Volume 91, Issue 94
Thursday, March 26, 1998
Belushi goes west
THE EDGE:Coaches corner
A team is only as good as its coach.
That saying certainly holds true for the four remaining teams in the NCAA men's basketball tourney. What is most intriguing about this year's bunch is that all four teams are coached by men who have never made it this far.
In North Carolina and Kentucky lies the stories of two coaching prodigies following in the footsteps of two of the best college coaches the game has ever seen.
Bill Gutheridge has steered the Tar Heels to a second consecutive Final Four appearance, not an easy task considering Gutheridge has taken over from the legendary Dean Smith.
So what if Gutheridge had the luxury of having a talented roster which included front-running college player of the year Antawn Jamison? Gutheridge didn't try to revamp the team ˆ la Mike Keenan. Ego aside, Gutheridge accepted Dean Smith's philosophy and did not tamper with what worked. That's why the Tar Heels are back in the Final Four.
As for Kentucky, this, the Wildcats third straight Final Four berth, makes them no stranger to the championship territory. What is different is the man behind the pine. Much like in North Carolina, Kentucky head coach Tubby Smith chose not to screw around with a winning formula.
In the land of the Wildcats, that meant continuing an aggressive brand of basketball characterized by a tenacious defence. In other words, Pitino-ball. Smith, like Gutheridge, deserves credit for bringing his team back to the Final Four in light of former coach Rick Pitino's sudden departure to the NBA's Boston Celtics.
Even more impressive is that Smith's Wildcats look even stronger than Pitino's Wildcats last year, even though Smith's roster has less talent on paper.
Over in California, Stanford Cardinal fans are buzzing after the team earned the school's first Final Four berth in 56 years. Once again the coaching deserves the majority of the accolades. The fact the Cardinal players buy into head coach Mike Montgomery's system is what has made Stanford so successful this season and allowed them to beat more talented squads like Purdue in the Midwest region semifinal and UCLA twice in Pac-10 conference play.
Montgomery's emphasis on sound fundamentals has been the great equalizer.
Finally there's the Utah Utes, a team many people knew was going to be good, but not good enough with the departure of Keith Van Horn. Utes head coach Rick Majerus has a great working relationship with his players and this trust has translated into a tough defensive system that can frustrate even the best offensive teams. Most people noted that Utah's achilles heel was their lack of quickness, and assumed the defending champs from Arizona would knock them off easily.
Boy, did Majerus' boys prove the critics wrong. The Utes did a number on Miles Simon and the rest of the Wildcats, frustrating one of the best shooting teams in the country. The end result was a 25-point blow-out, but to everyone's surprise, it was Utah who would advance to San Antonio.
This year's Final Four promises to be as exciting as ever. All four teams are the products of four brilliant head coaches who have earned the trust and respect of their players, a must if any team is to be successful. Maybe someone should pass the word down to P.J. Carlesimo and Latrell Sprewell in Golden State.
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