Ranking the 10 Best Head Coaches for 2021 College Basketball

By Dan Vasta in Sports
| August 19, 2021 10:02 am PDT

College basketball is one of the more entertaining sports to watch, especially during March Madness. The amount of pressure put on coaches can often propel them towards greatness.

There are so many up-and-coming coaches and some legends that have recently called it a career. There will be new names that become even higher on the list this time next year.

To see how the young and old mix together, check out my college basketball head coach rankings for 2021.

10. Porter Moser – Oklahoma

After getting Loyola to the Final Four in 2018, they upset one of the top seeds in the dance last season in Illinois. The focus and execution that his teams have pulled off in the NCAA Tournament have been surreal.

The Ramblers kept hitting big shot after big shot and played defense as well as any program. Moser’s best break has been coaching in the Big 12. The Sooners have a special one in Norman.

9. Eric Musselman – Arkansas

The Razorbacks were an electric offense, often playing four guards. The amount of quickness on the court made them tough to defend. They hung in there on the glass but had so many scorers on the court.

The top teams in college basketball often have three very good to great scorers in the backcourt. Musselman has had experience in the NBA and is now a success with two different programs in the NCAA Tournament.

  • Arkansas – Elite 8 in 2021
  • Nevada – Sweet 16 in 2018

Can Arkansas build off last season’s success and go even further during the NCAA tourney?

It’s anyone’s guess, but there is no denying the Razorbacks have one of the best coaches in college basketball.

8. Leonard Hamilton – Florida State

One of my favorite coaches in the country had to make the Top 10.

Leonard Hamilton has meant so much for Florida State and could be next in line for a magical tournament run. He has been able to haul in top-notch recruits and transform them into future NBA lottery picks.

That will add to their recruiting classes, but this legend in Tallahassee has installed the deepest team in the nation.

Their size and ability to defend all positions on the court stick out. We often see players without a designated position, and the Seminoles could be the next best team to appear in a Final Four with Hamilton leading the way.

7. Dana Altman – Oregon

Another underrated coach that has thrived in the underdog role has been Dana Altman. The Ducks coach is 9-7 in his last 16 games against single-digit seeds.

There were a few matchups where they were heavy underdogs, and yet Oregon found ways to win.

Oregon reached the Sweet 16 from the following spots.

  • 2021 – 7th seed
  • 2019 – 12th seed
  • 2013 – 12th seed

Winning twice as a 12-seed in the first round against the 5-seed has been impressive. It won’t be long before Altman has his team as a consistent top seed.

Oregon will be a dark horse yet again, and compared to most, Altman has made the most out of his opportunities.

6. Tom Izzo – Michigan State

Michigan State basketball has one of the better traditions in the country with their ability to play best when it matters most.

The Spartans once upon a time were in the Final Four every season or so. Youngsters would appear in multiple Final Four trips by the time he was a senior.

Izzo is an institution himself in college basketball. Just look at what he’s done in his career.

  • 23 straight NCAA tourney appearances
  • 14 trips to the Sweet 16
  • 8 Final Four appearances

Expectations are lofty in the Big Ten, but it is crazy to think the conference has not won a national title since Izzo last won it in 2000.

Hauling in Max Christie, a huge Illinois prized recruit, should allow for another run in the NCAA Tournament.

He puts accountability into his team and commands their attention. We have seen legends retire recently, so enjoy this legendary coach while he’s still in action.

5. Scott Drew – Baylor

The Baylor Bears are the defending national champions. It was a magical season that occurred under Scott Drew.

Seeing his former assistants in North Texas (Grant McCasland) and Oral Roberts (Paul Mills) proved it was the year for Drew to win a national title.

Baylor climbed out of a mess, and really hadn’t done much before Drew resurrected the team.

Baylor Over the Years 1 Seeds Final Fours National Titles
With Drew in 2020 Yes Yes Yes
Before Drew Never Two Never

The Big 12 has helped the Bears, but they likely would have had a Final Four run in 2020 if there was a tournament.

