One game is a grudge match between teams that know each other all too well. The other is a rare rematch between strangers.
The Final Four is set. In one game Saturday in New Orleans, Kentucky will play Louisville in an intrastate rivalry that puts Cardinals coach Rick Pitino against the school he once coached, then later alienated by returning to the Bluegrass to lead its archrival.
In the other semifinal, it will be Ohio State and Kansas, meeting for only the ninth time in their history but for the second time this season. The Jayhawks won the first game 78-67 in Lawrence, Kan., back on Dec. 10.
Kentucky already has seven national titles but none since 1998, the year after Pitino left. Kansas has three championships, Louisville has two and Ohio State won its lone title in 1960 and is making its third trip to the Final Four since 1999.
There are no Cinderellas in this Final Four but there are good storylines – the best might be Pitino facing his old school.
It was Pitino who restored Kentucky to its former greatness when he arrived there in 1989. Pitino took the program to three Final Fours and won one championship, but left in 1997 to take a second shot at the NBA.
After four seasons, he came to Louisville. It has been 11 years since his dramatic return, and most of the shock has worn off from what was once deemed an unforgivable betrayal. But there’s nothing like a Final Four meeting to stir up some old memories.
“It is in our state. They’re a great program. We’re in two different leagues,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said “The city of Louisville drives our state. The University of Louisville drives that city. So it’s a very important thing for our state, and it’s important that that school does well.”