From Nov. 20th thru Dec. 1st, I’ll be on the road, hitting 21 games in 11 days. To follow along and read my stories from the road, click here.
UNCASVILLE, CT — Generally speaking, this is how the post game works at a neutral site event like the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic: around 10 minutes after the final buzzer, the winning coach, and maybe a player or two, will head to the podium for a press conference while their locker room is opened up for media access.
The press conference with the winning coach will usually last around 10 minutes, and maybe five minutes later the losing coach will come out to answer his questions for the TV cameras while their locker room is opened to the media. That generally goes a bit quicker, as most of the media will be looking to get interviews for stories on the winning team.
Assuming we aren’t dealing with an event like the Champions Classic or the Final Four, where the crush of the media reaches into the 100s, the teams are finished with their post game obligations in roughly 35 or 40 minutes, which is usually about the time it takes to get everyone showered and changed, all the gear packed up and the athletes themselves herded to the bus to leave the arena.
On Sunday afternoon, Rick Pitino got his team the hell out of town. By the time I finished talking to the UNC players in their locker room, I managed to make it down to the Louisville locker room in time to see Rick Pitino heading out the door in a track suit. The locker room was already empty, the players already gone. I didn’t have a watch out or anything like that, but I’d guess that the Cardinals were gone within 25 minutes of the buzzer going off. I say that because I made it back out to the court before the first TV timeout of the Richmond-Fairfield game, which included 20 minutes to warmup, introductions and a trip that I made to the media hospitality room for some coffee (and a couple cookies) after realizing I missed out on talking with the Louisville guys.
This came a day after Louisville struggled to knock Fairfield. I wasn’t at that game, but the media members that were at Mohegan for the entire weekend said that Louisville’s locker room after that game did not look like a winning locker room. They weren’t jovial or celebrating. They looked like they had just gotten screamed at.
I think it’s safe to say Pitino was pretty unenthralled with his team’s play this weekend.
And could you blame him?
The Cardinals were a long, long way from impressive on Sunday. They looked nothing like a national title contender, mainly because their front court was useless for 40 minutes. Montrezl Harrell was active on the offensive glass in the first half, but he committed a couple of dumb fouls in the second half that got his disqualified. Chane Behanan was able to carve out space and get some loose balls on both ends, but he looked lost trying to figure out what to do once he got a rebound. Stephen Van Treese and Mangok Mathiang are solid, but they’re not ready to be playing starter’s minutes.
And all this was happening while seemingly everyone on North Carolina’s front line was having a career day.
There’s another issue at play here as well: Louisville’s transition defense was downright apathetic. Credit where credit’s due, UNC’s guards played really well. They weren’t flustered by Louisville’s pressure and were able to protect the ball fairly effectively.
But the Cardinals got into a bad habit of overpenetrating and failing to rotate back into defensive balance. What that means is that the Louisville ball-handler, either Russ Smith or Chris Jones, would try to break down the defense off the bounce. Both of the other wings would sit in the corner and wait for a kick-out for a spot-up three. The bigs would head to the rim to rebound the ball.
This becomes a problem because the point guard is generally supposed to be the safety valve, the last line of defense against leakouts. When the point guard drives, one of the two wings is supposed to rotate back. But with the wings spotting up in the corner and the big men crashing, the Tar Heels were able to pick UNC apart with easy layups.
That was ticking off the Louisville fans sitting behind me and leaving the beat-writers sitting next to me scratching their head.
Imagine what that did to Rick Pitino’s blood-pressure?
And you wonder why he wanted to get out of that building as quickly as possible?