Great coaches can make great college basketball teams — and during a season not like any other, coaches have stepped up to new challenges. On this week's episode of March Madness 365, Andy Katz ranks his 10 midseason National Coach of the Year candidates.
You can also hear from Gonzaga’s Mark Few, Baylor’s Scott Drew and Belmont’s Casey Alexander.
Here are Katz's National Coach of the Year contenders entering the week of Jan. 25:
10. Kelvin Sampson — Houston
Expected to be able to handle the competition of the American with ease, Houston has just done that — the Cougars are riding a six-game winning streak and are No. 6 in the nation. They lead the AAC with a 13-1 overall record and an 8-1 record in the conference.
9. Jay Wright — Villanova
Despite having to take almost one whole month off from playing due to COVID-19, the Wildcats are still one of the top three teams in the country. After not playing since Dec. 23, Villanova knocked off Big East foes Seton Hall on Jan. 19 and Providence on Saturday.
8. Mick Cronin — UCLA
The Bruins are 8-1 in the conference with their only loss a buzzer-beating defeat against Stanford. Cronin and company are currently No. 23 in the nation and are winning games without their best offensive player Chris Smith. Smith was averaging 12.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game before he tore his ACL in late December.
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7. Leonard Hamilton — Florida State
Florida State entered this season with a little bit lower expectations after losing two NBA lottery picks in Devin Vassell and Patrick Williams. But that hasn't stopped Leonard Hamilton and the Noles from showing out in the ACC. FSU bounced back after losing on the road to Clemson and a two-week COVID-19 pause to win four straight. Katz thinks the Seminoles are serious ACC contenders.
6. Shaka Smart — Texas
Texas is one of those teams that have surprised some folks this year. The Longhorns were No. 19 in the preseason AP Poll and have climbed to No. 5 as of this week. Texas, second in the Big 12, will be without Smart for a while after he announced that he tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday and would isolate.
5. Cuonzo Martin — Missouri
Speaking of surprise teams, Missouri has made a name for itself in the SEC this season. Fresh off of a victory against Tennessee, the Tigers have established themselves as a force in the conference. With Cuonzo Martin at the helm Mizzou is 6-2 in the SEC only behind Alabama. The Tigers will take on the Tide on Feb. 6.
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4. Nate Oats — Alabama
If there is one team better than Missouri in the SEC this season it is Alabama. Oats' Crimson Tide sit atop the conference standings at 8-0 and are 13-3 overall. Katz thinks they could play themselves into a high NCAA tournament seed.
3. Juwan Howard — Michigan
Similar to Shaka Smart and Texas, Juwan Howard and Michigan are feeling the COVID-19 impact. The Wolverines were cruising before going on pause. Katz thinks they are the best team in the best conference at 8-1 in the Big Ten and No. 7 in Katz's Power 36 rankings.
2. Scott Drew — Baylor
Baylor is the best team in the Big 12 and ranked the second-best team in the country. Scott Drew and the Bears can throw so many pieces at any team with their quick guards and physical big men. Jared Butler is a prime contender for National Player of the Year on a team that looks like a Big 12 champ and No. 1 seed.
1. Mark Few — Gonzaga
Gonzaga entered this season as a favorite to win it all and they haven't budged one bit. In a season where games can be canceled and postponed at the last minute, Katz thinks Few has done a fantastic job managing his team's schedule. He has also found a way to push his star-studded roster toward a No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.