Rick Pitino. A man who commands respect as a coach for all of his accomplishments. Over 600 wins, 5 Final Fours, and a national title will surely get him into the Hall of Fame one day. At Louisville, he rescued the program from the depths of despair after Coach Crum lost his winning touch. Fans envisioned several Final Four trips, yearly Top 10 recruiting hauls, and beating UK on a regular basis. At the time, it was a grand slam of a hire and the perfect fit. At his first press conference, he said that it was time to lead the Cardinals back to national prominence. He did just that in four years, leading the Cards to the Final Four in 2005 with a sparkling 33-5 record while professing UofL “would never be out of the Top 25 again”. Fast forward to today, and chances are that if you ask UofL fans what they think of Coach Pitino, they are split. Some are supporters and some remain skeptics. However, in year 11, it’s time for more results. No more bridge years, no more first round flame outs, and no more being fixated on body fat index or players not getting the scouting report.
When Pitino was at the school up the road, he was a beast plain and simple. In 8 years he compiled an astounding 219-50 record, with a winning percentage of .814. His record in the NCAA Tournament was as equally impressive, going 22-5 (.815). His first two seasons at UK, they weren’t allowed to go to the NCAA Tournament because they are were dirty cheaters. Against Louisville, he was 6-2. In six seasons where Kentucky was allowed to attend the Big Dance, Pitino averaged 3.7 tournament wins a year. With just one occasion he didn’t make it past the first weekend, he finished his run at UK with 2 Elite Eights, 3 Final Fours and a National Championship.
When Pitino was hired to coach the Cards, most UofL fans didn’t expect him to duplicate what he did there. However, what Card Nation expects from him now is less than what they are currently getting. In his 11th year, his record at Louisville sits at 258-99 (.722) which is very respectable, averaging almost 25 wins a year. An area where he has been a huge disappointment has been in the NCAA Tournament, where he is just 12-8 (.600). At Louisville, he is just (4-7) vs. Kentucky and is averaging only 1.2 tournament wins a year, totally unacceptable given Pitino’s resources at UofL. A coach at a school with the nicest arena (pro or college) in the nation, one of the best practice facilities and player dorms in the country, as well as one of the highest salaries should be doing a much better job in March. To date, Pitino has amassed 2 NITs, 3 first round exits, 2 second round exits, 2 Elite Eights, and 1 Final Four. To be honest, Rick shouldn’t be blamed for the first NIT as the program was without a doubt in the re-building phase. Even if you strike that from the record, he has only made it past the first weekend of the tournament 3 times. The ’06 NIT and the 5 total first/second round exits simply don’t cut it.
The major part of the problem is Coach Pitino’s inability to recruit consistently at a high level. According to Scout.com, this year’s class ranked #5 in the nation, and everyone was happy. After all, you can’t complain about grabbing 2 McDonald’s All-Americans and two other 4-star guys as well as a 3-star. What about the year before that? Pitino brought in a 4-star Gorgui Dieng and a 3-star Russ Smith in addition to Elisha Justice. It was a decent 3-man class, but it didn’t sniff the Top 25 and that simply can’t happen. Let’s take a look at Pitino’s recruiting classes since he has been here. 2002′s class brought in 3 4-stars in Garcia, Dean, and Dartez, with Prileu Davis who transferred after one year. 2003′s class was made up of Nate Daniels, Nouha Diakite, and Brandon Jenkins. Daniels and Diakite both transferred out. In 2004, Pitino signed in his first 7-man class that fell apart. Lamar Roberson failed to make grades and later played at Houston; we all know the circus that was Sebastian Telfair; Donta Smith was academically ineligible and went into the NBA Draft; Lorenzo Wade left to go to San Diego State, and Brian Johnson transferred to Mississippi State after being plagued by knee problems. Only Juan Palacios and Terrence Farley stayed to play all four years. 2005′s class ranked #5 in the nation with another huge 7-man haul. it quickly deteriorated when Bryan Harvey, Chad Millard and Jonathan Huffman all transferred, Amir Johnson was academically ineligible and jumped to the NBA and Clarence Holloway was forced to go to prep school. It did leave us with fan favorites T-Will and Andre McGee, but these defections happen more often than they should here. In 2006, arguably Louisville’s most celebrated recruiting class brought in Caracter, Clark, Smith, and Sosa, ranking 9th in the nation. Smith and Sosa played all four years, but Caracter transferred to UTEP and Clark entered the NBA Draft. In 2007, recruiting took another dip with the Knowles, Goode, and Holloway class not cracking the Top 25. When Holloway got to campus, it was discovered he had a heart defect and wouldn’t be able to play. In 2008, Louisville’s class ranked #4 with Swop, Kuric, Samuels, and Jennings signing. With the exception of Kuric, all players in this class failed to live up to the hype. 2009 saw Louisville’s class check in at #21 with Buckles, SVT, Marra, and Siva. Again, a decent class, but not one on an elite level. The aforementioned 2010 class with Gorgui (which also saw Justin Coleman become academically ineligible) wasn’t ranked either. So far, for the 2012 class, there is just one player signed, a 3-star guard named Terry Rozier who seems to be pretty solid, but is not an elite game-changer that UofL sorely needs. You can surmise that the 2012 class is not ranked. Here’s a snapshot of the recruiting rankings since 2003 from Scout.com and Rivals.com, the two major sources for recruiting. (*One note, Scout.com goes back to 2005, so both rankings will carry over from Rivals for the ’03 and ’04 seasons). 2003- Not Ranked*; 2004-7*; 2005-5; 2006-9; 2007-Not Ranked; 2008-4/6; 2009-21/Not Ranked; 2010-Not Ranked; 2011-5/9; 2012-Not Ranked. In Pitino’s tenure, there have been 9 transfers, 3 who declared for the NBA Draft without stepping foot on campus, and another 4 who left early for the NBA Draft.
In conclusion, this is the season for Rick Pitino to put up or shut up. Louisville fans don’t want to hear the excuses or the ridiculous statements like this year’s offense is “fine.” Now is the time to worry about production, not someone’s body fat. Last season Pitino proved he can still coach, but it’s painfully obvious that there is simply not enough elite talent on the roster. He has shown he can do more with less, but when will it ever get to the point where this program can stop saying that? Card Nation is a patient and very reasonable fan base and the losses to UK and the early round exits can be forgotten provided this team makes a deep run in the tournament. However, the “next year” saying is wearing all too thin and it’s past time that this program sees results.