Alex Brandon/Associated Press
Alex Brandon/Associated Press
When two teams from the same conference meet with a Final Four berth at stake, fans think it’s great from a rivalry and bragging rights perspective, and conference administrators hear cash registers ringing as NCAA shares are earned.
But coaches? Not a chance.Saturday’s Marquette-Syracuse game was the ninth time since the field expanded to 64 teams that two schools from the same conference played in the regional final.The first of those nine times was in 1987. Georgetown – a No. 1 seed just four years from winning a national championship – met Providence – an up-and-coming program under up-and-coming coach Rick Pitino – in the South Regional final.
Former Georgetown coach John Thompson was asked Friday about playing a team from the same conference with such a big prize at stake.
Three times, he colorfully said that it was a pain in the posterior.
“They know you, and you know them. There’s no surprise. No coach wants to get somebody from within your league,” said Thompson, who is working as a radio analyst. “When they watch tape, it’s not Georgetown-Villanova or Georgetown-Syracuse, it’s Georgetown and you. You’re in the film as you’re watching it.
“It’s hard enough to beat a team you know nothing about. It’s a lot harder to beat a team that knows you really well.”
Neither Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim nor Marquette coach Buzz Williams described what they were about to face in the same terms as Thompson, but it was easy to tell they weren’t thrilled about the opponent.
“They know us; that’s a fact. They know how to play against us; they’re used to that, and we understand them, what they do,” said Boeheim, who will take the Orange to the Final Four for the fourth time. “So I think that’s all part of playing somebody that you know. They’re going to understand what to do, and hopefully we will understand what we need to do as well.”
Williams, who was a win away from his first Final Four, didn’t mince words.“I don’t want to play Syracuse again,” he said. “You know them, and you know their zone; I know all that. I don’t want to play them. I would rather play somebody else. But it’s part of having so many good teams in our league that go to the NCAA Tournament.”Marquette won the only other meeting this season 74-71 after trailing by as many as 11 points. It was their only meeting because of the unbalanced schedule that comes with a 15-team league.
In the past, some of the conference opponents playing for a Final Four berth had met three times before the tournament, and sometimes that had a lot to do with who moved on.
A look at the previous matchups of league foes. Syracuse and Marquette fans can draw their own conclusions to what it meant Saturday:
Villanova 78, Pittsburgh 76
Big East, 2009: Scottie Reynolds made a half-court dash for a last-second basket that capped one of the best regional finals of the decade.
There were 15 lead changes – six in the last 6 minutes, and Villanova went to the Final Four for the first time since winning it all in 1985. The Wildcats, who won the only meeting between the two, 67-57, went 22 of 23 from the free throw line to beat the top-seeded Panthers.
Oklahoma 81, Missouri 75
Big 12, 2002: Hollis Price scored 18 points, and Aaron McGhee hit a big 3-pointer with 2 minutes, 14 seconds left to give the Sooners their 12th consecutive win and ninth in a row over Missouri, three that season.
The game was physical and tightly called – 53 fouls were whistled – and that helped the Sooners, who held Tigers’ forward Clarence Gilbert to 1-of-16 shooting.
Wisconsin 64, Purdue 60
Big Ten, 2000: The Badgers beat the Boilermakers for the third time in four meetings, and another physical, defensive win meant they moved on to their first Final Four appearance since 1941, when they won it all.
The loss once again kept Purdue coach Gene Keady from reaching the Final Four. The matchup wasn’t one many predicted, as Wisconsin was the region’s eighth seed, and Purdue was No. 6.
“We faced a team today that probably, if we had faced any other team in America, we might have been better off, except for Michigan State,” Keady said that day. “They’re a team that was very, very good on D. They knew our weaknesses, and they went right after them.”
Cincinnati 88, Memphis State 57
Great Midwest, 1992: Herb Jones had 23 points and 13 rebounds, and Nick Van Exel scored 22 points as the Bearcats beat the Tigers for the fourth time that season, handing them their worst loss in 11 years.
The Great Midwest was the newest conference in the NCAA, and Cincinnati capped its season in style with a great effort on D.
Michigan 75, Ohio State 71, OT
Big Ten, 1992: The second of these matchups that season was a coming-out party for Michigan’s Fab Five. Chris Webber had 23 points and 11 rebounds, and Jalen Rose scored 20 points to lead the five freshmen starters who went on to reach the Final Four again as sophomores.
The Buckeyes had beaten the Wolverines twice during the regular season, and Ohio State had a chance at the sweep, but a 10-footer from the baseline by Chris Jent, now an assistant at Ohio State, bounced off the rim as time expired in regulation.
“They have qualities you don’t find in a lot of folks,” Michigan coach Steve Fisher said then of his freshman class. “They’re smart, determined and extremely unselfish. ... They know how to play; they know how to win. They won’t accept anything else.”
Arkansas 88, Texas 85
Southwest Conference, 1990: Lenzie Howell scored 21 points to lead the Razorbacks to a three-game sweep of the Longhorns and their first Final Four since 1978.
The final score was a moral victory of sorts for Texas, which allowed Arkansas to score more than 100 points in the two regular-season meetings. It was the Final Four debut for coach Nolan Richardson, who would go on to lead the Razorbacks to the 1994 national title and the championship game the next year.
Kansas 71, Kansas State 58
Big 8, 1988: Danny Manning scored 20 points for the Jayhawks, who went on to win it all as a 6-seed under coach Larry Brown.
Kansas lost two of three to Kansas State in the regular season, but defense was the difference in the regional final as the Jayhawks held star guard Mitch Richmond to a season-low 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting.
Providence 88, Georgetown 73
Big East, 1987: The game that caused Thompson so much distress was the one that brought Friars guard Billy “The Kid” Donovan to the national spotlight and Providence’s first Final Four since 1973.
Donovan, one of three guards Pitino made take advantage of the new 3-point line, became familiar with leading a team to the Final Four himself almost two decades later when he coached Florida to consecutive national championships.
Providence, which finished fourth in the Big East, used a different strategy against the much taller Hoyas, going inside and using Donovan as a decoy. The Friars kept the conference connection going one more game, as they lost to Syracuse in the national semifinals.Georgetown had won two of the three regular-season meetings.“I think we saw Providence one time too many,” Thompson said.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press