Kentucky and Morehead State faced off in the 2020-21 regular-season opener for both programs, but it’s the Eagles, not the Wildcats, who have already solidified its spot in the upcoming 2021 NCAA Tournament.
In what was a blowout win for Kentucky, 81-45, all the way back on Nov. 25, it felt like a sign of things that might be to come for the Wildcats’ promising season. Oh, how things have changed…
Since then, the Wildcats have gone 8-15 while Morehead State went on a 23-6 run that resulted in them entering the OVC Tournament as a two-seed before ultimately upending the top overall seed, Belmont, by a final score of 86-71 on Saturday night. Led by head coach Preston Spradlin, who has been the lead man for the Eagles since 2016, Morehead State has set its spot in the Big Dance.
But the in-state connection goes a bit deeper than just Morehead State making its seventh NCAA Tournament and first since 2011. Coach Spradlin, a 34-year old native of Pikeville, has ties to Lexington that dates back to 2009 when he was named a graduate assistant under head coach John Calipari until 2011 and then served as the assistant director of basketball operations before joining Sean Woods’ coaching staff at Morehead back in 2014.
Incredible coaching job by @CoachPSpradlin this year. Coach Spradlin led @MSUEaglesMBB to the @OVCSports championship and an NCAA bid! Coach Spradlin was with us at @KentuckyMBB before going to Morehead State and is a great friend to all of our staff. We are all proud of him!!! pic.twitter.com/1b67aSHfCS
— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) March 7, 2021
Spradlin was eventually named the interim head coach during the 2016-17 season after Woods resigned, leading Morehead to a 10-6 conference record to finish out the year. He was later named the full-time head coach ahead of 2017-18 but posted an overall record of 34-60 over the next three seasons. However, entering 2020-21, Spradlin finally had a roster capable of making a splash in the OVC. Eagles freshman forward Johni Broome was named the Tournament MVP while junior guards Skyelar Potter and DeVon Cooper were tabbed as all-tournament picks.
Not only did Spradline coach his squad to a 23-7 record, including a 17-3 mark in conference play, but he was also named the 2021 OVC Coach of the Year. He appropriately received a postgame celebration bath after winning the conference on Saturday.
— Morehead State Men's Basketball (@MSUEaglesMBB) March 7, 2021
Spradlin and Morehead State will now wait to hear their name called next Sunday when the NCAA Selection Show determines the path to a National Championship. Once they take the court again, it’ll be the program’s eighth tournament appearance in history.