How Jim Boeheim helped launch the careers of Rick Pitino and John Beilein

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ATLANTA — On Saturday afternoon, John Beilein’s Michigan Wolverines will take the floor against Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse Orange in one of the more intriguing and unexpected Final Four matchups in recent memory.

Syracuse lost seven of their last 12 regular season games. Michigan lost five of their last 10. Both programs were written off by just about everyone outside of the locker rooms at the Carrier Dome and Crisler Arena. And yet, here they are, preparing to play on Saturday night at the Georgia Dome, 80 minutes of basketball away from winning a national title.

The biggest irony of all is that Beilein, one of the most well-respected coaching minds in the country, may not be here if it wasn’t for his opponent on Saturday.

Beilein’s back story has been well-documented. A descendant of the family that Saving Private Ryan was based on and a member of a noted coaching family in Western New York, Beilein began his career as a high school coach before moving on up to the Community College ranks. That was in 1978, two years after Boeheim took over at Syracuse. Beilein spent four years at Erie CC before jumping to Nazareth for a season before landing what he believed to be a big break when he was offered a job by Division II LeMoyne.

And that’s where his career started to stagnate.

A couple different Division I jobs in the area opened up during that time. Beilein applied for and was passed over each time. Finally, when Canisius came open in 1992, Beilein he was hired, but it wasn’t without some help. A call from Boeheim certainly helped move things along.

“He assisted me a great deal in actually getting my first Division I job,” Beilein said on Wednesday.

At Canisius, Beilein had five successful seasons which led to being hired by Richmond and, eventually, West Virginia. Boeheim had a hand in that as well, convincing West Virginia’s athletic director to offer the job to Beilein even though that meant that he would have to count Beilein as a conference foe. It was Beilein’s postseason success with the Mountaineers — an Elite 8 run in 2005 and a trip to the Sweet 16 in 2006 — that played a major role in Michigan giving him the job in 2007.

And while it may have taken him six years, Beilein has turned the Wolverines into a national title contender.

But Beilein isn’t the only coach that Boeheim helped mentor.

Back in 1976, when Boeheim first got the Syracuse job, he needed to hire a coaching staff. As legend has it, Boeheim called Pitino down to the lobby of his hotel in New York City on Pitino’s wedding night, convincing him to take a job as an assistant immediately so that Pitino could get out on the road and land a recruit named Louis Orr.

But here’s where it gets interesting: Pitino was hired in large part due to his association with five-star basketball and the recruits that he would be able to bring in as a result. That wasn’t the only reason that Pitino was hired, however.

“[Boehiem] wanted to play more man-to-man defense,” Pitino said. “He was under Roy Danforth, who was strictly zone. Back then we played a lot of man-to-man. I was fortunate, I got to learn the zone.”

He sure was fortunate.

Pitino’s Louisville teams mix-up their defensive looks quite a bit. They press, they play man-to-man, they play 2-3 zone, sometimes they play all three on a single possession. But what he’s known for right now — the defense that has carried him to back-to-back Final Four — is that 2-3 zone.

The defense that he learned in his two seasons on the Syracuse bench.

Pitino and Beilein are both terrific basketball minds. They would have had success in this business with or without Boeheim’s help.

But it’s interesting to think that Boeheim could end up beating not one, but two of the young coaches that he mentored in their younger days.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Maye, Pinson help No. 15 UNC beat Georgia Tech 80-66

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Luke Maye had 17 points and 11 rebounds, and No. 15 North Carolina beat Georgia Tech 80-66 on Saturday.

Theo Pinson added 11 points and 10 rebounds, and Joel Berry II and Cameron Johnson finished with 16 points apiece to help the Tar Heels (16-4, 5-2 Atlantic Coast Conference).

They shot 42 percent and dominated the glass, building a 46-25 rebounding advantage and scoring 26 second-chance points to Georgia Tech’s four.

Jose Alvarado scored 17 points and hit four 3-pointers, including one that pulled the Yellow Jackets to 70-62 with about 3½ minutes left. But he fouled Berry on the Tar Heels’ ensuing possession — and then stepped over him, earning a technical foul with 3:21 to play.

Berry hit three of the four free throws he was awarded to put North Carolina’s lead into double figures to stay. The Tar Heels were 19 of 24 from the line, while Georgia Tech was just 3 of 6.

Josh Okogie led Georgia Tech (10-9, 3-3) with 18 points, while Ben Lammers and Abdoulaye Gueye each had 12. The Yellow Jackets were just 5 of 18 from 3-point range.

BIG PICTURE

Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets had won four in a row before this two-game run against top-15 opponents. After suffocating against No. 2 Virginia’s ACC-best defense, Georgia Tech couldn’t keep up with North Carolina’s fast-paced offense, which averages nearly 83 points — especially after one stretch in which it had two field goals in 10-plus minutes.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels’ winning streak remains intact, but Berry had a rough day until his free-throw bonanza all but iced it. The most outstanding player at the Final Four finished just 3 of 17 from the field and was just 1 of 8 from long range.

VIDEO: Ted Valentine apologizes to Joel Berry for incident

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Two weeks ago, during a North Carolina loss at Florida State, official Ted Valentine missed an obvious foul committed on Joel Berry that resulted in a turnover.

When Berry went to ask TV Teddy about the no-call, the veteran referee turned his back on Berry.

Literally.

