Horse racing pundits who love the early Derby favorite beware. The University of Kentucky basketball team rode the other Uncle Mo (momentum) to a six-game win streak, an SEC Tournament title (27th) and automatic bid in the NCAAs. Then, the selection committee rained on Big Blue Nation’s parade.
Despite exhibiting the best preparation, poise, tenacity and intelligent play of any team still playing, John Calipari’s 25-8 team was slapped with a 4-seed in the East Region while a No. 2 in the Southeast went to Florida.
Last time Kentucky performed as well as this team did in Atlanta was 1997. Rick Pitino’s last UK team (35-5) bowled over all-comers until Arizona in the title game.
Hand-wringing Kentucky fans should take pause from “we got hosed again!” and consider the short guy at Morehead. Coach Don Tyndall lobbied for more respect, a higher seed for his OVC champion Eagles. Recalling “be careful what you wish for,” he got the latter — a 13 seed and all but certain one and done. Morehead faces the team nobody wants to play this week, the Louisville Cardinals.
Why Kentucky got a 4
• SEC title game meant nothing. Writing was already on the wall, UK had already been posted in ink. The committee gambled regular season winner Florida would make it a double. Kentucky clearly outplayed the Gators.
• Too, polluting the otherwise carnival air in another “Catlanta,” the mind-numbing distraction of Jimmy Dykes’ relentless last-fourin, last-four-out chirp on behalf of Georgia and Alabama didn’t help. It became reason enough for selection committee types to turn the TV dial to Duke-North Carolina.
• Blab factor. Through February, so much was made of Kentucky’s road record by television’s talking heads, it stuck, became first paragraph in UK’s résumé. Far more relevant, the six game win streak that included beating Florida twice.
• Most bitter pill of all to swallow in Big Blue Nation this week? These realities: To selection committees in college basketball’s new cosmos – television ratings, more advertising booty and ever expanding NCAA fields – 16 to 48, 64, 65 and now 68 teams, the importance of most all-time wins Kentucky to the NCAA’s Hoops image is diminished. Far less important than sold out administrators at UK want to believe.
• Reality show. Television’s expansion farther afield brings to more living rooms more often and to tournament selection committee members attentions, the sound bite importance of Jimmy Dykes’ airplane seating arrangements, the novelty of a Harvard-Princeton playoff, the comic menace of Kansas State coach Frank Martin, or Jimmer Fredette’s latest numbers at BYU.
Brings us to this: If a four-seed is disrespect for Kentucky, then John Calipari can sell it in a Big Mo Sandwich. Then, turn the games over to DeAndre Liggins, Brandon Knight and the rest. Guard Princeton … get even with West Virginia … then, if Ohio State is still standing, play the game.
Louisville’s Big East
Basketball at its frenetic and frenzied best, that was Louisville in the Big East Tournament last week. One turnover and one missed foul shot kept Rick Pitino’s team being officially the Big East’s best beast and the college game’s top conversation piece.
Game we hope to see: Louisville Kansas.
That zoom noise we heard was Preston Knowles’ NBA draft stock going up. Thing to watch: Which NBA general manager will be first to say, “… yea, but can this kid carry team luggage onto the plane, pick up the restaurant tab, take the physical beating, keep his mouth shut and still play at that pace over an 85-game NBA schedule?”
Kentucky did a William Tecumseh Sherman thing last week — marched through Georgia. The Wildcats won the SEC basketball Tournament in Catlanta and, at nearby Columbus State, UK’s rifle team won the NCAA championship.
New Fab Five emerged in Lexington. Coach Harry Mullins’ rifle team Unforgettables have unforgettable names too. Heather Greathouse, Henri Junghanel, Ethan Settlemires, Emily Holsopple and Logan Fox.
Next, watch for a news release from director of athletics Mitch Barnhart any day, announcing time and date for the parade celebrating another NCAA championship. Following, each team member will receive a commemorative championship ring. Right, Mitch?
Rockcastle County High in Mount Vernon is home for the 2011 KHSAA Girls’ Sweet Sixteen trophy. In a run of wins that only old Brewers High graduates in Marshall County can appreciate, Rockcastle’s Lady Rockets won all 36 of their games in Kentucky.
Only a loss at Mt. Juliet, Tennessee on Dec. 30 keeps Rockcastle from matching State Tournament champion Brewers 38-0 record in 1948.
So, from Brodhead north to Livingston south to Renfro Valley, and county seat Mount Vernon, the Lady Rockets basketball is toast of the Bluegrass. Where better than Kentucky’s heartland?
Notes ‘N Quotes
• Josh Harrellson is what? If an award existed in honor of Jim Valvano’s “Never, ever, ever, ever give up,” who is more deserving than All-SEC Tournament selection Harrellson?
• Can someone explain why Tennessee (19-14) is in the NCAA Tournament?
• St. John’s miracle season continues. Coach Steve Lavin’s team is 21-11 and plays Gonzaga. With 10 seniors, has anybody mentioned “but Lavin did it with Tubby’s, uh, Norm Roberts’ players?” Didn’t think so. Could be Lavin’s skin color.
• Terrence Jones to the NBA? Kentucky’s big rookie will put his name in the draft hopper. He isn’t ready of course, but showed signs of progress in Atlanta.
• Mild surprise of the week: John Pelphrey fired at Arkansas with three years on his contract. Says here, Pelphrey will do what his mentors would do, make lemonade. Mentors: Rick Pitino and
ESPN’s Jay Bilas about his college coach Mike Krzyzewski: “I believe that he was the real thing when he was recruiting me. He didn’t have much success at the point. (But) I think we all trusted him implicitly and believed in him and what he was all about. It turns out we were right. Outside of family decisions, saying yes to him was the best decision I ever made. By far.”
And so it goes.