NCAA East: Parallel paths lead to Sweet 16 matchup

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NEW YORK -- Kevin Ollie and Fred Hoiberg met as high school basketball stars more than two decades ago when they went on the same recruiting trip to Arizona.

Ollie chose Connecticut instead. Hoiberg picked Iowa State.

"I think it worked out for both of us," Ollie said with a smile.

Each now coaches his alma mater, and they'll face one another tonight in the Sweet 16.

In between that shared visit to Arizona and this week's NCAA tournament East Region semifinal at Madison Square Garden, Ollie and Hoiberg were teammates for part of a season with the Chicago Bulls in 2001-02. Six years later, when Hoiberg was an assistant general manager for the Minnesota Timberwolves, he lobbied to sign Ollie because he knew the veteran could provide needed leadership.

Those sorts of intangibles are why both lasted in the NBA so long, and why it's little surprise the friends landed in coaching.

"Kevin and I weren't very good players, but to stick around -- me for 10, him for 13 years -- you have to have some of those qualities: a work ethic, good teammate," Hoiberg said.

Those lengthy pro careers show in the 41-year-old coaches' philosophies in college, the way they try to run their offenses to create mismatches for their best players. The style has certainly worked in their brief careers on the bench.

Ollie is in his second season as head coach, promoted after mentor Jim Calhoun retired. The seventh-seeded Huskies (28-8), who were ineligible for the postseason last year, upset second-seeded Villanova Saturday.

Hoiberg, in his fourth season, has led the Cyclones to three consecutive NCAA bids for just the second time in school history. His tournament debut as coach came against none other than Connecticut, when Ollie was an assistant. The Cyclones won that day in 2012, the programs' only previous meeting.

Hoiberg's up-tempo approach has allowed him to repeatedly overhaul his roster with transfers and keep winning.

"Just letting us play free, giving us the confidence to go out there and play, play for each other," said Schenley High School graduate and star guard DeAndre Kane, who has thrived in his one season in Ames after transferring from Marshall.

Virginia vs. Michigan State

Michigan State hasn't changed its name, but it hasn't been said in the past couple of weeks without "finally healthy" right before it.

It's true. The Spartans are finally healthy and playing like the team that started the season 18-1 and spent three weeks atop the Top 25.

"I do think we have taken giant steps in the past 21/2 weeks," coach Tom Izzo said. "We got our guys back. ... I thought the Big Ten tournament we did play awfully well. I thought we played well in [the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament].

"Are we back to the team we were then? Probably not, but are we as close as we have been all year? Definitely."

The finally healthy and fourth-seeded Spartans (28-8) meet No. 1 seed Virginia (30-6) in the other regional semifinal. The winner will face the winner of Connecticut-Iowa State Sunday for a Final Four spot.

The Cavaliers haven't had any health issues to speak of and they certainly haven't spent much time sulking over losses.

Since Jan. 18, they are 18-1, winning their first outright ACC regular-season crown since 1981 and sweeping the titles with their first ACC tournament championship in 38 years.

"I think our guys, they have been steady all year since we got into conference play," said coach Tony Bennett, who has led the Cavaliers to three consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 1981-83. "I think they know what's in front of them."


n Games: No. 7 Connecticut vs. No. 3 Iowa State, No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 1 Virginia.

n When: 7:27 p.m., 9:57 p.m.

n TV: TBS.

n Skinny: Former NBA teammates Fred Hoiberg (pictured) and Kevin Ollie lead their alma maters against each other.

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