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Ranking Big Ten Coaching Jobs For 2020 (Part 2)

Rival’s Dan McDonald recently made his list, and it had a few “hot takes.”

Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament - Second Round Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Dan McDonald of Rivals basketball recruiting made his own updated ranking for most attractive job openings in the Big Ten. I had a few disagreements with them to say the least, and broke down what I thought were the bottom half of the conference in Part 1. Today I have what I think are the top seven jobs in the Big Ten. I do my best to justify why I think each job should fall where it does, but feel free to let me know what I got wrong in the comments!

First, let’s remember how Dan McDonald ranked each job:

  1. Indiana
  2. Ohio State
  3. Michigan
  4. Michigan State
  5. Maryland
  6. Wisconsin
  7. Illinois
  8. Purdue
  9. Minnesota
  10. Iowa
  11. Nebraska
  12. Northwestern
  13. Tie between Rutgers and Penn State

Now my own full list:

  1. Michigan State
  2. Ohio State
  3. Wisconsin
  4. Maryland
  5. Purdue
  6. Indiana
  7. Michigan
  8. Illinois
  9. Iowa
  10. Minnesota
  11. Rutgers
  12. Nebraska
  13. Northwestern
  14. Penn State

Obviously there are some subtle, and there are some not so subtle shifts in my rankings compared to McDonald’s own choices. Here is my take on why each of the top seven jobs is ranked where I placed it.

No. 7 Michigan

I acknowledge the brand of Michigan is strong nationally, but the school is still football first. The athletic department has deep pockets and resources, but even after pricey renovations Crisler is consistently ranked in the bottom half of arenas in the conference by pundits. John Beilein had great success at Michigan, but he did so with a knack for finding lower star recruits and developing them. That model doesn’t work for everyone. Michigan’s strongest basketball years still remain the “Fab Five” era and the 1989 title shortly before that, and they dwindle in relevance with each passing year. Worst yet for Michigan is the fact that as long as Tom Izzo is up the road at Michigan State, the Wolverines are second fiddle in their own state to the blue-blood status the Spartans have attained in modern college hoops. All of these things add up to make Michigan a tough job to succeed at compared to the schools ahead of the Wolverines on this list.

No. 6 Indiana

The Hoosiers are considered a legacy blue-blood in college basketball, but my biggest criticism of Dan McDonald’s list was his reasons for listing MSU at No. 4. He did so because MSU’s success was “due to Tom Izzo,” but yet he ranked Indiana at No. 1. The Hoosiers have struggled in the post-Bobby Knight era to remain a powerhouse program. They claim five national championships, but only three of those actually come during the modern NCAA tournament era (60+ teams). All three of those titles belong to Bobby Knight as well. The Hoosiers have only made the Elite Eight or Final Four once since 2000. MSU has more Final Four appearances since 2000 than Indiana has in the entire modern tournament era. They at one time had the most conferences titles in the Big Ten, but only have three conference titles since 2000, and five since 1990. Purdue has recently passed over them in 2017 in total conference title count.

This is my long way of pointing out that Indiana’s glory days are past them. They may come back, I fully acknowledge. The school has the resources, history, and fan interest to be an appealing job for a candidate. Nobody is going to have a shred of credibility and pretend like Indiana isn’t a great opportunity. However, at the same time the pressure to succeed and the lack of modern success to demonstrate a coach can do so drags this opening down heavily in my list compared to McDonald’s. There are other schools in the conference at this point that are better positioned on day one for success for a new coach, whereas Indiana feels more and more like a major rebuild with each passing year.

No. 5 Purdue

This will likely anger Indiana fans even more, my picking their in-state rival ahead of them. However, Purdue is a great job opportunity. Mackey Arena has one of the best home court advantages in the country. The program, while it lacks a national title and lacks a Final Four since 1980, is a power in the Big Ten at least. Their academic reputation doesn’t hurt with recruiting, and their facilities aren’t lacking. However, Purdue does fail to have the top appeal needed for elite recruits, so there is seemingly a ceiling for the Boilermakers top job. You can win conference titles consistently here and make some runs in the NCAA, but you probably will not make it much further. That is still a level of success plenty of coaches could only dream of and makes Purdue No. 5 on my list.

