LOUISVILLE, Ky. --- Rick Pitino sang the praises of Big East Commissioner John Marinatto Tuesday, amid the latest reports that the conference will add Boise State, San Diego State, and likely Navy as football only members plus Houston, SMU, and Central Florida in all sports.
Pitino has been very vocal on his blog and in the media over the past couple months, lobbying the Big East to replace its departing strong basketball schools (Syracuse, Pitt, West Virginia) with other competitive basketball schools, such as Temple and Memphis.
Tuesday he acknowledged football is the main player in the ever changing college sports landscape, not basketball.
"When it comes to basketball in this country, I'm not optimistic about anything," said Pitino before complimenting Marinatto's efforts, a close friend of Pitino. "(Marinatto) should get a substantial raise for what he just accomplished. I think that is as good a job for a commissioner with his back against a wall as I've seen since I've been in athletics."
The driving force in the Big East's efforts to replace its departing members has been to retain its automatic BCS qualification in football, worth close to $20 million annually just for sending one school (this year it's West Virginia to the Orange Bowl).
As of right now, the Big East's new members would join in the fall of 2013, but that could be accelerated if WVU leaves early for the Big XII and Syracuse with Pitt to the ACC. The addition of Boise State is huge for the Big East in keeping its automatic BCS qualification, with the Broncos reputation of finishing in the top-10 in recent years, with two Fiesta Bowl wins in the last decade.
"The teams you lost in football aren't as good as the teams you're bringing in," said Pitino. "That's pretty spectacular when you think about it, when you're making football decisions."
"Now, basketball's another matter...Have you made basketball stronger? No. You're not replacing Syracuse and Pittsburgh," said Pitino, who stressed Syracuse is the biggest loss of all for the conference, in terms of its basketball prowess. "My hope is that they will go out there and get a Temple or a Memphis, to keep basketball strong. That being said, we are still very strong without those teams, but if you want to be in the top two or three basketball conferences every year, you have to get stronger."
Pitino said Marinatto told him he had not slept in so long, while trying to find new members for the conference. At least on this night, Louisville and the rest of the Big East can sleep a little easier.
***RAKEEM BUCKLES RETURNS WEDNESDAY***
Forward Rakeem Buckles tore his ACL last February against Pittsburgh. Wednesday he will return to the floor, after nearly 10 months of rehab, against IUPUI.
"We'll probably play him anywhere from 10-14 minutes, try to increase it a little bit the following game, and he should be ready to go for Memphis," said Rick Pitino Tuesday. "The main thing is I don't want to play him more than three minute spans."
Pitino said Buckles' knee is 100% now, but he was hesitant to bring him back against Vanderbilt Friday, even though Buckles lobbied to play in that game.
Pitino also said Buckles will come off the bench and likely back up Gorgui Dieng at center but may also play some power forward against IUPUI.
"He can play both spots, and he may have to," said Pitino about the 6-7 junior. "Rak's just a very good, sound basketball player that's used to the pressure. He's not going into any place in America and be nervous."
"The one thing these injuries have done for Rak is they've made him a good shooter from the outside."
***CARDS PREPARE FOR ARRIVAL OF WARE***
December 14th marks the end of final exams on-campus and the first day freshman Kevin Ware will be able to join the Cards, after failing to qualify for the fall semester.
The 6'5", 180 pound shooting guard out of Conyers, GA is a consensus 4-star freshman, and was ranked in the top-100 nationally heading into this season but has had zero contact with his new team.
"He's been in Atlanta. He was supposed to come with a friend to see a couple games, and he never could make it in," said Pitino. "I just had a conversation with him, and he asked how much do you think I'll play. I said I have no idea if you'll play at all. I don't know what type of shape you're in. I don't know if you can shoot. I don't know if you can pick up offenses and defenses. I don't know what position you're going to be."
Pitino did say though that the Cards on-going injury situation might make it more likely Ware could see the floor fairly quickly.
"But he is physically healthy. That goes a long way."
That statement got a chuckle out of the media, and that tells you how banged up the Cards are still, with Pitino saying it will be much easier for Ware to play than Wayne Blackshear, for the sheer fact that Blacksheer is still recovering from a torn labrum in his shoulder.