Photo: Mike Krzyzewski and Quinn Cook embrace with the South Region title clinched.
Anyone with a child learns the Sesame Street-style quiz. This one regards the Final Four basketball teams gathering this weekend in Indianapolis to decide the NCAA championship.
Which one of these doesn’t fit?
Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski
Mike Kryzewski is in his 35th year with the Blue Devils. This is his 12th Final Four with four NCAA titles.Without senior point guard Quinn Cook, Duke’s three freshmen that may be one-and-done for the NBA wouldn’t have gained the thrill of a Final Four trip upon winning the NCAA South Region.
And Cook, who fell into Coach K’s arms in tears, otherwise would have been only the second player in Krzyzewski's history at Duke without a banner of some type hanging in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo
Tom Izzo is in his 20th year with the Spartans. This is his seventh Final Four with one national title. His starting lineup features two seniors, a junior, a sophomore and a freshman.
They’re all playing in their first Final Four after winning the NCAA East Region. That is most significant to seniors Travis Trice and Branden Dawson, who both had tearful embraces with Izzo. They were juniors last year when Izzo’s record of every class having participated in at least one Final Four was snapped with an upset loss in the Elite Eight to eventual NCAA champion Connecticut. They felt the weight of the Spartan Nation to assuage that wound.
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan
Bo Ryan is in his 15th year with the Badgers. This is his second straight Final Four after winning the NCAA West Region. His starting lineup features two seniors, one junior, two sophomore and another senior that was a starter until he suffered a mid-season foot injury.
They’re all returning to the Final Four, including senior Frank Kaminsky, who bypassed a chance to turn pro to return to school. They hoisted Ryan on their shoulders.
Kentucky coach John Calipari
John Calipari is in his sixth year with the Wildcats, his third job in the last 15 years and fifth in the last 27 since he was first named a head coach at Massachusetts. This is his fourth Final Four at Kentucky after winning the NCAA Midwest and his sixth overall, although one each at Massachusetts and Memphis had to be vacated for NCAA violations.
His starting lineup features one junior, two sophomores and two freshmen. Willie Cauley-Stein is the lone wolf as a junior that recognized another year maturing in college would help before he takes on the real world of the NBA. It also was encouraging Aaron Harrison returned as a sophomore.
But Calipari's first four players off the bench are two sophomores and two freshmen. Six of his first nine players in the rotation are projected as NBA draft picks, including three freshmen as one-and-done players. It's discouraging the culture he fosters to turn pro when most aren't ready.
I understand that Coach K has enjoyed his own success with one-and-dones and that Izzo and Ryan would take them if they picked their school. Izzo had one of the orginal one-and-dones under the the then-new rule with Zach Randolph after the 2001 Final Four season. For the players, I understand the money is hard to turn down.
But there is something Bill Belichick-like about the way Calipari twists the rules, stretching the integrity of a college game that already has been strained. The NFL had to change a rule that Belichick exploited in the NFL playoffs last season over the public protest of Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh. Perhaps that’s a harbinger the NBA and colleges may work together to do something about the one-and-done rule.
It’s also equally easy to see whose alumni will enjoy this year’s Final Four experience more.
I’ll take watching veteran players hug their coach in tears over viewing Kentucky players jump to the NBA so quickly they are just another name in the media guide’s list of letter men.
Who in Lexington cares about the return to campus of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton? The only legacy they left behind was unfinished business. I wouldn’t know enough about them to care, although it’s increasingly easy to know Wall needed more maturing before he left college for the NBA. Calipari's won't be around long enough to feel the pain of an alma mater.
Over the past four seasons, Duke fans have learned enough about Cook, Michigan State fans about Trice and Dawson and Wisconsin fans about Kaminsky, Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson to know them and remember these are teams identified with their eras on campus.
You can taste and feel the tradition at Duke,Michigan State or Wisconsin during a Final Four run. At Kentucky, the moment is a vapor. The star players have left behind nothing but hardware on their stepping stone path to the NBA.
Krzyzewski, Izzo and Ryan sell their programs on joining a family atmosphere to form a bond of teamwork. Calipari sells an NBA Combine.