Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He has been a Star Tribune sports columnist since 1988. His sportswriting credo is twofold: 1. God will provide an angle; 2. The smaller the ball, the better the writing.


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Pitino's whining has changed an earlier impression

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: March 19, 2014 - 11:09 AM

The most-favorable impression I had of Rich Pitino was that the coach was not an excuse maker. This differentiated him from Tubby Smith, who had several complaints about the hand he had been dealt during the second half of his six-year tenure with the Gophers.

Pitino embraced the old dump, Williams Arena, and his comments on a practice facility were offered as a desire – not as a blockade to winning a few more games in the Big Ten.

Young Rich probably can live with this, but I must say:

His reactions to the blowout by Wisconsin in the second round of the Big Ten tournament, and to being relegated to the NIT on Selection Sunday have caused an adjustment in my thinking on Pitino as a whiner.

First, there was the pout over Wisconsin’s Jordan Hill firing up a 3 – and making it – rather than waiting out the clock in the Badgers’ 83-57 victory on Friday. Hill was a freshman and was playing his 22nd minute of the season. It was his second attempted three of 2013-14, and raised his season points total from 4 to 7.

This was the equivalent of Kendal Shell coming off the bench and firing up a jumper for the Gophers in the late stages of a blowout over Texas A&M Corpus Christi.

Amazingly, Pitino barked toward Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan after Hill’s shot, then did a drive-by handshake of Bo at game’s end.

Mike Ellis, the basketball man and assistant to AD Norwood Teague, kept this silliness going by criticizing Ryan’s failure to have Hill “throw the ball away’’ rather than take the three.

Ellis is a good dude, but for Ellis to carry the water for Pitino here, and try to make the Badgers’ conduct in the final 30 seconds an issue – rather than the Gophers’ feeble effort over the prior 39 ½ minutes – was asinine.

Pitino sounded sillier in his reaction to the Gophers not making it to the NCAA tournament as the seventh-place team in the Big Ten. He whined that the Gophers were not properly rewarded for playing a schedule that was ranked ninth toughest by the computer used in the Ratings Percentage Index.

Included in the whining was the suggestion that it would be advisable for the Gophers to downgrade their schedule in the future.

“We played a top-5 schedule (ninth) in the country, so maybe we don’t have to do that … get a little smarter,’’ Pitino said. “There’s something to be said for that going forward.’’

Really, young Rich?

The lofty strength of schedule was largely the product of a Big Ten schedule that included playing two games apiece against Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa. Those are going to vary greatly by season in the future, with five home-and-homes and eight singles in an expanded Big Ten.

The Gophers also had a game with Syracuse to kick off the Maui Invitational that helped considerably the strength of schedule.

Are the Gophers going to pass on tournaments in Maui, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and Orlando, where the fields are tough but the attraction is strong when selling recruits on Minnesota?

Does Pitino’s new master plan call for a future in the Global Sports tourney, surrounded by such worthies as Arkansas State, UT Martin and Jackson State?

Rich said he had no regrets about playing in Maui.

OK, the only two losses in 13 non-conference games were to Syracuse (13 in RPI) and Arkansas (68) in Maui. I’m confused as to how playing a “strong’’ non-conference schedule was a burden on the 2013-14 Gophers.

The third game in Maui was for seventh place vs. Chaminade, a Division II school and a regular in that tournament. Division II games don’t register in RPI.

There was also the ACC Challenge game at Williams Arena vs. Florida State (52), and Pitino can’t get out of that annual event. And, the Gophers did play at Richmond (73), to complete a home-and-home series.

There were also eight home games that were in the gimme category:

Lehigh (235), Montana (184), Coastal Carolina (191), Wofford (156), New Orleans (259), South Dakota State (141), Omaha (214) and Texas A&M Corpus Christi (251).

A repeat of this schedule might be too much for your Gophers in the future, Rich? I pray for the season-ticket holders, if that’s the case.

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