The Strengths and Weaknesses of Each Final Four Team's Head Coach
The field is set for the 2013 Final Four, and there’s no lack of variety among the quartet of head coaches.
On one end of the spectrum is Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall, who has four times as many NCAA tournament wins this March as he’d accumulated over his first 14 seasons of coaching. On the other, Rick Pitino towers over the field with more Final Four appearances (seven) than all but four other coaches in history.
With such a wide array of experience, it’s no surprise that each coach brings a very different set of assets (and flaws) to the table. Read on for a look at the best and worst attributes of all four coaches who are headed to Atlanta next weekend.
Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
Gregg Marshall is the new kid on the block in a Final Four that’s otherwise rife with postseason experience. The Shockers’ semifinal against Louisville will be just the 14th NCAA tournament game of his career.
Having coached at both Winthrop and Wichita State, Marshall has ample experience in the underdog role.
His ability to convince a supposedly lesser team that has what it takes to beat a big-name program has been on display this month with victories over top-seeded Gonzaga and second-seeded Ohio State.
Until this season, Marshall had never made it as far as the Sweet 16.
His lack of late-round experience hasn’t been an issue so far, but the media blitz that accompanies the Final Four will be a novel challenge for the coach as well as for his suddenly famous team.
Facing Louisville's suffocating press in their next game, Marshall's Shockers can't afford any other distractions, but it's an open question whether Marshall can manage to keep them focused amid the circus that Atlanta is about to turn into.
John Beilein, Michigan
The turnaround John Beilein was supposed to engineer for Michigan is finally a reality.
After leading West Virginia as far as the Elite Eight in five strong years in Morgantown, he hadn’t even gotten the Wolverines to the Sweet 16 until this year’s impressive tournament run.
The perpetual green light that Beilein gives his three-point shooters is the heart of the lethal late-game offense that served him so well in the postseason with West Virginia. Ask Kansas how much fun it is to face a Beilein team in a one-possession contest.
He’s also done a fine job of keeping his offense clicking against some very skilled—and very disparate—defenses in this tournament (VCU, Kansas and Florida in consecutive games).
Beilein has never been an especially effective defensive coach, and this year’s Wolverines have struggled in low-scoring matchups, such as the one he's almost certain to face against the mighty Syracuse zone.
He’s also had some trouble in this tournament with finding the right counter-move to teams that attack Michigan’s lack of size inside.
Jim Boeheim, Syracuse
With 920 wins and counting, Jim Boeheim is second only to Mike Krzyzewski in Division I history. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005, when Gregg Marshall was still two seasons away from taking over the Wichita State program.
Boeheim is a perfect 3-0 in national semifinal games, so the rigors of Final Four week aren’t about to faze him. Though he doesn’t have the deepest bench in this field, he gets outstanding results from the substitutions he does make.
For someone who’s been an elite coach for nearly four decades, Boeheim’s three seasons’ worth of Final Four experience isn’t a particularly impressive total.
His unswerving reliance on the 2-3 zone has made his teams great, but also limits his ability to make in-game adjustments. If Michigan's three-point gunners start eating up the zone the way they did against Florida, Boeheim has few ways to respond.
Rick Pitino, Louisville
To say that Rick Pitino is at home under the tournament spotlight is an understatement.
The Cardinals bench boss was the first coach in history to take three different programs to the Final Four, and this year’s trip (the seventh of his Hall of Fame career) ties him with Roy Williams for third-most all-time.
With his mountain of postseason experience, Pitino is well-suited to helping his team come together in the wake of Kevin Ware's ugly injury.
The veteran coach also knows how to adapt to the players he has available, as he's done this year by dialing up the defensive pressure in response to his team's dearth of three-point shooting options.
The fiery Pitino is more likely than the rest of these coaches to pick up a technical foul that isn’t of the send-his-team-a-message variety.
He’s also seen his hands-off approach to star guard Russ Smith come back to bite him on occasion, as when Smith repeatedly failed to produce a game-winning shot in a quintuple-overtime loss at Notre Dame.