An Overview of Rich Pitino's System Based on Watching Two Games

Andy Lyons

I'm very excited about Rich Pitino. Reports show that he is a good recruiter, organized, focused on advanced analytics, and liked by his players. He has a phenomenal coaching lineage, and he's young enough that there is no question about his hunger. Having the last name Pitino also appears to be motivation.

To identify what the Gophers might look like under Pitino, I went and watched FIU play the semifinal of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament against Middle Tennessee State and the final against Western Kentucky. This is only a two-game sample with an obviously less talented lineup. FIU is also much smaller than the Gophers, not having a single starter over 6'5". Consequently, I looked for general principles instead of specific sets.

Incidentally, if for some reason you care about a coach looking engaged on the sideline (something I do not), you'll love Pitino. He was "conversing" with his players on every possession.


Pitino's system is a cross between Florida's and Louisville, which is not surprising since his formative coaching experience was under his father and Billy Donovan. In Pitino's own words, "I want to play a fast, high-octane style—I want to press, I want to run up and down the court." Unlike most coaches who pay lip service to the idea, Pitino's team actually does play up-tempo. According to, they were 48th in the country in adjusted tempo (a measure that considers how fast a team play against an average tempo team). Despite inheriting a dumpster fire of a program, including only 3 players on scholarship, Pitino improved FIU's AdjD 60 spot to 161st in the nation. The offense is similar to Florida's, relying on penetration into the lane to force the defense to collapse, leading to kick out 3s. 37% of FIU's shot attempts were from beyond the 3pt line.


Like his father, Pitino presses every possesion. FIU was 18th in the country in steals. FIU changes defenses frequently. After every made basket, they were in a full court pressure defense (or minimally full court man to man), and trapped infrequently. Once the opponent crossed mid-court, FIU alternated between a 2-3 zone and man to man.

FIU likes to get out in transition and run. Unlike the Gophers, FIU appears to emphasize scoring in transition. They had an incredibly fast PG who was very active on the defensive end. In an interview during the middle of the season, Pitino lamented his team's defensive rebounding. From my brief exposure, most of the DReb woes had to do with FIU's size and technique. FIU's bigs had a tendency to get sucked under the basket or be out of position to get a rebound. There may also be a systemic cause because FIU tried to get out in transition, and players may have been leaving assignments early to do so.


On offense, Pitino likes a balanced scoring attack. He predominantly runs 4 out and 5 out sets with lots of on and off ball screens. If you watched the Florida-Minnesota game, you've seen Pitino's offense.

Like Florida, FIU is a pick and roll team and begins most possessions against man to man with a ball screen on the wing. This appears to be the first option for the offense. Assuming that the defense does not show hard, FIU's PG will penetrate and make a layup. If the defense does hedge, the next option will be the roller. Depending on the help defense, the PG may look to kick out to the corner for an open 3 or to start the swing. Once this option has been established, FIU will then run several variations, including having the big fake a screen and cut to the basket after sealing his defender. If FIU is in a 5 out set, they will also set multiple perimeter screens to create lanes for penetration or an open corner 3. They also ran a lot of pick and pop.

What was notable about Pitino's offense is how focused it seemed to be on creating efficient shots. Unlike Tubby's system, there are not a lot of curl cuts into the middle for a 15 footer. Rather, everything appears to be designed to force the defense to choose between collapsing on the ball handler and allowing open 3s (especially corner 3s) or staying at home and allowing high percentage inside shots.

One brief aside. In the second half, MTSU switched into a 1-3-1. For several possessions, FIU struggled to do anything on offense, turning the ball over and throwing up ill advised long 3s. Fortunately for Gopher fans, Pitino's team adjusted reasonably quickly and actually looked to attack the zone and force the defense to make decisions. It was brief, but I have no doubt whatsoever that Pitino knows how to correctly break the 1-3-1 to generate open corner 3s, easy layups, and high percentage 2s.

What does this mean for Minnesota?

Andre Hollins is going to love Rich Pitino. He will likely have a green light to drive into the lane and create off the pick and roll every single possession. I wouldn't be surprised if he averages close to 20ppg and increases his assist totals. He will also have increased responsibility and his ability to digest the offense will likely determine the overall success of the Gophers next year. As a corollary, the Gophers will need to find a legitimate backup point guard because I don't have much faith in the current options.

Second, the Gophers are going to press frequently. They will maintain the same level of aggression as Tubby Smith's teams, though the mechanisms are going to be different. For the defense to be successful, the Gophers will have to be able to defend in the half court after transitioning from the press.

Third, the Gophers are going to be fun to watch next year. Based off the small sample size (obvious caveats about small sample sizes) I'd be very surprised to see anything like the stagnancy in the half court that afflicted the U this year. The Gophers will look to attack, both on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. They will trap in the back-court, get hands in passing lanes, and create a lot of turnovers. Of course the BIG is a much better conference with better players, but that works both ways.

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