|Pitino family legacy colors Minnesota-Louisville matchup|
They say the committee doesn't focus on matchups when it comes to putting together the NCAA Tournament field. Any meeting of two teams that might appear to be contrived by a those putting the bracket together is supposedly nothing more than a coincidence.
Well, it was one heck of a coincidence that led to Louisville earning the seventh seed in the East Region and getting a first-round date with 10th-seeded Minnesota on Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa.
That's because the Golden Gophers, who nabbed an at-large bid and are making just their second appearance in the past six seasons, are coached by Richard Pitino. The former Louisville assistant is the son of Rick Pitino, the former Louisville coach who was dismissed before last season because of his alleged involvement in and FBI probe into college basketball recruiting violations.
However, the younger Pitino insists the focus will be on the court.
"It's not going to be about me," Pitino. "I'm not going to be, 'It's revenge,' or anything like that. It's about our players, it's about this program. We worked really, really hard to put ourselves in position to be one of the 19 percent that gets to make the NCAA Tournament in college basketball."
The Golden Gophers (21-13) have been all over the map this season, playing well in their nonconference schedule before enduring a stretch of six losses in seven games late in Big Ten play.
However, Minnesota rebounded to knock off Purdue in the final week of the regular season and keep the Boilermakers from earning an outright conference championship. The Gophers beat Purdue again a week later in the conference tournament.
The Gophers are led by senior forward Jordan Murphy, who earned first-team All-Big Ten honors, as well as junior guard Amir Coffey, who scored 20 or more points in five straight games before getting only 14 in a loss to Michigan in the Big Ten tournament semifinals.
"All of us were excited to just make it to the tournament," Murphy told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "Just to make it this far this season knowing everything we've gone through, knowing the adversity we faced. ... I was really, really happy to be in."
Louisville (20-13) had its share of inconsistencies this season as well.
The Cardinals beat Michigan State in nonconference play before staring 7-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. However, Louisville lost seven of its final 10 regular-season games before going 1-1 in the conference tournament.
"We are where we are today," Louisville coach Chris Mack said. "There are teams that go into the NCAA Tournament on such a roll and they're home on Thursday night, and there's teams that have lost a few in a row down the stretch and nobody really believes in them and next thing you know they're in the Elite Eight. I've seen both sides of it."
Whichever path Louisville takes, the season will likely be declared a success after Rick Pitino's departure was followed by an NIT bid last season. Mack was hired after the 2017-18 season, and he hasn't taken long to get the Cardinals back in the national spotlight.
"I know our group is excited to play," Mack said. "Our guys have worked hard since the spring when we took over, and I'm glad they had this moment."
--Field Level Media