Point/Counterpoint: Was Ed Cooley deserving of Coach of the Year? 

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Providence head coach Ed Cooley consoles Al Durham after a college basketball game against Kansas in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament Friday, March 25, 2022, in Chicago. Kansas won 66-61. Photo by Charles Rex Arbogast/AP Photo.

This Sunday, it was announced that Providence College men’s basketball head coach Ed Cooley was named the Werner Ladder Naismith Coach of the Year, making him the first Friar to earn this prestigious honor. Providence finished the year 27-6, taking sole possession of the Big East regular season title. The Friars earned their highest seeding in the NCAA Tournament ever this year, coming in at a No. 4 seed and made a trip to the Sweet Sixteen, falling to eventual champion Kansas Jayhawk’s. Cooley definitely is a great coach, but was he deserving of this esteemed award? Writers Jonathan Synott and Stratton Stave debate: 

Jonathan: Look, I’m going to start this by saying that Ed Cooley is a top notch head coach. I was more than impressed with how he handled himself this year in Providence’s win over UConn this year, both on the court and in his postgame interview. With that being said, I’m not sure if what he did warrants the award for the best coach in college basketball. Providence finished the year as one of the “luckiest” teams in KenPom history, based on their 11-3 record in games decided by five points or less. The Friars may have finished with a great overall record, but if the ball had bounced the other way a few more times, they could have easily dropped games against non-dancing teams like DePaul, Butler and Xavier. Due to a three-week COVID-19 pause, the Friars were able to cancel big games like the hosting of UConn (this time with top-five center in the country Adama Sanogo playing for the Huskies), as well as playing Marquette and Seton Hall on the road. Taking three, very loseable games out of your schedule definitely helps you build a better record. Despite being the “best team in the Big East,” Providence fell twice to runner-up Villanova as well. While the Wildcats had more wins than the Friars, Providence had the better winning percentage and was able to take home the trophy. Cooley did a good job, but there are some major blemishes on that season’s resume, and that’s not even mentioning the bludgeoning the Friars took in the Big East semifinals against Creighton. 

Stratton: Being the coach of the year is a recognition of a coach doing a phenomenal job at improving their program, which completely fits what Cooley did. Although I didn’t get the exposure in Hartford that you did to see Cooley work, I did witness what Providence did last year as compared to this year. They came off a disappointing 13-13 season and his masterful roster management allowed him to bring back the guys he needed to like super-senior Nate Watson and seniors AJ Reeves or Noah Horchler. On top of that, he brought in transfers Al Durham and Justin Minaya to fill in the holes of players like David Duke, who left for the NBA. Combining these new and old pieces is always a challenge and with the leadership of Cooley, Providence vaulted itself into the top 10 midway through the year and stayed in the top 15 consistently. On your point with luck in KenPom, that is notably a flawed metric. Because of how many close games they had, even against bad teams, the computer interpreted their clutchness and Cooley’s great late-game sets as being lucky. You don’t win all those close games without having great coaching, hence why Cooley deserves COTY.  

Arizona’s Tommy Lloyd speaks at a press conference as he is introduced as The Associated Press men’s basketball coach of the year, in New Orleans, Friday, April 1, 2022. Lloyd led Arizona to the Sweet 16 in his first season. He received 28 votes to edge Providence’s Ed Cooley, who got 21 votes. Photo by Gerald Herbert/AP Photo.

Jonathan: Cooley is a great coach and it showed this year, no doubt. But with those aforementioned blemishes, I feel he isn’t as deserving as guys like Tommy Lloyd of Arizona. Lloyd, an assistant coach at Gonzaga for the last 20 years, stepped into a program rampant with FBI and NCAA allegations and made it thrive, taking his team to a 33-4 record as a first-year head coach. While not being in the building for long, Lloyd led the Wildcats to the most conference wins in Pac-12 history, as well as the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles. The team exceeded expectations, as it was unranked and projected to finish fourth in the conference at the beginning of the year. The Wildcats also managed to play all of their tough competition that was scheduled for them, and beat almost everyone they came across. Under Lloyd, Arizona was 7-4 in Quad 1 games and undefeated in the rest, and that includes being undefeated at home. For a first-year head coach, that’s phenomenal work, and I would put his resume a notch above Cooley’s. While the Naismith Coach of the Year voters may not agree with me, the Associated Press, the National Association of Basketball Coaches and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association do, as Lloyd was named the National Coach of the Year with all three of those organizations. 

Stratton: Yes, I’ll agree with you that Lloyd did a phenomenal job taking over a program in legal trouble and taking them to the same spot as Providence. However, Arizona was a top 30 team in KenPom the previous two years. This program was notably on the college basketball map and primed for tournament success. Providence on the other hand was 80th in KenPom last year. Even though Providence may or may not have dodged some stronger opposition, it still played a tough schedule that was actually tougher than Arizona’s according to KenPom. Once again, both coaches each did a great job making more out of less with their situations, but with their respective Sweet 16s, you have to look at and compare how each team did last year to make the final call. With the Friars not even sniffing the bubble in 2021 and Arizona as No. 29 in KenPom, the award should go to Cooley. The player development of players such as Nate Watson also demonstrate how good of a coach Cooley is, something that Lloyd hasn’t gotten a chance to do in less than a year.  

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