By Andrew Kahn
It’s no secret that Pac-12 basketball has been on the decline the past several years. Since UCLA reached its third straight Final Four in 2008, the conference has not had a Final Four team. The league’s NCAA Tournament bids have dipped.* While early departures for the NBA draft tell some of the story, what about the coaches?** Is their relative lack of achievement holding back the conference?
There are 29 active head coaches who have been to the Final Four. Not one of them coaches in the Pac-12. The ACC, Big 12, and Big Ten have at least five each. Even the newfangled 10-team Big East and the football-centric SEC have two each. Fair or not, college basketball success is generally defined by NCAA Tournament success, and the league’s coaches have underperformed by that measure.
Steve Alford took UCLA to the Sweet 16 last year in his first season, but is among the worst Tournament coaches. He won one Tournament game in eight seasons at Iowa and two in six years at New Mexico. Three other Pac-12 coaches underperform in March, according to statistical measures created by Pete Tiernan at Bracket Science: Lorenzo Romar (Washington), Dana Altman (Oregon), and Herb Sendek (Arizona State) have all made at least five Tournament trips without reaching the Elite Eight.
A trio of Pac-12 coaches have less experience at the major conference level than the aforementioned coaches, but have had enough time to establish themselves at their current school: Johnny Dawkins, Larry Krystkowiak, and Tad Boyle. Dawkins took Stanford to the Sweet 16 last year, his first Tournament appearance in six years; Krystkowiak has failed to get there in his four years at Utah; Boyle missed his first year at Colorado but has been to three straight.
Three others are still getting their feet wet in the league: Cuonzo Martin is in his first year at California after three decent seasons at Tennessee; Wayne Tinkle is in his first year at Oregon State after a nice stint at Montana; and Andy Enfield is in Year Two at USC following his Sweet 16 run with Florida Gulf Coast.
That leaves just two coaches with a sustained run of success. Ernie Kent is a familiar face in the league. He coached at Oregon for 13 seasons, taking the Ducks to the Elite Eight twice and missing the Tournament eight times before getting the axe in 2010. He is in his first season at Washington State. Arizona’s Sean Miller is the undisputed king of Pac-12 coaches and the only guy you’d hire without a second thought if you were starting a college basketball program. After five highly successful seasons at Xavier, Miller came to Arizona in 2009 and has been to two Elite Eights and a Sweet 16 in his first five seasons.
The current crop of Pac-12 coaches is not bad. But data shows they are lacking compared to their peers in other power conferences. Even without isolating NCAA Tournament results, the Pac-12 as a whole has cracked the top three in conference RPI just once since 2007 (the league is currently sixth this season). Every league has its share of new coaches trying to rebuild programs. Most have some exceptional names at the top, too, and that’s where the Pac-12 is lacking.
*While the Pac-12 notched a respectable six NCAA Tournament bids last season, in the four years prior the league earned a total of 13 bids, easily the lowest among the major conferences.
**The Pac-12 has had 22 players drafted in the first round since 2009, the same number as the Big 12, far less than the ACC (32), and barely more than the Big East (21) and SEC (20).
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.
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