PREVIEW: Louisville vs. Colorado State in Round of 32

Well we certainly have some storylines here.  Louisville vs. Colorado State.  Tom Jurich came from Colorado State to Louisville.  Larry Eustachy (Colorado State’s Head Coach) played high school with Tom Jurich.  Tom Jurich nearly hired Eustachy to replace Denny Crum and was his 2nd choice if Rick Pitino had declined.

I’ve been to Ft. Collins, CO.  It was back in 2002 when the Cards traveled to face the Rams in Football. It was a great game, the Cards lost by 3.  I remember the stadium being at the bottom of a huge mountain, getting half dollars for change, and that they actually had a ‘live’ Ram to go along with their human mascot.  I really enjoyed the trip.  It was a LATE game and we got lost leaving (this was a pre-GPS time) and almost ended up in Wyoming. But in terms of basketball, this is a TOUGH game. Colorado State is the #1 Rebounding team in the nation with a rebound rate of 58.7% of all available rebounds.

As it happens I’ve spent the last 24 hours trying to find a reason to NOT like Colorado State.  Their program, their people, everything about them is really a great example of college athletics.  Pierce Hornung is a BEAST.  Just 6-5 averages over 9 rebounds a game.  I interviewed him last season at the KFC Yum! Center and I came away really impressed with him as a person and then watching his game it was clear that he is a workhorse.  Hornung is a problem todoay for the Cards.

Also Colton Iverson vs. Gorgui Dieng is a HUGE match-up today.  Iverson at 6-10, 261 lbs is a MOUNTAIN of a person.  Colorado State does a lot inside and Gorgui is going to have his hands full today.  He’ll need help, and because of the Rams depth I expect Rick Pitino to keep fresh bodies running at Hornung, Iverson, and forward Greg Smith all game.  I also got to know Smith a little in Louisville last season…….another great person.  I really didn’t want to play Colorado State in this tournament, it’s a match-up problem and their locker room is full of likable guys. Unlike Missouri. The sentiment was shared by the trio of Louisville assistants Richardson, Keatts, and Jones last Thursday night/early Friday morning and then confirmed at Friday’s Press Conference with Rick Pitino.  Colorado State is a problem.

Larry Eustachy has done great work during his career. I think his most impressive work to date was at Iowa State before Eustachy went into the wrong side of the public when it was confirmed that he was suffering from alcoholism.  Eustachy will be 10 years sober this April and he has done a fantastic job of turning his life around and building basketball programs.  Eustachy left Southern Miss after an 8-year stint in fantastic shape to take over this very good Colorado program.  They are hard-nosed, just like their coach.

Today much of the focus is going to be on rebounding.  And it should be.  The Rams are the #1 team in the nation in Rebound Rate and Chane Behanan hasn’t bothered hitting the glass for about 8 games.  Still the Cards have been winning.  I’m going to keep a close eye on the early interior rotation.  I think Stephan Van Tresse will be a HUGE factor in this game and I think Montrezl Harrell’s recent play might see Pitino move towards him early on too.  Rick Pitino needs ACTIVE rebounders.  Colorado State’s front court isn’t overly athletic….but they are RELENTLESS.  They will pursue the ball underneath the floor, and Louisville MUST match that effort or fall victim like Missouri who was out-matched on the glass 36-18.

One of the reasons why Colorado State is so tough to beat, is evidenced in THIS column.  I’ve spent this entire time talking Colorado St’s front court & coach and haven’t mentioned their back court yet.  But Dorian Green is an outstanding college guard & Wes Eikmeier can stroke it from outside.  Peyton Siva & Russ Smith are probably the best Guard Combo in the NCAA, but the Cards will need Luke Hancock, Wayne Blackshear, and Kevin Ware to help fill the void.  Colorado State has some depth at guard, not much at forward & Center.

Larry Eustachy told his wife when the tournament started to “Get Some Extra Money out of the ATM, we are going to be here for awhile.”  Eustachy is confident in his team even leading up to facing the #1 Overall Seed in the NCAA Tournament 80 miles from their home.  That’s scary and should tell you that we are going to be in for a battle. Buckle up. It is win or go home time.

