There are no improbable underdogs such as VCU or Butler. There is no first-time coach like Jay Wright or John Brady or Paul Hewitt.
Indeed, if you consider program pedigree, coaching credentials and player honors, this ranks among the most accomplished Final Fours ever.
Kentucky (15), Louisville (9), Kansas (14), Ohio State (11) now have advanced to 49 Final Fours. They have won 13 national championships – the Wildcats seven, Cardinals two, Jayhawks three and Buckeyes one.
Kansas’ Bill Self and Louisville’s Rick Pitino have coached a team to the national title, while Ohio State’s Thad Matta and Kentucky’s John Calipari have reached the championship contest.
So unless I’ve missed something in the record book, this becomes the first Final Four in which each of the coaches has title-game experience.
Yes, the NCAA vacated Calipari’s 2008 Final Four, where his Memphis team lost the championship to Self and Kansas. But those rules violations at Memphis and the asterisk in the record book don’t erase Calipari’s big-game chops.
This also could be the first Final Four since 1985 in which three of the teams boast a consensus, first-team All-American. Some of the A-A squads have yet to be unveiled, but Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Kansas’ Thomas Robinson are locks, with Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger probable.
The consensus first-teamers at the ’85 Final Four were Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing, Memphis’ Keith Lee and St. John’s Chris Mullin. Yet Villanova won the championship.
A good omen for Louisville?
Saturday’s Louisville-Kentucky semifinal is the first Final Four collision between teams from the same state since Cincinnati defeated Ohio State in the 1961 and ’62 championship games. The only other intrastate matchup was LaSalle-Penn State in a 1954 semifinal.
Safe to say the Louisville-Kentucky, Calipari-Pitino dynamics are unique. Pitino guided the Wildcats to the 1996 title and nearly repeated in ’97, losing the final to Arizona. He then headed to the Boston Celtics, a failed tenure that ended with his returning to the college ranks at Louisville.
Pitino and Calipari go back to the mid-1970s, when Calipari was a Pennsylvania high school player attending the prestigious Five-Star camps, where Pitino, then a Syracuse assistant to Jim Boeheim, was a counselor. When Calipari broke into coaching, Pitino recommended him for the head-coaching position at Massachusetts.
In 1992, Calipari’s first NCAA tournament team at UMass lost to Pitino and Kentucky in an East Regional semifinal, a precursor to the epic final two days later between Kentucky and Duke. At the 1996 Final Four, Pitino’s Wildcats defeated Calipari’s Minutemen in the semifinals before besting Boeheim and Syracuse for the title.
Now these two head-strong, polarizing and wildly successful coaches meet every December in one of college basketball’s most bitter feuds -- Kentucky defeated Louisville 69-62 on New Year’s Eve at Rupp Arena.
For the second consecutive year, the ACC’s season ended with North Carolina losing a regional final. Absent point guard Kendall Marshall (broken wrist), the Tar Heels faded late Sunday in an 80-67 defeat against Kansas.
The ACC’s five qualifiers – North Carolina, North Carolina State, Florida State, Virginia and Duke – went a combined 6-5 in the tournament, far below conference standards. The league’s worst record in the last 15 years was 7-7 in 2007, pain mitigated by sending seven teams to the tournament for the first time.
North Carolina clearly missed Marshall, the ACC’s single-season assist record-holder, against Ohio in the Midwest semis and Kansas in the final. But his primary replacement, freshman Stilman White, merits high praise.
Prior to Marshall’s injury, White was averaging 4.3 minutes per game, his limitations obvious. Against Ohio and Kansas, he played 60 minutes combined, passing for 13 assists with nary a turnover.
In the season’s most critical games, against superior athletes, White acquitted himself in ways that more talented players might never have.
As the Final Four gathers in New Orleans, ACC programs North Carolina, Duke and N.C. State await word on whether underclassmen such as Marshall, Austin Rivers and C.J. Leslie will declare for the NBA draft.
Regardless of their decisions, the pressure is on the conference next season after two consecutive barren Final Fours.
The last time the ACC went three straight years without a Final Four squad was 1959-61.
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
Here’s a link to my Daily Press print columns.
Teel Time: Blue-blooded Final Four lacks ACC team for second straight season
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