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Ranking the 10 Best College Basketball Coaches Under 40 Years Old

Scott HenryFeatured ColumnistAugust 18, 2014

Ranking the 10 Best College Basketball Coaches Under 40 Years Old

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    With 351 head coaching jobs available in Division I college basketball, it's reasonable to expect that the people who fill said positions cut a wide demographic swath. It's a profession in which 70-something Hall of Fame members shake hands with 30-something youngsters who look younger than some of their players.

    There aren't many head coaches left in the game under the age of 40, but that group includes some budding talents and one bona fide superstar. These are the 10 with the greatest current resumes and future potential.

    Of these 10, only one coaches at a power-five institution, and he was seen cutting down some nets last April. It's highly likely that someone else in this fraternity will join him soon, whether in a major-conference job or in winning his school some hardware.

     

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10. Zach Spiker, Army

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    Zach Spiker's 68-83 career coaching record doesn't look impressive on its face. If he'd amassed those figures in five seasons at, say, a Georgia Tech or Auburn, he'd be looking for another job right now.

    However, the 37-year-old Spiker has won those 68 games in five seasons at Army. For some perspective, consider that Jim Crewsnow at Saint Louiswon 34 in his first five years, with 15 of those coming in season No. 5. Dino Gaudio, who would eventually coach future pros Jeff Teague and James Johnson at Wake Forest, won all of 36 games in four seasons at West Point.

    The only two Army coaches to win at least 65 games in their first five seasons are Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski. Coach K is also the last bench boss to win at least 31 games and record a .500 record over a two-year span at Army, both of which Spiker has accomplished over the past two seasons. No one else has accomplished any of those goals for nearly 40 years.

    Coaching at a service academy can be thankless work. Army, Navy, Air Force and some of the other military schools, such as VMI or The Citadel, will never draw any McDonald's All-Americans. Adding military obligations to the already busy schedule of classes, practices and games is a workload that only certain players can undertake.

    Spiker's job is to balance the academy's need for strong characters with his own need for talented players. With potential Patriot League Player of the Year Kyle Wilson (18.4 PPG last season) leading the way, it's possible that Army could not only record Spiker's second winning season but also the academy's first-ever NCAA tournament bid.

9. Steve Masiello, Manhattan

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    Steve Masiello came to the nation's attention when the ex-Kentucky walk-on was matched against his former coach and mentor Rick Pitino on Selection Sunday. Masiello's Manhattan Jaspers gave Pitino's Louisville Cardinals everything they could handle before falling 71-64 in the second-round NCAA tournament matchup.

    From there, the 36-year-old Masiello went from budding star to punchline when his hiring at South Florida was torpedoed by a resume discrepancy. The coach's CV stated that he was a Kentucky graduate with a degree in communications, a factually incorrect assertion.

    Manhattan took Masiello back and placed him on leave while he finished his degree, and now he's prepared to try for another tournament bid out of the MAAC. He currently carries a .606 winning percentage (60-39), and it's possible that he could improve that this season.

    Three double-digit scorers are gone, but MC still returns one of the MAAC's best frontcourts, anchored by senior Emmy Andujar and 6'10" former Maryland Terrapin Ashton Pankey. Cincinnati transfer Jermaine Lawrence, once a 5-star prospect, per 247Sports, has been granted a waiver for immediate eligibility, so he'll also be a large presence in his new league.

    Only time will tell how quickly Masiello's reputation will recover from the degree fiasco. Another NCAA tournament trip will go a long way in that rehabilitation process and would likely motivate some power-conference program to place a call to the class of 2013 UK grad.

8. Josh Pastner, Memphis

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    Memphis coach Josh Pastner has seen his star dim slightly since he was first tapped to replace John Calipari back in 2009.

    Over that five-year span, Pastner has won 130 games, but only two have come in the NCAA tournament. Only one of Memphis' four NCAA tournament teams has managed to finish the season ranked in the Associated Press Top 25.

    A tireless recruiter, Pastner has still struggled to restore Memphis to its former prominence while essentially throwing a wall around the talent-rich city. Junior college transfers such as Geron Johnson and Division I imports such as Michael Dixon haven't helped a ton, either.

    Despite all that, Pastner is very likely to keep Memphis coming back to the NCAA tournament, especially if the American Athletic Conference sees any further defections on the level of Louisville heading to the ACC. Aside from UConn, a resurgent SMU and a Cincinnati program that has to reload on the fly, the American still isn't a potent league top to bottom.

    The Tigers bring back frontcourt duo Austin Nichols and Shaq Goodwin, both of whom can push for postseason honors. Former Iowa State and Southern forward Calvin Godfrey should help as well. The big question, though, is whether Pastner can stitch together an inexperienced backcourt to replace last season's veteran crew.

    Landing highly ranked recruiting classessuch as 2013's group, ranked No. 3 by Rivalscan become a burden if it doesn't lead to deep tournament runs. Pastner's critics are beginning to wonder if all he does is roll the balls out. This is the season in which he can prove that he can develop talent.

