While deep tournament runs can help shape the legacy of programs and coaches, the crowning achievement that will always define success in March (and April) is cutting down the nets at the Final Four. Six teams remaining in the tournament are led by individuals who have already helped a school reach championship status in the past. Another national title would enhance the legacy for either one of these successful coaches.
14 different coaches have led multiple schools to the Final Four, but none have ever cut down the nets with multiple teams. Louisville has lived up to its title as the number one overall seed so far routing North Carolina A&T (79-48) and Colorado State (82-56) on the way to the Sweet Sixteen. The same can’t be said about the other number one seeds who all struggled at times or lost during the first week of the NCAA Tournament. Louisville is favored to win their first national title in 27 years and to make consecutive Final Fours for the first time in 30 years.
Pitino was the first coach to lead three different schools to the Final Four and could soon be the first to win it all with two different schools. Few would have ever thought that could be accomplished with both powerhouse programs in the Bluegrass State. Rick Pitino made a legacy for himself in the 1990’s when he helped reestablish Kentucky as the premier program in college basketball. He then became public enemy number one in Lexington the following decade, taking over for Denny Crum at Louisville, after his tenure with the Boston Celtics ended. Its college basketball’s equivalent of Nick Saban going from LSU to the Miami Dolphins and returning to the collegiate ranks as Alabama’s head coach.
Louisville has been a dominant program under Pitino and made several deep postseason runs, but the Cardinals have yet to achieve what they did during the Crum era years ago.
Duke has been the most successful program in nation under Coach K. Since his arrival in Durham in 1980, no program has won as many national tiles (4) or had as many Final Four appearances (11) as the Blue Devils. John Wooden’s mark of 10 championships may never be matched, but Krzyzewski would equal his total of 12 Final Four appearances with a trip to Atlanta this year. Cutting down the nets at the Georgia Dome would move him ahead of Adolph Rupp for second all-time with five national titles, half of what the Wizard of Westwood won at UCLA.
Michigan State may be the most consistency winning program in college basketball. The Spartans have made the last 16 NCAA Tournaments and are in the Sweet Sixteen for the fifth time in six years. However, what may be the biggest indicator of their consistency is that every four player Tom Izzo has had in East Lansing has been to the Final Four at least once. Another trip to the Final Four would make Izzo the only fifth coach with seven or more Final Four appearances.
While going to the national semifinals is a great achievement, another national title would further shape the legacy of Izzo as one of the best coaches of his era.
Florida’s status an elite program has varied throughout Donovan’s 17 years in Gainesville. The Gators made a surprise run to the national title game in 2000 as a 5-seed and then failed to make it past the first weekend of play, until winning back-to-back Final Fours in 2006 and 2007. After the likes of Joakim Noah and Al Horford departed for the NBA, the Gators missed the next two NCAA tournament. Florida returned to the NCAA Tournament in 2010 and made it all the way to the Elite Eight during the last two seasons.
That sporadic success is why Billy Donovan is often the forgotten man in the elite coach discussion. It would be difficult to not include him in that discussion down the road, if the Gators return to the Final Four once again and cut down the nets for the third time in school history.
Kansas earned a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in seven years. The Jayhawks have been one of the premier teams in the country during the Bill Self era, winning the 2008 Final Four and finishing as runner-ups against Kentucky a year ago. While Kansas has achieved a lot of success under Self, others have viewed the program as a big underachiever at times.
Shocking upsets in the first round against Bucknell and Bradley in consecutive years (2005 and 2006), Northern Iowa in the 2010 second round, and VCU in the 2011 Elite Eight, are as much a part of the Bill Self era, as that Mario Chalmers shoot in 2008. The Jayhawks bracket-busting almost came to light again in the round of 64 when they were struggling to stay ahead of the 16-seed Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.
Going to the Final Four for a second straight year and winning the national title, could once and for all remove the underachiever label from Bill Self and Kansas.
However, another early exit would only heighten the Jayhawks reputation as a team that gets bracket busted.
Boeheim has been associated with the success of Syraucse as much as any head coach has with any program. During his 37 year tenure as head coach, the Orange have won 915 games, placing Boeheim second all-time on that list. Syracuse has been an elite program throughout his nearly four decade tenure, playing in the three national title game and winning it all during their most recent appearance in 2003.
There is speculation that Boeheim could retire after this season with the Orange set to join the ACC next season. Boeheim will probably stick around for at least a few more seasons, but what better way for a coach to go out then potentially as a national champion.
Jim Calhoun won the Final Four in his second to last season as UConn’s head coach, while Hall of Famers John Wooden and Al McGuire went out on top of their profession.