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March 22, 2012 at 10:41 PM

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NCAA tournament rewind: It's Rick Pitino vs. Billy Donovan, with a Final Four at stake

PHOENIX -- Well, if you had Louisville and Florida meeting in the West Regional final, you're either smart, misinformed or both.

It's not that those two teams are unworthy. At times, both were on the fringe of great during the regular season, only to succumb to their warts. But they're playing their best basketball at the right time, partly because they have two of college basketball's best NCAA tournament coaches.

Rick Pitino.

Billy Donovan.

It's the mentor vs. the protege, on the 25-year anniversary of Providence's 1987 Final Four team.

Billy Donovan was the star guard on that team, and Pitino was a rising 34-year-old coach. The storyline is both poetic and unavoidable. While their connection -- which extended to Donovan working as an assistant under Pitino -- will receive the most attention over the next few days, it's really about two of the game's best trying to get their teams to overachieve and make the Final Four.

Louisville and Florida both posted impressive "upset" victories (it's hard to consider two powerhouse programs upsetting someone, but in terms of seeding, they technically were) in the regional semifinals on Thursday night. No. 7 seed Florida beat No. 3 Marquette 68-58. And No. 4 Louisville took down top-seeded Michigan State 57-44.

The games in the West Region were rugged, defensive-oriented and often ugly. Expect more of the same on Saturday, with an Elite Eight berth at stake.

Onto the regularly-scheduled highlights of tonight's NCAA tournament action:


East Region
No. 1 Syracuse 64, No. 4 Wisconsin 63
No. 2 Ohio State 81, No. 6 Cincinnati 66

West Region
No. 4 Louisville 57, No. 1 Michigan State 44
No. 7 Florida 68, No. 3 Marquette 58

Best story: Rick Pitino improves to 10-0 in Sweet 16 games. The victory over Michigan State wasn't fun to watch, but it was a masterpiece for Pitino. Check out my column to find out why. Pitted against Tom Izzo, a wonderful tourney coach in his own right, Pitino and his Cardinals triumphed. His overall NCAA record is now 41-15.

Most impressive team: Ohio State. The Buckeyes looked solid in taking care of Cincinnati. Their best players, Deshaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger, combined for 49 points. Sullinger looked more agile. Ohio State showed off its versatility, too. The Buckeyes played like a true national-title contender.

Best individual performance: Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State; Bradley Beal, Florida; Gorgui Dieng, Louisville. Thomas scored 26 points and added seven rebounds to lead the Buckeyes. Beal, who is incredibly efficient, scored 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting, grabbed six rebounds and dished four assists. And Dieng was a defensive menace, blocking seven shots to go with nine rebounds and three steals.

Best game: Syracuse nips Wisconsin. You look at the score and think it was a defensive slugfest, but actually the offenses stood out in this one. Wisconsin made a ridiculous 14 three-pointers. Syracuse shot 55 percent from the field. The Badgers had a chance to win at the end, but Jordan Taylor missed three-pointer with three seconds left, and Josh Gasser couldn't convert a put-back attempt at the buzzer.

Worst game: Ohio State schools in-state foe Cincinnati. The Bearcats were simply outclassed. Ohio State is that good sometimes.

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