Who's the top coach of the year candidate in every conference?

Baylor's Scott Drew and Kansas' Bill Self are near the top of both Big 12 and national coach of the year lists. Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports

A few weeks ago, we unveiled our player of the year front-runners for every league in America. It caused only a bit of controversy. This time, we're moving on to coaches.

In keeping with the way voters generally make coach of the year selections, we've identified these coaches based on how they've performed as compared to expectations. A multitude of coaches have made strides or won big this season, so don't take your favorite coach's exclusion as a knock against him or the program.

There can be only one top coach in each conference, but we've given you two to consider as the season enters its final weeks.

Navigate to each league:

America East | American | ACC | Atlantic Sun | Big 12 | Big East | Big Sky | Big South | Big Ten | Big West | CAA | C-USA | Horizon | Ivy | MAAC | MAC | MEAC | MVC | MW | NEC | OVC | Pac-12 | Patriot | SEC | SoCon | Southland | SWAC | Summit | Sun Belt | WCC | WAC

American Athletic Conference

Front-runner: Frank Haith, Tulsa

Haith is competing for AAC coach of the year honors -- after Tulsa was picked to finish 10th in the preseason poll -- by rising to the top of the league with a 9-3 mark that is second only to Houston and Cincinnati (both 10-3). Haith's squad has played the best defense in league competition this season.

Top competition: Kelvin Sampson, Houston

Sampson lost his top two scorers from a Houston squad that won 33 games last season and nearly knocked off Kentucky in the Sweet 16. He has added new pieces, such as Kansas transfer Quentin Grimes, but Sampson's team is in first place because the Cougars have dominated the offensive glass and held opponents to a 26% clip from the 3-point line in league play.

Atlantic Coast Conference

Front-runner: Leonard Hamilton, Florida State

America's most underrated coach, Hamilton lost five of his top seven scorers from last year's Sweet 16 squad, but FSU will enter the final weeks of the season with a chance to win the ACC crown. Hamilton, who has already sealed his fifth consecutive season with at least 20 wins, leads a program that forces turnovers on 23% of its opponents' possessions, per KenPom data.

Top competition: Tony Bennett, Virginia

This is not the Virginia team that won last year's national championship in Minneapolis with the help of three great players who turned pro (Kyle Guy, De'Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome). And that's why Virginia's consistency -- the Cavs are still ranked within the top five nationally in defensive efficiency -- and continued fight to finish in the ACC's top tier and grab a spot in the NCAA tournament has impressed in a rebuilding campaign.

America East Conference

Front-runner: John Becker, Vermont

The 51-year-old coach is on pace to record his fourth consecutive season with at least 27 wins, especially if a Vermont program that hasn't lost since Jan. 8 maintains its momentum. Sure, he has elite players such as Anthony Lamb, but Becker continues to meet and often exceed expectations.

Top competition: Will Brown, Albany

Due to injuries, Brown's program has been forced to practice with just eight scholarship players at times this season. And Cameron Healy (15.9 points per game) has played just 26 minutes over the past three games after suffering a hip injury earlier this month. But Brown's program has still soared to the league's top tier after focusing on defense and holding its conference opponents to a 45.8% clip inside the arc.

Atlantic 10 Conference

Front-runner: Anthony Grant, Dayton

Grant also is topping a number of national coach of the year lists at this point after turning Dayton, a team that was picked to finish third in the Atlantic 10, into a national title contender and potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The development of Obi Toppin, who is now a first-round pick in every reputable mock draft, has been the most remarkable story in the sport this year.

Top competition: David Cox, Rhode Island

A year ago, the Rams were a sub-100 defensive team with a 12-14 record overall entering the last week of February. This year, the Rams (largely with the same cast, led by Fatts Russell) are a team that is trying to catch Dayton in the A-10 race while playing top-25 defense nationally and fighting for an at-large slot in the NCAA tournament.

Atlantic Sun Conference

Front-runner: Donnie Jones, Stetson

After he was fired at UCF in 2016, Jones bounced around the coaching landscape with assistant stops at Wichita State and Dayton and was introduced as head coach at Stetson last year. Jones' squad, which was picked to finish last in the Atlantic Sun per the preseason poll, has used aggressive defense and the guidance of Mahamadou Diawara (12.7 PPG, 6.6. RPG) to propel itself into conference title contention after compiling an 8-1 record over its past nine games.

