CBS Sports college basketball writers Gary Parrish, Matt Norlander and Sam Vecenie spent the July evaluation period at various NCAA-sanctioned events. They asked for honest opinions on players, coaches and issues in the sport. They'll be sharing those opinions, from nearly 100 Division I basketball coaches at all levels, over a three-week period. This is our annual Candid Coaches series.
Previous poll questions:
We already asked the coaches about who the best offensive coach in the country was, and the results were varied with Michigan's John Beilein getting the most responses. In fact, that poll was most marked by the fact that no one got one-fifth of the vote, and 22 separate coaches were named.
On defense, things couldn't have been more different. There was a clear winner, with three other coaches being the clear runners-up. Those four accounted for about 90 percent of the vote in total, which means there seems to be a bit more of a consensus on the best coaches on this side of the ball.
We asked the following...
Who is the best defensive coach in all of college basketball?
- Tony Bennett, Virginia: 55 percent
- Rick Pitino, Louisville: 15 percent
- Tom Izzo, Michigan State: 12.5 percent
- Bo Ryan, Wisconsin: 7.5 percent
Others receiving votes: Sean Miller (Arizona), Mike Krzyzewski (Duke), Steve Fisher (San Diego State), Frank Martin (South Carolina), Brad Underwood (Stephen F. Austin), Mick Cronin (Cincinnati), Tim Floyd (UTEP), John Calipari (Kentucky), Bill Self (Kansas)
FIVE QUOTES THAT STOOD OUT
On Bennett: "Tony Bennett is an unbelievable teacher. His teams won't physically overwhelm you like last season's Kentucky team could. But they make everything difficult. Fun to watch. But it's not fun to play against."
“You know what’s funny, he’s going to win in a landslide — and he hardly ever changes what he does. Tactically, when you watch him, it’s kind of boring. They don’t deviate from the script at all. They guard ball screens ONE WAY. We study it. I think it’s also too, like, Princeton’s always in the top of defensive points per game and it has nothing to do with their defense. It’s holding the ball. There may be some of that which people don’t talk about much with UVa.”
On Pitino: "Pitino's pressure system is really hard to implement and the matchup zone is a bitch. I really respect coaches that stick to their pressure defense because at times you can get exposed and give up easy ones but he does a great job of recruiting to his system and sticking with it."
On Izzo: "Nothing easy is ever given up. They are so solid at what they do and so good at it, and what’s most impressive is you go back to his teams with Mateen (Cleaves) and (Morris Peterson) and today, it’s the same: blue collar, in the paint, nothing easy, go-at-you mentality. That’s 16, 17 years now. Izzo’s teams, I don’t really know if he’s had a bad one. Some kids love to press, and it’s fun, but I say this as a compliment: Izzo’s way is not a fun way to play."
On Fisher: "Year in, year out his team plays a tough, nasty style of defense. They are always well-coached and extremely difficult to score on in the half court. They do the best job in the country with pick-and-roll defense. They ice the pick-and-roll so your team can't get to the pick. They press with length and athleticism."
It's pretty hard to argue with something that a legitimate majority of coaches answer, so I'm certainly not about to do that.
Tony Bennett would be my answer to this question, and it's not particularly difficult to see why. Despite many coaches utilizing similar defensive principles as it refers to limiting penetration from opposing guards, he's the coach that has made "pack-line" a publicly accessible term. His teams also have always done a terrific job of blitzing post players with double teams, making it extremely difficult to score on them that way as well. However, that mobile backline on defense hasn't limited their rebounding ability, as they consistently rank near the top of the nation in defensive rebounding rates. Really, the best way that you can score on them is to drive and kick and get hot from 3, and good luck with that because they are one of the best teams in the country at closing out on shooters and harassing them off the line.
I also don't buy the argument that Bennett's defenses are a creation of slow pace. Certainly, their pace helps them limit transition points, where they're about as good as anyone in the country. But their points-per-possession against averages match up well with their pure points-per-game against stats. In the last four years, Bennett's defenses have finished No. 1, No. 5, No. 24, and No. 6 in KenPom's adjusted defensive efficiency. Only Louisville has a better track record over that period of time on a per-possession basis, which is why Pitino comes in at No. 2 here.
One other major takeaway here is the one coach who polled over 7 percent in both the offensive and defensive categories: Bo Ryan. That's a testament to Ryan being known as one of the best teachers in the game, as he's able to coach up just about anyone into his system and make it work on both ends. He's the only active coach since 2003 to have coached both a No. 1 offense and a No. 1 defense in the country, which makes this a very well-deserved recognition.