by Daniel Olsen
The Aggies have won ten straight games to improve to 11-3 on the season. They have beaten San Diego State twice in 36 hours with the second game being a win on national TV (CBS). It simply can’t get any better for these Aggies. A third Mountain West championship is the only think that stands in their way. It’s time to explore three reasons why the mastermind behind it all will win conference Coach of the Year honors.
He is the best coach
Is there really a debate on who the best coach has been in the conference since Craig Smith came to Logan? He has won over 90 percent of his home games with 39 wins and just three losses. He was not only the Mountain West Coach of the year in his first year on the job, but also had a history of winning coaching awards during his time in the Summit League and Division II. Depending on how every team finishes, Smith could very well be taking home another trophy for coaching his team to new heights after losing one of the best players in Aggie history to the NBA Draft. If Smith wins, he will join a small list of coaches to win the award multiple times: Steve Fisher, Steve Alford and Dave Rose.
He has overcome the most adversity
Despite losing Sam Merrill, the defense and ball movement are key indicators of a well-coached team. When it comes to the Mountain West coach of the Year, Mountain West is the key part here. Craig Smith is doing as well as anyone with an undefeated 8-0 record in conference play.
This is especially impressive considering how bad the Aggies looked in the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic early in the season. The Aggies went 1-2 on that road trip with blowout losses to good but still mid-major teams in South Dakota State and VCU. They did manage to avoid the first 0-3 start in decades by beating Northern Iowa in the final game. However, they lost to BYU after that to fall to 1-3.
Since then, they have won 10 straight and are looking to win their 11th and 12th this week against another formidable opponent in the Colorado State Rams. The Aggies survived challenges against one of the better teams in the conference in the San Diego State Aztecs. If they continue to overcome adversity, the team as a whole will be greater than the sum of its parts. It takes a good coach to make that happen.
He has the best track record
The other contenders would have to be Leon Rice of Boise State and Niko Medved at Colorado State. Before last weekend, Brian Dutcher looked poised to win his second consecutive award. An injury to Matt Mitchell certainly changes things. The Broncos are also 8-0 in conference play and the Rams are 7-1. Eventually, these teams all have to play each other. The Aggies just beat a great San Diego State team twice in a row. Although it will be hard to finish the season undefeated in conference play, if the Aggies can at least split these teams they will be in excellent shape.
While Rice had tremendous success at Gonzaga as an assistant coach, he hasn’t done much since being the head coach of the Broncos. He took his team to a couple of play-in games in the NCAA tournament early in his career. Most recently, he took his team to a couple NIT appearances. Craig Smith looks poised to get the auto-bid to the Big Dance for the third year in as many tries. Smith is doing in the Mountain West what Rice has done in a decade of coaching in Boise.
Medved took teams from mostly one-bid leagues in Furman and Drake to CIT appearances but this stage appears to be too big at least for now. He had average teams in his first two years as the Rams coach. While they have vastly improved, they also still have to prove themselves against tougher teams still on the slate. Just like the Aggies, they will have to at least split in Logan this week to have a fighting change in the regular season championship race. They also have yet to play Boise State. These four games could make or break the season if some sweeps happen. USU’s sweep seems to have kept the Aztecs for seriously contending at least for now.
The Aggies aren’t going to forget how to play basketball down the stretch. They may have a bad game or two but that’s it. This team knew how bad it felt to start 2020 with three straight losses last year. They seem motivated to be a new team. They have to be more focused as they have less room for error without a star scorer like Sam Merrill. Smith did the best with a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Queta and plenty of players that just want to hoop.
Because he is the best coach, has overcome the most adversity, and has the best track record of any coach in contention for this award, Craig Smith will win the Mountain West Coach of the Year in 2021.
You can vote on our Twitter poll of the day to let us know just how long you expect this Aggie win streak to last.
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