Juwan Howard’s tenure at his alma mater has been a bit of a mixed bag. Last year, he went 19-15 — just narrowly getting into the NCAA Tournament field. Through 13 games (as of Jan. 3, 2023), the team is only 8-5. Despite these marks, Howard does have a Sweet 16 appearance and an Elite Eight appearance in only three years as the head coach.
Reports indicate that he did turn down overtures from the NBA in favor of staying in Ann Arbor (where he’s currently coaching his kids). Howard is still so young and highly respected, that jumping to the NBA once his kids leave college wouldn’t be a huge shock. As such, we’re putting a bit of a ceiling on this program at the moment.
Image Source: Getty Images
24. Michigan State
Tom Izzo has been the coach at Michigan State dating back to 1995. He’s a living legend — and will be able to coach in East Lansing until he’s ready to hang it up. After all, Izzo was the one to build Michigan State into a national power.
The current iteration of the team doesn’t look to be as talented as groups we’ve seen in the past. We’re a bit skeptical that MSU will match up with competitors in the arena of NIL recruiting. Izzo seems more old school, and likely would opt for a lower profile player minus the distractions and hullabaloo. Since 2014, Michigan State has gotten out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament only once (a Final Four spot in 2018-19).
Image Source: Getty Images
23. Ohio State
Chris Holtmann has this program trending in the right direction. Ohio State has made four-straight tournament appearances under his leadership (save for the COVID year), and a fifth looks very likely. The Buckeyes are a gritty team aiming to make life difficult for its opponent on both ends of the floor. Under Holtmann’s leadership, his teams play hard — and with a real edge.
Ohio State won’t have any trouble recruiting at a high level. It’s about getting in Holtmann’s types of guys who will be multi-year program builders. He did this at Butler, and Ohio State looks to be in a great place moving forward.
Image Source: Kirk Irwin/Getty Images
Maryland is in the midst of a deep rebuild. Coming over from Seton Hall, Kevin Willard is being tasked with tearing down the program and rebuilding from the ground floor. Maryland has a rich history of winning, and playing in the Big Ten will surely be a challenge for Willard.
However, the East Coast native has plenty of ties to the area. He’s known as a good recruiter, and as such we expect him to bring some really good basketball players to the program. It’ll take some time, but Willard knows what he’s doing.
Image Source: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images
Longtime NBA coach Mike Woodson returned home to Indiana — where he was born, raised, and played college basketball. The Hoosiers needed a jolt, and got it with the veteran head man. Indiana is in the midst of its second year with Woodson at the helm. The program already seems to have a stronger sense of accountability and discipline. That comes directly from its head man.
Indiana has recruited better with Woodson than many expected. With so much personal pride on the line with this job, we can’t see Woodson leaving for another gig. We also think he’ll be extremely hard-working in trying to get his alma mater back to national prominence.
Image Source: Justin Casterline/Getty Images
Xavier’s rich basketball tradition had taken a hit once Chris Mack left for Louisville. Wanting to return to the past, Xavier turned back the clock and rehired Sean Miller for a second tenure. Miller has had success virtually everywhere he has coached. Once his tenure in Arizona turned sour, Miller returned to his Midwest roots — where he’s able to really coach without being under the microscope of a big-time job.
This is where Miller thrives best. He can recruit more humble, underrated players with an edge. He got away from that philosophy a bit in Tucson. With his preexisting experience and connections within the area, Miller already has Xavier back on track.
Image Source: Getty Images
Brad Underwood is a great coach. Tactically, he’s adept at changing styles depending upon what the opposition throws at him. This year, he dipped his toes into the transfer portal — showing some major recruiting chops by nabbing Matthew Mayer and Terrence Shannon.
Illinois plays an aggressive, in-your-face style defensively to go along with a free-flowing attack on the offensive side of the floor. Illinois shouldn’t have issues getting players to Champaign, and the arrival of UCLA into the Big Ten should make playing in the conference even more alluring.
Image Source: Michael Hickey/Getty Images
Greg Gard took over this program seven years ago, and it still remains as a rock-solid entity. Will Wisconsin be a contender to win a national title on a daily basis? Probably not. Are the Badgers a lock for 20+ wins annually? For the most part, yes.
A formula has been created here (originally by Bo Ryan) where the Badgers prioritize outside shooting, a slow tempo, and efficiency on both ends of the floor. Despite not landing the ‘best’ recruits, the system often takes care of itself — enabling these players to thrive versus a higher-level athlete.
Image Source: John Fisher/Getty Images
Bruce Pearl keeps on trucking as a guy who knows how to build programs. First it was Milwaukee-Wisconsin, then it was Tennessee, and now it’s Auburn. The first few seasons were rough, but since then the team has annually won more than 20 games a season. In the process, Auburn is clearly in the upper-echelon within the SEC.
