College basketball’s top jobs rarely come open, and when they do, there’s usually an in-house candidate that was handpicked for the job. That was the case at Duke, North Carolina and Villanova when legendary coaches like Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams and Jay Wright stepped down. But which teams make up college basketball’s best 15 jobs?
On the Eye On College Basketball podcast, CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander unveiled his list. Norlander made an important clarification, noting that having the best job is not the same as having the best program.
“I am taking into account obviously the history of the school, the conference it’s located in, the actual location of the school in place, cost of living, where you’re living in the country, the resources at the school and the commitment at the school,” Norlander said. “Where does basketball fall at the school? Are you the top priority, the second priority, the third priority? Budget priority. All of it. I’m trying to take it all into account. This is my personal list.”
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Let’s dive into the list with our thoughts on the placement of the respective programs.
North Carolina basketball is the lifeblood of the university. North Carolina obviously has a history that everyone would take in a heartbeat. Dean Smith and Roy Williams were an elite coaching duo, and Hubert Davis showed why many believe he can be the next special Tar Heels coach. North Carolina is recruiting at an outstanding level, it’s poached some of the top talents out of the transfer portal, and it’s well-positioned to be in the mix to win championships both in 2022-23 and beyond. No. 1 is totally fair and realistic.
Lance Leipold’s 5-0 start on the gridiron might signal that he wants to give Bill Self a little run for his money, but Kansas basketball will always be the first thing you associate with the school. Self has built a dynasty. Kansas’ NCAA-record 14 consecutive Big 12 titles from 2005-2018 is one of the most remarkable stats around. That streak feels nearly impossible to beat. Oh, and Kansas won the National Championship this past season. Kansas is in that top, elite tier.
Kentucky is a basketball school, no matter how much Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops pushes back against that notion. John Calipari was ahead of his time on the recruiting trail. He embraced and ushered in the one-and-done era. Kentucky’s pipeline to the NBA (hello, New York Knicks) is alive and well, and the Wildcats are the most successful program in the history of college basketball. Kentucky is one of four programs that has a strong case for No. 1 overall. North Carolina and Kansas might have a slightly easier path to conference titles in their respective conferences, but Kentucky is built to be a contender in the top-heavy SEC every year. But Calipari could really use a deep run in the NCAA Tournament like North Carolina and Kansas had last season.
Duke is the fourth and final team that certainly has a case for the No. 1 job in the country. There is no pressure from any other sport at Duke. It’s Duke basketball all the way. Duke will always be right at the top of the food chain in the ACC, even if it has to fight with hated rival UNC every single year. Mike Krzyzewski turned the Blue Devils into a college basketball titan. It’s up to Jon Scheyer to stay at that standard. Duke’s recruiting has gone through the roof under Scheyer. He’s already flexing his muscles as one of the best recruiters in the sport. Recruiting with the Duke brand is like a wind at your sails, but Scheyer is positioned to keep Duke flying high after Krzyzewski’s retirement.
There’s a clear gap between the top four programs in the country and No. 5. Arizona might be a little high, but it’s one of the premier college basketball programs in the country. Arizona has a rabid fanbase and it is not afraid to invest heavily into its success. Arizona has one of the best home-court advantages in the country, and new Wildcats’ coach Tommy Lloyd had a ton of success with Sean Miller-recruited players in Year 1, earning a Pac-12 championship and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Arizona’s future in expansion is cloudy, but Lloyd is going to make Arizona a destination for some of the talent both in the United States and globally.
Villanova checking in at No. 6 makes a lot of sense. Villanova basketball is one of the tip-top programs in the country. It might be a little diminished now, but there’s still an aura about Big East basketball, and Villanova is the go-to brand. Even with Jay Wright retiring, Kyle Neptune is ready to walk right in and see early success. Villanova prides itself on being consistently good every single year thanks to good-to-great recruiting and elite player development. It’s an elite job with an elite fanbase.
John Wooden made UCLA a dynasty and the Bruins have some of the best players in college basketball history (Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton). With Mick Cronin at the helm, UCLA has quickly turned into a national contender. UCLA’s run to the Final Four in 2021 was special. UCLA will be a premier destination for some of the top talent on the West Coast, and leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten could allow UCLA to have even more resources to pour into the basketball program. UCLA will also play more spotlight games throughout the conference slate. There’s pressure to win big at UCLA, but the talent the Bruins’ staff has in their backyard is elite.
