(This woman will win your office pool this year)
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Well, almost. March Madness is just around the corner. You could just feel it in the air this morning when we all flipped our calendars to March, leaving February behind. March is the month when tickets are punched, bubbles are popped, upsets are etched in history books forever, hearts are broken, and dreams are both crushed and made…
Somehow March always sneaks up on us for a while as we close the book on both college and NFL football. In Kentucky, we live and breathe every moment of our basketball program. It takes the rest of the world a little while to catch up though. By the time February wraps up and conference play is in full swing, all eyes are squarely focused on college basketball. March is when all the pieces finally start to come together. The ups and downs of a long season are judged, ridiculed, compared and graded– hopefully culminating in an invitation for whichever team you root for to be a part of the most exciting college athletic tournament of them all.
This year perhaps more than ever, Selection Sunday and the NCAA tournament in general are shaping up to be one of the most interesting we’ve had in ages. Even the supposed “best teams” in the country haven’t been able to hang on to the #1 ranking. Outside of about 15-20 teams, it feels like the rest of college basketball all sits on the same “bubble” right now, waiting for someone else to falter, while trying to pad their own resume’s as much as possible– as if cramming for a final exam. Last night the buzz started to float around that “this will be the year a 16 seed beats a 1.” I still don’t see that happening, but outside of the 1/16 match-ups, everything else appears to be fair game. No one is safe.
Take a moment to breathe and free up some space on your DVR because March Madness is coming…
And now on to the news from the day…
—– Kentucky travels to Arkansas for a 4 p.m. tip with the Razorbacks tomorrow afternoon in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks open as a 2 point favorite over the visiting Wildcats. —– Tomorrow could very well end up being Kentucky’s toughest test of the season. Although the Razorbacks have struggled to an average season on the whole, Arkansas has been exceptional at home this season. The only home loss of the season for the Razorbacks came in November against Syracuse. Since then, Arkansas has been a perfect 12-0 at home, with wins over Oklahoma, Tennessee, Florida and Missouri. Fayetteville has become one of the toughest places to pick up a win in the SEC. —– Kentucky will be facing its first road test since the 30-point blowout loss at Tennessee a few weeks ago. The Wildcats have since seemed to find a post-Nerlens Noel identity, picking up a much-needed top 50 win against Missouri last week. Kentucky is riding a current 3-game winning streak, but all of the games have been played in the comfort of Rupp Arena. The Cats have struggled on the road this season, only carrying a 4-5 record. If Kentucky can take the crowd out of the game early like they did at Ole Miss, I think they have a chance to come out of Arkansas with an impressive win considering the Razorbacks’ sparkling home record. Kentucky simply can’t afford a start like they had against Tennessee in which the Volunteers jumped out to a big lead. Kentucky fell behind by 13 to Missouri and managed to claw back into the game, but doing so on the road is an entirely different kind of struggle. Kentucky has not done well in those situations this year (i.e., Notre Dame, Florda, Tennessee) —– As hot as Arkansas has been at home, they are entering tomorrow’s game on the heels of a 2-game losing streak. Arkansas has dropped two consecutive road games to Florida and LSU. The Razborbacks’ best player, guard BJ Young, has been in a Kyle Wiltjer-esque drought as of late. Young is 2-19 in Arkansas’ previous 2 games, including an 0-8 showing against Florida last week. Young, the team’s leading scorer and pre-season All-SEC selection is due for a big game soon. Let’s hope that big game doesn’t come tomorrow against Kentucky.
“A lot of times, BJ puts more pressure on himself than he needs to,” Mike Anderson said. “That’s part of it. And, as a coach, you try to take away those pressures and just let him go out and be a kid. So, hopefully, he gets back to being BJ, the happy-go-lucky kid.”
He can go back to being happy-go-lucky BJ if he wants. I just hope he doesn’t go back to being 15.3 ppg BJ.