The next step for the Tigers is to become a title contender. Auburn hasn’t come close to making the Final Four since one previous appearance in 2018. There’s also been past transgressions involving Pearl and the NCAA which seem to follow him wherever he goes.
Image Source: Raymond Carlin III/USA TODAY Sports
The Muss Bus is in full swing down in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks are BACK — in large part due to their enigmatic head man. Musselman utilized the transfer portal perfectly at his prior stop (Nevada). Since coming to the SEC, Arkansas has been equally as dangerous recruiting transfers as its been getting top-10 high school talent. This year’s class featuring Nick Smith, Jordan Walsh, and Anthony Black is among the best in the country.
Musselman is only 58 years of age — which makes the possibility in jumping the NBA a real thing. Remember, Muss is long rooted in the professional game, having worked for six different NBA franchises. We’ll see if the allure of the NBA comes to fruition. If that does happen, Arkansas fans can at least take solace in the reality that the program is most likely humming.
Image Source: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Texas would’ve been higher on this list had it not been for the recent legal issues surrounding head coach Chris Beard. The reports are beyond troubling, and we don’t know when (or if) Beard will be back coaching in Austin.
If we’re looking at the situation without the legal issues hanging over the program, it’s a very good deal for those involved. Beard is a great coach, UT is a very easy place to recruit to, and the upside for UT as a power within the Big 12 is very attainable.
Image Source: Lance King/Getty Images
Jon Scheyer has a pretty tough task ahead of himself. Yes, Duke is a national brand with recruiting resources and fan support. However, trying to replicate the success Coach K had might be too tough of a task to complete. The Blue Devils play in a tough conference, and have in a sense been snake-bit by the Kentucky syndrome in recent years.
We’re talking about loading up on highly-ranked freshmen who inevitably wilt in March without much in the way of coaching or veteran leadership from teammates. Scheyer has shown the proclivity to recruit. However, can he coach? We don’t know the answer to that question so far.
Image Source: Grant Halverson/Getty Images
UCONN appears to be set up quite well for the future. Dan Hurley is only 49 years of age. A lifer on the East Coast, we don’t necessarily think he’ll jump for another job (though the possibility is why Connecticut ranks outside of the top-10). After turning around Rhode Island, Hurley is doing the same thing with the Huskies. In 2022-23, the team legitimately looks like a potential title contender based upon a mix of toughness, athleticism, size, and skill.
The next step for Hurley with the Huskies is to make a deep run in March. Based upon this year’s team, UCONN has all of the ingredients needed to do just that. As a result, recruiting should see an uptick.
Image Source: Justin Casterline/Getty Images
Where does this program go? Kentucky essentially inked John Calipari to a lifetime contract chock-full of incentives and financial perks. While the Wildcats did win one title under his guidance, the program for all intents and purposes has completely floundered in relation to expectations.
UK often is among the best in the country when it comes to recruiting rankings. Yet, there are times we see Calipari-teams which are ill-prepared and ultimately ill-equipped to defeat more disciplined opponents. No longer can Coach Cal roll the ball out and expect his highly-ranked freshmen to overwhelm the opposition with athleticism. There’s far too much parity in college basketball nowadays.
Image Source: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Painter is a model of consistency within the Big Ten. He first took over the head coaching position at Purdue in 2005. Since then, he’s led the Boilermakers to 12 seasons with at least 20 victories. This also includes 13 NCAA Tournament appearances and six Sweet 16 appearances.
Winning 67-percent of his games, Painter isn’t going anywhere. He appears to be a lifer in West Lafayette, and will be a heavyweight within the Big Ten for the foreseeable future. In order to get over the hump and make the Final Four, Purdue might have to slightly alter its recruiting efforts to get a tick more talent.
Image Source: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports
Nate Oats brought some much-needed energy to a program which had been relatively pedestrian for years. In the mold of typical SEC aggression, Oats recruits like a madman. He isn’t afraid to challenge programs with greater prestige for a highly-ranked recruit. When you look at his record in recent years, the Crimson Tide are bringing in boatloads of talent.
The next step for Oats is to make that deep run in the NCAA Tournament. The most recent run was spoiled by a Cinderella UCLA squad. However, the core building blocks have been constructed for Alabama to be a very solid squad for years to come.
Image Source: Jordan Prather/USA TODAY Sports
Houston is humming right now as a program. Longtime NBA coach Kelvin Sampson should unequivocally be considered one of the top coaches in the game. The culture he’s helped create at Houston had led to a boatload of wins. The team plays ferocious defense — buoyed not by size or height — but rather athleticism, length, and quickness.
Sampson recruits a certain type of athlete to Houston. The ones with a proverbial chip on their shoulders. However in the wake of winning at a high level, recruiting has taken an uptick (Jarace Walker is an example of that). This program doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. Since 2018 (as of Jan. 3), the program has won 130 games.
