Notes from the Battle of the Bluegrass
by Brian Seymour
I suppose I should come clean right off the bat and admit I am not a Rick Pitino fan.
It flies in the face of journalistic objectivity for me to admit this, but I suppose if you faithful Hoopville readers want objectivity you can pick up the New York Times or read game stories on the Associated Press website until your eyes are sore.
Having said that, I do respect the guy a great deal as a recruiter and somewhat less, but still as a coach. What I don’t like is his smarmy “I’m smarter and better than you” attitude he projects which somehow changes, yet also stays the same depending on his coaching location.
At Providence, he was the excitable whiz kid. At Kentucky, he was the nascent genius, heir to the throne of Allen and Rupp. At Boston, he was the lunch pail counterpart to Pat Riley, still slick with his hair and his suits, but with an attitude that he had just hiked to the game from his brownstone in Southie.
I don’t even like Pitino discipiles. Billy Donovan seriously creeps me out with his “Patrick Bateman in American Psycho” look.
Now he’s back in the college game at Louisville with what appears to me as almost a mercenary, “screw the world” zeal. By taking on the task of trying to rebuild Kentucky’s biggest rival, Pitino is laying waste to his past to prove to the world what a genius he is. Why else take the Louisville job and not an equally lucrative job at UNLV or Michigan, or even wait a year for another high-profile opening?
But I haven’t seen any Louisville games this year and I’m prepared to give Pitino the benefit of the doubt. So I thought it would be fun to watch the Kentucky-Louisville game and see how I feel about the 21st century Pitino and note my thoughts on the game.
Pregame: I’m forced to switch from “Fletch Lives” on TBS. This movie is perhaps the exact moment when Chevy Chase went beyond the point of no return and started mailing in every single acting role for the next 10-plus years.
Rick Pitino sneakily enters the floor from the Kentucky side of the court, evading a likely shower of boos (though he’s still booed pretty loudly during the announcement of the lineups). To the crowd’s evident surprise, Pitino neither flips them the finger nor does he strip off his face and suit jacket to reveal horns and a red, pointy tail.
18:48 left in the 1st half: I’ve already decided I hate Louisville’s uniforms. The Old English L on black doesn’t do it for me and they actually look like they say “Clouisville.” Contrast that with Kentucky’s classic look.
16:40 1st: The Cards look pretty good en route to a 6-3 lead. They’re not intimidated.
15:55 1st: Jim Nantz uses the word “frenetic” to describe the pace of the game. Does he mean “frantic”? Is “frenetic” really a word? I’ve noticed it’s only used to describe basketball games. I need a dictionary.
[Ed. Note: Score one for Jim Nantz. 'Frenetic' is indeed an adjective that means frenzied or frantic. Actually, it looks like the combination of both of these words.]
14:40 1st: Admittedly, I haven’t seen much of Louisville, but if their usually MO is to run the ball up the court and take off-balance shots, it’s going to be a long year.
12:20 1st: Nice baseline move and a dunk for Tayshaun Prince and a 12-9 UK lead. Pitino answers with a smart timeout even though the TV timeout is 20 seconds away. This guy can coach, that’s for sure.
11:20 1st: CBS shows a picture of the 1989-90 Kentucky staff which prominently features Tubby Smith with a cheesy porn mustache. Shaving that thing off could be the best move he made for the entire decade of the 90s, including taking the job at Kentucky. I can’t stress this enough.
9:40 1st: Louisville may be the most tattooed team in college basketball. As near as I can tell, every player has at least one.
7:42 1st: I was keeping track of the number of shots CBS shows of Pitino but gave up here at 16. It had to be in the 40s for the entire game. Perhaps an all-time record.
7:20 1st: Nantz and Billy Packer hint that Pitino’s hiring at Louisville in March might have caused Kentucky to lose its NCAA Tournament game that same day against Southern Cal. Kind of a head scratcher for me. I don’t see the connection.
6:02 1st: Luke Whitehead enters the game for Louisville. This kid is an automatic finalist for the worst hair in college basketball. Stringy cornrows with thin “Color Me Badd” sideburns?
4:01 1st: CBS shows video of Whitehead’s missed dunk against Coppin State where he actually lands on his head. Very frightening. I take back everything bad I just said about him – this kid has guts.
3:43 1st: Another showing of the Edge shaving cream commercial where the guy rides through a car wash which also shaves him, leading some girl in a bikini to jump into his car at the end of the commercial. Which gets me to thinking – Can’t we have secret military tribunals and executions for some of these weasels on Madison Avenue also?
