Mark Few swept the three major Coach of the Year awards in 2017-18, but high-major coaches have swept over the last two years, and only eight of the 30 winners over the last decade were mid-major coaches.
Entering the final month of the 2019-20 college basketball season, there are several worthy mid- and high-major coaches. First, 10 honorable mention coaches:
Matt Figger (Austin Peay), Rick Croy (California Baptist), Chris Mack (Louisville), Will Wade (LSU) Mark Turgeon (Maryland), Chris Jans (New Mexico State), Ben Jacobson (Northern Iowa), David Cox (Rhode Island), Kyle Keller (Stephen F. Austin), Frank Haith (Tulsa)
And the 10 most-deserving candidates:
Bruce Pearl – Auburn
Gone from Auburn's 30-win Final Four team: Top three scorers in Bryce Brown, Jared Harper, and Chuma Okeke, along with Malik Dunbar and Horace Spencer. Despite the exodus, Bruce Pearl has Auburn chasing a third straight top-five seed and second straight 30-win season, both of which have never happened in program history.
Scott Drew – Baylor
Sixteen years after beginning one of the most remarkable rebuilds in American sports history, Scott Drew is leading the best team in Baylor history. Carrying a 20-1 record and loaded résumé, the Bears are closing in on their first-ever top-two tourney seed and first conference regular-season championship in 70 years.
Anthony Grant – Dayton
Dayton's two losses are by a combined eight points against two top-20 NET teams (Kansas and Colorado). They're already eight wins away from the program record, in line for the program's first-ever top-three tourney seed, and entering the conversation for best team in Atlantic 10 history. Anthony Grant inherited a strong program and made it even stronger.
Mark Few – Gonzaga
Mark Few swept the major awards in 2017 because he led Gonzaga within minutes of the national championship. If he does so again — or wins the national championship — in 2020, he'll sweep the awards again. Even if he doesn't, he deserves consideration for leading another loaded team.
Brad Underwood – Illinois
Brad Underwood won 26 games in his first two seasons as Illinois head coach as he overhauled a program without a tourney appearance since 2013 (and only three since the 2007 first-round loss). In year three, Underwood's rebuild is flourishing; the Illini are in Big Ten title contention for the first time in more than a decade.
Matt McMahon – Murray State
Amazingly, despite losing Ja Morant, this year's Murray State's team is almost as good as last year's Murray State team. Matt McMahon's team is 10-0 in league play and while the metrics don't love the Racers (zero good wins and outside the top 100 in every major metric), they're still winning a lot and chasing a third straight tourney berth.
Pat Chambers – Penn State
Penn State cracked the AP top 25 for the first time in 24 years, is 10 wins shy of tying the program record, and currently projected to earn their first top-six seed since 1996. It took Pat Chambers a long time but the Pennsylvania native is winning at one of the toughest high-major jobs in the country.
Steve Pikiell – Rutgers
Rutgers won seven games in 2015-16, the year before Steve Pikiell arrived from Rutgers. Four seasons and a full roster turnover later, Rutgers has nearly clinched their first tourney berth in 29 years. They made the AP top 25 for the first time in 40 years and are four wins away from their first 20-win season since 2003-04.
Brian Dutcher – San Diego State
After 18 years on Steve Fisher's staff, Brian Dutcher has taken San Diego State to the next level in his third season as head coach. The only remaining unbeaten in college basketball, the Aztecs are dominating the Mountain West and in contention for their first-ever 1-seed.
Kevin Willard – Seton Hall
Kevin Willard rejected Virginia Tech's meaty offer last spring. Now, he's leading the best Seton Hall team in (at least) 30 years. After years of 13-, 17-, 18-win seasons, Seton Hall is chasing their first Big East regular-season title and top-two tourney seed since 1993.