One of the highlights of Rick Pitino's legacy is rebuilding Kentucky following a recruiting scandal. One of the lowlights will be a sex scandal during his tenure at archrival Louisville.
Reeling from the bombshell announcement the 19th-ranked Cardinals will not play in the ACC and NCAA tournaments as part of a self-imposed ban, they try to regroup Saturday at home against Boston College.
The news came Friday afternoon, while the NCAA continues to investigate allegations contained in a book written by an escort claiming there were numerous incidents with former Louisville players and recruits from 2010-14. Louisville president James Ramsey said an internal probe confirmed violations did occur, leading to the ban for the Cardinals (18-4, 7-2), who were a lock for the NCAA Tournament and trending upward for a potential deep run.
''We found out yesterday that we had a problem,'' said athletic director Tom Jurich, adding that the university wanted to deal with the findings as quickly as possible.
Louisville joins No. 12 SMU as teams self-imposing postseason bans for March and is the second ACC team to do so in as many seasons. Syracuse did so almost exactly one year ago, but the Orange were not a likely NCAA Tournament team when announcing their ban.
Pitino tried to distance himself from the allegations earlier this season, denying any knowledge of what went on and blaming former graduate assistant Andre McGee - he was named in Katina Powell's book for allegedly paying strippers $10,000 for 22 shows with recruits, with many coming at one of the school's dorms. Because of the ongoing NCAA probe, neither Pitino nor Jurich directly addressed questions regarding the scandal.
"As I told them the penalty, they all just started hugging Damion (Lee) and Trey (Lewis) as they cried," said Pitino, who resurrected the Wildcats after his arrival in Lexington in 1989, got them to a Final Four in 1993 and won the 1996 NCAA Tournament. "This is a team that was very much favored to go very far in the tournament. This penalty is quite substantial and is a complete shock to me. This is a punishment I never thought would have happened this season.
"This is a decision as harsh as anything I've ever seen in college basketball."
The ban is a crushing blow to fifth-year seniors Lee and Lewis, who both transferred to Louisville in a bid to cap their collegiate careers with an NCAA Tournament appearance. Lee - averaging a team-leading 17.0 points - was arguably the most sought-after senior transfer after averaging 21.4 points and 6.1 rebounds as a junior for Drexel, while Lewis - contributing 12.1 points per game while shooting just under 40 percent from 3-point range - had come from Cleveland State, where he averaged 16.3 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists.
Lee had begun to feel the urgency of getting to the postseason, bouncing back from a season-low six-point effort in a home loss to Virginia last Saturday by hitting 4 of 7 shots from 3 and scoring 24 in a 71-65 victory over No. 2 North Carolina on Monday.
The ban, though, means the Cardinals are playing out a nine-game string starting with the worst the ACC has to offer.
The Eagles (7-15, 0-9) bring up the rear in points per game (62.2), rebounds per game (31.8), field-goal percentage (41) and free-throw percentage (64.2). They're even worse on the road, averaging a Division I-worst 51.7 points while shooting 35.9 percent.
While Louisville can close its homestand 2-1, the Eagles hope they can salvage something from a miserable road trip that opened with an 89-62 loss to North Carolina last Saturday and Wednesday's 61-47 defeat to Virginia - during which Boston College made 13 shots, the fewest in a single game by any ACC team this season.
"We just were really cold," coach Jim Christian said. "We couldn't make shots. We executed what we wanted to execute."
Boston College is 0-7 against Top 25 teams this season and has lost 14 straight to ranked opponents. Things don't get any easier after Louisville with a home matchup against North Carolina on Tuesday.
Louisville evened the series at 3 with an 81-72 victory last season at Boston College, its second straight win over the Eagles.