Final Four coaches have their say on topics of day

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North Carolina coach Roy Williams joked that he and South Carolina coach Frank Martin have ‘‘humorous stories together’’ they don’t want to share with anyone.

Williams, the veteran among the Final Four coaches, said of the other three — Martin, Gonzaga’s Mark Few and Oregon’s Dana Altman, all Final Four rookies — that he ‘‘loves them all’’ while discussing coaching relationships during a teleconference Monday.

Friendships aside, though, Williams knows from his eight previous Final Fours at Kansas and North Carolina that the camaraderie and fun spirit is just part of the hoopla of the coming week, which features the semifinals Saturday and the championship game Monday.

Here are four storylines the coaches discussed five days from the Final Four:

1. Why are these teams here instead of Kansas, Villanova or Duke?

South Carolina, Oregon and Gonzaga weren’t favorites in their regionals to get to Glendale, Arizona. But title favorites Duke and Villanova were dispatched in the second round, and Kansas fell short against Oregon in the Elite Eight.

That’s the ugly reality of a single-elimination tournament, but Martin made sense of why this unexpected group — outside of North Carolina — got to this point.

‘‘That’s conference basketball,’’ Martin said. ‘‘I think once you get out of conference, teams don’t understand you as well. There’s a big difference watching a team on film, then being on the court competing.’’

He also said not playing teams regularly and hyper-focusing on all of their intricacies ‘‘facilitates more scoring.’’

2. What does Gonzaga’s breakthrough really mean?

Williams said it was most satisfying from afar to see Few get to the Final Four, with the Bulldogs finally getting over the hump in their 19th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.

Does this mean Gonzaga will be getting back to the Final Four regularly? It might. In discussing his reasoning for staying at Gonzaga for 28 seasons (18 as head coach and 10 as an assistant), Few said if the school ‘‘didn’t share the same vision as us [in terms of] making [Gonzaga] a national program, we would have left. . . . I always cringe when I hear someone say they want to try to do it somewhere else.’’

Few also said that while the goal always has been about building Gonzaga into a Final Four-caliber program, his focus on developing his players always has been more important.

‘‘I’d judge things more on those aspects, not Final Fours and wins and stuff like that,’’ he said.

3. Can anyone stop Sindarius Thornwell?

Florida coach Mike White called Thornwell the most ‘‘underappreciated player in the country’’ after his Gators lost to South Carolina in the Elite Eight. But Few isn’t looking past Thornwell, the leading scorer in the tournament at 26 points per game.

How well Thornwell plays dictates the energy of the rest of the Gamecocks’ players, so containing him will be Gonzaga’s primary objective Saturday.

‘‘His whole package is dangerous,’’ Few said. ‘‘He can hurt you on the glass, shooting it, off the bounce, gets to the free-throw line a lot. He’s going to be a really hard guard. It’s going to take a number of our guys. He’s definitely going to be a handful.’’

4. Does North Carolina really have that much of an edge?

The short answer is yes. Altman thinks the Tar Heels having lost in the championship game last season and having a nine-time Final Four veteran as their coach gives them a ‘‘tangible advantage.’’

But Martin said the experience pertained to the lead-up to games, not actually playing them.

RELATED STORIES

Experience gives North Carolina edge over Final Four foes

Gonzaga or North Carolina: Which is the real Final Four favorite?


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