Today, prior to Georgia Tech’s game at North Carolina which Valentine officiated, he apologized to Berry for the previous incident:

“He was just telling me that he apologized for what he did,” Berry said after the game. “That’s all he said, just apologized and made sure that there was nothing wrong between us and I told him it was all good, it was in the heat of the moment.”

Xavier’s win over Seton Hall shows they’re still a team to be reckoned with

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J.P. Macura had arguably the best game of his career as the senior guard helped will No. 11 Xavier to a 73-64 road win over No. 19 Seton Hall in the Big East on Saturday.

Putting together a strong effort on both ends of the floor, Macura finished with 27 points, five rebounds and three assists as he punctuated a Musketeers comeback with a monster tip dunk in the game’s final minutes. This was arguably the biggest win of the year for Xavier — the first road win against a top-25 team and a comeback after losing for a sizable chunk of the contest.

Macura’s efforts on both ends as the star in this one proved how dangerous Xavier can be and why they’re still a force to be reckoned with for the rest of the season. Already hovering in the range of a No. 2-3 seed, the Musketeers should elevate into the top ten of the national rankings after another bloodbath week for the best teams in college basketball.

And Xavier is showing plenty of balance by having multiple players who can take over a game. Senior Trevon Bluiett (15 points) is the All-American candidate who has often been celebrated for much of his career but he doesn’t need to play to his best for the Musketeers to beat strong opponents.

Macura seems to feed off of certain situations and the Seton Hall home crowd chanting at him must have done something to help ignite a big performance. Diving for loose balls and knocking down big shots, Macura made plays all over the floor as he’s capable of taking over a game when Xavier needs him.

Others like Kerem Kanter on the interior, Kaiser Gates on the wing, or Naji Marshall running the wing also chip in plenty of points. This team can use balanced scoring with the heavy lifting being done by the hot hand as a dangerous concoction that’s tough for opponents to stop.

Just 10 days ago, Xavier was reeling following a loss to Providence and a blowout road loss to Villanova in Philadelphia. After a three-game winning streak that includes a blowout win over Creighton and a comeback win over Seton Hall on the road, the Musketeers are right back in the Big East title race.

The next month also proves to be fairly average from a scheduling standpoint for Xavier. There isn’t a ranked opponent on the schedule until a rematch with Seton Hall in Cincinnati on Feb. 14 and another big home game against No. 1 Villanova looms right after.

If Xavier continues to pile up wins — they do have tourney-caliber opponents in Butler, Creighton and Marquette — and sweep Seton Hall, then they’ll still get a home game against Villanova that could decide the conference. If both teams keep winning that could even be an important game for the No. 1 seed discussion.

Don’t look now, but Xavier is right back in the top ten and they could stick around for a bit.

Trae Young’s 48 points not enough as Oklahoma State upsets No. 4 Oklahoma

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Trae Young snapped out of his slump, tying a Big 12 record and setting a career-high by scoring 48 points, but No. 4 Oklahoma still fell in overtime on the road against in-state rival Oklahoma State.

The Cowboys jumped out to a 25-6 lead as Young continued to struggle early on in the first half. The Sooners trailed 42-30 at the break, but they were able to rally throughout the second half and only headed to overtime after Kendall Smith hit a three to tie the game at 73 with 6.2 seconds left. Young missed a three at the buzzer that would have won the game.

This win puts Oklahoma State squarely in the bubble conversation. The Cowboys are now 13-6 on the season. They’re only notable wins to date are Oklahoma and Florida State, but they’ll have plenty of chances to add to that résumé over the final two months of the season.

The loss is the second in a row and third in the last five games for the Sooners. All three of those games came on the road, where it has been nearly impossible to win in the Big 12.

Since Texas Tech won at Kansas and TCU won at Baylor on January 2nd, Big 12 road teams have gone 2-22. (At the time of this posting, TCU was trailing at Kansas State and Kansas was yet to tip off at home against Baylor.) Those two wins were Kansas at TCU and Kansas at West Virginia, meaning that for the last 18 days, the only team to win a road game in the Big 12 is the program that has won 13 straight Big 12 regular season title.

With that in mind, Young’s performance was … almost promising?

There is no shame in this loss. Yes, it puts the Sooners two games behind the Jayhawks in the conference title race, but winning the Big 12 regular season title isn’t their only goal this year, and for Oklahoma to come anywhere near reaching any of those goals, they’re going to need Trae Young to be better than he has been over the course of the last two weeks.

Young was in the second half on Saturday. Where the concern truly lies is with the supporting cast. Young shot 14-for-39 from the floor in this loss. The rest of the Oklahoma team shot 14-for-43. Young shot 8-for-20 from three. His teammates shot 2-for-15. Young made all 12 of his free throws. His teammates shot five and missed two. Young scored 48 points. Every other Sooner combined for 33.

As I wrote last week, part of the reason for Young’s struggles was because he was trying to do too much.

Maybe this is why.

It’s a catch-22.

Young needs to be able to trust that his teammates can make winning plays when defenses key on him and take him out of the game, but his supporting cast – Brady Manek, Christian James, Kameron McGusty – need to give him a reason to trust them.

VIDEO: Xavier’s J.P. Macura throws down monster tip dunk on Seton Hall

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J.P. Macura threw down a ridiculous tip slam over Seton Hall as the Xavier senior guard is having one of his best games of the season. Even Bill Murray was left speechless.

Macura had 27 points and some great plays on both ends of the floor as the Musketeers pulled off a huge road comeback on the Pirates in the Big East.