Rick Pitino will make his sixth trip to the Final Four this weekend, his second with Louisville. For John Calipari, it’ll be his third visit to the national Semi Final, his second consecutive time with Kentucky. Like in that 1996 Semi Final between them, when Calipari was coaching UMass and Pitino was the Kentucky Head coach, all the focus is on them.
Unlike that game in 1996, when it was considered as the real final, Lousiville are probably the fourth best team in this final four. Both Ohio State and Kansas were more likely to end up in this situation when the big dance began, or when the season began for that matter. But having an inner-state, fierce, rivalry, is likely to steal most of the attention from two very good teams.
I don’t know if Calipari and Pitino hate each other, but there’s certainly no best friendship thing going on. Pitino once chipped in to help UMass sign John Calipari to be their head coach, back when Pitino was the highest paid college head coach in the nation. Calipari is that way now in College Basketball, leading a school entering its 15th final four, waiting to end the title drought since 1998.
The pressure is on Calipari. Not just because of the salary, but because of Big Blue Nation fans’ expectations. Win, win win. This is his second consecutive final four with the team, and he’s not likely to see many of the guys return next year. This ‘One-and-Done’ system eventually will have a bad year, so it’s better to win some soon. Especially when you’re the overwhelming favorite.
Pitino knows how expectations go in Kentucky, and he knows that the pressure isn’t on his shoulders. Louisville are the little sisters in the state. They will have people at Kentucky who’ll have a nervous breakdown if they lose to us. They’ve got to put the fences up on the bridges.
Calpiari doesn’t think his guys are too affected by the rivalry thing – Wildcat fans are crazy, I admit. But we start three freshmen and two sophomores, and none of them are from Kentucky. To our guys, it’s just another game, a big game. We win and we play for the championship.
Calipari says the whole Pitino chipping in to help land the UMass deal isn’t entirely true. We don’t send each other Christmas cards, but if I see him in public and I’m recruiting, we’ll spend some time. But it’s fine.
Friendly acquaintances is what he called it. Kentucky have two players (Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) in the AP All-Americans first and second teams. Louisville don’t have anyone who’s going to make an impact in the NBA, probably. It won’t too friendly on that New Orleans court between the two teams, with only one side having way too much to lose.