Northwestern's Collins, Minnesota's Pitino bring common elements to new jobs

Given their bloodlines and new jobs, Minnesota's Richard Pitino and Northwestern's Chris Collins have quite a bit in common.

Both are in their 30s. They're the sons of well-known coaches, and they already seem to have a bond heading into their first season in the Big Ten.

"When we both see each other, we both look at each other and take a deep breath and say, 'All right. Let's both just look at each other and enjoy this silence' because he's going through the same thing," Pitino said.

Both grew up around the game, with Collins' dad Doug playing and coaching in the NBA and Pitino's father Rick carving out a Hall of Fame career on the sideline.

They're trying to emerge from their fathers' shadows. They're also trying to implement a faster style, although Collins insisted he's not completely ditching the Princeton offense that Northwestern ran under Bill Carmody. He says some elements will remain.

Collins is also trying to do what no coach has done before, and that is lead Northwestern, the host of the first Final Four, to the NCAA tournament.

The Wildcats came close, making four straight NITs before bottoming out last season at 13-19. Carmody lost his job, and Collins got his opportunity.

He has no head-coaching experience, but he is a longtime Duke assistant who played for Mike Krzyzewski. He also knows the territory, having grown up in the Chicago area.

Richard Pitino led Florida International to 18 wins last season in his first year as a head coach. Before that, he worked two stints for his dad at Louisville and served under Billy Donovan at Florida after spending time at Northeastern and Duquesne.

When he went to work at Florida, Pitino was surprised to find out just how different Donovan was from his dad given their ties.

"The great thing about Billy is you'd sit in on meetings and he would say, 'Your dad would do it this way, but this is the way I do it. And your dad does that because that's the way your dad is. And I do it this way because that's the way I am,'" he said.

Now, Pitino is taking over for Tubby Smith. And like Collins, he's trying to inject some energy into the program.

"We have a lot of similarities," Collins said. "We both have legendary fathers. We've both been around basketball since we've born, since the pacifiers have been in our mouths. I think we relate to each other in a lot of ways. We've had to create our own identities having famous fathers. I admire what he's done, the path he's taken."


NEW ARENA, NEW BUZZ: For those who don't have one, good luck trying to get a ticket to a Nebraska basketball game. Yes, a basketball game — not football. With the Cornhuskers moving into a new 15,000-seat arena in downtown Lincoln, season ticket sales shot up from 6,917 to a record 13,500, and the school announced in May that every game would be a sellout.

"It's really cool and it's great for recruiting because the kids love it," coach Tim Miles said. "But let's face it, until we win ... it's going to help, but it's not going to be why kids pick Nebraska. But I think it shows a commitment and a progression about Nebraska basketball that the old rule doesn't apply. We are more than just a 'whatever' school."

But are they more than a 15-18 team, which is what they were last season? The Cornhuskers were 5-13 in the Big Ten a year ago and they still are widely viewed as one of the worst in the league.

They do bring back starters Ray Gallegos, Shavon Shields and David Rivers and have one of their most touted freshmen in years, Tai Webster.

"We're young. We're impulsive," Miles said. "I don't know if you ever were young or impulsive. But these guys, somebody said, oh, they're going to be like a roller coaster. (I) said, no, we're going to be like an EKG."


OUTSIDE TESTS: Wisconsin isn't taking the easy way out with its non-conference schedule, starting with the opener against St. John's in Sioux Falls, S.D.

With home games against Florida and Marquette, along with a trip to Virginia, there's no shortage of big names on tap for the Badgers. And to that, coach Bo Ryan responded, "When you say 'big names,' like a lot of letters in the names?"

Um, no.

"We'll be tested early and often," Ryan said. "Strength of schedule will not be a problem."