by Rob Joyce
The Final Four on the men’s side has an interesting dynamic this season. You have a pair of teams making their debuts in the national semifinals: Gonzaga finally managed to get over the hump, while seventh-seeded South Carolina is on a dream run. Oregon made the very first Final Four in 1939 and hasn’t been back since. Then there’s North Carolina – they’ve been here once or twice, trying to finish the job after last season’s heartbreaker in a championship game loss to Villanova.
So three-quarters of the programs are vying for a rare national title, but so are the coaches. Outside of Roy Williams, none of the Final Four head men have cut down the nets despite long, successful careers. This may change come April 3, but for now here are the five best active college basketball coaches who have never reached the pinnacle:
Huggins is one of nine Division-I coaches to reach the 800-win mark and has taken both Cincinnati (1992) and West Virginia (2010) to the Final Four. Despite averaging 23 wins a year in his career, he’s never reached a national championship game. Among all of his other accomplishments, that may be the only thing separating Huggs from the Hall of Fame.
Notoriously overlooked on list of top coaches, Altman finally broke his way through by reaching the first Final Four of his career with this year’s Oregon team. In his career that’s taken him to Marshall, Kansas State and Creighton before his time in Eugene, the 58-year-old is nearing the 600-win mark, and has turned the Ducks into a legitimate basketball school.
Dixon returned to his alma mater this year, and already has taken TCU from Big 12 bottom-feeder to a team to be reckoned with. Prior to that, the 51-year-old led Pitt to a stretch of regular season dominance in the 2000s. He won a pair of Big East championships and was the Naismith Coach of the Year in 2009. However, in his 13 years with the Panthers they made only four Sweet 16s and one Elite 8 (2009), with no Final Fours.
Currently at Oklahoma, Kruger won his 600th game this past year and has been a journeyman head coach. He and Tubby Smith are the only men to ever lead five different programs to the NCAA Tournament (Kansas State, Florida, Illinois and UNLV, in addition to OU) and he’s taken both the Sooners and Gators to a Final Four, with both losing in the national semis.
The 54-year-old was an assistant on the 1999 Gonzaga team that made a miracle run to the Elite 8, putting the Bulldogs on the map. The next year he became the head coach, and it’s been dominance ever since. Eighteen years, 18 NCAA Tournament appearances. However, the lack of a Final Four berth was always a major blemish on his resume, as “can’t win the big one” started to stick. After a 36-1 season ended with a long-awaited regional championship, the most talented Zags team of all-time has a chance to prove that Gonzaga is a juggernaut in college basketball.