Ranking the Big Ten's Basketball Coaches

Top half of league's coaches include some of the nation's best

The seventh-ranked coach in the Big Ten has a national title ring. That’s what kind of challenge ranking the Big Ten coaches presents.

Indeed, the Big Ten may have the deepest group of accomplished coaches in the country. Tom Izzo and Thad Matta have Final Four trips on their resumes. Bo Ryan has won Big Ten games at a greater rate than Bob Knight. Three other coaches have taken three or more teams to the NCAA Tournament.

 

The league has a mix of coaches with impressive regular-season resumes, NCAA Tournament wins, recruiting acumen and long track records at mid-majors. We took all into consideration in our rankings for the Big Ten cast of coaches for 2012-13.

 

Note: Coaches are ranked on a mix of past accomplishments with consideration for career trajectory over the next five seasons or so. Rankings take Xs and Os acumen and recruiting prowess into account along with success in the regular season and postseason.

 

1. Tom Izzo, Michigan State

Overall record: 412-169 (37-14 in the NCAA Tournament) 

Record at Michigan State: 412-169 (196-90 Big Ten)

Although the NBA has been interested in Izzo, it’s tough to imagine him coaching anywhere else. Izzo has his system at Michigan State down to a science. While we can’t say Michigan State overachieves -- the Spartans get their share of McDonald’s All-Americans and sends players to the NBA -- Izzo has a way of getting the most from his players. Only two Spartans have declared early for the NBA draft in the last decade and none since 2006. Michigan State has continued a run of 15 consecutive NCAA Tournaments despite producing only one lottery pick since 2001 and no first round picks since 2006. Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams are the only active coaches with more trips to the Final Four than Izzo’s six.

 

2. Bo Ryan, Wisconsin

Overall record: 298-128 (16-11 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Wisconsin: 268-101 (132-54 Big Ten)

First, we should note the above record does not include Ryan’s 353 wins and four national championships at Division III Wisconsin-Platteville. Before Ryan arrived in Madison, Wisconsin already started to build itself into a respectable program under Dick Bennett. With his swing offense, Ryan took the next step. Under Ryan, the Badgers have never missed the NCAA Tournament and never finished lower than fourth in the Big Ten in 11 seasons. Ryan (71.0) and Bob Knight (70.0) are the only coaches to spend 10 seasons in the Big Ten and win 70 percent of their conference games.

 

3. Thad Matta, Ohio State

Overall record: 323-96 (20-10 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Ohio State: 221-65 (98-40 Big Ten)

A national title is the only achievement missing from Matta’s resume. Perhaps it’s just a matter of time. Under Matta, Ohio State has won at least a share of the Big Ten regular-season title in five of the last seven seasons. He’s won 76.5 percent of his games in the Big Ten Tournament (16-5, three titles), the highest in conference history. And while the Big Ten has been lackluster compared to the other major conference in the NBA Draft in recent years, that hasn’t been the case at Ohio State. The Buckeyes are responsible for seven of the Big Ten’s 12 first-round picks since 2007. Unfortunately for Matta, this has led to a handful of one-and-dones (Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Kosta Koufos,B.J. Mullens) and a two-and-done (Jared Sullinger).

 

4. Tom Crean, Indiana

Overall record: 245-171 (7-6 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Indiana: 55-74 (19-53 Big Ten)

The former Tom Izzo assistant assumed one of the toughest rebuilding projects at a top-10 program perhaps since Rick Pitino landed at Kentucky. Crean took over an IU program reeling from sanctions and a roster reconstruction left over from the Kelvin Sampson era. The results came to fruition in 2011-12. In Crean’s first three seasons in Bloomington, Indiana won 28 overall games and eight Big Ten games. Last season alone, the Hoosiers won 27 games and 11 in conference. Crean already led Marquette to a Final Four, which might be the next step for an Indiana program likely to open the season near the top of the polls.

 

5. John Beilein, Michigan

Overall record: 384-252 (8-7 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Michigan: 91-77 (43-47 Big Ten)

Beilein factoid No. 1: He’s the only active coach with a 20-win season in junior college, NAIA, Division II and Division I. Beilein factoid No. 2: He’s never been an assistant coach. Beilein factoid No. 3: He’s one of eight coaches and four active coaches to take four teams to the NCAA Tournament (Canisius, Richmond, West Virginia, Michigan). At each of those stops, Beilein pulled the program out of an extended rough patch. While he doesn’t have a national championship like Izzo, an extended track Big Ten track record like Ryan, and Final Fours like Matta and Crean, an argument could be made he deserves to be at or near the top of this list.

