The Auburn Tigers and Virginia Cavaliers will play a Final Four national semifinal this Saturday. The game is a first on several levels: It’s the first Final Four game for Auburn. It’s the first Final Four game played in U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, after the Metrodome hosted the previous two Final Fours in this northern city. It is Virginia’s first Final Four game in the shot-clock and 3-point-shot eras of college basketball.
Yet, it is a first for two other reasons.
No, this is not the first 1-versus-5 Final Four national semifinal — there is one other example, but only one: North Carolina versus Michigan State in 2005 in St. Louis.
No, this is not the first time an SEC team has made the Final Four as a 5 seed: Mississippi State did it in 1996, and Florida did it in 2000.
How else is this a “first” on Saturday in Minneapolis?
Bruce Pearl and Tony Bennett are both coaching in their first Final Four game. This guarantees that one man will coach in his first Final Four game on Monday Night.
How many of these games has the Final Four had since the NCAA Tournament was first seeded in 1979?
Here is the list:
1979 — Jud Heathcote, Michigan State, defeated Bob Weinhauer, Pennsylvania
1985 — Rollie Massimino, Villanova, defeated Dana Kirk, Memphis State
1987 — Jim Boeheim, Syracuse, defeated Rick Pitino, Providence
1998 — Tubby Smith, Kentucky, defeated Mike Montgomery, Stanford;
Rick Majerus, Utah, defeated Bill Guthridge, North Carolina
(Yes, 1998 is the only time since 1979 that all four coaches were coaching in their first Final Four.)
1999 — Jim Calhoun, Connecticut, defeated Jim O’Brien, Ohio State
2002 — Mike Davis, Indiana, defeated Kelvin Sampson, Oklahoma
2006 — Ben Howland, UCLA, defeated John Brady, LSU
2007 — Thad Matta, Ohio State, defeated John Thompson III, Georgetown
2017 — Mark Few, Gonzaga, defeated Frank Martin, South Carolina
The list above consists of 10 national semifinal games between first-time Final Four coaches. Pearl versus Bennett makes 11.
In these first 10 games, coaches of higher-seeded teams are 7-3.
Of the three lower-seeded teams which won in these 10 games, did any team and coach win the national title? Yes — one team.
1985 Villanova under Massimino won it all.
Only one time has a No. 1 seed lost in this situation: North Carolina in 1998 to Utah.
Only one time has a No. 5 seed won in this situation: Indiana in 2002 over Oklahoma.
Winners of these games won the national title four times and lost the national title game six times. The four winners: Heathcote, Massimino, Tubby, and Calhoun.
From that list of four, Jim Calhoun (1999) was the last man to win the national championship at the same Final Four.
The only coach in these 10 games to win his first Final Four game when under 40 years old? Thad Matta in 2007 for Ohio State against Georgetown. Matta beat John Thompson III.
In that 2007 national semifinal, Thompson III joined his dad, Big John Thompson, as part of the first father-son combination to coach in separate Final Fours as head coaches.
The second father-son combination is Dick Bennett (Wisconsin, 2000 Final Four) and Tony Bennett. Tony will oppose Bruce Pearl in this 11th semifinal between Final Four newcomers since 1979.
Which coach will make his first national title game? One is guaranteed to do so.
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