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March Madness heroes and villains past and present

The NCAA Tournament is awash with heroes and villains throughout its long run. We take a look at some of the most iconic.

The NCAA Tournament is awash with heroes and villains throughout its long run. We take a look at some of the most iconic.
The Washington PostDiarioAS

Some of the biggest heroes and biggest villains in sports have made the NCAA Final Four the spectacle that it is today over the years. Who can forget Bobby Knight throwing his chair across the floor, or the love/hate that Christian Laettner inspired?

New heroes and new villains emerge every spring, but here is a look at some of the most iconic ones.

Christian Laettner

Duke Blue Devils PF/C (1988-92)

“I Hate Christian Laettner”

This is a phrase that needs almost no explanation in American basketball history. But it has become much more than that. It has seeped its way into the national consciousness as T-shirts with the words emblazoned on it are still sold, decades after the event.

As a skilled Blue Devil player, Laettner was always going to get some stick, but the 1992 Elite Eight buzzer beater that saw Duke stun Kentucky before going on to win their second consecutive NCAA title sealed the deal for many.

Bobby Knight

Head coach: Texas Tech (2001-08), Indiana (1971-2000), Army (1965-71)

Knight had a long and storied career coaching at Army and Texas Tech, but it was in Indiana that he became a household name. He won three national championships as a Hoosier and became known for his fiery personality and physical coaching style. Never backing down from a confrontation, he would intimidate referees and when ejected from the game, threw the chairs out onto the floor in protest. He left coaching with 902 career wins, the most of any coach in NCAA Division I history.

Jerry Tarkanian

Head coach: Fresno State Bulldogs (1995-2002), UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (1973-92), Long Beach State 49ers (1968-73)

“Tark the Shark” spent his most productive years at UNLV, where he turned the Runnin’ Rebels into a powerhouse program. During his tenure, they reached at least the Sweet Sixteen six times, including a run to national champions.

Much of his reputation stemmed from accusations of NCAA rules violations by the coach and the three schools that he led had to vacate a total of 55 tournament wins in the melée. In the end, UNLV were banned from the tournament because of the trouble and Tarkanian twice sued the NCAA over the situation.

Rick Pitino

Head coach: Iona Gaels (2020-present), Louisville Cardinals (2001-17), Kentucky Wildcats (1989-96), Providence Friars (1985-87), Boston University (1978-83)

Pitino is a giant of a name in NCAA basketball, and has created as much controversy as he has success in the game. Not afraid to burn bridges, Pitino found success at Kentucky before leaving for in-state rival Louisville. His exit from there in 2017 saw them vacate a title that they had won in 2013, but Pitino has gone on to Iona, where he brought them back to the tournament this year where they lost to UConn. His name stirs feelings of admiration and disgust in almost equal measure across the country, occupying both the hero and the villain roles.

Mike Krzyzewski

Head coach: Duke Blue Devils (1980-2022), Army Black Knights (1975-80)

Mike Krzyzewski is already a Hall-of-Famer, notching up five national titles at Duke. But Coach K’s success is a source of ire for many opposing fans around the country. Christian Laettner felt the full brunt of this when much of the feeling for Duke was directed at him instead.

Under Krzyzewski’s leadership, Duke solidified itself as the basketball program that everyone loves to hate. All-time, Coach K has coached Duke to over 30 NCAA Tournament appearances and reached the NCAA Final Four 13 times.


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