The patterns emerge. What we saw in 1996, we see again in 2012, in New Orleans, in the Superdome — home to Michael Jordan’s title-winning heroics in 1982, Keith Smart’s big shot in 1987, Chris Webber’s infamous timeout in 1993 (and yep, UK played there in the Final Four that year too), and a spot that should have been Kentucky’s but, thanks to a Keith Bogans injury and stellar play by Dwyane Wade, went to Marquette instead in 2003.
“The Big Easy” is a pattern for Pitino. Unfortunately for him — fortunately for the Big Blue — it’s not a promising pattern. Pitino coached Providence to the 1987 Final Four in New Orleans, and Kentuckyto the ‘93 edition. Both trips ended in semifinal losses. Calipari’s pattern suggests more success — a semifinal loss in his Final Four first trip in ‘96, a finals berth in his second in ‘08 with Memphis, and a semifinal loss in his third last year. If the pattern holds, Calipari’s current team (which, as you may have heard, is now Kentucky) will be playing in the final game of the season. Of course, this time he’ll want to tweak things and win it.
The more things change, the more they stay the same, as the old saying goes. Flipping through the old papers, it was funny to observe how young both coaches looked, both shorn of all the wear-and-tear, all the stress the years have since put on them. Pitino looks the part now of a man who has survived scandal, survived countless jokes about his personal life, survived a failed attempt to succeed with the Boston Celtics. Calipari looks the part of a man who has survived his own NBA experiment with the New Jersey Nets, survived NCAA rules violations on his watch at UMass and Memphis and the resulting vacated records, survived all the (unfair, I think, but still present) accusations of being a slimy figure in the coaching ranks.