Former Louisville assistant Kevin Keatts is getting ready to take on Duke in the NCAA Tournament again.
This time he's doing it as the head coach of UNC Wilmington while Rick Pitino and the Cardinals watch the action from Louisville.
Keatts is preparing his 13th-seeded Seahawks (25-7) to try and upset the fourth-seeded Blue Devils (23-10) on Thursday in the first round of the West Regional in Providence, Rhode Island. His former employer is sitting this one out after a self-imposed postseason ban amid an ongoing investigation into a sex scandal involving escorts.
Keatts — who was on Pitino's staff from 2011-14 — was not mentioned in a book written by escort Katina Powell, who says a former member of Pitino's staff, Andre McGee, paid her and other dancers to strip and have sex with recruits and players at Billy Minardi Hall on Louisville's campus.
Keatts said he hasn't had any conversations with anybody about the investigation and declined comment on the situation at Louisville because "it wouldn't be fair."
Pitino, who has said he is limited to what he discuss about the investigation, told ESPN on Tuesday that he visited the Cardinals' dormitory several times a month during the season but noticed "nothing unusual" while there. He said he relied on assistants and staffers such as McGee to monitor players' and recruits' activities.
Keatts said after UNC Wilmington won the CAA Tournament, he received a congratulatory text message from Pitino.
"He and I, when we do talk, we talk about basketball," Keatts said. "That's all we really are focused on."
Maybe those conversations included some tips on how to take down Duke.
The Cardinals and depth-challenged Blue Devils split two meetings this season, with Louisville most recently winning 71-64 last month. With Keatts on the staff in 2013, they also took care of Duke in a regional final.
Of course, the personnel — and in Keatts' case, the school — is different, but the UNCW coach says it's just as much of a challenge to beat a Mike Krzyzewski-coached team.
Still, on paper, his Seahawks sure look capable of keeping things interesting against Duke.
UNC Wilmington has won 16 of 18 and earned a share of the CAA's regular-season title while leading the league with averages of 79.2 points and 15.2 turnovers forced. The Seahawks use a full-court press developed by Keatts both at Louisville and during eight seasons as the head coach at Hargrave Military Academy.
Point guard Denzel Ingram joked that his role is "just kind of being a pest.
"It does fit me perfectly — we just want to get after it," he said. "We don't want to make people comfortable."
It helped them rally from double-figure deficits in two of their three CAA Tournament games. In the title game, they trailed Hofstra by 12 in the second half before winning in overtime.
That tenacity could make them a tough matchup for a Duke team that pretty much goes just six players deep.
"We've got a unique style. As a player, it's something that you want to play in," Keatts said. "We never have a dull moment."
UNC Wilmington reached four NCAA tournaments in seven years from 2000-06, but finished under .500 eight times in the nine years that followed. Keatts arrived in 2014 and rebuilt the roster, finishing 18-14 last season to earn the first of two straight CAA coach of the year awards.
Six players on this year's roster are transfers, including top scorers Chris Flemmings (Division II Barton) and Ingram, a native of Chapel Hill who grew up an N.C. State fan and played two years at Charlotte before coming in last season and redshirting.
"I just believed in his messages," Ingram said. "He said we were going to win championships."
AP Sports Writer Gary B. Graves in Kentucky contributed to this report.
AP college basketball site: http://collegebasketball.ap.org
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