1:49 1st: Nantz describes Louisville’s performance as “gritty.” If you want to call taking bad shots, making bad passes and committing bad fouls, but yet remaining within six points of the lead as “gritty,” so be it.
1:30 1st: Four fouls on Whitehead in five minutes. I take back the hair comment, but we’re still going to have to include him on the Hoopville “All-Unfortunate Name” team.
Halftime: The Cardinals have somehow scored 32 points and trail only by four. Kind of gritty actually.
An advertisement teases that DirecTV viewers will be able to see ALL the games in the first three rounds of the tournament, instantly causing me to consider putting in a time-off request at work for those two weeks and throwing another mortgage on the house to pay whatever CBS is going to ask for that service.
18:20 left in the 2nd half: Nice follow by Tayshaun Prince, but good Lord man! Eat a burger or two! What does he weigh? 98 pounds?
17:19 2nd: 42-37 lead for Kentucky and another good timeout from Pitino. He’s easily one of the three best coaches in the game for controlling tempo from the bench.
17:18 2nd: Packer has his tongue stuck firmly up Prince’s backside by this point. You can almost see him making googly-eyes at the kid from the sideline.
16:20 2nd: Pitino maintains his composure after a questionable intentional foul call (which, in my opinion, ultimately turned the game towards a blowout for the Wildcats). Maybe this is a kinder, gentler Rick Pitino as some in the media have said.
15:15 2nd: Kentucky takes a 50-37 lead. The game is, for all intents and purposes, over. Kentucky just has too much talent.
13:41 2nd: Another unguarded dunk for Prince. My theory is he’s too skinny and thus, blends into the court, camouflaging him from opposing defenses.
11:47 2nd: The game takes a turn for the boring. It’s apparent by this time that no one is going to run on the court and take a swing at Pitino and it’s even more apparent that the Cardinals are outclassed. I start wondering how much my tax refund is going to be this year.
8:04 2nd: Packer uses the word “frenetic.” I really need a dictionary. Too bad Christmas is over.
7:40 2nd: Like the pros they are, Nantz and Packer seamlessly move into “blowout mode”, throwing up RPI stats for the major conferences and hyping the UCLA-Kansas game two weeks away.
7:34 2nd: Scenes from the “Rick Pitino Show” in Louisville, which apparently features magicians and fire-eating women. And this guy wasn’t interested in the UNLV job?
6:02 2nd: Packer continues to punch Louisville while they’re down (the guy’s speciality if you ask me), harping on their outside shooting. They are bad though.
5:33 2nd: Another UL miss from the charity stripe. They’re horrible free-throw shooters too. How is this team 9-1?
5:13 2nd: Kentucky makes a shot to end a mini-rally from the Cardinals and I can almost imagine Tubby Smith as the coach from the Kubla Kai in the Karate Kid yelling at Tayshaun Prince – “Finish him! Sweep the leg!”. Which makes me smile.
3:40 2nd: Cliff Hawkins makes a crossover move and basket so stunning it causes the arena to gasp before erupting in bedlam. The move can’t even be described by words. One of the best moves I’ve ever seen. Ever. Seriously.
3:02 2nd: TV timeout. Is there anything worse than the last three minutes of a blowout in basketball? At least in football or hockey, there’s the possibility of violence.
2:30 2nd: You know it’s a blowout when Nantz and Packer blather on about Happy Sandler for a full minute.
1:44 2nd: The crowd is chanting, “Tubby! Tubby! Tubby!”. It is officially a “Lovefest.”
0:55 2nd: Reece Gaines hits two straight jumpers then picks up his 5th foul on a ticky-tack foul in the frontcourt. The night in a microcosm for Louisville.
0:48 2nd: More Blowout Useless Trivia&8482; from Packer – this year’s Louisville team is the first to have their names on the backs of their uniforms. He also used that as a excuse to note that he played in the first ever game with names on the backs of the uniforms – Duke vs. Wake Forest in 1962.
Final: Kentucky won 82-62 and it wasn’t even really that close.
My impressions: I’ve got my beefs against Pitino out of my system. Hell, I hope he does pretty well at Louisville. He took his lumps in the NBA and I’m not one to carry a grudge. His TV show looks like it could use some help though.
Having said that, this year’s team at Louisville doesn’t seem very good. They might back into an NCAA Tourney berth, but they’ll probably have to go 10-6 in the conference to do it. I don’t see it happening.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats are about as impressive as advertised. It’s hard to imagine them not making the Elite Eight at least. They have the talent to beat anyone in college basketball on a given night and probably the Chicago Bulls as well.