CRAWFORD | Pitino recounts March moments, looks forward to more - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Pitino recounts March moments, looks forward to more

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — This is University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino in his element. The topic is the NCAA Tournament. Ask him anything, and he responds with an insight, or a story.

Pitino is 62 years old. He might well be more excited about March Madness than his players. He might be more excited about it than Dick Vitale. Every year.

For Pitino, it's about moments. He's taken three programs to the Final Four. He's won championships with two programs. He's been to at least three Final Fours with two different programs. He's been to a Final Four in each of the past four decades. He's come from 20 points down in a regional final. He's been part of a game that many say was the greatest college game ever played. You want moments? He has moments.

The best way to do this is to just listen. Here are some snippets of his discussion of the tournament with the media on Wednesday, ranging from how the tournament has changed, to what it might take to beat Kentucky, to handicapping the rest of the field. The Cardinals, a No. 4 seed in the East Region, will head to Seattle for a game against Cal-Irvine on Friday at 4 p.m.

Want to get fired up for March Madness? Read this. Just don't expect to get as fired up as Pitino. (The questions are paraphrased, the answers are not.)

QUESTION: Has the tournament changed over the years since your first Final Four in 1987?

PITINO: Because of social media, it's so gigantic. I think there's so many more people interested in this time of year. Everybody's interested. Everybody's going to fill out a bracket. Everybody's going to try to win a contest. Everybody's involved.

I always tell a funny story because I was in the pros at the time: I was with the Knicks, and all the guys on the team were filling out their brackets. We had a pool. It got to be -- the way it worked was, let's say a 12 was playing a 5, if the 12 wins, you get 12 points. If the 5 wins, you get five points. You pick a 1 seed constantly, you get one. It's total points at the end all the way through. This friend of my wife's, Lillian, had this cousin named Luigi. He was from Italy, moved over here. It's when Valparaiso got hot. He was the only one who picked Valparaiso. He wound up winning $3,000 on this pool because he thought Valparaiso was an Italian university.

There are so many naive people in this world who get involved in this and they become fans of March Madness because there are so many upsets, so many buzzer beaters, so many exciting times in this. I just remember so many exciting things happened, not only at Providence but at Kentucky, at Louisville -- so many things that are exciting. You're down 20 points, and West Virginia's made 11 3s and you think you have no shot and you're walking up that ... at the Pit (in Albuquerque) and it's a big steep walk and you only six and a half players because (Otis George) has a stress fracture and you think you're dead, you can't play zone anymore, you only played zone the last two months -- what do you do? Then you come back and you win it and you think back on those moments and you just say, 'Wow, this is incredible.'

Or Austin Peay -- we're getting killed and they carried a guy off the foul line, he misses two, we call timeout, get the play and we win it. Austin Peay is out and we go on to the Final Four. There are so many moments that are incredible, incredible comeback moments, and then there's obviously the different type of -- in 1996, when we're ... you're 27-point favorites and God forbid if anyone comes within 16 points of an unbeatable team, they think you're going to lose. The stress and pressure mounts, and there's so many different emotions in this tournament that make it a lot of fun, looking back on it.

You also hope there's more moments happening. Every team out there -- there's no question that Manhattan is dreaming of that perfect game that they could beat Kentucky, if they get by Hampton (they didn't) — and everybody's thinking of that. That's what makes it so great. Somebody's going to be Cinderella. Somebody's going to step up. Somebody's going to have those moments of a lifetime.

QUESTION: Will a No. 16 seed ever beat a No. 1 seed?

PITINO: Yeah, it's going to happen. It's difficult, but it can definitely happen because somebody can get hot, somebody can have that type of game. Look, we all witnessed the Miracle on Ice and what happened with the young kids in the Olympics. If that can happen, anything can happen in sports. I remember losing to John Thompson last game of the year by 30 points in the Big East semifinals and then right before that we lost by 28, 35 points at his place, and we come to Louisville and who do we have to play? Georgetown. And it was never a game. We led by 20 at halftime. It was never a game. I think the ending was 15. I walked out not believing what just happened.

You get all those moments, and sometimes there's no rhyme or reason for any of it. Even when we lost to Morehead in the first round, everybody's all shock, shock, shock, and I said, 'What's wrong with these Louisville fans? Do they know how good Kenneth Faried is?' You didn't. I did because I studied every film. I thought he was the best rebounder in college basketball and they had a terrific two guard and we had Preston Knowles go out with a broken ankle and everybody was in shock. If you know anything about basketball, it wasn't a shock.

