ANAHEIM, Calif. – There are a ton of storylines that ought to make Thursday's Michigan vs. Texas Tech matchup in the Sweet 16 a delicious matchup to watch. One is that if you love fundamental, defensive basketball – the type of basketball a high school coach shows his players and says, "Do this" – it's hard to construct a better matchup in college basketball. Texas Tech and Michigan rank first and second in defensive efficiency respectively, per

Then there's the sense of déjà vu that Michigan is experiencing. Last year's West Regional was at the Staples Center, just 36 miles down Interstate 5 from Anaheim's Honda Center, and the matchups were virtually identical: Michigan vs. Texas A&M, Florida State vs. Gonzaga

Since Michigan won the regional a year ago, Michigan coach John Beilein is trying to keep much of their routine the same. 

"We just said, 'Follow the same itinerary,' " the coach said. "I moved the departure up and hour because I felt we got here a little late last year."

One more reason: It's expected to be a close one. Oddsmakers have set the line with No. 2 Michigan between a 1.5-point or 2-point favorite over No. 3 seed Texas Tech, making this game one of the tightest projected Sweet 16 games.

The reason that I'm so intrigued by this game, though, it how the two coaches manning the sidelines are mirror images of each other. Twenty years separate Beilein and Texas Tech coach Chris Beard, but squint your eyes a bit, look at the crooked paths of how their careers took them near the pinnacle of their profession, and you could easily be staring at the same person.

Beilein's journey to becoming a likely Hall of Fame coach has turned into a bit of a legend the past six years, during which his Wolverines have played in two NCAA title games. He wasn't the lifelong blueblood, someone who graduated from a big program, worked his way up at a big program, and became a head coach at a big program. He's the opposite: A graduate of Wheeling Jesuit, an initial job coaching at a high school in upstate New York, then Erie Community College, then Nazareth College, then Le Moyne, then Canisius, then Richmond, then West Virginia, then Michigan: Never working as an assistant coach, always the head coach, eight stops in his 43 years coaching. He's the only active collegiate coach to have 20-win seasons at four levels: Junior college, Division III, Division II and Division I.

As for Beard? Well, not the exact same path as Beilein, but just as crooked. Beard was an assistant at four Texas schools in the 1990s – Texas, Incarnate Word, Abilene Christian and North Texas – before he coached at junior colleges in Kansas and Oklahoma. After spending a decade serving the Knights – Hall of Famer Bobby, and then his son Pat – as an associate head coach at Texas Tech, Beard's path took a sharp turn. He headed to Myrtle Beach to coach a semi-pro team in an upstart league, then to a Division III school in Texas (McMurry University), then a Division II school in Texas (Angelo State), before landing his first Division I head-coaching gig after nearly a quarter century in the industry, at University of Arkansas-Little Rock. His one season there did as much for a blossoming career as any single season could, as he won 30 games, took his team to the NCAA Tournament, and upset fifth-seeded Purdue in double-overtime. He briefly took the head job at UNLV before his old school, Texas Tech, came knocking with a power-conference job and a power-conference salary. In Lubbock, Texas he quickly found success: Leading the school to its first Elite Eight in his second season, and winning the Big 12 this season, now two wins away from a Final Four at a school that's historically difficult to recruit to.

On Wednesday, a day before the two coaches were to face off for a spot in the Elite Eight, I asked Beilein about the similarities between his path and Beard's path. While he said he wasn't too familiar with Beard's path, Beilein did say that there are advantages to coming up as a coach outside of the spotlight.

"The biggest plus is you get to lose when nobody cares," he said. "And you just beat yourself up. Newspapers weren't hounding you, newspapers and talk radio and a lot of things. You make a lot of mistakes, and you really learn on your own. … All those first 15 formative years, I didn't have a full-time assistant. When I went to Canisius, I said, 'What do you guys do?' It was painful but so helpful."

If Beilein were to give one piece of advice to a younger coach like Beard, it might be this: No matter how much you think you know as a coach, you still have to adapt.

"There was only one way to play when I started," Beilein said. "Back then you went to the John Wooden and Dean Smith and Bobby Knight clinic, and that's what you did. Their word was law, and then you realized, 'I've got to get better players.' Then all of the sudden you realize you don't have better players, and if you want to win, you better evolve. The geometry is amazing. But you have to receptive to both. Keep your fundamentals, right? Important things – communication, stance, great attitudes, having guys that can shoot the ball and pass are all important. But schemes – you better continue to change, or you won't hang around."

For Beard, Thursday's game has a bit of a side thrill to it. Sure, it's a chance of making his second Elite Eight in as many years, and solidifying his position as one of the best young coaches in the country. But it's also a chance to coach against someone who is a bit of a coaching hero to him. His Texas Tech team lost to Beilein's West Virginia team in the NCAA Tournament in 2005, but it's a whole different deal when you're the head coach instead of Bobby Knight's assistant.

"He's somebody I have always looked up to personally," Beard said of Beilein. "I'm proud of my background in small-college basketball, whether it be NAIA or Division II or junior college, and (Beilein) is somebody we all look up to in coaching because of his experience and success in the different levels."

What the two coaches do have is a shared mentality that comes from working their way up from the bottom.

"I wake up every day feeling like the underdog, that I got something to prove," Beard said. "I set three alarms to make sure I was five minutes early today, had the video for our players. … I'm always trying to act like I belong and that's just kind of – that's just me. How I keep those players feeling the same way? It's just who we are. We've got really good players. We don't have any McDonald's All-Americans. We don't have anybody on our team that has been given anything.

"We weren't supposed to be here."

Neither were supposed to be here: Not Beilein or his team. Not Beard or his team. Yet here they are.