Twenty-seven years ago, Providence little-engined its way up the mightiest of hills. Coached by lightly regarded Rick Pitino and led by a senior guard nicknamed ‘‘Billy the Kid,’’ the sixth-seeded Friars made it all the way to the Final Four.
They didn’t win the title, but each man has done it twice as a head coach since: Pitino in 1993 at Kentucky (with Billy Donovan on his bench) and last season at Louisville and Donovan back-to-back in 2006 and 2007 at Florida.
They’ve faced each other seven times. The protégé’s record against his mentor is an inglorious 0-7, the most recent meeting coming with a Final Four berth on the line in 2012.
On April 7, Donovan will turn the tables. For many weeks now, the Gators have been playing like the best team in the country. Their 32-2 record speaks for itself, and their untouched 21-0 run through the Southeastern Conference screams utter greatness.
Pitino’s defending national champs, 29-5, are bee-lining toward their third consecutive Final Four. How such a squad was deemed a No. 4 seed will puzzle into eternity. Besides, at this time of year, all Pitino does is win.
But only up to a point. The Gators have better puzzle pieces than anyone else. Tremendous shot-creators in Casey Prather and Scottie Wilbekin. A money long-range shooter in Michael Frazier II. Workhorse interior players, led by sculpted senior Patric Young.
It’s all too much — for Louisville and for everybody else.
STEVE GREENBERG’S PICKS
East Regional winner: Michigan State
South Regional winner: Florida
Midwest Regional winner: Louisville
West Regional winner: Arizona
Cinderella: North Dakota State
Biggest disappointment: San Diego State
National finalist: Louisville
National champion: Florida