Team Stats

Louisville Colorado State
Strength of Schedule 5th 36th
Points Per Game 73.6 (31st) 72.3 (53rd)
Avg Scoring Margin +15.6 (4th) +8.7 (35th)
Field Goal % 44.5% (93rd) 44.3% (105th)
Rebound Rate 52.6% (60th) 58.7% (1st)
Blocks Per Game 4.2 (78th) 1.8 (326th)
Steals Per Game 10.7 (2nd) 4.6 (330th)
Assists Per Game 15.0 (26th) 12.8 (145th)
Turnovers Per Game 12.6 (112th) 10.7 (10th)
Team Fouls Per Game 17.7 (179th) 17.0 (109th)
2-point FG% 49.5% (85th) 48.4% (136th)
3-point FG% 33.1 (208th) 33.4% (191st)
Free Throw % 71.1% (117th) 70.9% (126th)
Opponent Shooting % 38.8% (16th) 41.8% (114th)
Opponent 2-point FG% 42.7% (27th) 46.6% (135th)
Opponent 3-point FG% 31.2% (49th) 33.9% (172nd)
Opponent Block Per Game 3.5 (187th) 3.3 (141st)
Opponent Steals Per Game 5.8 (65th) 5.0 (11th)

Player for Player Stats

Louisville Colorado State
Peyton Siva Dorian Green
6-0, 185, Sr. 6-2, 192, Sr.
Minutes 31.4 32.6
Points 10 12.8
Field Goal % 41.20% 42.50%
3-point % 31.40% 35.00%
FT % 86.30% 77.70%
Rebounds 2.3 2.6
Assists 5.9 3.8
Steals 2.2 0.8
Blocks 0.1 0.1
Turnovers 2.7 1.8
Fouls 2.7 1.7
Russ Smith Wes Eikmeier
6-1, 165, Jr. 6-3, 168, Sr.
Minutes 29.9 31.3
Points 18.1 12.7
Field Goal % 40.80% 37.60%
3-point % 33.30% 35.90%
FT % 82.80% 90.20%
Rebounds 3.6 1.7
Assists 3 2.2
Steals 2 0.6
Blocks 0 0.1
Turnovers 2.6 1.5
Fouls 2.5 2.7
Wayne Blackshear Pierce Hornung
6-5, 230, Soph 6-5, 210, Sr.
Minutes 20.4 31.1
Points 8 8.7
Field Goal % 41.50% 54.10%
3-point % 32.00% 40.00%
FT % 69.80% 64.10%
Rebounds 3.2 9.2
Assists 0.7 2.3
Steals 0.8 1.3
Blocks 0.3 0.5
Turnovers 0.7 1.3
Fouls 2.4 2.4
Chane Behanan Greg Smith
6-6, 250, Soph 6-6, 221, Sr.
Minutes 26.5 25.2
Points 9.9 11.1
Field Goal % 50.20% 46.40%
3-point % 9.10% 37.50%
FT % 52.50% 68.60%
Rebounds 6.6 5.3
Assists 1.1 1.1
Steals 1.5 0.4
Blocks 0.5 0.4
Turnovers 1.7 1.7
Fouls 1.7 2.4
Gorgui Dieng Colton Iverson
6-11, 245, Jr. 6-10, 261, Sr.
Minutes 31.7 29.7
Points 10 14.7
Field Goal % 49.80% 59.90%
3-point % 0.00% 0.00%
FT % 69.00% 58.90%
Rebounds 9.9 9.8
Assists 2.1 1.3
Steals 1.3 0.6
Blocks 2.5 0.7
Turnovers 1.8 2
Fouls 2.4 2.5
Montrezl Harrell Jon Octeus
6-8, 235, Fr. 6-4, 170, Soph.
Minutes 16.5 19.3
Points 5.7 4.5
Field Goal % 55.80% 35.40%
3-point % 0.00% 21.20%
FT % 50.90% 80.30%
Rebounds 3.7 2.5
Assists 0.2 1.3
Steals 0.6 0.4
Blocks 0.7 0.1
Turnovers 0.6 1
Fouls 1.3 2.2
Luke Hancock Daniel Bejarano
6-6, 200, Jr. 6-4, 202, Soph
Minutes 22.3 22.1
Points 7.5 6.1
Field Goal % 39.80% 37.90%
3-point % 37.40% 30.50%
FT % 75.80% 69.70%
Rebounds 2.8 5.5
Assists 1.4 1
Steals 1 0.6
Blocks 0 0.1
Turnovers 1.1 0.8
Fouls 1.9 2
Stephan Van Treese
6-9, 245, Jr.
Minutes 11.2
Points 1.8
Field Goal % 65.70%
3-point % 0.00%
FT % 66.70%
Rebounds 3.2
Assists 0.3
Steals 0.5
Blocks 0.3
Turnovers 0.4
Fouls 1.1
Kevin Ware
6-2, 175, Soph
Minutes 16.7
Points 4.4
Field Goal % 43.60%
3-point % 40.00%
FT % 63.60%
Rebounds 1.8
Assists 0.8
Steals 1.1
Blocks 0.1
Turnovers 1.1
Fouls 1.7

Player Interviews

Louisville Advances to NCAA 2nd Round Past North Carolina A&T 79-48

The University of Louisville Men’s Basketball program kicked off their 2013 Tournament Run in thrilling fashion in Lexington’s Rupp Arena against the North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State Aggies on Thursday night.  The game was dubbed ‘Dunk Fest’ by Chane Behanan prior to the meeting and that rang true throughout thanks to an NCAA Record Number of Steals by the Cardinals (20).  Russ Smith led the way in the steal department with 7, and Peyton Siva added 5.

