In the swirl that is March Madness, not all the winners end up in the Final Four:
Winner: Tom Crean. On Dec. 2, after Indiana lost 94-74 at Duke in the proverbial game that wasn’t that close, the Hoosiers stood 5-3. Crean’s coaching seat may as well have been a blast furnace.
So it was a rather remarkable coaching achievement that saw Crean and Indiana’s season end at 27-8 in the Sweet 16 — after winning a Big Ten regular-season title and beating Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament.
For all the scorn Crean takes on ‘UK basketball Twitter,’ he has been an NCAA tourney “Cat killer.”
At Marquette and Indiana, Crean is 3-1 against Kentucky in the Big Dance with one victory over each of the past three UK coaches — Tubby Smith (2003), Billy Gillispie (2008) and John Calipari (2016).
Crean has beaten UK when it was the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and riding a 26-game winning streak (2003, albeit with Kentucky’s best player, Keith Bogans, hobbled by a badly sprained ankle). He’s now beaten UK when it was a trendy Final Four pick with the best backcourt (Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray) in the country.
After falling to East Regional No. 1 seed North Carolina on Friday night, what Crean has not yet been able to do is get Indiana past the round of 16. He’s 0-3 in regional semifinals.
Amazingly, tradition-rich IU has advanced to the Elite Eight only once since 1993 — Mike Davis’ unexpected run to the 2002 NCAA title game.
Loser: Bill Self. No. 1 seed Kansas lost a gut-wrencher to No. 2 seed Villanova in the South Regional finals in Louisville on Saturday. No disgrace in that. However, it was the continuation of a troubling trend for the Jayhawks and their coach.
Since winning the 2008 NCAA championship as a No. 1 seed — thanks, largely, to a late-game Memphis collapse in the finals — Kansas has entered the NCAA tourney four times as a No. 1 seed: 2010, 2011, 2013, 2016.
The Rock, Chalk, Jayhawkers have not made the Final Four in any of those years.
Self is the poster coach for the fickle nature of the one-and-done NCAA Tournament.
In addition to the 2008 national championship, he led the No. 2 seed Jayhawks to the NCAA title game in 2012 before falling to Anthony Davis and Kentucky.
Yet in 13 years as Kansas coach, Self has lost in regional finals four times and failed to make it out of the first weekend five times.
Under Self, Kansas has won or shared 12 straight Big 12 regular-season championships. That is one of the most impressive feats in 21st century college sports.
Self might be the best regular-season coach in the country. He may also be the most underachieving NCAA Tournament coach.
Winner(s): Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim. One coach’s program (Boeheim’s) has already been punished (in part) for academic fraud. The other coach’s program (Williams) is still under (an interminable) NCAA investigation for the same.
Yet, having each reached the Final Four, North Carolina’s Williams and Syracuse’s Boeheim should be smiling like The Cheshire Cat this weekend in Houston.
Loser: Mark Emmert. It’s going to be fun, in a perverse way, to watch the NCAA and its president squirm through the “Cheaters’ Ball” of a national semifinal between North Carolina and Syracuse.
Winner: The ACC. Atlantic Coast Conference teams are 18-5 in the NCAA Tournament. With North Carolina and Syracuse facing off in a national semifinal, the ACC is guaranteed a team in the national championship game.
Is it a coincidence the ACC has two teams either under or recently under NCAA investigation in the Final Four and had a third team, Louisville, self-impose a post-season ban because it, too, is under scrutiny over alleged cheating?
Loser: Mike Krzyzewski. The Duke coach had no business scolding Oregon’s Dillon Brooks for hitting a deep three-pointer — and celebrating it — at the end of the shot clock in the final seconds of the Ducks’ 82-68 spanking of the Blue Devils in the round of 16.
In games that are clearly decided, it’s become custom as a matter of sportsmanship to take a shot-clock violation when the impending victor has the ball for a final possession but can’t run out the game clock.
Krzyzewski reprimanded Brooks for violating the unwritten code in the post-game handshake line, then made the incident a far bigger deal by misleading the media about what he said to the Oregon player when asked in the postgame news conference.
Once audio of the encounter emerged, Krzyzewski apologized to Oregon.
Had Coach K taken the question in the news conference over what he said to Brooks as his chance to apologize, he could have saved himself some over-the-top, national-level, media grief.