Let me start this post with a statement we can all agree on: Coach Pitino* is a master of manipulation through the media. He works in the media like other artists might work in oil or clay (Christmas story, anyone?).
Last year, Pitino told us it was a bridge year. “Past-the-first-weekend” fans said, “a bridge from what to what? Immorality to mediocrity?” Other fans (on this very site, no less) say, “Pitino was just manipulating the media so we’d all be happy when the team didn’t totally suck.”
These fans point out how awesome Preston Knowles was. Surely, a coach with someone that awesome should make it past the first weekend. Was Preston awesome? Indisputably yes. Was he a basketball player capable of leading a true final four contending team? Let’s see, most final four teams have 1st round talent….preston was drafted in the 1st round…of the Ukrainian league. Ukraine? Seriously? The Ukraine is weak. You get jumped just coming out of a store in the Ukraine. In my opinion, Preston become who he was because he was coached by Pitino for 4 years. Any other program, and Preston isn’t half the player he is today.
So, maybe that team didn’t have final four talent, but they shouldn’t have “flamed out” in the first round, they did much worse than they should have. The scholars among us know that the best way to make people believe what you are saying is to cite when you said it before (Johnnyjoejohnson, 2011). Last year’s team had an RPI of 17, AP rank of 14, Winning percentage of 71%. Pitino’s past-the-first-weekend teams at UL had an average RPI of 7.3, AP ranking of 7, Winning percentage of 82%. His “Flame out” teams have had an average RPI of 44, AP ranking of 22, Winning percentage of 65%. Last year’s team was more like the 6 teams that didn’t make it past the first weekend than it was teams that did. We loved that team because of who they were and how they played, not because they were a great team.
Was Pitino just lowering expectations last year? Simply put: Last years’ Louisville team was not that good. It was indeed a bridge year.
This brings us to this year’s team. A bridge connects two pieces of land. Two elite eights and top 10 finishes on one side, more of the same on the other, right? What made him think this year was going to be any better than the bridge year? For one, his freshmen (you know he was thinking of Russ not Gorgi) and sophomores would improve, and he was bringing in his best recruiting class in years who would contribute immediately. I’m on record saying I would make love to a Donkey if it would somehow fix Wayne’s shoulder- which, coincidentally is the classiest thing I’ve ever said 8 beers in. In addition to not having Wayne for the UK game, Chane made a stupid freshman mistake and picked up 3 fouls in the first 5 minutes of the game, in essence taking him entirely out of the game. Would last year have been a bridge year if it meant zero freshman contributing?
Let’s take a minute to think about this season. It’s Jan 2. We’re ranked 10/11 in the major polls, and our RPI is 13. Our winning percentage is 86% for chrissakes. We just had the worst week imaginable because we lost to two top 10 teams by a combined 10 points. Sure the offense has been ugly. Sure we don’t have anyone other than Russ who can score. Anybody remember the sound in freedom hall when someone from Twill’s team pulled up from 3? Something between a groan and a boo? Pitino doesn’t need offense to win- he needs defense- and we got defense.
When your UK friend says they would have fired Rick if he was still at UK for not making it past the first weekend 7 out of 10 years, I suggest calling him an asshole, because guess what? He is an asshole. It doesn’t have to be like that. Being furious after every loss isn’t the only legitimate reaction. Every time your team loses doesn’t have to be a cause for a re-fucking-evaluation of everything your team stands for.
Wayne’s coming back. Russ is a beast. Siva will remember how to shoot. Pitino will figure out how to get Kuric open looks. This is the other end of the bridge, and it starts now.
*when I hear someone under 20 call Pitino “Rick” it makes me what to strangle them old-school Bobby Knight style. Does this mean I’m getting old? These kids today don’t respect their elders like they did in my day (i.e., the 90s) when Coach Crum, not Denny or CDC, was manning the sidelines).