Like a giddy girl on the first day of school, I tuned into the Nashville sports talk radio yesterday, anticipating oodles of Kentucky/Louisville previews, tales of Kentucky’s Catlanta domination, and general praise of all things Blue.
Not so much.
Oh, there were plenty of Kentucky/Louisville previews, but most were laced with digs at Calipari, who, judging from their descriptions, must have gelled his hair into two perfect devil horns this season. Even more appalling? Pitino was being painted as a saint.
Don’t get me wrong, Pitino has turned his team around faster than a quickie in a Porcini’s. Louisville looked terrible at times this season. In fact, most had written them off, and were even questioning how much longer Rick would be on the sidelines. Once a pale, gaunt ghost of his former self, Pitino must have worked some serious voodoo to get his crew grooving, and dare I say it, postseason success has returned a snap to that once powerful stride.
The popular thing to do right now is rank the Final Four coaches in terms of ability and who you’d rather have in a late-game situation. Each of the analysts I listened to yesterday ranked Rick as the best of the bunch, with Cal tied for third with Thad Matta. Why? Pitino and Self have national championships, and Matta and Cal do not. Cal’s a great recruiter, they argued, but can’t hold a candle to Rick and Bill Self during a game. One host went as far to say that if given the choice, he thinks “most Kentucky fans” would choose Rick over Cal if the game was close with five minutes to go.
This is the part where I stared oddly at my radio. Ten years ago, yes, I would have chosen Rick over Cal, but a lot happened in those ten years. Cal’s stock rose as fastly as Rick’s
pants dropped. As Dan Wetzel put it, their roles have reversed, with Cal comfortably at the helm of a blue-blooded basketball juggernaut, and Rick nipping at his heels with a band of scrappy upstarts. And, aren’t we all past the point of using “Cal isn’t a good game coach” as a crutch? Hasn’t he proved anything this season? Last season? Cal is a master of finding the best talent and blending it into one selfless unit, but he’s also shown that he can guide a team to victory when the going gets tough. Sure, having a roster full of unflappable freshmen and veterans doesn’t hurt, but some in the media act as though all of the credit belongs to them and none to Cal.
I know this question may hurt to ponder, but with five minutes left and the game tied, who would you rather have coaching your team: Cal or Rick?