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Mike Lopresti | | March 27, 2014

Lopresti: Sidelines for Sweet 16 have big-game experience

Look at all the talent in the Sweet 16. Pure shooters, reliable scorers, All-Americans, tournament MVPs.

And we’re not even talking about the players. Those are the coaches.

The 16 men leading the first week survivors represent a bumper crop of former stars and legends. There’s a national champion in Steve Alford, a couple of retired jerseys in Johnny Dawkins and Fred Hoiberg, a four-year Big East starter in Kevin Ollie, the sure-shooting Miller brothers, Division II stalwarts in Tom Izzo and John Calipari.

There are ghosts of tournaments past. Alford once scored 33 points to beat No. 1 UNLV in the Final Four. Billy Donovan put in 20 to upset Georgetown in the regional final and push Providence onward. Dawkins scored 28 in the regional championship to send Mike Krzyzewski to his first Final Four.

Curious thing. Nearly all of them played guard. Centers apparently don’t quite make coaches as readily.

So we can look at the Sweet 16 matchups by coaches’ playing careers.

South Regional

Florida vs. UCLA: Donovan vs. Alford

Twenty-seven years ago, they played in the same Final Four, Donovan for Providence and Alford for Indiana.

• Donovan averaged only two points a game as a freshman and three as a sophomore. But a young coach named Rick Pitino came to Providence, and Donovan thrived. He averaged 20 points a game as a senior. The Friars lost in the national semifinals in 1987 when the Syracuse zone held him to eight points.

• Alford is No. 2 on the Indiana career scoring list and No. 9 on the NCAA career free throw percentage rankings. As a freshman, he outscored Michael Jordan 27-13 the day the Hoosiers stunned the No. 1 Tar Heels in the Sweet 16. As a senior, he scored 23 with seven 3-pointers in the national championship win over Syracuse.

Stanford vs. Dayton: Johnny Dawkins vs. Archie Miller

• Dawkins was so good at Duke, his No. 24 number is retired. In Krzyzewski’s breakout season, when the Blue Devils made it to the national championship game against Louisville, Dawkins averaged 25.5 points in the NCAA tournament.

• Miller hit 57.5 percent of his 3-point attempts one season at North Carolina. No Wolfpack player has ever done better.

East Regional

Connecticut vs. Iowa State: Kevin Ollie vs. Fred Hoiberg (both coaching at their alma maters)

• Ollie led the Huskies to the Sweet 16 in 1994 and Elite Eight the next season, losing 102-96 to eventual national champion UCLA. Later, he would play for 11 NBA franchises in 12 cities. He once was cut on Christmas Eve.

• The same year Ollie played in the Elite Eight, Hoiberg helped the Cyclones to the second round. He once scored 17 points the second half to key an upset of Kansas, and averaged 20 points as a junior and 19 as a senior All-American. He was so popular, a nickname -- the Mayor -- was born. He received write-in votes in the 1993 Ames mayoral election.

Virginia vs. Michigan State: Tony Bennett vs. Tom Izzo

• Bennett’s 49.7 career shooting percentage in 3-pointers for his father at Green Bay remains the highest in NCAA history. He was twice Mid-Continent Conference player of the year and as a senior was named the nation’s best senior under 6-feet tall. In 1991, he helped 12th-seeded Green Bay nearly pull of an upset in the NCAA tournament, losing 60-58. The opponent? Michigan State, with an assistant coach named Tom Izzo.

• Izzo was named team MVP at Northern Michigan and Division II third-team All-American. He set a school record for minutes played in a season.

West Regional

Arizona vs. San Diego State: Sean Miller vs. Steve Fisher

• Miller shares the 18th spot on the Pittsburgh career scoring list, and his 88.5 free throw percentage was once in the NCAA top 10. He helped the Panthers to three NCAA tournament trips, and won two games.

• Fisher was a member of a Division II Final Four team at Illinois State.

Wisconsin vs. Baylor: Bo Ryan vs. Scott Drew

• Ryan played his college basketball at Wilkes in Pennsylvania, and made his name earlier as a high school quarterback.

• When it comes to college basketball feats, Drew has to step aside for brother Bryce, who hit one of the classic buzzer-beaters in NCAA history for their father Homer at Valparaiso.

Midwest Regional

Kentucky vs. Louisville: John Calipari vs. Rick Pitino

• Long before he was trying to teach blue chip freshmen to play together, Calipari was leading Clarion State in assists and free throw percentage.

• That sounds rather like Pitino, who had 329 assists at Massachusetts.

Michigan vs. Tennessee: John Beilein vs. Cuonzo Martin

• Beilein, who has never been an assistant his entire coaching career, was showing leadership skills early, as team captain at Wheeling College.

• Martin is 14th on the Purdue career scoring list. He did not make a single 3-pointer his first two seasons, but hit 179 his last two. He helped the Boilermakers to the Elite Eight in 1994, where they lost to Duke. Later, he would beat a more ruthless opponent -- lymphoma.

Put the 16 together and you could have a swell old-timers game. Most of them come from the short-pants era, and it was Dawkins who mentioned, “Our kids are constantly laughing when they see old pictures.”

But there are echoes of their playing days still out on the court, in the way they prepare their own teams.

“There’s no question, any coach who’s played the game, a lot of their philosophies come out of what they experienced as a player,” Donovan said during his first national championship season at Florida.

Dawkins mentioned during the weekend in St. Louis how he has started telling his Stanford players tournament tales from his Duke days -- at Krzyzewski’s suggestion. “Don’t be reluctant to share stories of your experiences,” Krzyzewski said to him. “You are the only guy that’s been there.”

So Dawkins told his Cardinal team about 1985, and senior Dan Meagher crying in the Duke locker room after the Blue Devils were eliminated by Boston College. Dawkins, a junior, wondered why Meagher was so much more upset than anyone else. “You don’t understand,” Meagher told him. “This is it for me. This was my last opportunity.”

Dawkins hoped his players would get the point;  NCAA tournament games are often won by the most desperate. “We need all of our players to think of themselves as seniors,” he said.

Maybe it worked against Kansas. He has more stories from the old days to tell this week. But then, so do 15 other coaches.

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