Top 10 College Basketball Coaches 2023-2024: Is it Self or Izzo?

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College basketball is full of characters — especially in the coaching ranks. Year after year, you see many of the same teams making deep runs in the NCAA tournament with long-tenured head coaches manning the sidelines.

There are some promising young coaches working their way up the ranks in the sport and legends like Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Villanova’s Jay Wright have all retired in recent years. Nonetheless, the top of the college basketball coaching crop is still dominated by veteran presences.

Here are the 10 best coaches in college basketball.

1. Bill Self | Kansas | 20-6

The success Bill Self has sustained at Kansas has been remarkable. Now in his 21st season in Lawrence, Self does not appear to be slowing down. He coached the Jayhawks to the national championship in 2022, his second college basketball crown during his two-decade tenure. He also led KU to the title in 2008 in one of his four Final Four appearances.

In Self’s 19 NCAA tournament appearances at Kansas, the Jayhawks have advanced to the Sweet 16 or beyond 11 times. On top of that, Self has coached Kansas to 16 Big 12 regular season titles and eight Big 12 tournament titles. He also got to an Elite Eight at both Tulsa and Illinois and twice won the Big Ten regular season crown during his time with the Illini.

2. Tom Izzo | Michigan State | 17-10

While Self has been the coach at Kansas since 2003, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo has displayed even more longevity. Izzo has been the leader of the Spartans since 1995 when he took over the program following a 12-year stint as an assistant for Jud Heathcote. By the 2009 season, Izzo had surpassed Heathcote for MSU’s all-time wins record. He hasn’t slowed down.

Under Izzo’s tutelage, Michigan State won the 2000 national championship and has seven other Final Four appearances, most recently in 2019. Along the way, Izzo has accumulated 10 Big Ten regular season titles, six Big Ten tournament titles and has coached the Spartans to the NCAA tournament in 25 consecutive seasons. This year’s Spartans have had an up-and-down season, and are one our March Madness Sleepers, so you don’t want to count out an Izzo-coached team in March.

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3. Scott Drew | Baylor | 19-7

Over his 21 seasons in charge, Scott Drew has built Baylor into a juggernaut. After Drew inherited the program amid horrific circumstances, BU has reached 11 of the past 15 NCAA tournaments. That’s a stretch that includes 2021’s national championship triumph. Baylor has also advanced to the Elite Eight two other times and bowed out in the Sweet 16 twice during Drew’s time leading the charge in Waco.

Baylor was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament in 2022 and then was a No. 3 seed last year. The Bears project to be a very high seed once again this season, a testament to the program’s consistency under Drew. A three-time Big 12 Coach of the Year, Drew has won at least 20 games in 14 of the last 16 seasons.

Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

4. Kelvin Sampson | Houston | 23-3

After long stints at Washington State and Oklahoma, Kelvin Sampson’s college coaching career was derailed by off-court issues at Indiana. After seven seasons as an NBA assistant, he returned to the college game as the head coach at Houston. It’s been a perfect fit. Before Sampson’s arrival in 2014, UH had reached the NCAA tournament just once since 1992.

It took a while for Sampson to really get things rolling, but he has built up the Cougars into one of the best programs in the country. UH went to the Sweet 16 in 2019, the Final Four in 2021, the Elite Eight in 2022 and then the Sweet 16 last year. Even with the move up to the Big 12, Houston’s momentum hasn’t slowed. Sampson has the Cougars in contention for a conference championship in their first year in a power conference.

5. John Calipari | Kentucky | 18-8

Relative to expectation and past track record, John Calipari has been under-performing at Kentucky in recent years. The Wildcats missed the NCAA tournament altogether in 2021, were shocked in the first round by No. 15 seed St Peter’s in the first round in 2022 and then fell in the Round of 32 last year.

Calipari recruits at an elite level and has five true freshmen who log heavy minutes this season. Calipari is accustomed to playing with freshmen with NBA futures, but it has not translated into deep March Madness runs like it did earlier in his tenure at UK. In his first three years, the Wildcats went to the Elite Eight, the Final Four and then won the national title in 2012. UK got back to the title game in 2014 and then lost in the Final Four in 2015. There were also Elite Eight appearances in 2017 and 2019.

This year, Kentucky has had an up-and-down season. But can Calipari get his guys on the same page and spark a deep run in March?

Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

6. Dan Hurley | UConn | 24-3

Dan Hurley returned UConn to the ranks of college basketball’s elite programs. After a return to the Big East and first-round NCAA tournament exits in 2021 and 2022, the Huskies embarked on a dominant run to the national championship last year. The average margin of victory in UConn’s six NCAA tournament wins was a whopping 20 points. Connecticut is currently the favorite in the March Madness odds, as FanDuel sportsbook has them priced at +450.

It’s a new season, but Hurley’s Huskies have not slowed down. With four regular season games remaining, UConn is the No. 1 team in the country with a 24-3 overall record and a 14-2 mark in conference play. It took a few seasons for Hurley to establish his footing in Storrs, but the Huskies are 78-21 combined over the past three seasons. As some of the older coaches start to phase out, Hurley could become the face of a new era of college basketball coaches.

7. Mark Few | Gonzaga | 21-6

Mark Few’s run of dominance at Gonzaga has been remarkable. Since he took over the program in 1999, the Bulldogs have won 22 West Coast Conference championships and played in 23 consecutive NCAA tournaments. And in recent years, the Bulldogs have made some deep tournament runs, including twice finishing as the national runner-up (2017 and 2021). The Bulldogs also posted an undefeated regular season in 2021.

Few’s overall record at Gonzaga is 708-141 with a ridiculous 344-36 record in WCC play. That’s a ridiculous 90.5 winning percentage vs. conference opponents. The Bulldogs are 21-6 this year and still have some work to do to keep their NCAA tournament streak alive. But the fact that a record like that is considered a down season for Gonzaga shows what an incredible standard Few has set.

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8. Matt Painter | Purdue | 24-3

Matt Painter would be higher on this list, but last year’s unfathomable NCAA tournament exit is hard to ignore. With one of our Players to Watch in March Madness Zach Edey leading the way, Purdue was a No. 1 seed in March Madness last year but suffered one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport by losing to No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson.

To the credit of Painter and the program, the Boilermakers have rebounded and look to be en route to another Big Ten title. With Edey back in the fold, Purdue has the chance to make a deep run and get to the Final Four for the first time in Painter’s 19 years on the job. Purdue has advanced past the Sweet 16 only once under Painter. That was an Elite Eight run back in 2019.

9. Tony Bennett | Virginia | 20-7

Virginia doesn’t play the most exciting brand of basketball, but it’s hard to argue with Tony Bennett’s results. In 2018, the Cavaliers became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 in NCAA tournament play, but they followed that horrific loss up with the program’s first-ever national championship in 2019.

Since then, Virginia has not gotten out of the first round but that does not discount the fact that UVA has won or shared the ACC regular season title in six of the past 10 seasons. Under Bennett, the Cavaliers have consistently been one of the best defensive teams in college basketball.

Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

10. Bruce Pearl | Auburn | 20-6

Basketball was an afterthought at Auburn before Bruce Pearl arrived. Pearl, who had an impressive six-year run at Tennessee that included an SEC championship, has guided Auburn to some of the best seasons in program history. It took some time for Pearl to build things up, but he guided Auburn to the SEC regular season title in 2018 and then brought the program to its first Final Four in 2019.

Auburn won the SEC again in 2022 and are in contention for the league title once again this season. The Tigers have lost in the second round in their last two NCAA tournament appearances. Could Pearl lead this group on a deep run like he did back in 2019?

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