The Cards shot 56.4% from the game in a red-filled arena normally touting a blue hue the Cards took the first of six steps towards the NCAA Championship.  The game was full of distractions with Rev. Jesse Jackson in attendance and the North Carolina A&T Pep Band, Cheerleaders & Dancing Mascot but the #16 seeded Aggies sure could have used someone helping bring the ball up the floor as 4 different players logged 4+ turnovers.  These Cards have won two conference championships in Madison Square Garden and taken pictures with presidents, so the focus was there.

After the game Gorgui Dieng said that this was the type of focus he was talking about yesterday.  Now the Cards will take on the winner of the game happening now against Missorui/Colorado State.

Stay tuned for post-game quotes & locker room interviews but for now. Just enjoy this video of NC A&T’s mascot, cheerleaders and band during a timeout.

VIDEO: Player Interviews Pre-Game North Carolina A&T

Videos will appear as they process.

Rick Pitino, Peyton Siva, and Luke Hancock News Conference QUOTES:

THE MODERATOR:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  We’ll go ahead and begin our 3:45 press conference with the University of Louisville student-athletes here at the Lexington, Kentucky site.

Q.  What do you bring, if anything, just from your experience in last year’s tournament and the run to the Final Four?  Because it seems like March is generally about how well your guards play.

PEYTON SIVA:  Well, the play in March is truly something special and, you know, from what I experienced last year was just to take it day by day, game by game.  You can never look forward in who you’re going to play because that’s now you got knocked out by the teams that you play now.

I remember back to my sophomore year we played Morris State and we were always look like oh, man, who could we potentially play here in the Final Four, or something like that, and we lost in the first round.

So, last year, you know, we just took it game by game, day by day, and didn’t worry about who were the next people we played.  And for me, it was just being under control in the games, go out there and do whatever I could do and just continue to lead my team, whether that be scoring, defense, passing or whatever, and that’s what coach wants to us do.

Q.  Peyton, with as wacky of a season as it has been in college basketball, how close do you think we are to seeing a 16 beat a 1?  And talk about the environment, Louisville playing in Kentucky’s home building tomorrow night, how much of a home court advantage do you think you guys will have?

PEYTON SIVA:  Well, this season has just been crazy for everybody.  You can see TCU beating a No. 1 seed Kansas during the season.  You could see, you know, we lost to Drexel a couple years back.  Anything is possible especially during the NCAA Tournament.

And, you know, tomorrow to play here in Lexington is weird not playing against Kentucky, but, you know, we look forward to it.  Our fans will be able to get a chance to watch us at a closer location than last year.  We played all the way out in Portland and in Arizona, so that will be fun.  We get a chance to, you know, play on a court not against Kentucky for the first time, and it will just be interesting.  North Carolina A&T is a good team, like to run, very athletic.  We look forward to playing against them.

Q.  For both players, Luke and Peyton, the president has already looked forward to the Final Four and has Indiana beating you.  Were you disappointed by that news?  Does it mean anything to you and do you feel like a heavy favorite in this tournament?

LUKE HANCOCK:  We really haven’t even looked at it.  You know, some people have put it on Instagram that he picked us to go that far.  It’s not really something we’re worried about.  Like Peyton said, we’re trying to take it one game at a time.  We spent the day preparing for North Carolina A&T, and that’s what we’re worried about.

PEYTON SIVA:  You know, this is the first I’m hearing about President Obama not picking us, so I don’t know how to feel about it, but, you know, we look forward — like I said, we look forward to playing in the tournament.

There’s a lot of people who, you know, filled out their brackets, you know, family, friends, Obama and other people — President Obama, sorry about that — and be everybody has their opinions.  For us, we just have to focus on North Carolina A&T and focus on Coach P’s opinion right now.  For us, that’s really all that matters.

Q.  You said that it will be nice to play on this floor with not having to face Kentucky.  But is there part of you that kind of takes a little added satisfaction, not only are you guys the No. 1 seed but you are playing here and they’re not even in the NIT anymore?

