Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Big East Coach of the Year Race Shaping Up to be a Dandy
The Big East Coach of the Year race is shaping up to be a dandy. There are at least five legitimate candidates among the league’s 10 head coaches.
Here’s a quick breakdown of those in consideration.
**Ed Cooley, Providence
The Friars were picked ninth in the 10-team league after losing Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil off of last year’s team. But they are now one of the hottest teams in the league heading into Saturday’s season-finale against St. John’s at Madison Square Garden. The Friars (19-11, 9-8) have won five straight, including beating No. 22 Butler at home and No. 23 Creighton on the road. They also downed Xavier and Marquette. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi currently has them among his “Last Four In,” along with Seton Hall and Marquette.
**Chris Holtmann, Butler
The Bulldogs (23-6, 12-5) were picked sixth in the league but locked up the No. 2 seed in next week’s Big East Tournament. In the non-conference, Holtmann’s crew beat Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Arizona, Utah, Cincinnati, Indiana and Vermont. During Big East play, they beat Villanova not once but twice. They have won four straight heading into Saturday’s finale against Seton Hall. Oh, and Holtmann and his team also survived a very scary plane ride in December in which their flight plunged from 35,000 feet to 10,000 on their way back from St. John’s.
**Kevin Willard, Seton Hall
Willard might be the Dark Horse here but he deserves some love. After a loss to Xavier on Feb. 1, the Pirates stood at 13-8, 3-6 Big East. The sky appeared to be falling for the reigning Big East Tournament champions. Since then? The Pirates are 6-2 with a win over No. 20 Creighton. They have won three straight to get to 19-10, 9-8 heading into Saturday’s tilt at Butler, ensuring themselves of at least a 9-9 finish. Junior big man Angel Delgado has been a man among boys, averaging 15.6 points and 13.0 rebounds while dominating opposing big men in the paint.
**Steve Wojciechowski, Marquette
The Golden Eagles were picked seventh in the league but they might be the scariest Big East team not named Villanova right now. After Wednesday’s win at Xavier, Marquette (18-11, 9-8) has won three of four and guaranteed at least a .500 finish in the league. If Wojo makes the NCAA Tournament he will likely join his mentor, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, and fellow Coach K protégéChris Collins of Northwestern in the Big Dance. What a story that would make.
**Jay Wright, Villanova
Yes, Villanova was picked to finish first in the league. Yes, they are the defending NCAA champions. And yes, they had the best team on paper. But Wright’s club not only lost point guard Ryan Arcidiacono and center Daniel Ochefu to graduation, but guard Phil Booth has been injured most of the season, freshman big man Omari Spellman never even saw the floor because the NCAA deemed him a partial qualifier and senior forward Darryl Reynolds has missed the last five games (though the team hopes he’ll be back in New York.)
Yet as we look up in March, the Wildcats are 27-3, 14-3 in the league and ranked No. 2 in the nation. They have won four straight outright Big East regular-season championships.
“He won the league with six guys,” one fellow Big East coach said of Wright. “Sometimes doing what you’re supposed to do is tough to do. Villanova did it.”
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.