Basketball is everything in the state of Indiana. One could argue Indiana should be at No. 5 on this list, ahead of Arizona, Villanova and UCLA just because of the tradition. But it’s been way too long since Indiana has been nationally relevant. Indiana’s win over Wyoming in the First Four last year was its first NCAA Tournament victory since 2016. Indiana enters the 2022-23 campaign with so much hype. It’s a Big Ten favorite for the first time in a while, and the Hoosiers are expected to compete for banners. If that happens, Mike Woodson will become a God in Bloomington.
Louisville is in a similar spot as Indiana. The tradition of Louisville basketball speaks for itself. Louisville won the 2013 national championship (it was later vacated) and was one of the best programs in the country under Rick Pitino. Basketball is the most important thing at Louisville, but for the last few years, the program has really been strained. The pandemic canceling the 2020 NCAA Tournament really crushed the momentum Chris Mack had generated, and he was fired in the middle of an ugly 2021-22 campaign. Louisville finished under .500 for the first time since 2000-01. But the Cardinals were able to poach Kenny Payne from the New York Knicks. Payne said Louisville was the only job he would’ve left the NBA for. That speaks to how good this Louisville job can be. But the Louisville brand has suffered recently. It’s better for college basketball for Louisville to be really good. It might take Payne some time, but he could be the man for the job.
Basketball is more important than football at each of the other nine schools ahead of Texas. Football will remain king at Texas, but the Longhorns have proven they will invest a ton of resources into helping the basketball program be one of the nation’s best. Texas lured rising star Chris Beard away from Texas Tech with a gaudy seven-year contract worth $35 million. Texas has quickly become a go-to destination for some of the top recruits in the country and the transfer portal. The state of Texas is a basketball hotbed, too. There’s every opportunity to win big at Texas.
Let’s not overthink this. It’s Michigan State basketball. That still means something. You can poke holes at Tom Izzo’s refusal to unleash prized five-star freshmen or his frustrations with the transfer portal, but he’s still an absolute legend and one of the best coaches in college basketball. Michigan State has been a beacon of consistency under Izzo in the rough-and-tumble Big Ten. Izzo is closing in on the finish line of his terrific career, but he might have one more big run up his sleeve. Michigan State has elite resources and will continue to be one of college basketball’s blue-blood programs, even if it’s not quite at the level of Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and North Carolina.
Gonzaga has cornered the market on international talent. That will lead to a talent influx for years to come. But it’s also helped Mark Few and Gonzaga become a major player for some of the best recruits in the country. Five-star recruits (and future lottery picks) like Jalen Suggs and Chet Holmgren have made Gonzaga a cool place to go. And there are plenty of benefits for future NBA picks to play at Gonzaga because you don’t have to abuse your body by playing 35 minutes every night in the extra physical Big 12 or Big Ten. Plus, the rabid fanbase speaks for itself. Getting over the hump and winning a national championship is the last step for a Gonzaga program that’s racked up 25 NCAA Tournament wins since 2012.
Michigan and Texas are in similar boats. Football at those respective schools will always be No. 1, but that does not mean the basketball program suffers at all. Michigan has an unbelievable amount of resources. John Beilein used under-the-radar jewels to build his program into one of the Big Ten’s best, but Juwan Howard has made Michigan one of those very select programs that can get basically any recruit that it really prioritizes. The next step for Michigan is to fully embrace Name, Image and Likeness in order to turn into a supernova.
UConn’s inclusion is interesting. It’s not necessarily wrong. Jim Calhoun helped turn UConn into one of the best teams in the country. The Huskies won four National Championships in between 1999 and 2014. Rejoining the Big East was a huge win as well, and UConn is a basketball school to its core. Dan Hurley has had some good teams, but UConn has not won the Big East or had any NCAA Tournament success under Hurley. Florida, Maryland, Illinois and Ohio State are other programs that could really have a strong case to leapfrog UConn because of the extra resources they have at their disposal.
Eric Musselman has quickly helped Arkansas regain that peak that the Razorbacks had back in the 1990s. There’s absolutely zero reason why Arkansas cannot be a perennial powerhouse nationally and in the SEC. Musselman is not afraid to try new techniques in recruiting and roster-building. He’s doing things in recruiting that hasn’t ever been done in the internet era of Arkansas basketball. Arkansas’ style of play is easy for recruits to like, the school invests a ton of resources into the program and Musselman seems like the perfect fit for the program. It’s a match made in heaven.
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