Drew, Tomlin and I have been recreating the 1979 NCAA Championship game today as we woke up in East Lansing, Michigan for the MSU-Ohio State game and have now finished in Terre Haute, Indiana for the night, the college home of the great Larry Bird. As a kid, I was not a Larry Bird fan as he was the best player for the Boston Celtics and I cast my lot firmly with the Los Angeles Lakers. In fact, being at Michigan State today was great, as Magic was (along with Greg Norman) likely my favorite childhood athlete. While his statute on the MSU campus looks like the lead actor in “Benson”, his memory remains live and well at the home of the Spartans. But the same isnt necessarily true of Bird here in Terre Haute. Because the Sycamores arent a top-level team, many dont even know Bird attended this school and the town may be more known for its casino now than its rich basketball history. Still, our unintentional decision to trace the 1979 title game steps on this trip has been exciting and being in the home of the last great basketball player with curly hair makes me happy.
Some notes on the day:
— The win against Vandy firmly places Kentucky in control of its SEC and NCAA destiny for the rest of the season. The Cats have room to drop a game in SEC play and still win the Regular season title and lock in the second highest #1 seed. Win out and see a Kansas loss, and the #1 overall seed is still in play. Beating Vandy in Nashville has been a hurdle for UK in recent years, but beating them in such a gritty fashion makes it even better. While some fans (and journalists like the good Dr Tipton) will try and belittle those losses by pointing out questionable calls, the reality is that both games, Kentucky found late deficits and showed heart and determination in coming back to win. That resolve is what will matter when March comes and it seems as if the Cats have joined Kansas (who I will see in person tomorrow night) as the two teams that have surpassed the others in the nation.
— The other debate going on in America is between John Wall and Evan Turner for National Player of the Year. I saw Turner in person today and wrote about that game here. Both players have a dizzying array of skills and both have the specific trait that NBA scouts will be looking for this Spring, the ability to score in a variety of ways and situations. Both had very similar games this weekend…big points down the stretch, a key block late and victories on the road against top-level competition. I still go with Wall slightly because I think he is such a matchup problem for defenders, but either is deserving of the award.
— Also deserving of a shout out is Demarcus Cousins, who again played wonderfully on the road in a hostile environment. I appreciate a lot about Cousins, but the thing I like the most is just how much he CARES about each game and how he plays. Some see his antics as a negative and at times they can be that, but you always know that he wants to win and reach his potential in every game. That is invaluable.
— We didnt talk about this last night, but I was disappointed with Eric Bledsoe and the shove/attitude in Nashville. I love Bledsoe as a player and he is going to be one of the best to play the position before he leaves here. But unlike Cousins, who can get angry, channel it and still make good decisions, Bledsoe sometimes goes the other way and pouts…a trait that is never positive. Moments like the shove happen in basketball…I did it about six months ago in a lawyer’s league basketball game that made me feel foolish…but you then have to transition and make things better. That really didnt happen for Bledsoe Saturday and that is unfortunate.
— Finally, Patterson hit the big shot, again. His three got me out of my chair and Drew to look up from his nachos. You cant beat that.
— I loved the banter between Calipari and Jeanine Edwards on the Coach Cal show this week. When Edwards (who I will repeat, is VERY hot in person) said “Cal, that is a bad question”, I thought it was very clever and showed a good sense of humor from both people. That show is so much better than it was in the last few years and the new format was a great decision.
— I was driving during the USA-Canada hockey game, but it sounds like it was something else. Was it as exciting to watch as I keep hearing?
— We talked for a bit today with Bill Raftery at the game. I asked him about UK and he said that they were a lot of fun to watch and then as he walked off he said, “you keep those website people in line.” Not sure what that means, but ok.
— If you havent seen my Rick Pitino article from Saturday, then you may have missed the absolute toasting I am getting from UL fans on the CBS site and the UL message boards. It is strange because I thought I was being fair…I noted Rick is a Hall of Famer, is still a good coach and has a couple of good victories this year. But my point was that he isnt what he was at Kentucky….how is that controversial.
— This may be old news, but I hadnt seen this video of the Berea College vs Southern Indiana brawl from the other night. Apparently the game was cancelled as both teams were ejected after the incident. Crazy stuff from my dad’s alma mater and the great seller of fine crafts and butter churns:
We are off tomorrow to Lawrence, Kansas for Oklahoma-Kansas from Phog Allen Fieldhouse, the last great college basketball arena besides the Palestra that I have never been to. The rest of our schedule is below and make sure to visit our CBSSports.com College Basketball Road Trip blog today and for the rest of the week. We have been great feedback from CBS and we have a ton of UK stuff and tidbits snuck in that only true KSR fans will understand. Follow along and comment if you can. This has really been the time of my life and we are only 40% through it.
More all day on the Cats….
Monday: Oklahoma vs Kansas
Tuesday: visit UK
Wednesday: Florida State vs UNC
Thursday: Murray State vs Morehead State
Friday: Princeton vs Cornell
Saturday: Villanova vs Syracuse
Sunday: Duke vs Virginia