2015 Final Four Coaches: Analysis and Handicapping
by Trevor Whenham - 3/30/2015
What stands out most years when you look at the Final Four is how strong and accomplished the coaches are. You can't fluke your way into the last weekend of the NCAA Tournament. You have to have had a season good enough to get into the dance - and likely earn a good seed. Then you need to win four games as the level of competition and the pressure amplifies each game. This year is no exception - every coach here is more than impressive, and they know a thing or two about coaching. Between them there are six national titles, 27 Final Four appearances, and six boatloads worth of wins. You can look for the defining differences between the teams that will be playing, but these coaches are not likely to be that difference:
John Calipari, Kentucky Wildcats: Calipari will be coaching in his sixth Final Four and his fourth in five years. Needless to say, then, there isn't anything he sees here that will surprise him - at least not when it comes to the experience and the demands. Despite the opportunities, he has won it only once - in 2012 - so he has performed slightly below expectations on the biggest stage. He has more experience on this squad than he has at times in the past, too, as the Harrison twins, Marcus Lee, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Dakari Johnson have all been through this before last year when they lost to UConn in the final. Calipari has always been intense, but that seems to have been ratcheted up to a new level this year as the realities of being 38-0 have set in. He was coaching very intensely right up to the end of the massacre of West Virginia. You could see his frustration levels rise right before our eyes against Notre Dame as the team struggled to assert themselves like they are capable of. He knows how good this team can be - as we all do - but also knows that they can't always be trusted to perform to their capabilities. The fact that he has been able to get this many talented players to share minutes and play selflessly, though, is testament to how good of a coach he is - whether he wins and whether you like him or hate him.
Bo Ryan, Wisconsin Badgers: When Bo Ryan qualifies as an inexperienced coach in a Final Four you know that it's a strong group. Ryan waited until last year to make his first Final Four despite a long and distinguished coaching career. He liked it so much that he is back for more this year. He has been at Wisconsin since 2001. While he still doesn't have a Final Four game win to his credit, he does have experience in high-pressure tournament situations. Before Wisconsin he spent 15 years coaching at Wisconsin-Platteville, a Division II mega-power. Ryan won four national titles there and was undefeated in two of those seasons. Maybe he has some advice for Calipari - though since they are meeting in the Final Four you can be sure he won't be sharing it.
Tom Izzo, Michigan State Spartans: Izzo has been the main man since 1995 - the only college head coaching job he has ever had. This is the seventh time he has played in the Final Four since then, so he is no stranger to what he faces here. By beating Rick Pitino in the Elite Eight he ties him with seven Final Four appearances - trailing only Coach K, John Wooden, and Dean Smith. That's not terrible company to keep. He has underachieved slightly more than Calipari, though - his win in 2000 is the only time that he has cut down the nets when it matters, and he is just 2-4 in Final Four games. He's known as an angry coach, and this surprising run through the NCAA Tournament has done little to ease his blood pressure - especially when it comes to Branden Dawson and his unwillingness to work hard enough this year - at least until the second half of the Elite Eight. Whatever he is doing, though, it's working - this is his deepest run in five years and the least-impressive regular season team he has taken to the Final Four by far. Depending on your view, they were either lucky to face a Louisville team that essentially beat themselves in the second half when they forgot how to shoot, or they again showed how tough and well-coached they are. I tend to favor the former opinion, but as a Michigan fan I don't bring a really objective view to this.
Mike Krzyzewski, Duke Blue Devils: Surely I don't need to go into too much detail about what Coach K has done when it comes to the Final Four. This is his 12th appearance in the final weekend of the tournament - a mark matched only by John Wooden. He has won the tournament four times and lost the championship game four more - meaning he is 8-3 in Final Four games. There is so much experience and depth that all three of his assistant coaches - Jeff Capel, Jon Scheyer, and Nate James - have played in Final Fours under him, and two have won national titles. It is an embarrassment of success. This is likely the youngest team he has brought this far but not the least-talented.
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