Frank Franklin II/Associated Press
Men’s college basketball fans surely noticed during Selection Sunday when Louisville was matched up with Minnesota in the East Region, but the primary link connecting the two schools reportedly won’t be in attendance during Thursday’s game.
According to Jody Demling of Cardinal Authority, Rick Pitino will not make the Thursday afternoon showdown because Panathinaikos—the team he coaches in Greece—has a game scheduled for Wednesday night.
Louisville fired Pitino in 2017 and just so happened to draw a matchup against a Golden Gophers squad that is coached by his son, Richard, in its first NCAA tournament since dismissing the legendary coach.
“It’s the elephant in the room,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said of the situation, per Demling. “I coach a few guys who played for Rick Pitino and we’re playing against his son. … I can’t control what people are going to talk about, but you can only beat a dead horse for so long.”
Dan Wolken @DanWolken
Richard Pitino vs Louisville. Yeah the committee doesn’t like to create storylines.
Mack took over the Cardinals before this season after nine years with the Xavier Musketeers and led them to a 20-13 record and No. 7 seed in the Big Dance in 2018-19.
He has a long way to go to catch the elder Pitino, who won a national championship, reached three Final Fours and finished 416-143 in 16 seasons with the Cardinals before NCAA sanctions stripped away some of his wins and vacated the 2013 title.
Despite the impressive record and accomplishments, Pitino’s tenure with Louisville was at least in part defined by the off-court scandals that embroiled the program.
He was fired as the program was caught up in the FBI’s investigation into college basketball corruption. The Associated Press (h/t USA Today) noted the NCAA also punished Louisville after “escort Katina Powell alleged in a book that former Cardinals staffer Andre McGee hired her and other dancers to strip and have sex with players and recruits in the team’s dormitory from 2010-14.”
As for Richard Pitino, this is his sixth season with Minnesota. He is still looking for his first NCAA tournament victory, although he won the 2014 NIT.
The victor of Thursday’s game will likely play second-seeded Michigan State in the second round and could have to face overall No. 1 seed Duke later in the regional if it keeps winning.