INDIANAPOLIS – For Bob Huggins, it has been an 18-year wait to return to the Final Four — nearly two decades filled with job changes, health problems and trouble with both the NCAA and the law.
Only six years — mostly drama free — have passed between trips for Mike Krzyzewski. Yet in many ways, his time away from the top of college basketball has felt longer.
Such is life when you're the coach at Duke and your program goes that long without making a Final Four.
"People expect us to always be at this stage," Blue Devils forward Lance Thomas said.
Duke's opponent in Saturday's national semifinal is West Virginia (31-6), which is returning to the Final Four for the first time since 1959. It's Huggins' first trip since 1992, back at the peak of his long, tumultuous stay at Cincinnati.
That kind of drought might gnaw at some coaches. But the 56-year-old Huggins insists he hasn't spent much time — any time, really — during that span wondering if he would make it back or worrying about his shortcomings.
"Not really," he said, when asked if there's anything specific that eats at him. "I can't say I worry about our guys, because our guys are really good guys. I want them to be successful and do well. But I've never lived my life worrying."
If he did, there'd be plenty of material to choose from.
An abridged look at the list includes the 0.0-percent graduation rate at Cincinnati for several seasons and the heart attack in 2002. He ran what was widely viewed a rogue program, cited by the NCAA for the dreaded "lack of institutional control" in 1998. But "Huggy Bear" didn't get chased from the Cincy sideline until he started fighting with the school president after his 2004 DUI arrest was caught on video.
Though beloved at West Virginia, Huggins remains a divisive figure in Cincinnati, where memories of his bad temper, along with the other baggage, are still vivid. The fact that the Bearcats haven't enjoyed near the success since his departure plays into the mix.
"I had countless opportunities to leave and didn't want to because I didn't want to leave the city, the people, and more specifically, I didn't want to lose my players," said Huggins, who was forced out after 16 years.
After the tough ending in Cincinnati, his faith in school administration was restored during a single season at Kansas State. Despite the positive experience, he bolted when his alma mater came calling.
West Virginia sports are more than simple games in that state, and not surprisingly, any program with a half-century drought will be patient with a hometown boy who returns. Huggins rewarded the faithful quickly, and has done it with little of the trouble that followed him earlier in his career.
Only three years into the job, he found a group of players, led by Da'Sean Butler, who buy into his mantra: "Do What We Do," and don't try to do too much.
"He came in and said, 'I'm going to turn you into my guys,'" Butler said. "He said, 'You're going to be guys who play hard, defend, rebound, things like that.'"
They are. As are Krzyzewski's players at Duke (33-5).
Since 2004, when the Blue Devils lost to Connecticut in the national semifinals, Krzyzewski has kept the talent coming in and won four ACC tournament and two regular-season titles. But during that span, Duke hadn't advanced past the NCAA regional semifinals until this year.
That, combined with the two national championships North Carolina has won in the same span, has certainly made it easier to criticize a program that already has its share of haters.
Naturally, job security is of no concern to Coach K, in his 30th year at Duke. He insists he's listened to very little of the critiquing outside of what the people in his own circles tell him. He says the only time he, or anyone, should feel pressure is when they're in over their head.
"I think pressure is when you're asked to do something you're not capable of doing," Krzyzewski said. "So you should train and be in a position where you're capable of doing what people ask of you. And if you're continually feeling pressure, you should probably try to do something you can do."
Duke has done it this year with a very un-Duke-like combination — one that includes lots of height, starting with 7-foot-1 Brian Zoubek, plenty of rebounding and defense and nary a superstar.
The program that gave us Grant Hill, Shane Battier, Christian Laettner, Jason Williams and dozens more NBA players has produced a 2010 team with pro talent, but no lottery picks — a team with players who can score and defend but nobody who dominates nightly.
The man who turned it into Final Four material: Krzyzewski, who insists he never let the criticism get to him.
"I think everyone feels pressure, but not the pressure from the outside," he said. "It's the pressure from within, to do as well as you think you can do."
Both coaches have helped their teams come close to, or reach, their potential this season. Now, they will meet in a matchup featuring two coaches who have ended droughts — long by Coach K's standards, nothing to worry about the way Huggins sees it.
"They say it balances out," Huggins said. "If it balances out, we should be in great shape — if the people who say that know what they're talking about."