Teacher vs. student: It’s an often used cliché in most sports today. Few times will you find a better illustration than that on display Thursday night in the first round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament as the defending National Champion Louisville Cardinals squared off against the Manhattan Jaspers. More specifically Louisville head coach Rick Pitino battled Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello.
Leading up to the game, Pitino had gone on record voicing his displeasure with the NCAA Tournament selection committee. While most of the country was shocked to see Louisville as a No. 4 seed, Pitino was more concerned with the first round matchup, “I’m okay with the seeding, not okay with the pairing.”
Pitino was displeased for good reason — the pairing put Louisville against the Masiello coaches Manhattan team. Pitino and Masiello had a long history. Masiello was a ball boy for the New York Knicks in the 1980s where Pitino was an assistant coach, a walk-on with Pitino’s Kentucky Wildcats in the mid 1990s and an assistant coach under Pitino at Louisville.
“I’m afraid of playing him (Masiello); he knows every single thing I do since I’ve been 28,” said Pitino. “This is not a 1-16; it’s anybody’s game.”
Pitino had every reason to be concerned. The seeds were irrelevant and the game was a wildcard as Manhattan not only knew Louisville well they were essentially a Louisville replica. “Steve runs everything we run. He presses like we press. His offenses are the same; his out of bounds plays are the same. The only thing he does differently is he wears ridiculous suits.”
Pitino was right on multiple fronts leading up to the game. His criticism of the selection committee was warranted — not just for the pa-rings but the seeding as well — and his prognostication of the game proved spot on. Manhattan had bracket-breaking intentions.
Despite Manhattan playing inspired basketball game in an often times fast paced up and down juggernaut that would be arguably the most entertaining game of the tournament’s first day, in the end Louisville and Pitino lived to see another day. The teacher would out-duel the student – just barely.
Of course Pitino had to be concerned with the matchup due to similar styles and Masiello’s knowledge of the “Pitino Ways.” However, bigger than the matchup was the connection between the two coaches. Simply put, some of the excitement of the tournament was lost for both gentlemen.
Hopefully the NCAA Tournament committee takes note.
For Louisville it’s on to round two in the most difficult Region of the tournament where they will face the No. 5 seed Saint Louis Billikens.
The road doesn’t get any easier. For Louisville to earn a consecutive National Championship they will have to survive what most have dubbed the “Region of Death.”