Every year it feels like we seem to get the same cast of characters competing for a National Championship and winning it. Since 2010, four of the ten coaches to win the National Championship were coaches that were previously without a title. While that is a small sample size, it goes to show that the title can go to any coach that puts together the right team in the right situation. For this exercise, I will be looking at the five coaches I think are most likely to win their first National Championship for this upcoming season based on their team’s preseason expectations.
Mark Few – Gonzaga
At this point, it is only a matter of time before Few wins a title at Gonzaga and this season looks like one in which they have a great shot at winning. Gonzaga has a great group of returners in Corey Kispert, Drew Timme, and Joel Ayayi, as well as a likely one-and-done prospect in Joel Ayayi. That four-player tandem mixed with a deep bench makes this team tough to beat. The Bulldogs will be the likely preseason #1 team in the sport and if they finish the season that way, Few will have his first National Championship.
Scott Drew – Baylor
No one has done a better rebuilding a program out of nothing than Scott Drew. Drew took a Baylor program from one of the worst programs in the Big 12 to becoming a pretty consistent team near the top of the league standings. This year Drew will look to cross three things off the bucket list, that includes winning a Big 12 title, making a Final Four, and last but certainly not least winning the National title. Drew has a great group of returners led by Jared Butler and MaCio Teague on offense, and elite defenders in Davion Mitchell and Mark Vital. Drew’s Bears will be a preseason Top-3 team and with any luck in the Big Dance, Drew’s Bears can cut down the nets.
Brad Underwood – Illinois
Coming into this season Illinois has high expectations and those are because of the return of Ayo Dosumnu and Kofi Cockburn. That duo mixed with a good rotation that includes Trent Frazier, Da’Monte Williams Giorgi Bezhanishvili, and Adam Miller. Underwood certainly needs to prove to me that he is capable of getting this team deep in the tournament for me to fully buy-in on him as a coach but I definitely think he has the team capable of winning it all.
Rick Barnes – Tennessee
When Rick Barnes left Texas, many believed that Texas would quickly be competing for league titles and having a team capable of making a run in March. While Shaka Smart hasn’t delivered the goods, Rick Barnes certainly has since he arrived at Tennessee. Barnes built a great team that included Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, and Jordan Bone two seasons ago but this team has a good chance to do just as well as those teams. This year’s roster has a good collection of returners in Yves Pons, John Fulkerson, Santiago Vescovi, and Josiah Jordan-James. Combine that with the addition of two elite guard recruits in Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson and this is a team full of talent and experience. Now the question remains can Barnes get over the hump? He’s made the Final Four in the past but he will need things to break right in order to get the ultimate prize.
Greg Gard – Wisconsin
I’m not sure how good of a coach Greg Gard actually is but it is clear to me that he has a team that certainly has a good chance to win a National Championship. The team returns Nate Reuvers, Micah Potter, D’Mitrik Trice, and Brad Davison, four really good players. They have the shooting, versatility, and defense needed to win basketball games. I don’t know if Gard is necessarily the coach built to win it all but a team that returns those types of players from a team that won the Big Ten a season ago is good enough to potentially win it all.
Other coaches with a chance to win their first National Championship: Greg McDermott (Creighton), Fran McCaffery (Iowa), Chris Beard (Texas Tech), Bob Huggins (West Virginia), Bobby Hurley (Arizona State)