Off to Seattle, No. 4 seed in the East Region.
Not a bad place to be for the University of Louisville basketball team. Still lots of respect from the NCAA Selection Committee, despite the departure of Chris Jones, five losses in the last 10 game and the first-game out in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
The committee members had to be impressed by an overall record of 24-8 and a conference mark of 12-6 in the ACC that included recent wins over North Carolina and Virginia. One wouldn’t be surprised either if dozens of Montrezl Harrell’s monstrous dunks on Sportscenter over the past three seasons hadn’t made a lasting impression on them.
“Louisville is a strong team without Chris Jones and they’ll still be a strong team,” said selection committee chairman Scott Barnes. “No bad losses there. We tracked that. We talked quite a bit about it.”
The committee also had to consider the presence of Rick Pitino on the sidelines as a major positive. His 51-17 won-lost record in the NCAA tournament speaks volumes about his post-season coaching abilities.
Winning the East Region is not mission impossible, consisting of Villanova, Virginia, North Carolina State, Oklahoma, Providence, Northern Iowa, Michigan State, LSU, Georgia, Boise State, Wyoming, U.C. Irvine, Albany, Belmont and Albany.
Pitino is back in full Pitino mode, seeming to imply that the loss to North Carolina may have been a blessing, providing UofL with more time to correct its deficiencies. He’s been holding two-a-day practice sessions since returning to Louisville. He indication that one session lasted three-and-a-half hours.
And he’s happy to be going to Seattle because it should be free of distractions from “families and friends.”
The UofL coach told ESPN radio Saturday, “Our only weakness right now (is) challenged shots … This year we’re shooting 8 percent. We have to stay away from that challenged shot.” Later in the day he was bemoaning the lack of offensive rebounding and shot blocking from Chinanu Onuaku. Tomorrow, he may actually deal with the question of not effectively attacking zone defenses.
Pitino is not giving up on this team despite some obvious weaknesses. He been through the wars so many times, with so much success, there’s no such thing as a lost cause. He’s confident in his abilities. Now he believes all has to do is convince his team of theirs.