Top competition: Ritchie McKay, Liberty

In his program's second year in the league, the Tony Bennett disciple's program has held its Atlantic Sun opponents to a 44% clip inside the arc and a 28.4% mark from the 3-point line thus far. Plus, Scottie James (10.9 PPG) and Caleb Homesley (13.7 PPG) are two of the top players in the conference for a 24-3 Liberty squad.

Big East Conference

Front-runner: Greg McDermott, Creighton

The Bluejays have flown under the radar, but they're one of America's best offensive teams (38% from the 3-point line, 53.2% inside the arc), and they entered the week ranked second in the Big East behind a Seton Hall team that is 2-3 in its past five games. Ty-Shon Alexander (16.7 PPG) is one of four Creighton players averaging double digits, and Creighton could win the Big East title after it was picked to finish seventh in the preseason poll.

Top competition: Jay Wright, Villanova

Over the past three years, Villanova's roster was decorated with six future NBA players who anchored two national championship teams in three years. He doesn't have any household names this year (although Saddiq Bey is a projected first-round pick in ESPN's new mock draft), but Villanova remains one of the nation's most efficient offensive teams, and the Wildcats boast a résumé with a home victory over Kansas and a road win versus Creighton.

Big Sky Conference

Front-runner: Jeff Linder, Northern Colorado

His program enters the week ranked second behind Montana in the Big Sky race, three spots higher than its projected fifth-place finish in the preseason poll. A gutsy, albeit losing, effort at West Virginia in the nonconference season seemed to drive a squad that is battling for the Big Sky championship.

Top competition: Travis DeCuire, Montana

Yes, Montana is living up to the preseason expectations as the top team in the Big Sky. But the transition of Kendal Manuel (15.3 PPG) from key reserve to one of the top players in the league is a credit to DeCuire and his staff, who have positioned the program to represent the league in the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive season.

Big South Conference

Front-runner: Pat Kelsey, Winthrop

His team has a résumé that features a 15-2 record over the past 17 games as it pursues the program's first conference crown since the 2016-17 season. Winthrop also has a road win over Saint Mary's. Plus, Kelsey has had to navigate the season with point guard Russell Jones wrestling with injuries.

Top competition: Mike Jones, Radford

He is leading a team that has made more than 57% of its shots inside the arc during league play while holding conference opponents to a 48.6% clip inside the arc on defense, both top marks in the Big South, per KenPom. Two years ago, Jones' team represented the league in the NCAA tournament, and last year, it won a slice of the league title. Jones hopes to earn both in the coming weeks.

Big 12 Conference

Front-runner: Scott Drew, Baylor

Drew has two Elite Eight appearances, and he rebuilt a Baylor program that had collapsed amid tragedy, corruption and scandal, yet there have been some detractors who question his coaching prowess. All of that nonsense has disappeared in 2019-20, as Drew leads the No. 1 team in the country (with wins over Villanova, Arizona, Butler, Kansas, West Virginia and Texas Tech), anchored by players such as Division III transfer Freddie Gillespie and UNC Asheville transfer MaCio Teague.

Top competition: Bill Self, Kansas

College basketball might not have a great team, but Self's Jayhawks have been one of the landscape's most consistent threats since the start of the season. Kansas is the best defensive team in America, it has seven double-digit wins in league play alone and its only losses were against teams that were mentioned as top-four seeds in the first in-season bracket reveal of the year (Duke, Baylor, Villanova).

Big Ten Conference

Front-runner: Pat Chambers, Penn State

Three years ago, Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour gave Chambers a public vote of confidence to quash any rumors about his potential firing following a 15-18 season. Her decision paid off with a season anchored by the young pieces from that team (Mike Watkins, Lamar Stevens), which this season has won eight games in a row and positioned itself to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011 and win the team's first Big Ten title. Rutgers' Steve Pikiell and Illinois' Brad Underwood also are certainly worthy of mention for similar reclamation projects.

Top competition: Mark Turgeon, Maryland

Maryland has been on the wrong end of jokes about underperformance for years. But the Terps are the Big Ten's best team. And with its top-five defensive efficiency, Maryland is a true contender to make a run in March for a league that hasn't won a national title in 20 years.

Big West Conference

Front-runner: Russell Turner, UC Irvine

Turner is seeking his program's fourth Big West title over the past seven years, and his UC Irvine squad entered the week with a 9-2 record in league play, far ahead of UC Davis and Cal State Northridge, which sported 6-5 records. Under Turner, Collin Welp is one America's most perplexing matchups (the 6-foot-9 forward has made 43% of his attempts from the 3-point line), and the Anteaters have managed to hold conference opponents to a 41.9% mark inside the arc.

