ORLANDO, Fla. - To say Louisville coach Rick Pitino is looking in a mirror Thursday night in facing former player and assistant Steve Masiello's Manhattan team is an overwhelming understatement.
"Steve runs everything we run. He presses like we press. His offenses are the same, his out-of-bounds plays are the same," said Pitino, whose fourth-seeded Cardinals face the 13th-seeded Jaspers at about 9:50 p.m. at Amway Arena. "The only thing he does differently is he wears ridiculous suits. Outside of that, we're one and the same."
Pitino, 61, and the 36-year-old Masiello -- a White Plains native who was a ball boy for Pitino's Knicks teams, a walk-on at Kentucky and an assistant for six years at Louisville -- have a father-son bond, discernible only by their sartorial preferences.
"He must go to Madison Avenue and just come out with the newest things all the time," Pitino said. "I don't know where he gets the tuxedo look with the roundabout lapels and everything. He's hanging around Little Italy too much."
Masiello, in his third year as the Jaspers' coach, led the team to a 25-7 record for his first trip to the NCAAs.
"Obviously, Louisville has been the brand we've tried to model this after. I make no bones about that," said Masiello, who recruited and coached the Cardinals' seniors and is especially close to star guard Russ Smith of Brooklyn. "I don't get originality points for anything. A great deal of what we do is from Louisville."
Dethroning the defending national champions won't be easy, even for someone as familiar with Louisville's system as Masiello is. Both coaches joked that they have changed their philosophy completely in anticipation of the other's fluency, knowing full well they'll try to beat each other with the slightest of tweaks.
One thing Masiello inherited from Pitino, who played for St. Dominic High School in Oyster Bay, is pride in his roots. His gravelly voice sounds like his mentor's, and he's proud to field a team so densely representative of an area known for its basketball passion.
"That's really a lot of pride, me being a New York guy and a New Yorker, that I have the opportunity to represent my home city on the greatest stage in the world," Masiello said. "These guys are a lot of New York kids. We have a lot of Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island kids [including guard George Beamon of Roslyn]. Our makeup is New York kids. To have a chance to represent that and have the city on our back? That's awesome."