 

6. Matt Painter, Purdue

Overall record: 185-82 (8-7 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Purdue: 160-77 (76-46 Big Ten)

Purdue fans will play the game of hypotheticals over the health of Robbie Hummel, who missed the 2010 postseason and all of 2010-11. Painter may be forgiven to wonder what may could have been if the trio of Hummel, JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore would have remained intact for a full four seasons. Despite a dose of bad luck, Purdue managed to win at least 25 games each season from 2007-11, went 78-26 in the Big Ten the last five seasons and reached the Sweet 16 in 2009 and 2010. Remember, Purdue won nine games overall in his first season and seven the season before he arrived.

 

7. Tubby Smith, Minnesota

Overall record: 490-213 (29-15 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Minnesota: 103-68 (38-49 Big Ten)

Smith had trouble keeping the fans in Lexington happy near the end of his tenure, but he has an enviable track record nonetheless, including the 1998 national title and 16 NCAA Tournament appearances. Along with Beilein, he’s one of eight coaches to take four teams to the Tournament (Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota). Despite going 12-24 in the Big Ten the last two seasons, Minnesota may be poised for a bounce-back season in 2012-13.

 

8. Fran McCaffery, Iowa

Overall record: 280-214 (2-5 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Iowa: 29-37 (12-24 Big Ten)

McCaffery landed a major conference job after successful runs at Lehigh, UNC-Greensboro and Siena, the latter reaching the NCAA Tournament three times and advancing to the second round twice. The professorial McCaffery may be on his way to doing the same at Iowa. The Hawkeyes improved from 11-20 to 18-17 from his first season to second, including Iowa’s first postseason appearance (the NIT) since 2006. With a strong returning cast, Iowa is a sleeper team for 2012-13.

 

9. Tim Miles, Nebraska

Overall record: 107-100 (0-1 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Nebraska: first season

Doc Sadler was respected enough at Nebraska, but he couldn’t get the Cornhuskers out of the NIT and into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. Now, Nebraska turns to Miles. Sadler built his reputation as an assistant (though he spent two seasons as head coach at UTEP) while Miles has been a head coach at lower levels since 1995. Colorado State had made one NCAA Tournament appearance in the 17 years before Miles arrived in 2007-08, including none under Stew Morrill, who won 20 games with the Rams before leaving for Utah State. At North Dakota State, Miles guided the Bison from Division II to Division I, setting the table for a 26-7 season and a Summit League title in 2008-09. 

 

10. John Groce, Illinois

Overall record: 85-56 (3-2 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Illinois: first season

Groce was a standout recruiter for Ohio State under Thad Matta and made the most out of two NCAA Tournament appearances with a first-round upset of Georgetown in 2010 and a Sweet 16 trip in 2012. Still, Ohio never finished higher than third in the MAC East in his four-season tenure in Athens.

 

11. Bill Carmody, Northwestern

Overall record: 271-216 (1-2 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Northwestern: 179-191 (66-136 Big Ten)

If there’s a case to be made for small victories, Northwestern can make it. The program has yet to make the NCAA Tournament (the only major conference program never to do so), but the Wildcats have reached the NIT four seasons in a row. Before Carmody, Northwestern had reached the postseason only twice. Carmody was wildly successful in his four seasons at Princeton, including a 27-2 mark and a win over UNLV in the first round in 1997-98. However, the core group of John Shurna, Drew Crawford and Michael Thompson has been as talented as any in Northwestern history, and the Wildcats have yet to crack the .500 in mark in the Big Ten.

 

12. Patrick Chambers, Penn State

Overall record: 54-48 (0-1 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Penn State: 12-20 (4-14 Big Ten)

When a coach ends a decade-long NCAA Tournament drought and immediately leaves for Navy, that’s a sign of what kind of basketball job Penn State is. Ed DeChellis got out when times were good for him at Penn State, bolting for Navy after squeaking into the Tournament in 2011. A former Villanova assistant and Philadelphia native, Chambers has some of the credentials that might make him a success at Penn State, but it’s too early to tell for a head coach with three years of experience at a tough job.

 

-David Fox 

Other coach rankings:
ACC
Big 12

Big East
Pac-12

SEC

Atlantic 10

Best of the rest

July 30: National 

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