Every year in the NCAA Tournament, fans are waiting for that so-called Cinderella story. They anticipate who will be the next tournament darling sending home yet another college basketball superpower.
No. 14 seed Mercer joined the list of upstarts Saturday, sending Coach K and his third-seeded Duke Blue Devils to an early exit. Rick Pitino knows how Mike Krzyzewski felt.
"It's torture. It gnaws at you. … it made me write that book One-Day Contract," said Pitino, whose No. 4 seed Louisville lost to Morehead State in the first round of the 2011 tournament.
After that game, Pitino's oldest son was listening to local sports talk radio and he relayed the excerpts to his father.
"He said, 'Dad, they're all over you. They say you've lost your touch and you're too old,'" Pitino recalled. "I said, 'Too old? We had a terrific season.' He said, 'Yeah, but you lost in the first round.' … I said, 'Why are you listening to that? … And why would you tell me?' That's why I started writing the book One-Day Contract.
"You've got the Mercers and the Manhattan Colleges and the Ionas … they can beat you on any given night."
And as much as Pitino knows what it feels like to have a Morehead State send his team packing, he still says, "That's what makes March Madness the greatest month in sports."
"They can have as many guys in ESPN jackets as they want, they can't pick it. They can be as bright as [Dick] Vitale and [Jay] Bilas, and all ... They can't pick it, because it's just impossible. … It really is so much fun to see."
Hill good to go for Gators
A day after he energized the lifeless Gators during a win against No. 16 seed Albany, back-up point guard Kasey Hill showed no ill effects of a turf toe injury that left him questionable to even play.
"He seems to be fine," coach Billy Donovan said on Friday. "He's cleared to practice."
Following Thursday's shoot-around, Donovan was not sure whether Hill would be available against Albany.
But Hill, a 2013 McDonald's All-American from Montverde Academy, came off the bench to ignite the Gators with 10 points and two steals during the second half of a 67-55 win. It was Hill's first double-figure scoring game since November.
"He gave us some really, really good minutes and helped us a great deal," Donovan said.
Hancock urged to look to the basket
Pitino talked Saturday about how he often has to get on small forward Luke Hancock to square up and shoot the jumpshot. Given Hancock's ability to knock down big 3-pointers Friday night, one wouldn't think it takes much urging to get the 6-foot-6 senior to fire away.
During a victory at UCF earlier this season, Pitino yanked Hancock from the game after he hesitated before shooting and missed a couple of 3s. Hancock responded by not missing the rest of the game en route to 16 points during the lop-sided New Year's Eve victory.
Friday night he did so again, stepping up to knock down crucial 3s that kept upset-minded Manhattan at bay.
"He likes to ball fake, but against Manhattan … if you don't take the quick shot, they close out well, so you've got to take what's given to you by certain teams," Pitino said. "What happens with Luke is he misses a few and says, 'Let me go to something else,' and he couldn't do that in last night's game.'"
Hancock finished with 16 points and had eight straight points, including two 3s in the final 1:19 to give Louisville the dagger it desperately needed
Smith nursing sore thumb
Louisville leading scorer Russ Smith said his injured left thumb was still sore, but it shouldn't affect him when the Cardinals face St. Louis Saturday.
"The thumb is swollen, but OK," he said prior to practice Friday.
He said he's not sure when he injured it, but it's just one of a myriad of bumps and bruises he is dealing with.
"I take pride in being a durable player — a lot of guys don't take pride in that — a lot of guys would just sit out," Smith said.
"In the three seasons of being an active contributor to this team, I've missed maybe one game. I take pride in that."
Chris Hays, Matt Murschel and Edgar ThompsonCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun