Calipari, Matta among coaches facing the most Sweet 16 pressure
At the start of Jim Boeheim's postgame news conference after Syracuse's victory over Kansas State last Saturday, the moderator informed the media that the win had moved Boeheim into a tie with John Wooden on the alltime NCAA tournament wins list. Boeheim flashed a bemused smirk and remarked that Wooden did in 10 seasons what he's done in 29.
As Boeheim intimated, numbers can lie and accomplishments require context and, often, situational nuance. Not all wins are created equal, and not all Sweet 16 runs are worth the same.
Heading into the regional semifinals, there's an enormous range for the remaining coaches in terms of expectations on them to keep winning. Here's a look at each situation, listed from most to least pressure.
He has his most complete team in his three years at Kentucky and is the favorite to finally win his first national title. As every year features a significant reboot of the roster, you want to strike while the iron's hot. Oh, and there's an interim coach in charge of the Knicks. Other than that, nothing to discuss here.
The Buckeyes were a No. 2 seed and had Evan Turner in 2010 and lost in the Sweet 16 to a No. 6 seed. They were a No. 1 seed last year and had Jared Sullinger and lost to an (underseeded) No. 4 seed. Ohio State is a No. 2 seed this year with Sullinger and Co. back. And the Buckeyes have drawn a No. 6 seed from in-state that Matta hasn't wanted to play in nonconference. Must win.
He has the 1-seed in the East. He's 67 years old. He has lost in this round in seven of his nine chances since 1990. With off-court issues swirling around the program, this might be his last best chance to add national title No. 2 and put a final touch on his Pantheon resume. Should have a solid 'Cuse crowd in Boston.
Two national titles buys you a ton of currency, and in a way, there's less pressure if Kendall Marshall can't go. Then again, the Heels draw 13-seed Ohio in the Sweet 16 and then either a Williams Bowl showdown with Kansas or a grudge match with N.C. State, which might view Marshall's absence as ACC tournament karma. A loss in either game this weekend won't sit well.
Drew has the Bears playing very well down the stretch, making a mockery of those (me!) who completely wrote them off in February. With a favorable matchup against Xavier, at least one more win should be hoped for, but no one in Waco is going to gripe with two Sweet 16s in three seasons.
The Rick keeps winning ... just not as much as nemesis John Calipari and Kentucky. A possible Final Four rematch looms, which creates a best case/worst case scenario. Cards fans would be beyond thrilled with a Final Four this year, but losing to the Wildcats there? That wouldn't go over well.
A combination of playing with house money at this stage and a running NCAA theme where he handles lower seeds and bows out to higher ones. Ryan has a legit chance against Syracuse to make it to a second Elite Eight, which would be a big achievement after key personnel losses.
Self's done a remarkable job building this season's Jayhawks, but a Sweet 16 loss to N.C. State would be a bit of a letdown. His 2008 title has insulated him from more critique of multiple early-NCAA whiffs. Getting past Purdue means much less downside risk in this tourney. One more win and it's all upside.
Six Final Fours in the last 13 seasons? If he wants to get back to .500, he needs to make it to New Orleans! Jokes aside, the Spartans should be favored to come out of the West, although Louisville and the Marquette/Florida winner will have a lot to say about that. Brendan Dawson's injury makes this more variable.
With the rebirth stage of the rebuild arriving a year ahead of schedule, Crean can make himself completely bulletproof in Bloomington if he can take down Kentucky for a second time this season. With a big recruiting class on tap for the fall, the pressure gauge will be hotter next March.
It took longer than Crosstown Punchout rival Cincinnati, but Mack's Musketeers have refound themselves late and now are freerolling against Baylor. Excellent program with a long legacy of coaching success and one who seems happy to be there. A good situation for all.
A second straight Sweet 16 with the Golden Eagles, and it would be hard to play worse than last season's regional semifinal, so there shouldn't be a ton of game pressure on #TBW. Williams makes $2 million a year; is that enough to keep a bigger program from trying to generate some Buzz this offseason?
Long-tenured and with back-to-back titles on his resume, Billy the Kid is feeling fine as the underdog. The No. 7 seed is one of the most mercurial clubs left in the competition. Final Four? Sure! Go 6 for 31 from three in a loss to Marquette? Also possible. Still a football school despite all the hoops success.
Modern Bearcats fans won't be forgetting about Bob Huggins anytime soon, but with three NCAA wins in the last two seasons, Cronin is getting the program back on a national level. He handled the aftermath of the #ZipEmUp brawl with aplomb and never looked back, turning the whole season around.
Outlast Duke, make the Sweet 16, potentially have a shot at North Carolina in a regional final and with a loaded class on tap for the fall? Things are definitely ahead of pace in his debut season with the Pack. Should he make a Final Four by rubbing out the Heels?
Three NCAA tournament wins in three seasons, with the first Sweet 16 in school history? The only pressure on Groce will be to pick the right job after this run is over. If he's ready to leave Athens, there should be numerous suitors (and perhaps a gig for Ohio State lead assistant Jeff Boals, a former Bobcat).