Sporting News got it right in naming Bill Self its National Coach of the Year.
Before crying “homer,” consider the facts of the team Self has directed to a 26-5 record and a No. 3 national ranking against what statistician Jeff Sagarin ranks the third-strongest schedule in America (behind Michigan and Oklahoma State).
Compare Self’s roster, in terms of game experience within the program and hype coming out of high school, to the rosters of the other three leading contenders for No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament: Kentucky, Syracuse and North Carolina.
Kansas ranks last in both areas.
Kentucky’s John Calipari is a magnificent basketball coach and doesn’t always get enough credit for winning with young talent because his personality rubs so many people the wrong way. I’ve never quite understood why, but then again, I’m biased. I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to guys who are candid and colorful with their quotes, and Calipari is both.
Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim forever has been under-appreciated for his basketball brilliance as well. He dares to do it differently from most elite coaches in that he uses a 2-3 zone, not the preferred man-to-man. He really knows how to put a roster together and never leaves himself short of size, long-range shooters and pure point guards.
The way the Tar Heels are playing lately, Roy Williams has as good a shot as any coach to win what would be his third national title, all with North Carolina, after taking Kansas to four Final Fours in 15 seasons.
A check of the Associated Press preseason poll shows North Carolina was picked No. 1, Kentucky No. 2 and Syracuse No. 5. It requires a masterful coaching job to meet such high expectations, so kudos to the three coaches.
But what separates Self from the others is that the Kansas success is a stunner. Even a preseason ranking of No. 13 seemed a bit too optimistic given that Tyshawn Taylor was the only returning starter and had played more minutes for Self than the rest of the roster combined. Plus, the ineligibility rulings for the two top freshmen, Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor, meant Self had to head into the season with former walk-ons Conner Teahan and Justin Wesley as his sixth and seventh men.
Career minutes played in the program heading into the season for the four schools: 1. Syracuse 9,467; 2. North Carolina 7,814; 3. Kentucky 5,343; 4. Kansas 5,130.
McDonald’s All-Americans on the roster: 1. North Carolina 7; 2. Kentucky 4; 3. Syracuse 3; 4. Kansas 0.
Plus, Self had to adjust this season because one of his favorite tools — dangling playing time as a carrot to get players to do it his way — wasn’t available. He had to play his starters, and he still got them to follow orders so well that the Jayhawks are ranked third in the country.
It doesn’t take a homer to recognize a grand-slam coaching job.