Rick Pitino, Louisville One Game From Hitting the Panic Button

Jonathan LintnerSenior Analyst IDecember 13, 2009

LOUISVILLE, KY - DECEMBER 12:  Rick Pitino the Head Coach of the Louisville Cardinals gives instructions to his team during the game against the Western Carolina Catamounts on December 12, 2009 at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Louisville coach Rick Pitino has often blamed a microwave society for criticisms aimed at his basketball team.

Pitino says people want things too quickly—a perfect non-conference record for example—when it takes the Cardinals a little longer than most to settle into his system and prepare for March.

That's understandable.

A 91-83 loss to Western Carolina on your home court isn't—especially one that followed a gruesome loss to Charlotte a game earlier.

Now questions are starting to be asked of the ninth-year Cardinals coach, who won an NCAA Title at Kentucky in 1996 and has taken three different teams to the Final Four.

Is he past his prime? Has he lost touch with the nation's top recruits? Will he ever win a national championship at Louisville, where former coach Denny Crum claimed two in the 1980s?

It's important to keep in mind that Pitino said Louisville would never fall from the Top 25 after the Cardinals beat West Virginia en route to the 2004 Final Four. Louisville went to the National Invitational Tournament the next season, eventually returning the Top 25 in late 2006.

The Cardinals have been a virtual mainstay on the national scene ever since—until this past week, when the Charlotte loss booted them from the rankings.

Pitino also said Louisville would always reload—never rebuild—and that talent would stream onto campus as long as he was there. Apparently, he's taking that back.

“We have to recruit,” Pitino said after the Western Carolina game. “Our talent level is not where it needs to be right now. We need to get on the road and beat the bushes right now.”

Perhaps Pitino needs to stop cooking an NCAA Championship at Louisville in a crock pot and stick it in a microwave, because all signs point to an appearance in a post-season tournament that doesn’t feature a field of 65.

Pitino lost his top recruiter, son Richard Pitino, to Billy Donovan at Florida this past offseason. Then came the all-too-famous off-court transgressions. Finally, the season started, but the holes left by offseason distractions are obvious.

Sophomore Samardo Samuels hasn’t shown improvement. Sophomore Jared Swopshire still isn’t ready. Turns out freshman Mike Marra isn’t the best shooter to ever hit the basketball court.

And now the Cardinals are a loss away from three straight—enough for Louisville fans to hit the panic button and wonder just what Pitino’s future plans at Louisville entail.

Down the road, John Calipari has Kentucky at 10-0 thanks to a handful of freshman talent. Louisville fans will ask, “Why can’t Rick do that?”

Maybe Louisville athletics director Tom Jurich will too.

But maybe, just maybe, it’s the early-season critics that are once again at fault. Louisville came back from three losses last season to win the Big East and claim the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

There were never three losses in a row—not since the Cardinals’ 2005-2006 NIT season, which followed the Final Four appearance. Should Louisville lose at home to Oral Roberts on Wednesday, it’s safe to say fans shouldn’t expect another turnaround.

Pitino said he can draw parallels between this season’s bunch and his last NIT team.

“From Day One in practice reminds me of the team after the Final Four team,” Pitino said. “The next year the guys thought they were the reason for the Final Four and they didn't play well defensively. It is almost a carbon copy of that.”

At two losses, worry. At three, panic.

Three straight losses have set the standard for Pitino's down years in the past. Along with much of his coaching philosophy, that doesn’t look to change this season.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.