I'm not categorically opposed to top ten lists, but I think they often serve as lazy substitutes for thoughtful columns. Case in point: an April 11th Stewart Mandel column ranking the ten best college basketball coaches in America. I had no idea Mandel even wrote about college hoops, but after perusing this list, I hope it was an aberration.
I'm not so much interested in Rick Barnes' placement on the list (in the "Also Considered" section, behind the Top Ten and "Just Missed The Cut") as I am in Mandel placing Thad Matta at #9 ahead of - get this - Jim Boeheim.
Not only that, but Boeheim was relegated to the same category as Barnes. Boeheim didn't even "just miss the cut"; he was merely considered. I'm not sure I could possibly overstate how criminally negligent this analysis is.
Lest I get ahead of myself, let's get Mandel's stated evaluative criteria on the record:
That's all we're given, so we'll necessarily be feeling our way through the dark a bit here. (By the way, this is another reason why these lists are so often worthless. The first and third criteria - the "getting more out of less" and "visible imprint in the way their teams play" - is wishy-washy and immeasurable.) Still, even by these criteria, placing Matta ahead of Boeheim is unforgivable.
Thad Matta is in his eighth season as a college head coach (Butler, Xavier, Ohio State). He's compiled a career record of 183-58, with NCAA tournament appearances in each year his program was eligible. In those seven tournament appearances, he has advanced to the second round four times, the Elite Eight once, and the national title game once. To say he "rebuilt" Ohio State is misleading, at best. He inherited a program that received a one-year postseason ban, but he also inherited a program at the second-largest university in the country, with unlimited resources, in a talent-rich region. Billy Gillispie built A&M into a legitimate program. Thad Matta more or less just showed up and started recruiting well. (Now, Matta does deserve high marks for his recruiting at Ohio State so far, but Mandel didn't list that as one of his criterion. Quite the opposite, in fact - this is a competition to get more out of less, right?)
Jim Boeheim, meanwhile, has compiled a 750-264 (.740) record in his 31 seasons at Syracuse. Of those 31 seasons, 29 were 20-win seasons. He has 11 Sweet Sixteen appearances, four Elite Eight appearances, three title game appearances, and a national championship.
It's damn near impossible to measure who's "gotten more out of less" during these two coaches' careers, but even using the (silly) criterion of looking for the coach's "visible imprint" on the way his team plays, Boeheim comes out way ahead. How many teams are as defined by their coach as Syracuse is by Jim Boeheim's zone defense? And what, exactly, is Thad Matta's signature? Chewing gum and flopping on the sideline like a fish out of water? Misappropriating resources? I'm lost here.
I didn't write this just to one-up Mandel or anything like that. Sometimes you just read an article and you get a little pissed off. I've always really like Jim Boeheim, and Mandel's piece got under my skin.
I'll say it: I feel a lot better.