Gonzaga and Baylor have been the two most dominant teams in college basketball this season. With three teams in the top five, the Big Ten has been the sport’s most dominant conference. They have five teams in the top 25 and two others, Rutgers and Purdue, sitting just outside. That makes up half of the 14-team conglomerate and even more should make the NCAA Tournament.
Mark Few and Scott Drew have done great jobs with Gonzaga and Baylor, respectively. I think the National Coach of the Year will come from the Big Ten.
It won’t be Brad Underwood, Fran McCaffery, or Greg Gard. The National Coach of the Year should come from the teams picked to finish 6th and 7th, Michigan and Ohio State. With less than four weeks until Selection Sunday, the third-ranked Wolverines and No. 4 Buckeyes both have their eyes on the top seed line of the bracket. After wins over Rutgers and Penn State on Thursday, both teams are on a collision course for their only meeting this season.
The winner of that game should have the inside track on the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament. Therefore, the victor likely has a leg up on the No. 3 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Juwan Howard’s Michigan Wolverines
In his second season at Michigan, Juwan Howard has the Wolverines at 15-1. Their 10-1 conference record already equals last year’s league win total. Michigan began the year 11-0 after a win over No. 9 Wisconsin but suffered their first loss at Minnesota. The win over Rutgers was just the fourth for the Wolverines in nearly a month thanks to a Covid-19 pause.
Offensively, the Wolverines are led by seniors Isaiah Livers and Franz Wagner. The duo has led the team in scoring in seven of the team’s 16 games and combined for 27.1 points per game. The big surprise has been freshman big man Hunter Dickinson. The 7-1 center has averaged 14.6 points per game and is shooting 64.6% from the field.
Michigan has been extremely good at both ends of the floor. First, they rank 4th at KenPom, 7th in both offensive, as well as, defensive efficiency. Secondly, looking at the statistics, Michigan is all over the top 30 in a myriad of categories. For instance, they rank 30th or better in assist-to-turnover (1.34), blocks (5.2), field-goal percentage defense (37.6%), and defensive (30.19), and rebound margin (8) among others.
Chris Holtmann’s Ohio State Buckeyes
The fourth-ranked Buckeyes are 18-4, and Chris Holtmann has worked his magic again. Ohio State enters the contest with Michigan winners of seven straight, with five wins over the top-25 this year.
Sophomore forward E.J. Liddell has been a star for the Buckeyes. The second-year star is averaging 15.5 points, 6.6 rebounds, and leads the team in rebounding and blocks. Fellow forward Justice Sueing has been a big contributor in his first year with the Buckeyes after joining from California.
Also, one of the biggest reasons Ohio State has been successful is its ability to take care of the basketball. The Buckeyes only turn the ball over 10.4 times per game, which even though is 12th best; it’s the third-best among Big Ten teams. In doing so, they limit extra possessions for their opponents.
While the statistics may not favor Ohio State like they do Michigan, the new-age metrics that are used sure do. The Buckeyes’ resume is a strong one with an 11-4 record in quad one and two games. Similarly, they are a strong 5th at KenPom in addition to being in the top-9 in Sagarin (6th), Strength of Record (4th), and Basketball Power Index (9th).
Several coaches are worthy of the National Coach of the Year, however, Michigan and Ohio State have exceeded expectations. The Wolverines and Buckeyes have gone from middle-of-the-road Big Ten teams to ones with Final Four aspirations. Therefore, Juwan Howard and Chris Holtmann have raised the bar for their teams and should be favorites for the award.