The Bears made up for the lost time. Baylor’s program is one that will stay afloat and have ample opportunities to be a Top 25 program.

4. Chris Beard – Texas

The former Red Raiders coach turned his program into one of the more underrated ones in the NCAA Tournament. They nearly reached the Sweet 16 last season, but he almost won the national title in 2019.

The talent level he should be able to haul in for the Longhorns could fasten their growth.

The coach could turn Texas hoops into a national powerhouse.

The Big 12 was one of the premier conferences in the nation last season, and it would be intriguing to see Beard coaching in the SEC if/when the Longhorns join the conference.

The future is bright in Austin with Beard at the helm. The physical guards will become junkyard dogs defending the ball. The time is now for the program to make strides, and we could see them in the Final Four sooner than later.

3. Tony Bennett – Virginia

Tony Bennett

The ability to go from losing to a 16-seed, to winning the national title, was the best pre-Covid story we had seen in a while.

Bennett has been the best defensive coach in the nation. I am still amazed to see the team box out, play the proper passing lanes, and front players in the post.

The ability to stifle teams on defense has been the calling card for Bennett, especially before last season. They have shut the water off on the opposition’s scoring ability and should get back to being among the leaders in the country.

Their defensive dominance since 2017 has been flat out staggering.

  • 2020: 52.4 PPG (Led DI)
  • 2019: 56.1 PPG (Led D1)
  • 2018: 54.0 PPG (Led D1)
  • 2017: 56.4 PPG (Led D1)

Nobody does it quite like Bennett. He has made the haters eat crow, even if UVA takes a slight step back from the nationally elite for a few seasons.

2. Jay Wright – Villanova

Jay Wright has a case for being the top college basketball coach in America. Villanova had a solid Sweet 16 run last season despite losing their star point guard.

The talent level is among the top 10 teams, and the experienced ones have been among the elite teams.

The two national titles have propelled him to elite status.

Their stellar defense has been a trademark of Jay Wright since he implemented a four-guard system back in his earlier Villanova days and even with Hofstra in the 1990s.

Jay Wright is as good as it gets, and success in the dance has followed him these past several seasons.

1. Mark Few – Gonzaga

The top coach in the nation is still chasing the dream of winning a national championship. The Bulldogs nearly joined the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers with an undefeated season.

Gonzaga has been a national powerhouse for years. They are still trying to win it all but have dominated the sport in the regular season.

Here’s what Gonzaga has done under Few’s watch since 2017 alone.

  • 3 Final Four trips
  • 3 #1 seeds
  • 2 title game appearances

If there was a tournament in 2020, the Bulldogs could have been a 1-seed. Gonzaga has appeared in two national title games since 2017 and will eventually end their drought.

Few is a future Hall of Famer that is too good not to win a few titles, but even he will tell you they are taking it one season at a time.

Other Top College Basketball Coaches for 2021

  • Mike Kryzyzewski – Duke
  • Bill Self – Kansas
  • John Calipari – Kentucky
Collage of Mike Kryzyzewski, Bill Self, and John Calipari

Three legendary Hall of Famers just missed the list due to a lack of recent success. The expectations are always lofty with three of the five best programs ever.

Kentucky has not made a Final Four since 2015, which was the last trip for Duke.

Kansas could have the best season of the bunch, but it is crazy to think they have failed to win a title since 2008. A few Final Four trips and one national title (2012) appearance seems a bit light for a premier program.

Still, Krzyzewski, Calipari, and Self have the goods to all get back to national prominence.

The season ahead surely will be an exciting one despite the retirement of Roy Williams and Coach K close to joining him. These coaches are all good enough to lead their teams to a Final Four.

Even they will tell you that it is the talent of the players that make the difference. The leadership and core values that it takes for a program to be successful are reflected upon by its coach.

Many of these head coaches should all be dancing in the NCAA Tournament with realistic expectations to cut down the nets in New Orleans.



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