“What’s the hardest part of coaching?”
You might ask John Calipari, or Tom Izzo, or Bill Self, or any other coach in the sport and get a variety of answers. Or you’ll get the obvious one—winning the national championship.
Winning a 68-team single-elimination tournament in a sport that crowns one champion among 350+ contenders will instantly catapult you into an elite circle of coaches, and no matter how many more wins, conference titles, NCAA Tournament appearances, or even Final Fours you have than other coaches it’ll be very hard to separate yourself on one stat: how many times your team has danced under the confetti to “One Shining Moment.”
Several coaches in this year’s NCAA Tournament have won national championships before, but only one coach in all of Division I has won more than that: Bill Self, whose Kansas Jayhawks added a second title to his name after the 2008 run with Mario Chalmer’s big shot against Memphis. They might get him a third title this year: for the second year in a row, the Jayhawks are a 1-seed (Rick Pitino did win a second title at Louisville in 2013, but it got vacated, so we won’t count that, especially since we’re BBN).
Scott Drew, Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Tony Bennett, and Tom Izzo are the five other coaches dancing this season besides Self that have gone all the way, and they’ve all done it only once. Will any of them do it again this season? The odds are against them—Scott Drew’s Baylor Bears are the highest seed, and they’re only a 3, Bennett’s Cavaliers are a 4, Kentucky’s a very up-and-down team at a 6 we thought would be a lot better in the preseason, Izzo’s Spartans are a 7-seed who face stiff odds just to make the second weekend, and Pitino’s Iona Gaels are a mid-major 13-seed for crying out loud.
If there’s any year for a coach to get their first title, it’s this one. Or maybe Bill Self’s Jayhawks will just waltz in and win the first back-to-back titles since 2006-2007 Florida under Billy Donovan—or maybe Tshiebwe will lead the ‘Cats to #9!!!