PEYTON SIVA:  For me personally, I’m just happy not to play Kentucky here because I haven’t had a great success playing against Kentucky at Kentucky.  So — but it feels good to have the number 1 overall seed, to play, like I said, in a closer location for our fans to come get a chance to watch us.  And, you know, we look forward to going out there and playing as hard as we would on any other court.

We can play at the YMCA and I guarantee you Coach Pitino will still have us pressing full court.  We’ll still go out there and play like it’s the national championship, first round, Big East championship.  That’s just the way we’re programmed and that’s the way Coach P has us playing is that we can’t take any game lightly because we’re capable of getting beat by anybody.  We’ve got to go out there with the mentality that it’s win or go home, which basically it is.  We look forward to like playing against North Carolina.

LUKE HANCOCK:  Sometimes fans really think that it’s like a huge hated rivalry.  It’s not quite like that with the players, I don’t think.  We really want to win when we play Kentucky, especially at Kentucky, but we don’t wish them to have a bad season or anything like that or not be here.  We just kind of focusing on what we’re doing and we’re happy, we’re close to our fans, and that they’ll be able to come by and see us and support us.

Q.  This is for Luke.  Are you a hundred percent, and if so, when was the moment you realized you were with that shoulder?

LUKE HANCOCK:  I’m not a hundred percent.  I don’t really know exactly where I’m at, but once I get loose and get going, I feel pretty good, and, you know, just like anybody else, I got to get my body ready before I practice or work out.

Q.  Where did you watch the A&T Liberty game last night, where did you watch it?  And if you saw the end of it, what were your thoughts on the end of the game?

PEYTON SIVA:  Did you watch it?

LUKE HANCOCK:  Yeah.

PEYTON SIVA:  We didn’t watch it as a team.  I actually watched it at home, and throughout the game just looking at it like anything can happen in tournament.  You saw that North Carolina A&T shot 29.8 percent from the 3 point line, and yesterday I think they were 8 for 16 in the first half.  It just shows that anybody can shoot in the tournament.  Any given night they can come out on fire.  You have to disregard what happened in the regular season.  You can’t think of nothing in that sense, because everybody is playing well, everybody is on a roll and hot.  So everybody is full of confidence.

Watching the end of that game, you didn’t know what was going to happen.  Liberty easily could have got a foul called for them, went to the free throw line, and the way he was shooting, he would definitely knockdown both free throws.  The way the year has been going, he could have knocked down both free throws, they could have inbound through it and made the shot.

Around this time, you never know what’s going to happen.  Both teams played a heck of a game.  We didn’t know who was we was going to play they were so evenly matched.  Now that we know, we look forward to playing it.

LUKE HANCOCK:  Most of the people I talked to watched the game, most the guys on the team.  I watched it at the dorm.  It was a great game.  And some of the A&T’s players made huge shots at the end of the game.  Anything can happen on any given night, and the tournament makes it that much better and that much crazier.  They both look like great teams, and we’re excited to play.

Q.  Peyton, A&T kind of prides themselves on their defense.  What have you seen from watching them, no matter what they do defensively?

PEYTON SIVA:  They’re a great defensive team.  Yesterday they turned Liberty over ten times.  They trapped.  They got out there in the press, and, you know, they’re awesome just as a team.  So what we got to do tomorrow is take care of the ball at guards, handle their pressure and continue to attack them, you know.

Like I said, like you said, they pride themselves on defense, we pride ourselves on defense.  So it will be a defensive game.

Q.  Peyton, there’s a few good point guards in this region.  Obviously next round if you advance, you could be playing Phil Pressey.  You’ve already played Missouri.  In terms of at the end of games when you’ve got to make decisions and grind out clock, how much better have you gotten at that over the years and is there sort of a secret to, you know, to doing that and ending games efficiently?

PEYTON SIVA:  Well, over the years I learned a lot from my mistakes.  Even this year I learned a lot from my mistakes.  You know, for example, Syracuse game when I turned it over at a crucial moment of the game where they went down and scored and won the game, I learned never to make that pass again because Coach P will kill me.

I learned you got to take your time.  You can’t be rushing a lot of things.  You got to continue to keep your cool.  I’ve watched a lot of film of different point guards.  I watched a lot of film of Phil Pressey, how he handles himself.  I watched a lot of point guards in the NBA, like Chris Paul, just to see how they’re level headed.  Never in a rush.  Always under their pace and under control.  That’s something I try to take in my own, just continue to find my teammates.  Just trusting my teammates to know they’re going to make the right play and they trust me to make the right play.

That’s something I’ve learned over the years, never has to be about me.  I should never take on the burden of trying to win these games, that I do have four other players out there with me that are capable of making plays.

Q.  Coach Richardson was just hired.  Can you guys comment on what kind of coach that they’re going to be getting?

LUKE HANCOCK:  He’s a great person, great guy.  His basketball IQ is over the top.  Really knows what he’s talking about, is enthusiastic all the time.  He’s been great to us, and we definitely going to miss him.

PEYTON SIVA:  They’re going to get a great basketball coach, not even a great basketball coach, going to get a great person, you know.  Coach Richardson, I only knew him for a year, and he helped me out so much within this year than I can say about a lot of other people.

Like Luke said, to get somebody with high basketball IQ knows what they’re talking about, knows what they’re doing, he came from a program like Xavier who also made a good run.  To come here and to do the scouting, he’s done a phenomenal job.  He definitely demands your attention.  He definitely knows what he’s talking about.  He’s definitely a light-hearted guy.  UNKC is very lucky to have a guy like him.

Q.  Peyton, I’m sure right now you’re just focused on the game, but if you guys were to accomplish what you want to accomplish ten years from now, can you look back and say man, it was fun to start this by winning in Lexington?

PEYTON SIVA:  Just to win this first game would be amazing, because if you lose it, you definitely would be remembered for that, also.  You know, ten years from now, you know, it will be great to look back at this moment, you know, always — I’m going to know these guys are always going to be there for me, I’m always going to be there for them.  We can say we already run our regular season Big East championship, conference tournament championship, and so in ten years we can look at it like that.

But, you know, right now, like you said, we’re focusing on North Carolina A&T and to get the first win.  We could look back in ten years and say we won the first game being the number 1 overall seed and not losing it.  We’ll look back on it and say this was a great time in our lives.

Q.  You’re in the same place as Davidson just like last year, obviously you guys played Davidson in a very tight game.  What are the emotions of that?  Have you seen any of the Davidson guys around?  Have y’all spoke at all since you knocked them out last year?

LUKE HANCOCK:  We kind of just pulled in, just got here before this conference here, so we haven’t seen them.  I wasn’t planning so —

PEYTON SIVA:  We just pulled in and they put me in some back room.  I didn’t get to see anybody besides Jamal Mashburn, which I want to take a picture with later.  We’ve not seen any of the Davidson players.  Hopefully there’s no bad blood between us.  I wish them the best of luck in their next game.

THE MODERATOR:  Anybody have any other questions for the student-athletes?  All right.  Thank you for your time, gentlemen.

Next we’ll bring up the head coach of the University of Louisville, Rick Pitino.

Questions for coach Pitino.

Q.  I’ve spent part of yesterday and today going around town asking people about having Louisville playing here in Lexington, and one of the overriding sentiments was, well, we used to really kind of dislike Louisville, didn’t really hate Louisville until that Pitino guy showed up there.  Can you appreciate the polarizing aspect of this?

COACH PITINO:  Well, we’ve been here before.  Three, four years ago we were in town, and we got great support.  Obviously our fans were able to come.  It’s a little different because they come — they played at our arena last year, we’re playing in their arena this year.  We shared the same facilities, we play each other.

So it’s — this rivalry was built a long, long time ago before I was born.  So when they didn’t play each other and there was almost — they almost had to pass legislation to play each other and then both schools agreed.

Q.  Coach, given what a season it’s been for top ranked teams and given the number of 15s we saw take down number 2 seeds in last year’s tournament, how close do you think we are to seeing a 16 finally topple a 1, not necessarily in tomorrow’s game but in this tournament?

COACH PITINO:  I hope we wait a little bit.  It’s going happen.  Eventually it’s going to happen.  I can tell you one thing, we have great respect for A&T and the way they play.  They’re a veteran ball club.  They have terrific athletes.  They don’t have a whole lot of fear when they play.  That’s going to happen.

I remember one time I’m trying — may have been ’96, I’m not sure if it was or wasn’t, but some reporter came over the me before the game and said, how does it feel to be the biggest favorite in the history of the NCAA Tournament?

I said, look, we don’t pay attention to that as coaches.  Then our team was tied as a 1 seed.  He went out — at the time he changed his name, but it was Olivia Saint Jean at the time to San Jose State.  At halftime, we had a great team, we were either up one or down one at halftime.  We wound up winning by I think 37 or 40 points.  But we were up one, down one, sometimes those teams get tight.  You relax and play your game and focus on forgetting the seed, just focus in on the opponent.

Q.  Rick, as far as double digit seeds winning games during the first weekend, I mean it seems to happen every year.  Do you think that there are two, three underlying themes behind why that happens sometimes?

COACH PITINO:  Yes.  Why it happens is there are no longer Kareem Abdul Jabars or Bill Waltons or those great players from Carolina and Duke who — Christian Latner and those people.  It just doesn’t happen.  So, you take a Colorado State with five seniors, they’re every bit as good as any of the number 1 seeds who play the game because they all got into — how many of us coach five seniors or you take Davidson or you take any — Davidson is every bit as good as any team in the country.

So, it’s just a matter of which program can get those four, five seniors to jell at the right time and play the game.  The seeds really in today’s world mean absolutely nothing.  You know, we played at Madison Square Garden, our fans now will be here, but as I saw, we had Madison Square Garden was filled with orange people.  So, it was like a road game.

So sometimes that helps a little bit in terms of your fans being able to get here, you don’t travel as far, but as far as your competition it’s very, very close.  Parity has set in.  That’s what makes it so much fun.  You really, really can’t pick who is going to win.

Q.  Your players wouldn’t touch this.  Maybe you will.  I don’t know.  How pleasing would it be to win a game at Rupp, maybe win two games at Rupp, given the rivalry and all that?

COACH PITINO:  Well, we played Edgar Sosa was here, Earl Clark, we beat Stanford and lost to Texas A&M.  Someone told me later on that Billy Gillespie was hired because he beat Louisville that night, that was a big consideration, and they said one hundred percent positive I got it from a reliable source.  That’s ridiculous.  I didn’t believe it, but I was told later on it was very reliable.

To tell you the truth, I know — I wanted Kentucky after they beat us, we wanted to beat their brains in the semifinals and we didn’t.  And when we lost, I wanted them to bring the championship back to Kentucky.  I was rooting for them.

I don’t root against Kentucky except one game a year.  Very, very proud of this place.  I had eight years where I really didn’t have a bad day here so how I could root against them in the one game a year that we play, we want to win.  So it wouldn’t be that rewarding winning here.  What would be rewarding is the fact we would get to Indianapolis.

Q.  You talked about this I think in the past with Russ.  What’s the art to coaching a kid like that, where you live and die with their mistakes until the light finally comes on and you don’t live or die with their mistakes/

COACH PITINO:  I knew Russ’s dad when he was Russ’s age and I was the Knick coach.  His dad is still very young and his dad, when Russ was growing up, just come on, Russ, score, score, score, like that, Jimmy, exactly.  He’s a great dude now, I love Russ, Senior.  He got Russ to have a scoring mentality that was developed through that.

Under Jack Curran, he had the same thing, he averaged 32 points a game.  He was a scorer, scorer.  When he came here, I said Russ, you got to learn how to make plays better if you ever have a dream of being a great college player and some day going on.

So those first two years you really had to just give him his latitude, allow him the 1, 2, 7, 8 bad shots at times as long as he would lock into defense.  This year it’s like 1 or 2 maximum bad shots a game and he’s locked in.  He really has become a terrific basketball player.  It’s just giving him time, and he’s grown out of it.

Q.  Is that a similar formula for any guy like that?

COACH PITINO:  Russ was unique.  He was really unique.  Now I call his dad and I said, look, we’re going to the Big East tournament, we’re going to New York City.  You got help me out here.  You got to tell Russ that it’s just about winning and he doesn’t have to go back to scoring 32 points a game.

He tells — his answer back, I tell him all the time that, Rick.

I said, you’re so full of it, Russ, no way.

He understands how to play the game now.  He is locked in.  He’s really fun to coach, he’s a lot of fun to coach.  He’s always making me laugh and under pressure at times.

Q.  Rick, not to belabor the Kentucky thing, you obviously don’t have the animosity.  But can you appreciate it might be different for your fans that you guys are the overall No. 1 seed, you’re playing here, Kentucky is no longer even in the NIT?

COACH PITINO:  Our fans?

Q.  Your fans, yes.

COACH PITINO:  I just don’t have the personality to revel in anybody else’s failure.  They won a championship last year.  They had one of the best teams we’ve gone against.  So, they’re rebuilding and to me it’s not about them failing and us moving on.  I really don’t pay attention to it too much, and probably only 10 percent of our fan base think that way and probably only 10 percent of the fan base of Kentucky think that way.

There’s always empty barrels at each place, because I’ve coached both places.  The other 90 percent just are good people that want to see good basketball and they don’t get into that stuff.

Q.  Rick, when you got Gorgui the game was foreign to him.  In the Big East championship game, you win that game by putting him at the high post and he becomes a facilitator, which is such a subtle great art.  Have you ever worked with a player that has developed the way he has?

COACH PITINO:  About four, five who just came from — the biggest thing with him was the first year was language and terminology, getting him to understand basketball terminology, because he didn’t speak it and understand it real well.  He learned it much quicker than anybody I’ve seen, but still.  So terminology was a problem, and then he played — he was a soccer player as most people from foreign countries are in the beginning.

