It’s conference tournament week in college basketball, giving fans an opportunity to watch non-stop action as programs compete for automatic berths to the Big Dance. But rather than focus on the second round of the ACC tournament or the opening Big Ten games, plenty of attention was on the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference quarterfinals.
Rick Pitino and the No. 9 seeded Iona took on No. 1 Siena on Wednesday night with a spot in the semifinals on the line. The Gaels pulled off an impressive upset, booking their place in the next round with a 55-52 victory. Iona had three players score in double-digits, but also put together a strong defensive effort to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
Following the win, the college basketball world couldn’t help but praise Pitino for his ability to get the Gaels this close to a March Madness bid in just his first year on the job. Iona has been a dominant force in the MAAC for the least few years, but many were unsure when the 68-year-old took over if they could continue to compete.
The Gaels have done just that. Despite coming in as the nine-seed, Pitino’s squad still went 10-5 during the shortened regular season. With Wednesday night’s win, Iona is now just two wins away from booking their ticket to Indianapolis.
As a result of the gutsy performance, Pitino received some well-deserved praise from the college basketball world on Twitter.
Iona is officially on the verge of being a national story. The Gaels just upset top-seeded Siena in Atlantic City. Rick Pitino is two wins away from the NCAA Tournament.
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 11, 2021
Madness in the MAAC! Top-seeded Siena falls to Rick Pitino and 9-seed Iona.
Siena caught a brutal break with the MAAC’s seeding policy; Iona had the league’s third-best winning percentage but the MAAC seeded by wins, not winning percentage. So Siena drew Iona in the quarters.
— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) March 11, 2021
PITINO with the upset! pic.twitter.com/ZCSaED2Ifs
— Pardon My Take (@PardonMyTake) March 11, 2021
Rick Pitino: "This is one of my favorite wins in 40-plus years of coaching."
It's the MAAC quarterfinals. In an empty Atlantic City arena that appears to have a permanent stage on one side.
Sure why not.
— Hugh Kellenberger (@KellenbergerCBB) March 11, 2021
Rick Pitino is the best basketball coach of my lifetime
— Doug Gottlieb (@GottliebShow) March 11, 2021
It ended up being a huge night for the Pitino family. Rick’s son, Richard, led the Minnesota to a comeback win over the Northwestern Wildcats in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.
In what’s been a disappointing year for Richard and the Golden Gophers, it’s possible that Wednesday’s win could prolong his time with the program.
Today is Pitino Celebration Day.
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) March 11, 2021
Whatever becomes of Rick Pitino’s Iona squad this year, it’s safe to say that the 68-year-old’s on-court legacy is secure. He still remains the only coach in history to lead three different schools to the Final Four.
Although the Gaels have little hope of a deep NCAA Tournament run, just getting a spot in the Big Dance would be one of Pitino’s most impressive accomplishments to date.