Final Four Coaches Bring Star Power

By: From CBS Sports, Posted by Ralph Hipp
By: From CBS Sports, Posted by Ralph Hipp

NEW ORLEANS (CBS, AP) -- The Final Four spotlight on Saturday will be on stars like Anthony Davis, Jared Sullinger, Thomas Robinson and Russ Smith. But the quartet of coaches in New Orleans has plenty of star power themselves.

The collective numbers speak for themselves. Louisville's Rick Pitino, Kentucky's John Calipari, Ohio State's Thad Matta and Kansas' Bill Self have won 1,930 games combined and led their teams to a total of 14 Final Fours. Pitino and Self both have won national championships and the four coaches have an amazing 130-49 record in the NCAA tournament.

The four, who have a total of 78 years of head coaching experience, have also cashed in this season.

Matta has racked up $100,000 in incentives tied to his team's performance in the Big Ten and NCAA tournament this season. And that doesn't include the one-year extension that was triggered when the Buckeyes beat Michigan State for a share of the conference regular-season title.

Self, Calipari and Pitino are already racking up similar bonus packages, according to a review of their contracts by The Associated Press.

"It's a heavyweight group, no question about that," Self said Tuesday, referring to the quartet of coaches and their schools.

Here's a look at the key players - and coaches - in the Final Four:

LOUISVILLE (30-9) vs. KENTUCKY (36-2) 5:10pm on WIBW, CBS

LOUISVILLE, ROAD TO THE FINAL FOUR

No. 4 Louisville beat No. 13 Davidson 69-62; beat No. 5 New Mexico 59-56; beat No. 1 Michigan State 57-44; beat No. 7 Florida 72-68

STAR
A team as balanced as the Cardinals doesn't have a star as far as numbers go, but Russ Smith, the gregarious guard whose personality has made him a media favorite, has come up big in the NCAA tournament. He has averaged 13.3 points in the NCAA tournament, almost two points above his season mark, and he had 19 points, five rebounds and two assists in the win over Florida. It's his frenetic style of play that has coach Rick Pitino calling him "Russ-diculous."

COACH
Rick Pitino is the veteran of the coaches in this Final Four, making his sixth Final Four appearance in 27 seasons. He was the first coach to take three different schools to the Final Four (Providence, Kentucky, Louisville), and his 42 NCAA tournament wins stands fifth among all active coaches. He is going for his second national title having won it with Kentucky in 1996. He is considered one of the top motivators and game coaches in the sport.

KEY POINT
Louisville has to be one of the hardest teams for an opponent to scout. The Cardinals can play the game fast or slow, and they can defend you several ways using zone and man-to-man and by focusing inside or at the 3-point line and even beyond. The Cardinals have a very quick backcourt in Peyton Siva and Smith, and up front they have the ever-improving Gorgui Dieng, one of the country's best shot blockers.

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KENTUCKY, ROAD TO THE FINAL FOUR

No. 1 Kentucky beat No. 16 Western Kentucky 81-65; No. 8 Iowa State 87-71; No. 4 Indiana 102-90; No. 3 Baylor 82-70.

STAR
In a lineup filled with future NBA stars, freshman Anthony Davis has stood out all season. He was selected the Southeastern Conference's Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. Few players dominated a game the way he did all season, blocking a school-record 175 shots and altering hundreds more as the Wildcats led the nation in field goal percentage defense (37.5) and margin of victory (17.3).

COACH
John Calipari is no stranger to the Final Four, taking his fourth team there including Kentucky last season. His appearances with Massachusetts in 1996 and Memphis in 2008 were vacated over NCAA violations. His 78.0 winning percentage is ninth on the all-time list and third among active coaches. His choice of recruiting the star players who aren't expected to stay in college more than one year has paid handsome dividends with his teams reaching at least the regional final six of the last seven years while producing several underclassmen chosen at the top of the NBA draft.

KEY POINT
The Wildcats are the only team in the country with six players averaging in double figures and that has never happened before in school history. They win a lot and they win easy as shown by four NCAA tournament wins all by at least 12 points. They can run with you, they can bang on the boards with you, they can defend you. There's a reason Kentucky spent 10 weeks ranked No. 1 in the country and was the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament: the Wildcats are really good.

