Here’s a list of the top national coach of the year candidates:
Steve Fisher (San Diego State): He’d win the award today. His Aztecs lost four players from the best squad in the program’s history. Kawhi Leonard was a first-round draft pick last summer. And yet, Fisher has a top-15 squad again. The Aztecs are on top of the Mountain West thanks to their talented conductor.
Frank Haith (Missouri): The general reaction to Haith’s hiring was “Huh?” Miami was never a threat in the ACC under Haith. What could he do with Mizzou in the Big 12? Well, Haith has quieted all doubters with the Tigers’ stellar start in a talented league. He might lead the Tigers to a Big 12 title without any real size or depth.
Jim Boeheim (Syracuse): Just as the season commenced, Boeheim lost an assistant coach who was accused of sexual abusing a former ball boy. Boeheim admittedly pledged his allegiance to Bernie Fine prematurely and intensified the scrutiny on his program. The fact that Syracuse is the undisputed No. 1 team in America is impressive. The fact that Boeheim has led his team to that station despite an unprecedented off-court controversy is stunning.
Tom Crean (Indiana): For all of the critics who’ve emerged within the past 24 hours, just look at what happened last season. We’re talking about a team that finished 12-20 (3-15 in the Big Ten). And this season, the Hoosiers have cracked the national rankings and defeated two of America’s best teams. If the Hoosiers bounce back from their recent slide, Crean will shoot up everyone’s list for national coach of the year … again.
Steve Prohm (Murray State): This feels too low. In his first year as head coach, Prohm’s Racers are ranked 10th and they’re undefeated. Despite losing three starters from last season’s team, they’ve topped Memphis, Dayton and every other team on their slate. And Prohm’s squad might not lose before March.
Greg McDermott (Creighton): Last season, Creighton was in the CBI. This year, the Bluejays are ranked 18th in the country and led by a player (Doug McDermott) who was expected to redshirt last season. Today, Doug McDermott is a legit national player of the year candidate. The Bluejays (51.8 percent) are the best shooting team in America under his guidance.
Bill Self (Kansas): There are three guarantees in life -- death, taxes and Kansas contending for the Big 12 title under Self. This was supposed to be the year that the Jayhawks fell from their perch, right? They didn't have a recruiting class full of McDonald’s All-America kids. They went all in with Thomas Robinson, a reserve last season, who doesn’t have the luxury of being surrounded by other NBA talents. It's a team guided by Tyshawn Taylor and his turnovers. And here they are again, sitting atop the Big 12.
John Thompson III (Georgetown): One preseason publication picked the Hoyas to finish 11th in the Big East. But Thompson has turned this balanced team into one of the best programs in the Big East and the nation. And unlike the rest of the country, the Hoyas have looked comfortable in tough road/neutral site wins (Memphis, Alabama, Louisville). Thompson says he’s not worried about respect and recognition. But his coaching effort this season demands both.
John Calipari (Kentucky): Laugh if you'd like. I know some folks think Calipari plays games on his smartphone while his superstar freshmen take care of business. Well, how does that theory (that Calipari doesn’t really coach these studs as much he lets them freestyle) explain the development of Anthony Davis’ offense? Or Kentucky’s seventh-ranked adjusted offense and defense (KenPom.com)? Calipari is molding this young group. Don’t believe it? Let’s talk in New Orleans.
Kermit Davis (Middle Tennessee): The Blue Raiders start four players who didn’t compete last season. At 17-2, they’ve already won more games than last season’s 16-win team. Some coaches struggle with one transfer and Davis has seven on his roster. Plus, the Blue Raiders have won nine in a row. Based on their defensive prowess, MT might be this season’s VCU. Credit Davis for getting so many new players on the same page.