There is no question that Brad Underwood has elevated the Illinois basketball program to heights we haven’t seen in nearly two decades.
Let’s not forget where the Illini were before Underwood took over. We had missed four-straight NCAA tournaments, and we hadn’t made back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances since the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons.
To expand on how bad things had gotten, the last time Illinois had been inside the top 20 nationally was the 2012-13 campaign. To say the Illini were struggling would be an understatement.
With Underwood taking over, Illinois instantly became a better program. We started to recruit better. We started to win basketball games. We started to be a top team in the Big Ten and in the country once again. But does this resurgence make Underwood one of the top coaches in the nation?
Illinois basketball has one of the top 25 coaches in Brad Underwood.
A list was recently put together of the top 100 coaches in college basketball. Let me first start off by saying that everyone is going to disagree with something on this list. It is literally an opinion list, so this is just one person’s opinion.
On Monday, CBK Report on Twitter released the list of the top 100 coaches. Landing at No. 26 on the list was Underwood. Some people might see Underwood’s ranking as too low and some might think he is too high, but I want to look at if he is in the right spot.
So, let’s pick apart the 25 coaches who are ahead of Underwood on this list.
- No. 1 Bill Self, No. 2 Scott Drew, No. 3 John Calipari, No. 4 Kelvin Sampson, No. 5 Mark Few
I don’t have an issue with any of the top five besides Calipari. With the talent he has been able to bring in over the past decade and a half, he should have more hardware to show for it. But he is still a top 15 coach in my eyes. Overall, all five of these coaches should be ahead of Underwood at this point.
- No. 6 Tony Bennett, No. 7 Eric Musselman, No. 8 Rick Pitino, No. 9 Chris Beard, No. 10 Bruce Pearl
Honestly, as much as I hate to say it, I don’t have an issue with this group. Chris Beard probably needs to be a little further down, but these are all good coaches who can win games. It pains me to be okay with Pearl being in the top 10, but before he took over Auburn, the Tigers had only made the NCAA tournament three times in the prior 26 years.
- No. 11 Tom Izzo, No. 12 Dana Altman, No. 13 Juwan Howard, No. 14 Nate Oats, No. 15 Greg McDermott
The biggest issue I have here is Juwan Howard being in the top 15 let alone the top 25. Howard might end up being a really good coach, but he took over a Michigan team that went 30-7 the year prior. He did make a run to the Elite 8 in year two, but that was with John Beilein’s players. Howard is finally getting his players into the program, and he barely squeaked into the NCAA tournament last season. I would probably put Howard somewhere between 30-40 on the best coaches in the nation list. He should be behind Underwood at this point in the game.
- No. 16 Mick Cronin, No. 17 Porter Moser, No. 18 Rick Barnes, No. 19 Tommy Lloyd, No. 20 Matt Painter
As far as Underwood is concerned, I don’t have an issue with this group of coaches. They all should be ahead of him as of right now. The only issue I would have is with Matt Painter. He should be higher than No. 20. I think Painter is one of the best coaches in the country. Have you seen Painter’s recruiting classes? It is amazing Purdue can finish above .500 let alone do damage in the NCAA tournament.
- No. 21 Mark Adams, No. 22 Leonard Hamilton, No. 23 Hubert Davis, No. 24 TJ Otzelberger, No. Ed Cooley
I have some issues with this group of five coaches. Mark Adams shouldn’t be ahead of Underwood. He took over a strong Texas Tech team and has only coached one season of big boy basketball. Yes, Adams did get to the Sweet 16, but he had to beat a No. 14 and No. 11 seed to get there. Adams should be in the 35-45 range and not No. 21.
Hubert Davis shouldn’t be in the top 25 just yet. I know, he has coached one season and North Carolina made the national title game. But I can give you multiple examples of coaches taking over great programs who flamed out quickly. Bruce Weber at Illinois and Mike Davis at Indiana. Davis had a great run last year, but he has only been a coach for one season. He should be 40-50 on this list.
I don’t get why TJ Otzelberger is ahead of Underwood. Over his last three seasons of coaching, he had a combined record of 51-43. Iowa State squeaked in as a No. 11 seed last season and made it to the Sweet 16 after beating an LSU team that was crumbling and an overrated Wisconsin team. I think Otzelberger should be in the 55-65 range.
Lastly, Ed Cooley as a top 25 coach baffles me. He had a good season last year by advancing to the Sweet 16, but Providence beat a No. 13 and No. 12 seed to get there. That was the first time Providence had played in the NCAA tournament since the 2017-18 season. Cooley shouldn’t be in the top 50 coaches.
Overall, I laid out five coaches in Juwan Howard, Mark Adams, Hubert Davis, TJ Otzelberger, and Ed Cooley who should all be behind Underwood in a national coaching ranking.
Underwood has coached nine seasons of DI basketball and has made the NCAA tournament in six of those years. It would have been seven out of nine if it wasn’t for a worldwide pandemic. He also took over an Illinois basketball program that was in shambles. Within three years, he got that program back to national prominence.
I have adjusted the list and have Underwood as the No. 21 coach in the country. This is all fluid as well. Postseason success is the only thing holding him back. If Illinois can start getting past the second round of the NCAA tournament, then Underwood is going to skyrocket up this list. But for now, No. 21 seems about right, all things considered.