Archive for Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Top teams have Big 12 ties

Memphis, Carolina and UCLA all have links to Kansas

Kansas coach Bill Self gets down on the court as he calls a play with minutes remaining in the game Sunday, March 30, 2008 at Ford Field in Detroit.

Kansas coach Bill Self gets down on the court as he calls a play with minutes remaining in the game Sunday, March 30, 2008 at Ford Field in Detroit.

April 2, 2008


2008 NCAA Tournament
Press Conferences & Post-Game Interviews

Bill Self's April 1 pre-Final Four press conference

KU coach Bill Self met with the media in Hadl Auditorium Tuesday to discuss the upcoming Final Four, in which his team is part of history, with all four one-seeds having advanced to San Antonio. Self talked in-depth about gameplanning for North Carolina, plus again denied rumors that he will leave Kansas the end of the year to take over at his alma mater for Sean Sutton, who resigned earlier in the day as the Oklahoma State men's basketball coach.

2008 NCAA Tournament

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What has four teams, roughly 56 players and is watched by millions of sets of eyes around the globe?

The Final Four, of course. And this year, fans of the Big 12 Conference have an overwhelming number of reasons to pay attention.

For starters, the cream of the conference, Kansas University, is making its 13th appearance in the Final Four and its third in the last seven seasons.

But the Jayhawks aren't the only team at this year's Final Four with ties to the Big 12. North Carolina, Memphis and even UCLA have links to the conference, the most notable being Carolina coach Roy Williams and his 15-year coaching stint at KU.

Williams was in his ninth season with the Jayhawks when the Big Eight Conference joined forces with four members of the Southwestern Conference to form a new "super conference" known as the Big 12. Already well established as one of the finest coaches in America, Williams often was considered the top coach in the conference even when names such as Bobby Knight, Eddie Sutton and Norm Stewart filled the benches.

Before leaving for North Carolina, Williams took the Jayhawks to four Final Fours and two national title games, the last coming in the form of a loss to Syracuse in 2003, the swan song to Williams' KU career.

Prior to Williams, KU's program was in very capable hands with current Memphis coach John Calipari joining coaching legend Larry Brown for a three-year run as a graduate assistant from 1982-85. Before joining the Jayhawks, Brown added his name to the lore of UCLA basketball, leading the Bruins to the 1979-80 Final Four, where they fell to Louisville in the national championship game.

While some of those connections might be a stretch, they can be made, and, for fans of the Big 12 as well as the coaches themselves, that gives this year's Final Four even more potential excitement than usual.

"This is going to be a crazy Final Four," said Calipari, who also reached college basketball's final weekend with UMass in 1996. "I've been in the tournament a few different times, and I don't remember where it played out like this."

It hasn't.

For the first time since the NCAA Tournament began seeding teams, all four No. 1 seeds have reached the final Saturday of the season, making the hype and hysteria surrounding the weekend reach frenzied proportions.

"The committee deserves a lot of kudos and credit," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "Obviously, they did good job seeding the tournament. It is amazing that this has happened, and it almost didn't happen."

Almost, Howland clarified, because his team nearly lost to Texas A&M; - a Big 12 school - in the second round. Almost, he added, because Kansas nearly fell to Davidson - the school that gave Larry Brown his first college coaching job - in the Elite Eight.

But the dust has settled, and the four teams who were picked first through fourth in the preseason polls are in position to battle it out for the national title.

"Memphis and Carolina, more so than us and UCLA, were consistent performers," KU coach Bill Self said. "Memphis and Carolina have been in the top four or five from day one. There were hot teams that went in and out of there, but I think it's remarkable that the four teams ranked in the top four in the preseason made it through.

"I know it's a first, and certainly you have four high-level teams that have maintained a pretty high level of play all the way through. I can't imagine a better scenario going in."

Neither can Howland, a three-time Final Four participant and 2007 national runner-up who said this year's foursome features some of the most talented players in the game.

"You look at the experience of the teams, every one has a lot," he said. "All four (schools) have names who've been in the Final Four before, but it's more about the players for me. We all have unbelievable players."

Yet only one, UNC's Williams, has that coveted national title.

Will this be the year the Big 12 finally breaks through? Will the Pac 10 or much-maligned Conference USA take the crown? Or will Williams add another gem to his already sparkling resume?

"Roy has already won one at Carolina," Howland said. "And the other three of us would love to get one."

Close, but no cigar

The Big 12's six Final Four teams since 2002 are more than any other conference in the nation. The Big 12 has no title to show for it, though.

Big 12: 6

ACC: 5

Big 10: 4

Pac-10: 3

SEC: 3

Big East: 3

C-USA: 3

Colonial: 1


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