Already in the mix, Kevin Ollie may have become the favorite in the “race” — if you want to call it that — for Big East Coach of the Year.
Following a 66-58 victory over sixth-ranked Syracuse, UConn sits at 17-6 overall and 7-4 in the Big East, thus far surpassing anyone’s reasonable expectations (with the possible exception of Ollie).
If the Huskies win four or five of their remaining seven games, that puts them at 21 or 22 for the year, a total that seemed extremely high in October. Although there’s no tournament for UConn, it could rake in some individual awards: Shabazz Napier has a case for Big East Player of the Year (but I don’t think he’s the favorite), and Ollie certainly is in the discussion for the league’s Coach of the Year.
When you combine all of the circumstances — the postseason ban, the thin and inexperienced frontcourt, the one-year contract, the shadow of Jim Calhoun, etc, etc. — Ollie’s rookie season is truly unprecedented. The next seven games will decide it, but Ollie has a more-than-legitimate shot at becoming the first rookie to win Big East Coach of the Year since Pittsburgh’s Jamie Dixon in 2004.
Who else has a case?
Buzz Williams, Marquette — In some regard, the Golden Eagles entered the season in a UConn-like situation. Williams lost Jae Crowder, the 2012 Big East Player of the Year, and star guard Darius Johnson-Odom to graduation, but has still managed to put together an 8-3 record in the league. If Marquette finishes above UConn, Williams could steal the hardware.
Steve Lavin, St. John’s — Lavin’s story is even more remarkable than Ollie’s. The Red Storm coach missed all but four games while recovering from prostate cancer surgery in 2011-12. He returned this fall and has led the Johnnies to a 7-5 Big East mark. Lavin, the former UCLA coach, has missed the past two games due to the death of father.
John Thompson III, Georgetown — The Hoyas have played some ugly games — that 37-36 thriller over Tennessee topping the list — but they’re 18-4 overall and 8-3 in the Big East. A conference title could give JT3 his first Coach of the Year award. His pops, Big John, won three times, including the inaugural award in 1980.
Jim Boeheim, Syracuse –– Can’t count out the vet. If Cuse runs the table (unlikely, but you never know), Boeheim might head to the ACC with a record five Big East Coach of the Year trophies.