NCAA Coach of the Year: Top 5 candidates at midseason

Kara Lawson has led Duke to a 15-1 record and a No. 16 ranking halfway through the season. (Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

With teams now halfway through conference play, the 2023 college basketball landscape is starting to take shape. That means we have a better idea of which teams could make a run in March, which players have the best cases for the Player of the Year award and who the frontrunners are to take home Coach of the Year honors.

Here are Just Women’s Sports’ top five candidates for Coach of the Year at this point in the season.

Shauna Green, Illinois

If the Coach of the Year race ended today, Green would be the clear frontrunner. And unless something goes terribly wrong for her team in the next couple of months, I don’t see that changing. In her first season at the helm, Green has taken Illinois from just seven wins in 2021-22 to a 14-3 record so far in 2022-23, including an upset win over No. 12 Iowa on New Year’s Day. Illinois has also worked its way into the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2000, settling in at No. 24 in week 10.

Green has done an excellent job of working in transfers like Makira Cook from Dayton and Genesis Bryant from NC State with players who were already on the team when she took over, such as Adalia McKenzie and Jada Peebles. Meanwhile, junior forward Kendall Bostic is thriving in her second season after transferring from Michigan State, averaging 10.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.

Green clearly knows how to get the best out of her team, and she’s a coach they want to play for. If Illinois’ turnaround wasn’t evidence enough, Cook and Brynn Shoup-Hill both transferred from Dayton when Green got the Illinois job in order to join her new team.

Kevin McGuff, Ohio State

This college basketball season has been defined by injuries, and Ohio State hasn’t escaped the unfortunate trend. Against South Florida, Madison Greene endured a season-ending knee injury for the second year in a row, and the Buckeyes have been playing without senior guard Jacy Sheldon since the fifth game of the season. She’s currently in a walking boot with a week-to-week return status. Despite what they are missing, McGuff has his team at No. 3 in the country with an undefeated record. South Carolina and LSU are the only other undefeated teams at this point in the season.

The Buckeyes have also won in a variety of ways, from a 84-67 blowout win over No. 16 Oregon to a 17-point come-from-behind win over Illinois on Sunday. I don’t anticipate Ohio State maintaining its undefeated record through a difficult Big Ten slate, but they have a good chance to win the conference and be a force in March. Until then, McGuff deserves serious props for what he’s done so far.

Kara Lawson, Duke

Duke started last season strong with an upset over Iowa that turned heads, but the season ended in uneventful fashion, with a 17-13 record and a 10th-place finish in the ACC. The Blue Devils had a lot of talent last season after Lawson signed eight transfers and two freshmen in 2021, but they couldn’t put it together consistently over the course of the year. This season, Duke is doing what the team anticipated when Lawson took the helm. The Blue Devils are 15-1 with a No. 16 ranking, and their lone loss came at the hands of No. 3 UConn before Azzi Fudd went down with an injury.

Lawson has made the best of the transfer market, finding players that fit her system and complement each other. Duke’s top three scorers — led by Celeste Taylor, who joined the team from Texas in 2021 — are all transfers.

Utah is having a historic season under coach Lynne Roberts. (Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports

Lynne Roberts, Utah

Utah finished last season with a 21-12 record and a late season-surge that included a second-place finish in the Pac-12 tournament and a first-round March Madness win over Arkansas. This season, the Utes have picked up where they left off, and Roberts has them reaching new heights. Utah is 14-1, with an impressive 124-78 win over then-No. 16 Oklahoma in November. The team also reached No. 8 in the AP Poll for the first time in program history.

Roberts secured Alissa Pili, one of the most impactful transfers in the country, prior to the season, and the former USC player is delivering with 19.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. In her eighth year at the helm, Roberts has also guided one of the best offenses in the country. The Utes’ 87.3 points per game rank fourth in the nation and their 19.5 assists per game rank sixth.

Teri Moren, Indiana

After losing Ali Patberg, Nicole Cardaño-Hillary and Aleksa Gulbe to graduation, it was hard to imagine Indiana not having a drop-off from last season. Then, when Grace Berger was injured against Auburn in late November, things looked even less promising for the Hoosiers. Despite those obstacles, Moren has led Indiana to a top-10 ranking and a 15-1 record.

She added two key players in the offseason, including Israeli phenom Yarden Garzon and Oregon transfer Sydney Parrish, who is from Indiana. Against all odds, the Hoosiers have managed to maintain their excellence from last season, and somehow might be even better this year.

Honorable mentions

Dawn Staley's Gamecocks have held onto the No. 1 ranking since preseason. (G Fiume/Getty Images)

Dawn Staley, South Carolina

Staley’s team is too similar to last season for her to be seriously considered for the award, but she still deserves a mention. Maintaining excellence is a challenge, and having the country’s top team two years in a row isn’t just dumb luck. Staley is making it happen with the reigning national champions.

Geno Auriemma and Chris Dailey, UConn

No team has struggled with injuries and adversity quite like the Huskies have this season. Yet, they’ve managed to stay at the level we are accustomed to seeing, with a No. 4 ranking and a 13-2 record. Auriemma and Dailey have split coaching duties, so unless there is a way for them to win the award together, the Coach of the Year award will likely go to another candidate.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.