Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Dribble Handoff: College basketball coach of the year picks include Baylor’s Scott Drew, Arizona’s Tommy Lloyd

There are more hurdles than ever for coaches in college basketball to navigate before they even get a chance to work with their teams on the court in any substantive way. For one thing, just assembling a competitive roster has become an increasingly complicated process that requires far more than just developing relationships with high school prospects.

With the proliferation of transferring in college basketball, coaches must always keep their heads on a swivel for players leaving their programs. And if they aren’t prepared to evaluate how potential incoming transfers might fit with their systems, they can find themselves in a lurch. It’s common now for half of a program’s scholarship players to be new faces in a given season.

These industry changes merely underscore how critical relationship building and roster management skills are for coaches, in addition to their on-court schematics and prowess with Xs and Os. 

There is plenty of basketball ahead, but for now, here are the coaches who are standing out for their ability to master all that’s required of college basketball coaches in 2022. For this week’s edition of the Dribble Handoff, our writers are making their picks for coach of the year as the calendar flips to 2022.

Baylor’s Scott Drew

There are plenty of great candidates for coach of the year — among them the two names you’ll read below. Compelling arguments can be made for both. But my vote, right now, would go to Drew, who lost four starters from last season’s team that won the national championship but still has his program operating at the tip-top of the sport. The Bears are 13-0 and ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll, the Coaches Poll, the CBS Sports Top 25 And 1, the NCAA’s NET rankings, at KenPom.com, and at BartTorvik.com (if you remove the preseason bias). They also have the nation’s best strength of record. As Jerry Palm’s latest Bracketology highlights, Baylor would be the No. 1 overall seed if the field were announced this afternoon.

It really is amazing.

Again, Drew lost four starters from last season’s team — including two NBA guards. Regardless, his Bears look like legitimate contenders to win the 2022 NCAA Tournament thanks to the additions of James Akinjo, a transfer from Arizona, Kendall Brown, a five-star freshman, and the elevated games of various returning players — most notably LJ Cryer, who is leading Baylor in scoring this season (13.5 points per game) after finishing ninth on the team in scoring last season (3.4 points per game). Put another way, the newcomers have adjusted brilliantly while the returning players have comfortably grown into bigger roles. That’s a credit to Drew and a testament to the program he’s built. The 51-year-old has never won a national coach of the year award. But, the way things are going, that could change come March. — Gary Parrish

Baylor dispatched Iowa State in a business-like fashion, cementing its status as the No. 1 team. A date with Kansas looms but is there any other team in the Big 12 that will knock off the reigning champs? Listen below and subscribe to the Eye on College Basketball podcast where we take you beyond the hardwood with insider information and instant reactions.

Iowa State’s T.J. Otzelberger

Drew’s really got a great case right now, and that’s not normal for a coach coming off a national championship. So, nice pick, GP. But if I were to make a pick for today it would be the first-year guy at Iowa State. The Cyclones were universally projected to be the worst team in the Big 12. This is a program that dropped every league game last season and lost 18 straight on its way to parting ways with Steve Prohm. Otzelberger was hired, went into the portal, brought in some role players from Big Ten programs and promptly put on one of the best insta-flip jobs of the past decade. Iowa State made it into the top 10 of the AP Top 25 for its home game vs. No. 1 Baylor over the weekend. A 77-72 loss, ISU’s first of the season, was completely acceptable.

To have ISU at 12-1, ranked and — hello! — a No. 1 seed in Jerry Palm’s most recent Bracketology bracket forecast is astonishing. He’s working with much less talent than the other two coaches named in this post. Otzelberger has this program two years ahead of the pace. I don’t believe ISU is going to wind up as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed when we get to March. But anything below that is possible. He’s been remarkable, and guys like Izaiah Brockington, Gabe Kalscheur and Caleb Grill have come in and transformed the scope of what’s possible in 2022. Add in the fact that Otzelberger convinced Tyrese Hunter to remain committed to Iowa State (he’s been one of the best freshman guards in the country) and it’s all too easy to give the nod to Otzelberger at the two-month mark. — Matt Norlander

Arizona’s Tommy Lloyd

Arizona finished 17-9 (11-9 Pac-12) last season under Sean Miller and was ineligible for the NCAA Tournament because of a self-imposed postseason ban. With Miller out after a 12-year run and leading scorer James Akinjo transferring to Baylor, another average season in the Pac-12 and something in the range of a 7-12 seed in the NCAA Tournament seemed like the ceiling to me. Boy, was that wrong. The Wildcats are ranked No. 9 in the AP Top 25 and sporting a 12-1 (2-0 Pac-12) record after Monday’s win over Washington. Now, all of a sudden, a third-place finish in the Pac-12 looks like the worst-case scenario, and that’s why Lloyd is my early leader for coach of the year.

The excellent record is one thing, but the seemingly flawless adaptation to Lloyd’s style is what’s most impressive. Arizona has gone from playing relatively slow to ranking No. 4 in adjusted tempo, per KenPom, and are looking great while doing it. The Wildcats can outrun teams in transition, bludgeon them on the block with Christian Koloko and Azuolas Tubelis or out shoot them with Bennedict Mathurin, Kerr Kriisa. The sophomore leap Mathurin is taking has been particularly impressive and will provide a compelling recruiting pitch for Lloyd and his staff as they try and lure top prospects to Tucson, Arizona.

Lloyd’s provided an immediate spark for a program that was just 29-27 in the unspectacular Pac-12 over the past three seasons. The fact that he’s turned the Wildcats into a national contender so quickly is a feat that should make him the early frontrunner for coach of the year. — David Cobb

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