Let’s roll out the jargon for the best three weeks in sports: Big Dance. Bracketology. Good draw. Bad draw. We were robbed.
It’s on to another Final Four with One Shining Moment punctuation. Bonus? The Bluegrass State is so near the middle of it all, we can hear the heartbeats. Heck, we are the heartbeat.
Kentucky earned the No. 1 seed and Western Kentucky got — and won — a play-in. Murray State is the lone once-beaten and Louisville, like a good Derby horse, roared out of the pack to win its league tournament before being cast as underdog to Davidson. Peculiar that, but perfect for “Big Mo.”
College basketball’s place on the calendar and the television reduces all else in sports to belowthe fold stuff. This includes Peyton Manning’s next stop, Kentucky Derby candidate Union Rags, the NIT field, and the USA’s only unbeaten college baseball team, the University of Kentucky (16- 0). And, with CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV doing games, it puts a clamp on Dick Vitale’s mouth.
From San Diego State to Harvard yard, all things are possible and causes us to anticipate who will be this year’s Butler and VCU. Which big dog will fall first — North Carolina, Kansas, Michigan State, Kentucky? Who will do in 2012 what Ty Rogers did when he hit the winning shot at the buzzer after WKU had been 17 points behind Drake in 2009?
As if scripted in the SEC Tournament, UK Coach John Calipari’s team rid itself of the (perceived?) pressure from 24-wins-in-a-row Sunday. Pressure removed, a game film was the result, only this time it is a Vanderbilt production titled “Ways to Beat Kentucky.” The Commodores’ win was more than a UK loss. Vandy was tough, smart, relentless, and showed the rest of the world that “Hey, Kentucky is beatable!”
Now a few cautionary notes for Kentucky’s Big Dance entries — flashing yellow lights that could undo a March march:
1. Beware of the Praises of March. They are many, frequent, well-intentioned and, in the NCAA Tourney, a distraction. This includes NBA draft order buzz.
2. Try and forget that before the clocks fall back in autumn, four or more beloveds on this team will have packed up and gone from Lexington, including one destined for legend-status here and in the NBA, 19-year-old Anthony Davis.
3. History. Promising UK teams past have lapsed into mysterious shooting holes and were dispatched early on empty trips home (see Georgetown, 1984).
4. Talking-head punditry touting Kentucky-Syracuse final. Ignore it.
5. Numbers to avoid – five, zero and 16. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s points, rebounds and minutes play in SEC title game loss to Vandy.
6. Calling Terrence Jones’ number early prevents a Jones disappearance (see Indiana).
7. Recall Al McGuire’s NCAA tourney golden rule: “One, maybe two games, will be decided at the free throw line.”
8. Ignore Dick Vitale altogether.
9. 28 and six. Number of threes tried and made on Sunday (see UK-West Virginia, NCAA 2010).
10. Doron Lamb pouting. Contributed to his two-of-11 shooting in 32 minutes against Vandy. NBA scouts notice.
11. Anthony Davis must not repeat his performance of 34 minutes against Vandy’s Festus Ezeli and Steve Tchiengang.
12. Anthony Davis has averaged four blocks in his last six games.
13. Snatch and grab fouls away from the ball – Darius Miller and Doron Lamb.
14. Laugh off John Calipari’s whine about NCAA South bracket “… the only thing I was happy about is I heard that they were trying to get an exemption for the (Miami) Heat to be the second seed in our bracket and they weren’t allowed to …”
15. Technical foul on Calipari at crucial time (see UMass, Mar. 26, 1992).
16. New Orleans or bust. This is (basketball) Real World at Kentucky. Win everything or, as we all know, the season goes on the heap.
17. Don’t forget sending thank you notes to Vandy, Florida and LSU.
18. Maintain poise and patience, avoid foul trouble and understand tradition. OVC winners get no calls and little respect at the Big Dance. For the Racers, losing poise and patience will mean a quick trip home.
19. Rick Pitino must not (will not) fritter away talking heads who are picking Davidson to end the Cardinals’ season.
20. Peyton Siva has settled his team and himself into a groove. UofL’s point guard must avoid letting himself fall back to trying to take a game over. And, stay out of foul trouble.
21. Breakout? Unless shootist Kyle Kuric 2011 shows up and replaces the 2012 model, the stark truth is Louisville could be oneand done. On the other hand, UofL could very well be playing March 24 against Michigan State in the Elite Eight.
22. Is Ray Harper’s Hilltopper honeymoon destined to be longest in history after Tuesday’s comeback win over Mississippi Valley State University?
23. It’s cash-in time on this magic carpet ride literally and figuratively. Hilltopper hoops renaissance is well under way and new money from an unexpected NCAA trip juices the budget. Just as important, WKU’s run puts new punch into the recruiting pitch and selectivity too.
24. What better venue, opponent and time of year than Louisville’s home arena against No. 1 ranked and seeded Kentucky in the Big Dance?
And so it goes.