Hoiberg, aka "The Mayor," learned a different way to play in the NBA and got his first coaching job of any kind when his alma mater asked him to run the show 4 years ago.
The two will be coaching tonight in the NCAA East Regional semifinals at Madison Square Garden, Hoiberg going first with Iowa State against Connecticut, followed by Bennett and Virginia against Michigan State.
Bennett, 44, got Washington State, a program with zero pedigree, to the Sweet 16 in his second season. Virginia, a program that had lost its way, saw a rising coaching star and a way to play that could combat the superior talent of North Carolina and Duke and lured Bennett east. In his fifth year, Bennett's Cavaliers (30-6) won the ACC regular season and tournament.
In their two NCAA wins, the Cavs have allowed 59.5 points. They are fifth nationally in defensive efficiency.
Hoiberg, 41, was an NBA executive with Minnesota when he was hired. He was a leap of faith, but in Ames, they all have faith in The Mayor. He delivered quickly with a combination of transfers, recruits and high-powered offense. The Cyclones (28-7) are 90-46 in his four seasons and won the 2014 Big 12 championship.
In their two NCAA wins, Iowa State has averaged 89 points, most in the tournament. They are 10th nationally in offensive efficiency. They average 83.2 points on the season.
Beyond great college careers, NBA experience and winning big quickly, if in completely different ways, the two young coaches share another trait, quite unique among their brethren. They are perfectly calm on the sideline during games, an example that it is not necessary to scream at officials, rant at their players and generally act the fool.
"He's the calmest guy I've ever met in my life," said Iowa State junior forward Dustin Hogue about his coach. "He doesn't get down my back for everything I do. He gives us confidence. When you make a mistake, coach just tells you to move on to the next play. Some coaches don't understand the struggles players go through. Coach Fred has been there."
Hoiberg's way obviously works, but it was severely tested when third-leading scorer and facilitator George Niang (16.7 points) went down with a broken foot in the first NCAA game against North Carolina Central.
"Our guys had their heads down a little bit when they heard the news, just because of how important he is," Hoiberg said.
The next game was North Carolina without the Central.
"They showed me something by going out there and winning a game when your best closing player isn't out there to help you," Hoiberg said.
Iowa State made a great late comeback, put up 85 points and knocked out the Tar Heels.
"It's him just letting us play free, giving us the confidence to go out there and play, play for each other," said point guard DeAndre Kane, who hit the game-winner because his coach gave him the freedom to attack in a critical moment.
Niang loves playing for Hoiberg.
"It's very appealing whenever you can have a guy that has a cool, calm attitude," he said. "We feel like we can take any challenge that comes forward."
The Mayor teaches a way to play and a way to be.
"I spent more years in that league than I did in college. I had 14 great years in the NBA, 10 as a player and four as a front-office executive," Hoiberg said. "And that's the style I know."
The style wins. So does Bennett's.
"He's doing it with good players, but he doesn't have McDonald's All Americans," said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. "Defense wins championships. That's a good staple to have. You're always going to be in games."
The Cavs have gone 21-2 in 2014. They went from being in most games to winning just about every game.
"Underdog mentality, but we have to have a hungry mentality," Bennett said when asked about his team being the underdogs in the game.
Bennett was a volunteer assistant for his father in 2000 when Wisconsin went to the Final Four.
"To be a part of that run, and having played in [the NCAA] just captivated me," Bennett said.
His players clearly love playing for him. His freshman point guard London Perrantes is doing a pretty good Tony Bennett imitation, with 136 assists against just 38 turnovers, a crazy good 3.6-to-1 assist to turnover ratio.
"We respond well to him," Perrantes said. "You don't have to worry about somebody breathing down your neck the whole time."
Malcolm Brogdon (12.6 points) is Virginia's leading scorer. Which is fine for a team that allows just 55.5 points per game.
"Coach Bennett is very calm with us and has a lot of confidence in us," Brogdon said. "He'll get fired up at times when we're not doing what we need to do . . . It's nice not having someone down your throat every play, every other play, just sort of sitting back and just letting you play the game. It benefits you as a player."
It is an interesting concept. Coaches teach the game and then watch calmly as the players just play the game. It is also interesting that Bennett and Hoiberg are coaching two of just 12 teams still alive for the national championship.