No. 4 Maryland

The top job for the Terrapins is a bit hard to pin down. On the one hand, Maryland has the most recent national title of any Big Ten program. Then on the other hand, that is their only title and they haven’t made the Elite Eight even since that 2002 title. Xfinity Arena is one of the more unique and intimidating environments in college basketball when it is fully rocking, but the program remains the only one in the Big Ten without its own dedicated practice facility. While plans were finally unveiled for one, breaking ground on it seems just as distant as prior to announcing it given the sudden upheaval to athletic department budgets brought about by COVID-19. Still, Maryland has a great advantage if a coach can build relationships within the DC-Baltimore metro area in terms of recruiting. All-in-all the Terps job has too many drawbacks to rank higher than No. 4 on my list, but it has so much potential along with the fact a national title this century certainly doesn’t hurt.

No. 3 Wisconsin

The Badgers job is a big jump in my ranking (as was Michigan State) compared to McDonald. The fact is that if MSU is “top dog” in the conference the last two decades, the Badgers are right at the Spartans’ heels. Wisconsin has been to three Final Fours since 2000, and at one point had a streak of 19 straight NCAA tournament appearances. Besides the 2017-18 season, Wisconsin has not finished outside the top-four in the conference since 2000-01. Fans continue to pack the Kohl Center, and the Badgers continue to be a force in the Big Ten.

The biggest knock on the job would be proven administrative support in paying top dollar for the right candidate. While Gard’s lower pay scale makes sense given he was an internal hire with no proven track record, and he arguably struggled in his first few seasons, Bo Ryan was vastly underpaid compared to Wisconsin’s athletic department revenue and the success he achieved on the court. One cannot deny the track record under Alvarez’s tight purse strings as a result. Wisconsin might be No. 2 on the list if the administration could show they are serious when it comes to compensation to compete nationally for top candidates, but if not for the success the program has sustained their lack of financial support would have knocked them behind Maryland.

No. 2 Ohio State

The Buckeyes may lack a top notch atmosphere in the cavernous Value City Arena, but they are a national brand that has had enough success on the hardwood to sell recruits on the scarlet and gray. The school may not have as many Final Fours or conference titles over the last two decades as some of the other schools in the conference, but they have the resources to supply the head coach with what he or she needs to win. The facilities are there, and the ability to sell recruits is as well. While the Buckeyes are obviously a “football school” first, Thad Matta’s early years before his health troubles showed that a coach can win at a high level in Columbus to attract fans and recruits in the winter months. All of that combines to make the Ohio State job No. 2 on my list for most attractive job openings.

No. 1 Michigan State

Michigan State is hands down the “top dog” of the Big Ten in the modern era. Since 2000, they have had seven Final Four appearances to the rest of the Big Ten’s eight (not counting Maryland’s two appearances as an ACC school). They have had more Big Ten Player of the Year honorees, more conference titles, more conference tournament titles, the fourth best all-time NCAA tournament streak (active), and the conference’s most recent national title by a school who is actively a part of the conference at the time. They have the highest paid coach in the conference, some of the top facilities in the country, and a clear history of providing the resources needed to be a top contender nationally. MSU has the name brand to walk into a recruit’s living room and sell the school as a basketball destination. Perhaps that is why the Spartans are the only Big Ten school to have landed ten or more five-star recruits all-time.

McDonald knocks MSU for having so much of its program’s success occur under Tom Izzo, but in so doing he completely ignores the school’s success under predecessor Jud Heathcote. Heathcote won State’s first national title, making MSU present day one of just two Big Ten schools with more than one national title. Frankly, it is blind ignorance to pretend like Izzo isn’t the reason why MSU has established itself as a national powerhouse in college basketball over the last two and a half decades, but it is equally ignorant to pretend that MSU didn’t have a strong history of fan support and success on the hardwood prior to Coach Izzo. MSU has demonstrated a coach can get the job done and sustain his or her own mark of success as head of the program. The Spartans are the biggest boy on the block right now, and a theoretical job opening in East Lansing should reflect that in the rankings.