The 2012 Final Four is being billed as one of the best in history, with No. 1 seed Kentucky, No. 2s Kansas and Ohio State and No. 4 Louisville set to duke it out in New Orleans.
“It’s a great field. You’ve got some of the most historic, tradition-rich programs in the country hooking up and going at it,” KU coach Bill Self said during Monday’s Final Four coaches teleconference.
“In ’08, we had an unbelievable field, too. It’s the first time we had all four No. 1 seeds advance,” Self added of KU, Memphis, North Carolina and UCLA.
“There’s not that much difference in the teams — (seeds) 1, 2, 3 … it doesn’t mean anything. You have to play the opponent across from you. In this particular year, there are no major surprises who is there,” Self continued. “I think it’ll be great for fans. Cinderella is always a great story, but no way you could ever say a Rick Pitino-coached team (Louisville) or Kansas or Ohio State or Kentucky will ever be a Cinderella. It makes for a more traditional-type high-profile Final Four similar to ’08.”
The way it stacks up, Kentucky has seven NCAA titles, but none since 1998, the year after Pitino left that school. KU has three (officially, to go with the two Helms titles), Louisville two and Ohio State one.
“These are four of the top 10 traditions of all time, no question,” said Pitino, whose Cardinals (30-9) will meet Kentucky (36-2) at 5:09 p.m. Saturday in the Superdome. KU (31-6) and Ohio State (31-7) will follow approximately 7:49 p.m.
“Ohio State ... we know of their recent success, but you don’t realize going back how successful they were,” Pitino added. “These are four programs with tremendous interest in the game of basketball. Kansas, Louisville and Kentucky ... the fever pitch for basketball has always been off the charts. When kids grow up there, they understand it.
“Ohio State, when (Jerry) Lucas and those guys played, they were at their best and certainly have great tradition, and now Thad Matta in recent years has it back to where they are a top five, seven program every year. It is basketball royalty in terms of the interest involved. For us, a small state like Kentucky of 3 million people, to have two teams in the Final Four is quite special.”
The two semifinal games are rematches. Kentucky beat Louisville, 69-62, on New Year’s Eve in Lexington. KU beat Ohio State, which was without All-America forward Jared Sullinger, 78-67, on Dec. 10 in Allen Fieldhouse.
“Every game we play is someone’s Super Bowl,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari, who like KU’s Self is from the Larry Brown coaching tree. “You think of this whole Final Four. We ended Ohio State’s season last year. We opened up this season beating Kansas (75-65, Nov. 15 in New York). You don’t think they want a piece of us?
“We beat Louisville earlier in the year. They are going crazy to beat us, but let me say this, so was Vandy, so was Florida, so was North Carolina. Everybody we play was that way. It’s not like this is any different from any game we play. The other team is going to play out of their minds. We know it.”
Here’s a brief history of the four teams in the NCAA Tournament:
• Kentucky: 15 Final Fours, 7 national titles, second all-time to UCLA’s 11. Last national title was 1998. John Calipari has not won a national title. He’s been to the Final Four with three schools (UMass, Memphis, Kentucky). This is his fourth Final Four.
• Louisville: 9 Final Fours, 2 national titles. Last national title was 1986. Pitino has won one national title and been to the Final Four with three schools, Louisville, Kentucky and Providence. This is his fifth Final Four.
• Kansas: 14 Final Fours, 3 national titles (two Helms titles). Last title was 2008. Self has won one national title, and this is his second Final Four.
• Ohio State: 11 Final Fours, 1 national title (1960). Thad Matta has not won a national title. This is his second Final Four. He led Xavier to the 2004 Elite Eight.
Sullinger is back: There will be a lot of hype this week concerning the fact Sullinger did not play in the loss to KU because of back spasms.
“I think Thomas will be excited,” Self said of Thomas Robinson, who like Sullinger is a first-team All-American. “I know thinks a lot of Jared. Even when we played them the first time, I know our guys (wanted him to play). It was one of those — if it wasn’t game time it was a that-day decision — when they decided not to play Jared. Looking back now, what a smart decision. Why risk anything and you still are a team that goes to the Final Four. That was smart on their part. We know we caught a break that day. I know our guys. They’ve played in enough big games and I know they like playing against the best. Certainly we’ll get an opportunity to play against not only a great team but one of the premier players in the country.”
Haase lands UAB job: Former KU guard Jerod Haase has been named head coach at Alabama-Birmingham, UAB athletic director Brian Mackin announced Monday.
Haase, who turns 38 on April 1, played for Roy Williams at KU and has spent the last 13 years on Williams’ staff with KU and North Carolina. He helped the Tar Heels to national championships in 2005 and 2009. He has also served as the head coach for the junior varsity team five times in his nine-year UNC tenure.
A 1997 KU graduate in business administration, Haase served as KU director of basketball operations from 1999-2003. During that time, the Jayhawks reached the 2002 Final Four and the national championship game in 2003. Haase will be formally introduced at a press conference this morning.
Last weekend, he spoke with the Journal-World about his desire to be a head coach.
“When the opportunity is right,” he said. “That’s one of the biggest things. I don’t need to run out and get a head coaching job just because I might be able to get one. Getting in the right situation is paramount.
“Id love to be a head coach. I think it’s the next step in the process and I’m definitely thinking about being a head coach someday.”
Of his love for both KU and North Carolina he said: “The nice part is it doesn’t have to be percentages. I’m absolutely a Jayhawk no question and a Tar Heel as well.”
His duties at Carolina? “We don’t really split it up,” he said. “Coach Robinson (Steve) and I work more with the perimeter players. Whether it’s scouting or shooting, the coaching part is more whole method. We are all doing all of it.
“I’ve grown in weight. I’ve grown a lot,” he cracked, asked how much he’s grown as a coach the past 10 years or so. “I think experience does count. Experience does matter. Whether the recruiting experience, the game coaching experience, the JV team head coaching experience and day to day stuff in the office ... I feel I’ve learned continually now for 13 years.”
Popular KU staff: Barry Hinson’s name continues to be mentioned as a serious candidate for the head coaching post at Southern Illinois University. The Southern newspaper in Carbondale, Ill., in fact says Hinson is one of the Salukis’ top candidates to succeed Chris Lowery. Hinson, KU’s director of basketball operations, is fourth all-time in wins at Missouri State. Also, ESPN reports that Tulsa “reached out” to KU assistant Danny Manning about its opening. KU assistant Joe Dooley continues to be mentioned as a strong possibility at Mississippi State.