By Scott Mandel
The success of college basketball conferences has forever been predicated on the level of head coaches roaming the sidelines of the member teams. Unlike the National Basketball Association, where success is mostly achieved on the talent of its players, college basketball success is a coach-dominant sport. It’s always been about teaching the game to 18-22 year olds at the amateur level, with kids who play the coach’s system, or they don’t play.
The NBA may be a players league but college basketball is a teaching business. And the coaches with the biggest reputations and best track records tend to recruit the best players.
The Big East, once the model for great basketball conferences 40 years ago, fell on hard times when many of its original member schools left for the television revenue and 50,000 seat stadiums of football-dominated conferences like the Big 10 and the ACC. Schools like Syracuse, Louisville, Notre Dame and Boston College probably regret leaving the Big East because they have been unable to duplicate their basketball success since leaving their Northeast base of students and student-athletes, even as they fill their financial coffers as members of conferences, based more than 1000 miles away from their campuses.
The Big East, where names like Patrick Ewing, Pearl Washington, Chris Mullin, Ray Allen, Derrick Coleman, and Alonzo Mourning once roamed the courts and coaching legends like Lou Carnesecca, John Thompson, Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun, and Rollie Massimino competed for national championships on the sidelines is once again on the cusp of becoming the best basketball conference in the country. It may be there right now. The reasons? Its head coaches:
Rick Pitino – St. John’s
Dan Hurley – U Conn
Shaka Smart – Marquette
Greg McDermott- Creighton
Ed Cooley – Georgetown
Thad Matta – Butler
Kim English – Providence
Kyle Neptune – Villanova
Shaheen Holloway – Seton Hall
Tony Stubblefield – DePaul
These are proven recruiters, and proven builders of great programs, not just good ones.
Of course, in 2024, it doesn’t hurt to be based in a media center where a successful college career and winning program will get you a whole lot of NIL money, as so many teenage amathletes pursue their riches.