Marquette's Buzz Williams takes top spot in new conference
The new Big East has a leg up on other basketball leagues that don’t have major college football. That’s clear. Georgetown, Villanova, Marquette, St. John’s and even Butler and Xavier are established basketball brands.
The resumes of the league's coaches, though, may be a bit lacking compared to the ACC, Big Ten and Big 12.
Only two Big East coaches have a Final Four appearance, and neither claimed the top spot in our league coach rankings. That honor belongs to Buzz Williams.
The Marquette coach is accomplished as anyone during the last three seasons, but he has a grand total of eight NCAA Tournament wins in his career.
Beyond Williams and mainstays Jay Wright at Villanova and John Thompson III at Georgetown, there’s an interesting dynamic to watch in the reformed league. Steve Lavin and Ed Cooley have rebuilt their programs in the shadow of Louisville and Syracuse, and now could be poised to take a major step up in a league without a clear power program on top.
Doug McDermott and Chris Mack have accomplished much at the Missouri Valley and Atlantic 10 levels, but the day-to-day competition will be improved in their new conferences (at least on days when they’re not facing DePaul).
*A few things to note as we are ranking coaches: We are attempting to look at the whole package of gameday acumen, recruiting, player development, and regular-season and postseason success. We are also keeping in mind a coach’s career trajectory.
And now, on to the debate. Feel free to chime in at @AthlonSports on Twitter or Athlon Sports on Facebook.
Other conference coach rankings: ACC | American | Big 12
1. Buzz Williams, Marquette
Record at Marquette: 122-54 overall (.693), 60-30 Big East (.667)
NCAA Tournament: 8-5
Buzz Williams’ name keeps getting thrown out for other major jobs, but the stat-minded Texan is doing just fine in Milwaukee. Marquette is one of only four teams to reach the Sweet 16 in each of the last three seasons, joining Florida, Kansas and Ohio State. And he’s done this without the benefit of McDonald’s All-Americans. And despite the departure of Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom before last season, Marquette won a share of the Big East title.
2. John Thompson III, Georgetown
Record at Georgetown: 209-89 overall (.701), 99-57 (.635)
NCAA Tournament: 8-9, one Final Four
Thompson’s tenure at Georgetown has been marred by early NCAA Tournament exits, but consider three of the last five teams that knocked the Hoyas out of the Tournament: Florida Gulf Coast, a Final Four-bound VCU and a Stephen Curry-led Davidson. Thompson’s career shouldn’t be defined by those exits. Georgetown surprised last season by winning a share of the Big East title, the third time the Hoyas have won the regular-season championship under Thompson.
3. Jay Wright, Villanova
Record at Villanova: 257-144 overall (.641), 114-90 Big East (.559)
NCAA Tournament: 12-10, one Final Four
Villanova bounced back from a losing 2011-12 season by going 20-14 overall and 10-8 in the Big East last year. The Wildcats aren't competing at the same level as they were in the late 2000s, but they’re showing signs of getting back. Villanova defeated each of the Big East’s tri-champs (Louisville, Marquette and Georgetown) at least once last season plus Syracuse. Wright also has a point guard in Ryan Arcidiacono who is poised to be one of the league’s breakout stars. After reaching the NCAA Tournament in eight of the last nine seasons, 2011-12 was an aberration.
4. Chris Mack, Xavier
Record (all at Xavier): 90-44 overall (.672), 48-16 Atlantic 10 (.750)
NCAA Tournament: 4-3
This could be a critical season for Mack’s momentum at Xavier. A Cincinnati and Xavier product through and through, Mack led Xavier to A-10 titles in his first two seasons and to the Sweet 16 twice in his first three seasons. With a depleted roster, Xavier slipped to 17-14 last season. The Musketeers have a potential All-American in sophomore Semaj Christon, so Mack should expect to return to form in his fifth season.
5. Steve Lavin, St. John’s
Record at St. John’s: 51-47 overall (.520), 26-28 Big East (.481)
NCAA Tournament: 11-7
Lavin’s record technically includes the majority of the 2011-12 season when he missed all but the first four games while recovering from successful treatment for prostate cancer. The Red Storm’s record with Lavin on the bench is 20-17 in the Big East. Beyond the record, Lavin has brought momentum back to St. John’s. Lavin took a veteran team to the NCAA Tournament in 2011, but he has replenished the program with standout recruiting classes in recent years. St. John’s should be a consistent contender in the new Big East.
6. Greg McDermott, Creighton
Record at Creighton: 80-30 overall (.727), 37-17 Missouri Valley (.685)
NCAA Tournament: 2-5
McDermott may be best suited as a mid-major coach. There’s no shame in that, but it will be interesting to see how he and Creighton perform in the new Big East, especially once his son Doug McDermott is gone. Greg has an 86-58 all-time conference record as a Missouri Valley coach at Northern Iowa and Creighton compared to 18-46 against the Big 12 while at Iowa State. He’s the big question for McDermott: Will the level of competition in the new Big East be closer to the MVC or the Big 12?
7. Ed Cooley, Providence
Record at Providence: 34-32 overall (.515), 13-23 Big East (.361)
NCAA Tournament: None
The Rhode Island-born Cooley has coached in the Northeast most of his career, and may be the perfect fit in returning Providence to contention. The Friars improved from 4-14 in the Big East in his first to 9-9 in his second, and that was without one of his top recruits, Ricky Ledo. This season could end a decade-long absence from the NCAA Tournament for the Friars.
8. Kevin Willard, Seton Hall
Record at Seton Hall: 49-49 overall (.500), 18-36 Big East (.333)
NCAA Tournament: None
Willard’s rebuilding job at Seton Hall hit a snag last season as the Pirates went 3-15 in the league after an NIT appearance a season earlier. We know Willard can rebuild — Iona went 2-28 the year before he arrived and 21-10 four years later. He hopes he’s a point guard away from getting closer to .500 in the league.
9. Brandon Miller, Butler
Record: First season
Given Butler’s track record of hiring coaches, we wouldn’t be shocked if Miller quickly moved up the rankings, even if duplicating Brad Stevens’ run would be an impossible task. Miller took a year away from college basketball two seasons ago, but Butler knows what it’s getting in its new coach. He’s an alum who coached at Butler and under a former Bulldogs coach Thad Matta at Ohio State.
10. Oliver Purnell, DePaul
Record at DePaul: 30-64 overall (.319), 6-50 Big East (.107)
NCAA Tournament record: 0-6
Programs know what they get with Purnell. He’s taken over rough situations at Radford, Old Dominion, Dayton and Clemson. He’s made them competitive in their respective leagues. Then he takes the next rebuilding job. DePaul, though, may be a job too difficult to salvage. The only hope is that the new Big East will be more forgiving than the last one for the Blue Demons.