By Jim Litke/The Associated Press
Welcome back to BracketRacket, your one-stop shopping for all things NCAA on tournament game days. Read fast. Football season is just five short months away.
They dress alike, they walk alike, at times they even talk alike and yes, each has on occasion lost his mind. That’s no coincidence. But doing justice to the relationship between Billy Donovan and Rick Pitino requires time and space we just don’t have.
It goes back 25 years to tiny Providence College, where Donovan was a fearless 3-point shooter nicknamed “Billy The Kid” and Pitino was a ferociously ambitious young coach. Then they were practically father and son as assistant and coach at mighty Kentucky through the mid-1990s. Now they’re the friendliest of rivals at Florida and Louisville, respectively.
If you want the whole story, read AP national writer Eddie Pells here: (http://yhoo.it/GVRurI).
If you just want to get up to speed, watch 15 seconds or so of the intro from the classic TV show “Kung Fu” beginning here: (http://youtu.be/_iaamkUEF_A?t=35s)
Just like at the 1-minute mark of that clip, we’re at that juncture in their relationship where the wise old master (Pitino) opens his palm a second time with the prize still in sight, then tells his student (Donovan), “When you can take the pebble from my hand, it will be time for you to go.”
It could happen tonight.
Pitino is 6-0 in previous head-to-head matchups, but trails 1-2 in national titles. They’re dead-even when measured by the respect of their peers. By midnight, only one of them will be headed back to the Final Four.
CELEBRITY ALUMS — FAMILY DIVISION
Speaking of sitcoms, we now join “At Home with the Sindelars” in progress.
There’s dad Joey, a former PGA Tour and current Champions Tour pro who was a three-time All-American, NCAA champion and athlete of the year at Ohio State, where he’s also a member of the school’s Hall of Fame. Then there’s son Jamison, who’s on the Buckeyes golf team now. And here comes mom, Suzanne, who like the rest of us is wondering why her house always resembles a shrine at this time of year — to Syracuse. AP sportswriter John Kekis investigates ahead of the Buckeyes-Orangemen regional semifinal tonight.
“He cheers for Ohio State,” Suzanne told him, “but it’s not like Syracuse.”
And what’s that like?
“He’s a sicko,” she said. “He’s completely sicko. … “Nobody can call him or talk to him during a Syracuse game. I’ll tell you how sick he is: We go to the game in Syracuse and he has to make sure we tape it, and then he watches it again when we get home.”
It’s even worse when Sindelar is playing golf on the road.
“At tournaments, I’ve had people come up, going, ‘Syracuse is up seven at the half.’ And I’m going, ‘No! Don’t tell me! I’ve got it recorded,’ he recalled. ” It really is an addiction for me.”
Being raised in upstate New York set the hook. Living two hours southwest from campus ensures a steady supply. But what really turned Sindelar orange for life was a golf match in the mid-1970s, when he teamed up with then-high school rival and future pro Mike Hulbert and crushed a young Syracuse basketball assistant and golf coach named Jim Boeheim and his partner in a best-ball tournament in Ithaca. Not long after that beating by Hulbert and Sindelar, Boeheim dropped the golf duties and became head basketball coach.
Worked out well for all three of them. No word yet on their fourth.
Year after year, either because they’re teams were already out of the tournament or never got in, Boeheim and John Chaney, who coached Temple back in the day, would sit in the stands at games and wonder what they were doing wrong. When he wasn’t courtside covering a game himself, AP college basketball writer Jim O’Connell would go over occasionally and join them.
He remembers the conversation often revolving around zone defenses — both Boeheim and Chaney were throwbacks that way — and why this team or that was still playing, when they couldn’t stop an usher from scoring if he wandered down from the seats and onto the floor, then happened to catch the ball in the paint.
All these years later Boeheim is one of the winningest coaches in the game and still the only one who uses a 2-3 zone full-time. That’s why O’Connell thinks he’ll beat Ohio State.
“In the NBA, it’s man-to-man defense all the time and college guys who want to get there hate playing zone. They think it’s a waste of their time. Plus it’s harder to teach than people think,” he said.
“Boeheim’s a genius that way. He recruits guys with big wingspans — look at the three guys on the baseline for Syracuse; when their arms are stretched, they practically reach baseline to baseline standing in one spot. If you don’t think that gets into an opponent’s head, ask Ohio State at the end tonight.
Coaches call players like that “long,” and they’re desirable as recruits go. But somebody has to put the ball in the basket on other end, too. Boeheim’s real genius was convincing the few McDonald’s All-Americans he was able to recruit early on that defense was more than the time that elapsed between their last shot and the next. Now he’s got it all, and a better seat for games in the bargain.
STAT OF THE DAY
Since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 there have been a number of longshots that have made it to the Elite Eight, but taking that next step to the Final Four is another story. On Saturday, No. 7 Florida will face No. 4 Louisville looking to become the first 7 seed to ever advance to the Final Four since the field expanded to 64. No. 7 seeds are 0-6 in Elite Eight games since then, yet, over the same period, No. 8 seeds are 4-3 and No. 11 seeds 3-2. No. 9 and No. 10 seeds, on the other hand, are a combined 0-8.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“It’s always funny to me. I never hear anybody yelling at Mike Krzyzewski to go back and play zone. Why is that? He’s such a good coach, you don’t question him? Is that what that is? Really? Somebody shook their head down here. Okay, that means I’m not a good coach, so you can question me.” Boeheim replying to a question about whether his faith in zone defense was “unshakeable.”
At The Georgia Dome
Baylor 75, Xavier 70
Kentucky 102, Indiana 90
At Edward Jones Dome
North Carolina 73, Ohio 65, OT
Kansas 60, N.C. State 57
At US Airways Center
Louisville (29-9) vs. Florida (26-10), 3:30 p.m.
At TD Garden
Syracuse (34-2) vs. Ohio State (30-7), 6:05 p.m.