Q: Numerous people look at your draw and think it's almost ideal. How far as a coach can you look ahead?

PITINO: When you say numerous people, people who know what they're talking about? … I've been an analyst and sometimes you have to be a contrarian to the group and sometimes you have to give your opinion. They're never right; if they're right 50 percent of the time, it's very difficult.

The only sure thing in looking at it as an analyst myself is that Kentucky's in a league of their own. Anybody who's not in Kentucky's region is very happy, including myself. And everybody else can be beat.

So when I look at our bracket, I don't think it's necessarily good, I don't think it's necessarily bad. I think Irvine's a very tough opening matchup and then you go against a style of play … Northern Iowa is a carbon copy of Virginia; it's almost identical to a certain degree in the way they play offense and defense. Then you have Wyoming, who probably is one of the best defensive teams in the country. So is it an ideal matchup? Probably not. But we're used to it from playing Virginia twice and playing some of the other teams. And with Irvine, we know what we're up against.

So I don't think it's an ideal matchup; I don't think there is such a thing. Somebody said to me, Notre Dame is a bad matchup for Kentucky, and he knew what he was talking about. I said that's the worst matchup for Notre Dame, so everybody has a difference of opinion in terms of analyzing matchups.

QUESTION: If Kentucky is in a league by itself, first, what separates them in your mind from everybody else, and who is closest?

PITINO: They're undefeated. Kentucky can beat you so many different ways. Kentucky had, first of all, the best team they've played against is their second team. And there are so many things at his disposal. If the backcourt's not playing well -- the twins -- he comes with a lottery pick and one of the premier point guards in the nation. God forbid if someone doesn't attempt to block a shot or offensive rebound, they're coming right out of the game and some other aircraft carrier's coming into the game. He's got that luxury of being able to substitute based on effort, based on play.

They have a great transition game. They pass and shoot it well. Their third offense is -- nobody has stopped it all year -- their offensive rebounding. Nobody has been able to keep them off the glass. That's why they're undefeated. That said, what's it going to take to beat them? There's a lot of opinions to that. My own personal opinion is Wisconsin probably is the closest team because of their size and shooting ability and their style of play. But that being said, I think it's going to take a (1985) Villanova performance to beat them and Kentucky is going to have to not play that well. Villanova that night was almost perfect against Georgetown 

Kentucky has not played well and shot poor percentages in games and still won because of their offensive rebounding and their post game. Their post game is awesome. Their bench is awesome. They're very well drilled at every fundamental. It's going to take a team that plays a perfect game to beat them.

QUESTION: In '96 you lose in the SEC tournament and I remember you saying that you were "a little delighted" that you had lost?

PITINO: I didn't intentionally lose. But benching Antoine Walker, I was hoping we would have some adversity at that point. Because he really didn't deserve to be benched but I did.

I think that what John (Calipari) has done is exactly what he should have done. You don't want to lose with that type of team -- and I certainly didn't want to lose -- because you have a chance at history, to do something nobody has ever done in the game. But I was pleased at that point in time because I thought we were just beating the hell out of people by so many points that we just needed to stay hungry and humble, so that loss was good for us. And then we went on and played great from that point on.

QUESTION: Do you tell your players to watch other tourney games?

PITINO: I don't tell them either way. I watch every single game. I'm a fan, a big fan, of March Madness.

I love the pros. I've always loved the pros because I grew up a pro guy and not a college guy. I got caught up in it all the time and people would ask, 'Do you miss college?' And I never missed college in the pros, except March Madness. I always missed that time of year. I just think it's so special for the kids. So special for the fans. The pageantry has gotten great.

It's just an unbelievable time of year. You've got guys, ESPN, just 24 hours a day saying the same things and their picks. And everyone is tuned in and everybody is excited. I never really paid much attention to anyone's opinion on it because I just know it's so difficult to figure it out, especially in the first round. You're going to see things that you haven't seen before in the first round because jitters come into play.

. . . This is the first time I think we got what we wanted. Every year, we leave bitching like crazy. This is the first time we got what we wanted. We wanted to get away and go out West. We were hoping to be a 4-seed. We were hoping to stay out of Kentucky's bracket. We were hoping a lot of things. Now we'll probably lose by 30 in the opening round because we're getting what we wished.

It's going to be a great tournament. Everybody thinks they have a shot at this thing. As I look at the brackets, there was only one game -- and I won't say which one it was -- I thought a lower seed could beat a higher seed. Outside of that, they were all toss-ups to me. This is the toughest I've seen because it's so close.

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