Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan celebrates after cutting down the net after a regional final NCAA college basketball tournament game against Arizona, Saturday, March 29, 2014, in Anaheim, Calif. Wisconsin won 64-63 in overtime. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Updated: April 4, 2014 11:49AM
ARLINGTON, Texas — As coach Bo Ryan and his Wisconsin team drove up to AT&T Stadium for practice Thursday, the massive sports edifice that will house the Final Four appeared in the window.
It prompted a one-liner from a player before the Badgers got off the bus: “So this is the road to the Final Four.”
When Ryan began the pomp and circumstance of his first Final Four and addressed the media, he said the joke meant his team was loose. But listen to Ryan and the three other coaches talk about the event, and the comment mocking CBS’ tagline for its tournament coverage was rather apropos.
What does advancing to a Final Four mean?
The obvious: You’ve beaten some good teams to get there. Usually, but not always, it’s a representation of the country’s elite. And, well, it’s a marketing tool for the NCAA.
“Final Four” sounds as much like a meal deal at a fast-food restaurant.
“We come up with a lot of these neat, catchy phrases like Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, Final Four, but ultimately there is a perception that when you get to this point, it’s kind of the pinnacle,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said.
All four coaches — Ryan, Donovan, Kentucky’s John Calipari and Connecticut’s Kevin Ollie — didn’t diminish their players’ accomplishment.
The reality, though, is that three of these teams are destined for the same fate as the rest of the field.
Ryan doesn’t believe his legacy has changed by surviving long enough to play in the tournament’s final weekend. Calipari and Donovan have won national champions. Ollie finds himself at a Final Four in his first postseason as a coach.
Purdue’s Gene Keady, Temple’s John Chaney and Missouri’s Norm Stewart didn’t make the Final Four. And no coach judges them by it.
“[I look at] all those coaches that haven’t had a chance to coach in the Final Four, who are as bright and as sharp and as tough and as good a mentor as anybody you would ever want to see who might not ever have a chance to do this,” Ryan said.
And those who do — at least the four in North Texas — want to make it about the players.
“If you lose, I mean, it’s still going to hurt,” Ollie said. “But you got to understand that it’s a great journey and you did it together.”