MADISON, WIS. – Voters had until Sunday night to pick from a list of several quality candidates for Big Ten Coach of the Year this season.
But the award, which will be announced Monday on Big Ten Network shortly after 4 p.m., has long been seemingly a two-man race between the Gophers’ Richard Pitino and Northwestern’s Chris Collins.
Pitino has coached the Gophers to a 15-win improvement from last season’s 8-23 record, which included a 2-16 conference record. Collins’ one-year jump was not significant, going from 20-12 last season to 21-10 this year. But the Wildcats might be the biggest story going into the NCAA tournament, as they are expected to make their first-ever trip to the Big Dance.
Collins — who was hired in 2013, the same year as Pitino — was recently named a semifinalist for the Naismith National Coach of the Year award. Pitino was a snub from a list that included his father, Louisville coach Rick Pitino.
Longtime ESPN analyst Dick Vitale tweeted his support of the younger Pitino for Big Ten Coach of the Year after Thursday’s 88-73 victory against Nebraska gave his team eight consecutive victories. “What a difference a [year] makes for Richard Pitino,” Vitale posted on his account.
When asked about his coach not getting national consideration, Gophers center Reggie Lynch said it was another example of the program not getting enough respect. “A turnaround like this has got to be recognized,” Lynch said Saturday. “We’re all playing for him.”
Jim Dutcher, who led the Gophers to their last official Big Ten title in 1982, won the program’s only Big Ten Coach of the Year award that season. Clem Haskins won the award in 1997, but that title was stripped when that season was vacated.