B1G Award Spotlight: Breaking Down the Coach of the Year CandidatesPosted by Brendan Brody on February 5th, 2014
Picking a Coach of the Year in the Big Ten right now would be nearly impossible. Because of the see-saw nature of the standings that will more than likely continue until the last league games are played on March 9, most any candidate is in danger of going on a several-game losing streak that would drastically alter the final picture. This post is meant as a brief look at the top candidates right now, with the extremely important caveat focusing on the phrase RIGHT NOW. Chances are this will change considerably over the next six weeks.
John Beilein: Michigan has turned things around after an 8-4 non-conference record dropped the Wolverines out of the Top 25 and without their preseason All-American Mitch McGary in the lineup. They’ve proceeded to go 8-1 since then, with wins over Michigan State, Iowa and Wisconsin to bolster their resume. Beilein has replaced McGary with “Morford,” the moniker given to the two-headed monster at center consisting of Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford. Both players have been highly effective, and Beilein deserves credit for bringing Horford off the bench after some trouble with early fouls. Kudos are also in order for his patience with freshman Derrick Walton Jr, who really struggled in November and December. Beilein could have panicked and gone instead with veteran Spike Albrecht, but sticking with Walton has paid off to the tune of a 55.6 percent mark from three-point land and only 1.7 turnovers per game in league action.
Chris Collins: It’s been well-documented that expectations for Northwestern were extremely low coming into conference play. The Wildcats were beaten by every power conference team they played, and they even managed to lose at home to Illinois State for good measure. Collins has rebuilt the team on the fly, switching to a slower tempo with a much greater emphasis on defense. The results have been shocking, as Northwestern has gone 5-5 in league play with three highly impressive road wins under its belt. This team just looks different to the naked eye, as the Wildcats are playing with a much greater urgency and intensity than they did two months ago. Even if they lose their last 10 games, Collins still will have opened some eyes with his ability to develop players that he inherited into a cohesive unit.
Tom Izzo: While the Spartans are still very talented even without their two injured starters in the lineup, the job Izzo has done to get the team to 8-1 as Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson sit next to him shouldn’t go without recognition. Seemingly everyone on the roster has had some sort of ailment at one time or another, yet the Spartans still have an outstanding chance at winning the regular season title. Izzo should also get extra points for not rushing his injured stars back, having the foresight to realize that as long as the team is healthy in March, they have as good of a shot as anybody to cut the nets down in Dallas.
Richard Pitino: Minnesota is one many teams where its season could have gone one way or another over the next month-plus. That said, the Gophers are projected to be in the field of 68 as of right now, sitting at 4-5 in Big Ten play and 15-7 overall. Pitino has done a tremendous job blending players from the Tubby Smith regime with newcomers like Deandre Mathieu and Malik Smith into his system. His full-court press has had mixed results, but the Gophers rank 17th nationally in offensive efficiency so he’s getting great production on the other end. Players like Elliott Eliason and Maurice Walker have gotten much better as the year has progressed, and the Gophers very well could do some damage in March as long as Andre Hollins recovers from his sprained ankle in time.
Tim Miles: Nebraska needs to win a road game or two, but Miles is clearly building something promising in Lincoln. The Cornhuskers looked overmatched against Creighton and Cincinnati in non-conference play, but they’ve since been markedly better once the B1G season has started. They’ve now won three of their last four games, and Miles has gotten transfers Terran Petteway, Walter Pitchford, and Leslee Smith to gel seamlessly together. While freshman point guard Tai Webster hasn’t developed as quickly as some might have hoped, the future looks very bright for basketball at Big Red.