Does coaching really matter?
We’re about to find that out in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament. Let’s start with No.1 seed Kansas. The Jayhawks are coached by Bill Self, winner of two NCAA titles including last season. Self was hospitalized for the Big 12 Tournament and without him on the sidelines the Jayhawks got blown by 20 by Texas.
Then there’s Gonzaga’s Mark Few, who is a big reason why the Zags are making their 24th straight tournament appearance. Few has lost twice in the championship game and most believe it’s just a matter of time before the Svengali of Spokane gets it done.
Iona’s Rick Pitino is taking his fifth school to the Big Dance. And Mick Cronin is threatening to wake the echoes at UCLA.
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Iona and St. Mary’s Gaels
No.12 VCU +5.5 over No. 5 St. Mary’s
Cinderella Wears Old Glass Slippers
When you’ve made the NCAA Tournament for 24 straight seasons it’s a little hard to find a glass slipper that fits. But when you’ve been a No.1 seed in four of the last five seasons the shine can wear off fast when you’re a No3 seed.
Gonzaga, under future Hall of Fame coach Mark Few, has done everything short of winning a national championship. They’re considered a longshot to win it this year. Just don’t tell that to Few.
Iona’s Rick Pitino is taking his fifth school to the Big Dance. And UCLA’s Mick C
“We’ve seen it all.” Few said, “From [Purdue’s] Zach Edey, to the relentless and the pace of Alabama, to the incredible physicality and intensity to Texas, we’ve seen a lot.”
Which puts Gonzaga in a perhaps an advantageous position – overlooked. The Zags, 28-5, have one of the most successful NCAA Tournament players in history in super senior Drew Timme. They have beaten the likes of Michigan State, Kentucky and Xavier and lost to Purdue, Texas and Baylor.
Gonzaga might not win the title but they won’t be an easy out. And maybe, Cinderella dances the night away.
Old Enough to Shave
By the time March Madness arrives, freshmen are sophomores and many of them are a big reason why their teams are in. Certainly Alabama’s Brandon Miller, Duke’s Kyle Filipowski and Kansas’ Gradey Dick have played major roles and the nation knows their name.
But what about the freshman not many saw coming. Nineteen-year-old Aiden Mahaney truly looks like he just began to shave – maybe. But the 6-foot-180 pound St. Mary’s guard is absolutely fearless. He averaged 14.5 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists and shoots 41.2-percent on threes.
He stands no chance of getting served an adult beverage in any self-respecting bar in California but he’s old enough to shave – and serve up some serious pain.
Before he won national championships at Kentucky and Louisville, a young, brash coach by the name of Rick Pitino took over at Providence College in tiny Rhode Island and led the Friars to their second Final Four in 1987.
Providence and Connecticut have always had a healthy rivalry but with Pitino at Providence and Jim Calhoun beginning to build a national power at UConn, this Big East showdown required sutures and tourniquets. Pitino will lead No. 13 seed Iona (27-7) into a first-round showdown against No.4 seed UConn (25-8), which at one point was ranked No.1 in the nation.
It probably won’t be the last time Pitino sees UConn. Sources say that Pitino is the first choice for the vacant St. John’s job. With Pitino on one bench and the fiery Danny Hurley on the UConn bench, well, where are those sutures and tourniquets?
The VCU Rams might feel like the Rodney Dangerfield’s of the tournament. Despite going 27-7 and winning the Atlantic 10 Conference regular season title, the Rams probably wouldn’t have made the field if they didn’t also win the league tournament.
The No. 12 Rams are getting 5.5 points against a very solid St. Mary’s team, which is seeded 5th and went 26-7. We think the Gaels will win but the Rams own wins over Pittsburgh, which is in the field, and Vanderbilt, which beat Kentucky twice.