THE SKINNY
This is no normal in-state rivalry. First of all, Kentucky is a commonwealth. Second, these schools don't like each other, and their one meeting every regular season is one of the biggest games on either schedule. They met this season on Dec. 31, and Kentucky won 69-62. This will be their fifth meeting in the NCAA tournament and will break the tie. These are two very good defensive teams, but Kentucky has an advantage in scoring and rebounding.

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OHIO STATE (31-7) vs. KANSAS (31-6) 7:50pm on WIBW, CBS

OHIO STATE, ROAD TO THE FINAL FOUR

No. 2 Ohio State beat No. 15 Loyola (Md.) 78-59; No. 7 Gonzaga 73-66; No. 6 Cincinnati 81-66; No. 1 Syracuse 77-70.

STAR
Jared Sullinger just seems like he has been playing for the Buckeyes since Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek. Sullinger was a first-team All-America pick by the AP for the second straight season, the first player to do that as a freshman and sophomore since LSU's Chris Jackson in 1989-90. Sullinger, despite playing only 6 minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, had 19 points in the regional final win over Syracuse and was selected regional MVP. His 27 free throws are the most among any player in the field. Sullinger leads the Buckeyes in scoring (17.6) and rebounding (9.1).

COACH
Thad Matta has Ohio State in the Final Four for the second time, having lost to Florida in the 2007 title game. He has led the Buckeyes to a 221-64 record in his eight seasons, breaking the 30-win mark three times. His program's consistency is even more impressive when the way it has handled big men such as Greg Oden leaving early is considered. Matta is one of five coaches in Big Ten history to win four regular season titles over their first seven seasons.

KEY POINT
Although Sullinger has drawn most of the attention on and off the court, the Buckeyes have some solid co-stars for him. In seven postseason games, Deshaun Thomas is averaging 20.3 points and shooting 54 percent from the field. Aaron Craft is one of the best defenders among guards in the country, and William Buford leads the team with 59 3-pointers and is the second-winningest player in Buckeyes history.

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THE KANSAS JAYHAWKS, ROAD TO THE FINAL FOUR

No. 2 Kansas beat No. 15 Detroit 65-50; beat No. 10 Purdue 63-60; No. 11 North Carolina State 60-57; No. 1 North Carolina 80-67.

STAR
Thomas Robinson is one of the great stories recently in college basketball. Limited to 7 minutes a game during a tragedy-filled sophomore season when he lost his mother and two grandparents, Robinson responded this season by averaging 17.7 points and 11.8 rebounds on the way to being named Big 12 Player of the Year and a unanimous first-team All-America by the AP. His play hasn't slipped at all during the NCAA tournament as he has averaged 15.8 points and 12.5 rebounds and was the MVP of the Midwest Regional.

COACH
Bill Self is looking for national championship No. 2 after taking the Jayhawks all the way in 2008, beating coach John Calipari and Memphis in the title game. In a program known for great coaches, Self has the highest winning percentage (83.8) in his nine seasons with the Jayhawks, and they have won the last eight Big 12 regular season titles and five tournament championships. In the last five seasons before this one, Kansas had the winningest program in Division I (165-22), and the Jayhawks won at least 30 games in four of those seasons.

KEY POINT
Robinson has been the unquestioned star of the Jayhawks, but his supporting cast has been inconsistent in being there to back him up. Point guard Tyshawn Taylor has had some great postseason games. He had 22 points in the win over North Carolina to get to the Final Four but that was four points less than he had in the three previous games combined, and he hasn't made a 3-pointer in his last four games. Jeff Withey was the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year. He came up big with 10 blocks against North Carolina State, but he's had more points than that only once in the last four games.

THE SKINNY
This is a lot more than a matchup of stars in Sullinger and Robinson. Both are solid defensive teams with rugged reputations up front. What should make the difference is which star's supporting cast has the biggest impact behind him. Taylor and Withey both have had great games, but it doesn't seem they do it in the same game. Thomas and Craft have been very good throughout the tournament, especially when Sullinger has missed time because of foul trouble.


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