By Josh Wiggins
PSDC March Madness Contributor
The programs left in the NCAA tournament are loaded with talent and have played their best when it counted, but the coaches leading them are the single biggest reason that they have made it to the Final Four.
John Calipari. Bo Ryan. Mike Krzyzewski. Tom Izzo.
Calling these coaches successful would be a vast understatement. Between the four of them, they have won 2,532 games, reached 25 Final Fours and won national championships. Coach K has won 1,016 games, and if the Blue Devils can win the tournament this year, he will only trail John Wooden for the most championships in NCAA history with a total of five to his credit. John Calipari has had success with multiple programs, with four trips to the Final Four in the last five years. Bo Ryan has won four Division III championships, and may have his best shot yet at a Division I title this year. Tom Izzo has taken the Spartans to seven Final Four appearances since 1999, more than anyone else during this period, and often as an underdog.
Now plenty of experts would suggest I temper this focus on the coaches, as they aren’t the ones making the shots. I get that. This tournament is full of talented players, especially on the teams still playing. But talent alone doesn’t get a team to this point; not even close.
Look at all the teams who undoubtedly had the talent, and the winning records to go along with it, yet dropped out of the tournament early on. Look at Virginia and Villanova for instance. These teams had the talent and had proven they could win all year long, but when it mattered, neither the No. 1 nor 2 seeds from the East made it to the Sweet 16.
Once March Madness begins, coaching becomes exponentially more important. The stakes are higher, the stage is bigger, and every loss is absolute. Every coach has spent all season preparing their players for each and every game, but tournament preparation is another thing altogether. As the tournament goes on, the competition gets tighter and tighter, with as little as two days in between games. So not only does a coach have to keep his players ready from a physical and mental standpoint round after round, but he has to prepare a successful game plan and ensure his team can execute in such a short period of time.
However, the most critically important responsibility of a college coach is also the most easily overlooked. Keeping a team of student-athletes on top of their games emotionally. These are not seasoned professionals playing on national TV; these are college students. While the concept of the one and done is not all that popular with most fans, there is something impressive about taking a team dominated by underclassmen and teaching them to play as a consistent and cohesive unit. At the same time, there is something special about a team led by juniors and seniors willing to delay their NBA future to win a championship for their school. Programs like Kentucky and Wisconsin may have built their success on very different strategies, but they have both achieved success just the same.
So while you are watching the final two rounds of this tournament, feel free to enjoy the talent and energy brought by each and every player on the court. They are what make this tournament the special event it is. However, don’t forget to appreciate the coaches. They are responsible for bringing out the very best in their players and facilitating the success these players achieve. And that is why these coaches are so important; because they prepare these young men to be the absolute best they can be.
Follow Josh on Twitter: @JoshuaLWiggins