What a great tournament so far. So many overtime games, so many great finishes, so many great plays. We have four coaches going to the Final Four and each of them brings a unique angle to the sidelines.
Let’s start with Bo Ryan. The man turned 66 in December and all he has done is lead Wisconsin to the NCAA tournament in each of his 13 years as the head coach in Madison. We all assume Wisconsin was an NCAA regular because of the job Dick Bennett did in leading them to the Final Four in 2000, but Bo has truly taken them to unheard-of levels on a consistent basis. Since the field expanded to 64 in 1985, Wisconsin made the field five times from 1985-2001. Bo’s 13 straight years is amazing. He started his coaching career at Brookhaven Junior High School and at Sun Valley High School in Pennsylvania. In his time at UW-Platteville, the school was the winningest NCAA men’s basketball team of the 1990s (all divisions) with a 266-26 (.908) record. He wins no matter where he has been, and it is good to see him get his chance on the Final Four stage.
It is still amazing that Billy Donovan is not even 50 years old yet. He has won two NCAA titles with Florida and lost three Elite Eight games over the past three years before getting back to the Final Four this year by beating Dayton. Most people in this business don’t get a chance to do either of them once. In his first two years in Gainesville he was 27-32. Haven’t I preached patience over and over in this space? All he did after those building years was reel off 14 tournament appearances in the next 16 seasons.
John Calipari continues to amaze. All he did Sunday was win the Midwest Regional without his best big man, Willie Cauley-Stein. How? By plugging in another big man. Marcus Lee had confidence to get it done for Coach Cal. To get to North Texas, Kentucky beat a solid Kansas State team, undefeated Wichita State, last year’s NCAA champion in Louisville and last year’s NCAA runner-up, Michigan. That is an impressive run of wins.
UCONN’s Kevin Ollie is just the fourth coach to reach the Final Four in his first tournament appearance since the field expanded to 64. You have to feel good for Shabazz Napier, who stuck through tough times and now has a chance to get a second national title after leading the Huskies through the East Regional. UCONN won titles in San Antonio and Houston before, so maybe Dallas – sorry, North Texas – makes it three in the Lone Star State.
– Bill Frieder
Former Michigan and Arizona State head coach Bill Frieder is an analyst for WestwoodOne’s coverage of NCAA Basketball. In his weekly blog Boxed Out, Bill scours the box scores to bring you interesting stories from the world of college basketball.