A battle of the coaching stars

PHOENIX — The best news about the A-list roster of stars preparing for NCAA regional play is that a few are actually players.

Even better: Some are seniors.

It's no secret coaches have soaked up most of the glory since the NBA started admitting teenagers.

We get it: It's hard to grow attached to future lottery picks who don't make it to their freshman spring break.

Coaches ... you can't get rid of them. They consume airtime with their fancy suits, soap-opera stories and postgame microphone micromanagement.

When down on their luck, in between gigs, they work for ESPN.

The players are in for another fistfight for publicity at a West Regional that starts today and features headliners Tom Izzo (Michigan State) versus Rick Pitino (Louisville) in one game, and Billy Donovan (Florida) versus Buzz Williams (Marquette) in the other.

The jet set has landed near US Airways Center.

"It's a Final Four field in a lot of ways," Izzo said Wednesday.

The coaches have a combined four national titles and 14 Final Four appearances.

Izzo is two wins from a seventh Final Four. Pitino has led three programs to the final weekend and Donovan is only a few years removed from winning consecutive national titles at Florida.

Williams is the lollygagger, bringing a 5-3 NCAA tournament record into this regional against the Pitino-Izzo-Donovan conglomerate of 104-37.

"Which one doesn't belong?" Williams said of the comparison. "That's the easiest question to answer."

Williams is a riser, though, and possibly on the verge of a Final Four breakthrough.

Happily, though, Williams isn't the only buzz in the room.

The region's best player, Michigan State's Draymond Green, is leaving after this season but only because he has exhausted four years of eligibility.

A senior star is a rare sight these days, so take a long look.

Pitino called Green the nation's most complete player. Izzo called him the most versatile, saying his strengths, rather than points and rebounds, are leadership and intelligence.

"He has an incredible basketball IQ," Izzo said.

Green gets more joy from an assist than a basket.

"Just helping others out," Green explained. "Giving something to someone else instead of me having it."

Green is different from one-and-done (likely) freshman Anthony Davis, who just might win Kentucky a national title while he's passing through college.

NBA scouts don't drool over Green (6-foot-6, 230 pounds) the way they do over Davis.

Green is a taller, beefier version of guard Mateen Cleaves, who led Michigan State to the 2000 NCAA title.

Green plays all over the court.

"I'm not sure what his position is," Pitino said.

In two NCAA tournament games, Green has 40 points, 25 rebounds and 16 assists.

"Is he the best potential in the country?" said St. Louis Coach Rick Majerus, whose team lost to Michigan State last weekend. "No, I take the kid probably from Kentucky (Davis). But if I have to take a kid right now to win the national championship, I'd take Draymond Green."

Green's savvy and experience make top-seeded Michigan State the favorite against No. 4 Louisville.

The second-best player at the West Regional is Marquette forward Jae Crowder — also a senior.

No. 3 Marquette faces No. 7 Florida in the late game.

Crowder, the Big East Conference's player of the year, was another late bloomer, who had 17 points and 13 rebounds in last weekend's win over Murray State. It was his 14th double-double of the year.

Crowder and senior teammate Darius Johnson-Odom average a combined 36 points per game.

Williams said he isn't against recruiting one-and-done players.

"I just haven't done a good enough job signing those guys," he said.

There is an upside, though, to experience.

"Seniors," Crowder said, "have been around the block."

Every region will tell its own story. The East has coaches Jim Boeheim (Syracuse) versus Bo Ryan (Wisconsin).

The Midwest might be headed for a showdown between Roy Williams (North Carolina) and Bill Self (Kansas).

One prominent story line in the South is Kentucky Coach John Calipari's quest for his first national title.

He'll have to beat another good coach in Indiana's Tom Crean, who led Marquette — with a little help from Dwyane Wade — to the Final Four in 2003.

Don't forget, though, the graybeard players. Wisconsin hopes to ride a senior, Jordan Taylor, past Syracuse and its senior, Scoop Jardine.

Louisville's leading scorer, Kyle Kuric, is playing with one defeat left on his eligibility card.

Take a moment to appreciate Xavier's Tu Holloway and Ohio State's William Buford.

The coaches are in this for the big contracts and the long haul.

It's nice when a few good men in jerseys get to share center stage.

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