The more things change, the more they remain the same.
We all love Cinderellas in the NCAA Tournament, and we won’t soon forget Ron Hunter falling out of his chair when No. 14 Georgia State upset the No. 3 Iowa State Hawkeyes.
That said, coaches tend to be consistently good or bad when big games come around.
You picked Buffalo State over West Virginia? Bob Huggins has never lost in the first round.
You thought Michigan State would bow out early? Tom Izzo is 44-16 in NCAA Tournament games and 13-1 in the round of 32.
Nine of 16 coaches left in the Big Dance have taken teams to the Final Four. Two Sweet 16 games are coaching mismatches.
(7) Wichita State vs. (3) Notre Dame
When Gregg Marshall was hired for $60,000 a year at Winthrop University, few people knew the difference between his new employer (which, for the record, is in Rock Hill, S.C., just south of Charlotte) and Division 2 Wingate University (which is on the other side of the Queen City). Marshall took a bad program and made it a winner immediately. Winthrop went to the NCAA Tournament seven times in his nine seasons. After they beat Notre Dame during the 2007 tourney, Marshall departed for Wichita State.
With the Shockers, he got off to a rough start with a roster devoid of talent, going 9-20. But he hasn’t finished below .500 since, and has an NIT Title, three straight 30-win seasons, and a Final Four appearance on his resume. Now Marshall’s Shockers get Mike Brey, whom Winthrop shocked a decade ago.
We all feel for Brey, who lost his mother prior to the Irish’s win over Butler on Saturday. He is having his best season in South Bend during what has been a successful tenure. The Irish are NCAA Tournament regulars and this season have 30 victories for the first time in school history. Notre Dame won the ACC Tournament this year in just their second season in the conference.
That said, Brey has struggled in the Big Dance. He is 8-11 in NCAA Tournament play and this is his first Sweet 16 since 2003. Arizona crushed the Irish 88-71 in his only trip to the Regional Semifinal. When Notre Dame loses, it tends to be against good coaches with tough, defensive-minded players. That is Wichita State in a nutshell.
(8) N.C. State vs. (4) Louisville
In the unpredictable East Region, Louisville meets N.C. State. The Wolfpack’s Mark Gottfried is a decent coach. Four years ago, he took over a Wolfpack program that hadn’t made the tourney in half a decade with Sidney Lowe at the helm; under Gottfried’s direction, the team has gone dancing four straight years. N.C. State went to the Sweet 16 in 2011-2012 and now is back after an upset of top seed Villanova on Saturday. Gottfried is a decent 12-8 in NCAA Tournament play. He has been to the Sweet 16 twice, with a 1-1 record.
Unfortunately, Gottfried has the unenviable task of facing Rick Pitino in the Sweet 16. Simply put, betting against Pitino in March has proved a very bad idea. He is 52-17 in NCAA Tournament games and is the only coach in college basketball history to win National Titles at two schools. He has taken three schools to the Final Four and is in the Sweet 16 for a fourth straight season.
The Wolfpack won’t be a pushover. They have talent on the perimeter, are athletic, and won at Louisville (74-65) on Valentine’s Day. But, now that it’s March, bet against Pitino getting his revenge at your own peril.
(Photo credit: Adam Glanzman (Flickr: PressDay20034 copy) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)