College Basketball Coaches with Best Chance to Win Their 1st Title in 2014-15
Fresh off a surprise national title run by Kevin Ollie’s UConn Huskies, college basketball could easily see a second straight newcomer join the ranks of championship-winning coaches. Although the usual suspects, such as Mike Krzyzewski and John Calipari, will have a lot to say about which team cuts down the nets next March, an exceptionally deep crop of coaching commoners are clamoring at the gates this season.
One such hopeful is Arizona head man Sean Miller. In just five years in Tucson, Miller has gone a long way toward bringing back the glory of the Lute Olsen years, but Wildcats fans won’t be ready to put him on the same kind of pedestal until he delivers the program’s second national title.
Herein, a closer look at Miller and his imposing 2014-15 squad, along with the rest of the half-dozen coaches in the best position to become first-time national champs next year.
Jay Wright, Villanova
If Jay Wright hadn’t had the misfortune of an early matchup with Shabazz Napier and UConn, he might well have made his second career Final Four appearance last season.
Even without that postseason experience, though, Wright’s 2014-15 roster will be an intimidating matchup for any opponent.
The ensemble-cast Wildcats return four starters from a team that finished 29-5 last season, with its only two conference losses coming to Doug McDermott-led Creighton.
A Big East title is a near certainty for battle-tested point guard Ryan Arcidiacono and his mates, meaning that Wright's charges will have another favorable seed to smooth their trip through the Big Dance.
Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
Reigning Coach of the Year Gregg Marshall may be the new kid on the elite coaches’ block, but it’s tough to argue with the 65 games he’s won in the last two seasons.
That gaudy total includes both a 2013 Final Four visit and last year’s undefeated regular season, and the 2014-15 Shockers will boast several key players who contributed to both of those achievements.
Foremost among them is Fred VanVleet, the rising junior who ranks among the nation’s most reliable floor leaders.
He and classmate Ron Baker will provide ample three-point shooting to spearhead the offense. As long as Darius Carter can chip in any kind of inside game, Marshall’s presumptive MVC champs will be leading Final Four contenders yet again.
Rick Barnes, Texas
It’s been more than a decade since Rick Barnes last took the Longhorns as far as the Final Four, but next season’s roster promises to be an atypical one for the veteran coach.
Expert recruiter though Barnes is, he’s rarely been able to hold on to as much returning talent as Texas stands to feature after a 24-win showing in 2013-14.
Rising sophomore Isaiah Taylor, the Big 12’s best point guard, anchors a team that brings back all five starters.
Add in the head coach’s latest recruiting coup—7’0” center Myles Turner, ESPN’s No. 2 freshman in the country—and the Longhorns have a combination of star power and experience that few teams in the nation can match.
Tony Bennett, Virginia
Tony Bennett’s defense-first coaching philosophy isn’t calculated to attract headlines.
That’s one major reason why so much of the offseason buzz in the ACC is focused on the superstar freshmen arriving at North Carolina and Duke and not on the loaded roster of the league’s defending champs.
The Cavaliers do lose a couple of starters from last year’s 30-win team, but erstwhile reserves Anthony Gill and Justin Anderson won’t miss a beat as they step into the jobs vacated by Akil Mitchell and Joe Harris.
The continuity in Bennett’s rotation will ensure that the nation’s No. 1 scoring D from 2013-14 is ready to build on the program’s first Sweet 16 trip in two decades.
Sean Miller, Arizona
For a coach who’s only made three NCAA tournaments at his current program, Sean Miller has built an extraordinary resume. Arizona’s rising star has established himself as the Pac-12’s premier recruiter while posting 30-win seasons in two of the past four years.
Miller has yet to reach a Final Four—thanks to last March’s overtime heartbreaker against Wisconsin—but his Wildcats have every reason to expect that to change in 2014-15.
Stanley Johnson—the latest 5-star freshman, per ESPN, to join Miller’s deep frontcourt—adds another lockdown defender to a roster that also boasts a first-class playmaker (rising senior T.J. McConnell) and as much size as anyone this side of Kentucky.
Bo Ryan, Wisconsin
Bo Ryan and his Badgers teams have spent years proving that they know how to win in spite of being overlooked.
In 2014-15, they’ll have the unfamiliar privilege of being the team with the target on its back, as both the Big Ten favorite and the only Final Four team bringing back as many as four starters.
Ryan’s first-ever trip to the national semis relied heavily on an uncharacteristically dangerous offense, headlined by the breakout season of center Frank Kaminsky.
The rising senior is also a shot-blocking standout who will ensure that the Badgers’ always-potent defense doesn’t get overshadowed too badly by the team’s wealth of jump-shooters.