Pitino Keeps Winning And So Does His Beard

TONY VANETTI: All right, Matt. I want some credit. I’ve been saying in this newspaper to you that Syracuse and Florida are the top two teams in the nation. Now three months later, who are the two top-ranked teams?

MATT JONES: First of all, that’s a complete lie that you said that. The first person to put Florida in the best group of teams was me. I will say you picked Syracuse, but I had Florida picked a long time ago. They are the two best teams in the country. I think that’s the case. But what’s interesting is that nobody’s great. When the season started we thought there’d be five great teams: Michigan State, Kentucky, Kansas, Duke and Louisville, and none of them are great. Now, some are doing better than others, but none of them are great. And the two that are the closest to being great, we didn’t even pick. It’s been a weird year in college basketball.

VANETTI: I think it’s just a system – again it’s just another conversation to have – but I think it’s just a system of the NBA taking the best talent each year. And as the NCAA gets younger and younger, the best players are getting starting spots, but it’s just the watering down of college basketball that you’re going get the best teams at the top are going loss. SMU is going to lose to Temple, which is one of the worst teams. Michigan State is going to lose. It’s a weird season. I get it, but I think it’s the norm across the board except for a couple of teams.

JONES: But with that said, you have two teams undefeated for the latest in the year since 1975. So on the one end, people talk about parity, but on the other hand Syracuse and Wichita State are both undefeated in very different conferences. So it’s a very odd year. I think the thing that happened that nobody saw coming is that the young guys on teams took a lot longer to develop than people thought, including Kentucky, Kansas, and Duke. And the veterans on Michigan State and Louisville showcased that when some of the complimentary pieces were gone, they weren’t quite as good as we thought they were. And so those two things in combination made an odd year. But look at Syracuse – their best player is a freshman, and they’re undefeated.

VANETTI: No question. Let’s get on to Kentucky and their failure last Saturday against Florida, a college team. What an atmosphere at Rupp Arena. You had Ashley Judd out there rocking and rolling, and they still came up short with a ten point loss to Florida.

JONES: Well ten points is a little misleading. That was pretty gross at the end, but it was a four or five point win for Florida. Kentucky was there with five minutes to go, but they just couldn’t do it. I think that was the game – I usually say that when people say ‘Well, they won that because of experience over talent’ I usually say this – malarkey. But in that game, I think that was true. Because with five minutes to go Florida made plays, they were calm. Kentucky got a little nervous, and I do think that was the difference in the game. That was the first time I thought Kentucky’s young guys didn’t look experienced, but they looked young. They looked a little nervous in the moment.

VANETTI: I thought that they went toe-to-toe, but Florida did not play well in the first half. You’ve got to consider that it’s just not Kentucky.

JONES: Well I don’t agree with that. They played well. They didn’t shoot well, but they played well. They played good defense. They had open shots. Now they missed them, but I don’t agree that they didn’t play well. Kentucky missed a lot and the Harrison twins started out one for 14. I thought both teams gave A-efforts, they just didn’t shoot the ball great for most of the game.

VANETTI: Okay, so if Kentucky wins their next game in the last five minutes by 10 points, I can hold you to it that it was more like a four point victory?

JONES: Games are weird, okay. A game that’s a two point game will usually finish around a two, three, four, five point game. But games that are five point games can end up around twelve or thirteen, and that’s misleading. And that happens a lot. Kentucky won Missouri by like 11, but that’s not how the game was.  So, that’s the way it goes. Now I will say I think Louisville is playing a lot better. It’s so hard to touch them because they haven’t played anybody in the past few weeks, and they’ve beaten the heck out of everyone they’ve played. But we’ll know a lot more about Louisville in the last couple of weeks when they play Memphis, Cincinnati, Connecticut, and SMU.

VANETTI: If they were stock, I’m not buying any left or I’m not buying more, I’m holding my stock on UofL until I see some things happen in the market, I agree. Their entire season is going to be two, three week periods. To end the season they play four top twenty-five, and then they’ll start the NCAA tournament after the conference tournament. And again it’s two, three week tournaments there for Louisville to end it all. We’ll know everything we need to know in the next couple of weeks what they have. I’m not convinced that they’re not like Kentucky to where they hold their own and they do their own thing against the weaker teams, but we’ll see if they have what it takes to go against the better teams.

JONES: If you’re pro UofL there’s some good signs. Nine out of the last ten national champs have been top fifteen in offensive efficiency and top twenty in defensive efficiency. That’s nine out of the last ten. There’s only three teams in the country that have those numbers: Florida, Syracuse and yes, Louisville. Louisville doesn’t feel like they should be in the group, but I’m a big believer in numbers, even when the numbers give me what I don’t like. I don’t like to think this Louisville team is a contender, but they are. Louisville is like Kentucky in this regard: Louisville last year and Kentucky in 2012, it really didn’t matter who they played. If they played well, they were going to win. That’s not how both of these teams are now. They are going to have to get a good matchup, it’s going to have to be a game where things are going to have to go right, and then they can win. But they can also lose to a random team, too. I think both the Cats and Cards are in that boat.

VANETTI: I think they’re both Sweet 16 teams and we’ll see what the match ups are and what the NCAA tournament holds with that. If they get the right match ups, they can go pretty far. If not, they could be out early. I want to applaud the station that put together that video to motivate the Cats with Calipari with the very dramatic piano playing and Calipari talking. It was very, very inspiring.

JONES: If there’s one thing, in Kentucky we know how to make songs and videos about our team. We have to lead the nation in songs per sporting event. That video was sort of a motivational tool for everyone here. For the Cats, I thought they were going to be great, I didn’t think they’d be 40-0, but I thought they were going to be great. That hasn’t happened. I think the point of that video is to say, “You can still finish great, even if you’re not great now.” That’s the key for this team. The good thing about being young is that you have a short memory. These guys still believe they are better than everybody they’ve played, no matter what the fact show. That’s good for keeping up the confidence going into March.

VANETTI: Yeah but Calipari has be tired of preach¬ing, “Hey, if you just try, you’ll feel better.”

JONES: Yeah I’ll tell you what he wouldn’t be tired of – growing a stupid beard like Rick Pitino.

VANETTI: I have mixed emotions. I sort of want Louisville to keep winning so I can see how absolutely ridiculous he would look like with a beard. Part of me says Rick Pitino is just being fun and part of me says he does more and more ridiculous things every day.

JONES: I’m starting to worry if he’s off his medications.

VANETTI: Yeah, Rick growing a beard to try to have fun with the team is nothing like Calipari playing dodge ball game for morale last year. You’re right, he never does anything crazy.

JONES: The day John Calipari grows a beard will be the day you grow horns. I can guarantee you that he’d never do anything that ridiculous. I can say I give Rick credit. In his old age, he’s already gotten a tattoo and he’s grown a beard. All he needs is a motorcycle and he’ll be in his midlife crisis.