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An Odd Bunch, but They’re the Final Four

And so, look who’s left.

The guy with the beard.

The guy with the toupee.

The assistant coach.

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And the guy with the eye chart last name.

Our Final Four coaches.

Not John Thompson. Not Bob Knight. Not Denny Crum. Not Jerry Tarkanian. Not Lute or Dean or Doctor Tom or Jimmy V.

Not even that big mouth Billy Tubbs from Oklahoma, the guy who told his home crowd over a microphone to stop throwing objects onto the court “no matter how terrible the officiating is.”

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(After Oklahoma lost to Virginia, a referee should have grabbed a mike and said: “Don’t throw objects at the Sooners, no matter how terrible they played.”)

Programs, get your programs.

You can’t tell the head coaches without a program.

Meet P.J. Carlesimo.

A man nearly fired by Seton Hall after losing seasons, more than once. Take one look at this guy’s East Orange, N.J., campus, and you wonder how he ever got anybody to play there, much less a Final Four team.

P.J. will be the talk of the tournament, if for no other reason than we can’t remember the last bearded guy who held this sort of leadership role. (Abe Lincoln? Mitch Miller? C. Everett Koop?)

Now, meet Lou Henson.

A man knocked by more than one Illinois basketball backer in the many years he has been there. And not just for that rug of his, the famed “Lou ‘do,” for which Henson was named winner of college basketball’s coveted Sy Sperling Award.

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They say this man can recruit, but can’t coach. Well, folks, he’s still out there coaching. We really like this team--Lowell, Kendall, Kermit, Fozzie, the whole gang. Let’s hear it for Lou Henson’s moppets.

Next, meet Steve Fisher.

A man who has never been head coach of a major university in his life. A man whose main job until a couple of weeks ago was going over to the scorer’s table to find out how many timeouts Michigan had left.

Good thing Bill Frieder took that Arizona State job, eh? Otherwise, we’d never know what a great coach Fisher is. If only Tubbs had taken the Kentucky job on the day Eddie Sutton quit, Oklahoma might still be alive right now.

Finally, meet Mike Krzyzewski.

A man who has many admirers. The earl of Duke. And yet, a man who, even with all those great teams of his, has never won The Big One, never won the NCAA championship.

Big stinking deal. Ray Meyer never won one. Ralph Miller never won one. Johnny Orr never won one. Lou Carnesecca, Digger Phelps, Jim Boeheim, Gene Bartow, George Raveling, Norm Stewart, Olson, Tarkanian, Sutton, a lot of eminent coaches have never won one. Doesn’t mean a thing.

Basketball programs don’t exactly dominate the way they once did, no matter who’s running the show.

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Example:

Until 1977, no team had ever won the NCAA championship with more than six defeats. In fact, seven champions were undefeated--1956 San Francisco, 1957 North Carolina, 1964-67-72-73 UCLA and 1976 Indiana.

Since 1977, there have been six national champions with as many as seven losses--1977 Marquette (seven), 1981 Indiana (nine), 1983 North Carolina State (10), 1985 Villanova (10), 1986 Louisville (seven) and 1988 Kansas (11).

So, hire any famous coach you like, but don’t expect miracles.

College coaches are furious these days because their colleagues are being fired by the bunches.

“We’ve got to stop all this crap going on where good people get fired, even with winning records,” Krzyzewski said Sunday, after his 85-77 East Regional championship game success over Georgetown.

The subject came up because Krzyzewski’s next opponent is Carlesimo--to save time, let’s just make it Coach K vs. Coach C from here on in--and the Duke coach knows how close his old friend from Seton Hall came to getting the ax in the early-to-mid 1980s.

Coach C can coach--just about everybody in the business has known that. Success and subsequent revenue mean so much to so many universities, however, that just having a good man often is not good enough.

Seton Hall’s administrators showed extraordinary patience in giving P.J. time to put together a winning program. They were at least somewhat cognizant of the fact that their school plays ball in the Big East Conference, where every foe is a villain with a buzz-saw.

Seton Hall has never before been to a Final Four, even with such distinguished alumni as Dick Vitale. Vitale was a prominent part of Seton Hall’s basketball program when he went to school there, at least until the tragic accident when a teammate mistook his head for a basketball and dunked it.

Not one of this year’s four finalists has ever won the national championship, so this will be a historic occasion for some lucky alums.

Michigan, for all its athletic prominence, is a virtual novice when it comes to Final Four play. The Wolverines haven’t been there since 1976, when they lost an all-Big Ten title game to Indiana. They also made the Final Four in 1964 and 1965, but have never won the national championship.

Illinois might have a little bit of fate working for it.

The Fighting Illini have never done better than third place, and haven’t been among the Final Four for 37 years. But, when they defeated Oregon State for third place in 1949, it was the 100th tournament game in NCAA postseason history.

And it was played in Seattle.

And this year’s championship game will be the 1,000th tournament game in NCAA postseason history.

And it will be played in Seattle.

This could be a good omen for the Illini. Of course, it also could mean that we won’t see them again until the 10,000th game, sometime in another century.


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