But Nazzi Mohammad was probably the biggest project I’ve ever worked with in my life.  He’s still playing in the NBA.  There have been guys that were either too heavy, too skinny, just didn’t understand the game for one reason or another, and you see them develop and it’s so much fun, you know, watching them develop their game.  He’s just one of about five, six guys that I’ve seen just come on and flourish so much that — Russ Smith was got a top — he didn’t have a Big East scholarship, and the only reason I even recruited him was I was there to watch the young man playing for Pittsburgh, the 6-6 from New York, something with an M, played for Pittsburgh, shooter, played for the Long Island team.  Plays for Pittsburgh.  Yeah, JJ Moore.

I was there to watch him.  Russ was at my basketball camp at Louisville.  His dad always sent him to come to my basketball camp.  We needed a point guard and Ralph Willard said to me, what about Russ Smith?

I said, no, he’s 5-7, 5-8.  That was my last memory of him.  He said he’s bigger than that.

I said, Russ come over here.

He said, Coach P, what’s up?

See, he’s as tall as you.  You’ve grown.  You haven’t put on too much weight, like 138 pounds.

We went out and watched and he’s what you need, he’s what you need.

I’m telling you, he’s not what we need.  He’s a two guard, he’s a combo guard.

I said Ralph, he’s not being recruited by one Big East school.  Don’t you think all these other schools would recruit him from Archbishop Molloy?  Russ, I’m going to call you tonight.  He lied to me.  He named all these schools that were recruiting him, made up schools.  He made up Baylor and somebody else.

I said, now tell me the truth, you don’t have a scholarship, do you?

Oh, kind of not really, Coach.  But the schools are really interested in me.

Then I’m — Ralph was right.  If it wasn’t for Ralph Willard, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you today because that young man helped us win a Big East championship, get to us a Final Four last year.  He’s a driving force in our system today.

Q.  Coach, can you just comment on what type of coach UKC should be expecting next year with Kareem?

COACH PITINO:  We’re going to miss him very much, you know.  I told Kareem, you have to stay more than one year, and he agreed he would.  And when your school called, I said, you work there, you know it if you want to go ahead and go.

He’s very, very bright.  He’s a hard worker, great teacher, great scout, tireless recruiter and a wonderful person.  I’m going to really miss him a great deal as a person.  Great guy.

He’s taken over a tough job, but most assistant coaches without head coaching experience take over tough jobs.  But if anybody can do it, it’s Kareem.

Q.  Just what can A&T do defensively that gives teams trouble?  They’re top ten in field goal defense this year.

COACH PITINO:  They pressure very well.  They trap, they front the post, make it difficult to run your offense.  They’re very, very well coached at the defensive end.  You know, it was a heck of a game last night, really a great game.  With the game on the line, their career shot blocker — I thought it was a foul until I watched the different angle and then it was just a great block.  So, they’re very well schooled.  They have upperclassmen, defense is a priority.  They pressure and they do a lot of great things defensively.  They change up, too.  They do different things.

THE MODERATOR:  Are there any other questions for Coach Pitino?

Q.  You just mentioned about Ralph pushing Russ.  Earlier today Bob McKillop was talking about how Coach Curran reached out and called East Carolina.  He didn’t have a scholarship.  He was going to walk on at Siena and Curran calls East Carolina, next he’s on a plane down to Carolina.  I’m wondering if you can share what that like New York basketball fraternity is like in terms of looking out for each other.

COACH PITINO:  You know, in New York and sometimes you hate to see it go by, in New York, we always know if you get a New York City point guard, you’re getting somebody fierce and tough.  And when you get a kid from the Catholic school league in the old days, you knew whether it was Bill O’Mara, whether it was Jack Curran, whoever it was, whether it was — whether it was Ford or Lockland people, didn’t matter, you were getting a young man, very, very well coached.

Those guys stayed at the same school for years upon years, the same guys, the same place, and, you know, I would call Pat Quigley, call Coach Curran, call Bill O’Mara, call any of them, you could get a great recommendation and you knew that.

It’s changed a little bit, unfortunately.  The kids now — the public school has an outstanding coaches, but the kids are leaving and going to prep schools, getting out of the city.  Saint John’s is branching out and recruiting California and all different types of places to get their players.  Very, very intelligent, very smart to do that.

It’s changed.  There aren’t as many players, but I will say this, it was fascinating to me, I was born in Manhattan and lived there and in my grandparents building until 8 years of age.  Then they sold and I moved to Queens.  Then my sophomore year I moved to Long Island, and back then there were about a million and a half people on Long Island and Lutheran was great and Saint Agnes was rolling with Frank Morris, there were about 30 Division 1 basketball players with a million and a half people on Long Island.  Today, there are about 3 million people on Long Island and you’re lucky to find five Division 1 players a year.

