We are now roughly one month from handing out some hardware, not only awarding an Atlantic 10 tournament champion, but a Player of the Year, Coach of the Year and all of the awards season honors us fans love to debate. So before we get there I’d like to make the case both for and against who I think are your top-four candidates for this year’s Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year nominees as of this point in the season (in alphabetical order).
ARCHIE MILLER (DAYTON)
The case for: Miller looks to win his second consecutive Atlantic 10 regular season title in what will be his sixth season at Dayton. He’s also currently headed toward a fourth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, which, oh by the way, has never happened at Dayton. So he’s already won one of these right, why award him another? Oh, that’s because he actually HAS NEVER won an Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year award, putting him two awards behind former SLU head coach Jim Crews who is currently coaching from his couch after being fired from the Billikens for tanking the program. Miller has won at least 25 games his last three seasons and has put Dayton in a position to not only help themselves, but to help the overall conference profile and RPI as well (should I mention he’s won the Arch Baron Cup the last six times it’s been up for grabs? Oh, I guess just did, didn’t I?). The point is a coach shouldn’t be penalized for always recruiting at a high level and for being consistently good. That’s what good coaches do, some might say Coach of the Year types of coaches.
The case against: I personally have a hard time making a case against but the argument you’ll hear is that Miller is captaining a Dayton program that consistently draws 13k fans and has a program recruiting advantage over most teams in the Atlantic 10. You know what I say to that? Tell that to Saint Louis fans. Yes, he’s got talented players. But you know who got them all there? Archie Miller.
CHRIS MOONEY (RICHMOND)
The case for: Who out there in A-10 country predicted that Richmond would not only be 9-3 in conference play, but looking like a legit threat to actually win the conference, not just like a team that has lucked their way to the top. Two of the Spider’s three conference losses were at VCU and Dayton, arguably the conference’s two flagship programs (who’s arguing that though?), both being competitive games (don’t let that final Dayton score fool ya). Those are two very forgivable losses. They’ve also not only beaten some of the A-10’s other top teams but have absolutely hammered them, throttling both La Salle and St. Bonaventure and beating Rhody by 11 after leading by as much as 21 points. They have done that with a roster that has featured two star seniors and four underclassmen playing big minutes (Buckingham, Fore, Sherod, Jones). At 15-9 and 9-3 in conference the Spiders are way ahead of last year’s team that included all-conference selection, Terry Allen. Basically right now Mooney is surprising people after many thought he was on the hot seat and that’ll likely push him right toward the front of this race.
The case against: I have three key reasons why Mooney probably shouldn’t win this award. 1) Awarding him Coach of the Year would be like giving a most improved award to an A-10 coach who underperformed in the non-conference, then played better in the A-10. 2) It’s hard to make a “he’s doing more with less” argument when the coach has been at the school for over a decade and is 100% responsible for the team’s roster makeup, meaning he’s the one responsible for any “less” that is there (in this case a thin, young roster). 3) Yes, the Spiders have a bunch of young players, but they also have two First-Team worthy players in Cline (a generational player, IMO) and the insanely underrated but always deadly ShawnDre’ Jones. Here’s the thing: Richmond is a good team. They’ve got young players, but they are much better than people realize. So give Coach Mooney a ton of credit for recruiting better than people realized. But, I think ultimately Richmond needed to win some of those tough non-conference games, particularly the two home games against Wake and Texas Tech, games Richmond competed in but couldn’t bring home to the conference. The loss to Oral Roberts was also a killer and I think with that disappointing non-conference showing, a Coach of the Year Award to Mooney this season would be an award for just one half of a season of success.
DAVE PAULSEN (GEORGE MASON)
The case for: Unlike anyone else on this list, Paulsen inherited a bad team and has been tasked with making George Mason a proud program once again. As of this post I’d think you’d have to say the pride is coming back to the Patriots. George Mason has won three consecutive A-10 contests and are now tied for fifth in the conference with St. Bonaventure and La Salle. That Pats have two more conference wins than all of last season and are one win away from tying Paul Hewitt’s two-season A-10 win total. We call that a turnaround (Mason was 9-22 the season before Paulsen’s arrival). Paulsen has also done this with the nation’s 53rd last experienced team, meaning not only are things look decent this season, but the signs suggest this could only be the beginning of something much, much better. Picked 12th, currently 5th. Keep that pace and Paulsen probably wins the award.
The case against: Can you award a Coach of the Year award to someone who was swept by SLU this season? All jokes aside (or half jokes), I think it may be quite premature to go putting your money on Paulsen with a brutal closing schedule for the Patriots. Up next: Richmond, Rhode Island and Dayton. Two of those games are home at EagleBank, but the Patriots likely enter those as the underdog regardless. The only game Mason might be favored to win of these next six is a home contest at Duquesne. So what record would prove enough to win it? Pomeroy has Mason favored to win just two of these next four, which would put Mason at 9-9. His predictor however gives them an extra win, so does 10-8 do it? That’s likely the minimum, because I gotta think it would be hard to award a Coach of the Year trophy to a .500 or worse conference showing team, something that hasn’t really happened since 2007.
WILL WADE (VCU)
The case for: Like Miller, Wade will likely be penalized for coaching one of the league’s top programs and a team loaded with experience, forgetting that he played a key role in recruiting much of that experience when he was an assistant under Shaka Smart at VCU. But I think Wade is overcoming an underrated challenge at VCU that people aren’t giving him credit for. Basically, when Shaka Smart left for Texas, VCU took a hit. Not only did they lose a coach, but they lost a key young player (Terry Larrier) and an entire recruiting class. Wade was left to recruit a last-minute class with virtually no one left on the board, having been hired in April with recruits hitting campus two months later for summer workouts. Only one player from that last-minute group remains: redshirt freshman Samir Doughty. But what exited was a ton of shooting VCU would need due to the makeup of other classes. You can see the effect that has had by simply looking at VCU’s stat sheet, checking in at 200th nationally in three-point percentage, a number that might be higher had freshman De’Riante Jenkins (44.4% from three) not broken his foot in the first game of A-10 play. Long story short, Wade has coached his way around that brief recruiting hit and is getting it done despite a roster that has featured no A-10 Players of the Week and one that might not get a First Team selection. At 20-5 and 10-2, Wade and Co. are also a game ahead of Shaka Smart’s final group, both overall and in conference play. At No.27, Wade has VCU as the A-10’s currently top RPI team as well, a number that helps the entire conference.
The case against: VCU is held to a different standard. That’s what six consecutive NCAA appearances and a recent Final 4 will do to a program. So the case against Wade will be that he has simply been handed the wheel of a talented group and is in charge of not crashing the ship. What would Mark Schmidt do with a roster full of four-star recruits and three former top-100 high school recruits? How good would George Mason be with a roster like that? The reality is when you are able to recruit what on paper is a higher caliber of player, you basically have to dominate, which VCU hasn’t. It’s the same thing that will hurt Dan Hurley and Archie Miller’s chances and nothing short of winning a regular season title outright is likely to change that.