This weekend's run to college basketball national championship could prove anticlimactic after last week's thrilling "Elite Eight" match-ups. But a number of fascinating subplots still remain to be played out at the Final-Four.
How do you top a March Madness weekend of basketball that required overtime in three of four regional finals? Two incredible late-game comebacks - 20 points by Louisville and 15 by Illinois? A bouncing-on-the-rim three-pointer with the clock running down that fell - forcing double-overtime - and Michigan State still comes back to win?
Well, despite the fantastic run-up, there is more history waiting to be made. Just by getting Louisville to Saint Louis, Rick Pitino has become the first coach in NCAA history to take three different schools to the Final-Four. He says it was not easy. "Our road to the Final-Four was a very difficult one. Starting with Louisiana Lafayette, we thought they played awesome. And then we had to play Georgia Tech, the national runner-ups, then you play Washington, one of the hottest teams in the country and number-one seed, and then you follow up it up with a terrific West Virginia team. So it has just been an unbelievable ride," he said.
Pitino also brought Providence in 1987 and took Kentucky three times, winning the championship in 1996. Roy Williams is in his second year coaching his alma mater, North Carolina, and is making his first Final-Four appearance since 2000. He previously took Kansas to the semifinals four times over 15 seasons, but Williams has yet to take home an NCAA championship.
Tom Izzo has taken Michigan State to the Final-Four four times, but says this time is very special. "You know, the most satisfying of all of them, maybe because I realized how hard it is to get back to a Final-Four. And how many great coaches, that I have so much respect for, have never been to one," he said.
The Spartans won the title in 2000, the last time two teams from the much-maligned Big-10 Conference made it into the semifinal field.
While Izzo is hoping that history repeats itself, the other Big-10 coach, Bruce Weber of Illinois, is the only one without experience at the Final-Four.
Top-seeded Illinois has made it to the Final-Four five times, with its last appearance in 1989. And though the Fighting Illinois spent 15 straight weeks ranked number-one, they have never won the national championship. Weber says his team is thrilled to make it to the semifinals, but wants more. I am very humbled that I have the chance to take a team to the Final-Four. Everyone does not get to do that. You know, I think the kids, all year they talked about a national championship and we are going to go after it," he said.
So the field is wide open as March Madness extends into April. Expect the unexpected when Illinois plays Louisville and Michigan State challenges North Carolina Saturday night.