There are currently four finalists for the Naismith Coach of the Year award. Two are still coaching, Tony Bennett of Virginia and our very own Chris Beard. Beard stand out over Bennett for many reasons, and I’ll illustrate those here in a second. Coach Sampson from Houston and Coach Barnes from Tennessee had great seasons, with both of their programs getting to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament. Beard has done the better job coaching this season, and here’s why:
He had to replace last season’s team:
35.79% of minutes returned this year from last year’s team. That included 5 seniors and Zhaire Smith, a first-round pick by the Philadelphia 76ers. The biggest returner minutes-wise was Jarrett Culver and the only other contributors to return from last year’s team were Davide Moretti, Norense Odiase and Brandone Francis. Beard not only lost 6 of his greatest contributors but he lost his first lieutenant Chris Ogden, who took the Head Coaching job at UT Arlington.
Congratulations to @UTA_MBB's Chris Ogden for being named #SunBeltMBB Coach of the Year!— Sun Belt (@SunBelt) March 11, 2019
Ogden guided UTA to 12 conference wins and the No. 2 seed for the #SunBeltBBALL Championship.#MavCity | #RiseAbove pic.twitter.com/PpdRTI5zwK
He was facing an almost complete rebuild but he had key pieces in place with Culver set to be an all-star, Moretti set to run the offense, Odiase set to be the defensive anchor, and Francis set to be the all-important and versatile 6th man on this team. He started by signing two contributors during the prior season in Deshawn Corpew and Kyler Edwards. He then landed the two biggest reason the Red Raiders have come this far, Matt Mooney from South Dakota and Tariq Owens from Saint John’s. The rebuild looked like more of a reload, and they have played that way this entire season.
Four new guys to the rotation that had to be acclimated to the culture and style this team played. It took a little while for them to hit their grove as the team started out hot in Big 12 play but had its struggles during the later part of January and early into February. They did find their grove as the team has won 4 in a row and 13 of their last 14. Beard brought these guys in for a reason, he knew they would fit his style, his culture, and it worked.
He did it with less touted recruits:
Just looking at Virginia’s roster, there are a couple of things that set them a part from Texas Tech. Kyle Guy was a McDonald’s All-American in 2016, Deandre Hunter was in ESPN’s Top 100 Recruits in 2015. Ty Jerome, also on ESPN’s Top 100 recruits. That shouldn’t discount what these guys have done all season long, but Beard has done a great job of taking guys who weren’t on these lists and turning them into all-stars.
Look at Jarrett Culver and Zhaire Smith. Smith was the lowest rated recruit ever to be a one and done player. Culver could have come out and been a second round pick last season but decided to stay and now he looks like a consensus top-10 pick in this year’s draft in June. Beard and his staff have done a great job of developing players. Take Davide Moretti for a prime example. Last season, he was a spot-up three point shooter and a liability on the defensive side of the floor. This season, not only has Moretti run the offense, he can create his own shot and play great defense.
These two reasons along with this team’s run to the Final Four should win him this award. Coach Bennett has done a great job with his team’s season as well, but he didn’t have to replace as much as Beard did. He also had many more great recruits to build his team with. Beard is the real choice here. He won the fan vote, he had the bigger hill to climb, he developed his talent more and has coached them to play together like a family.