This time last year FAU was 24-2 (14-1 Conference USA) and already on the national radar to a certain extent. Close followers of college basketball knew the Owls were putting together a special season, and coach Dusty May was drawing praise for the Owls' rise to at-large candidacy for an NCAA Tournament bid.

But what happened over the ensuing weeks sent May surging ahead of his peers in the race to be CBS Sports Coach of the Year. The Owls won the C-USA Tournament, earned a No. 9 seed for the Big Dance to set up a memorable trip to the Final Four. It took a buzzer-beater from San Diego State to keep FAU from playing for the national title.

The March run turned May from one of many COTY candidates into an obvious frontrunner, making him an easy choice for our group of writers at CBS Sports and 247Sports at the end of the season. As things stand in mid-February, there are a number of great candidates this year. It will be fascinating to see who pulls away from the pack down the stretch. 

If we had to vote today, here's who our team at CBS Sports would pick for the honor.

Dan Hurley, UConn

UConn is No. 1 in the AP Top 25 poll but No. 2 in my CBS Sports Top 25 And 1 daily college basketball rankings simply because I believe the Boilermakers have the sport's best body of work. But Coach of the Year is a different conversation, and I really do think, at this point, UConn's coach should be the COY.

Dan Hurley deserves the trophy.

The 51 year-old guided UConn to the national championship last season but then lost three of his top six scorers to the 2023 NBA Draft. In response, Hurley added an impactful transfer in Cam Spencer, enrolled three talented freshmen in Stephon Castle, Solomon Ball and Jaylin Stewart and continued to develop returnees Tristen Newton, Alex Karaban, Donovan Clingan, Samson Johnson and Hassan Diarra.

How's it going? Incredibly well, actually.

The Huskies are 23-2 and clear contenders to become the first back-to-back national champions since Florida won the NCAA Tournament in 2006 and 2007. Additionally remarkable is that Castle has missed six games, Clingan has missed five -- and it's never really mattered. With Castle, UConn looks great. Without Castle, UConn looks great. With Clingan, UConn looks great. Without Clingan, UConn looks great. With Karaban, UConn looks great. Without Karaban, UConn went to St. John's last month and won 77-64. I'm not saying it doesn't matter who plays because it clearly does. But, at different times in this season, Hurley has made it seem like it doesn't matter as much as it should. That's impressive stuff and why the coach of the reigning national champs should secure National Coach of the Year honors provided his Huskies continue to roll through the Big East. -- Gary Parrish

Kyle Smith, Washington State

I'm going to stump for a guy who would not be in the top three finalists as of today, but very well could be in that discussion three weeks from now. Do you realize that Washington State hasn't made the NCAA Tournament since 2008, the second-longest drought of any program from a power conference? Do you realize that Washington State has just six NCAA Tournament appearances to its name, the second-fewest among all high-majors? Do you realize that Smith lost his four leading scorers from last season, and as a result, Washington State was (understandably) picked 10th out of 12 teams in an underwhelming final season in the Pac-12 as we know it?

Despite all of that — and, remarkably, with a freshman who beat cancer in the past year now leading the way — Smith has Washington State at 18-6. The Cougars are in second place in the Pac-12, behind Arizona, and have won seven of their past eight. This program is seldom relevant. It's objectively one of the three toughest jobs in high-major college hoops (and it's transitioning to the WCC the next two years, which obviously has an extended impact on recruiting). Smith has seemingly broken through, and if he's able to maintain second place in the Pac-12 and get Wazzu to the likes of a 5-seed come Selection Sunday, he will have a compelling case for NCOY, just as Tony Bennett did when he won NCOY with Washington State 17 years ago. -- Matt Norlander

Matt Painter, Purdue

I get a sense that maybe voters and the college hoops world in general may be reaching Purdue fatigue that is trickling down to Matt Painter, perhaps owing to last season's early ouster as a No. 1 seed and some other recent disappointing NCAA Tournament exits. I certainly hope that's not the case, but it feels like it could be. My hope is that we can all take a breath and separate the past from the present. Because the truth is, Painter and Purdue have a case to sweep all the categories this season. 

Zach Edey? The leader in win shares, PER and Box Plus/Minus, and the runaway favorite to win Player of the Year.

Matt Painter? A top-two candidate for Coach of the Year given Purdue's excellence in a deep league and considering expectations after a rough finish to last year.

And Purdue? Maybe the best team in college hoops. KenPom and Bart Torvik both rate the Boilermakers as the No. 2 team in the country, and at 22-2, they have been among the most consistent. No other team has been ranked inside the AP top five all season. In a season littered with upsets Purdue has largely been the buoy.

Like every other candidate for this award, Painter -- perhaps more critically than others -- will be judged and earn votes based on his postseason finish. That's fair. But if you're asking right now who the best coach in the sport is, Painter's got my vote. -- Kyle Boone

Lamont Paris, South Carolina

South Carolina has just one NCAA Tournament appearance in the past two decades but is a projected No. 3 seed for this year's Big Dance after it was picked to finish last in the SEC. That's an insane accomplishment relative to expectations, and it's why Lamont Paris would have to be COTY if the season ended today. 

Nothing about what the Gamecocks (21-4, 9-3 SEC) did over the offseason, or in their history, suggested a turnaround of this magnitude was in store after the program limped to an 11-21 record in Paris' first season. But the former Chattanooga coach and longtime Wisconsin assistant knew exactly what he was doing. He pressed all the right — though not flashy — buttons in the portal and assembled a gritty bunch of veterans that has wins over No. 8 Tennessee and No. 22 Kentucky

Paris has South Carolina playing true to the slow-paced and defensively ruthless form he learned under Bo Ryan and Greg Gard while with the Badgers for seven seasons. The Gamecocks want to drag you into the mud. Once you're there, they've got a seasoned and unselfish group of playmakers capable of making your stay particularly unpleasant. All the credit goes to Paris for envisioning this and seeing it to fruition so quickly. -- David Cobb

Josh Schertz, Indiana State

Indiana State entered the AP Top 25 earlier this week for the first time since Larry Bird donned a jersey at the school in the late 1970s. The Sycamores are currently atop the MVC standings with a 13-2 league record and could be heading toward their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011.

This isn't the most ideal timing to make a case because Indiana State recently lost its first game in over a month as a double-digit favorite to Illinois State. Still, what Schertz has done is admirable. Last year he doubled win the Sycamores' win total from the previous season to finish with a 23-13 overall record. The Sycamores (22-4) should easily eclipse that total this season, probably in the next week.

Schertz could become a household name next month during the NCAA Tournament. Regardless of what happens between now and the end of the season, he should get some serious consideration for NCOY. -- Cameron Salerno