Among the myriad Final Four storylines, two will receive more attention than others – mid-majors VCU and Butler (again) crashing the Final Four party and the coaching showdown between John Calipari and Jim Calhoun.
The stories involving Butler and VCU will be best covered by Kyle Whelliston over at The Mid-Majority. Like he did last year during the Bulldogs’ run, Whelliston will be along to chronicle the journey with his usual sense of insight. (Though, David Woods of the Indianapolis Star also is an excellent source.)
So let’s take a moment and focus on the coaches. Because there’s a lot to cover.
Once rivals, Calhoun and Calipari share several characteristics. They’ve built programs, won games and have thrived this season when few expected Final Fours. From Dan Wetzel’s Yahoo! Sports column:
It is clear Calipari wants the rivalry behind him and would prefer the week of hype to focus on the Kentucky and Connecticut players. Calhoun will speak to his feelings later this week.
It’s telling, though, that when they finally meet in the Final Four, it’s with teams that few believed would get there.
UConn went to the NIT a year ago and was picked to finish 10th in the preseason Big East poll. Kentucky lost five players to the NBA and many saw this as a transitional year to 2011-12, when another load of top talent comes in.
While both have sensational star players (Kemba Walker and Brandon Knight in particular), their teams are here because Calhoun and Calipari helped develop role players and overlooked returnees. These are some of the best coaching efforts of their careers.
Both made it in this business by kicking down doors, building up programs and refusing to apologize for any of it.
But, lest we laud these coaches too much for their on-court decision making, it needs said that both have had their off-court issues.
Calipari’s two Final Four trips (with Memphis and Massachusetts) have officially been vacated because of a questionable SAT score and agent activity. (He officially didn’t get cited for either violation.) Calhoun was cited by the NCAA this season for having a booster funnel money to a recruit. The NCAA also has vacated UConn’s 1996 tournament because of agent’s gifts to players.
As Wetzel writes, no one said big-time college hoops is pretty. No one said these guys were angels. But they can coach.
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