The 2008-09 Big East season should bring as much excitement as any. Commonly regarded as the toughest conference in college basketball, it has the potential to put 9+ teams into the NCAA tournament come March.
At the backbone of a great team comes a great coach, and the Big East has plenty of great coaches. But which coaches are the best? Let's just say that a well-padded résumé is not enough to give a coach top honors in this conference.
1. John Thompson III (Georgetown) - Like father like son, JT III has brought Georgetown back to national attention. His teams display great hustle regardless of score, and perennially sport a top-5 defense. The other mark of a great coach? Winning close games. Last year, Georgetown won six Big East games by 3 points or less.
2. Jim Calhoun (UConn) - Truly one of the elite coaches in college basketball. He's got the hardware to support his hall-of-fame status, and puts impact players in the NBA (See the careers of Ray Allen, Ben Gordon, and Emeka Okafor for further details).
3. Jim Boeheim (Syracuse) - When your signature is a decal of the court you coach on, you know you've done well. Nobody runs a better 2-3 zone defense than Jim Boeheim. He recruits great talent and has never missed the NCAA tournament 3 years in a row.
4. Rick Pitino (Louisville) - Not enough can be said about the Godfather. He's the only coach to take 3 teams to the Final Four. His squad always plays well as a team, and nobody mixes zone and man-to-man defense better then the Cardinals.
5. Bob Huggins (West Virginia) - Regardless of his off-the-court antics, this guy can flat out coach. He brought the 21st century version of phi slamma jamma to Cincinnati, a perennial top-15 team. He gave K-State a great run at the NCAA tourney in his short term there, and left a full cupboard of talent in Michael Beasley and Bill Walker. Huggins silenced a lot of critics last year when the 7th-seed Mountaineers knocked off 2nd-seed Duke to reach the Sweet 16.
6. Jamie Dixon (Pitt) - Pitt has become a familiar name in the NCAA tournament thanks to this guy. He's moved up a rung in the recruiting latter by getting big-time local talent in Dejuan Blair, who grew up a mile from the Petersen Events Center. Dixon is an Elite-8 away from becoming a premier coach in college basketball.
7. Jay Wright (Villanova) - He's the classiest coach in basketball. He's brought Villanova back to playing their best basketball since the '85 championship. Some of the best guards in the country have stopped through Philadelphia as of late. The future holds similar high hopes, as Villanova's 2009 class is ranked in the top 5 by Scouts Inc.
8. Mike Brey (Notre Dame) - As Dick Vitale once said, nobody fits a program better than Mike Brey at Notre Dame. He's created a very balanced attack that will continue to give a lot of teams fits this year.
9. Keno Davis (Providence) - Out with the old, in with the new. Davis led the Drake Bulldogs on a magical run to the NCAA tournament last year and was a buzzer-beater away from making the second round. Keno inherits a program full of disappointment from last year and hopes to turn things around.
10. Mick Cronin (Cincinnati) - Cincy hasn't been the same since Huggins left, but Cronin has been steadily building his alma mater into a contender once again.
11. Jerry Wainwright (DePaul) - One quality about all of Wainwright's teams: they play tough. The Blue Demons have knocked off a ranked team each year for the past three years.
12. Buzz Williams (Marquette) - Buzz hasn't had much time as head coach yet, and will try to remove the sour taste Tom Crean left in fans' mouths. One thing is true: he's a great recruiter. Three of his recruiting classes in the last 8 years have been in the top 50, all at mid-major or high-major schools. He helped Texas A&M in becoming a top-tier program, and his 2009 class for Marquette is ranked 5th by Scouts Inc.
13. Stan Heath (South Florida) - Football gets more hype than basketball these days in Tampa, but Heath's Bulls have shown they're a sleeper team. Last year featured wins over Syracuse and Florida State, and a 1-point loss in overtime to 17th-ranked UConn.
14. Fred Hill (Rutgers) - Hill has done nothing but lose games since he's shown up in New Brunswick, but he's brought in two top-tier recruits in Mike Rosario and Gregory Echenique, who he hopes will help the Scarlet Knights climb out of last place.
15. Norm Roberts (St. John's) - This is not Lou Carnesecca's Redmen of the 80s. Norm needs to quickly rebuild a team that's in danger of losing court time at Madison Square Garden.
16. Bobby Gonzalez (Seton Hall) - This is a team that's won 3 Big East road games in the last 2 seasons. That won't cut it anywhere, especially in the toughest conference in college basketball.