, Virginia had not won an outright ACC regular-season title since 1981. Now the Cavaliers have won the trophy in back to back seasons.
On the first of March, Tony Bennett was a legitimate pick for coach of the year.
Today, he is not. Bennett is tied for 17th – with John Calipari, Rick Pitino and 14 others scrambling for the coaching award that actually matters.
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