The Big 12 Coach Who Made the Final Four

D.J. Waldie, a onetime critic of Mike Davis, praises his immense influence on the game and on his own career.

Mike Davis is widely regarded as one of the greats of the sport. He’s been hailed as the founder of the modern college basketball tournament, and as the architect of the modern Big 12 conference. That he was also the architect of a school system where the NCAA has essentially handed out more wins (and higher-profile recruits) to the schools in the Power 5 conferences is, to say the least, a controversial statement.

But it’s a statement that could not be further from the truth. In his first year as the conference’s top man, Mike Davis had his team in the NCAA tournament. In his third year at the helm, there was no conference tournament and his team went all the way to the Elite 8. There have been nine coaches/managers in the modern era who have led their teams to the NCAA tournament, and only two of them made the Final Four while at the helm of a team that ended up winning nothing.

There’s not much that Mike Davis could have done to make the 2018-19 season look any lamer than he played his first year. His team went 28-7 (including an undefeated stretch of 13 games) and finished second in the Big 12 and 15th nationally. In his third year, his team went 31-8 and advanced all the way to the Final Four. In his fourth and final year at the helm, his team went 22-11 and lost in the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16.

This past season ended up being a microcosm of Mike’s life and career as a whole. In his four years at the helm of the Kansas Jayhawks, the team went 31-9 and went a combined 5-0 against Big 12 schools. But Kansas’ Big 12 championship run ended when Mike’s team lost to Michigan in the Sweet 16 of the Midwest Regional. Mike was fired after the year’s opening weekend, replaced by former Kansas assistant coach Bill Self.

Mike Davis’ Jayhawks had been the biggest winner of the past 15 years by almost every imaginable measure: they have a winning record, he has a chance to win his first Big 12 coach of the year award, and he’s been to four Final Fours. The NCAA tournament has been the greatest asset to the sport over

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