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Ness Notes: It's The Coaches, Stupid (Part 2)
by Larry Ness - 03/25/2010
Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign coined the phrase, "it's the economy, stupid!" I'll play off that and look at the Sweet 16 coaching matchups in this two-part column. While the world of professional sports is dominated by its best players, the college game typically finds that its schools (teams) are best-identified by its coaches. Accepting that premise, here's a look at the 16 head coaches who have led their respective teams to this year's Sweet 16. Part 1 included the four coaching matchups from Thursday (listed in order of starting times and was posted Wednesday). Here's part 2, featuring the four matchups on Friday (important note: Edge does not equal a pointspread selection).
Bruce Pearl (Tennessee) vs Thad Matta (Ohio St) at 7:05 ET: While Pearl was an assistant coach at Iowa and Jimmy Collins () an assistant at Illinois, allegations were thrown about regarding recruitment practices at Illinois in the late 80s. Many called Pearl's part in it, "career suicide." Not so. Pearl took a Division II job at Southern Indiana and got the head coaching job at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he spent four years. Two NCAA appearances, including a sweet 16 trip in 2005 and Pearl was off to Tennessee to begin the 2005-06 season. He's made the Big Dance every year (five-for-five) and this is his third Sweet 16 trip with the Vols. When Pearl led the second-ranked Vols to a 66-62 win at then-No. 1 Memphis back on Feb 23, 2008 (ending Memphis' 47-game home winning streak), Tennessee earned the school's first-ever No. 1 ranking by the AP a few days later, albeit for only one week, as three days later his No. 1 Vols were upset by Vandy. Pearl has never advanced past the Sweet 16 at either school but it can't be ignore that his Vols have beaten both Kansas and Kentucky this season.
Thad Matta started at Butler leading the Bulldogs to a NCAA berth in his only season at the helm. It was on to Xavier for three years, with three more NCAA trips, including an Elite appearance in 2004. He was hired as the 13th head coach in Ohio State history on July 7, 2004. This is his sixth year at Columbus and his 10th overall season as a head coach, winning 20 games every year. That allowed him to join Mark Few of Gonzaga as one of just two coaches nationally to post 20 or more wins in each of his first ten seasons as a head coach (Few's won 20 or more for 11 straight years). The Buckeyes are in the NCAA tourney for the fourth time in Matta's six years but this mark's just their second Sweet 16 trip. Ohio St lost to Florida in the national championship game in 2007 and then won the NIT title in 2008.
Randy Bennett (St Mary's) vs Scott Drew (Baylor) at 7:25 ET: Randy Bennett is in his ninth season as head coach at Saint Mary's, the only top spot he's ever held. While he's never led the Gaels to the WCC regular season title (Gonzaga's had a virtual 'lock' on that!), this is their third NCAA appearance in his tenure and the team's 81-62 win over the Bulldogs back on March 8 in the WCC tourney championship game gave the Gaels their first conference tourney title since 1997. While Gonzaga is back home after a second round loss to Syracuse, the Gaels won their first NCAA game since 1959 with a win over Richmond and then beat No. 2 seed Villanova this past Saturday, the first time the school had ever won two NCAA games in the same year.
Scott Drew spent just one season at Valparaiso before taking over Baylor in August of 2003. That followed the resignation of Dave Bliss due to a scandal which left the program in shambles. Besides losing most of its top players, Baylor was put on probation until 2010, had paid scholarships and recruiting visits reduced until 2007, postseason play was canceled for the 2003-2004 season and only conference games were permitted for the 2005-2006 season. Despite all these handicaps, Drew had the Bears turned around by the 2007-08 season going 21-11, including the school's first NCAA appearance since 1988. The Bears went all the way to the NIT championship game last year (lost to Penn St) and are now in the Sweet 16 with a favorable regional setting (Houston). Baylor's won 27 games this year, surpassing the 25 games won by the 1945-46 team. The 1947-48 team won 24 games, losing 58-42 to Kentucky in the national championship game. Is it possible Drew can lead Baylor to its first-ever Final 4? Note that the 1952 season was the first time the tourney's "final four" teams all played at the same venue.
Ben Jacobson (No. Iowa) vs Tom Izzo (Michigan St) at 9:35 ET: Jacobson took over after Greg McDermott left in 2006 to coach at Iowa State. Jacobson had big shoes to fill, as McDermott had led the Panthers to three consecutive NCAA appearances. Jacobson's first two teams won 18 games apiece but didn't play in the postseason. However, his last two teams have won back-to-back MVC tourney titles with Jacobson winning MVC coach-of-the-year awards the last two seasons. This year's team was supposed to be good (all five starters returned) but the school's previous high for wins in a season was 23 (1990 and 2009 teams), making this year's 30-win season pretty impressive. This mark's the school's first-ever Sweet 16 appearance and the first Sweet 16 appearance for a MVC tourney champ since Larry's Bird's 1978-79 team won 33 straight games before losing to Magic and Michigan St in the national championship game. No wonder No. Iowa just announced that it has agreed to a new 10-year deal with Jacobson.
Tom Izzo has been the head coach at Michigan State for 15 years (began in 1995-65 season). He is the winningest coach in school history (362-145, .711) and this year's team has made it 13 straight NCAA appearances for the Spartans (5th longest current streak). He's 33-11 in the Big Dance in that 13-year run (only Roy Williams with 35, owns more tourney wins in that span) and joins Coach K and Ben Howland as the only three head coaches to have made three consecutive Final Fours since the NCAA tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985 (Izzo did it in 1999, 2000 and 2001). His 2000 team won the national championship and he's led the Spartans to five Final 4s over the last 11 years (1999-2009), the best run of any active head coach. This year's Sweet 16 appearance is his ninth in his 13-year NCAA tourney. Without Lucas, another Final 4 appearance would be something special.
Matt Painter (Purdue) vs Mike Krzyzewski (Duke) at 9:55 ET: Matt Painter stepped into his first NCAA Division I head coaching job after Bruce Weber left Southern Illinois to take the head coaching job at Illinois. He led the Salukis to a 25-5 record (the team was ranked as high as No. 15 in the nation by the AP poll during the season) and a berth in the 2004 NCAA Tournament. Painter was recruited by Purdue as the replacement for retiring head coach Gene Keady that summer and joined the Boilermakers as their associate head coach for the 2004-2005 season. Purdue finished that season with a 7-21 record, the most losses in the program's history in a season. Keady retired and Painter went just 9-19 in his first year but 22-12 in his second year, including a first round win in the NCAA tournament. A great recruiting class has led to three more NCAA appearances, including a second straight Sweet 16 trip, despite the late-season injury to Robbie Hummel. This year's 29 wins matches the most in school history, tying the 1987-88 (29-5) and 1993-94 (29-4) teams.
Coach K is in his 30th year at Duke and after failing to qualify for the Big Dance in his first three years in Durham, he's gone to 26 NCAA tourneys the last 27 years (15 straight from 1996-2010, the second-longest active streak). He owns three national championships and has been to 10 Final 4s (third-most all-time), although none since his last national title team (2001). This is Coach K's 19th Sweet 16 appearance, including seven straight Sweet 16 trips from 1986-1992 and nine straight from 1998-2006. His record in the NCAA tourney is an astounding, a .768 winning percentage of 768. Enough said.
Edge: Coach K.
I'll return on Monday with a look at the "other" tourneys.
Good luck, Larry