Is Kim Mulkey Now The Best Coach In College Basketball?

That’s going to come off as an outrageous statement – how can a coach of a women’s team be rated ahead of all the men’s college basketball coaches?

But if you want to scoff at the suggestion, you might have some work to do.

First of all, here’s a question for you: who, right now, is the top coach in men’s basketball?

Is it Danny Hurley or Brian Dutcher? They’re the two coaches set to tangle tonight as Hurley’s UConn team takes on Dutcher’s San Diego State squad.

Never heard of them, right? Hurley you probably know as Bobby Hurley’s brother, though he’s had a lot more coaching success than Bobby has at Arizona State (he wasn’t the legendary player that Bobby was).

So who else?

Coach K is gone. Roy Williams is gone. Jay Wright, who for a while had a very good argument as the best, is gone.

Is Kelvin Sampson the best? Is Mark Few? Is Bill Self? Is Matt Painter? They’re all good. Self might be the best, but he’s tainted in the same way Will Wade was tainted. Do people think he’s the best? Certainly there’s no consensus.

Years ago you’d have said John Calipari or Tom Izzo, but there just isn’t a lot of deep success of late that would establish either as “the best.”

The fact is that right now there is no “best” coach in men’s college basketball. The old guard is changing out and the new coaches, the ones who are coming of age in the era of the transfer portal and NIL, haven’t quite sorted into a formal hierarchy. That’s one reason why none of the No. 1 seeds made it to the Final Four in the men’s tournament this year and why most of the traditional blue-blood powers were pretty ordinary this season.

But on the women’s side, it’s very hard to argue against the prospect that Kim Mulkey is the best in the game.

Yesterday Mulkey won her first national championship at LSU. It’s the first national championship in basketball, men’s or women’s, LSU’s ever had. Under Sue Gunter and Pokey Chatman, the Lady Tigers made it to the Final Four in four straight years but lost in the semifinals every time. Mulkey blasted through that ceiling in only her second year after taking over a moribund program which won a pathetic nine games in Nikki Fargas’ last season two years ago.

The turnaround Mulkey has engineered has been nothing short of amazing – or it would be if anybody but Mulkey had pulled it off. This year’s LSU team finished 32-2 with nine new players on the roster. It’s a mish-mash of freshmen and transfer portal additions; the only holdover from last year’s team who played a major role this year was the point guard, Alexis Morris. Mulkey took LSU from nine wins to 26-6 and the NCAA Tournament second round last year, to 32-2 and a national championship.

In two years.

But Kim Mulkey has now won two of the last four national championships in women’s college basketball. She won one at Baylor in 2019, which was her third – Mulkey’s first national title came in 2005 and she won another one in 2012. Had the women’s tournament been played in 2020 she might very well have won that one as well – her 2020 Baylor team was 28-2 and the Big 12 champions and almost certainly would have been a #1 seed.

In the past seven years, she’s 219-20.

That’s not the greatest run in history; Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma has had better. But Mulkey has eclipsed Auriemma now. He’s still fantastic, but she’s won a national title twice since he last won one in 2017.

And the thing is, this was supposed to be the year you could beat Mulkey. Get her this year, the saying went, because after this she’ll be impregnable.


Why? Because LSU has the top recruiting class in the country coming in, including Shreveport superstar Mikaylah Williams, possibly the best player LSU women’s hoops has brought in since Seimone Augustus.

Three of this year’s better players – Morris, LaDazhia Williams and Jasmine Carson – are leaving. Everybody else in the regular rotation, including national championship game MVP and First-Team All-American Angel Reese and SEC Freshman of the Year Flau’jae Johnson, are coming back.

Next year’s team is almost assuredly going to be better, though how can you get better than what this year’s club did?

As Mulkey said in the post-game press conference yesterday, though, “We haven’t even won the SEC yet.”

She’s gone 13-3 and 15-1 in league play in her first two years. Against the toughest conference in women’s basketball.

Yes, the women’s game is not the same as the men’s game is. But the differences between the two don’t generally involve coaching. The men’s game is played faster, above the rim, with a bigger ball and a further three-point line. There is more athleticism in the men’s game and it’s generally more competitive – there are a lot more first-rate athletes playing men’s basketball than in women’s ball, which means the women’s teams aren’t as deep and the bottom half of Division 1 at the women’s level is a lot of over-resourced rec league clubs.

But at the highest levels, the coaching is pretty similar. You still recruit the very best players with the same kinds of sales pitches as you do on the men’s side. The X’s and O’s are mostly the same; you aren’t drawing up alley-oop plays, but otherwise all the fundamentals of strategy apply. The motivation of the players is similar, if not identical. The challenges in running a program are analogous if not the same; a men’s coach will worry more about players getting arrested, while a women’s coach is more concerned with pregnancies.

And nobody, nobody is doing a better job at the craft than Kim Mulkey is right now. Not on the women’s side, and not on the men’s side.

So yeah – you can certainly make the argument that Mulkey is the best coach in all of college basketball today. She has the ring – the rings – to help in making that case.



Interested in more national news? We've got you covered! See More National News
Previous Article
Next Article

Trending on The Hayride