Four for Four is our quick look at four things you need to know about the 2013 Final Four right off the bat. We did it last April, too, but I can't remember why the introduction was so long.
The Final Four is well-coached. It has to be. It is very hard for a team to survive the crucible of the NCAA tournament without the total package: a defined style, great game-to-game preparation and planning, smart in-game decision-making and a center of gravity in the nerviest moments. Good coaches do most of those things; great coaches do them all.
So we've arrived at another (our last) theme of the Final Four: All of these teams are very well-coached.
A couple of these coaches need no introduction, and in Jim Boeheim's case you get the impression he'd rather you didn't introduce him. The famously, um, irascible Syracuse coach is also famously successful and famously consistent: Boeheim joined Syracuse's coaching staff as a grad assistant in 1969, took over the head-coaching job in 1976 and since has won 920 games, gone to the postseason (either NIT or NCAA) in every year of his tenure, never posted a losing season and won one national title, in 2003. His vaunted 2-3 zone is just as famous, and yet even now it is still destroying opposing offenses in the postseason.
Likewise, if you don't know Rick Pitino, you're probably not very interested in basketball. Pitino has been at both the college and pro level since 1978, a career that has wound through Boston U, Providence, the New York Knicks, Kentucky, the Boston Celtics and now Louisville, where Pitino has been since 2001. He won a national title at Kentucky, got the short end of Christian Laettner's shot in 1992 and coined the "walking through that door" meme that would be overused for decades to come. Since arriving at Louisville, Pitino has taken the Cardinals to three Final Fours and four Elite Eights. He is regarded by most basketball people as one of the true masters of the college game, someone who can manage to make his players feel loved while he's shouting at them, who can then turn those screams into a perfectly executed group full-court press. There aren't many better coaches, and I know one thing for sure: There is no one more fun to watch coach than Pitino. He's always great.
Michigan's John Beilein has had a far more circuitous route to the Final Four. While Boeheim was building his world at Syracuse, and Pitino was moving from college to the NBA and back again (twice), Beilein was coaching at Newfane High School, Erie Community College, Nazareth, Le Moyne (go Dolphins!), Canisius, Richmond, West Virginia and then finally Michigan in 2007. He built his reputation at WVU as a brilliant offensive coach; he took a team whose two best players were Mike Gansey and Kevin Pittsnogle and got them to the cusp of a Final Four in 2005 (they lost in overtime in the regional final to Louisville). Beilein has a crop of much better players now -- Trey Burke is the player of the year front-runner (or should be), Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III are all excellent finishers, and Mitch McGary is surging on the low block -- and the Wolverines' offense has been predictably efficient. Beilein is a coaches' coach: When his name is mentioned around coaches, the praise is almost always effusive.
Gregg Marshall is sort of the same way: There are few coaches in the country who don't make it clear Marshall is one of the smartest guys in the business. Arguably more impressive is what Marshall said in Los Angeles this weekend, any time he was connected with another job -- even the local (and then still open UCLA gig): "I'm not a jumper." Marshall has had exactly two head-coaching jobs. The first was at Winthrop, where he remained from 1998 to 2007; the second, since 2007-08, has been Wichita State. In his first season, the Shockers finished 11-20. In the second, they improved to 25-10. Then it was 29-8, and now 30-8 and still counting, with a Final Four appearance to outwardly confirm what most basketball people already knew: Wichita State is a great program, and Marshall is an excellent coach.