Sunday, February 26, 2012

Four Excellent Candidates Fight for the Northeast Conference Coach of the Year

For the final installment of my Northeast Conference regular season awards, I delve into the Coach of the Year debate.  Like the Player and Rookie of the Year races, this vote is completely unpredictable.  In any given year, my top 4 coaches could all be the favorite to win the award, but this season has been unusual to say the least.  Below, I examine each candidate and attempt to make sense of which man deserves the 2011-2012 Northeast Conference Coach of the Year.

3b. Jim Ferry, Long Island University
The Case:  All Jim Ferry has done is lead the Blackbirds to back-to-back regular season NEC championships.  This feat was accomplished in dominant fashion, with the Blackbirds winning 16 of their 18 NEC games this season.  Under Ferry's watch, the LIU Blackbirds have become one of the most efficient offenses in the history of the NEC.

The Argument:  John Templon, in one of his latest posts, stated it perfectly when he wrote that Ferry was “a victim of expectations.”  Ferry’s squad was picked in the preseason to win it all, so their place at the top of the standings comes as no surprise.  Anything less than first place with LIU’s talent, may be categorized as an abject failure.

The Verdict:  Perhaps unfairly so, this season’s lofty expectations will prevent Ferry from earning another Jim Phelan Coach of the Year award, especially in a season where there are multiple candidates worthy of the distinction.

3a. King Rice, Monmouth University
The Case:  The rookie head coach has improbably led his Hawks to a 10-8 NEC record in his first season, despite inheriting a team that hasn't finished with a winning conference record since the 2005-2006 season.  Picked 10th in the Coaches Preseason Poll, Monmouth has greatly exceeded expectations by defeating NEC playoff teams LIU, Sacred Heart, St. Francis (NY) and CCSU, while battling Wagner and Robert Morris in closely contested battles at home.

The Argument:  I’m really digging here, but Monmouth has been a tad fortunate in several of their wins.  After stunning Sacred Heart in a terrific come-from-behind victory, King Rice admitted his team got a little lucky.  And Monmouth’s last two regular season victories came when one team was banged up considerably (St. Francis, NY) and another was just playing out the regular season after locking up a #1 seed (LIU).

The Verdict:  Rice has done a phenomenal job in his first season and has the Hawks moving in the right direction.  But given the seasonal accomplishments of the two coaches I’m about to discuss, I feel Rice falls just short of serious consideration for the Coach of the Year honors.

2. Dan Hurley, Wagner College
The Case:  Where do I start?  Dan Hurley led Wagner to 24 wins, a single season school record.  Wagner’s 12 road victories are tied for first in the country (with mid-major power Murray State) this season.  His Seahawks impressed in the non-conference portion of their schedule, with victories over Pittsburgh, Air Force, and Santa Clara to get them the national recognition that no NEC team has ever experienced.  Even if Wagner falls short of winning the postseason championship, Hurley’s Seahawks are still a virtual lock to qualify for the NIT tournament.  What a season it has been for the Green and White in Staten Island.

The Argument:  Like Jim Ferry, Hurley may be a victim of expectations.  Picked 4th in the preseason poll, Wagner was expected to compete for a NEC title given the talent on the roster.  It seems a bit unfair since Hurley did in fact recruit guys like Kenneth Ortiz, Latif Rivers, and Mario Moody, but their conference success comes with little surprise.

The Verdict:  It’s an agonizing decision, but the final coach I will discuss moves just ahead of Hurley, despite Wagner's terrific achievements.  I certainly wouldn’t be shocked if the NEC made Hurley a Co-Coach of the Year, because Hurley and this next coach would each have a legitimate gripe should they finish 2nd in the ballot.

1. Glenn Braica, St. Francis College
The Case:  Second year head coach Glenn Braica led St. Francis to a surprising 5th place finish last season, however the expectations were significantly lower heading into the 2011-2012 campaign.  The Terriers lost their two leading scorers to graduation and then point-guard and team leader Dre Calloway to a shoulder injury.  That situation seems dire, right?  Well all Braica did was better his conference record from last season, by getting his team to buy into a team first mentality while competing hard defensively and on the glass.  In spite of not having a player finish in the NEC top 20 in scoring, Braica willed his team to a 12-6 conference record and a first round home game in the conference tournament.

The Argument:  There really isn’t an argument against Braica, other than stating that Hurley’s record and accomplishments were simply better.  In fact, it’s difficult to come up with a solid argument for any of these coaches.  That's what makes this vote so difficult.

The Verdict:  Given the low expectations, and Braica’s ability to coach his team to victory in several close games, I would vote for Glenn Braica as my 2011-2012 Coach of the Year.

Do you agree or disagree?  And in case you missed it, go here for my NEC Player of the Year and here for my NEC Rookie of the Year selections.

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