When the Big East reconfigured three years ago, the league had its share of questions. Among them, did the league have the powerhouse coaches to be a powerhouse conference?
Brad Stevens had left for the NBA. Jay Wright’s program was in a state of transition. Chris Mack was still in the shadow of his predecessors. John Thompson III couldn’t shake early NCAA Tournament exits.
Three seasons later, no one would confuse the Big East coaching lineup with that of the Big Ten or ACC, but it has made strides. Wright has a top-10 team, Mack is coming off a trip to the Sweet 16, and Chris Holtmann has Butler overachieving again. JTIII even dodged a loss to a No. 13 seed in the last NCAA Tournament.
The Big East also has cultivated new coaches with bright futures — Ed Cooley and Providence and Steve Wojciechowski and — maybe — Chris Mullin.
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Ranking the Big East Basketball Coaches for 2015-16
1. Jay Wright, Villanova
Record at Villanova: 319-152, 140-81 Big East
NCAA record: 14-12, one Final Four
Number to note: Wright has had six of the top seven teams in Villanova history, according to sports-reference.com’s Simple Rating System. Last year’s 33-3 team was No. 1. Rollie Massimino’s national championship team in 1985 was ranked No. 20.
Why he’s ranked here: Wright’s recent tenure is worthy of some skepticism. The 29-win and 33-win seasons the last two years have coincided with a weaker Big East, and the Wildcats haven’t advanced to the Sweet 16 since the 2009 Final Four run.
2. Chris Mack, Xavier
Record at Xavier: 134-71, 67-33 Atlantic 10/Big East
NCAA record: 6-5
Number to note: In the last two seasons, Mack is 0-6 against Villanova (including the conference tournament) and 22-13 against the rest of the Big East.
Why he’s ranked here: Although Mack may not be held in as high esteem as predecessor Sean Miller, Mack has reached the Sweet 16 three times in his six seasons at Xavier.
3. John Thompson III, Georgetown
Record at Georgetown: 317-157, 119-68 Big East
NCAA record: 9-10, one Final Four
Number to note: Ten of Thompson’s 11 teams at Georgetown have ranked in the top 100 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency on KenPom. Four teams have been among the top 50 most efficient teams on both ends of the court.
Why he’s ranked here: Thompson went 6-2 in the NCAA Tournament in his first two trips with Georgetown and 3-6 since. The early NCAA Tournament exits to lower-seeded teams will haunt him, even if they came against Final-Four bound VCU in 2011 and Stephen Curry in 2008.
4. Ed Cooley, Providence
Record at Providence: 79-56, 34-38 Big East
NCAA record: 0-2
Number to note: Providence’s KenPom rating has improved from No. 112 to 70 to 51 to 30 during Cooley’s tenure. The conference record has improved each year to match. Cooley’s KenPom ranking improved each of his five seasons at Fairfield as well.
Why he’s ranked here: The ceiling at Providence is well-established and Cooley may break through it. Cooley is the first coach since Rick Barnes to take Providence to back-to-back NCAA Tourneys (1989-90) and first since Barnes to win 20 games in back-to-back seasons (1993-94).
5. Chris Holtmann, Butler
Record at Butler: 23-11, 12-6 Big East
NCAA record: 1-1
Number to note: Holtmann’s first season gave Butler its best conference record since 2010-11 — when the Brad Stevens-coached Bulldogs were in the Horizon League.
Why he’s ranked here: Holtmann took over Butler under less-than-ideal circumstances and, by the end of the season, the Bulldogs took Notre Dame to the wire in the NCAA Tournament. He has the personnel to top that this season.
6. Greg McDermott, Creighton
Record at Creighton: 121-57, 55-35 Missouri Valley/Big East
NCAA record: 3-6
Number to note: McDermott went 107-38 (.734) with Doug McDermott on his roster at Creighton. He’s 163-150 (.521) without Doug McDermott at Northern Iowa, Iowa State and Creighton.
Why he’s ranked here: Beyond losing Doug, the elder McDermott had a massive rebuild at Creighton last season. The latter part of Greg’s tenure at Northern Iowa (65 wins, three NCAA appearances in three seasons) should be the baseline expectation for McDermott.
7. Steve Wojciechowski, Marquette
Record at Marquette: 13-19, 4-14 Big East
NCAA record: 0-0
Number to note: Wojo’s first team led the Big East in defensive turnover rate and finished second in 2-point defensive field goal percentage.
Why he’s ranked here: Marquette was young and undermanned last season but was competitive for most of the season. The 14 losses included two in overtime to Tournament teams Georgetown and Butler.
8. Chris Mullin, St. John’s
Record at St. John’s: First season
NCAA record: 0-0
Number to note: Mullin’s first team will return 3.8 percent of the scoring from last season.
Why he’s ranked here: After more than 20 years and five coaches is Lou Carneseca left, St. John’s is throwing up a Hail Mary with the best player in program history. Mullin has never coached at any level, but if he can’t sell St. John’s, perhaps no one can.
9. Kevin Willard, Seton Hall
Record at Seton Hall: 82-81, 30-60 Big East
NCAA record: 0-0
Number to note: Willard has one winning conference record (2009-10 at Iona) in eight seasons as a head coach.
Why he’s ranked here: Willard once seemed to be a coach on the rise with Seton Hall, but his program has fallen apart with locker room friction and minimal results. The Pirates are 15-39 in the Big East in the last three seasons.
10. Dave Leitao, DePaul
Record at DePaul: 58-34, 30-18 Conference USA (from 2002-05)
NCAA record: 2-2
Number to note: Leitao has coached one top 50 KenPom team in his career — 2006-07 Virginia, ranked 50th.
Why he’s ranked here: DePaul brought back the last coach to take the program to the NCAA Tournament in 2004. He hasn’t been a head coach since 2009, and his name never showed up in the rumor mill for a major job since.