With the college basketball regular season nearing its conclusion, it is time to start considering which players are deserving of the biggest awards in the game. A few weeks we broke down the players to watch for the Wooden Award, given annually to the best player in college basketball. Then we examined the favorites for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Position Awards. Up next is the Naismith Coach of the Year Award.

Among the 15 finalists is Washington State coach Kyle Smith, who has the Cougars on the cusp of their first March Madness bid since 2008. Can Smith follow in the paths of Jerome Tang and Ed Cooley, or will another coach makesome noise in March and take home the award?


Kyle Smith (Washington State)

Washington State was consistently good in Kyle Smith's first four years, which already was a marked improvement considering he led the Cougars to their first winning season in a decade. Year Five was supposed to be more of the same for WSU — especially considering that the Cougars lost their top four scorers in the offseason (two in the transfer portal and two to the NBA). Instead, Washington State is 21-6, at the top of the Pac-12, and coming off a regular season sweep of top-five Arizona.

The Cougs are one of the hottest teams in the country, winning 11 of their last 12 games, and they have done so thanks to the contributions of some unexpected players. Isaac Jones (15.8 PPG, 7.6 RPG) spent last year at Idaho after three years at community college. Jaylen Wells (11.8 PPG, 45.9 3P%) played his first two collegiate seasons at the DII level. And then there is Myles Rice, a class of 2021 product who had no high-major offers, redshirted his first year, then missed all of last season as he battled Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Finally healthy, Rice is second on the team with 15.5 PPG and leads WSU with 3.7 APG.

With Washington State essentially a lock for its first NCAA Tournament apperance since 2008 (the second-longest drought among Power Conference schools), Kyle Smith deserves a world of credit — especially considering the recent roster turnover. He is the Naismith Coach of the Year favorite.

LaMont Paris (South Carolina)

Lamont Paris paid his dues as an assistant coach, spending 20 years further down the bench before his first opportunity to lead a program. He began at the Division III level before eventually patrolling the sidelines for Akron and Wisconsin. Now, in just his second year at South Carolina, Paris has the Gamecocks among the leaders in the SEC (21-5 overall, 9-4 in the SEC) and ranked 20th in the latest AP Poll. This is even more impressive considering that this South Carolina squad won 11 games a year ago.

While South Carolina reached the Final Four in 2017, historically, the program has experienced little success. The 2017 run is the only time in the last 50 years that the Gamecocks advanced past the First Round of the NCAA Tournament, and they have just 12 20-win seasons during that span. USC is poised to wear home jerseys come March and LaMont Paris is the architect behind this turnaround.

Danny Sprinkle (Utah State)

Danny Sprinkle is the third coach in fours season for Utah State — a program that has made a habit of great coaching hires in recent years. Year One under Sprinkle was supposed to be a rebuild. Head coach Ryan Odom left for VCU and the Aggies had to replace all 10 players that scored a point last season. Sprinkle — fresh off an NCAA Tournament apperance with Montana State — brought along two of his key players in guard Darius Brown and big man Great Osobor.

Both have blossomed in the Mountain West despite the step up in competition, as USU is 22-5 and in first place in the conference (10-4 in the MWC). Brown is third in the league in assists (6.3 APG) while Osobor leads the league in rebounds and is second in scoring (17.8 PPG, 9.1 RPG). The Aggies are on pace for yet another NCAAT berth, considering that every major contributor on this team played elsewhere last season, Danny Sprinkle is among the favorites for Naismith Coach of the Year.