While the players within the NCAA Tournament are under considerable stress, there’s also a lot of pressure on the head coaches within the event.
Programs ranked with a lower seed are expected to advance deep into the tournament. For a coach on the proverbial hot seat, accruing multiple wins (or even one) could help to solidify their job status.
There are six coaches in particular having the most to prove in the tournament. While none of them are in serious danger of losing their jobs with a short exit, prior history — coupled with their current teams — offer some credence for why a long run in the tournament is needed.
Leonard Hamilton – Florida State Seminoles
In his 15th year at Florida State, this is the best team that Hamilton’s ever had — both talent-wise and from a record standpoint.
Simply put, all of the ingredients are here for a lengthy run in the tournament. Hamilton’s team may be the longest and most athletic squad in the field. The Seminoles feature two sure-fire NBA players (Dwayne Bacon, Jonathan Isaac), and have a deep 10-man rotation. FSU is also within the top-20 nationally in offensive efficiency.
If there’s a year for Hamilton to make a run, this is it. Isaac and Bacon will likely depart for the NBA after this season. Additionally, this is only the fifth NCAA Tournament appearance for FSU since Hamilton took over in 2002.
Scott Drew – Baylor Bears
The Baylor head coach brings the No. 3-seeded Bears into the East Region of the tournament. Like Hamilton, this year’s team (25-7) is statistically the best one Drew has had during his 14-year tenure in Waco.
Led by Johnathan Motley, Baylor finished No. 2 in a very tough Big 12 Conference. Wins over Oregon, Xavier, Michigan State, VCU, Oklahoma State, and West Virginia has many bullish on the Bears’ chances in March.
Baylor’s bowed out of the tournament quite quickly in the last two years. As a No. 3 seed last year, the Bears were upended by Yale. The year before, a No. 5-seeded team lost to Georgia State.
A third-straight loss to a double-digit seed could ramp up the heat on Drew’s job security.
Steve Alford – UCLA Bruins
At a place like UCLA, expectations are incredibly high.
Alford — no stranger to competing at the highest level — understands this. Coming off of a 15-17 season, Alford gave back his one-year extension he had received the previous year. The fan base had been none too happy with how last year turned out, and Alford essentially did this as a means to assuage public perception.
This year, the Lonzo Ball-led Bruins (29-4) back in title contention. Since coming to Westwood, Alford has yet to advance beyond the Sweet 16. With the current talent on this team, it may be his best chance for a while to do so.
Seniors Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton will leave after this season. Ball and T.J. Leaf are almost certainties to enter the NBA Draft. There’s also PG Aaron Holiday and big man Ike Anigbogu — who could be 50/50 on leaving themselves. As such, there’s bound to be big turnover on next year’s team — where the Bruins welcome in a star-studded six-man recruiting class.
Simply put, the Bruins should make some noise in this year’s tournament. If they suffer an early round loss, Alford will feel the heat once more.
John Calipari – Kentucky Wildcats
Calipari is a master when it comes to recruiting.
The likes of DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Eric Bledsoe, John Wall, Willie Cauley-Stein, Nerlens Noel, Julius Randle, Jamal Murray, Karl Anthony-Towns, and Devin Booker all starred for Calipari in Lexington. Since 2009, UK has finished with the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class in all but two years (per 247Sports).
Much like Alabama in college football, one would expect Kentucky to rack up the national titles. That hasn’t exactly been the case.
Since coming to Kentucky in 2009, the Wildcats have only one National Championship. Calipari’s ability to churn out first-round picks is all well and good, but there’s been a general lack of winning at the absolute highest level.
Yet again this year, UK is relying upon a trio of freshmen (De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo). The field does appear to be pretty wide open — giving Calipari as good a shot as any to win the entire tournament.
Sean Miller – Arizona Wildcats
Arizona had a very impressive 2016/17 regular season.
The Wildcats finished tied atop the Pac-12 standings, and topped that with winning the conference tournament in Las Vegas. Miller’s put together a deep, well-balanced roster — led by future lottery pick Lauri Markkanen.
A Final Four run has been the one missing piece to an otherwise very impressive resume for Miller. Arizona has lost in the Elite 8 three times (’11, ’13, ’14) under Miller’s guidance.
When looking at the scope of talent he’s brought to Tucson, this year’s team might be his most complete in terms of length, defensive capabilities, depth, and athleticism. Arizona ranks in the top-40 in defensive efficiency, and the top-25 in offensive efficiency.
The West Region bracket sets up rather nicely for Arizona to make a deep run into the tournament. In fact, anything short of a Final Four appearance will be a disappointment — especially considering the Final Four will be played in Phoenix.
Mark Few – Gonzaga
Few’s team is absolutely loaded this year.
Gonzaga ranks No. 1 nationally in defensive efficiency, and No. 2 in offensive efficiency. The ‘Zags feature a legitimate Player of the Year candidate in PG Nigel Williams-Goss, Cal transfer Jordan Mathews, and a deep frontcourt featuring Mizzou transfer Johnathan Williams, 7’1″ Polish beast Przemek Karnowski, future lottery pick Zach Collins, and high-upside French athlete Killian Tillie.
Statistically speaking, this is by far and away the best team Few has had in his 18-year head coaching career in Spokane.
During his impressive tenure — in which he’s won 81.6-percent of the games he’s coached in — Gonzaga has made one Elite 8 appearance. The Bulldogs have certainly garnered the reputation as being a respected program. With that said, they won’t truly be considered an elite one until they make it to the Final Four.
Source: Jim Brown, Anthony Gruppuso, Gary A. Vasquez, Stephen R. Sylvanie / USA TODAY Sports