7. Mitch Henderson, Princeton

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    Mitch Henderson played for Bill Carmody at Princeton, then he followed his mentor to Northwestern as an assistant coach. There, Henderson would regularly scrimmage with the Wildcats.

    Carmody summed up the school's typical brand of futility when he joked to Sports Illustrated, "I don't mind that Mitch is cagier and smarter than all those guys on the court. The thing that bothers me is that he's faster than all of them."

    Now the 39-year-old head coach at Princeton, it's possible that Henderson has recruited some players who can leave him in the dust. After all, he's posted a solid 58-32 record over his first three seasons in charge. The Tigers have finished no lower than third in the Ivy League under Henderson's watch, but they also have yet to topple the league's reigning colossus at Harvard.

    Henderson returns six of last season's top eight scorers, although two-time All-Ivy selection T.J. Bray (18.0 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 5.1 APG) will be sorely missed.

    Forwards Hans Brase and Denton Koon could challenge for their own All-Ivy selections, and 6'4" Spencer Weisz may have been the conference's top freshman last season. A pair of 3-star recruits, center Alec Brennan and guard Amir Bell, will provide solid depth.

    While Henderson isn't landing stud recruits on the order of Harvard's Zena Edosomwan or Chris Egi, he's getting plenty of talent to keep the Tigers right on the Crimson's heels. As a pure-bred Ivy League man, he may be tough to lure away from Princeton, but steering the Tigers to the NCAA tournament would certainly put him on a few short lists.

6. Bryce Drew, Valparaiso

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    Technically, Bryce Drew probably shouldn't be on this list, since he's only a member of the under-40 club for another month (born September 21, 1974). Still, he's worth recognizing for the work he's done at his alma mater, even as he has to start replacing his father/predecessor Homer Drew's players.

    The junior Drew had to replace nearly 75 percent of the scoring from the team he took to the 2013 NCAA tournament, and the resultant 18-16 record doesn't sparkle. The Crusaders did, however, extend their streak of postseason appearances by being selected for the CIT.

    Sophomores Alec Peters and Lexus Williams, both Horizon League All-Freshman selections, are the Crusaders' top returnees in 2014-15 along with top rebounder Vashil Fernandez.

    A pair of newcomers from Vanier College in Montreal should also play early roles.

    Guard Tevonn Walker was named to the All-Canadian team after carding 20.8 PPG, 14th in the country. He also ripped 4.8 rebounds and 2.6 steals per game. Fellow 6'1" guard Max Joseph earned first-team Team All-Star honors at the CCAA tournament after a 10.0-PPG/5.9-RPG/3.4-APG season.

    Drew has continued the Crusaders' tradition of mining talent from other countries. That wide net makes Valpo dangerous even when it doesn't rake in players with lots of stars on the usual recruiting websites.

5. Andy Toole, Robert Morris

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    Andrew Toole wasn't even 30 years old when he was appointed head coach at Robert Morris in 2010. He's now a wily old veteran of 33.

    Setting all sarcasm aside, Toole has kept RMU aloft as one of the flagship programs in the Northeast Conference. While he hasn't followed predecessor Mike Rice in steering the Colonials to the NCAA tournament, he has won two NEC regular-season titles and engineered the most hyped upset in NIT history. His overall record stands at 90-50.

    Toole's teams are among the poster children for why conferences do themselves no favors by awarding automatic NCAA bids to their tournament winners. While there's no guarantee that Bobby Mo could have won a March Madness game in 2013 or 2014, it's very likely that either NEC regular-season champion wouldn't have been shunted into a play-in game like a 16-16 Mount St. Mary's team was this season.

    The 2014-15 edition of Robert Morris returns only five players who averaged more than 3.1 PPG, with All-NEC third-teamer Lucky Jones leading the way. Jones averaged career bests in scoring (13.9) and rebounding (6.8) last season while shooting 35.9 percent from three-point land.

    Another high finish in the NEC would arguably be Toole's finest coaching job. He was in discussions for the vacant job at Siena after the 2012-13 season, according to the Albany (N.Y.) Times-Union, so he's aware that he carries some appeal. Bigger programs are certainly waiting to see him steer the Colonials to a bigger stage than the NIT's second round before placing the call.

4. Michael White, Louisiana Tech

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    Like Andy Toole, Michael White is a two-time regular-season conference champion who has yet to see his team's hard work pay off with an NCAA tournament bid. Also like Toole, he's turned down overtures from other programs to stay at the place that gave him his first big break.

    Of course, the 37-year-old White's decision may have been a bit more difficult than Toole's, since Tennessee is a few rungs up the ladder from Siena. Barring Louisiana Tech falling completely off the radar, however, the Tennessee job is only the first bus that will pass by White's stop.

    White has built a program that prides itself on pushing tempo and winning the turnover battle. The Bulldogs have gone 56-15 over the past two seasons partially by finishing in Ken Pomeroy's top 13 in defensive turnover percentage in both years.

