ESPN names Donovan nation’s No. 1 coach; Cal No. 2

Billy Donovan of Florida is the best coach in college basketball. John Calipari of Kentucky is the second  best.

This Affirmed-Alydar finish concluded an ESPN production that compiled a list of the top 50 coaches in college basketball.

The countdown, which began last month, was punctuated Thursday with the announcement that Donovan and Calipari topped the list.

Tom Izzo of Michigan State, Mike Krzyzewski of Duke and Rick Pitino of Louisville rounded out the top five.

ESPN cited Florida’s historic season in 2013-14 as evidence for why Donovan ranked No. 1.

The Gators achieved the first 18-0 regular-season record in Southeastern Conference history.

“Sure, the SEC (save, eventually, Kentucky and Tennessee) was bad,” an ESPN story on the top 50 coaches said. “But Florida was also devastatingly good. The Gators held conference opponents to .93 points per possession while scoring 1.14. They averaged the league’s highest two-point field goal percentage while simultaneously allowing the lowest.”

ESPN also noted that Donovan has achieved at a high level at a non-traditional program.

“Before Donovan, the Gators’ basketball history was almost nonexistent,” ESPN wrote.

As for Calipari, ESPN saluted the Kentucky coach for his abilities on and off the court. The all-sports network noted his five-year run at UK, which includes three trips to the Final Four and the 2012 national championship.

ESPN also cited Calipari’s marketing abilities and skills in leading a high-profile program.

“Calipari turned the one major criticism of his time at Kentucky — that he was merely cycling through mercenaries on their way to the NBA — into his chief strength,” ESPN said. “It also put Calipari in implicit opposition to every other program in the country. If you’re not ‘players first,’ Senator, then what are you? The political instinct is pure, the rhetorical brilliance staggering. It also has the benefit of being (A) true and (B) exactly what many gifted young athletes and their families want to hear.”

Kentucky’s run to the 2014 Final Four reminded the college basketball world of Calipari’s coaching abilities.

“There is real tactical substance here: a unique, restrained offensive system, an ability to coax great defense out of young players and real fluency in advanced scouting and statistical ideas,” ESPN said of Kentucky’s late-season revival.

“That’s the story of John Calipari. …The man is a born salesman. Sometimes it’s subtle, and sometimes, it’s about as subtle as a campaign ad. When Calipari refers to himself as a ‘dream maker,’ or when he says his program doesn’t play college basketball but is college basketball itself, it’s hard not to chuckle. But salesmanship resonates only when you have a quality product to sell.

“Calipari has both.”