Needless to say it’s been a wild year in Pac 12 Men’s Basketball this season. As we head into the final weekend of the season outside of Arizona at the top and USC at the bottom of the league everything else seems to be very much in flux for the rest of the Conference.
One of the more intriguing post season awards races in the league for me will be the Coach of the Year. I think there are three candidates to have a case made for this year. But before we get to those candidates let me lay out my criteria for how I see a Coach of the Year…
1. Team Success-Clearly you’re not going to be in this conversation without your team having success on the floor. But success doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be the best or top team in the Conference.
2. Meeting or exceeding expectations-Every team comes into a season with outside (media/fan) and internal (team) expectations and goals for what their success will be and how it will be measured. I believe that a Coach of the Year Candidate’s team should not just meet but also exceed expectations set before the season. This is why I see just three candidates this season in the Pac 12.
3. Overcoming Adversity-Over the course of four months and a 30+ game grind. Most teams are going to face adversity, whether in the form of injury or off court issues (academic or disciplinary issues).
With these three key components in mind I can see three Pac 12 Coaches as potential Coach of Year winnners: Sean Miller, Tad Boyle and Larry Krystkowiak.
Miller’s team was picked to win the Pac 12 in all preseason polls and have lived up to their billing as the league’s best. There is no doubt that Miller has done a fantastic job and has dealt well with the loss of big man Brandon Ashley to a season ending injury midway through the conference season. Ashley wasn’t their best player but he was very key to the Wildcat’s success on team that isn’t deep in talent.
Tad Boyle’s Colorado Buffs were tabbed as #3 in the Pac 12 Preseason Poll and looked well on their way to that spot up until the point that their best player Spencer Dinwiddie tore his ACL on January 12th. Boyle and the Buffs took a minute to get adjusted to the loss but the ship’s been righted behind the talent of Askia Booker, Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson. The job done by Boyle has been an excellent one and the Buffs looked poised thttp://espn.kall700sports.com/wp-admin/post-new.phpo be “Dancing” again this season.
My choice for Pac 12 Coach of the Year (yes I’m a tad biased, but I think there’s still a good case to be made) is Utah Head Coach Larry Krystkowiak. My selection of Krystkowiak is as much about where the program has come from in the last three seasons as it is about this year. Krystkowiak and his staff have taken a program that wasn’t at ground zero two years ago, it was below ground zero and transformed it into highly competitive and evolving Pac 12 Basketball program. In his first season, the Utes won 6 games total and 3 in the Pac 12. This year they’ve got 20 total wins and 9 in the Pac 12. He’s gotten it done this season without the help of 4 and 5 star recruits, but rather kids that have committed to a defensive mindset and crisp execution. As LK likes to say, they don’t often win the “lay-up line” but their effort and intensity has rarely been in question. This Utah team was picked to finish 9th in the Pac 12 in the Preseason and right now sit in the 6th spot with a chance to still reach the Top 4 with a win and some help on Saturday.
The final point I’ll make in my case for Larry Krystkowiak as Pac 12 Coach of the Year is this…Every Head and Assistant Coach in the Pac 12 I talk to in my travels tells me that there isn’t a team that plays harder or is more prepared in their scouting reports than Utah is nightly. To me, this is one of the greatest compliments and a staff can get and speaks to the job that Krystkowiak has done with this Utah program. I don’t know if he’ll win the award, my guess is that it will be Miller or Boyle that gets the honor next week in Las Vegas. The right candidate doesn’t always win these kinds of contests, but the real winner here is Utah Basketball because for the first time in quite sometime the program is in good hands and heading in the right direction.