    Expect little to change for at least one more season, as Tech returns dangerous point guard Speedy Smith, who should be one of the nation's most effective players outside the power conferences. Scoring guards Raheem Appleby and Alex Hamilton will aim to help Smith win his third conference assist title in three years (and two conferences), while forward Michale Kyser is a dangerous rim protector.

    Tech should once again challenge for the top spot in Conference USA, even though it lost four of its eight players who averaged at least 7.0 PPG. The Bulldogs still return more talent than any team in the league with the possible exception of UTEP. White's aggressive approach should give his league opponents fits, while simultaneously exciting intelligent fans who are disillusioned with their own school's current coach.

3. Richard Pitino, Minnesota

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    In his first two seasons as a head coach, Richard Pitino has demonstrated the ability to tailor his style to the personnel he's inherited.

    A Florida International team that had no business being one game away from the 2013 NCAA tournament excelled by aggressively forcing turnovers and getting up the court with them. Pitino's first team at Minnesota, on the other hand, was a more methodical bunch always willing to make the extra pass.

    At only 31 years of age, Pitino is still one of the nation's youngest coaches, and he's already got an NIT championship on his mantle. He returns four seniors, including the talented backcourt duo of Andre Hollins and Dre Mathieu. Burly center duo Elliott Eliason and Maurice Walker will anchor the post, possibly allowing the perimeter defense to be a little more aggressive.

    Pitino's name may have been enough to get him in the door with in-state stars such as Tyus Jones (who committed to Duke), Reid Travis (Stanford) and Rashad Vaughn (UNLV), but he'll need to win to keep getting there. It's imperative that the Gophers keep future Minnesota talent at home, since the state doesn't turn out too many stars on an annual basis.

    The Gophers have enough veteran talent coming back to make an NCAA push in 2015, but from then on, Pitino will have to demonstrate some recruiting acumen to keep Minnesota competitive in the always nasty Big Ten. Winning in the Sun Belt with a decimated FIU squad is impressive, but not many Cinderella stories sustain themselves for long in the land of Izzo, Matta, Beilein and Ryan.

2. Archie Miller, Dayton

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    Only two members of our top 10 have reached the NCAA Elite Eight, and both ply their trade in the Atlantic 10. Dayton's superb run through last March's tournament added Archie Miller to the club, and it also added him to some major-conference short lists. It's a testament to Miller's comfort level at Dayton and the rising profile of the A-10 that the 35-year-old coach has remained in place.

    The Flyers knocked off opposition such as Gonzaga, Cal and Ole Miss in their nonconference slate, also falling only one point short of beating Baylor. Dayton's depth helped it hit a stride late in the season when other teams were losing their legs, and this season's Flyers may still go nine or 10 deep.

    Miller has won 63 games through his first three years, thanks to assembling teams that all finished 36th or better in offensive efficiency, per KenPom.com.

    Whether the 2014-15 Flyers can keep that run intact will depend heavily on sophomore point guard Scoochie Smith, who inherits the starting job vacated when Khari Price transferred to Southern Miss. Smith is a potent playmaker, but he's a scattered shooter. Double-figure scorers Dyshawn Pierre and Jordan Sibert will seek to make Smith look good on a frequent basis.

    It may not be reasonable to expect Dayton to finish the season on another 13-3 run or improve on that tournament success (anyone got the numbers on Dayton-area Final Four ticket applications?), but the Flyers will still be contenders in the A-10.

1. Shaka Smart, VCU

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    Oh, come on, you knew who was topping this list.

    And Shaka Smart will continue topping any of these lists written by people with a clue until April 8, 2017. The VCU Rams have won at least 26 games in each of Smart's five seasons, a tenure that has lasted long enough for the coach to fill his roster with his own recruits.

    And those recruits keep getting better. Forward Terry Larrier is VCU's first-ever RSCI top-40 signee, and he may struggle to crack the starting lineup ahead of veterans such as Mo Alie-Cox and Jordan Burgess.

    Smart is primarily known for his "Havoc" defense, but critics are justified when they point out that the system has its flaws.

    While Smart's last three teams have led the nation in defensive turnover percentage, per Pomeroy, none have finished better than 98th nationally in effective field-goal percentage defense. Essentially, the Rams gamble hard for turnovers and leave themselves vulnerable when the opponent doesn't crack.

    Still, Smart's system is distinctive and eye-catching, which will help the level of recruits continue rising. That is, as long as Smart can find elite players interested in fighting through his grueling conditioning regimen and playing an exhausting defensive style.

    Perhaps that's why Smart has repeatedly spurned offers to take over bigger programs. UCLA fans, for example, would expect recruits of a certain level, and players of that ilk aren't always noted defensive stoppers (see Muhammad, Shabazz).

    The Wisconsin native wouldn't even bolt for an open job at Marquette, despite some overanxious reporters praying that scoop would break. Marquette ranked sixth in the nation in basketball spending in 2013, according to Basketball State, so resources weren't the question. Smart simply seems to love his deal in Richmond.

    If you see something wrong with that, then Smart probably turned your team down, too.

     

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