ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Louisville coach Rick Pitino had no problem with his team’s NCAA tournament seeding. It was the pairing that drew his ire.
Pitino criticized the selection committee Wednesday for pitting his fourth-seeded and defending national champion Cardinals against 13th-seeded Manhattan, which is coached by Pitino’s former assistant, Steve Masiello. Louisville and Manhattan open tournament play Thursday night in the Midwest Region.
“I think the pairings sometimes lack common sense,” Pitino said. “I don’t think they would put somewhere down the road Duke-North Carolina so … the matchups don’t make sense to me. I’m OK with the seedings. I’m not OK with the matchups.
“But the selection committee is very fair, very honorable, very honest people, so I can’t protest too much because they’re doing the best job that they can do. Maybe they’re a bunch of soccer ADs, I don’t know.”
Masiello served as Pitino’s ball boy with the NBA’s New York Knicks in the 1980s, played for him at Kentucky (1996-1997) and then spent another six years coaching alongside him at Louisville (2005-11). They know each other inside and out, with Masiello molding Manhattan to mirror the Cardinals.
Pitino said the matchup is tougher than when Louisville got paired against Florida and coach Billy Donovan, who also played and coached for Pitino, in a 2012 regional final.
“We press like him, we trap like him, his offensive sets are just like ours,” Pitino said. “That’s why I don’t like the game. I don’t think it’s fair. I don’t like it. I don’t know why they would do it. I just don’t like the game at all for either one of us. We won the national championship and obviously we’re more heralded, but this is anybody’s game. This is not a 1-16.”
Masiello was equally disappointed in the pairing.
“To see them come up and then see us come up against them, it takes a little fun out of it,” Masiello said. “It’s just, that’s not fun for me going against someone that I have to now try to beat, and almost in my mind, think negatively about. It’s hard for me to do that.”
Aside from the student-teacher matchup, here are five things to know about Manhattan and Louisville:
SEEDING SURPRISE: The Cardinals insisted they weren’t surprised by getting a No. 4 seed, which was widely panned as being too low for the defending national champs.
Nonetheless, guard Russ Smith said he understood why outsiders raised eyebrows when the brackets were announced. “Not beating around the bush, but we’ve dominated our last few weeks of basketball since the loss to Memphis,” Smith said. “We’ve been winning by a good margin. When you initially look at the University of Louisville, you see they’ve been winning by 20 or 30 or 50, they should be a 1 or 2 seed. But as an overall whole, we understood what our body of work was like.”
MIRROR IMAGES: Having watched Louisville win the national title last year, the Jaspers noticed a thing or two about their style of play. And it looked really familiar.
“Our philosophy is based after Louisville,” guard Michael Alvarado said. “We’re like them, but they’re on steroids pretty much. We both press, we both have similar philosophies and the better team is going to win.”
Manhattan guard George Beamon called Louisville their “big brother,” adding that “we pride ourselves on being a mirror image of them.”
ONE DIFFERENCE: There was one major difference that Pitino pointed out between himself and his protégé, Masiello: “He wears ridiculous suits. Outside of that, we’re one and the same. He must go to Madison Avenue and just come out with the newest things all the time. I don’t know where he gets the tuxedo look with the roundabout lapels and everything. He’s hanging around Little Italy too much.”
BIG APPLE: Having grown up in New York City, Masiello is a proud New Yorker, and nothing would please him more than to keep a team from the Big Apple in the Big Dance.
“We’re representing the greatest city in the world in the greatest sports event, which is March Madness, in the world,” he said. “We have a lot of Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island kids, so our makeup is New York kids, and now we have a chance to represent that and kind of have the city on our back. That’s awesome.”
LAST MEETING: It’s been 16 months since Manhattan and Louisville last played. The Jaspers can only hope to have more success this time around. The Cardinals thumped Manhattan 79-51 in Louisville on Nov. 11, 2012. Each team has seven players and three starters remaining from that matchup, which Louisville dominated from start to finish. Smith finished with 23 points and five steals.