The Big East is good. We hear it during every game from every analyst on every network. The mega-conference is loaded with big-name talent and big name basketball schools. Some may say this year is a fluke. Some think that control will shift back to the other power conferences across the nation. This year, however, is no anomaly.
This conference should always be the best in the country, and there is one simple reason. In a sport that is constantly changing with players, stadiums and uniforms, there remains one constant force: coaches.
Most conferences have a few perennial powerhouses and other confused schools that don’t know whether they are pretenders or contenders. The Big East, however, does not simply have nine of the top teams in the country; it has nine programs.
Each program offers a strong leader, and like the conference overall, no one is like another. They each bring their own personalities to the conference, some with more flair than others, some with more hair than others. But each brings one thing to the Big East: a winning tradition. Now, let’s look at the top nine coaches in the nation’s best conference.
9. Buzz Williams, Marquette – Williams’ success in his first season at Marquette can largely be attributed to his energetic predecessor Tom Crean. In only his second season as a head coach, Williams is proving that he can manage a Top-25 team. Williams has also successfully recruited three top 100 prospects for next season. Not too shabby for a new guy.
8. Bob Huggins, West Virginia – One of the many coaching legends in the Big East, Huggins has recorded over 600 wins in the head-coaching ranks. While at Cincinnati, Huggins took the Bearcats to 14-straight NCAA tournaments. At Kansas State, he proved that he was indeed a one-of-a-kind recruiter when he nabbed All-Americans Michael Beasley and Bill Walker. Now at WVU, Huggins has done more with less and will continue to improve the program through his strong recruiting sense.
7. Mike Brey, Notre Dame – You know the Big East is loaded with talented coaches when the two-time Big East Coach of the Year is the seventh best coach in the league. Before Brey arrived at South Bend in 2000, the Irish had not “danced” in over a decade. But since then, the Irish have made the tourney five times in nine years.
6. John Thompson III, Georgetown – JT3 has done a superb job since he took over the floundering Hoya program in 2004. After a year in the NIT, Thompson took Georgetown to the Sweet 16 and Final Four in consecutive seasons. His Princeton offense has been deadly. With a winning percentage of over 70 percent, Thompson is one of the elite coaches in the nation.
5. Jay Wright, Villanova – Similar to Thompson, Coach Wright inherited Steve Lappas’ struggling Wildcat team and turned the program into what it is today. Wright, the ’05-’06 National Coach of the Year, has taken Villanova to four consecutive NCAA Tournaments, two of which culminated in Elite Eight and Sweet 16 appearances. Like many of the other top Big East programs, Wright has a knack for recruiting top-tier high school talent.
4. Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh – Dixon, only 43 years old, has accomplished quite a bit in his six seasons at Pitt. He has yet to miss an NCAA tournament and has twice advanced to the Sweet 16. The Big East Coach of the Year in 2004, Dixon has landed two top-100 prospects for the ’09-’10 season. Dixon is signed on to be the head coach at Pitt through the ’12-’13 season.
3. Rick Pitino, Louisville – Pitino has amassed over 500 NCAA wins in his time at Boston University, Providence, Kentucky and now Louisville. The wily coach took Providence to the Final Four in 1987, two years after the team recorded a dismal 11-20 record. At Kentucky, Pitino took a team in troubled waters to three Final Fours and the ’96 national championship. After a short stint with the Boston Celtics, Pitino returned to the college scene at Louisville in 2001 where he led the Cardinals to the 2005 Final Four.
2. Jim Boeheim, Syracuse – An inductee of the National Basketball Hall of Fame, Boeheim is quickly approaching the 800-win plateau. He has coached at Syracuse since 1969, and his list of accomplishments cannot fit on a single sheet of paper. Boeheim led the Orange to the 2003 National Championship.
His teams have won the Big East regular season seven times, and he was named Big East Coach of the Year on three separate occasions. Perhaps the most amazing fact is that the Orange have never had a losing season during Boeheim’s tenure at the university.
1. Jim Calhoun, Connecticut – How can any college basketball talk not involve Calhoun and his Huskies? Calhoun coached Northeastern from 1972-’86 and UConn from 1986 to today. His Huskies won the 1999 and 2004 national championships. He, too, is closing in on 800 wins and was inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005.
The Big East is in good hands. The utter dominance that the conference is displaying should be a shock to no one considering the dynamic coaches who roam the sidelines. Their impact has been felt for years and will continue into the future.
Justin DiBiase is a senior civil engineering major from Franklinville, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected]