Last April, after a decade of proving himself as one of the very best coaches in all of college basketball, Tony Bennett shook the monkey off of his back for good as he led Virginia to the greatest redemption story in the history of sports.
The Cavaliers, if you have somehow forgotten, went from being the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in 2018 to the national champs in 2019.
We may never see anything like that ever again.
But there are a handful of coaches that could follow in Bennett’s footsteps by joining the list of people that can put “Won A National Title” as a line item on their resume.
These are the eight coaches that are the most likely to do that in the next five years, with an added bonus of the threes most difficult names to leave off the list.
1. MARK FEW, Gonzaga: This is obvious. Gonzaga is a top ten program nationally, they are just two years removed from a run to the national title game, they are churning out lottery picks at a rate we’ve never seen from a mid-major and their ability to A) tap into the transfer market, and B) identify and bring in overseas talent will ensure that their floor is as a top 25 team every year. Few is going to breakthrough eventually.
THE SECOND TIER
2. CHRIS MACK, Louisville: For my money, Mack is the best coach in college basketball to never reach a Final Four, and if the way his first season at Louisville played out is any indication, he’s going to lose that title pretty soon. Not only is he coming off of a 20 win season and NCAA tournament trip that few expected, he brought back his best player, brought in a loaded six-man recruiting class and has his program sitting pretty as a preseason top seven team.
Now, the major question mark here is the NCAA. What kind of punishment is the program going to face as a result of the recruitment of Brian Bowen? On the one hand, Louisville is not far removed from the fallout from the escort scandal, where they had Final Four and National Title banners taken down as a result of strippers and hookers that were provided to players and recruits by a member of the coaching staff. On the other hand, everyone involved is both of those incidents is long gone – from the AD to the head coach to the players and members of the coaching staff. Is the NCAA going to come down hard on an entirely new regime that, as far as we know, has never been on the wrong side of NCAA rules? Who knows, but that’s the reason why I have Mack a notch below few.
3. CHRIS BEARD, Texas Tech: Beard is a tough one here, because he is the only guy on this list that could end up working somewhere else within the five-year window. Obviously, if he stays at Texas Tech he seems like he would be a decent bet to breakthrough. The Red Raiders, when healthy, were the best team in the Big 12 two years ago, and this past season they ended Kansas’ reign atop the conference before making a run to the national title game. As of today, they are a consensus preseason top ten team. Beard’s ability to rebuild from scratch on a year-by-year basis means that the Red Raiders will likely always be in the mix, and it makes me confident that, wherever he ends up if he does leave Lubbock, his team will have a shot at being very good, very quickly.
4. MATT PAINTER, Purdue: I have the utmost respect for Painter’s coaching ability. In the last four years, he’s managed to play three very distinct ways. It started with all 6-foot-9, 250 pounds of Caleb Swanigan playing the four alongside A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas. When Swanigan left, his team got better by putting four shooters on the floor around Haas. When four of the five starters on that team left, he totally rebuilt his offense by allowing Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline to run off as many pindowns and DHOs as they could handle.
Should I mention that, in three of those four seasons, Purdue finished as a top ten team on KenPom, and the fourth season they finished 19th? Painter is a monster.