Kentucky vs. Louisville: More to Final Four Than Rick Pitino vs. John Calipari
I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge that Saturday's Commonwealth Clash between Louisville and Kentucky in the Final Four will not feature a head-to-head matchup between Rick Pitino and John Calipari on the court, despite what all the narratives dispersed thus far would seem to suggest.
Don't get me wrong, I understand the appeal of pitting Pitino and Cal atop the marquee at the Superdome. They've followed similar career paths, starting out at small programs in the Northeast (Pitino at Rhode Island and Providence, Cal at UMass) and continuing on to failed NBA stints (Pitino with the Knicks and Celtics, Cal with the Nets) before finally finding elite success in the Bluegrass State.
Legend has it that Pitino played a role in convincing UMass, his alma mater, to give a young Calipari a shot at his first head coaching gig and that whatever animosity does or doesn't exist between those two stems from their different opinions on Pitino's role in that process. As Seth Davis of CBS Sports explains, Pitino often tells people he cut a check to boost Cal's chances of landing a job with the Minutemen, while Cal supposedly seems resentful of Pitino telling that story as often as he supposedly does.
In other words, it's probably nothing—a molehill built into a mountain, an interesting anecdote that folks in college hoops have long seized on as the conduit to a non-story revolving around parallels between these two.
It's fun to get wrapped up in, to a certain extent, and it makes for nice bit of manufactured, made-for-TV drama, but what exactly does it actually have to do with the game? It's not like these two men don't have motivation enough already to lead their teams to victory. There's a spot in the NCAA title game at stake!
Which team will win the Commonwealth Clash?
To its credit, the Pitino-Calipari angle does serve as a smokescreen of sorts, another layer (along with the in-state rivalry) on top of a game that, in all honesty, probably isn't going to live up to expectations. After all, UK is on an absolute roll, one that even a red-hot Louisville squad will have trouble slowing down. The Wildcats have taken each of their NCAA tournament games by double-digit margins and are far superior to the team that took the floor at Rupp Arena on New Year's Eve and beat the Cardinals, 69-62.
So, in a way, pushing Pitino vs. Cal might just be another diversion from the Kansas-Ohio State slugfest on Saturday night that has the makings of an instant classic.
Another way for fans to forget that Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones and the rest of Big Blue's NBA-bound basketball savants will stomp all over the gutty Cards on the way to Kentucky's eighth national championship.
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