After Final Fours that included the fresh faces of Butler’s Brad Stevens and Virginia Commonwealth’s Shaka Smart, the quartet of coaches assembled for Saturday’s national semifinals in New Orleans are an august group.
By BLAIR KERKHOFF
The Kansas City Star
Rick Pitino, Louisville
• Louisville record: 275-105, two Final Fours (11 seasons)
• Overall record: 627-229, six Final Fours (26 seasons)
• 2011-12 moment of truth: No one moment but a series of adjustments when player after player was lost to injury. Seven players missed game time this season, three for the year before ever playing a game. But Pitino changed his approach, slowing things down and departing from his preferred up-tempo style. Louisville won the Big East tournament, and when the Cardinals beat Florida in the East Regional final, Pitino called it the greatest day of his life, next to his birth of his children.
• Quote: “We’re just so excited to be here because of what we had to do get here.”
John Calipari, Kentucky
• Kentucky record: 100-14, two Final Fours (three seasons)
• Overall record: 545-154, four Final Fours (20 seasons)
• 2011-12 moment of truth: The Wildcats were on board from the beginning. Once again, Calipari assembled an enormous amount of talent. It happened at Massachusetts, led by Marcus Camby, and Memphis with Derrick Rose. But this team may be different because none of Calipari’s previous teams has bought into defense to this extent. Kentucky leads the nation in field-goal defense percentage at 37.5, and getting young talent to defend may give Calipari the bounce he needs to win his first national championship.
• Quote: “We are the most efficient team in the country, a young team that has done it on both ends of the floor. They have played together and they are about team, not about themselves.”
Thad Matta, Ohio State
• Ohio State record: 221-64, two Final Fours (eight seasons)
• Overall record: 323-95, two Final Fours (12 seasons)
• 2011-12 moment of truth: The day before Ohio State lost its home finale to Wisconsin, Matta threw his team out of practice. The Buckeyes were in the throes of three losses in five games, picking precisely the wrong time to stumble. But although Ohio State lost after the practice boot, something changed. The Buckeyes realized focus had to sharpen or the season would end in disaster for a team picked as a strong national-title contender. Ohio State has won eight of nine since, marching through Cincinnati and Syracuse to win the regional.
• Quote: “We play games the way we practice. Unfortunately, we had to take a home loss for it, but I think it helped us in the end.”
Bill Self, Kansas
• Kansas record: 268-52, two Final Fours (nine seasons)
• Overall record: 475-157, two Final Fours (19 seasons)
• 2011-12 moment of truth: Could a loss serve as encouragement? It did for Bill Self. The Jayhawks frittered away an eight-point lead in the final 3 minutes and lost at Missouri, but Self wasn’t downcast afterwards. And when the Jayhawks won at Baylor by 14 four nights later, he knew this team could compete on the highest level. The Jayhawks had just gone toe-to-toe with two top-10 teams on the road and could easily have gone 2-0 against them.
• Quote: “This team isn’t hard to coach. It’s a lot easier coaching a team when everybody in your program agrees who your starters should be and everybody in the program wants those starters to play 30 minutes a game.”
| Blair Kerkhoff, firstname.lastname@example.org