3 Big East rookie coaches are halfway home

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Willard got the chance to coach against his former boss, Pitino, whose No. 1 assistant is Ralph Willard.

“It was a little weird looking over and seeing Coach Pitino and my father,” he said. “It was one of those things where you smile thinking of all the time you spent with them. My brother and sister were rooting for me and my mother was rooting for Louisville, so it kind of split the family.”

Jamie Dixon was Rice’s boss at Pittsburgh and he was asked if he could remember how he felt halfway through his first season as a head coach in the Big East, if he was kept awake at night worrying about a daunting schedule?

“I still think that seven years later,” Dixon said, smiling. “I think our league is getting better. When I first got here 12 years ago as an assistant the league wasn’t close to being as tough as it is now and without question this is the best conference in the country. … It’s different because this a far better league now than it was then and we know how good it was then.”

Nine conference games down, nine to go and then there’s the conference tournament. The new guys have a lot of tough games ahead of them and perhaps plenty of seasons ahead of them in a conference that doesn’t show any signs of getting any easier.

“I’ve never been this tired at this point of the season,” Willard said.

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