Western Kentucky head coach Ray Harper improved to 8-0 in Sun Belt conference tournament games tonight with a 65-63 win over FIU in the championship round, earning an NCAA tournament berth for the second straight season. Last year, the former Kentucky Wesleyan coach took over the team midway through the season after Ken McDonald was fired. The Hilltoppers, who had started the season with a 5-11 record, went 11-8 with their new head coach last year and 7-1 after Harper’s interim tag was dropped to become the full-time head coach. This season was a struggle once again for the Hilltoppers in the regular season as they lost 15 games, but got hot at the right time once again to win four games in four days, winning the Sun Belt tournament championship and advancing to the NCAA tournament.
Enjoy that confetti one more time, Big Red.
Now on to the news and views from the day:
— Perhaps the highlight of John Calipari’s quotes on the SEC Teleconference today was his praise for the rest of the league’s coaches and a look back at his own performance as a coach this season. Cal took the blame for his team’s struggles: “If one guy’s done a crap job with his team, it’s me.”
— Calipari also talked to Dan Patrick today about UK’s tournament chances, Nerlens Noel’s injury and more. I’ve provided the interview for you to watch right below.
— Speaking of Nerlens Noel, it was announced today that Noel is moving up his surgery to spring break with Dr. James Andrews so he doesn’t miss as much class. Here is Noel’s statement:
“After talking with my family, I decided to schedule my surgery over spring break so I wouldn’t miss as much class,” Noel said. “I wish all my teammates luck in the SEC Tournament and look forward to getting back to Lexington as soon as I can to begin my rehab and finish my school work.”
— Despite suffering a season-ending injury in mid-February, Noel still won First Team All-Freshman honors by the Sporting News AND was given a spot on the SEC Community Service team for over 100 hours of service, including time spent with local children, the elderly and athletes at Kentucky Special Olympics events.
— John Calipari wrote a blog post today, making sure you understand the difference between being a “players first” program and “player first”. It is supposed to be plural and there is an important difference, Cal writes.
— Braylon Heard, a sophomore running back at Nebraska, is transferring and it appears he is considering Kentucky.
From Mrs. Tyler’s post earlier today:
Heard is from Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown, Ohio, the alma mater of both Mark Stoops and Vince Marrow, who was on Nebraska’s staff prior to leaving for UK. Coming out of high school, the four-star Heard was ranked the fifth best running back in the nation and the 57th overall player in the 2010 class. Last year, he averaged 6.69 yards per carry in 55 attempts and scored three touchdowns, but was unhappy with his reduced role in the Husker offense.
Heard will visit Kentucky in the coming weeks, along with West Virginia, Pitt, and potentially Louisville. He’s been granted an unconditional release by Nebraska, and will be available for the 2014 season as a redshirt junior.
— In the most unsurprising news of the day, Kentucky won its 8th straight national attendance title this season. It’s the school’s 25th overall and 17th over the last 18 seasons.
–I leave you with a rundown of teams who have clinched an NCAA berth:
|Western Kentucky||Sun Belt|
|Florida Gulf Coast||Atlantic Sun|
— Fortunately for those on the bubble, only one expected at-large team (Middle Tennessee of the Sun Belt) has failed to win its conference tournament so far. Western Kentucky and Liberty are the biggest surprises, but the Hilltoppers winning the Sun Belt is the only tournament outcome that has taken away someone else’s at-large bid to this point. You don’t have to be mad at the Hilltoppers though. It was Richard Pitino’s FIU team that knocked off favorite Middle Tennessee (28-5, No. 28 RPI), so you can be mad at him (just kidding, Richard).