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By Raphielle Johnson

December 19th, 2005


College Basketball: Ten Underrated Coaches

Big time leaders getting small-time press


Unlike the coaches in college basketball who wind up on national commercials, video games, or on someone else’s “hot list” for the rising stars in the profession, there are some who go about winning quietly. These are guys who spend more time on the X’s and O’s of the game as opposed to being seen by a big-time recruit or in a studio getting some more face time. But unlike the disparity of coverage for programs on the major networks, coaches in major conferences also go about their jobs without accepting numerous pats on the back. So, below are some of the most underrated coaches in college basketball (in alphabetical order), along with a short reason as to why.


Mike Anderson (Alabama-Birmingham)


With the exodus of five schools to the Big East, Conference USA was dismissed by many as “Memphis and those other guys”. It would be in the best interest of the Tigers not to discount Coach Anderson and his Blazers, who have gone from doormat to annual conference title contender during his time in Birmingham. Entering his fourth season, Anderson has led UAB to two consecutive NCAA tournaments, winning at least one game in both trips (Sweet 16 in 2004, second round in 2005). The rebirth of “40 Minutes of Hell” (he was an assistant under Nolan Richardson at Arkansas) in green and gold has also resulted in three 20-win seasons and a conference coach of the year award in 2004. The changes to the conference should mean fewer roadblocks to the top for this rising star in the profession.


Fran Dunphy (Pennsylvania)


On a national level, the coaches that get the most publicity in Philadelphia are John Chaney (Temple) and Jay Wright (Villanova). But going largely unnoticed by many outside of the Big Five/ Ivy League circles is Fran Dunphy, who has made the Quakers a perennial favorite along with Princeton to win the Ivy League. Entering his 16th season at Penn, Dunphy has racked up nine league titles and eight NCAA appearances, coaching teams with high basketball IQ’s that were tough outs come March. And once again, Pennsylvania is poised to win the Ivy and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament that goes with it.


Seth Greenberg (Virginia Tech)


One fact about Greenberg’s impact on the Hokie program should be enough to show how good of a coach he is: In his first year in Blacksburg, he led the Hokies to their only Big East Tournament appearance. Qualifying for your conference tournament may not be a big deal to some, but at a school that has been nonexistent in basketball for almost a decade (Bill Foster led Tech to their last NCAA appearance in 1996), this is huge. In his third season, Greenberg has a team that will challenge many opponents with their hard-nosed defense and balanced offense. The 79-77 loss at Duke may be a harbinger of good things to come for this program. And look out Stanford (these two play in Las Vegas Saturday).


Karl Hobbs (George Washington)


He doesn’t have the experience of a Gary Williams or the bloodlines of John Thompson III, but Hobbs right now is the hottest coach on the Beltway. Thanks to Hobbs, the Colonials are ranked 15th in both polls (AP and coaches) and are the preseason favorites in the Atlantic 10. It’s interesting that a player on his team by the name of “Pops” get more mention on Sportscenter than he does, but this will not last long if GW keeps winning. This team will be a tough out in March thanks to Hobbs’ use of pressure defense and a deep bench. And given the level of high school talent in the DC Metro area, don’t expect the Colonials to go away with Hobbs in charge.


Bob McKillop (Davidson)


Given that his program is not on television often (usually when they play an ACC school in North Carolina), it’s easy for many to ignore the job that McKillop has done with the Wildcat program. In his seventeen years at the head of the program, Davidson has won ten Southern Conference titles, including four straight in the regular season. Opposing coaches know McKillop to be one of the best in the profession, regardless of how little his name is tossed around on ESPN or any other network for that matter. Already owning victories over the likes of Missouri, Massachusetts, and St. Joseph’s this season, Syracuse had better be wary of McKillop and the Wildcats when they visit the Carrier Dome later this month.


Lorenzo Romar (Washington)


In only his fourth season at the helm of his alma mater, Romar has found a way to do something that Husky coaches in the past failed miserably at doing: keeping the top Seattle talent at home. Donny Marshall, Jason Terry, Jamal Crawford...three Seattle-area natives who played college basketball in other parts of the nation. The city has always taken a backseat to other West Coast hotbeds such as Los Angeles and the Bay Area when it came to high school talent. But with Seattle basketball on the rise, it helps to have a man on top who can not only can recruit the best kids, but can also coach them to be the best. Last season’s number one seed in the NCAA Tournament was a start for Romar, not a destination.


Jeff Ruland (Iona)


Half of the infamous “McFilthy & McNasty” duo (along with Rick Mahorn), Coach Ruland has built an impressive program at his alma mater. In seven years at the helm, Ruland has two conference titles and two trips to the NCAA Tournament to his credit. Add to this the steady stream of talent coming out of the Gael program, and you end up with a dangerous team that is well-coached and can send nearly anyone home with a loss. Already with an 89-72 win at Iowa State to their credit, wins against Kentucky and/or Seton Hall in the next few weeks could blow Ruland’s cover.


Bo Ryan (Wisconsin)


Ryan enters his fifth season in Madison with yet another team that will challenge for the Big Ten crown. Yet every year you seem to hear about the “usual suspects” in the conference previews: Michigan State, Illinois, Indiana, even Michigan. Yet the Badgers continue to play consistently on both ends of the floor, leading to high finishes in the Big Ten standings. Note his career Big Ten record of 46-18, which is good for a .719 winning percentage. It’s about time that Ryan receives some more publicity for his success at all levels (he won four national titles at Wisconsin-Platteville), and hopefully this will come as the Badgers continue to rack up wins.


Al Skinner (Boston College)


Year in and year out, Skinner seems to find a way to get the Eagles either to or near the top of the conference standings. Heading off to new locales in the ACC should not change this, given the ability of Coach Skinner and his staff. He seems to make a habit of taking lightly recruited players and turning them into either stars or players who can fill their given role. Their flex offense is one of the more unique in America, making them difficult to guard, and their defense is also a challenge for their opposition. The success of the Eagle program is due to the work of Coach Skinner, but he’d rather you give the credit to others than hog the spotlight for himself.


Dennis Wolff (Boston University)


Going into his 12th season in charge of the Terriers, Coach Wolff is often left out of conversations involving some of the top coaching names at mid-major schools. Boston University teams traditionally rely on stifling half-court defense and a disciplined offense, a formula that has resulted in an America East record of 125-67 during Wolff’s time in Boston. Picked to finish second in the league this year, Wolff’s coaching prowess may be the difference between NCAA and NIT for the Terriers.


Other coaches of note


Jeff Capel (Virginia Commonwealth)

Homer Drew (Valparaiso)

Mark Fox (Nevada)

Brian Gregory (Dayton)

Jerry Wainright (DePaul)




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