No lost causes as Pitino preps for Seattle

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.

Rick Pitino focused on 20th NCAA trip.
Rick Pitino focused on 20th NCAA trip.

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.


Mitchell ends recruiting frenzy, chooses Louisville

Donovan Mitchell was an unknown quantity a couple of months ago, just a top 100 recruit looking for some attention from college basketball coaches.

A 6-foot-3 shooting guard from Wolfeboro Brewster in New Hampster, Mitchell did just that during the summer recruiting camps, attracting attention from a long list of colleges that included Boston College, Creighton, Florida State, Georgetown, Indiana, Kansas, Memphis, North Carolina, Providence, Villanova and others.

Donovan Mitchell
Donovan Mitchell

Among the others was the University of Louisville. Rick Pitino was on hand at an Under Armor camp in Atlanta last month when Mitchell lit up the gymnasium scoring 27 points, setting off a recruiting frenzy for one of the summer’s hottest stars.

Mitchell visited UofL on Thursday and wasted little time making a verbal commitment to become a part of the 2015 recruiting class. If reports are accurate, the newest commit is equally impressive on both ends of the court. Eric Bossi, a recruiting analyst for Rivals. told the Kansas Jayhawks Slant last week:

“It was an absolute monster of a month for Mitchell. He put on a show pretty much anywhere he went and was solid on both ends of the floor. He hit clutch jumpers at buzzers to win games, he dunked his own misses in traffic, and he played physical, in-your-face defense. 

“He was probably a bit underrated to begin with, but there is no question he has improved in every aspect of the game,” he added. “It is safe to expect that Mitchell makes a big jump in the next 2015 ranking update.”

A prolific shooter, a serious defender and a good student as well, Mitchell should be a good fit in Pitino’s system. No dragging out the recruiting process, he’s decisive, capitalizing quickly on  a great opportunity at UofL.

Big East Catholic schools rush to exit

Moving at record speed for a group of academic institutions, seven Catholic basketball schools have agreed to leave the Big East, according to a report from ESPN. They first discussed the possibility with Commissioner Mike Aresco on Sunday.

DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova have finally seen the folly of mixing football and basketball-focused schools and may form still another conference. Pundits are already describing the new creation as the Big Priest Conference.

They may have to wait a while, however, because the Big East may have a case for requiring them to pay exit fees and requiring them to wait 27 months under league by-laws. Apparently the announced departure of the University of Louisville to the ACC and Rutgers University to the Big Ten was the final straw for the schools.

Don’t expect their plans to ease the way for an early departure of UofL to the ACC. An Coxey’s Army of lawyers is already involved, and the football schools in the Big East have the Catholic schools outnumbered 12 to 7.

Conference realignment continues to take some unpredictable turns.



New ugly for Louisville basketball

Like a dirty snowball getting bigger, uglier and nastier, gathering momentum going downhill, demolishing anything in its path, including any hopes of an end to the funk that has enveloped University of Louisville basketball of late.

Nothing working, wheels wobbling, going south.

Started out promising enough with Peyton Siva going the length of the court for a dunk to give his team a 7-4 lead. But after he descends, Siva is wincing, having landed badly on that high ankle sprain, shaking it off, pretending it never happened.

Siva would miss his next four shots, two of them on what should have been easy layups, make only one assist, and foul out of the game with 11 minutes left in the game, an ugly finish in a badly directed performance.

Then there is Kyle Kuric tipping a missed free throw into the opponent’s basket, Gorgui Dieng disappearing, Rakeem Buckles doing whatever, Russ Smith being punished, lacking only a corner in which to stand.

The event resembled an opening day of fall practice on Belknap Campus, the bad habits returning from the off-season. This was the team, remember, that last summer enjoyed 10 more days of practice, a trip to The Bahamas. A boon it was supposed to be, the additional practice sessions, the personal instruction time, and the motivational sessions with the ball coach.

Extra time to get things right but not working, things keep getting worse. Team regressing as the season progresses.

Rick Pitino angry, frustrated and embarrassed at the scene of some of his greatest triumphs. Returning home to celebrate his tenure at Providence only to be administered a 90-59 thrashing, one of the worst losses in his coaching career, possibly one of the lowest points.

Whether this team hit rock bottom against Providence remains to be seen. There won’t a worse loss this season, however. This was about as bad as it gets.