Classic coaching duels in the offing
I really believe coaching at this time of year becomes an important factor. Strategy and preparation is so vital to making a six-game run in an effort to cut down the nets and become national champions.
Just look at the great coaches that have championship rings on their finger, baby!
This year's bracket has its share of great potential match-ups. I know, I know, there is a lot of basketball to be played and many of these simply won't come to fruition.
Wouldn't it be fun if we saw these showdowns on the sidelines! Here are six that would make my mouth water:
RICK PITINO (LOUISVILLE) VS. TOM IZZO (MICHIGAN STATE), POTENTIAL MIDWEST REGIONAL FINAL
Both of these guys have already enjoyed the thrill of cutting down the nets as a national champion. What a battle this one would be! These are two guys who can flat out motivate and inspire. They are great psychologically in the one-and-done scenario as their track record would indicate. Entering this year's tourney, both ranked in the top six among active coaches in winning percentage. Michigan State would have the emotional incentive of playing for a berth in Ford Field; talk about a lift with the fans. Pitino's team has been superb with its pressure defense and finished the season on an emotional high, capturing the Big East regular-season and tournament titles, winning 10 straight games.
BILL SELF (KANSAS) VS. BOB HUGGINS (WEST VIRGINIA), POTENTIAL MIDWEST SECOND ROUND GAME
Self celebrated a national championship last year and did a tremendous job during the 2008-09 season. In fact, he is my National Coach of the Year as the Jayhawks are a three-seed despite losing six key players from the championship squad. His Kansas team won the Big 12 regular-season title. When I think about Huggins, he is such a feisty guy with a great sense of pride. I like West Virginia in an upset in this match-up. I have been impressed with the development of diaper dandy Devin Ebanks and Alex Ruoff can flat-out shoot the trifecta. There is something about West Virginia's mental toughness; this is a tenacious squad.
JIM CALHOUN (CONNECTICUT) VS. JOHN CALIPARI (MEMPHIS), POTENTIAL WEST FINAL
Some questioned whether Memphis should have been a number one seed. Well, this could be a real battle. Talk about two Goliaths, both had major success in New England. Calipari took Massachusetts to the Final Four and he wasn't a fan favorite up in Storrs, especially in his recruitment of Marcus Camby. These are two guys that are on top of the game in every way. They are so sound in their strategy, motivation, inspiration, recruiting ... they are brilliant in their ability to adjust to situations. It would be a classic if they met. Calhoun has his two national championships while Calipari came so close last year. His Tigers have the nation's longest winning streak at 25, and 61 straight league victories. Over the last four seasons, Memphis has a record 135 Ws. When I break this game down, I feel it comes down to Hasheem Thabeet's presence in the middle being the key.
MIKE KRZYZEWSKI (DUKE) VS. TUBBY SMITH (MINNESOTA), POTENTIAL EAST SECOND ROUND GAME
First Smith's Golden Gophers have to get past Texas in the first round. That is a tough task, but if these former national championship coaches square off, there will be a lot of intrigue. Smith has done a solid job at Minnesota, which raced to a 16-1 start and upset Louisville. Back in 1998, Smith led Kentucky past Duke in the regional final, ending the Blue Devils' hopes of a national title. They could hook up again this year. Duke's three-point shooting ability, led by ACC tournament MVP Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler, plus the all-around talent of Gerald Henderson gives the Blue Devils the decided edge if this match-up takes place.
JAY WRIGHT (VILLANOVA) VS. BEN HOWLAND (UCLA), POTENTIAL EAST SECOND ROUND GAME
The City of Brotherly Love would be rocking and rolling over this pairing. There would be no love for the Bruins. UCLA has the experience of Howland leading this program to three straight Final Fours. It helps having a great guard in Darren Collison, but how will the UCLA youngsters handle the pressure in this difficult environment. Villanova is outstanding on the perimeter and also has one of the nation's most improved players in Dante Cunningham. Wright was named Big East Coach of the Year and that was arguably the most competitive conference I've seen in my 30 years on television.
ROY WILLIAMS (NORTH CAROLINA) VS. JIM BOEHEIM (SYRACUSE), POTENTIAL SOUTH FINAL
Two Hall of Fame coaches, each with national championships to their credit. It would also be a rematch of the 2003 title game where Boeheim and the Orange beat Williams and his Kansas Jayhawks. The Syracuse 2-3 zone would be a dynamite match-up against Ty Lawson and his jet-like quickness. Both teams are so explosive at the point. Think about seeing Lawson go up against Jonny Flynn in the backcourt. I love Flynn's energy and toughness. Lawson and Tyler Hansbrough came back to college for one purpose, to cut down the nets in Detroit. I don't think Syracuse has enough to stop that duo.
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