Top competition: Jim Les, UC Davis

Coaches are defined by what they do when they face adversity. And Les is currently in a tie for second place after winning back-to-back games without key contributor Matt Neufeld (back injury), while relying on freshmen Ezra Manjon and Elijah Pepper, two of the team's top four scorers.

Colonial Athletic Association

Front-runner: Dane Fischer, William & Mary

In his first season, the 40-year-old coach already has topped last season's win total (18 as compared to 14 last season) and matched last season's 10-win tally in CAA play. Nathan Knight (21.2 PPG, 10.9 PPG, 1.6 blocks per game) is a strong contender to win conference player of the year with a William & Mary team that is in second place, after it was picked to finish seventh in the preseason poll.

Top competition: Joe Mihalich, Hofstra

Picked to win its second consecutive CAA title, Hofstra has delivered under Mihalich, who already has sealed his third consecutive season with at least 19 wins. The league's top offensive team has won three conference games by at least 20 points this season.

Conference USA

Front-runner: Grant McCasland, North Texas

A year ago, North Texas ended the regular season with seven consecutive losses. This season, the Mean Green have made 39% of their 3-pointers and will now enter Conference USA's "bonus play," conceived to strengthen the league's shot at an at-large bid with an in-season tournament, as the No. 1 seed after amassing a 12-1 record since Jan. 2.

Top competition: Ron Sanchez, Charlotte

Charlotte has won seven Conference USA games combined in the previous two seasons. But Sanchez's team will enter the final stretch of the season with an 8-6 record after the 49ers were picked to finish 12th out of 14 teams in the league.

Horizon League

Front-runner: Darrin Horn, Northern Kentucky

The former Texas assistant and South Carolina head coach who replaced John Brannen hasn't had Dantez Walton (15.8 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 1.3 BPG) for the bulk of conference play (he's missed 10 league games) due to a chest injury he suffered earlier this season. Still, the first-year coach is 5-1 in his past six games and could potentially enter its season finale against Wright State with a chance to win the league crown.

Top competition: Scott Nagy, Wright State

Nagy is seeking his program's second consecutive Horizon League championship with Loudon Love (15.8 PPG, 9.8 RPG) as his anchor. His team has made a ridiculous 43% of its 3-point attempts in league play and won nine of its conference games by double digits.

Ivy League

Front-runner: James Jones, Yale

Miye Oni (Utah Jazz) and Alex Copeland (graduation), Yale's top scorers from a season ago, are gone. But Jones' squad is locked in a tie for first place with Princeton, connecting on 54% of its shots inside the arc while playing the best offense and defense in the Ivy League.

Top competition: Steve Donahue, Penn

The former Boston College coach will enter the last chapter of the Ivy League season with a chance to win a piece of his second conference crown in the past three years. On Saturday, Donahue's squad held Yale to just 61 points in a win, something North Carolina couldn't do against the Bulldogs in December (Yale lost 70-67).


Front-runner: Shaheen Holloway, Saint Peter's

Saint Peter's was picked to finish ninth in the preseason coaches poll. In Holloway's second season, however, the Peacocks entered the week atop the league at 10-5 while playing the best defense in the MAAC.

Top competition: Carmen Maciariello, Siena

His team is second behind Saint Peter's in the MAAC race with a roster that's listed in the bottom third of KenPom's experience ratings. In his first season as head coach, Maciariello could lead Siena to its first conference title since the 2009-10 season.


Front-runner: John Groce, Akron

A year ago, Groce's squad possessed one of the league's worst offensive units, a group that connected on fewer than 29% of its 3-point attempts in league play. But Loren Cristian Jackson (19.4 PPG) is a different player this season under Groce, and the Zips have the league's best offense (40% from the 3-point line in league play) and a shot at the MAC's East division crown.

Top competition: Michael Huger, Bowling Green

Huger's squad has scored at least 77 points in seven of its 10 conference wins. The team has also weathered tough times, winning two of three games since Dylan Frye, the No. 2 scorer on the team, left the team for personal reasons earlier this month.


Front-runner: LeVelle Moton, North Carolina Central

Randy Miller Jr., a preseason all-MEAC second-team selection, hasn't played since early December and C.J. Keyser (9.5 PPG) has missed five MEAC games, both due to injury. Still, Moton's squad had won five in a row before Monday night's loss to rival North Carolina A&T.

