Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Rick Pitino addresses NCAA Tournament matchup against UConn, St. John’s opening
By ADAM ZAGORIARick Pitino will face one Big East school in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday before potentially heading off to re-join the Big East’s coaching fraternity next season.
One of the biggest popcorn matches of the first round will take place Thursday when Dan Hurleyand No. 4 UConn (25-8) face Pitino and No. 13 Iona (27-7) in a West Region matchup in Albany (4:30, TBS).
“This is no picnic playing Connecticut,” Pitino, whose team beat Marist for the MAAC Tournament title on Saturday, told reporters after the field of 68 was announced.
“They’re one of the best. At one time, they were [No. 2] in the country. Many people were picking them to win the national championship, so we know we have a tough matchup, but I think we’re up for the test.”
The reaction says it all. @IonaGaelsMBB is excited to be dancing again!
As for Hurley, who has yet to win an NCAA Tournament game at UConn, he told reporters of March Madness, “This is like Christmas for a college coach.”
Whenever Iona loses, if it’s Friday or later than that, it could be a quick turnaround to him becoming the next St. John’s coach. He has been linked to the job since before Mike Anderson was fired on Friday.
Pitino previously coached the Knicks and would be returning to the sidelines at Madison Square Garden if he takes the St. John’s job. He wouldn’t have to miss from his comfortable home on the Winged Foot Golf course.
Still, he said he had “great feelings” towards Iona.
” At the end of the year, I’ll look at certain situations,” said Pitino, who has also been targeted by Texas Tech.
He added: “Even though I’m local, I haven’t been in St. John’s campus in 30 years. I couldn’t even know how to get there. I have to use navigation.”
Pitino, 70, said his “happiness” was important in whatever decision he makes.
“You have to let happiness — go to where you want to coach and what you want to do, and what challenges you want to take on,” he said. “… This is a Catholic University with great pride. It’s terrific academic university. It’s growing.”
In 1983 I went to my first NCAA tourney with Boston University. 40 years later it is still every bit as magical. Love these guys. So proud. #GoGaelspic.twitter.com/QPtzagBMWM
As for the UConn game, Pitino noted that his bigs — 6-foot-9 Nelly Junior Joseph and 7-footers Silas Sunday and Osborn Shema — will have to handle their business against UConn’s 7-2 Donovan Clingan and 6-9 Adama Sanogo.
“They’re going to have to handle their bigs at Connecticut.,” Pitino said. “Silas Sunday is going to have to play a lot of minutes in this game.”
Pitino is one of just three coaches to lead five teams to the NCAA Tournament. He is the only coach to win titles at two schools — Kentucky and Louisville — although the Louisville title was vacated.
Iona doesn’t have an NCAA Tournament in its history. Its lone win in 1980 was vacated.
“I don’t think there’s anything close to March Madness in the world,” he said. “There are so many upsets, so many teams, so many people rooting. it’s not like the Super Bowl, with two teams. There’s so many people who think they have a chance, we do as well.”
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.