Image Source: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images
Rick Barnes is a damn good basketball coach. His resume speaks for itself — and his ability as a very good basketball mind has Tennessee’s program humming. While his age (68) could indicate a shorter tenure compared to some of the other coaches on this list, he’s helped to cultivate a culture which should stand strong even when he retires.
In other words, this will be an attractive job once he is no longer atop the program. The combination of support from the fan base, the administration, and the appeal of the SEC makes it a very good gig. No longer is the basketball program running second-fiddle to football. In fact, some could make the argument that they’re on equal footing.
Image Source: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
After winning the National Title a couple of years ago, Scott Drew has built up enough equity in the Baylor program for it to be considered a true powerhouse within the scene of college basketball. It now routinely competes for Big 12 titles alongside Kansas, and also is more than equipped to make deep runs in March.
Even more exciting for Baylor fans, the program is also developing some really good talent. Drew’s acumen as a recruiter has skyrocketed in the wake of him becoming ‘a guard whisperer’ of sorts. Keyonte George will be a first-round pick in next year’s draft. This comes on the heels of others (Jeremy Sochan, Kendall Brown, Davion Mitchell, Ish Wainright) who are also currently in the league.
Image Source: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
6. North Carolina
Carolina isn’t going anywhere. Hubert Davis — for all intents and purposes — has his dream job. It’s highly unlikely he’d leave for another job, and it doesn’t appear as if the NBA is calling right now. He did a great job leading Carolina to the Final Four last year. He relied upon a veteran group chock-full of experience and high-end talent.
As soon as the core of that group leaves (Armando Bacot, Caleb Love, Leaky Black, R.J. Davis, Pete Nance), Davis will be in full rebuild mode. UNC will have zero problems recruiting (especially since Davis is a very well-liked guy). Still, in a conference as competitive as the ACC, it’ll be interesting to see how Davis navigates the inevitable roster turnover.
Image Source: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Kansas under Bill Self has essentially been a lock for 25+ wins and at least a share of the Big 12 title. The Jayhawks aren’t going to be slowing down anytime soon, as Self (60 years of age) has most likely passed the point of seriously entertaining the NBA.
With its basketball pedigree and commitment to winning, the program continues to delicately tiptoe the line of welcoming in high-level recruits sprinkled among developmental/4-year types. It’s a formula which continues to work. As such, why ever reinvent the wheel?
Image Source: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
As long as Mark Few is in Spokane, this program figures to be humming for quite a while. The ecosystem at Gonzaga has been perfectly manicured for decades. Few is proven as a developer of NBA talent. Not only that, but his extensive connections overseas has led to Gonzaga being a trailblazer of sorts as it pertains to kids coming over and playing collegiately rather than risking NBA fortunes right away.
Being the premier attraction in Spokane, the fan base is exceptional. Few has all of the institutional support he needs to continue in having Gonzaga being a mid-major power. It’ll be interesting to see how the program will function once transitioning over to the Big 12 becomes official.
Image Source: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Since coming to Westwood, Mick Cronin has created a very sound culture within the program. Responsibility, toughness, and physicality replaced the nonchalant, underwhelming tenure cultivated prior by Steve Alford. Now with access to a much higher-level athlete (both in terms of skill and ability), Cronin has the Bruins functioning as an efficient machine offensively — and a dynamic team defensively.
The only aspect of Cronin’s tenure which could derail UCLA’s path as a (future) Big Ten heavyweight is the potential allure of the NBA. We can’t see Cronin leaving LA for any other job (he loves the city). However, he does have a number of connections to the professional ranks. Even then, we think he’s a college lifer with a very strong grasp of his current position. It’ll be interesting to see Cronin build a roster exclusively of his ‘own guys’ (as Jaime Jaquez, Tyger Campbell, Kenny Nwuba, and David Singleton were all Alford recruits).
Image Source: G Fiume/Getty Images
Arizona is set up extremely well into the future. If the rumored move to the Big 12 comes to fruition, the Wildcats should be expected to be among the best teams in the conference. Tommy Lloyd has been a seamless fit in Tucson — namely due to his ability as an offensive genius.
Considering his age, west coast ties, and unlikely interest in an NBA job, we could see him thriving in the desert akin to what Lute Olsen did. His links to the European game is also paying dividends — as one can see the international flavor on his rosters already.
Image Source: Chris Coduto-USA TODAY Sports
Tony Bennett has perfected the formula in Charlottesville. The pack defense, the bone-grinding offense, equal parts efficiency, brains, and toughness…everything you’d want in the ideal basketball program. With Virginia recently coming off of a National Title, Bennett is gaining access to a higher level of recruit than he’s accustomed to getting.
The NBA surely has made overtures — to which he’s pushed aside. He can be a lifer at Virginia if he wants to. Bennett’s ability to develop talent at an extremely impressive rate — along with competing in the rugged ACC — makes him a hallmark figure within the landscape of College Basketball.
Image Source: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports