Craig Smith Should Be National Coach Of The Year Candidate

Mar 18, 2019, 12:40 PM
Craig Smith - Utah State Aggies...
Utah State Aggies head coach Craig Smith celebrates by cutting down the net after his team's win over the San Diego State Aztecs in the Mountain West Conference finals at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on Saturday, March 16, 2019. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)
(Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

LOGAN, Utah – After a historic first season with the Utah State Aggies, head coach Craig Smith should be in the conversation for the Naismith National Coach of the Year award. He is not listed as a semifinalist, but coach Smith is definitely among the top 11 head coaches in college basketball this season.

What Smith has done for the Utah State basketball program in less than a year in Logan, has been remarkable. He has led the Aggies to their first ever regular season title in the Mountain West Conference, their first conference tournament title since joining the Mountain West six years ago and a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.

Smith has won more games than any other first-year head coach in program history with 28 victories. That mark is the second-most wins in program history, only behind the 30-4 record in 2010-11.

He was named Mountain West Coach of the Year, being only the second coach in award history to win it in his first season, former Utah head coach Ray Giacoletti was the only other first-year coach to take home the MWC award in 2005. He was also a finalist for the National Coach of the Year.

Smith led the Aggies to a No. 8-seed in the NCAA Tournament, their highest seed in program history.

The Aggies had a 17-17 record last season and most of the players this season were on that roster last year. He brought in freshman center Neemias Queta and has helped him earn conference Freshman and Defensive Player of the Year.

Here are the 11 coaches that were named semifinalist for the National Coach of the Year award:

Rick Barnes, TennesseeĀ – Barnes is deserving of the recognition after putting Tennessee basketball back on the map. They were ranked No. 1 in the country for a short time this season and finished the regular season with a 29-5 record and a No. 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee was 16-16 two years ago.

Chris Beard, Texas TechĀ 

Just two years ago, the Red Raiders were 18-16 and didn’t reach the postseason. Last season, they reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament and a 27-10 record. This season, Texas Tech is 26-6 and are a No. 3-seed in the Big Dance. Chris Beard has done a tremendous job in Lubbock, Texas.

Tony Bennett, Virginia

Virginia is a powerhouse in college basketball, all because of the leadership from Tony Bennett. He has quickly become one of the best coaches in the game.

John Calipari, Kentucky

Calipari is one of the best coaches in the game and this season for Kentucky wasn’t any different. The Wildcats finished the regular season with a 27-6 record and a No. 2-seed in the Big Dance.

Mark Few, Gonzaga

Few and Gonzaga had another outstanding season, with their only bump in the road being a loss in the West Coast Conference Tournament Championship game to St. Mary’s. The Bulldogs are a No. 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament for just the third time in program history.

Tom Izzo, Michigan State

Like Roy Williams, Tony Bennett, John Calipari and Mark Few, Izzo is a legend in college basketball and will always be on this list.

Nate Oats, Buffalo

Buffalo had a great season and are a No. 6-seed in the NCAA Tournament with a 31-3 record, very deserving for Oats to be a candidate for coach of the year. They won 27 games last season and beat Arizona in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Matt Painter, Purdue

Painter has cemented his legacy for what he has done for Purdue basketball. They are a No. 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Kelvin Sampson, Houston

Sampson led the Cougars to a 31-3 record and has surprised the college basketball world, leading them to a No. 3-seed in the Big Dance. A 27-8 record last season was impressive enough, but 31 wins going into the tournament is a big accomplishment.

Roy Williams, North CarolinaĀ 

Williams will probably be a semifinalist or finalist every year until he retires. It was another strong season for the Tar Heels as they are a No. 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Mike Young, Wofford

After a 21-13 season in 2017-18, Young led Wofford to a 29-4 record and a No. 7-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Only one coach on this list did not have their team in the NCAA Tournament last season, that was Coach Young and Wofford, but they were in the CIT. Which makes more of a case to consider Coach Smith, with him bringing the Aggies to where they are in just his first season.

If Wofford and Buffalo’s head coaches are on the list, why is Craig Smith not on it? 11 is an odd number to have for a semifinalist list of candidates and all of these coaches are deserving, but why not add one more?

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Craig Smith Should Be National Coach Of The Year Candidate