Top talent, coaching defines this year's Final Four

By Eddie Pells

Associated Press

Published: Monday, March 26 2012 11:01 p.m. MDT

Louisville head coach Rick Pitino during the first half of an NCAA tournament West Regional final college basketball game between Florida and Louisville, Saturday, March 24, 2012, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Associated Press

Lurking in virtually every corner of the Superdome this weekend will be lottery picks, some other NBA first rounders and assorted AP All-Americans.

Everywhere, that is, except the Louisville locker room.

This year's Final Four features three teams — Kentucky, Kansas and Ohio State — all with their fair share of the most gifted players in the country, and a fourth with a coach who has squeezed the most out of the next tier of talent.

Does that make Louisville's Rick Pitino the best coach, or say something about John Calipari, Bill Self and Thad Matta? Well, those three might tell you something about how tough it is dealing with a bench full of stars.

"A lot of coaches would agree that, at times, coaching teams with a ton of talent is probably more difficult because you're constantly trying to get the maximum out of them," said Matta, who has a star in AP All-American first-teamer Jared Sullinger, widely viewed as a top-15 NBA draft pick. "It's so much easier to get to the top than stay at the top. A lot of times when you have a team that's loaded, you fight a lot more adversity on the outside than when you're scraping to get to the top."

Which brings us to the Kentucky Wildcats, who play Louisville on Saturday in the first semifinal.

By choice, Calipari has developed a program so overflowing with top-level talent that he's spending more time looking to replace players after a season or two than developing them over four.

Freshman Anthony Davis, another AP All-American, will likely be the top player in the draft should he leave after this season. Classmate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist won't be far behind. Freshman Marquis Teague and sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb will also have a chance at the first round if they leave.

Getting his players to come to a team where they aren't guaranteed to be the only star, might be Calipari's biggest accomplishment as a coach. But once they get there, he insists he's doing more than simply rolling the ball out on the floor.

While Calipari tries to get the most out of a lot of talent, Pitino has been playing a different game this season. He is the only Final Four coach without an AP first-teamer. In fact, there were no Louisville players on the second or third teams either, or even on the honorable mention list.

According to most lists, not a single one of Pitino's players would get drafted by the NBA if they left this year. Meanwhile, a raft of injuries and roster adjustments has turned every practice this season into an adventure. Pitino coaxed his sixth Final Four trip out of a team that reminds him in many ways of his first — an undersized, underappreciated group of players at Providence in 1987.

It was a busy weekend for track & field participants last weekend around the state with four major meets taking place.

Orem's girls and Wasatch's boys had great meets at the 30-team Pine View Invitational in St. George. Orem won by more than 25 points, while Wasatch edged Alta by four points.

In the Box Elder Relays in Brigham City, host Box Elder edged Sky View to claim both the boys and girls title. Sky View's boys are the defending 4A state champs.

In the largest tournament field ever assembled at the Mt. Timpanogos Invite at Timpview High School, Maple Mountain's boys edged Green River, Wyo. by one point, and then Timpview's girls won the title by holding off Maple Mountain.

North Summit, the defending 2A girls state champs, got the season started off in fantastic fashion with a solid victory over San Juan at the Matt Burr Invitational at North Sevier High School. On the boys side, Richfield edged Grand by five points for the team title.

For a complete recap with results of each meet log on to deseretnews.com/sports/high-school.

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