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Commentary: Round of 16 features some sweet coaches

Amanda Branam
sports writer
By Amanda Branam
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
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Arizona men's basketball head coach Lute Olson said this week that once the NCAA Tournament gets to the regional semifinal, no team gets to this stage by chance.

"When you get to the Sweet 16, there are no teams that can't play anymore," he said. "They are all there for a reason."

No reason is bigger than the coaches who head these 16 teams remaining in the NCAA Tournament.

Half of the coaches left in the tourney have been there and done that in the 65-team playoff, often more than once. These coaches are household names even to the mildly interested college basketball fan. Olson, Eddie Sutton of Oklahoma State, Roy Williams at North Carolina, Rick Pitino and his Louisville Cardinals, Bobby Knight with Texas Tech, Tom Izzo of Michigan State, Tubby Smith at Kentucky... and what was that other guy's name?

Oh yeah, Mike Krzyzewski.

He coaches at Duke, right?

These eight coaches have combined for 4,586 wins and years of college head coaching experience. They have coached their teams to 32 Final Four appearances and 10 national titles. One could say these men have done well for themselves.

All eight coaches are icons at their schools and some even have the floors of their home courts named after them, an honor usually bestowed on a coach long after he retires. They have built their programs to be so consistently strong that for players and fans of their respective schools, no one is just "happy to be here" in the tournament. Anything less than the Sweet 16 is a bust of a season, and sometimes even that isn't near enough.

Olson said last week in Boise, Idaho, that Arizona fans were a "bit spoiled," when asked about the small contingent of Wildcat fans at the first and second rounds.

"They figure that, hey, you go ahead and take care of business in the first two, and we'll be there the rest of the way with you," he said.

Say the Final Four ends up being UNC out of the Syracuse Region, Duke out of the Austin Region, Arizona from the Chicago Region and Texas Tech out of the Albuquerque Region. Fans would get to see four coaches who have reached the Final Four a combined 24 times and have 2,785 career victories.

It is a tournament where the potential coaching duels are just as intriguing as the player matchups.

In the event that Duke and Texas Tech meet up in the national championship game, Coach K would be up against Bobby Knight - not only a coach that Krzyzewski was an assistant for, but also played for while he attended West Point.

Sutton and Olson meet up tomorrow in Chicago, and currently rank second and third respectively on the all-time victories list of active coaches. They have more than 1,500 victories and 65 years of head coaching experience between them. Olson and Sutton have met just twice in their long coaching careers, in 1993 and 1994, with Olson winning on both occasions.

The similarities in coaching style, according to Olson, are mostly on the defensive end.

"I think from a defensive standpoint, both of us are aware that defense wins. I think we've always been more wide-open on the offensive end than they have," he said.

Along with these coaches, who have been coaching longer than the average college student has been alive, there are the up-and-coming head coaches that have made it to the Sweet 16. Their resumes aren't long - yet.

Lorenzo Romar, in his third year at Washington, has managed to beat Arizona five of the last six times the teams have met, including a win over the Wildcats two weeks ago in the championship game of the Pacific 10 Conference Tournament.

His team was given a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney, and has shown they deserve to be there with two easy wins in the first two rounds.

When Williams left his longtime gig at Kansas and Illinois head coach Bill Self took over for the Jayhawks, Bruce Weber from Southern Illinois took over for the Illini.

In just his second year at Illinois, his team didn't lose a game until the final conference game of the season and have the overall No.1 seed in the tourney.

Bruce Pearl and his Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers take on Illinois as a 12-seed in the Sweet 16. The Panthers had to defeat No. 5 seed Alabama in the first round and No. 4 Boston College in the second round to get to Chicago. BC was the one of the top teams in college basketball this year, not losing a game until Feb. 8.

Here on out, as much as it is team against team, it is just as much about brilliant coaching minds, young and old alike, battling it out to see who was better prepared, and which team can make the right adjustments come game time.

The 2005 Sweet 16 is where the past, present and future of college basketball collide.


-Amanda Branam is a journalism senior. She can be reached at

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