Twenty-five. That’s the key number heading into this weekend.
What does it mean, you ask?
It’s the number of Final Fours that the four remaining coaches have been to. Mike Krzyzewski has been to 12, Tom Izzo has been to seven, John Calipari has been to four (two others were vacated) and Bo Ryan has been to two.
Needless to say, these are four great, great coaches. How will coaching be a factor this weekend?
“Well, I think experience,” CBS Sports Network and Westwood One analyst Alaa Abdelnaby said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “That’s what coaches are there for – to share and to impart on their team, in particular when you look at a team like a Duke that is so young going through everything for the first time as a group. So you can pass on what it’s like, what to expect, what the atmosphere is going to be like. I don’t care what kind of games you’ve played in. There’s nothing like the Final Four. You’ll notice the difference as soon as you get off the plane and hop on the bus and head into town. It’s a little different. I think the teams that can handle that kind of environment are the teams that are going to have a really good chance of being themselves, which I think is going to be important when you get to the Final Four. The team that remains closest to who they’ve been all season long is the team that I think has the best chance.”
Abdelnaby is speaking from experience. He played for Duke from 1986 to 1990 and helped the Blue Devils to three consecutive Final Fours. Duke didn’t win it all until 1991, but Abdelnaby, 46, said that Coach K’s philosophy was critical for those deep runs each March.
“I think he broke it down for us,” Abdelnaby said. “When you look at the whole 64 teams – now 68 – it can be a little daunting, intimidating. So what he would do is he would tell us that every weekend is basically just a four-team tournament, and our goal was to win each four-team tournament because that’s basically all in front of you. That’s all you can really worry about. If you worried about all the stuff out on the periphery, it can be overwhelming.
“So that approach certainly helped us a lot,” Abdelnaby continued. “And I’m sure that’s what he’s telling his kids all throughout this tournament is that it’s just about the four teams that they could potentially be a part of playing games in for each particular weekend. That certainly helps because then it doesn’t look nearly as an obstacle than can be overwhelming. I think it’s something that is doable from that perspective. He’s just great at being very present and never looking ahead and just worrying about the opponent.”
Abdelnaby recalls one of Krzyzewski’s sayings: What’s more important than what we’re doing for the next two hours?
“He’s right,” Abdelnaby said. “That’s the focus that he had when I was there, and I’m sure it’s the same focus that they have now.”