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Bucky Dent: Louisville ban could also mark end of Rick Pitino's tenure

By Bucky Dent, The Sports Xchange
Bucky Dent: Louisville ban could also mark end of Rick Pitino's tenure
Louisville head coach Rick Pitino. Photo by Jim Bryant/UPI | License Photo

The country could have fallen for Damion Lee's ability to take over a game. It could have wondered if Chinanu Onuaku really is a poor man's Draymond Green, admired the leaping ability of Donovan Mitchell and marveled again at Rick Pitino's ability to make a team overachieve.

None of those things will happen, since Louisville opted on Feb. 5 to ban itself from postseason play, and because of it, one has to wonder if Pitino will be there next year.

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University president James Ramsey said that day at a press conference that recruiting violations probably occurred, referring to the new book by Katina Powell in which sexual favors and payments to basketball players are detailed.

Multiple basketball analysts have called on Louisville to dismiss Pitino, a Hall of Fame coach whose 71-64 win Saturday over Duke was the 743rd of a brilliant 31-year career. For his part, Pitino has consistently denied knowledge of the goings-on, saying only that former director of basketball operations Andre McGee needs to speak out.

RELATED Louisville basketball rallies to beat Duke Blue Devils 71-64

It was McGee who was alleged to have provided strippers for players as well as their fathers for on-campus parties. Some feel that Pitino and not McGee should be the one to talk, seeing as how Pitino is in charge of such a high-profile program.

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Regardless of all the circumstances, there's no denying that Pitino still has the Cardinals playing hard. With the only motivation a possible Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title, Louisville is a game behind first-place North Carolina with two weeks left in its season.

"This is a really special group, and we're all going to hate to see them leave," Pitino said after the Duke win.

RELATED Duke banks on Grayson Allen and wins

Pitino had the sense to do against Duke what North Carolina coach Roy Williams wouldn't or couldn't do -- use depth to his advantage. The Cardinals kept pressuring the depth-shy Blue Devils, who are down to eight scholarship players, and eventually got them to crack in the last 10 minutes.

Watching Louisville play, it's easy to forget that there were low expectations for them in preseason. After losing their top four scorers from an Elite Eight team, the Cardinals were picked to finish seventh in the ACC.

But the addition of Lee and guard Trey Lewis, graduate transfers from Drexel and Cleveland State, respectively, gave Louisville the maturity and scoring punch it needed. Onuaku became a double-double machine of sorts with nine in conference play, and Mitchell, forward Deng Adel and forward Ray Spalding have made key contributions as freshmen.

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The result: A typical Cardinal team, deep and resourceful, gritty and skilled, gutty and successful. But not your typical Cardinal team, because their March will only be about sadness.

"It's really going to hit them on the last home game and the last away game," Pitino said. "It's going to be very difficult Selection Sunday for all of us."

And ultimately, it could be very difficult for Pitino to remain employed at Louisville next season.

NO GRAY AREA: Grayson Allen has fast become the next marquee idol/villain at Duke.

On one hand, the 6-5 Allen is wonderfully skilled, a terrific shooter who averages 21 points per game. He's hitting 49 percent from the field, almost 43 percent on 3s and nearly 85 percent at the foul line, making him one of the nation's most efficient scorers.

Nor is he a one-dimensional player. Allen leads the team in assists with 96 while pitching in nearly five rebounds and a steal per game. Watching him alertly hit the floor for a loose ball in front of a Louisville player just standing there Saturday said all one would want to know about Allen's competitive spirit.

On the other hand, Allen used that same loose ball scramble to start a tussle with the Cardinals' Jaylen Johnson, who drew a technical for elbowing him. Allen intentionally tripped Spalding in the teams' previous meeting Feb. 8, and earlier in Saturday's game jerked his upper body so blatantly on contact that an NHL ref would have probably assessed two minutes for embellishment.

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As the piece de resistance to his 12-shot, 29-point game Saturday, Allen fouled out on a charging call with 3:55 left and earned a technical on his way out the door for yelling multiple profanities and swinging his fist in the direction of referee Brian O'Connell.

While fans of other ACC schools have a different viewpoint, Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski feels his star deserves more calls.

"What happens to Grayson sometimes is just unbelievable," Krzyzewski said. "Just unbelievable. Look, he's been beat up all season, and he's a warrior. He doesn't get what he's a warrior for at times."

However, the stats reveal a different story. Allen is averaging 6.7 free throw attempts per game, fourth in the ACC and the most for a Duke player since Mason Plumlee averaged 7.0 per game in 2012-13.

VALLEY OR BUST?: After a Feb. 13 loss to Northern Iowa, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall wrote NIT on the dry-erase board in his team's locker room, hoping to impose a sense of urgency in his team's play down the stretch.

The Shockers responded with 30, 31 and 33-point blowouts of New Mexico State, Missouri State and Indiana State, wrapping up their third straight Missouri Valley Conference regular season title in the process.

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Yet there's a chance that Wichita State could still be left out if it can't win the MVC Tournament next month in St. Louis. The Shockers' overall resume is light, with only three wins against teams ranked in the top 100 of the RPI. Two of those were courtesy of No. 84 Evansville.

No coach wants to see Wichita State in March, not as long as it fields Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker in its backcourt. But the Shockers might want to take care of business in St. Louis and not leave their fate in the hands of a committee growing less inclined to look favorably on mid-majors.

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