—– Sorry in advance for reminding you, but don’t forget that Doug Shows is going to be one of the referees for tomorrow’s game. Get those tweeting fingers ready. —– After some helpful early week “bubble” results (aka teams in similar positions to Kentucky losing), last night was not a good night for Kentucky in terms of jockeying for a position on the inside rather than the outside. Virginia stormed Duke’s court in an upset win last night, while likely also storming their way into the NCAA tournament. If so, that’s another spot that could have been Kentucky’s. Joe Lunardi updated his bracketology following last night’s results, and Kentucky went from being in the field to being one of the “Last Four In.” Temple, Villanova and Ole Miss join Kentucky on that list. That would put Kentucky in the play-in game against Temple. Of course, it’s still far too early to feel safe or panicked, but here’s what Lunardi is predicting as of today: —– CBS’ Jerry Palm went one step further and updated his mock bracket this morning, leaving Kentucky out of the tournament. Kentucky is on Palm’s “First Four Out” list, behind both Ole Miss and Tennessee. We beat Ole Miss, on their home floor, fairly easily…right? Okay, just checking. —– Before we move on, I want to briefly touch on Duke’s loss last night to Virginia. After Virginia stormed the court, Coach K got very heated in his post-game comments about the situation. Coach K was seen lashing out at fans on his way to the locker room in a hostile environment. Granted, Duke is on the receiving end of perhaps the most court stormings of anyone. It seems as if anytime a team in the ACC beats Duke at home, the court is stormed. Coach K brings up an interesting point–and he is not the first to do so (Cal has brought it up following last year’s game in Indiana)– about the safety issues involved when a crowd storms the court. Now that Coach K has brought it up, everyone seems ready to finally talk about the issue. I’m not saying anything should be regulated or not. I do think that it will probably take something bad happening someday (and it will, someday) as a result for major changes to take place . It’s an interesting topic of debate though, and it will gain traction the more Coach K talks about it. —– It’s the first day of March and we are deep into the heart of college basketball season, but the Kentucky football program made some major waves today and stole a few headlines as well. As of 5:30 tonight, Mitch Barnhart tweeted that the spring game ticket sales are now up to 29,538. Read that number again. Last year’s spring game had a little over 4,000 people in attendance. 29,538 fans were not in Commonwealth Stadium to watch Kentucky play Vanderbilt at the end of this season. #StoopsEffect —– We’ve talked about it some here on KSR, and on the radio show as well– but this Kentucky football staff has a great sense for how to market the program. The excitement caused by the newness of the staff, the flurry of solid recruitment and the facility upgrades was palpable. The staff has figured out a way not only to create a buzz, but to keep the buzz going by making the program more accessible. The fans are savoring any parcel of information, and each time Mark Stoops leaks a video of himself coaching, or the latest technology they are using in workouts, or the Air Raid commercial– he is only fueling an already excited fan base. The spring game is going to be fun, folks. —– 2013 Kentucky target Julius Randle had a monster game tonight. Randle had 23 points (on 10-17 shooting), 8 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. In the first half. Kansas’ Bill Self was on hand to see Randle’s stellar performance. —– Orlando Antigua spent some time at a recent Madison Central practice to watch senior Dominique Hawkins. Hawkins was quoted after his game tonight talking about Kentucky. “Since I was a little kid– I grew up as a Kentucky fan. It’s been my dream school.” Hawkins already has a walk-on offer from U of L and told Ben Roberts of the Herald Leader that Russ Smith and Chane Behanan would have to go pro for him to be offered a scholarship. —– In a bit of random news, if you want to read a pretty interesting view on his trip to Rupp Arena (including a grading scale), check out this article by Tyler Green from StadiumJourney.com
“The eight NCAA championship banners hanging from the rafters greet all fans as they enter Rupp Arena and provide a reminder of the history and tradition of the Kentucky basketball program. Final Four banners and runner-up finishes bring the banner total to 15, but that is only on one end of the court. Lining the other two rafters on the other two sides of the court are retired jerseys for beloved Kentucky players, coaches, radio announcers, and even equipment managers, of years past. If these visual tokens do not tell the story, the public address announcer begins each game with the phrase, “Welcome to Rupp Arena: Home of the Greatest Tradition in the History of College Basketball.”
Spoiler Alert: Green rated the Atmosphere as a “5” as well as the Fans.
—– Anthony Davis has a bruise in his left shoulder and had to miss his second game in a row for the Hornets tonight. Do they not have whatever spray the UK staff used against Baylor? —– Bobby Knight took part in an interview with Andrew Goldman of the New York Times. In the interview, Bobby Knight flat out said that “the worst word in the english language is hope.” That’s probably all you really need to know, but if you’d like to read more about why Bobby Knight thinks he is such an unpleasant person, read on here. —– And last but not least, congratulations to former UK tennis coach Dennis Emery. Emery was named to the 2013 Hall of Fame Class by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association. #WeAreUK
If you prefer your news to be yelled at you instead…