NCAA Phoenix regional brings “legends” to the Valley

The March Madness parade has returned to the Valley of the Sun once again and this time bringing in some of the biggest names and some of the most storied programs that college basketball has to offer.

Marquette Head Coach Buzz Williams, who will face Billy Donovan and the Florida Gators on Thursday in the Sweet 16, laid out the details for us all at his press conference on Wednesday.

“Coach Donovan has won 27 NCAA tournament games. Coach Izzo has won 37. Coach Pitino has won 40. All of them have won National Championships. All of them have coached in the league or decided they didn’t want to coach in the league,” explained Williams. “And the league that I should be in is the Lone Star Conference, a Division II league in Texas. I should be an assistant in that league.”

Williams absolutely sold himself short as Marquette has been one of the premier programs in the Big East as well as in the nation in recent seasons. Since being named the Head Coach four years ago he has the record of 96-44 and has now reached the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive season.

Despite minimizing his success, Williams was spot on talking about the three other coaches present at the Phoenix regional. Starting with his opponent on Thursday in the sweet 16, Florida’s Billy Donovon. 

No one who follows college basketball will forget the run that the Florida Gators went on in consecutive seasons back in 2006 and 2007, winning back-to-back national titles. During that run by Florida, Donovan led the team to 18 consecutive postseason wins, the longest by any program since John Wooden’s UCLA teams that won 28 straight. 

“Coming off of two games in Omaha where we got an opportunity, certainly, to prepare for Marquette who has had a terrific year, outstanding team, great challenge for our team,” Donovon stated Wednesday. “Certainly they play with great energy and passion as a reflection of Buzz. So I think our guys are excited and looking forward to the opportunity tomorrow to play.”

Florida and Marquette will be a very intriguing match-up as both teams have had their ups and downs this season. Both spotlight a ton of athleticism. This matchup will be the second game Thursday from US Airways Center. Tip off at 7:17 p.m. Arizona time on TBS.

The first match-up of the Phoenix region will spotlight two programs, and two coaches who are among the most well known and coveted that the sport has to offer.

Looking at Michigan State’s Tom Izzo and Louisville’s Rick Pitino’s numbers for their careers individually, it’s jaw dropping. But when you combine them, is unfathomable! Combined, Izzo and Pitino have over 1,000 wins, 11 final fours and two national championships in their coaching careers.

“You come out here (Phoenix) and you look at the field and it’s Final Four field in a lot of ways, when you look at the teams in it,” said Tom Izzo Wednesday. “And playing Louisville right off the bat, we played them three years ago in a game that I thought we were very fortunate to play well.”

“Obviously the Sweet 16 is very special, because it’s two games away from the Final Four. And each bracket keeps mounting, the pressure keeps getting greater,” explained Rick Pitino. “And certainly we’re going to be playing a great basketball team.”

In that Elite Eight game in 2009, Louisville was the top seed in the region only to be upset by Michigan State. The Spartans went on to be the National runner-up losing to Tyler Hansborough and the North Carolina Tar Heels.

Like Marquette and Florida, this match-up between Michigan State and Louisville spotlights two teams who have had highs and lows this season.

Louisville got off to a fast start, went through a tough spell back in January but then flourished in the Big East tournament, winning the whole thing knocking off Cincinnati in the title game, led by point guard Peyton Siva.

Tom Izzo mentioned that this current Spartan team of his is not even in the top five in terms of athleticism compared to teams that he has had in the past. But thanks to great play from Draymond Green, who become the third player of all time to record more than one triple-double in a tournament game back in this seasons round of 64, Michigan State played their way into a number one seed and have found their chemistry at the right time.

Cardinals and Spartans tip off Thursday from US Airways Center Thursday at 4:47 p.m. Arizona time, on TBS as well.

For coverage of the Phoenix Regional in its entirety, follow Jared Cohen on Twitter at @JaredPros2Preps.

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