Wow. What a weekend that was. What was a two-day emotional high of basketball greatness came to a bit of a frustrating halt Sunday evening when CBS aired their NCAA Tournament Selection Show and the Cats fell short of where they expected to be seeded. Before we get started on breaking down all of the insanity and excitment of the weekend that was and the week that will be, let’s stop and salute the Fab Five documentary, which aired on ESPN Sunday night. Unlike Pete Thamel, who refused to watch because there weren’t enough NCAA violations discussed (seriously), my anticipation of the film was rewarded with a film that was as enjoyable and entertaining as I thought it would be. It covered all of the trash-talking, baggy short-wearing greatness that defined an era of basketball that was a huge part of the childhood of people of my age, while also noting that there was a man on the grassy knoll in the game against North Carolina (Mike Talley calling a timeout on the bench) and that former Michigan player Rob Pelinka, now Kobe Bryant’s agent, has turned into Christian Laettner’s twin. And if you still hate Laettner, they said some things about him that would get you filtered in the KSR comments section. It was an honest and excellent portrayal of a team that will forever remain one of the most memorable of my generation. The film was a great way to finish off a major weekend of college basketball.
Now onto a few UK notes…
– Sucking the air right out of what was an infectious feeling of excitement and postseason optimism around the Kentucky world, the NCAA placed the Cats as a #4 seed. Even worse, they’re the lowest of the four seeds and are placed in the East region with top overall seed Ohio State. Considering the way the Cats rolled through the season’s final three games and the SEC Tournament, as well as boasting an RPI of 9 and a Strength of Schedule of 12, it seemed like they got shortchanged. Considering Florida – a team they’ve beaten twice in the last two weeks and whose non-conference schedule is miles short of what Kentucky put together – earned a two-seed, it seems completely ridiculous. The NCAA committee had the difficult task of wading through 10-15 teams with similar resumes and clearly dropped the ball with Kentucky’s seeding. When the polls come out Monday, they’ll be in the top-10 or right on the cusp of it. Their RPI, strength of schedule and Sagarin Rating will be in the same area. And they’ll be looking at the tournament’s top overall seed in the Sweet 16. Doesn’t seem like the committee got this right. No matter how many times they shake Gene Smith’s hand on television.
– If you were shocked by where the Cats landed in the bracket, you weren’t alone. Coach Cal said simply, “Wow.” and “It Stinks.” Cal said that he doesn’t think it’s personal with the Cats, but questioned whether the SEC Tournament results were even equated into the decision to seed the Cats fourth and the Gators second. In Calipari’s opinion, the bracket was made and the committee had to fill a two and a four with the Cats and, ultimately, just didn’t feel comfortable with putting the Cats as a two-seed. Calipari expressed frustration with UK’s top-10 RPI earning a four seed and how his team’s resume seemed to be better than the Gators, but said the Cats are not going to sulk. He called the first round game “hard”, the second round game “really hard” and the potential matchup with Ohio State “impossible”, before adding that he’s going to focus on making sure his team comes to play. At the end of the day, that’s all you can do. And with how they’ve been playing right now, that’s not a bad thing.
Here’s a clip of his reaction to Florida’s seeding:
– Adding even more insult to injury, Kentucky is ranked 10th in the new USA Today/ESPN Poll. Proving again that the polls mean nothing, the other four seeds are ranked 9th (Texas), 11th (Louisville) and 16th (Wisconsin). The three seeds are ranked 8th (UConn), 12th (BYU), 14th (Syracuse) and 15th (Purdue). Full poll here.
– As far as the entire region goes, Ohio State appears to be the only truly imposing team in the East. West Virginia in the second round will be an interesting matchup, but you have to like this team’s chances of cracking the 1-3-1. The teams in the bottom half aren’t world-beaters, except for possibly #2 seed North Carolina, who has the length and size to again present problems for the Cats. Calipari cited them a few weeks ago as the only team besides the Cats who have improved drastically since the beginning of the year. If Kentucky can get a rematch with them, they’ve already succeeded.
– Lost in all of the tournament debate and frustration was the exceptional performance in the SEC Championship game Sunday. A day after they put together what was probably their most complete game of the season, Kentucky took another major step forward in the SEC title game by clobbering Florida with their defense. All season long, Coach Cal has talked about trying to get his team to commit to defense and they clearly did so against Florida. It wasn’t their best game offensively, but they were clearly in control throughout because they were united on defense. Beating one of the better teams in the country (and a #2 seed!) when they weren’t playing their best basketball is the most positive sign yet that Kentucky has taken the next step toward being an elite team. Given their draw in the NCAA Tournament, that appears to be an imperative and positive step forward. They are clearly clicking at the right time. I would have opted to cut Chandler Parsons hair instead of the nets, but, other than that, it was a great performance by Cal and his team.
– Coach Cal also expressed pleasure with his team finally finding an identity over the season’s last six games. Calipari said his team is a “speed team that grinds it out” and that it took him five months to diagnose them. Better now than never, I guess. What is most obvious though, is that they’re now completely committed to defense and they’ve added a couple of nice wrinkles to their offense. They can shoot the ball very well. They have a player in Brandon Knight who can take over a game. They have a guy in Darius Miller who can create mismatches and make big shots. A team that looked so one-sided in the preseason now scores in a variety of ways and is as diverse as their roster can allow.
– Outside of Lexington, the big NCAA Tournament story in the bluegrass is the matchup between Louisville and Morehead State. Obvious Pitino jokes and the greatness of Kenneth Faried aside, the game also puts Morehead coach Donnie Tyndall and his swagger on a bigger stage, which is a wonderful thing. Tyndall said earlier in the week he wanted a matchup with the Cats and, after he was given a date with the Cards, said “we’ll see who the better coach is Thursday” and noted that “our team will fully expect to win the game”. You have to love that.
– Each year, the Zapruder-like videos of each NCAA team celebrating their berths provide some great uncensored moments. Last year, it was the Middle East Tennessee State player grabbing his junk and thrusting at the camera. Sunday, it was the West Virginia player dipping front and center as WVU’s seed was announced. The NCAA: Where stereotypes happen.
– We’re going to get going heavily on Princeton previews this week, but just know that the Tigers have a player named Hummer and a guy whose mom was on Baywatch. Though it was only a one episode appearance and she wasn’t a lifeguard, it was still notable enough for Harvard students to chant “Baywatch” at him when they played this week. And that’s good enough for us.
– Also, let’s give a quick shoutout to the UK Rifle Team for winning the national championship. It was the first title of the Mitch Barnhart era. Hopefully the second is coming in just about a month.
– Don’t forget to register for the KSTV Championship Challenge. Filling out a bracket can earn you a shot at winning a Samsung 40″ television. Not a bad deal.
That’s it for now. Stick around throughout the day as we get you going with the NCAA Tournament coverage. Matt will be back in studio for Kentucky Sports Radio at 10am on Talk Radio 1080 to discuss a huge weekend for Kentucky. In the meantime, let’s bid a final farewell to a great weekend in Catlanta.
See you in a few…