TULSA, Okla. – As if the on-court action isn't intriguing enough, most of the matchups in Tulsa include a side story sexy enough to make the games must-watch TV for any basketball junkie.
UNLV coach Lon Kruger will be facing his former school when the Runnin' Rebels take on Illinois. Kruger coached the Illini from 1996-2000 before leaving to become the head coach of the Atlanta Hawks. Also, UNLV forward Quintrell Thomas spent one season as a Kansas Jayhawk in 2008-09 before transferring. UNLV and Kansas could play in the second round.
If Kansas doesn't play UNLV in the second round it will take on Illinois, which is where Jayhawks coach Bill Self spent three seasons before taking over in Lawrence in the spring of 2003. Illinois won a pair of Big Ten titles and went to an Elite Eight and a Sweet 16 under Self. Bruce Weber, Self's replacement, became so annoyed with references and comparisons to Self that he actually staged a mock funeral for him at Illinois. The situation irked Self, who has yet to face his former school.
Another story line to watch involves Memphis' first-round game against Arizona. Memphis coach Josh Pastner is an Arizona alum who was a member of the Wildcats' 1997 national championship squad. Pastner then became an assistant under Lute Olson before leaving to join John Calipari's staff at Memphis prior to the 2008-09 season. Pastner became the Tigers' head coach the following year after Calipari left for Kentucky.
"I wish we weren't playing Josh's team because he's meant so much to Arizona's program," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "His hard work as an assistant – along with his recruiting efforts – have placed our program among the elite."
Pastner didn't seem too emotional about going against his former school.
"I was there for 12 years and I love every second of being there," he said. "But the facts are that I bleed blue and gray. I love where I'm at. I'm all about Memphis. I do stay up late at night and watch the Arizona games on TV, and I root for Arizona when they're playing in the Pac-10. This will be one time I'm not rooting for them."
- Lon Kruger