Of the schools left in the Sweet 16, head coaches Kevin Ollie and Fred Hoiberg are the only ones leading their alma maters. Both are also 41, played at their respective schools in the same time frame (1991-1995) and had little coaching experience before entering the highly competitive realm.
And now they battle for the Elite Eight, as Ollie's No. 7 seed UConn Huskies face Hoiberg's No. 3 seed Iowa State Cyclones in the East Region on Friday night in Madison Square Garden. The two friends have known each other since their high school days when they were top recruits.
Since replacing retired coaching legend Jim Calhoun in 2012, Ollie has led the Huskies back to the tournament after missing out in the 2012-2013 season. The former NBA journeyman has a 48-18 record in two seasons in Storrs after serving just two seasons as Calhoun's assistant. Ollie is trying to accomplish something he couldn't do as a player: reach the Final Four. Ollie had earned a reputation for being a highly intelligent point guard, but the Huskies failed to win a national championship as they later would in 1999, 2004, and 2011.
The Huskies have overcome some tough competition to reach the Sweet 16, defeating No. 7 seed St. Joseph's and No. 2 seed Villanova. Some experts viewed UConn as a sleeper team entering March Madness due in part to the strong play of point guard Shabazz Napier. The 6'1 senior has scored a combined 49 points in two tournament games.
"He led us to victory," Ollie said of Napier, following UConn's win over Villanova. "He was just unbelievable in that second half: 21 points, crucial 3s, dagger 3s. He was 30 feet out and he was making them."
While UConn needed upsets to earn their spot in the Sweet 16, Iowa State defeated two lower seeded teams. Such a scenario for the Cyclones is a welcome change considering where the program was before Hoiberg took over as coach.
Hoiberg was nicknamed "The Mayor" in his college days, averaging 15.8 points as a combo guard for Iowa State before moving on to the NBA as a player and executive. He returned to Ames in 2010 to resuscitate a program that struggled to reach .500 let alone earn an NCAA Tournament berth. In Hoiberg's first season as coach, the Cyclones finished with a 16-16 record, and he followed that up with three straight trips to the tournament. This is the deepest Iowa State has gone in Hoiberg's tenure.
Known now for his dance routine after picking off No. 6 North Carolina during last weekend’s Round of 32, Hoiberg has lifted Iowa State to its best performance in the tournament since 2000 when it last won the Big-12 and reached the Elite Eight.
The Cyclones own the sixth highest-scoring offense and lead the nation in assists (18.5). They’ve won six straight thanks to overall solid play from mainstay seniors Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane, but junior forward Dustin Hogue’s 14 points and seven rebounds played a huge role in the tight victory over UNC and sophomore Georges Niang complements his teammates well with 16.7 points and 4.6 rebounds per game this season.
Time: 7:27 p.m. EST
TV Channel: TBS
Online Stream Info: A live online stream is available at NCAA March Madness Live here.
Prediction: UConn over Iowa State, 78-74