Yet here they are again, 16 years after they coached against each other on March 30 in the Final Four, coaching against each other on March 31 in the Final Four. Here they are with one man coaching a team that is loaded with NBA potential, slobbered over in the national media, weighed down with championship expectations by a fan base that has not brought home the big trophy in more than a decade — and the other man coaching a team that wasn’t expected to be here, at this place, at this time, but earned their way.
Except this time, Pitino and Calipari have switched teams — the former coaches the plucky underdog, the latter coaches the freakishly-talented giant. And oddly, they seem as completely at home with their new roles as they once did with their old ones. Calipari seems happy to have traded guys with names like Edgar Padilla, Camelo Travieso, and Dana Dingle (Who? Exactly) for guys with McDonalds All-American status like Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Pitino seems very comfortable developing players like Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan throughout the year, getting them to their peak potential by the end of the season, rather than throwing Tony Delk and Antoine Walker out there with a basketball and letting them run roughshod over everyone from the get-go.
Last time these two men met at this late stage of the season, the game was so epic because their teams had been the cream of the national crop all season long, basically handing off the top spot in the rankings to each other on those rare occasions when one of them would lose. This time, it’s because of the history shared between their programs, Kentucky and Louisville — bitter rivals who wouldn’t play each other until the so-called “Dream Game” of 1983, when they met in the Mideast Regional finals in Knoxville, and have played every year since.