How can you double a population and say why?  It’s called affluence.  Long Island was a blue collar — every town was blue collar.  The rich happened to move out to Long Island and there goes basketball and here comes lacrosse and soccer and all the rich people’s sports.

THE MODERATOR:  All right.  Any more questions?  One last question.

Q.  You guys have some of the unique uniforms that have debuted over the last couple of weeks.  As the number 1 seed, you’ll be able to wear white.  Do you plan on doing that or do you want to wear the red ones?

COACH PITINO:  I think we’ll wear white.  I’m not sure about that.  We’re not as colorful as Notre Dame.  We were asked to go to infrared again and our AD said absolutely not.  We’re going to stick with our colors.  And we sort of have a little bit — we’re not like Cincinnati or Notre Dame.  Our AD is a traditionalist.

When I was at Kentucky, we wore denim, we had these apex wow uniforms.  We tried all those crazy things back then.  I just go with whatever they tell me to wear, so — but will wear those Adidas, whatever you call those things that we’re wearing.

THE MODERATOR:  One last question.

Q.  Coach, do you believe in the adage that March is about your guard play, and if so, how comforting is it to have Siva and Russ out there in?

COACH PITINO:  To tell you the truth, at every level, professional level, all times of the season, March, NBA playoffs, it’s about guard play.  Now, you would not say that LeBron and D Wade are your traditional guards at Miami, but they handle the basketball most of the time.  So, it’s about people who have the basketball in their hands protecting and valuing the ball and then also

Louisville Wins Final Big East Championship: UofL 78-Syracuse 61

Madison Square Garden. The Best Basketball Conference in the History of College Basketball.  Your Louisville Cardinals. Champions.

We can get caught up in the hyperbole of the moment.  It’s true. But the Big East ceasing from existence is truly the end of an era and the Cards won 3 of the last 5 championships. But Louisville’s 3rd and Final Big East title was extremely improbable coming out of a 35-22 halftime deficit, and eventually swelled to 16 in the 2nd half.  But then something happened……

Syracuse stopped hitting low percentage shots.  Louisville started turning the ball over.  And Montrezl Harrell and Kevin Ware happened.  And happened, and happened, and happened.

With 15:59 remaining James Southerland made his final 3-point shot of a record breaking Big East Tournament, and then the Cards went to work down 16.  Hancock fouled on a 3-pointer. Russ 3. Van Treese follow. Gorgs Dunk. Montrezl made FREEL THROWSL!!  Gorgs jump shot, Siva Free Throws, DUNKL, 4 straight free throws from Hancock, K-Dub for 3, K-Dub Dunk. Siva foul shot, Siva jumper, JUMPL SHOTL, FREEL THROWSL!!!!  DUNKL! JUMPL SHOTL! Wayne hit a 3!

During the above stretch. Guess what Syracuse did?  They had a tip in, and 7 free throws.  From 15:59 to 2:06 in the 2nd half Louisville outscored Syracuse 44-9.

Peyton Siva was named the Big East Tournament MVP for the second consecutive year joining Patrick Ewing as the only player to hold that honor in back to back tournaments.  Siva also had four steals to break the career tournament record. Siva finished his career with 29 steals, breaking the old mark of 28, held by Pittsburgh’s Brandin Knight since 2003.

Siva was great in the first two games of the Big East Tournament and historically has had subpar games against the Syracuse Orange.  On Saturday night Siva still had his moments, but in the end persevered and finished with 11 points, 8 assists, 4 steals, and a block.  Siva was a big reason for Syracuse Guard Brandon Triche turning the ball over 7 times for the Orange.

Gorgui Dieng also provided a big lift.  Made baskets are at a premium against Syracuse.  It will always be that way.  But Gorgui moved the ball efficiently and finished with 9 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals, and a block.  But for me, the story was really the play off the bench of Kevin Ware and Montrezl Harrell.  These two filled in the gaps.  For Ware when Russ Smith picked up his 3rd foul early in the 2nd half.  And for Montrezl because Chane Behanan just wasn’t having his best night.

Louisville now moves on to tomorrow night when they will learn their pairings for the NCAA Tournament.  The Cards have earned a #1 seed, but the main question now is whether or not UofL did enough to supplant Indiana for the #1 Seed in the Midwest Region and have the ability to play close to home in Lexington (Rupp) and Indianapolis (Lucas Oil Stadium).

I’ll be adding pics, video, and other tidbits as I find them.