The annual ranking of all 362 DI head coaches is out, and Illinois basketball head coach Brad Underwood dropped down a bit.
We are about to enter year seven of the Underwood era, and if you polled Illini fans, I would say most think the last six years have been pretty solid. Underwood took over a reeling program that hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament in the four years prior, and he brought us back to life.
Illinois has now made three straight NCAA tournament appearances, and it would have been four straight if it wasn’t for a worldwide pandemic. From where we were when Underwood took over to where we are today is a pretty big transformation.
The writers over at Busting Brackets see Underwood as a pretty good coach too. But, in their eyes, Underwood is not a top-20 coach in college basketball.
In the 2023 rendition of the top DI coaches, Busting Brackets has Underwood at No. 27 in the nation. This might seem good, but it is actually a five-spot drop from where they had him last season.
Illinois basketball head coach Brad Underwood should be ranked higher than No. 27
Let’s look at Underwood’s coaching record. We will eliminate the COVID season because it is hard to determine which teams would have been in the NCAA tournament.
Underwood has made the NCAA tournament for three straight years. This includes being the No. 1 seed in 2021. Illinois also won a Big Ten regular season and tournament title in this stretch.
Now let’s look at who is wrongfully ahead of Underwood on the Busting Brackets’ top coaches list.
Providence head coach Ed Cooley (#26) shouldn’t be ahead of Underwood. He has only finished one season ranked in the AP Top 25 and has made two NCAA tournament appearances in the past three seasons. He did make the Sweet 16 one year, but he played two double-digit seeds to get there.
Arizona’s Tommy Lloyd (#23) shouldn’t be ahead of Underwood. He’s only coached two seasons and with multiple NBA players could only get to the Sweet 16. He was also eliminated by a No. 15 seed in the NCAA tournament last season.
I can’t say Shaka Smart (#22) is a better coach than Underwood. Since leaving VCU in 2015, Smart has only made it out of the first round of the NCAA tournament one time, and that was last season when he was eliminated in the second round. With that much talent, you should be able to do more damage in the postseason.
Putting Thad Matta (#21) in the top 30 is baffling. He was a top 30 coach a decade ago, but he failed to make the NCAA tournament in his final two years at Ohio State, and he won 14 games with Butler last season. He shouldn’t be ahead of Underwood.
Dana Altman (#19) is hanging his hat on a Final 4 appearance nearly a decade ago. He’s missed back-to-back NCAA tournaments and when he has made the postseason in the last five years, he flames out quickly with multiple NBA players. I could make an argument Altman doesn’t belong ahead of Underwood.
I don’t think Sean Miller (#17) is a better coach than Underwood. He made the NCAA tournament with Xavier last year and beat two double-digit seeds to get to the Sweet 16. Everything crumbled around him in the final seasons at Arizona. He didn’t make the NCAA tournament in this stretch with some stacked rosters. The last time Miller was a good coach was nearly a decade ago.
I am not sure why Jaime Dixon (#16) is in the top 30, let alone ahead of Underwood. Dixon has made the NCAA tournament three times in the past seven seasons. In the last two years, he has made it to the second round. I don’t see why he is ahead of Underwood.
So, when I add up the coaches who Underwood should be in front of, I come out with him finishing at No. 20 in the nation. That is about right for Underwood. He hasn’t had a ton of NBA talent, but the team seems to do well. The postseason success isn’t there either. That is preventing him from moving up. Maybe the 2023-24 campaign will help boost Underwood up into the top 20 next season.