Those of us who’ve been around a few early-spring seasons know the University of Kentucky basketball’s Big Blue Nation has suffered a lion’s share of embarrassments and humble pie moments. Add 2013 to the list. v Embarrassment because of their season. Their? Individuals who wore the same shirts forgot Kentucky on the front, played for names on the back, theirs, and became good at ignoring their coaches. v Humble pie moment? For the fifth time since 1985, a defending NCAA champion was sent into exile. In Kentucky’s case, a Pittsburgh suburb and the NIT.
UofL Looks Best
As many as 20 teams have a legitimate chance to win the NCAA championship, basketball experts tell us. Since Kentucky Derby experts pour over equine details like scientists in Silicon Valley before picking one Run for the Roses winner that seldom wins, isn’t it refreshing that hoops experts blab at each for hours on air then are savvy enough to pick 20 to win?
First among any 20? Louisville.
Rick Pitino has his Cardinals at razor’s edge. The ways UofL spotted Syracuse a 17-point lead, then dismembered the Orangemen, Louisville elevated itself to the No. 1 seed and team nobody wants to play.
Happy Days at WKU
Happy to be in the NCAA Tourney is Western Kentucky. With some fickle Topper fans quieted after yowling for the coach’s scalp three weeks ago, Ray Harper’s team ate the canary last week, sealed a 20-win season, earned a paycheck game against Kansas and civil right to smirk at and dismiss critics.
What can Western expect besides a whuppin’ from the Jayhawks? v Chance to show it can dance with a big dog in prime television time. v A 6-11 high school prospect gets to see coaching, poise, teamwork, determination and opportunity to play and decides to visit Bowling Green. v Another piece-of-the-pie paycheck into the coffers from the NCAA. v And, a flirtation with Harper by another school or two.
1. Bizarro World I. College basketball’s winningest program could not host a first round NIT game because its home arena was already booked for NCAA top seed Louisville. And, 7,000-seat Memorial Coliseum was not available either because UK’s athletics staff was already booked to host the NCAAs at Rupp.
2. Bizarro World II. Kentucky did not accept a bid to the NIT so much as it was contractually bound to it by preseason agreement. Top tier teams not selected to the NCAAs must play, if chosen, in the NIT. Father of this arrangement? C.M. Newton.
3. Bizzaro World III. Robert Morris U’s mail address is Moon Township near Pittsburgh. On February 10, 1959 a child was born in Moon. John Calipari.
4. Selection committee got the overall No. 1 seed right. Louisville.
5. College basketball’s coach of the year is Rick Pitino. Preseason picked among the nation’s top three, UofL got back to the penthouse at precisely the right time.
6. NCAA Tournament bracket. First thing I look for after “who’s in and who wuz robbed,” is seed matchups at 8-9 and 7-10. This time: Notre Dame and Iowa State (7-10) in the West; North Carolina State-Temple (8-9) in the East; but Creighton-Cincinnati (7-10) in Midwest. Enjoy.
7. This year’s Add-Insult-to- Injury game: Kentucky AT Robert Morris U. The. Colonials’ home gym is Island Sports Center, seating capacity 1,100.
8. College arenas in Kentucky aside, our state has dozens of high school gyms with triple RMU’s seating capacity.
9. Jon Hood retrospective. Basketball fans who root for teams at half dozen universities in Kentucky know Hood could have been an effective player “somewhere else.”
Retro message is not new, but remains hard truth: A multitude of Kentucky sons have dreamed of playing at Kentucky or Louisville, but those who wanted to play instead of watch examined scholarship options at other state schools.
10. If the Wizard of Westwood was picking winner of the John R. Wooden College Player of the Year award, his choice would be the kid with a 3.7 GPA and Big East Scholar Athlete of the Year, and heart of his team, Peyton Siva at Louisville.
11. College basketball officials did not have a quality year. Most glaring public examples of how officials lacked courage: v Let games become too physical, ever more like the NBA. v Ignored coach box violations which emboldened coaches to violate the box, scream and harass referees all the more. v Hand checks by defenders and push-offs by players on offense. No calls.
12. Among other changes I would like to see ESPN and other networks covering college basketball eliminating the apparent good-buddy and ex-coach system as criteria for choosing game analysts. Particularly ESPN should recalibrate, try something new like:
Put a premium on word economy instead of blitzkrieg. Promote analysts who tell us (quietly) “what time it is,” instead of screaming “how to build a watch.” (Jimmy Dykes).
Use America’s most popular device of the day, a poll. Survey those who listen (and buy products), FANS on their favorites.
13. Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings demonstrated (again) how to master Kentucky. The Commodores denied UK an SEC tournament title last year and delivered the last blow to UK’s chance to defend its NCAA crown this year.
Clearly inferior to Kentucky talent, Stallings’s team played like one and shot the way Kentucky teams used to do. In obvious contrast, John Calipari’s pleading, screaming and begging his individuals to be a team never happened.
Email from an angry Kentucky basketball fan.
“This group of individuals (I refuse to call them a team) has no heart, no guts, and are operating under the huge misconception that they deserve an NCAA invitation because they have the name Kentucky across their chests.
“Facts are facts and the fact is this simply is not a very good group of individuals. Perhaps sitting out a year will teach them all, coaches included, what hard work and team play means.”
And so it goes.