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Coaches demonstrate array of talent, experience

Associated Press

One is a 48-year-old newcomer.

Two have rings, two don’t.

Three will leave St. Louis heartbroken, one won’t.

Crunch the numbers any way you want. What they guarantee is an intriguing Final Four.

Illinois’ Bruce Weber, the only member of the coaching quartet who’s never ventured this deep into the NCAA Tournament, has been calling friends in the business for tips on what to expect.

“He’s a 3-point shot at the buzzer from being perfect this season,” joked Louisville’s Rick Pitino, whose Cardinals face the Illini in the first semifinal Saturday night. “He doesn’t need any advice from me.”

“I told him to get rid of his ticket and hotel problems by Sunday or Monday,” added Michigan State’s Tom Izzo. “The first time we went, I think I was still dealing with that stuff all the way through Friday.”

Experience was the central theme during a teleconference Wednesday featuring the four finalists. While Pitino and Izzo have already won national championships, and North Carolina’s Roy Williams is at the Final Four for the fifth time as a head coach, they have nothing on Weber in what might be the most important factor in that equation.

By the same token, all four teams are led by upperclassmen, which the coaches agreed was the difference in getting this far in what has been an upset-filled, last-gasp tournament. The top high school seniors and underclassmen continue to depart for the NBA, but the depth of talent and experience on the Final Four teams proves the top coaches, at least, have learned to adapt.

“If you look at the last six, seven, eight years, teams like UConn, I think all those teams had plenty of juniors and seniors. The only exception was Syracuse,” said Izzo, with a nod toward Carmelo Anthony, “and they just happened to have one of the greatest players in the game.”

Notes

Suspended Connecticut backup point guard Antonio Kellogg was arrested and charged with possession of less than 4 ounces of marijuana, state police said. … Seton Hall guard J.R. Morris has declared for the NBA draft, the school announced. … Baylor coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson is being rewarded with a new contract for leading the Lady Bears to the Final Four. A university source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Baylor offered Mulkey-Robertson a new six-year contract that runs through the 2010-11 season. … Charles Ramsey, the top assistant coach at Michigan the past four seasons, was named head coach at Eastern Michigan. … Brian Nash was hired as the basketball coach at St. Francis after working as a Seton Hall assistant since 2001.

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