Six coaches you can bank on in March Madness
There is no such thing as a sure thing in March Madness. If you ever thought there was, UMBC offered you a blunt reminder of the reality of the situation last year. Even the best coaches can be slipped up against the odds — it wasn’t that long ago that Mike Krzyzewski suffered a massive first-round upset twice in three years to a 15 and 14 seed, respectively.
But some coaches seem to have a knack for coming up big at the right time of year. Here are six of the best coaches you can trust in March.
John Beilein, Michigan
After another appearance in the National Championship game in 2018, Beilein is finally getting his due as one of the country’s best college basketball coaches. He’s gotten the Wolverines out of the first round in six of their eight NCAA Tournament appearances, and has been a second weekend fixture since joining Michigan.
Beilein’s tournament success goes all the way back to his tenure at West Virginia, where he led a then-unheralded program to the Elite Eight and Sweet 16 in back-to-back seasons. He’s an outstanding tournament coach, and Michigan is a tough out with him in charge.
Jim Boeheim, Syracuse
Boeheim hasn’t been ousted in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 13 years, and always seems good for an unlikely Final Four run. Perhaps that won’t happen this year, but what is true is the fact that he’s an outstanding coach at winning tournament games he’s not expected to win. Look back to last year, when he beat favored Michigan State in what was essentially a road game in Detroit. The team’s zone defense is tough to prepare for especially in short turnaround times, which often leads to tournament success.
While they’ll be deservedly favored, Gonzaga probably didn’t love seeing a coach as experienced as Boeheim landing in the 8-9 game that they’ll likely have to cope with in the second round.
John Calipari, Kentucky
Calipari is another master at avoiding the early exit. In eight previous NCAA Tournament appearances at Kentucky, he’s made it to the second weekend seven times. That record even extends back to his time at Memphis, when after two early exits in his first two appearances, he concluded his tenure with four straight appearances in the Sweet 16 or later. Armed with a two seed this year, Calipari looks to have a good chance of continuing his mastery of the first weekend, if nothing else.
Tom Izzo, Michigan State
Believe it or not, Izzo hasn’t coached in the second weekend of the tournament since 2015, which also happens to be his most recent Final Four run. Two of the last three tournaments include high-profile upsets to double-digit seeds. But on the whole body of work, Izzo is still among the best. In 21 tournament appearances, he’s only failed to make it out of the first round four times.
Izzo’s team has struggled with injuries this season and there’s no top NBA prospect on the roster. If anything, that’s seemed to serve him well in the past. The Spartans are poised to be a tough out this March.
Mike Krzyzewski, Duke
The most accomplished March coach ever, Coach K has corrected course after a few surprising first round exits earlier this decade. He’s a fixture in the Sweet 16, and with Zion Williamson in the lineup, it’s safe to say that he’ll always possess the best player on the floor. With a .765 career win percentage in March, the odds are in favor of a deep tournament run. Keep in mind that Coach K hasn’t even been to a Final Four since 2015, which was his last title as well. If anything, he’s overdue.
Roy Williams, North Carolina
Roy Williams has never lost his first game of the NCAA Tournament. It’s that simple, and considering he’s been coaching since the late 1980s, that’s no small feat. Obviously, with the Tar Heels getting a one seed, an opening-round upset isn’t much of a concern in 2019, but it’s a sign of how reliable he is at this time of year and a mark that even his most accomplished peers can’t claim. After a down year last season, Williams will be one of the favorites for this year’s crown, and he has the team to go far. He also has the record — in terms of March win percentage, only Krzyzewski bests him.