The seed doesn’t matter. Nine teams are supposed to win on the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Syracuse and Louisville did Thursday. Connecticut didn’t, losing to Iowa State and ending its national title defense.
Kansas, North Carolina, Duke, Florida, Michigan State and San Diego State are expected to win today.
Why them, in particular?
They’re coached by men who have won national championships.
They have the GPS, or at least there is an expectation that they know how to navigate their way through the bracket.
Getting to the NCAA Tournament isn’t enough for this group: Jim Boeheim, Rick Pitino, Jim Calhoun, Bill Self, Roy Williams, Mike Krzyzewski, Billy Donovan, Tom Izzo and Steve Fisher.
They have to win once they’re there.
Maybe that’s why Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim filibustered during his postgame news conference, spending as much time talking about a USA Today story on Academic Progress Rates as his team’s seven-point escape of UNC Asheville.
After a long explanation of how Boeheim thought the newspaper got the story wrong, he paused.
“Thank you, coach,” the moderator said.
“I’m not done,” said Boeheim, who droned on about a subject that he wasn’t asked about.
For much of that game, it appeared the Orange could become the first No. 1 seed to fall to a No. 16, but they made enough free throws down the stretch to avoid the embarrassment.
Anything to avoid the subject.
Successful coaches feel the pressure. Two in Omaha, Florida’s Donovan and Kansas’ Self, own rings and have developed a defense system for dealing with inevitable March losses.
“I made this comment after I won the national championship in 2006, that you could start the tournament over and there may be a different winner at the end of it,” Donovan said.
Or 2007, when he won it again. With two championships, only Duke’s Krzyzewski’s (four) and Connecticut’s Calhoun (three) have more than Donovan among current coaches.
The Gators are a No. 7 seed in the West Region and take on No. 10 seed Virginia today. The winner figures to meet Missouri in the next round. Florida appears to be among a wide circle of teams that could get on a run or fall immediately, and even if his seed suggests a short run, Donovan will be disappointed with the loss because he’s known ultimate success.
“The heartbreaking part is you spend all this time getting ready for this moment, and it can be an unbelievable ride or a very, very difficult loss,” Donavan said.
Self strikes a similar tone.
“I think coaches are more realistic than the people around them are, or the fans are,” Self said. “Coaches know their team’s ceiling, and you want your team to operate as close to the ceiling as possible.”
Kansas’ ceiling has been as high as any in college basketball since the Jayhawks’ 2008 championship. After receiving a No. 3 seed in 2009, the Jayhawks flamed out as top seeds in 2010 in the round of 32 and in 2011 in the regional finals.
Dealing with expectations for his No. 2-seeded team, which takes on Detroit today, is a different kind of pressure from what Self felt before 2008. Until then, he had taken three different teams — Tulsa, Illinois and Kansas — to a regional final and lost every time.
It took a missed three-point attempt by Davidson at the buzzer to ensure Self’s first journey to the Final Four.
“Before you win a national championship, it was the pressure of getting to a Final Four,” Self said.
Since then, Final Fours have become an annual goal for Self’s Jayhawks. That he’s had teams capable of accomplishing that the last four years, including this season, only adds to the pressure.