Top competition: Willie Jones, North Carolina A&T

Yes, Jones is the acting head coach after head coach Jay Joyner was suspended in December for what the school has called a "personnel" matter. His squad is now 9-3 in the MEAC, with a real shot at the league crown.

Missouri Valley Conference

Front-runner: Bryan Mullins, Southern Illinois

Aaron Cook (15.0 PPG) hasn't played since Dec. 19 due to an injured hand, and Mullins had to turn to a freshman (Marcus Domask,14.6 PPG) for a squad that was picked to finish last in the league in the preseason poll. Mullins' squad entered the week in a tie for third place in the MVC standings.

Top competition: Porter Moser, Loyola Chicago

Under Moser, Cameron Krutwig has gone from young hero on the 2017-18 Final Four squad to a legit All-American contender who is averaging 15.4 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 4.2 APG and 1.3 SPG.

Mountain West Conference

Front-runner: Brian Dutcher, San Diego State

Let's be honest here. Anyone who picks someone other than Dutcher, the head coach of the nation's only undefeated Division I program at 26-0, should probably lose their vote. And anyone who thinks his team has been facing the Topeka YMCA should check San Diego State's convincing wins over Creighton and Iowa, by 41 points combined.

Top competition: Steve Alford, Nevada

Everything went wrong for Alford in the final years of his tenure at UCLA. But he might have a new home at Nevada, which is one of the nation's best 3-point shooting teams and one of the best Mountain West teams not named SDSU.

Northeast Conference

Front-runner: Joe Gallo, Merrimack

This is not the way the four-year transition to Division I athletics -- Merrimack won't be a full member of the Northeast Conference until 2024 -- usually unfolds. But Merrimack, the best defensive team in the NEC, entered the week atop the league's standings with a 12-2 record under Gallo. Merrimack was picked to finish last in the league after a lengthy stint at the Division II level.

Top competition: Andrew Toole, Robert Morris

He's still known as the guy who led Robert Morris to an upset win over Kentucky in the 2013 NIT. A year later, Robert Morris won its second consecutive NEC, but this is the first season since that rich period that the program, picked to finish fifth in the preseason poll, has a chance to win the NEC crown.

Ohio Valley Conference

Front-runner: Matt McMahon, Murray State

After losing Ja Morant to the NBA draft, Murray State was picked to finish second in the league following last year's run to the second round of the NCAA tournament. But Tevin Brown (18.2 PPG) is an OVC player of the year contender who has helped Murray State stay on top of the league, even with Darnell Cowart (10.3 PPG) sidelined by injury most of the season.

Top competition: Casey Alexander, Belmont

In his first year with the program, Alexander has turned to a pair of sophomore stars, Adam Kunkel (17.0 PPG) and Nick Muszynski (15.5 PPG). Belmont, often one of the league's best offensive teams under Rick Byrd, is the top defensive team in the OVC under Alexander.

Pac-12 Conference

Front-runner: Tad Boyle, Colorado

Boyle's squad entered the week tied with Oregon at 9-4 in first place in the Pac-12, which is currently hosting one of the most cluttered races in the country, as six teams entered league play with at least eight wins.

Top competition: Mick Cronin, UCLA

In his first season, Cronin has taken the remaining pieces of Steve Alford's 17-win squad and played his way into the conference's top tier. Things did not look good for Cronin after his team's turbulent nonconference slate and 1-3 start in the Pac-12 play, but the Bruins have gone 7-2 in their last nine games (wins over Colorado, Arizona and Washington during that stretch).

Patriot League

Front-runner: Matt Langel, Colgate

Langel's Colgate team is one of the most disciplined programs in the country. The Raiders have committed turnovers on just 15.3% of their offensive possessions while also playing the league's best defense in conference play.

Top competition: Joe Jones, Boston University

With a strong finish in its last four regular-season games, Jones' second-place team could win the league crown a year after finishing 7-11 in conference play. Max Mahoney (15.5 PPG) climbed into contention with a 6-1 rally in the team's last seven games.


Front-runner: Bruce Pearl, Auburn

After last year's Final Four run, Bryce Brown, Jared Harper and Chuma Okeke all turned pro. A step back would make sense, but Pearl's squad, which won its first 15 games this season, will play Kentucky in Lexington on Feb. 29, when the SEC title could be on the line.

