Dana Altman is in rare company. His Ducks are one of 16 teams left standing in the college basketball world right now. He coached his 12-seeded team to wins over five and four seeds to advance to the regional stage in the Midwest portion of the NCAA bracket.
The other three coaches joining him in Indianapolis this week are Louisville’s Rick Pitino, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo. Between those three men, there are 23 Final Four appearances and six national championships. Altman has never been to the Sweet 16.
“This is my 12th NCAA Tournament as a head coach and as an assistant,” he said, “and I was just as excited when they announced our name as I was for the first one when I was 27 years old.”
As a head coach, he took Kansas State to the big dance in 1993, but the team lost in round one. He would return to the March Madness as Creighton’s coach in 1999, one of his seven trips with the Bluejays. His team made it to the second round of the tourney on two different occasions, but both times failed to advance further.
His last visit to the NCAA Tournament was in 2007, a one-and-done expedition.
After three more seasons at Creighton, he took the head coaching job at Oregon in April of 2010. In Eugene, he inherited a 16-16 team from the prior season. In his first season, he improved the Ducks to 21-18. In year two, he went 24-10. This year, the Ducks are currently 27-8 and are dancing for the first time since 2008.
While Altman has participated in 12 NCAA Tournaments, that is nothing compared to the three other coaches of the Midwestern regional. He will go head-to-head in the Sweet 16 with Pitino, the only head coach in college basketball history to take three different programs to the Final Four. Louisville’s head coach has been to March Madness 17 times, with five trips to the Final Four and is 1-1 in the championship game.
If Altman prevails over the potential future hall-of-famer Pitino, he will face either Krzyzewski (15 Final Fours, four NCAA titles and current hall-of-famer) or Izzo (six Final Fours and one championship win).
The chance to play in a round he has never been in is a special opportunity for Altman, though, and he will get to face a coach on Friday who has regularly achieved this mark. But for Altman, the Sweet 16 game against Pitino and Cardinals isn’t about him.
“It’s great for me,” he said. “I’m excited but, man, it’s just great to get to see those guys in the locker room all fired up. And for our fans that have waited for this. And for our state, it’s good.”