What’s at Stake For Each Final Four Team

UCONN

For the Program
When the program won its last national championship in 2011, some started making comparisons between UCONN and the blue bloods. As things stand now, UCONN is very close to joining the group of six schools (Indiana, UCLA, Kansas, Kentucky, UNC, & Duke).

If UCONN wins a 4th national championship, they would bring themselves a giant leap closer to joining the exclusive club.

UCONN would also have secured its 4th national title in 15 years making them one of the most dominate programs of that time period. UCONN would have further elevated itself and would add another chapter to the story of their remarkable and unprecedented rise from athletic doormat to an athletic power.

For Coach Ollie
All I can say is wow. I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting coach Ollie to fail, but I certainly wasn’t expecting him to have a Final Four under his belt so quickly. While this may be his second year at UCONN, this is his first year with postseason eligibility. This essentially means Ollie has reached the Final Four in his first year, a truly remarkable accomplishment.

With a national championship, Ollie will establish himself an up and coming coach in college basketball. What makes his success so remarkable is the obstacles working against him.

Last season when he was on the recruiting trail, he was saying something along the lines of…..

“I have a postseason ban, my top players are transferring, my conference is dying, and I have no coaching contract for next year.”

This is where I truly respect the work of coach Ollie. UCONN sent a horrible message to both Ollie and his players by giving a first year coach a single year contract. That signaled a lack of trust on behalf of the administration and undermined Ollie’s attempts to build the program.

Time and time again, I always hear about how hard it is for coaches to replace a legendary coach. Replacing a big name coach at a big time school means fans, alumni, and the administration have higher expectations and a lower tolerance for subpar seasons. The concept can be summed up simply with the quote…..

You don’t want to be the guy who replaces a legend. You want to be the guy who replaces the guy who replaced a legend.

For coach Ollie that doesn’t seem to matter.

For the AAC
The American already delivered in January with a BCS Bowl win. Now the American is proving they can roll with the big boys in basketball as well. What is especially fascinating for the AAC is these accomplishments are coming from committed conference members. The soon to be departing Cardinals whom were considered the preseason conference favorites for both basketball and football. Instead we are seeing schools like UCF, SMU, and UCONN step up to the plate, building this conference up for the future. This year has been terrific for the AAC and has set the tone that this conference despite the defections, can compete athletically with the power conferences.

For UCONN Fans
One of the biggest slights against UCONN is they are a one-coach school. Over the years I have seen it stated numerous times that UCONN would struggle to transition into the post Calhoun era.

Those fears were amplified when the Big East collapsed leaving the basketball program in a new and unproven conference. Then came NCAA sanctions resulting in several players transferring and a postseason ban.

Not to long ago things were looking very dim for the future of the Huskies basketball program. Just last year UCONN looked like a program is disarray with an unwelcoming future. If coach Ollie can secure a 4th national championship for the program, he will have proven to UCONN fans that the program will be a major force for years to come.

Regardless of what happens in Arlington, UCONN has already won. Getting to the Final Four couldn’t have come at a more critical time and their presence in North Texas has already done more than enough to put this program back on track.

Florida

For the Program
Like Connecticut, Florida is another program that can elevate themselves by winning a 3rd national championship for the program. Florida basketball is also the story of a program that saw a rapid rise. The Gator’s made their first NCAA tournament appearance in 1987. After making it to eight Elite Eights, five Final fours, and won back to back national championships with Tim Tebow, the Gator’s are now one of the premiere programs in the nation. Most sportswriters would put Florida outside the top ten, but inside the top 20.

The biggest knock against Florida is their lack of total wins. Florida ranks 112th in all time wins among current Division I programs. It will take decades for the Gator’s to rack up enough wins to get their all time win total to respectable levels. The best way for the Gator’s to elevate their program into the top 10 is by winning national championships. While I personally don’t believe a 3rd national championship is enough to warrant an undisputed spot in the top 10, it would bring them considerably closer and firmly cement them in the #11 or #12 spots.

For Coach Donovan
If coach Donovan makes it to his 4th championship game and captures a 3rd national championship, he will have further set himself up to be one of the top active coaches. Donovan has four straight Elite Eights and a total of six in the last nine years. Coach Donovan has already accomplished an astounding amount of tournament success for what has been a relatively young coaching career. If he wins it all again, he will have hit a level of success that very few coaches have matched.

For the SEC
You have the potential for an all-SEC championship game, which would be a dream for SEC commissioner Mike Slive. The SEC has often been criticized for its week basketball, particularly in the past five years. Despite being a 14-team conference in each of the past two years, the SEC has produced a total of six tournament bids in that time frame. While the SEC is top heavy, the knock against the conference is a lack of depth.

By placing two teams in the national championship game, no one will be able to criticize SEC basketball this year.

For Florida Fans
Lets face it…..

After the train wreck that was Florida Football this year, a basketball national championship will help Gator fans regain some self-esteem.

But on a basketball related note……

If Florida beats UK in the championship game ==> how awesome would it be for an SEC program to say they beat Kentucky 4x in one season?

