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Dick Harmon: Dave Rose or Steve Fisher for national coach of the year?

Published: Monday, Feb. 28 2011 10:39 p.m. MST

SDSU's head coach Steve Fisher, left, and BYU Head Coach Dave Rose shake hands. (Stuart Johnson, Deseret News) SDSU's head coach Steve Fisher, left, and BYU Head Coach Dave Rose shake hands. (Stuart Johnson, Deseret News)

Should BYU coach Dave Rose be in consideration for the national coach of the year honors?

Yes.

But is he?

Many think he should be, including TCU's coach Dave Christian, who called Rose a national candidate last week in Fort Worth.

If the measuring stick is San Diego State coach Steve Fisher, who has been considered one of the frontrunners all season long, and deservedly so, then there is little question Rose belongs in the discussion.

In a sentimental sense, Fisher is older, more seasoned and has coached in a Final Four at Michigan. He has also battled prostate cancer. Rose, in his sixth season as a head coach, as also battled pancreatic cancer and, like Fisher, is a remarkable case for inspiration as a husband, father and coach.

In Saturday's CBS broadcast, the network used a graphic showing the national coach of the year candidates. Fisher was there. Rose was not.

Fisher entered this season with five returning starters including MWC player of the year candidate Kawhi Leonard and seniors D.J. Gay, Billy White and Malcolm Thomas. Add Chase Tapley in the mix and you have a perfect preseason mindset by scribes that the Aztecs would be special. They are.

The media picked SDSU to win the MWC title. The ballot was strong. The Aztecs had a lot of support, 21 of 30 first-place votes. The media voted BYU second with 5 first place votes. New Mexico received 3 first place votes.

Now consider Rose. BYU entered the season without big center Chris Miles and one of the school's most prolific career 3-point shooters Jonathan Tavernari, who were seniors last year. He also lost LDS mission-bound Tyler Haws, a freshman starter who was Mr. Basketball in Utah out of Lone Peak High School and a proven mid-range jumper phenom. Rose returned just three starters, post player Noah Hartsock and senior guards Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery.

Rose's BYU squad was not picked to win the MWC basketball title. For the past two weeks, they've received No. 1 votes on the Associated Press poll.

At this stage of the season, Fisher and Rose are both 27-2 overall and both boast RPI rankings in the Top 10.

But who had to do the better coaching job, Fisher with five returning starters, or Rose, who returned just three?

In the final week of league play, BYU is the MWC leader with a 13-1 record; SDSU stands 12-2.

In head-to-head showdowns this season, Rose is 2-0 against Fisher, a sweep by a combined 26-point margin in Provo and San Diego. This comes despite MWC schedulers giving SDSU and Fisher a break with an empty schedule the week of the Aztec game with the Cougars. That means rest and preparation.

This past weekend in San Diego was the most important athletic event in Aztec history — a nationally televised game of a No. 4 ranked squad against a No. 7 Cougar squad. BYU stole the moment. Just took it away.

Fisher has glass power players; Rose has running 3-point shooters. Fisher's team is 55th in rebounding per game; BYU is 13th. SDSU is 39th in field goal percentage; BYU is 5th in scoring average.

In three key rating matrixes released on Monday, this is how the team's were ranked: BYU was No. 1 in Jerry Palm's RPI; SDSU was No. 4. In Jeff Sagarin's power ratings, BYU was No. 3; SDSU No. 4. In Ken Pomeroy's rankings, BYU was No. 6; SDSU 11.

BYU does have Jimmer Fredette; SDSU does not.

In both games, the Jimmer factor loomed huge. It posed significant challenges for Fisher. Does he single cover Fredette and see the All-American score 43, or does he double him, put length on him, trade off in shifts with three or four players and allow 25 points and 9 assists.

But the Fredette factor isn't always easy for Rose. He can't just turn his team over to Fredette and let him do what he wants. He has to balance a fragile line between feeding his star enough to let him make plays and find where he'll be effective while keeping other players hungry, focused and happy.

That is not easy. BYU is a squad of high character guys, nice young men. But they have egos and feelings, and they hear it from their families when Jimmer takes all the shots. Do not doubt this.

So, who had the bigger coaching challenge this year, Rose or Fisher?

Who did more with what they had, what they were expected to do to this point in the season?

Fisher had a four-month run on Rose to push his candidacy and legitimize his role and has done an outstanding job. He's captured the nation's attention and been prominently featured everywhere he's gone.

Rose? He's been in the shadow of Jimmer, in a way. It's been like a runaway freight train and that in itself is a challenge Fisher has not had to manage, either on a local or national stage, as Fredette's public persona has taken on a life of its own. Still, Rose has to coach, come up with game plans and strategy, and be in control. In that regard, he's excelled, his team now ranked No. 3 in the USA Today Coaches' Poll.

Rose may not receive the consideration by national pundits he deserves, but he doesn't seek it. If you take these two men and consider what was expected and what's been delivered …

It isn't over by a long shot. There's a lot of meat on the bone with this final week and post season yet to roll.

But it is time post-season honors are tabulated and this one is an interesting take.

Rose? Fisher? Someone else deserve it more?

And who would that be?

Maybe Texas coach Rick Barnes, who started unranked but has been Top Five.

But is his case that more significant than Fisher or Rose, who do not get BCS money?

It's a good debate.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com

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