<
>

#Top10Thursday: Coaches proving haters wrong

This is not a list of coaches who've coached their way off the hot seat. Many were safe entering the season, and they're still safe now.

But these leaders have silenced some of their haters. This could change in a month or two.

Right now, however, they're rising.

1. Tom Crean, Indiana Hoosiers

Many expected Crean to mishandle one of the nation's most talented rosters, fail to implement a noticeable defense and eventually accept a $7.5 million buyout this summer. Early losses to Wake Forest and UNLV -- along with a deplorable defense -- only emboldened the doubters. But Indiana is 4-0 in Big Ten play -- all without injured wing James Blackmon Jr. (15.8 PPG). And the Hoosiers are -- wait for it -- the Big Ten's current leader in defensive efficiency in conference play, per KenPom.com. A positive start for a squad that hasn't suffered a loss since the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

2. Brad Brownell, Clemson Tigers

The six-year extension he got in 2014 that followed an NIT semifinals run seemed like an audacious move by Clemson, which also gave the coach -- who had finished four games below .500 (32-36) in ACC play in his four years -- a pay raise and essentially promised him a lengthy tenure with a buyout that ranges from $3 million to $5 million. His 8-10 finish in conference play and 16-15 record overall in 2014-15 didn't help the program justify the extension. But Clemson is 4-1 in ACC play after Wednesday night's 68-63 win over No. 9 Duke, its second consecutive win over a ranked opponent and fourth win in a row overall. The Tigers defeated then-No. 16 Louisville on Sunday, too.

3. Ed Cooley, Providence Friars

He has Kris Dunn. And that obviously helps. But Cooley had to fight the idea that Providence was just a one-man show that thrived on Dunn's efforts alone. He rebuked that idea in interviews. This season, the growth of Ben Bentil, the team's leading scorer with 19.1 PPG, and the overall improvement of a team that has reduced its turnover rate from 18.1 percent (No. 102) to 15.9 percent (38th) suggest that he was right. The Friars also boast the Big East's most efficient defense.

4. Andy Enfield, USC Trojans

In 2013, Mr. Dunk City left Florida Gulf Coast to guide a USC program that hasn't reached the NCAA tournament since 2011 and has failed to leave the Big Dance with a win since the year that the kids were listening to Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" (2009). He endured two seasons that yielded five Pac-12 wins and 31 conference losses combined. But those youngsters he coached in his first season have blossomed. Jordan McLaughlin leads six scorers in double figures who anchor a team that has defeated Wichita State (no Fred VanVleet, we know), Arizona State, New Mexico, Arizona, and on Wednesday night, UCLA at Pauley Pavilion.

5. Chris Collins, Northwestern Wildcats

It's too early to start any tourney talk. But Northwestern's win over Wisconsin on Tuesday night was its 15th victory of the season, which matches its entire win total for 2014-15. The Wildcats are also 3-2 in Big Ten play -- all without injured big man Alex Olah (12.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 2.0 BPG). They'll encounter the league's top teams in the next two weeks, so real tests are ahead -- their best wins were achieved against one of America's worst nonconference schedules. But this is a promising start.

6. Tubby Smith, Texas Tech Red Raiders

In 2013, Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague fired Tubby Smith after he led the Gophers to an NCAA tournament victory for the first time in nearly 20 years. Texas Tech seemed like the kind of job you'd take if you wanted to end your career quietly while collecting $1.6 million each season. But Texas Tech was slotted as an 8-seed in Joe Lunardi's most recent Bracketology, proof that Smith is rebuilding another program. The Red Raiders, who struggled at times in a 1-3 Big 12 start that included losses to ranked Iowa State and Kansas squads, are playing top-50 defense.

7. Barry Hinson, Southern Illinois Salukis

His best season, 2013-14, was marked by a “mama's boy” comment about members of a team that finished 9-9 in Missouri Valley Conference play that season. That year was sandwiched between a 6-12 record in 2012-13 and 4-14 conference record last season. It's a new day, though. The former Missouri State coach and ex-Kansas assistant has led Southern Illinois to a 4-1 start in the MVC and a 15-3 start overall -- already three more victories than last season's 12-win team.

8. Roy Williams, North Carolina Tar Heels

Everything is relative in this sport. The bar for Southern Illinois isn't the same for North Carolina (obviously). The Tar Heels, one of the game's greatest programs, enter most years as a contender. And those tough road losses to Northern Iowa and Texas seemed to indicate that UNC, a team that hasn't reached the Final Four since it won the national title in 2009, would miss expectations again. But Brice Johnson looks like a first-team All-American right now and his Tar Heels are undefeated in ACC play. It took some time, but the Tar Heels appear to be the world-beaters most anticipated entering the season.

9. Fran McCaffery, Iowa Hawkeyes

Last season, he led the Hawkeyes to a second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance for the first time since the 2005-06 stretch. And that's why the school offered him an extension two years ago. Iowa is a good program. But the next step entails getting into contention a program that hasn't won a share of the Big Ten title since 1979. Seems like a crazy idea for a team that lost Aaron White and surrendered a 20-point lead in a loss to Iowa State. But a win at No. 4 Michigan State on Thursday night (and season sweep of the Spartans) would make Iowa the team to beat in the Big Ten along with Maryland.

10. Frank Martin, South Carolina Gamecocks

South Carolina? Really? That's how many reacted when Frank Martin left Kansas State for the Gamecocks, a team that hasn't reached the Big Dance since 2004. But Martin's squad was a perfect 15-0 before Wednesday's road loss to Alabama. Still, the Gamecocks are not just fighting for a slot in the NCAA tournament; they're one of the best teams in the SEC.