Pitino talks potential Louisville matchup, 2014 Preseason NIT and scheduling tough nonconference opponents

by Jace Frederick

Gophers head coach Richard Pitino said he was approached by his father Rick Pitino with the idea of his Gophers playing his dad's Louisville Cardinals by the elder Pitino a week ago. Rick Pitino had been approached by ESPN about the potential matchup.

The location: a hangar on a military base in Puerto Rico.

Richard Pitino had previously said he was hesitant to schedule a matchup with his dad, because he wanted him to be a big part of the program.

So why the decision to go for the potential matchup?

"I just thought about it and if we want to get to where we're going … that it's all about elevating this program with everything we do," Pitino said. "It's not just about beating Florida State tomorrow. We want to get to the level of Ohio State, Michigan State, Indiana. I think one of those things that you've got to do to do that is you've got to be innovative with your scheduling."

"I think this is a creative way to get our brand out there. To get people talking about Minnesota," he said. "Because good or bad, the best way to recruit for our program is to play in Maui, three games on national TV. So now's another opportunity to, good or bad, showcase what we're working on, what we're trying to do, get people talking about us. So I think it's a creative way to do that."

Of course, scheduling a program like Louisville leads to the possibility of a great win, or a blowout loss.

"I'm hoping they have a bad practice before and they stink," Pitino joked. "They're not always good early, so that's my hope is they drop a few early."

"Anytime you play a team like Louisville, you've got to know what you're going against," he said. "We've got a lot of guys back, so I thought, you know what, this would be a good time to play them."

If the matchup with Louisville comes to fruition — which Pitino said in his blog has a 99 percent chance of happening, it won't be the only major nonconference showcase for the Gophers next season. Pitino said the Gophers are confirmed to play in the 2014 Preseason NIT at Madison Square Garden.

"If you're going to recruit on the east coast, and we want to recruit nationally — we believe we can, given an opportunity to play in Madison Square Garden, that's as cool of an arena that you're ever going to play in," Pitino said. "It makes you feel like you're a pro when you're in there. It's another opportunity."

Pitino said Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has been a master innovation with the Spartans nonconference scheduling. Izzo said at Big Ten Media Day in October that a primary reason he often scheduled the nation's top teams, especially in his earlier years as he was building up the Spartans program, was to get his team spotlighted on the national stage.

"I did it for that early, because I couldn't get on TV," Izzo said. "And then if it ain't broke, why fix it? It worked out for us."

While Pitino said he never spoke to Izzo about scheduling, Michigan State AD Mark Hollis came and spoke to the Gophers staff and said creating a tough schedule would be a positive move for Minnesota's program.

"When you're trying to elevate a program, and the foundation has been built here, when we're trying to get this to a higher level, I think that's the way to do it,"Pitino said.