I don't want to take anything away from Mick Cronin or Buzz Williams. Nor overlook how well Jay Wright has done with his revamped Villanova team, or ignore the fact that Steve Lavin has St. John's back on the road to respectability. All of those coaches are deserving of praise, recognition, and accolades.
But there is only one Big East Coach of the Year, and his name is Kevin Ollie.
I know there are five games left in the regular season. I know a lot could happen during that time. I know UConn could conceivably tank these next three weeks and leave a feel-good season mangled by the side of the road. It's all possible. But, barring that level of a collapse, it seems clear that UConn's new head coach deserves the conferences top spot, and it isn't even really close. In every way in which you would judge a head coach, Ollie has surpassed expectations.
His X's and O's have been good enough to overcome a limited roster, thin bench, and no real front court of which to speak. The team's anemic rebounding hasn't ever gotten better as the season has progressed, yet UConn continues to find a way to beat teams, even while losing badly on the boards.
They have upset the likes of Michigan State, Notre Dame, Syracuse, and an erratic but talented Cincinnati team. They had Marquette dead to rights on the road, stormed back to put the fear of God in Pittsburgh at Pittsburgh, and have only had one time this whole year (second half against Louisville) where they looked overmatched.
Yes, UConn has two very talented players in Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, but a lot of teams have one or two very good players and can't find a way to make everything else mesh into winning basketball. Ollie has not only found the formula, he's all but perfected it.
Along with X's and O's, Ollie's ability to inspire is off the charts. Sure, they had a ho-hum game against Villanova after their biggest, best win of the year vs. Syracuse. Hey, that happens to everyone. And, yes, they played like sleep walking zombies (yes, that slow) in the first half against St. John's at the Garden. But, in a long season with no postseason play at the end, this team has responded almost without exception. Keeping a group of young men inspired to
play through the fatigue of a season that was dead on arrival takes a special kind of leader. Not everyone could get this season out of this group considering these circumstances. It's truly nothing short of remarkable.
And even on the recruiting end of things, Ollie's initial returns are promising, if only because he was able to keep previous recruits Kentan Facey and Terrence Samuel from jumping ship after Calhoun announced his retirement. He also brought in raw but promising big man Amida Brimah. Recruiting is certainly the one area where Ollie's chops have yet to be proven completely, but that doesn't really enter into the discussion for Coach of the Year anyway. What does? Results.
UConn is 18-7, two wins away from 20 in the season, two games out of first place in the Big East. If Calhoun were coaching this team, we'd be talking about what an amazing job he had done with this level of talent. Kevin Ollie isn't Jim Calhoun. He's his own man, his own coach, with his own style. And right now, that style is working at all levels. It's the reason he has clearly been the best coach in what (for now) remains the deepest basketball league in the country.