Only one true winner will be happy at the end of the NCAA Tournament, so the cliche goes.
That much may be true. All but one locker room at the end of the tournament will have its share of sad faces and tears.
We disagree that only one winner will be left standing after the championship game, though. Coaches, players, schools and entire conferences are among the winners in the NCAA Tournament, whether it’s reaching an important milestone, scoring a major victory, improving NBA draft stock or building momentum into next season.
Here are our picks of who -- besides the national champion -- had reason to smile at the end of the NCAA tournament.
Related: 2013 NCAA Tournament losers
2013 NCAA TOURNAMENT WINNERS
Rick Pitino, Louisville
To recap The Week of Pitino:
• On Monday night, he won his second national title.
• On Monday morning, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
• On Saturday morning, a horse he owns, Goldencents, won the Santa Anita Derby to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.
• On Wednesday, his son Richard Pitino was hired at Minnesota.
This week of professional and personal achievement would have been tough to fathom in 2009 during the depths of the Karen Sypher scandal. Not that Pitino need media validation, but columnists are noting that he’s basically a nicer guy than he was several years ago, too.
Mitch McGary, Michigan
Three weeks ago, would anyone have picked McGary as the transformative player for Michigan, much less the entire NCAA Tournament? In Michigan’s pre-game notes before the Tournament, one of the first mentions of McGary notes that he was twice the Big Ten’s freshman of the week. Three weeks later, we wondered if McGary could have a triple-double in a Final Four game (he finished with 10 points, 12 rebounds and six assists against Syracuse).
Just as the Missouri Valley’s top program, Creighton, leaves for the Big East, the league has a new frontrunner. Wichita State has been consistent for several seasons, but the Final Four appearance should change perception. The biggest victory, though, may be the Shockers keeping Gregg Marshall, though he was not a serious candidate for major-conference openings this season. Wichita State lost five seniors from a team that won the MVC last season and still reached the Final Four with an identity based on physical defense and rebounding.
Florida Gulf Coast
Two wins will be the greatest advertisement in school history for the little-known school in Fort Myers. Few basketball fans even knew of the existence of FGCU, but after a week everyone knew of its coach, his wife, his prior career, the nickname Dunk City, the personalities of Sherwood Brown and Brett Comer, the Eagles’ style of play and the school’s location on the beach. Florida Gulf Coast may never reach the Sweet 16 again, but administrators have to be thrilled about the wave of applications they’re about to receive.
Andy Enfield, USC
The Florida Gulf Coast coach gets his own note here for taking advantage of his week in the spotlight to take the USC job. It may be a stretch for the Trojans to hire a coach from the Atlantic Sun with no West Coast recruiting connections, but for Enfield to multiply his salary by 10, it’s a no-brainer.
Buzz Williams, Marquette
Williams has progressed from quirky personality to underrated coach to simply a one of the best coaches in the country. With Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom gone, this was not one of his better teams, but Marquette reached the Elite Eight for the first time since Dwyane Wade led the way to the Final Four. Marquette was fortunate when Davidson collapsed in the round of 64, but from there the Eagles defeated Brad Stevens-led Butler and a 29-7 Miami team.
Josh Pastner, Memphis
The Tigers’ coach finally has a big win under his belt at Memphis. Saint Mary’s was a No. 11 seed that had played in the First Four two days earlier, but Pastner finally got his first tourney win in four seasons as the Tigers’ head coach. If Matthew Dellavedova hits that three-pointer to win the game, it would have been an awfully long offseason for the Memphis coach.
Marshall Henderson can be a handful, but Andy Kennedy and the Rebels owe him a free lunch (once his eligibility expires, of course). The nation’s most divisive player led Ole Miss to an SEC Tournament title for its first NCAA appearance since 2002 and an upset of fifth-seeded Wisconsin for its first NCAA win since 2001. The run likely saved the job of Kennedy, who had taken Ole Miss to the NIT in five of his first six seasons in Oxford.
The Explorers won two national titles in the ‘50s with Tom Gola and won 80 games from 1987-90 with Lionel Simmons, but other than that, La Salle hasn’t been very relevant. John Giannini’s long rebuilding project at La Salle, though, culminated with a trip to the Sweet 16 before a loss to Wichita State.
This was not a shining tournament for the Big 12, but Iowa State has reason to celebrate. Iowa State won a tournament game for the second consecutive season and gave a top team fits in the round of 32. Iowa State lost 87-71 to eventual national champion Kentucky in 2012, but kept it close early in the second half. This year, Ohio State needed Aaron Craft’s late three-pointer to put away the seventh-seeded Cyclones. And better yet, Fred Hoiberg agreed to a 10-year, $20 million contract to remain The Mayor.
With only one season in the rotation in 2012-13, next season was supposed to be the year for Harvard to make a move. Instead, the Crimson upset third-seeded New Mexico 68-62 in the round of 64. Next season, Harvard will be the “it” team in the Ivy League, same as Cornell was before its run to the Sweet 16 in 2010.
Steve Alford, UCLA
How can a coach of a team that lost to a No. 14 seed still be a winner? Landing at UCLA, for starters.