The careers of Fred Hoiberg and Kevin Ollie have been connected nearly from the start.
On Friday, they’ll meet in the Sweet 16, the first trip to the regional semifinal for both coaches.
The pair met in high school when they took a visit to Arizona. Then-coach Lute Olson offered a one scholarship to the first of the pair who would take it. Neither did. Hoiberg went to Iowa State while Ollie went to Connecticut. After their careers, they carved out niches in the NBA as bench players, playing on the same Chicago Bulls team in 2001-02.
When Hoiberg retired and joined the Minnesota Timberwolves’ front office, Minnesota signed Ollie in his second-to-last season.
Now, both returned to their alma maters to meet in the NCAA Tournament.
“Listen, 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 to stick, a work ethic, good teammate, and that's what Kevin was,” Hoiberg said. “That's what allowed him to play as long as he did. And he probably could have played a few more years, but I think he was in his mind ready to move on to the next step.”
Ollie was just as complimentary, but the two coaches will have to wait until Friday to root for each other again.
“It's always tough coaching against one of your great friends,” Ollie said. “But at the end of the day we are both competitors, we both love our university, and once we get in those lines, you pretty much don't have any friends.”
Iowa State vs. Connecticut
Time: 7:30 p.m. Eastern
Announcers: Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery
Region: East (New York)
Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Iowa State 82-77
Braden Gall: Iowa State 77-69
Mitch Light: Iowa State 82-77
Nathan Rush: UConn 70-69
What Iowa State did to get here:
North Carolina collapsed late to help Iowa State to an 85-83 win. Without Georges Niang in the lineup, DeAndre Kane took over to score 24 points against the Tar Heels. Iowa State is generally a versatile offensive team, with guards able to play close to the basket and forwards able to take shots from the perimeter. Niang was a valuable piece in that attack.
What Connecticut did to get here:
Shabazz Napier can take over, earning more Kemba Walker comparisons every time UConn wins another postseason game. He scored 24 points against Saint Joseph’s and 25 against Villanova to power UConn to the Sweet 16.
Sweet 16 Previews
Key for Iowa State to get to the Elite Eight: Rely on DeAndre Kane
The senior who transferred for his senior year at Iowa State has carried the Cyclones for stretches this season. He’s a stat-sheet stuffer who has also proven to be a key performer in tight moments in the postseason. With Niang out, more is on Kane’s shoulders.
Key for Connecticut to get to the Elite Eight: Rely on Shabazz Napier
Perhaps it’s too easy to distill this game to the two superstar point guards, but that matchup is even more pronounced for UConn. While Melvin Ejim can take charge for Iowa State if Kane’s not the guy, UConn has no such option. It’s Napier or bust in the postseason.
Player to watch: Monte Morris, Iowa State
The Cyclones freshman point guard is one of the most sure-handed players in the Sweet 16 with the ball in his hands. His 5.2-to-1 mark is one of the national leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio, and he’s also learned how to score in recent games with 11 points per game in his last four.