Top 5 American Athletic Conference Head Coaches
Top 5: AAC Coaches
Coaching basketball is a form of art. Mixing and matching lineups, schemes and plays are integral parts of what it takes to be a collegiate coach. On top of the schematics, the ability to lure coveted recruits to play for the program and ability to persuade players to “buy in” to your system are the abilities that the best collegiate coaches possess. There are few and far between who actually are able to prioritize and maintain a stability between all phases of what it means to lead a program.
When the American Athletic Conference was formed, defending NCAA Champion Louisville, perennial NCAA Tournament contender Connecticut and the always-relevant Memphis were thought of having the best chances to be at the top of the conference standings. However, the up-and coming SMU, led by Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown, and Cincinnati, with the successful Mick Cronin at the helm, make the AAC one of the most well-coached conferences in all of college basketball. Rick Pitino, shortly after leading Louisville to a National Championship, has gotten the Cardinals off to a great start yet again, and has signed four four-star recruits to build toward next year.
Newcomers, such as Connecticut's Kevin Ollie and Memphis' Josh Pastner are taking the league by storm, replacing historically-dominant coaches, while attempting to create their own respective legacies.
I will show, through their records and future committed recruits, that the AAC will continue to grow and become stronger, due to the efforts of these talented coaches.
Here are the five best coaches as of right now.
5. Kevin Ollie (Connecticut)
Last Year: 20-10
This Year: 4-0
Taking over for legendary coach Jim Calhoun was supposed to be a tough transition. But for former UConn Husky and NBA utility-man Kevin Ollie, the transition was as seamless as it could be. An assistant for UConn since they won their third National Championship under Calhoun in 2010-11, he was groomed to be the next head coach of his alma mater. He took over at the beginning of the 2012-13 season, in which the Huskies were ruled ineligible to participate in the postseason due to APR scores under the necessary threshold. This should have been a blow to the program. But, it wasn’t. Ollie led the Huskies to a very impressive 20-10 record and they are poised to have another very successful season this year.
Using the UConn tradition as a focal point to go along with his identity as a “player’s coach”, he was able to sign the following prospects to play in the 2014-15 season:
Daniel Hamilton (4-star), ESPN No. 7 SG
Rakim Lubin (3-star), ESPN No. 58 PF
Sam Cassell Jr. (JC), PG
4. Josh Pastner (Memphis)
Last Year: (31-5)
This Year: (1-0)
A former Arizona Wildcat letterwinner, coach Josh Pastner has taken over for John Calipari in a big way. He is one of just two coaches to guide the program to 20-win seasons in each of his four years. The other coach: Calipari. With the Memphis Tigers now in the AAC, they will have more competition, rather than facing Conference USA opponents. A young, fiery coach, Pastner was able to recruit the following players to play for Memphis next season:
Dominic Magee (four-star), ESPN No. 15 PG
Chris Hawkins (JC), SF
Trashon Burrell (JC), SF
Avery Woodson (JC), SG
3. Mick Cronin (Cincinnati)
Last Year: (22-12)
This Year: (3-0)
In his debut season as the head coach of Murray State, Cronin took the Racers to a 28-6 overall record and an NCAA Tournament appearance. He made a name for himself recruiting talent, notably scoring top recruits for Bob Huggins as an assistant at Cincinnati from 1997-2001, before working under Rick Pitino at Louisville, where he helped attract a top 10 recruiting class in his only season there prior to getting the gig at Cincinnati. At Cincinnati, Cronin has created a very successful program, and has been a dangerous team almost every season for the last decade. This is the talent he has recruited for next season:
Gary Clark (four-star), ESPN No. 27 PF
Quadri Moore (four-star) ESPN No. 28 PF
Coreontae DeBerry (JC), C
2. Larry Brown (SMU)
Overall: (195-78), three Final Fours, one National Championship
Last Year: (15-17)
This Year: (3-0)
Not many conferences in the country can have Larry Brown as its second-best coach. Holding 1,327 career ABA and NBA wins, Brown is back in the college scene, where he won a National Championship with Kansas in 1988. He is the only head coach to win a college title and a NBA Championship, where he led the Detroit Pistons to a title in 2004. After taking over SMU last season, Brown has attracted top talent, highlighted by top prospect Keith Frazier, who is getting significant playing time as a freshmen this season. Next year, he recruited the following top prospect:
Emmanuel Mudiay (five-star), ESPN No. 2 PG
1. Rick Pitino (Louisville)
Overall: (667-239) 6 Final Fours, 2 National Championships
Last Year: (35-5), National Champions
This Year: (3-0)
One of the most successful collegiate coaches of all time, Pitino is coming off arguably his best season as head coach, in which he led the Cardinals to a 35-5 record and a National Championship. The winner of two NCAA titles, Pitino’s teams have been perennial top nationally-ranked teams, and will continue to be by the looks of next year’s recruiting class:
Shaqquan Aaron (four-star) ESPN No. 9 SF
Quentin Snider (four-star) ESPN No. 5 PG
Jaylen Johnson (four-star) ESPN No. 14 PF
Chinanu Onuaku (four-star) ESPN No. 8 C