2013 Final Four Handicapping: the Coaches
by Trevor Whenham - 4/1/2013
One constant in the Final Four seems to be that the coaches are always very impressive. You can’t fluke your way into a Final Four berth. It takes skill and preparation that most guys just aren’t capable of. It’s why guys like Coach K, Roy Williams, Boeheim, Pitino, Self, Calipari and others can get here far more than their share while other guys can have all sorts of talent but never make it. This year’s collection of Final Four coaches is as interesting and impressive as always. Let’s examine each of these guys to see if we can gain any insights for 2013 Final Four handicapping:
Rick Pitino, Louisville Cardinals
Pitino is obviously a legend. He has taken four teams to the tournament and three to the Final Four, and he would have done more if he hadn’t twice stubbornly tried to prove himself in the NBA. This is his seventh Final Four. He has won the tournament once, lost in the finals once, and has lost in the Final Four game five times. He’s also won the brutally tough Big East Tournament twice in a row and three times in the last five years.
Throughout his long and storied career, he may not have coached any better than he has the last two years. His talent is deep but not nearly as explosive as it has been at times in the past — he could easily not even have a first-rounder in the draft on this team, and he certainly doesn’t have a lottery pick. He has this team as unified and singularly focused as a team can be, though. Their defensive commitment is stunning, and you could see how much they mean to each other by how they responded when Kevin Ware was injured against Duke. His defensive planning and in-game adjustments have been flawless since the beginning of March, and he is a huge asset to his team.
Jim Boeheim, Syracuse Orange
What can you say about the Hall of Fame legend that is Boeheim? He has won 920 games — all at Syracuse, where he has been in charge since 1976. He won a national title in 2003, and he has been in the Final Four three other times, including this year. He was National Coach of the Year in 2010, and he has been the Big East Coach of the Year in four different decades. He is the ultimate pro, and he defines his program like so few others ever have.
Boeheim is known for being the master of the zone defense. It’s one of those strange things, though. Even though he has always used it, people always think it has been a bigger part of his career than it has really been — it has only been since 2010 that he has used it almost exclusively. Regardless of the timeline, though, it’s certain that he has never used it better than he is right now and that he hasn’t had a collection of talent better suited to running it. The combination of length, athleticism and discipline is what makes this team so dangerous.
John Beilein, Michigan Wolverines
Beilein is making his Final Four debut at age 60, but he’s far from a novice coach. He has taken four different teams to the NCAA Tournament. He went to the Elite Eight with West Virginia, and he has won the NIT. He’s certainly not going to be intimidated by his surroundings or by playing against giants like Pitino and Boeheim. His position of respect in the sport far exceeds his accomplishments on the court.
Beilein has thrived through his career on being a very creative offensive mind. The difference here, though, is that he has talent now like he has never had before. He’s typically made due with quirky talents — Kevin Pittsnoggle was his defining player until recently. He can identify traits in players that others don’t and then find ways to develop them. Now, though, that trait is coupled with top-level recruiting. He has five future NBA players starting for him — by far the most in the tournament. The team faltered badly late in the Big Ten season, but he never lost confidence, and now he has them back on track and playing as well as any team. This is a Beilein team, and we are watching him redefine how people think of him — and how they will from here on out.
Gregg Marshall, Wichita State Shockers
It would be easy to think of Marshall as an outlier compared to the other coaches — outclassed and out of place. He’s at least a decade younger than the others, and he coaches at an obscure school instead of the basketball meccas that he faces.
Discounting Marshall would be a mistake, though. His career over the last 15 years has been remarkable. His first head coaching job was at Winthrop. Why is that name so familiar? Because Marshall led them to seven NCAA appearances in nine seasons. That’s an impressive feat for any coach, never mind one from the Big South Conference who isn’t exactly picking up at-large bids. He took on a rebuilding project when he moved to Wichita State in 2007, but he won the NIT in 2010 and made the NCAA Tournament last year leading up to this run. The only reason Marshall is in the Missouri Valley Conference instead of at a big-name school at this point is because he has decided that is where he wants to be. Over the last couple of years he could have moved up the coaching ladder several steps, and now he could land pretty much wherever he wants — though it would be far from a surprise if he takes the Shaka Smart, Mark Few and Brad Stevens path and builds his dynasty right where he is.
Marshall doesn’t get to feast on blue chip talent, but he obviously excels at getting the most out of what he has. He also is very good at uniting his players against a common enemy and getting them angry — while not using that anger in negative ways. On paper he really doesn’t have the talent to be where he is, but nothing about what has happened has looked or felt like a fluke at all. That’s a sign of really great coaching.
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