A former Kansas State coach will be in the Final Four next week in Houston.
Will it be Lon Kruger or Dana Altman? Saturday’s Elite Eight matchup between Oklahoma and Oregon will decide.
It promises to be an entertaining game. The No. 1-seed Ducks and the No. 2-seed Sooners are a pick’em, according to oddsmakers, and both teams play fun, up-tempo basketball. It’s the Pac-12 champions against Buddy Hield and Co.
K-State fans should be drawn to the broadcast, too.
Kruger played and coached at Kansas State, and his name hangs from the ceiling of Bramlage Coliseum. A Silver Lake native, he was named Big Eight Player of the Year in 1973 and 1974. When he returned as coach in 1986, he guided the Wildcats to four consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament and an overall record of 81-46. It was one of K-State’s best runs in recent memory, but he left for Florida and began a coaching career that has seen him guide a record five programs to the NCAA Tournament.
After guiding Oklahoma to a victory over Texas A&M in the Sweet 16, he took his third school to the Elite Eight in three decades. K-State in the 1980s, Florida in the ’90s and now Oklahoma. He also took UNLV to the Sweet 16 in 2007.
“I hadn't thought about it,” Kruger said in Anaheim, Calif., on Friday when asked about his years of success. “Glad to be here, for sure. Obviously it takes really good players to do that. We've got a good bunch that love to play and very happy for them.”
Altman followed Kruger as coach at K-State from 1990-94, posting moderate success. Altman went 68-54 in four seasons, which included one berth in the NCAA Tournament and two trips to the NIT. But the Wildcats were only 19-37 in Big Eight games under Altman, and fans howled for change. Altman saw the writing on the wall and left for Creighton, where he was 327-126 until 2010.
K-State replaced Altman with Tom Asbury and then Jim Wooldridge. Neither finished above .500. It took Bob Huggins coming to Manhattan in 2006 to re-energize the K-State basketball program.
Altman briefly accepted a job at Arkansas in 2007, but had a change of heart after one day on the job and returned to Omaha. For a while, it appeared he would retire at Creighton until Oregon – having been turned down by several other coaches, including then K-State coach Frank Martin – came calling. The move paid off.
Altman is 153-63 with the Ducks, reaching his first Sweet 16 in 2013 and his first Elite Eight this season.
“The team's excited. I'm excited,” Altman said in Anaheim. “It's a great opportunity for our school, for the guys that have worked awfully hard. You know, it's been a long time coming for our school. It's been a long time for our coaching staff. So we are very excited about the opportunity.”
Now, Altman is one step away from the Final Four.
So is Kruger.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett