So Richard Pitino, Mark Lieberman and (maybe?) Rak Buckles are all back in town tonight as the 3-4 FIU Panthers act as this year's participant in the Bill. FIU has had an uneven start to the younger Pitino's tenure, but considering where things were when he took over and that they were picked last in the Sun Belt, a 3-4 start is nothing to be ashamed of. On paper, the Panthers are heavily overmatched. They don't shoot well, they don't rebound well, they don't get a lot of assists, their scoring is low and their defense is not great. According to Unabashed Russ Smith fan KenPom, FIU ranks #228 overall, with an abysmal #280 defensive ranking.
But of course these games aren't played on paper, although I guess a wood floor could have been paper had things worked out a little differently for it. But my point is that if there's anyone who knows our players strengths and weaknesses better than Richard Pitino, I would be shocked, and that includes his dad and the current staff. Richard's influence on our recruiting, scouting and in-game tactics was much bigger than he got credit for as the Coach's son, and if you don't think that Richard coming back here in 2022 or 2019 or whenever Rick decides he's had enough fun is a real possibility, you have another thing coming to you, buster.
In the precious present, that means that his players should know what our plays are the moment they are called in from the bench, should know exactly where to force Siva so that he can't operate and should know....well....don't know how he will prepare for Russ except maybe to tell his guys to just leave Russ open and to try to foul him out.
I haven't seen any film so I don't know if they run our offense and defense but you'd think at least as things get started it would be some combo of ours and Florida's, with Malik Smith carrying the load offensively (has made 27 of his 63 attempted 3's this season, more than the next 3 guys combined and barely less than the next 4. They turn the ball over a lot, 15 times a game, and our ability to force turnovers is a little better than their schedule so far.
Look, let's not overthink this. Richard is coming home, that's the story line, and FIU may keep things closer than we'd like for a little bit because of the familiarity with our players and schemes.
And it's okay to look ahead a little bit to the flow of the rest of the season: WKU and UK, followed by 3 must-win Big East games (Providence, SHU, USF) followed by the toughest 6 game stretch until March (@Uconn, Cuse, @Nova, @Gtown, Pitt, Marq), with a nice breather with ND in the middle (@RUT, @ND, SJ, @USF, SHU, DePaul Day II: The Final DePaul Dayining) and then a great 3 game stretch to end the season: @Cuse, Cinci, ND on Siva (Gorgui? Chane? Wayne? SVT? Russ?)'s last game at the Yum!
Enjoy it while you can. Enjoy every last bit of it.