Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart are the best, but they're not alone.
The top two coaches from last year’s list of college coaches under 40 remain our top two here.
That’s fitting because Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart show no signs of going anywhere.
The two 30-something coaches have stuck with Butler and VCU, respectively, despite overtures from programs like UCLA and Illinois. True, those programs bring more notoriety and resources, but Stevens and Smart have proven they can win just as much where they are right now. And with both coaches easily crossing the $1 million mark, they don’t need to jump jobs for salary.
Stevens and Smart are no-brainers for our list of best college basketball coaches under 40, but the rest of the list may contain surprises. With Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg and Connecticut’s Kevin Ollie departing the under-40 club for the 2013-14 season, we dipped into the mid-major ranks to find our young coaches on the rise.
*All ages as of Nov. 1, 2013
COLLEGE BASKETBALL’S BEST COACHES UNDER 40
1. Brad Stevens, Butler
Record: 166-49, 12-5 NCAA Tournament
No coach has won more games in his first six seasons as a head coach than Stevens. That almost seems like a footnote in the Butler coach’s career. He took over successful mid-major and by staying in Indianapolis turned Butler into a national brand. The Bulldogs have twice reached the national championship game under Stevens, reached the NCAA Tournament in five of six years and moved up from the Horizon League to the Atlantic 10 to the reformed Big East. With few exceptions, the calm and collected Stevens seems to have done this without raising his heart rate.
2. Shaka Smart, VCU
Record: 111-37, 7-3 NCAA Tournament
Like Butler, VCU was up to the challenge by moving up from the Colonial to the Atlantic 10. The Rams have not won fewer than 27 games in four years under Smart and have proven to be a superb postseason team (one Final Four, two rounds of 32 and a CBI championship). Smart’s program has become synonymous with the havoc defense that forces turnovers better than just about any team in the country. With Butler, Xavier and Temple leaving the Atlantic 10, VCU is poised to become the top program in the A-10 as long as Smart is in Richmond.
3. Josh Pastner, Memphis
The energetic Pastner achieved an important milestone in 2013 with Memphis’ first NCAA Tournament win of his tenure thanks to a narrow win over 11th-seeded Saint Mary’s. Signature wins have been lacking under Pastner, but that’s about to change. Memphis trades lackluster Conference USA for Louisville (at least for a year), Connecticut, Cincinnati and Temple in 2013-14. Pastner has kept a string of McDonald’s All-Americans coming to Memphis, so there won't be a talent deficit in the new league. He’ll soon find out if they can keep up with better competition on a more consistent basis after breezing through C-USA last season.
4. Steve Prohm, Murray State
Record: 52-12, 1-1 NCAA Tournament
The Racers’ second season under Prohm wasn’t quite as magical as the first when Isaiah Canaan led Murray to a 31-2 season. Murray State still won 21 games and the West Division of the expanded Ohio Valley. Now it’s time to see what Prohm can do without Canaan.
5. Bryce Drew, Valparaiso
Record: 48-20, 0-1 NCAA Tournament
The most famous basketball player in Valpo history has turned out to be a pretty good coach. The son of longtime Crusaders coach Homer Drew took over his father’s program two seasons ago and brought Valpo back to the postseason contention with back-to-back Horizon League regular-season titles. The NCAA bid in 2013 was Valpo’s first since 2004, and the 26 wins were a school record.
6. Richard Pitino, Minnesota
FIU’s second attempt to hire a coach with name recognition fared much better than the first. Isiah Thomas won 14 Sun Belt games in three season at FIU. Pitino went 11-9 in the league in his lone season in Miami. FIU was on the brink of its first NCAA Tournament bid since 1995 before losing 65-63 to Western Kentucky in the Sun Belt title game. Minnesota took note and made him the youngest coach in the Big Ten. He has the family name, but his old bosses — Rick Pitino and Billy Donovan — have a good success rate with assistants-turned-head coaches.
7. Mitch Henderson, Princeton
Harvard has won the Ivy League the last two seasons, but Princeton has been right on the Crimson’s heels. The Tigers have finished one game back of Harvard in the Ivy the last two seasons. Like Bryce Drew at Valpo, Henderson is a hometown hero at Princeton who played on the 1996 Tigers team that upset UCLA in the NCAA Tournament. Henderson spent more than a decade on Northwetsern’s coaching staff, Big Ten experience that could become relevant.
8. Kevin Willard, Seton Hall
Though Seton Hall took a major step back last season — from 21 wins and an NIT appearance to 3-15 in the Big East — Willard has a good overall resume. Willard took over an Iona team that went 2-28 the year before he arrived. By the time Willard left, Iona won 21 games in 2010. A Rick Pitino assistant with Celtics and at Louisville, Willard will look to rebound in the new Big East.
9. Andy Toole, Robert Morris
Promoted to head coach before his 30th birthday, Toole delivered the biggest win in Robert Morris history when the Colonials defeated Kentucky in the NIT on their home court in March. That shouldn’t obscure what else he’s accomplished in Moon Township: 50 wins in the last two seasons, an NEC regular season title in 2013 and a 39-15 overall record in the league. A former Mike Rice assistant at Robert Morris before his promotion, Toole might be under the microscope as he’s a candidate for another job.
10. Michael White, Louisiana Tech
The WAC was watered down last season and the schedule was paper thin, but it’s tough to ignore Louisiana Tech’s progress in White’s second season. The Bulldogs improved from 6-8 in conference in his first season to 16-2 in the second. The former Ole Miss assistant led Louisiana Tech to its second-highest win total of 27 victories, second only to Karl Malone’s 29-win team in 1984-85. White is poised to build on last season in Conference USA in 2013-14.