BOZICH | How To Explain Pitino's Sweet Sixteen Record? You Can't
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The statistic is outrageous. Rick Pitino has coached in 11 Sweet Sixteen games in the NCAA Tournament. He has won 11 -- by an average of 20.5 points. I told you the statistic was outrageous.
Who goes unbeaten in Sweet Sixteen games for an entire career?
Not Mike Krzyzewski. Not Jim Boeheim. Not Roy Williams. They're all Hall of Famers.
Not John Calipari. Not Bill Self. Not Tom Izzo. They've all won NCAA titles.
Not Bob Knight. Not Dean Smith. Not John Wooden. They're all legends.
I told you the statistic was outrageous. How does a guy go 11-for-11 in Sweet Sixteen games?
"By being a good coach and being able to prepare," said former Alabama coach Wimp Sanderson, the first of Pitino's Sweet Sixteen opponents, 27 years ago.
"And by having great players. I still hear people say about me, 'No wonder Wimp won all those games, look at all those great players he had.'
"What I say to that is, 'If you're going to coach, you ought to get yourself some of them because it will really help you."
But there is more to it. There is certainly a bit of statistical anomaly at work here. Has to be. None of the wins have been one- or even two-possession games. He prepared his teams and then his teams rolled.
But Pitino has had time to prepare for first-round tournament games, too, and lost several.
Remember? Like 2010 and 2011? When people were screaming that Pitino had lost his post-season mojo?
He's also been beaten in the Final Four semifinals. Those are preparation games. Pitino has lost four national semifinal games. The last one was to John Calipari and Kentucky two years ago.
It is Calipari and Kentucky that Pitino and Louisville will play in a Sweet Sixteen game of the Midwest Regional Friday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
If you check Pitino's NCAA Tournament record you will find defeats at five different rounds of the tournament – first-round (4); second-round (3), Elite Eight (4); Final Four (4) and championship game (1).
But the Sweet Sixteen?
Perfection – 11 victories, 10 by double figures, five by at least 20 points.
He has beaten national championship coaches (Calipari at UMass in 1992; Izzo at Michigan State in 2012). He has beaten formidable coaches (Rick Majerus of Utah in 1996; Bruce Pearl of Tennessee in 2008).
Sanderson, (Alabama, 1987); Dave Odom (Wake Forest, 1993); Bill Frieder (Arizona State, 1995); Phil Martelli (St. Joseph's, 1997); Lorenzo Romar (Washington, 2005); Russ Pennell (Arizona, 2009) and Dana Altman (Oregon, 2013) are on the list.
He's won four times when the tournament-seeding chart suggested that Pitino was supposed to lose.
It has to be the most remarkable statistic of Pitino's Hall of Fame career.
"He's a great coach," Sanderson said. "I went to six Sweet Sixteens and didn't get through any of them. Rick beat my best team. I really thought we had a chance to do something special. We won 19 out of 21 conference games. That ain't bad at Alabama. "
Sanderson is always a good place to go with this discussion. His 1987 Alabama team earned a two-seed in the Southeast Regional. The Crimson Tide had a future NBA star named Derrick McKey. They were convinced they were bound for the Final Four. They never saw the Elite Eight.
Providence rolled into Freedom Hall with confidence. Everybody remembers that the Friars made 14 of 22 three-point shots while upsetting Alabama, 103-82. Sanderson remembers that, too. But he also remembers something else.
Sanderson remembers the way Pitino and Providence defended McKey. In Alabama's first two NCAA Tournament games, McKey scored 51 points. Against Providence, McKey scored 11, two in the first half as the Friars rolled.
When you ask Sanderson for a reason he believes Pitino has won all of his Sweet Sixteen games, he will not talk about offense or three-point shooting. He will talk about defense.
"Being multiple defensively helps Rick," Sanderson said. "A lot of coaches start out man to man and then go zone. If Rick thinks zone is the right way to go, he'll start that way. I admire him for that.
"I think Rick's defense is hard to determine. He matches it to the situation very well. He does a lot of different things. You might start out with somebody who can go one-on-one against him, but he's not afraid to make you go one-on-zone.
"The press is designed to mess you up out of your flow without giving you a lot of cheap baskets. Knowing him, he's got a chart on that, whether he's giving up too many cheap baskets.
"Rick is a terrific basketball coach. Very difficult to play. That statistic is absolutely remarkable."
One of a kind, in fact.
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