Introduction from yesterday.
One of the biggest reasons Ben Braun gets so much heat is because, well, the last couple seasons have been lousy. ‘04 and ‘05 were both losing seasons, and this year’s edition has work left to do to avoid the same fate. The past four years, two of which included Leon Powe, have produced exactly one NCAA tournament entry, a loss to North Carolina State in the 8/9 game.
Still, if you’re going to evaluate a coach, you have to look at his whole body of work. Given the relative lack of basketball tradition at Cal (in the 36 years between Pete Newell and Ben Braun, Cal managed 4 trips to the NCAA tournament, 3 NIT trips, and 0 conference championships), Braun’s achievements are significant. In 10+ years on the job:
- 5 NCAA Tournament appearances (4-5 record), including only Cal’s second Sweet 16 since 1960
- 2 NIT appearances (7-1 record), inclding an NIT championship in 1999 and a quarterfinal run in 2000
- 5 NCAA appearances are more than any other coach in Cal history, as are the 7 postseason appearances
- 200-135 overall record, for a winning percentage of .597, the best at Cal since Pete Newell retired
- 11-6 postseason record, a .647 winning percentage, with the 11 wins being a school record
- 6 20-win seasons, also a school record
- 1997 Pac-10 Coach of the Year
In the zero-sum game that is college basketball, Braun’s record is clearly above average. While it may not stand up to the greats in the game, it more than holds its own, and when compared to other coaches at Cal, Braun is obviously the best coach Cal has had since Pete Newell retired.
(Yes, you can say that Pete Newell was clearly better than Ben Braun, but 1960 was a long time ago. How long? In 1960, college basketball didn’t have a shot clock, a three-point line, or African-Americans. It was a different game back then.)
Moreover, Ben Braun came to Cal at a tough time for any coach; cleanup time after a scandal. The mess Todd Bozeman left behind, including probation and scholarship sanctions, is well-documented, and Braun was just the antidote: well-liked, well, spoken, and squeaky-clean (he’s a member of the Ethics Committee for the National Association of Basketball Coaches).
My point is, Braun has accomplished a lot at Cal, especially when you consider the situation he stepped into and the modest basketball history at this school. Yes, the last couple years have been rough, but there’s a track record of success, which is a good indicator, maybe the best indicator, of future success.