In just a little over two weeks, the regular season will be over and we'll begin the best month in all of sports, where over 300 teams will essentially enter a tournament where a national champion will be decided by results on the court. It's a comfort to know that all those weekly polls, power rankings, and quasi-scientific indexes will all fall into the trash bin of irrelevance as we decide a singular winner on the basis of having won the final game of the season. The riddle I can't solve, however, is why those things continue to exist in the first place—every argument I've heard from the defenders ultimately boils down to the contention that these made-up rankings "generate discussion," which is A Good Thing. My retort has always been that college basketball is plenty entertaining in its own right, and examining the extreme nature of Joe Scott's system holds my attention far longer than the observance that Baylor lost twice last week, so hey, let's knock them down a couple of pegs.
Along with the close of the regular season comes the hardware, and almost all of the awards make sense—putting aside the objections of self-anointed wordsmiths who wax poetic over the difference between "valuable" and "outstanding" (a debate which centers on who played with the biggest collection of bums).
But the one that doesn't sit well with me is Coach of the Year. For one, I suspect that, unlike players, coaches don't really have good years and bad years. These guys have learned their craft over at least a couple of decades, and any changes from one season to the next tend to be marginal. Sometimes what they try works, sometimes it doesn't. That's sports.
Also, it seems like the award tends to be less of an accomplishment for the coach, but rather an indictment of prediction models, experts, and the media, which underrated a team from the outset of the season. Case-in-point: I suspect that Matt Painter is going to be a popular candidate for COY, because many (myself included) figured this team would be a lot worse than its turned out to be (but not everyone. Kudos, Dan.).
And maybe Painter should win it. But then again, Wisconsin is applying income inequality to the Big Ten in a matter we haven't seen since, well, at least the 2005 Illini (although Michigan State was at least in screaming range of that team, efficiency-wise. Today's Badgers are so far ahead of anyone else, it eclipses anything we've seen in the tempo-free era. So I'd be guessing. Flintstones? The 17-1 Calbert Cheaney team?). So does Bo deserve the nod?
There's also John Groce, who is on track to improve on last year's performance despite losing two rotation players for most of the conference slate. And what about someone like Thad Matta? Ohio State probably isn't over-performing relative to preseason expectations (most had the Buckeyes 2nd), but that's largely because Thad Matta has a track record of excellence and because he convinced D'Angelo Russell to attend Ohio State. But because both of those things were accounted for in October, Matta will not be regarded as highly? That seems unfair, so maybe Matta deserves consideration.
All of these interpretations of the award (and others) are entirely fair and defensible, which is really the problem. When the criteria for an award has nothing resembling guidelines, it's not so much an award as it is a psychology experiment. Maybe it's time we stop handing this one out—the merits of discussion generation be damned.