Kansas won the nation's toughest conference by two games, collected nine wins against opponents in the RPI Top 25 and amassed a resume worthy of the NCAA tournament's No. 1 overall seed.
Somehow that was not enough to earn Bill Self the Big 12's Coach of the Year award.
The Big 12 announced Sunday that its coaches had chosen Texas Tech's Tubby Smith as the recipient of that honor after he guided the Red Raiders to a 19-win season and a 9-9 record in conference play. Texas Tech finished seventh in the Big 12 and is expected to make the NCAA tournament next Sunday for the first time since 2007.
Credit Smith for engineering a turnaround in just three seasons at one of the toughest major-conference jobs in the country, but the selection of him over Self reflects a systemic flaw in the way coach of the year awards are chosen. Coaches at top-flight programs seldom receive recognition because voters tend to reward those who overachieve at schools with lesser pedigree instead.
Duke's Mike Krzyzewski is typically regarded as college basketball's greatest active coach, yet he has only won ACC coach of the year five times in 36 seasons in Durham. In the 16 years since Krzyzewski last was his conference's coach of the year, Duke has captured three national championships won a combined 12 ACC regular season or tournament titles.
The statistics are equally startling for some of college basketball's other elite coaches.
Billy Donovan went to three Final Fours and won a pair of national championships before he won his first SEC coach of the year award at Florida. Roy Williams has eight ACC regular season titles at North Carolina and only two league coach of the year awards. Since Louisville coach Rick Pitino last won a conference coach of the year award, he has a national title, two Final Four appearances and three regular season league titles.
Big 12 voters have actually been more generous with Self, awarding him coach of the year in 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2012. Of course that means that eight times during Kansas' remarkable 12-year Big 12 title streak, someone else has won coach of the year.
Of those 12 seasons, Self has seldom done a more impressive job than this season.
Never before has the Big 12 been any stronger than this season when 60 percent of the league is ranked in the AP Top 25 and 70 percent of the league is likely headed to the NCAA tournament. Oklahoma boasts the favorite for national player of the year, Iowa State boasts a top 10 offense, West Virginia boasts a top 10 defense, yet none finished closer than two games back of a Jayhawks team with no surefire first-round picks in its rotation.
There are certainly circumstances in which the league champion isn't the most worthy candidate for coach of the year.
Wisconsin's Greg Gard would be my choice over Indiana's Tom Crean in the Big Ten because of the job the Badgers' interim coach has done winning over a skeptical athletic director by rallying from a 9-9 start to an NCAA tournament bid. Xavier's Chris Mack would also be my selection in the Big East since he has taken a Musketeers team unranked in the preason to the cusp of its highest NCAA tournament seeding in program history.
But too often coach of the year voters fail to keep it simple and penalize the sport's most respected coaches for recruiting the best prospects, developing them into the best players and parlaying that into sustained success.
Sometimes accolades ought to go to the coach who accomplished the most that year rather than the coach who overachieved the most relative to preseason expectations.
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