The men’s NCAA tournament final is on us and both matchups should be exciting matches. Between Gonzaga, UCLA, Boiler and Houston, you likely recognize the names. However, there are different paths in the history of these programs.
You can find more information about Houston and Boiler’s matchups here. On the other side of the bracket, we’ve got a fight between the currently undefeated Gonzaga Bulldogs and the first four to last four UCLA Bruins.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs have moved from Mid-Major Darling to a routine powerhouse. The Bulldogs have reached the Elite Eight at least three times since 2015, and have received a one-seed in the tournament three times since 2017. They enter the final four of this year with a perfect 30–0 record.
His opponent, the UCLA Bruins, has historically been the most successful program in all of college basketball. Bruce has won an NCAA-record 11 championships, and has drawn a long list of famous NBA stars from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton to more recent players such as Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, and Lonnie Ball. But this year he almost did not make the tournament; He entered the First Four as an 11-seed, and went on to lead the way to five straight wins for the Final Four.
It should be a great matchup between two teams that play in completely different places. How did Gonzaga head coach Mark Fu and UCLA head coach Mick Cronin meet today?
Mark Koch, head coach of Gonzaga Bulldogs
If it seems like Mark Fueve has always been on the edge of Gonzaga, well … that’s because he hasn’t really taken coaching anywhere else. After growing up in Oregon, Few starred as a point guard in his Creswell High School team. A shoulder injury limited her collegiate athletics, so few focused on her education, graduating in 1987 with a BS in physical education.
He served as an unpaid part-time assistant at Creswell for some time before graduating. He started in 1983 and went from 1986 to 1988 in a paid position. He also worked at basketball camps in Oregon, where he became friends with Dan Monson, then an assistant coach at Gonzaga. Monson invited some to join the coaching staff in 1989; Some were promoted as full-time assistants in 1990.
With some serving as assistant coaches, Gonzaga made his first postseason appearance, reaching the NCAA Tournament in 1995 and the National Invitational Tournament in 1994, 1996 and 1998.
Monson, who became head coach in 1997, promoted Few to the role of associate head coach in 1999. The Bulldogs had their best season so far, reaching the Elite Eight as a 10-seed. Monson left after a few months and some became Gonzaga’s head coach.
Any time a small school runs a tournament, it’s exciting, but often a dull idea, “Can they do it again?”
By the way, in Gonzaga’s case, of course. Ever since he took office in 1999, there has been some excellence in the school. The Bulldogs have not separated the NCAA tournament since 2020, when the event was canceled due to a coronovirus epidemic. Gonzaga had already won the West Coast Conference Championship, so he would have held the tournament in 2020 as well.
In fact, the Jags have either finished first or finished in 20 of 22 seasons tied for the first time in their conference. Sixteen of those 20 seasons also included a conference championship.
Some have married with four children and say that she has stayed in Gonzaga to give some stability to her family. While building the bulldog at the national power station, it has turned down offers from big schools.
One thing that has eliminated Few is a national championship. He led the Bulldogs to the title game in 2017, eventually falling to North Carolina. But he is set for success this year, with several future NBA players on the roster. At 30-0, he is just two wins away from completing a perfect season.
Despite continued success, only a few 57th highest paid coach this year, $ 1,979,059 in salary, although his contract includes some performance bonuses.
Could he wrap up another impressive year with the title? He will have to field the fiery UCLA Bruins led by Mick Cronin.
Mick Cronin, UCLA Bruins head coach
As the NCAA tournament has continually reminded us, coaching is in Mick Cronin’s blood. His father, Harold “Hep” Cronin, won more than 400 games as a high school basketball coach in Cincinnati.
Cronin played basketball at La Salle High School, but suffered a torn ACL in his junior season, ending his playing career. And thatE turned to coaching almost immediately. While attending the University of Cincinnati in 1991, Cronin went to the Cincinnati Woodward High School Games with his father. The young Cronin coached the Freshman team and worked with the Varsity team despite being in college.
Cronin played a role in high school through 1996, setting a 57–3 record in three seasons as the school’s JV coach. Six of Cronin’s players ended up playing Division I basketball, demonstrating that Cronin could have success at the next level.
After graduating in 1996, Cronin served as a video coordinator in Cincinnati, serving as an assistant under the then head coach Bob Huggins. Cronin showed an eye for developing talent and helped recruit several NBA draft selections. In 2001, Cronin took an associate head coach and was recruited to the position of coordinator in Louisville, working with Rick Pitino.
By 2003, Cronin had received his first head coaching gig. He led the Morena State Racers to two NCAA tournaments and was named the 2006 Ohio Valley Conference Coach.
That year, Cronin returned to Cincinnati as head coach. After a few sub-seasons, Cronin helped turn on the Bearcats program. He made the NCAA tournament for nine straight years from 2011 to 2019, reaching the Sweet Sixteen in 2012. The team also had 30-win seasons in 2016–17 and 2017–18.
In April of 2019, Cronin left Cincinnati to become the head coach of UCLA. The team finished second in the Pac-12 and Cronin was named the Conference’s Coach of the Year. But Bruce did not receive a single conference tournament game, as the coronavirus virus pandemic canceled many conference tournaments and NCAA tournaments.
This year, it seemed that Bruce might not even make the NCAA tournament. He narrowed the stretch with a loss in his final four regular season games. As a result, they were named as one of the play-in teams for the first four of the tournament.
Perhaps that losing streak was a little foreboding, as Bruce defeated Michigan State, BYU, Abilene Christian, Alabama, and Michigan to make it to the Final Four. This is the 19th time the school has made the final four, but is the first apprentice for Cronin.
Cronin is also the highest paid coach of any of the Final Four coaches, earning $ 3.6 million this year. Will he and the Bruins continue their postson magic?