Jeff Eisenberg

Ranking college basketball's coach of the year contenders

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Will Steve Fisher finally be rewarded for the turnaround he's orchestrated at San Diego State? Or maybe Rick Barnes gets recognized for emerging from the ashes of last season and exceeding expectations?

Or how about Mike Brey for leading surprising Notre Dame into contention in the Big East?

With one month to go in the regular season, let's take a look at the five leading contenders for national coach of the year as well as some other coaches who are worthy of consideration.

1. Steve Fisher, San Diego State

Despite three Final Four appearances at Michigan and a highly successful tenure at San Diego State, Fisher has never won conference coach of the year let along been in contention for national honors. That should change this year considering where Fisher has taken a lightly regarded program that has never won an NCAA tournament game. The sixth-ranked Aztecs are 24-1, tied for first in the Mountain West and in contention for a top-two seed in the NCAA tournament, earning them unprecedented support from a success-starved fan base.

2. Rick Barnes, Texas

Whereas last year's Texas team collapsed after a 17-0 start, this year's Longhorns have improved during the course of the season to the point that they're leading the Big 12 and in the hunt for a No. 1 seed. Barnes has persuaded Texas to buy into playing defense again, cajoled Jordan Hamilton into taking smarter shots and blended freshmen Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson with a host of talented returners.

3. Mike Brey, Notre Dame

Projected seventh in the Big East's preseason poll after losing star Luke Harangody to graduation, the Irish have instead emerged as the conference's second best team besides Pittsburgh. Brey's done it by remaking Notre Dame into a perimeter-oriented team fueled by the outside shooting and slashing abilities of veteran guards Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis.

4. Sean Miller, Arizona

For Arizona to be in position to win a Pac-10 title two years into Miller's tenure is incredible considering the mess the Xavier coach inherited upon arriving in Tucson. He's developed Derrick Williams from an unheralded recruit into the Pac-10's best player, shown patience with point guard MoMo Jones when he struggled early in the season and coaxed the supporting cast into filling their roles.

5. Chris Mack, Xavier

Before playing its first game this season, Xavier lost its best player, Jordan Crawford, to the NBA, its best shooter, Brad Redford, to a season-ending knee injury and its best recruit, Justin Martin, to academic issues. No matter. With no backup guards and only nine healthy scholarship players, Mack has Xavier (17-6, 8-1) in position to win its fifth straight Atlantic 10 regular season crown and make the NCAA tournament for the 10th time in 11 seasons.

Ten others worthy of consideration: Wisconsin's Bo Ryan, BYU's Dave Rose, Louisville's Rick Pitino, UConn's Jim Calhoun, Ohio State's Thad Matta, Belmont's Rick Byrd, Saint Mary's Randy Bennett, Purdue's Matt Painter, Coastal Carolina's Cliff Ellis, Duquesne's Ron Everhart.

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