Answer: Pretty Freaken Awesome.

Kentucky

For the Program
While we can spend all day marveling at the accomplishments of Kentucky basketball, the one thing every program wants more of is national championships. The debate over who the top program is features your classic all-time wins vs. most NCAA titles debate. As things stand now, UCLA sits at 11 championships compared to Kentucky’s eight. Meanwhile UCLA is 8th in all-time wins whereas UK sits at 1st with 358 more wins.

A 9th national championship would further the case’s of Wildcat fans who argue they are indeed the greatest college basketball program of all-time. Although I have more than enough confidence that UK fans will be pushing this case regardless of UK winning a 9th title or not.

For Coach Calipari
Sigh, lets get this over with…..

We all know about his (numerous) run-ins with the NCAA. The “Only coach to get a Final Four vacated at multiple schools” argument has been mentioned countless times by Calipari haters. We have seen more than enough UK fans come to coach Calipari’s defense citing how he was never directly implicated.

Regardless of all that, the controversy that is consistently surrounding coach Calipari is because of the one & done system he uses. In fact “uses” is a bit of an understatement. Calipari’s philosophy calls for a program to go all in on a group of unproven freshman each season. The one & done system under coach Cal has been quite interesting for Kentucky. In the past five years UK has:

2010: Elite Eight
2011: Final Four
2012: National Champions
2013: First Round NIT loss
2014: Final Four (thus far)

To sum up the general reactions to these accomplishments:

2010 & 2011: Okay, you can build a competitive team around a bunch of top high school recruits, but you can’t win a national championship with them. These guys don’t have the experience or maturity to win five-straight on the big stage.

2012: Wow! The one & done works.

2013: Wow! The one & done philosophy is high risk, high reward. You never know what you are going to get with these guys.

Then came the first half of the 2013-2014 season. Despite having a magnificent recruiting class, UK had a decent but not great season. The sports world was swirling about the possibility of a 2013 NIT repeat. I saw numerous sportswriters talking about the failure of Cal’s coaching philosophy. The 2012 national championship team suddenly was regulated to just “an anomaly” of Cal’s one & done system. UK finished the regular season losing three of their last four. But the team got hot in the SEC & NCAA tournaments and  the rest is history….

If Calipari wins it all he will have racked up an astounding two national championships plus a 3rd Final Four in four seasons. That type of accomplishment would elevate him to Bill Belichick “evil genius” status. In a year that Calipari’s system once looked like the very essence of it was being called into question, he is now poised to walk away from this season in a better position than he has been in at any point in his career.

This is why 2014 is the most important tournament of his career. By getting to the Final Four again he has built up enough trust/confidence from Kentucky to keep the one & done philosophy going. Now for Calipari it is about cementing his legacy and proving his one & done system can not only get to the Final Four on a regular basis, but win championships on a regular basis.

For the SEC
Besides all the stuff I already mentioned for Florida?

It’s no secret that UK is the butt of all SEC football jokes. In the past two football seasons 13of the14 SEC teams have been ranked at one point or another. If UK wins it will further inflate the SECers talking points about the dominance and total greatness of the Southeastern Conference.

For Kentucky Fans
What’s on the line?

Answer: Your self respect

Why: Because of this:
ncb_r_kentucky-tattoo_mb_600x600
This might not seem that crazy now, but this is from before the tournament. I along with plenty of others thought this guy was crazy. Remember that Kentucky was an 8 seed at this time. If Kentucky loses then Kentucky haters will forever bring up this picture time and time again. The pressure is on Harrison twins…

Wisconsin

For the Program

Winning the national championship would be a big boost for the program. Wisconsin has only one previous NCAA championship from 1941. Wisconsin’s previous championship was from an era when the tournament had only eight teams and shared the spotlight with the NIT.

Winning it all would give the program its first modern tournament championship.
For Coach Ryan

The year has already been a success for coach Ryan as this is his first trip to the Final Four. At age 66 Bo Ryan is in the tail end of his career. By winning the national championship, Ryan may opt to retire in the near future riding high, or he may use the accomplishment to reenergize himself and continue coaching for even longer than we expect. Either way a championship for Ryan allows him to walk away with more options about how to finish off his career. Regardless of a championship Ryan is walking away from Arlington a winner after claiming his first Final Four appearance and getting one of the monkey’s off his back.

For the Big Ten
It has been said way too many times for Big Ten fans to bear: The Big Ten has routinely been the butt off athletic jokes after failing to win a basketball championship since 2000, and a football championship since 2002.  Big Ten fans are sick of it, and we all know Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany is sick of it. If the Badger’s can walk away with the championship, the Big Ten can regain a little be of self respect/self esteem before football season takes it back.

If the dreaded Florida-Kentucky championship game matchup happens after the Big Ten came so close to getting three teams in the Final Four, that could be the biggest kick in the &*#$ for Big Ten fans since Michigan State beat Ohio State this past season in football.
For Badger’s Fans

Winning the programs first championship in 73 years would be an amazing accomplishment for the fans, students, and alumni.

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