Ranking the best college basketball coaches so far this season
Tommy Lloyd was a bit of a surprise hire at Arizona. One year in he was the Naismith Coach of the Year.
Judging head coaches after half a season is not fair. But it’s obvious who is off to a tremendous start so far, or at the very least who has their programs heading in the right direction.
Let’s take a look at some of the coaches who have started out strong in men’s college basketball this season.
1. Jerome Tang, Kansas State (14-0, 3-1 Big 12): Tang was a long, trusted assistant to Scott Drew at Baylor. He was there at the beginning in 2003, helping to build the Bears into a national title team in 2022. He was looking for the right gig to leave Waco and found it at Kansas State. Tang has been sensational, thus far, in building the Wildcats into a legit Big 12 contender. Keyontae Johnson was an unknown. Kansas State was one of the places that was considering letting him play after he collapsed at Florida in December 2020. His play has been spectacular. So has that of holdover Markquis Nowell, who once transferred from Little Rock. This team has been able to score at will and picked up two monster road wins this past week at Baylor and Texas. Tang could be this season’s Tommy Lloyd and become a national coach of the year after one year, while leading his team into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
2. Dennis Gates, Missouri (13-2, 2-1 SEC): Gates was a long-time assistant to Leonard Hamilton at Florida State. He had success at Cleveland State in the Horizon and was highly coveted in the coaching carousel this offseason. He’s been a hit so far in Columbia. Gates has a star in Kobe Brown. This squad can defend. And the crowds and fan base have been all on board for Mizzou. He got blasted at home by rival Kansas and that could have been a poor first impression. But then he turned around blitzed Illinois in St. Louis and Kentucky at home. The Tigers are looking strong for NCAA Tournament consideration in Year 1.
3. Sean Miller, Xavier (13-3, 5-0 Big East): Miller is back at Xavier and the Miller 2.0 regime has gone exceptionally well. Miller went to four NCAA tournaments in five seasons, including an Elite Eight. Miller has already knocked off UConn at home and has the Musketeers poised to make a run toward the Big East title. He has blended a roster that was largely intact of holdovers and transfers. Jack Nunge has flourished under his watch and the combination of Colby Jones and Zach Freemantle has been a tough matchup. The addition of leading scorer Souley Boum, a great find from UTEP, has been another major hit. Boum is the leading scorer for the Musketeers. Miller was exonerated through the NCAA investigation about his time at Arizona and now has that in his rearview mirror as well.
4. Chris Jans, Mississippi State (12-3, 1-2 SEC): Jans led New Mexico State to a win over UConn in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. He has a proven track record of taking over a program that is a bit under the radar and flourishing. There is still plenty of runway for this season, but thus far he has the Bulldogs in a position to be a possible NCAA Tournament team. The wins over Marquette and Utah will have a great shelf life for the Bulldogs. Beating rival Ole Miss last weekend was a good first impression for everyone in the state. If he can get Mississippi State into the NCAA Tournament with a roster dominated by transfers, he will buy time to start building a strong foundation.
5. Chris Gerlufsen, San Francisco (12-7, 1-3 WCC): Gerlufsen took over for Todd Golden, who took the Florida job after the Dons’ narrow loss to Murray State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Moving up to head coach is never easy, but Gerlufsen has done quite well. The Dons blasted Arizona State at home and nearly got Gonzaga, building a lead before losing it late. Will the Dons make the NCAA Tournament? It’s unlikely as an at-large, but he has ensured the Dons will be in the thick of every game in the WCC.
Andy Katz is a longtime college basketball writer, analyst and host. He can be seen on the Big Ten Network, as well as March Madness and NCAA.com, and he hosts the podcast “March Madness 365.” Katz worked at ESPN for nearly two decades and, prior to that, in newspapers for nine years.
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