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Richard Pitino Hired as New Mexico HC After Minnesota Firing

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMarch 16, 2021

Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino gestures on the sideline in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Illinois, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Holly Hart)
Holly Hart/Associated Press

Richard Pitino will be back on the sidelines next season, having been hired as the head coach of the New Mexico men's basketball team Tuesday.

Minnesota fired Pitino on Monday night after he spent eight seasons with the Golden Gophers. The 38-year-old succeeds Paul Weir with the Lobos.

Minnesota went 141-123 under Pitino. The team captured an NIT championship in his first season (2013-14) and reached the NCAA tournament in 2017 and 2019.

While he eventually fell short of the school's expectations, Pitino did reasonably well considering the Golden Gophers haven't enjoyed much consistent success. The Clem Haskins era was an outlier, but his tenure, which ran from 1986 to 1999, ended in scandal.

New Mexico is in a somewhat similar position. Although the Lobos became NCAA tournament mainstays when Dave Bliss and Steve Alford were in charge, they've made only two Sweet 16 appearances, the last of which came in 1974.

The fact that New Mexico has gone seven straight years without an NCAA tournament appearance will set the bar for success pretty low early on. Lobos fans are passionate, but they won't be expecting Pitino to deliver a deep run in the Big Dance right out of the gate.

He's also inheriting a roster that had just two seniors in 2020-21. Leading scorer Makuach Maluach (15.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg) is moving on. Beyond that, the cupboard should be full.

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New Mexico has also received a commitment from 3-star small forward Jamel King, who sits 38th at the position in 247Sports' composite rankings. King's 0.8967 composite rating would be the eighth-highest for the Lobos since 2000.