A Final Four of Great Mentors

April 3rd, 2015 by Justin Thomas

The stage is set. It’s next stop: Indianapolis for Kentucky, Wisconsin, Duke, and Michigan State.

While these may be the Final Four teams, the true Final Four consists of four men who have proven themselves to be experts of their coaching craft for years. These greats are John Calipari, Bo Ryan, Mike Krzyzewski, and Tom Izzo.

Four men that have ascended to the top of college basketball, all using completely different styles, and all taking very different paths to get to this year’s Final Four.

Like Iron Man in The Avengers, let’s do a headcount, shall we?

John Calipari, The New-Age Recruiter, Kentucky

John Calipari has made a coaching career off of this new-age system of a one-and-done championship run system. Year after year, Calipari brings in some of the nation’s top recruits, with the intention of making an immediate championship run while preparing his players to leave for the NBA at the end of the season. To his credit, that system has worked out incredibly well.

With the freshmen and sophomores Calipari had at his disposal this season, the Wildcats were ranked as the preseason No. 1, and haven’t relinquished that spot, going undefeated thus far with a 38-0 record. That’s not to say that they haven’t had their share of close calls this season, but for the most part, Kentucky has been able to make other teams look like they don’t belong on the same court as them.

This team has been under a microscope all year, and will be considered a failure by many if they don’t win it all, especially since they were given a 49% chance to win it all when all 68 teams were still in it. With all of the pressure on their shoulders, can Kentucky rise above the analysis and win it all?

Bo Ryan, Mr. Traditional, Wisconsin

Under the guidance of Bo Ryan, Wisconsin has quietly been one of the most successful teams in Divison-1 men’s basketball. The Badgers continuously fly under the radar because they are very traditional. They aren’t flashy, and they aren’t necessarily the most fun to watch if you want high-flying action, but they get the job done the way they always have throughout Ryan’s tenure.

Wisconsin has quietly made their way through this season as one of the top teams behind the upperclassman leadership of John Wooden Award candidate, Frank Kaminsky, and Sam Dekker. The Badgers are going to look to control the pace of play and keep it at a slow tempo, as is Ryan’s M.O.

It can be argued that the Badgers just got through the toughest 2-seed in the tourney in Arizona, but can they take down these tough staples in tournament play?

Mike Krzyzewski, The Adaptable Legend, Duke

Coach K is truly one of the greats in college basketball history, not just as a coach but as a person. He reached his 1000th career D1 win this season, and received an abundance of praise from the entirety of the basketball community. It’s worth noting that his incredible success has come with many different types of teams. Coach K just knows how to take men from wherever with whatever style of play and turn them into winners, both on and off the court.

This year, Coach K has created an offensive juggernaut at Duke with some very talented underclassmen. The Blue Devils average over 80 points per game this season, and finished with a 15-3 conference record in one of the stronger years the ACC has had in the past couple of years.

While the Blue Devils have certainly exorcised some postseason demons reaching the Final Four this year, but can they keep their high-flying team going for two more games with their lack of depth?

Tom Izzo, The Master of March, Michigan State

The man simply knows how to win in March. Tom Izzo has created a Big 10 postseason powerhouse at Michigan State. It doesn’t seem to matter who he has at his disposal; Sparty just keeps winning in March under Izzo’s leadership. During his tenure, Michigan State has reached the Final Four seven times, three of which were as a 5-seed or lower. He’s the only coach to do so. He also owns the D1 record for most NCAA Tournament wins as a 5-seed or lower.

Even though this may be one of the weaker teams Izzo has put out on the court in recent years, Michigan State still made it back to the Final Four as a 7-seed this season. The Spartans went just 12-6 in conference play, but they’ve been hot in the month of March, taking down the 2, 3 and 4-seeds in the East region. The leadership of Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine have gotten the Spartans to achieve what no one thought they could: A Final Four appearance.

Every March we learn that you can never count out Tom Izzo and his Spartans, but can they topple two 1-seeds on their way to a championship?


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