Pitino still perfect in Sweet 16

March, 26, 2009
INDIANAPOLIS -- Arizona interim coach Russ Pennell is coaching in his first Sweet 16 game. He just so happened to draw the coach with the best record at this stage of the tournament in history.

Rick Pitino is an astonishing 8-0, and, truth be told, very few of those eight have been very close. His winning margins: 21 points over Alabama in 1987 (at Providence), 10 points over Massachusetts in 1992 (at Kentucky), 34 points over Wake Forest in 1993 (at Kentucky), 24 points over Arizona State in 1995 (at Kentucky), 31 points over Utah in 1996 (at Kentucky), 15 points over St. Joseph's in 1997 (at Kentucky), 14 points over Washington in 2005 (at Louisville) and 19 points over Tennessee last year (at Louisville).

Best Record in Sweet 16

Minimum six games, NCAA history.
*Sweet 16 play began in 1975

Coach W-L
Rick Pitino 8-0
John Thompson 7-1
John Calipari 5-1
Bill Self 5-1
Joe B. Hall 5-2
Tom Izzo 5-2

Why? Two reasons: Pitino is a preparation monster, when the five-day window between second round and third round comes into play; and he gets his teams to play with a great deal of looseness at this stage.

"We're risk-takers this time of year," Pitino said. "We have a lot of fun with it."

Pennell certainly shouldn't feel any pressure, either. His Arizona tenure is over once the 12th-seeded Wildcats lose, and he brings comparable talent into this game, no matter what the seedings say.

"There are no secrets anymore," Pennell said. "They do what they do very well. What we have to do is counter that. And if we can, we'll be victorious. If we can't, they'll win."

Arizona is clearly using its underdog status to its advantage from a motivational standpoint.

"All the people out there are still saying that Louisville will beat us into the ground," said guard Kyle Fogg. "So we still have that chip on our shoulders."

No. 2 seed Michigan State vs. No. 3 seed Kansas

Kansas doesn't have much experience after losing 83 percent of its scoring from last year's championship team, but its players who have been this far have enjoyed it far more than Michigan State's.

The Jayhawks have won their past two regional semifinals, walloping Villanova last year and squeezing past Southern Illinois in 2007. Michigan State has not won a Sweet 16 game since 2005, on its way to the Final Four.

"It's a blast," Kansas center Cole Aldrich said. "We had such a great run last year with all of those guys. With those guys leaving for the NBA or playing overseas, we are just excited to be here. It's a Sweet 16, and this is where the most fun part of basketball will occur."

Said Spartans forward Draymond Green: "When you make it to the Sweet 16, things start to get very special, and as you move on, things become even more special. So it's very different this weekend."

Whichever team handles the different feeling and heightened stakes better could emerge victorious in one of the most intriguing games of the Thursday-Friday pairings.



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