For years I wondered how coaches really felt about this award and how they voted. This year some are a little more vocal than in years past. You know my vote will go to Bruce Weber of Illinois this year, with Bill Carmody taking a close second.
My vote for Weber is not based on the fact that he's a new coach in the Big Ten and won at least a share of the conference title in his first year. It is because they are playing the best basketball in the conference when it matter most; they have the nation's third longest winning streak (nine in a row); he's on the verge of giving Illinois its first out-right Big Ten title since 1952; and last, but not least, the amount of road games they have won this year is unbelievable (Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue, Indiana and Penn St. with another road game on Sunday against Ohio St.).
Weber had some early distractions to start the season. The most glaring to me was that his players didn't really buy into what he was teaching, which is totally understandable for a new coach. But just imagine for a second, Illini Nation, if they had bought in just a little earlier maybe they would have won the home game against Purdue and beaten Northwestern on the road. Two months ago, there's no way they would have won last night's Purdue game.
Bill Carmody, you have done a tremendous job this year: beating Illinois and Wisconsin at home and going to Iowa City and blowing them out (as a matter of fact you swept the Hawkeyes this year). This shows that you are starting to get your team the respect it deserves, but this year I think the "other" State of Illinois coach had to overcome a few more obstacles and the Illini are clearly the best team in the Big Ten at this point.
When the NCAA tournament rolls around and the Big Ten teams get fair seeding, I think there're a few teams in the conference that could do some damage. Michigan State and Wisconsin can play with any team in the country on a neutral court. It's not always who's ranked higher or who comes from a better conference. As Bruce Weber once said, "You only have to be better for one night." Let all the naysayers complain (if the Big Ten could somehow manage to get four teams in you will see what I mean). This season there were plenty of upsets, and it's bound to happen in the NCAA Tournament. Let's put the shoe on the other foot. Who in their right mind would like to play Illinois right now?
If there was one thing I wish coach Weber would do a better job it's in marketing his players. A lot of people feel he shouldn't have to, but I disagree. Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan is telling people that Devin Harris should win the player of the year award, which he may deserve. But you can't tell me Weber shouldn't push Deron Williams for the award, or the most improved player of the year, or defensive player of the year it's so easy to take Williams for granted, but Tuesday night the kid had 16 points and 10 assists. In the previous meeting against Wisconsin he took over the game and finished with a new career high 31 points. He could become just the third player in Big Ten history to lead the league in assists his first two years in the league. Why does this matter? Because you can never have enough national exposure to your program and the kid deserves it.
Just a short time ago people were wondering if Weber was the right man for the Illinois job. Now the question may be will he stay here long enough or bolt like recent coaches?