The process of assigning seeds and creating matchups for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is a complex one. The selection committee uses a specific algorithm to determine who sits where, who goes where and why. And then the next 24 hours is spent trying to explain itself to those wanting answers.
Every once in a while, the computer spits out a matchup that brings a wide smile to everyone’s face, makes you wonder if it was done for a specific purpose or just resulted from pure luck.
Is there any college basketball fan in the United States who didn’t say yippee when Louisville and Minnesota were paired in a 7-10 game in the East region on Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa?
You want a soap opera? Does it get any better than Minnesota coach Richard Pitino getting a crack at the school his father, Rick, is currently suing for $40 million for firing him two years ago?
We didn’t think so.
When the pairing was announced, the Minnesota Star-Tribune described Richard Pitino’s reaction as “a brief open-mouthed stare, followed by and awkward grin. His arms remained crossed for a few seconds while his players clapped and shouted about. …making the tournament for the second time in three years.”
Rick Pitino, the Hall of Fame coach, who won the 2013 national championship at Louisville, was dismissed in October 2017 by the university – and the title vacated – as a part of NCAA penalties assigned to the school for recruiting violations and sex parties held at the men’s basketball dormitory.
There’s more: Rick Pitino has promised to “kill Louisville” at the upcoming trial for breach of contract. Forced to seek work in Greece last winter, he claims the publicity over the scandal has made it impossible for him to find work in the United States.
“Their inferences make me look guilty,” Pitino wrote of Louisville’s approach. “It really doesn’t matter anymore, but I’ll tell you 100 percent the God’s honest truth, I’m the cleanest guy in college basketball but also the dumbest for trusting people to follow my beliefs.”
Meanwhile, a prominent Louisville alum isn’t too happy about this delicious meeting of the minds.
“The NCAA showed a lack of class matching Louisville vs Minnesota in the first round of the NCAA tournament,” former U of L star Jerry Eaves Tweeted. “I believe it’s unfair to Coach Pitino and Coach (Chris) Mack!”
We beg to differ. Who cares about how inconvenient the game might be for the two coaching staffs, who will be peppered with questions about how the scandal will impact the game?
Louisville-Minnesota, an otherwise hum-drum matchup in the first round, will now be perhaps the most interesting game played on Thursday or Friday. It’s intriguing. It’s sexy. It’s filled with drama. It reeks of revenge. Now that’s entertainment!
How this happened is a difficult question to answer. But one of the best reasons is the selection committee, which settled on Louisville as a 7 and Minnesota as a 10 to try and avoid repeating regular-season games and matchups between conference rivals before the Sweet 16. It also tries to keep teams relatively close to home whenever possible.
What’s also clear is this: The NCAA knew what the national reaction to a Louisville-Minnesota game would be – and still allowed it to happen. So consider it complicit.
“It’s not going to be about me. I’m not going to be: ‘It’s revenge’ or anything like that. It’s about our players, it’s about this program. We worked really, really hard to put ourselves in position to be one of the 19 percent that gets to make the NCAA tournament in college basketball.”
It would be nice if that was true. But if we assume Richard loves his father, and agrees Louisville did not treat his father fairly, one would think he’d love to kick its ass out of the tournament.
As you would expect, the Louisville Courier-Journal tried to reach Rick Pitino for comment in Athens, where he is coaching pro basketball. But they could not reach him or rely on anything juicy that was sent out on his twitter site, at least by early by Monday afternoon when he was congratulating Temple coach Fran Dunphy, now participating in his final NCAA Tournament.
Rick Pitino has a 770-269 record in a college career at Boston University, Providence, Kentucky and Louisville. He also went 192-220 in six seasons in the NBA with the Knicks and Celtics.