The Battle for ACC Coach of the Year

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With the regular season over, it’s time to decide
who the ACC coach of the year is. Seth Greenberg is high on the list of
candidates, but so are Miami’s Frank Haith, UNC’s Roy Williams, and the
sentimental favorite, Wake’s Dino Gaudio.

To me, the coach of the year is the guy who
surprises you the most. He’s the guy who makes something out of what everyone
thought was nothing. He’s also the guy who overcomes adversity, the guy who
turns things around midstream, and the guy who closes strong.

For starters, eliminate NC State’s Sydney Lowe,
Virginia’s Dave Leitao, and Boston College’s Al Skinner. All three teams fell
far below preseason expectations. NC State and BC tanked at the end, stringing
together eight straight losses and 12 out of 13, respectively. Leitao gets
points for pulling Virginia out of their slide and winning three of five down
the stretch, but the damage was done when the Hoos lost 10 of 11 at one point.

Eliminate FSU’s Leonard Hamilton and Maryland’s
Gary Williams. FSU was plagued with injuries and put up a game effort, but it
wasn’t COY material for Hamilton. The Terps lost their last two, with an NCAA
bid hanging in the balance, so remove Williams from consideration.

The bloom continues to fade from Paul Hewitt’s rose
at Georgia Tech. Despite having a nice assemblage of talent in Atlanta, Hewitt’s
chargers were very inconsistent and finished 7th in the league, at 7-9.

Now it gets harder to eliminate guys. Kudos to
Oliver Purnell for piloting Clemson to a #3 finish, but guess what, the Tigers
were expected to do well. Purnell did a fine job, but COY? Close, but not quite.

Duke’s Coach K was the frontrunner, till the Devils
turned a 10-0 ACC start into a 3-3 finish and came in second. K covered up a
lack of front court size and depth, and he overcame a key injury to Brian Zoubek.
He put in a good year’s work, but he’s not quite COY worthy.

That leaves four coaches: VT’s Seth Greenberg,
UNC’s Roy Williams, Miami’s Frank Haith, and Wake’s Dino Gaudio. Let’s take a
look at the +/- table and see where the league’s coaches finished relative to
their preseason predictions.

ACC
Men’s Basketball
2007-08 Preseason
Media Predictions
Team Preseason Finish +/-
UNC 1 1 0
Duke 2 2 0
NC State 3 12 -9
Clemson 4 3 +1
Virginia 5 10 -5
Maryland 6 6 0
Georgia Tech 7 7 0
Boston College 8 11 -3
Florida State 9 9 0
Virginia
Tech
10 4 +6
Wake Forest 11 8 +3
Miami 12 5 +7

Roy Williams gets points for doing what was expected — winning the regular
season crown — and for overcoming adversity. At one point, the Heels were two
games behind Duke, but they finished strong, including a road win in Durham, and
they fought through numerous nagging injuries and one big injury, Ty Lawson.
Sure, Roy’s got national player of the year candidate Tyler Hansbrough on his
team, but Roy did a good job, and he finished first.

Next up: Dino Gaudio. Starting three sophomores and two freshmen, in the wake
of Skip Prosser’s unexpected death, was a huge challenge. At one point, Gaudio’s
charges were 6-4 in the league and the story of the conference, but they faded
down the stretch, losing five of six and falling from NCAA consideration to NIT
status. Wake’s story tugs at the heart strings, but the Deacs didn’t finish
strong, and after all, they were only 8th in the conference.

Seth Greenberg’s got a strong case. With six freshmen getting significant
playing time, Greenberg had his work cut out for him. His team performed
admirably, going 9-7 in the conference and finishing fourth. VT recovered from a
shellacking at UNC to win four in a row and charge up the standings, but they
did it against one of the ACC’s weaker schedules.

Lastly, you’ve got Frank Haith. Among ACC coaches, only Haith finished higher
above his team’s preseason expectations than Greenberg, going +7 to Greenberg’s
+6. Miami was tanking at 2-6 in the league, but the Canes recovered and went 6-2
in the second half, better than everyone but UNC over the last eight games.
(That’s an impressive thought.) Still, I question why the Canes were predicted
to finish 12th in the conference, because they had a lot of talent coming back,
and they start (as of the VT game) a senior, two juniors, and two sophomores.
Plus, they bring junior Jimmy Graham and senior Raymond Hicks off the bench. The
Canes aren’t hurting for talent or experience.

It’s a tough field. Greenberg’s got a strong case, but so do Haith and
Williams, and Gaudio is a sentimental favorite. In the end, I think Miami’s
likely NCAA tournament status wins out over Greenberg (Greenberg’s 2005 COY win
was the only time an ACC COY’s team didn’t go to the NCAA tournament), and Haith
gets the nod. Hate to say it, and it could go in any direction, but that’s my
feeling.

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