While there are other very solid names in the mix including Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon, Villanova's Jay Wright, and Georgetown's John Thompson III, Crean is owed a serious look at this honor. After Big East coaches predicted Marquette would finish 12th in the sixteen team conference during the preseason, Crean has led his Golden Eagles to a 4th place finish and a 10-6 record in conference play.
To this point, Crean has detracted much of the attention from himself and has focused on his team's performance. But there's no question that much of Marquette's success can be attributed to the coaching staff this season. Earlier in the season, Crean stated that the coaching staff scaled back their 200 sets to about fifty to help all the freshmen and new faces learn the offense. Marquette, ironically, has kicked up its production on that end of the floor, ranking third in the Big East in scoring. Crean has also come up with innovative plays to allow Steve Novak to shoot the ball as much as possible. Most importantly, he has kept his team motivated throughout the season, never allowing them to lose more than two games in a row.
"We started the theory of the ‘one game season' late in December," said Crean. "The players have bought into that. What matters is what your players are prepared to do on a daily basis, and this group has made themselves better everyday."
Crean noted that the constant improvement has fed into big victories throughout the season. But from a coaching standpoint, with the impending Big East Tournament this week and the NCAA tournament next week, the job is only beginning.
"I think as a coach, no matter what, you are always trying to improve. You always point the finger at yourself first. The great coaches in this game are never satisfied and we are not anywhere near satisfied at this point."
With such a young group having to blend with a solid mix of veterans, three of which have played in the final four, Crean stressed the importance of pushing his players towards goals. He reiterated that his team never had any numerical goals in terms of wins and losses, but wanted to keep improving each day.
"To have this group come in and listen, learn and improve has made us all feel good. But as a competitor, it makes you want to do more to push them further. As a coach, your number one job is to never let your players settle. You don't reward mediocrity."
Mediocrity is exactly what many expected from this year's Marquette team. With three freshmen starting and seven players wearing a Marquette uniform for the first time at season's beginning, the cynics and skeptics wrote off the Golden Eagles as a .500 team at best. Certainly, the move to the new and improved Big East Conference contributed to the fear of a dismal first season.
Will an east coast bias come into play in selecting the post season awards? Most of the candidates coach teams near New York, which could hurt Crean's chances. In addition, the Golden Eagles have flown under the radar for the entire season, playing just two games on national television.
The coach of the year award usually goes to a candidate who guides his team to an incredibly successful season, a "worst to first" type of performance, or a largely overachieving and surprising team to everyone in the league. Marquette has built its profile this season and their head coach has been the architect. Tom Crean deserves strong consideration for Big East Coach of the Year. It seems like the odds may be stacked high, but if Marquette's performance thus far has been any indication, anything is possible.