Who Are the Big Ten Coaches Under the Most Pressure This March?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on February 27th, 2012

The last week of regular season action is here.  The talk about bubbles popping, seeding and rotations will continue to grow over the next few weeks.  Among the conference tournaments, the Big East Tournament is generally known to be the toughest to predict, but the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis this season might be just as good or maybe even better.  Five teams appear to be locks for the NCAAs at this point — Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Indiana.  There are at least three other teams still in the hunt — Northwestern, Minnesota and Purdue.  Factor in a surging Iowa team to the teams on the bubble and the result is bound to produce some upsets in Indy during the second week of March.  Certain coaches have exceeded expectations this season (John Beilein), while some may have their job in jeopardy (Bruce Weber).  Let’s examine which coaches (in no particular order) have the most to prove over the next four weeks, not just to finish conference play but also beyond.

Bill Carmody is making a strong push to get Northwestern into the NCAA Tournament

  1. Bill Carmody – Carmody deserves a lot of credit for keeping his players’ confidence up after a demoralizing overtime loss to Michigan earlier this week.  The Wildcats were shell-shocked in the overtime period as Michigan drained three shots from long range to seal the deal.  But they are still in the hunt for an NCAA bid after their nail-biting win at State College over Penn State on Saturday.  John Shurna got his coach’s message about a lack of leadership and delivered a 23-point performance on the road.  Carmody will not have a go-to scorer like Shurna next year, so this year might be his best shot to lock in that NCAA Tournament appearance that has eluded the program for so long.  Drew Crawford will lead in Shurna’s absense but his supporting crew will be relatively younger, so the Wildcats may be back into semi-rebuilding mode again in 2012-13.
  2. Matt Painter – Any time a coach kicks one of the starters off the team (Kelsey Barlow) and suspends another for the rest of the season during a key stretch (D.J. Byrd, since reinstated); he will face questions about the direction of the program.  Purdue was not expected to compete for the Big Ten title after losing two four-year starters but they were expected to make the NCAA Tournament.  Painter went through a negotiation process over the offseason that raised some eyebrows about his loyalty to his Alma Mater but he will be held accountable after signing a long-term deal. Missing the Tournament does not count as meeting the expectations of the Boilermaker fan base.  Their win against the Wolverines on the road over the weekend might have given Purdue a much-needed resume boost but they can’t afford to relax the next two weeks especially after their off-court troubles.  Painter could begin to feel some pressure if they limp into the Big Ten Tourney because in-state rivals like Notre Dame and Indiana are having excellent seasons that have exceeded preseason expectations.  At the end of the day, Painter deserves the benefit of the doubt given his track record and the sense of urgency was very apparent during their trip to Ann Arbor.
  3. Bo Ryan – Ryan is used to the perennial doubters.  These naysayers question his offensive system, the depth in his rotation, and their performance in the postseason.  Wisconsin will compete in every game in the NCAA Tournament but they have not had a significant marquee win in 2012 until its victory in Columbus on Sunday.  They have also been vulnerable on their home court, with losses to Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa and Marquette, but haven’t necessarily blown out the inferior teams which leads to questions about their squad. For example, who is their second scoring option?  They have a bunch of good players backing up Jordan Taylor — guys like Ryan Evans and Ben Brust — but is that enough to get them a couple wins in March?  Questions about the future of the program loom over the Kohl Center because Taylor does not have a reliable successor in 2012-13. But similar to Painter, Ryan always has some tricks up his sleeve to prove the doubters wrong.  Going into Columbus to upset the the Buckeyes this weekend might just be the sign that his team could come together at the right time.
  4. Thad Matta – The Buckeyes will be a top three seed in the NCAA Tournament and might end up winning the regular season title, so why is Thad Matta on this list? Because expectations are different in Columbus.  They are used to winning Big Ten titles and expect to be seeded highly in March.  Matta needs to make sure his talented teams advance beyond the Sweet Sixteen and he will face plenty of pressure if the Buckeyes fall short again.  The last couple of seasons included disappointing losses in the Sweet Sixteen.  Evan Turner’s 2009-10 crew lost to Tennessee and last year’s squad was upset by Calipari’s precocious freshmen of Kentucky.  If the team consists of a lottery pick (Jared Sullinger), a first rounder (William Buford) and two of the most athletic players in their respective positions (Deshaun Thomas, Aaron Craft), then the fans will expect more at the biggest stage of the game.  The Buckeyes crushed Duke at home during the Big Ten/ACC challenge, so they certainly understand that they need to show up against the top programs.  Matta is bound to lose Sullinger after this season in addition to Buford, so similar to Carmody at Northwestern, 2012 might be his best shot at going back to the Final Four because next year’s team will be very young and raw. The head coach’s track record has set the bar very high, so as a result the pressure will continue to mount on his team over the next month.

The list above is not exhaustive because there are a couple other coaches — Bruce Weber at Illinois and Tubby Smith at Minnesota — who will end up missing the Tournament unless their teams go on a hot streak in Indianapolis.  Smith has dealt with several injuries and Weber’s troubles with the media and the Illini have been well documented.  John Beilein and Tom Crean will continue to build their programs but their teams have already satisfied their fans with their performance this season, so the pressure is largely off of them during the postseason this year.

Deepak Jayanti (270 Posts)

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3 responses to “Who Are the Big Ten Coaches Under the Most Pressure This March?”

  1. rlc says:

    For a player who was suspended for the rest of the season, D.J. Byrd got a lot of playing time last week…

  2. DJayanti says:

    Initially after the incident with Barlow & Byrd, I believe it was announced that Byrd was out for the rest of the season along with Barlow banned for the year. My apologies on the mis-information. Nonetheless, it was a great win for Purdue. Now they can ride the big win to secure a decent seed. Thanks.

  3. […] need to step up over the next few weeks? One of the TYS writers tries to outline a small group in this article. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

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