On Tuesday night, ESPN college basketball analyst Andy Katz caught up with Louisville head coach Rick Pitino to discuss a few burning off-season topics. I know we’ve touched on this several times now, but the entire dynamic surrounding this off-season is so unique. Last year the Final Four was completely unexpected. The way the team played over the last two weeks of the season, nobody could have seen that run coming. However, now Pitino and the team face a completely different set of circumstances all together: anything less that a return to the Final Four will likely be a disappointment.
Andy Katz: What’s the toughest part of going to consecutive Final Fours, doing it with Kentucky and now trying to do the same with Louisville?
Rick Pitino: It depends on the situation of the team. When I was at Kentucky [in 1996 and ’97], we were rebuilding the second year so it was a surprise. This past year at Louisville we didn’t expect to go, but now we have high expectations to go and do it. I think this time will be tougher than it was at Kentucky. At Kentucky it was totally unexpected, but this time it will be expected. It’s hard to have a Final Four that will be expected.
AK: After dealing with a rash of injuries last season, how healthy is your team heading into the summer?
RP: We’re very healthy and in a way it was a blessing last season. Chane Behanan had to fill a major role because of injuries to Rakeem Buckles and Stephen Van Treese. He was brought along quickly and he helped us. Everybody is fine. [George Mason transfer] Luke Hancock is coming off shoulder surgery and he’ll be ready by September. He’s the only one nursing an injury right now.’’
AK: What do Behanan and Gorgui Dieng have to improve upon this summer?
RP: Chane has to improve his outside shooting and if he does then the sky is the limit to what he can do. We’re working very hard on that. That’s our objective the whole summer. Gorgui will put on strength and improve his rebounding. He had a good year last year and I could see him improving his strength and rebounding. Chane probably has more to improve than Gorgui because of the year he had last season.
AK: What kind of impact will incoming freshman power forward and former Virginia Tech signee Montrezl Harrell have on the first day of practice in the fall?
RP: He won’t take a backseat to Gorgui or Chane at the 5 or the 4. He’s a killer competitor. That’s going to keep both of those guys on their toes every single day. I haven’t had a player signed this late that will have this kind of impact.
AK: What will it be like for Syracuse and Pitt during their likely last season in the Big East?
RP: I don’t think for Pittsburgh it’s a terrible thing. I can’t fathom Syracuse being anywhere else but the Big East. I wish both schools well. It wasn’t a good situation for Boston College to go to the ACC. They’ve won one ACC championship since they left for the Big East, outside of soccer. Schools like BC, Syracuse and Pitt don’t need the extra five or 10 million a year. They have an endowment. I hope Syracuse and Pitt have a better fate than BC has had.