Vols hoping to control Robinson

MICHAEL MAROT AP Sports Writer Published:

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Cuonzo Martin feels as if he's spent his whole life getting to know Glenn Robinson III.

Now the Tennessee coach must figure out how to beat the Michigan star on Friday night.

"I'm happy for him and it will be fun playing against him," Martin said Thursday. "Of course, we'd like to get the win, but I'm happy to see where he's come, how far he's come as a basketball player. He's a great kid."

For Martin, this is not just another basketball game.

It's a reunion of sorts and in his adopted home state of Indiana.

The Tennessee coach and Robinson's father were roommates at Purdue. After college, the ex-teammates stayed in touch and have traded stories about the younger Robinson's early life, even the times Robinson brought his newborn son to Martin's apartment back in 1994. So when the younger Robinson emerged as a budding prep star, of course Martin wanted him to come to Tennessee.

Instead, Robinson went north and wound up in a regional semifinal showdown against one of his favorite college coaches.

"He's a great family friend. I know my mom and grandma are close with him and his family," Robinson III said. "Great guy, and it's just funny how things work out."

Three years ago, Martin left surging Missouri State to take over a Tennessee program reeling from an NCAA investigation.

Despite showing steady improvement, Martin's job appeared to be in jeopardy as recently as mid-February. Anxious fans wondered how long Martin's rebuilding project would take, if Martin was the right guy to complete the task and if the Volunteers (24-12) had the right players to make any sort of NCAA tournament noise -- if they even got in.

Conventional wisdom suggested Tennessee would go out early.

But, Martin, a cancer survivor, proved the doubters wrong. He rallied his team for three straight victories, winning by margins of 13, 19 and 20 points, and earning a chance to cross paths with the Robinsons one more time. It's no surprise to those who know Martin best.

"He's really good at getting the best out of people," Minnesota Timberwolves forward Robbie Hummel said, who was tutored by Martin at Purdue. "That's what he excels at. Our freshman year, he was great at teaching us how to be successful early."

But Friday night's challenge may be the Volunteers' toughest since their March 15 loss to SEC champion Florida.

A year ago, Michigan helped Robinson get to its first Final Four since the Fab Five -- something his father and Martin never achieved at Purdue.

Since turning down a chance to enter the NBA draft, the younger Robinson has not disappointed. He helped propel the Wolverines (27-8) to their first outright Big Ten title in 28 years, led the Wolverines to their first Big Ten tournament title game since 1998 and now has second-seeded Michigan within two wins of back-to-back Final Fours.

Martin has kept track along the way.

Beating the 11th-seeded Volunteers would send Michigan into a Sunday contest against either eighth-seeded Kentucky or fourth-seeded Louisville, the last two national champs. Coach John Beilein knows it won't be easy.

"I don't know Cuonzo very much. I do know he played with Glenn Robinson Jr. and knowing that he comes from the Gene Keady, Matt Painter type of background, I know they're going to guard," Beilein said. "As they build their program, they're going to build it off their defense."

Michigan has relied primarily this season on a strong offense, which finished second in the Big Ten in field goal percentage (47.5), third in scoring (74.0) and has three double-digit scorers including Big Ten player of the year Nik Stauskas at 17.4 and Robinson at 13.1.

CONNECTICUT VS.

IOWA STATE, 7:27 P.M.

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 UConn 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 each other tonight in the Sweet Sixteen.

In between that shared visit to Tucson and this week's NCAA tournament East Regional 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 Thursday.

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. That style has certainly worked in their brief careers on the bench.

Ollie is in just 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 on Saturday.

Hoiberg, in his fourth season, has led the third-seeded Cyclones (28-7) to three straight NCAA bids for just the second time in school history.

KENTUCKY VS.

LOUISVILLE, 9:45 P.M.

INDIANAPOLIS -- John Calipari sent Andrew and Aaron Harrison and three other freshmen to sit behind the microphones and answer questions about Kentucky's upcoming Sweet 16 matchup against Bluegrass State rival Louisville.

Rick Pitino sent up seniors Russ Smith and Luke Hancock.

That, as much as the 70 miles that separates the schools, is the gulf between the neighbors who play Friday in one of the most important meetings in their long, colorful and not-so-friendly rivalry.

Eighth-seeded Kentucky plays the one-and-done game and won a title that way in 2012. Fourth-seeded Louisville goes for a more long-term approach and took home its own championship trophy last season.

Whether they stay a minimum of three years (football), one year (basketball) or something else, the issue of how athletes fit into a college campus was thrust into the spotlight by this week's National Labor Relations Board decision that defined football players at Northwestern as employees.

Neither coach would bite when asked how they felt about the ruling. "Has nothing to do with this game, so I leave it alone," Calipari said.

But both are well aware of the business side of their game that fosters the tenuous relationships between players, coaches and schools. The one-and-done rule has been key in Calipari's re-emergence as a Final Four coach over the last six years, and has weighed on the minds of other coaches, like Pitino, who don't land the NBA-ready kids as frequently but often find themselves competing against them.

MICHIGAN STATE VS.

VIRGINIA, 9:57 P.M.

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

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

"I do think we have taken giant steps in the last 21/2 weeks," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.

"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 top-seeded Virginia (30-6) on Friday night in the East Regional semifinals at Madison Square Garden. The winner will face the winner of the Connecticut-Iowa State game on Sunday for a berth in the Final Four.

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, closing the season the way the Spartans started it. They won their first outright Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title since 1981 and swept to 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 straight winning seasons for the first time since 1981-83. "I think they know what's in front of them, and again it's not changing anything. It's just doing it probably a little bit better."

Michigan State has always been known for its toughness and rebounding ability under Izzo, who had led the Spartans to six Final Fours, including the 2000 national championship. This team, Izzo's sixth to reach the round of 16 in the last seven years, comes in averaging 76.6 points per game, about 10 points better than Virginia.

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