Richard Pitino is Who We Thought He Was

richard pitino ncaa tournament
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Former Gopher coach Richard Pitino concluded his third season as the head coach of the New Mexico Lobos on Friday, wrapping up his third season with the Lobos, which ended in a commendable 26-10 record. But it ended exactly how you would expect a Richard Pitino season to end, if you are a Minnesota Gophers fan.

New Mexico has showcased its strength throughout the season, particularly with its dynamic backcourt duo of Jaelen House and former Gopher Jamal Mashburn Jr. House has maintained an impressive scoring average of 16.1 points per game, while Mashburn Jr. has contributed with 14.4 points per game on average.

The Lobos needed to win the Mountain West tournament last week, in order to clinch a spot in the NCAA tournament… and they did. So, facing off against the 6th-seeded Clemson Tigers in the round of 64, there was widespread belief that New Mexico would not only upset Clemson in the first round, but possible even make a deep run.

Richard Pitino’s Lobos are a lot like Richard Pitino’s Gophers…

That didn’t end up being the case, though. Instead, the Lobos were destroyed 56-77, bringing their season to an end. For Gopher basketball fans who may have been watching their former head coach flounder, that deja vu feeling was strong.

Watching today’s game was like reliving Pitino’s coaching era with the Gophers. Despite New Mexico being the superior team for extended periods throughout the contest, they ultimately fell victim to self-inflicted wound including too many bad turnovers, missed layups and missed free throws.

The Lobos faced a shooting debacle, hitting only 19 of 64 field goal attempts (29.7%), and a dismal 3 of 23 from three-point range (13%). Free throw shooting wasn’t much better, with a 15-for-23 performance (65.2%). On top of that, they committed 13 turnovers, adding to their struggles. It’s a Pitino tale that practically tells itself with such numbers.

Related: Gophers Extend Season with Crazy Last-Second Win Over Butler in Opening Round of NIT Tourney

Some Gophers fans, reflecting on Ben Johnson’s tenure and Richard Pitino’s success at New Mexico, have questioned the wisdom of firing Pitino (including the guy who runs this website). Opinions vary widely on this matter, and just as one takes a stance, the situation can quickly change.

Ben Johnson or Pitino Jr?

It’s possible we get a definitive answer someday, as Richard and Ben are both still young in their coaching careers, but it’s possible we don’t too. I think we can all acknowledge that today’s outcome with New Mexico is not something we miss…

Yet, I think we can also admit that making the NCAA Tournament and losing in the first round would have been a better result than winning a game (possible more) in the NIT Tournament. What I’m trying to say is I’m not sure if I miss Richard Pitino yet or not.

I’ve said before that firing him might have been a mistake, especially now that he’s led his team to the NCAA tournament while we watch from home. But then again, frustrating games like this make me second guess myself.

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