The Sweet 16 gets underway Thursday night and the lack of big-time upsets has put a ton of elite coaches into the regional semifinals. There are some amazing coaching clashes slated for this week’s games and it should be thrilling to watch these teams and their leaders attempt to outduel one another.
With that in mind, we ranked the coaches remaining in the tournament. This was an incredibly difficult exercise because there are so many good coaches left. We leaned heavily on track record and tournament performance in making this list, because in the end the goal of every coach is to win a national championship. You can’t do that without winning on the biggest stage.
16. Mike White, Florida
Again, this isn’t a knock on White, who has done a fine job at Florida in his first two seasons. But this is his first trip to the NCAA Tournament, while the rest of these guys have track records. So while I like what White has shown so far, he’s here because of his lack of experience.
White is in his second season with the Gators after four years at Louisiana Tech. He had a stellar 101-40 record (.716 winning percentage) with the Bulldogs, and is 47-23 at Florida (.671). The 40-year-old is certainly an up-and-comer in the coaching world and could jump halfway up this list depending on how the Gators do this weekend.
15. Matt Painter, Purdue
Painter’s tenure at Purdue has been wildly up and down, but he seems to have dialed in the right number this year. The Boilers won the Big Ten title outright, and are in the Sweet 16 for the first time in seven years. That’s where the problem comes in.
Painter has never taken a team past the Sweet 16, and in his 12 years at Purdue, he’s overseen four second round exits, and the Boilers were out in the first round in each of the past two seasons. His coaching decisions in key situations have often left a lot to be desired and he almost authored a crazy meltdown against Iowa State Saturday night. Overall he boasts a record of 10-9 in the NCAA Tournament.
Painter is a solid coach and has had plenty of regular season success. Now he needs to prove it in the tournament.
14. Steve Alford, UCLA
In 22 years of coaching at the Division I level, Alford has been in the NCAA Tournament just 10 times and is only in his fourth Sweet 16. His teams have never gone beyond this point. Yes, he has UCLA in its third Sweet 16 during his four years in Westwood, but given the talent he’s had to work with, anything less would have been a massive failure. Last year the Bruins failed to even make any postseason tournament with a ton of high-level players. There’s a reason UCLA fans wanted him fired after the season. Overall he has an NCAA Tournament record of 11-10.
This year, Alford has leaned heavily on the freshman duo of Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf to lead the Bruins. It’s worked, but it’s still hard for me to laud Alford as a coach. In 12 years of major conference basketball (at Iowa and UCLA) he has never won a conference title and he’s missed the tournament six times.
He might finally get past the Sweet 16 this year, but anything less than a Final Four appearance with his current squad would be a disappointment.
13. Greg Gard, Wisconsin
Putting Gard this high has a lot to do with the fact that he’s been at Wisconsin since 2008 and was a huge part of Bo Ryan’s success, while acting as his top assistant. Since taking over from Ryan in the middle of last season Gard has a 42-17 record (.712) and is in his second Sweet 16.
The Badgers took out No. 1 overall seed Villanova over the weekend despite being the eighth seed in the East Region. What makes them so difficult to face is that they never get rattled and play the same way no matter their opponent. Gard’s cool sideline demeanor and wealth of experience watching Ryan work has clearly informed the way he coaches. Wisconsin is a dangerous team at any time, and Gard’s coaching has a lot to do with that.
12. Chris Holtmann, Butler
Holtmann has done wonders at Butler in his three seasons there. He’s posted a 70-30 record (.700) and has reached the NCAA Tournament each year. This year’s squad is the first that truly seems to have taken on his personality, and it has gone 25-8, beat Villanova twice and managed to reach the Sweet 16.
While Holtmann also doesn’t have the tournament experience of others on this list, his coaching style sets things up to win in March. The Bulldogs play defense (43rd in defensive efficiency on Ken Pom) and are efficient offensively (21st), while slowing the tempo (289th).
Putting Holtmann this high is a reflection of what he’s done considering what he’s working with at Butler.
11. Dana Altman, Oregon
Altman is in his seventh season at Oregon and has produced back-to-back Pac-12 titles, and led the Ducks to a 31-7 record and the Elite Eight last season. This year, he has them at 31-5 and back in the Sweet 16. He has steadily built Oregon into a power, and this is his fifth straight year in the tournament and third time in the Sweet 16. His overall record with the Ducks is 185-69 (.728), which is outstanding. He’s also 9-4 in the NCAA Tournament since arriving in Eugene.
Before taking the Oregon job, Altman spent 16 years at Creighton and built the Bluejays into a solid mid-major. They were a perennial contender in the Missouri Valley Conference and reached the NCAA Tournament seven times in his final 11 years in Omaha. He has been continuously employed as a head coach since 1989, with stops at Marshall and Kansas State before Creighton.
Altman has taken non-traditional powers to impressive heights by building slowly. He’s won five regular season conference titles and eight conference tournament championships, while also taking home Conference Coach of the Year awards seven times across four different conferences.
10. Frank Martin, South Carolina
After five seasons at Kansas State, Martin was hired to turn around a mess of a program at South Carolina in 2012. He’s done a phenomenal job getting the Gamecocks on track. After three rough seasons, Martin and his team have posted a 49-19 record over the last two years and earned the school’s first NCAA Tournament win since 1973. It’s also South Carolina’s first-ever appearance in the Sweet 16.
At Kansas State, Martin took his team to the tournament in four out of five seasons, posted a record of 117-54 (.684) and reached the Elite Eight in 2010.
Martin’s teams are heavy on defensive discipline and South Carolina ranks fourth in defensive efficiency on Ken Pom this season. Considering Martin was once a bouncer at a nightclub, that style fits his personality. He’s tough, hard-nosed and his teams fight to the wire, regardless of their talent level. He’s one of the most underrated coaches in the country.
9. Scott Drew, Baylor
In 2003, Drew took over a Baylor program in turmoil after Dave Bliss’ horrific tenure in charge. It took him four years, but he finally built the Bears into a solid program, and reached his first NCAA Tournament in 2008. Since then, Baylor has been a fixture on the national stage, as Drew has guided his team to the Elite Eight twice, and is in the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in eight seasons.
The Bears use a balance of a high-powered offense and efficient defense to get things done. This year they rank 20th in offensive efficiency and 14th on the defensive side of things, while moving away from the traditional zone defense that has been part of their recent history, and incorporating more man-to-man. That’s impressive. Baylor attacks the rim and scores loads of points in the paint (45.0 per game), which is always a recipe for wins.
Drew is just 46 years old and owns a 10-6 record in the NCAA Tournament, while also going 9-2 in the NIT. Clearly he knows how to win in the postseason.