After five compelling months of college basketball, the Final Four is upon us – and what a Final Four it is.
We’ve got a rematch between Kentucky (38-0) and Wisconsin (35-3) and a matchup of arguably the two best coaches in America, as Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans (27-11) will square off against Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke Blue Devils (33-4) this Saturday.
“The hard part of March Madness is over,” CBS Sports college basketball insider Jon Rothstein said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “The grind is over. We have, I think, the best Final Four we’ve had in recent memory. We’re going to the best city for the Final Four. Life is good.”
Life is also a little hectic – at least for coaches who could be on the move. Or, in the case of Chris Mullin, someone who has never coached before. Nevertheless, it appears Mullin, 51, will become the next head coach at St. John’s.
“It’s at the 1-yard-line, Tiki, in football terms – and I know you can appreciate that,” Rothstein said. “This has been obviously something that has been materializing for quite some time. For St. John’s, what I was told was the success that Fred Hoiberg had at Iowa State without any head-coaching experience prior to taking the job in 2010 played a huge role in this. Right now, barring something unforeseen, Chris Mullin will fly to the East Coast later today and be the next head coach at St. John’s.”
Because of Mullin’s lack of experience, it will be very important to surround him with a capable and seasoned staff.
“Beyond critical,” Rothstein said. “I think when you look at the makeup of what you’re going to need on Chris Mullin’s staff, you’re going to need guys obviously that are going to be able to deliver players. Because Chris, unlike some other head coaches, doesn’t have any ties to the AAU scene or the grassroots scene. Not only do you need to surround him with somebody who’s either a former head coach or somebody who’s going to be capable doing scouting reports, you have to be in a situation where you’re going to be – really for all intents and purposes – surrounding him with guys that can do both sides of it. You need guys who can get players. You need guys who can run a practice and recruit.”
Especially given how many players the Red Storm are losing this offseason.
“St John’s currently does not have a team that they can field for next season,” Rothstein said. “Chris Mullin to St. John’s in terms of the news is exciting for St. John’s fans, but the reality is this: St. John’s right now from a roster perspective might be in worse shape than it was when Norm Roberts got the job (in 2004).”
In other coaching news, Texas, which parted ways with Rick Barnes after 17 years, is reportedly interested in Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall and VCU’s Shaka Smart – but not necessarily in that order.
“I have been told that Shaka Smart could potentially be the guy at Texas,” Rothstein said. “The interesting thing about that is he has told confidants in his circle that there is a select few jobs that he would indeed leave VCU for. Texas is one of those jobs. So I’m telling you right now: if Shaka Smart is offered the Texas job, there’s a greater chance of him leaving VCU for Austin than there was when Shaka Smart turned down Wake Forest or Marquette or Illinois or NC State or Maryland. That’s something that’s a real scenario right now.”
Speaking of coaches still coaching this season, Tom Izzo deserves a round of applause – if not a standing ovation. Izzo led the 11-loss Spartans – a 7-seed in the East Region – all the way to Indianapolis.
“I think this is the best coaching job Tom Izzo has ever done at Michigan State,” Rothstein said. “When you think about where this team came from early in the season – on Dec. 20, Michigan State lost at home to Texas Southern. I want to repeat that. On Dec. 20, Michigan State lost at home to Texas Southern. On Feb. 7, Michigan State was 15-8 and lost to Illinois – and it looked like they were more bound for the First Four than the Final Four.
“Look at right now where these players were a year ago,” Rothstein continued. “Travis Trice didn’t score a point when Michigan State played UConn last year in the Elite Eight. He was afraid – let’s face it – of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. Bryn Forbes was at Cleveland State.”
That duo combined for 31 points and seven assists in Michigan State’s 76-70 overtime win over Louisville in the Elite Eight on Sunday.
“You think about where these guys were and where they are right now,” Rothstein said, “it, to me, is pound-for-pound the best coaching job of Tom Izzo’s career.”