LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- You can make the NCAA Tournament field with spectacular guard play. You can fill the gaps on your roster with graduate transfers.
You can create a niche with an all-in style of play on defense or offense. You can go, go, go or squeeze every second out of the shot clock.
But I looked at the field of 68 teams. I discovered one thing you cannot do: buy your way into the party by paying — or overpaying — your head coach.
Five of the 10 highest-paid coaches in America will not take their teams to Indianapolis this week.
I scrolled deeper on the list. The trend continued.
Half of the top-22 coaches on USA Today men’s basketball salary database whiffed on invitations to the 2021 tournament, which will begin Thursday with a pair of games at Indiana University and two more at Purdue (Link to database).
You can guess many of the names:
John Calipari of Kentucky, who sits at No. 1, at more than $8 million annually, according to USA Today.
Mike Krzyzewski of Duke, who is listed at more than $7 million.
Some names surprised me. Texas A&M, Johnny Manziel University, paid Buzz Williams $3.9 million in year two of the rebuild from the Billy Kennedy era. Williams ranked No. 9 on the list.
Two years ago, TCU would not let Jamie Dixon out of his mammoth buyout to flee to UCLA. This season, the Horned Frogs paid Dixon $3.6 million to go 5-11 in the Big 12 and miss the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in five seasons.
Dixon ranked No. 14, a few pennies ahead of Kansas coach Bill Self, one of 10 active coaches who has won a national title. Think about that.
Who knew Fort Worth was more gaga about basketball than Lawrence, Kansas? Not anybody who looks at the Big 12 standings.
I’ll tighten the lens for a local snapshot: According to the USA Today database, Louisville, Kentucky and Indiana paid Chris Mack, Calipari and former coach Archie Miller combined salaries of around $15 million this season.
And nobody qualified for the NCAA Tournament.
Despite the fancy player accommodations.
And the state of the art practice facilities.
And three of the 16 largest arenas in college basketball.
And three of the three loudest, most committed and passionate fan bases in America.
I understand. This was a challenging winter. The virus. The starts and the stops. Rearranged summer and fall workout schedules. No exhibition games. A reduced opportunity to schedule non-conference victories.
All of that contributed to U of L, UK and IU all missing the tournament for the first time since 1965. It might not happen for another 56 years.
Truth be told, this was a once-in-a-generation moment for Calipari and Krzyzewski, who have earned their W2s with their bodies of work.
Every story is different. Williams and Fred Hoiberg of Nebraska (No. 10, $3.9 million) just finished year two. For Mack and Tom Crean of Georgia (No. 22, $3.2 million) it was year three.
Bruce Pearl (No. 9, $3.98 million) had to take himself out of the tournament for NCAA nonsense that Auburn has been willing to tolerate.
I would imagine the folks at Utah (Larry Krystowiak, No. 13, $3.76 million, TCU and Providence (Ed Cooley, No. 19, $3.4 million) are asking the same questions that were asked at Indiana before Miller was dismissed Monday.
Has $3 million per season become the floor for mediocrity?
Of course, there is another question: Are there bargains in the bin?
You bet. According to the database, none of the four guys coaching teams that earned No. 1 seeds ranked in the top 10.
Brad Underwood, at $3.8 million, ranked No. 11. Scott Drew of Baylor sat at No. 20 at $3.35 million.
I question the numbers for Mark Few of Gonzaga, who ranked No. 57 at slightly less than $2 million. Juwan Howard reportedly made more than $150 million as an NBA player. Maybe that explains why the database lists him at No. 56, also just under $2 million.
Give Tad Boyle of Colorado an extra star. He ranked No. 62 at $1.63 million. That’s slightly ahead of Mike Boynton, the rising star at Oklahoma State, who is No. 65 at $1.599 million.
But Boyle delivered with adding Cade Cunningham’s brother to his coaching staff.
It’s a fun list. I encourage you to take a look.
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