Top competition: John Calipari, Kentucky

This hasn't been Kentucky's best campaign under Calipari, who has endured a home loss to Evansville and Utah, and the surprising transfer decision by five-star prospect Kahlil Whitney. But with one of the head coach's more modest talent pools in the one-and-done era, Kentucky entered the week with the best record in the conference

Southern Conference

Front-runner: Steve Forbes, East Tennessee State

Forbes' squad has embodied the "next man up" philosophy coaches often tout throughout the season. Jeromy Rodriguez (10.7 PPG, 7.9 RPG) has missed all but two games in conference play due to a foot injury and standout Bo Hodges missed recent action with a death in his family, but ETSU is still tied with Furman for first place in the league.

Top competition: Wes Miller, UNC Greensboro

In league play, Miller's squad has played with the same energy it displayed in a tough loss at Kansas in Lawrence in November. The SoCon contender has played the best interior defense in the league.

Southland Conference

Front-runner: Kyle Keller, Stephen F. Austin

Here are the stumbles Stephen F. Austin has encountered since its 85-83 win at Duke on Nov. 26: lost a road game to Alabama on Dec. 6 and lost a home game to Texas A&M Corpus-Christi on Jan. 8. That's it. The Lumberjacks, who have made 39% of their 3-point attempts this season after being picked to finish fourth in the conference in the preseason poll, have maintained their momentum and dominated the league.

Top competition: Austin Claunch, Nicholls State

Picked to finish 11th in league play per the preseason poll, Claunch's squad has fought its way to second place in the conference, even though D'Angelo Hunter (8.4 PPG) has missed the past four games. Under Claunch, the program has already won as many conference games this season (11) as it lost in league play last season.

Summit League

Front-runner: Eric Henderson, South Dakota State

The program had to replace a head coach (T.J. Otzelberger) and arguably the Summit's GOAT (Mike Daum), but that hasn't stopped the first-year coach from maintaining tradition in Brookings. The Jackrabbits entered the week in first place with the assistance of the best offense and defense in the league.

Top competition: Dave Richman, North Dakota State

Richman's Bison have lost just one game since Jan. 9 because they've been an efficient program that's difficult to frustrate. The Bison are ranked 10th nationally in offensive turnover rate at 15.3%.

Sun Belt Conference

Front-runner: Darrell Walker, Little Rock

The second-year coach is relying on underclassmen such as Markquis Nowell, the team's top scorer, but first-place Little Rock has made 55% of its shots inside the arc, No. 1 in the conference. Not too bad for a team picked to finish 11th.

Top competition: Rob Lanier, Georgia State

Last season, he was an associate head coach for a Tennessee program that manufactured one of the best seasons in school history. This season, he is a first-year head coach who leads a team picked to finish sixth in the Sun Belt but instead entered the week just one game behind Little Rock in the race for first place.


Front-runner: Byron Smith, Prairie View A&M

The Panthers have seven double-digit wins in SWAC action thus far, a dominant run for the preseason favorite to win the league. With Gerard Andrus, Devonte Patterson and Darius Williams, the Panthers could have three players on the all-SWAC squad.

Top competition: Johnny Jones, Texas Southern

The former LSU coach entered the week with an 8-3 record in league play and a serious chance to win the crown. It's been a great offensive rebounding team in league play that's capitalized on its offensive rebounds.


Front-runner: Chris Jans, New Mexico State

Perhaps the scariest mid-major entering the NCAA tournament, New Mexico State is not content with the praise it earned a year ago in a postseason battle with eventual Final Four participant Auburn. At 12-0, Jans' team can win a slice of the WAC title with a victory over UT-Rio Grande Valley on Saturday.

Top competition: Rick Croy, Cal Baptist

Croy's team is second behind NMSU, after the Lancers were picked to finish in the middle of the pack. They're ranked second in the league in offensive efficiency.

West Coast Conference

Front-runner: Mark Few, Gonzaga

Sure, he has the most talented team in the league and certainly one of the most gifted rosters in the country. But Gonzaga has put together the nation's most dominant run during its 18-game win streak, capped by a 30-point road win over rival Saint Mary's, third in the WCC, on Feb. 8.

Top competition: Damon Stoudamire, Pacific

The former NBA rookie of the year has quietly compiled one of America's most remarkable turnarounds. After finishing 4-12 in WCC play last season, Stoudamire's squad is now 8-5 and a candidate to earn an invitation to a postseason tournament.