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Monday, March 18, 2002
Updated: March 27, 10:59 AM ET
Big-game college hoops coaches

Page 2 staff

With March Madness in full bloom, Page 2 ponders a tough question: If you needed a college basketball coach for one game that you had to win, who would you choose?

Check out our top 10 choices, and then look at our readers' top 10 and vote in the poll to pick the true master of March.

1. John Wooden, UCLA (1948-75) and Indiana State (1946-48)
John Wooden
John Wooden's 10 NCAA titles will probably never be matched.
Yes, the Wizard of Westwood always had the best talent, including possibly the two most unstoppable college players ever -- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor) and Bill Walton -- for six consecutive seasons. But he also won NCAA titles with teams that had no starter taller than 6-foot-5 (the Walt Hazzard- and Gail Goodrich-led teams in 1964 and 1965), and the all-head case team of 1969 that was led by Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe. In other words, he won with whatever he happened to have at his disposal -- 10 times (or more than Coach K, Bobby Knight and Dean Smith put together).

2. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke (1981-present) and Army (1976-80)
It's harder to dominate now than it was in Wooden's day, thanks to how quickly the best players turn pro. (Of course, in Wooden's day, freshmen couldn't play varsity basketball.) And many have forgotten that Coach K was once known as a guy who couldn't win the Big One after a long string of Final Four disappointments. Nobody will ever win 10 titles again, but Coach K probably will come closest -- and he'll have the best graduation rate while doing it. Cool, smart and flexible, he's a great motivator and a great bench coach, which makes him an extremely rare commodity.

3. Denny Crum, Louisville (1971-2001)
An assistant under Wooden for three national titles, Crum was a consistent winner at Louisville, where he claimed two NCAA championships and reached six Final Fours. A great decision-maker who was always ultra-cool under pressure, Crum is often overlooked and underrated by the media because he was neither a self-promoter nor a controversial figure.

Mike Krzyzewski
Mike Krzyzewski has taken Duke to nine Final Fours ... and counting.
4. Rick Pitino, Louisville (2001-present), Kentucky (1989-97), Providence (1985-87), Boston University (1978-83)
Speaking of self-promoters and controversial figures ... Pitino has only won one NCAA title (though he has been to three Final Fours, including a 1987 trip with an overmatched Providence squad), but that's because he rarely stays in one place long enough. However, he's an incredible motivator (at least, of college players), and he's super-agressive with his use of full-court defensive pressure and the 3 as a primary offensive weapon, two keys to major NCAA upsets. (Also he's been a great mentor of some the game's best young coaches, including Florida's Billy Donovan.)

5. Pat Summitt, Tennessee women (1974-present)
Don't laugh. She's the John Wooden of women's basketball (six NCAA titles, 12 Final Four appearances ... and counting), and she has been offered -- and turned down -- men's head coaching jobs.

6 and 7. Jimmy Valvano, N.C. State (1981-90) and Rollie Massimino, Villanova (1973-92)
For one year, at least, they got more out of their players than they had in them.

8. Bob Knight, Texas Tech (2001-present), Indiana (1971-2000) and Army (1965-71)
Knight is a three-time winner of the NCAAs and has made 25 appearances in the NCAA Tournament, but has he ever won when he didn't have the best team? His lack of success in big games in recent years is well-documented.

Bobby Knight
Bob Knight won three NCAA titles at Indiana and had a pefect season in 1976.
9. Adolph Rupp, Kentucky (1930-72)
The Baron created a monster at Kentucky, winning the NCAA title four times. He would be higher on the list, but he won mostly because he was the best recruiter, almost always having his pick of the best players, not because he was the best coach.

10. Dean Smith, North Carolina (1962-97)
The Adolph Rupp of North Carolina, Smith retired in 1997 with the NCAA record for career victories (879), 11 Final Four appearances and 27 consecutive 20-win seasons. Quite often, Smith had the best players, yet he only won it all twice.

Others receiving votes
  • Lute Olsen, Arizona (1983-2001), Iowa (1974-83) and Long Beach State (1973-74)

  • Al McGuire, Marquette (1964-77)

  • Phil Woolpert, San Francisco (1951-59)

  • Geno Auriemma, UConn women (1986-present)

  • Tom Izzo, Michigan State (1995-present)