Down the stretch, Frank Kaminsky and Wisconsin played like they were going to win. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
24 years later. It is hard to put games in a historical perspective in the moment, but this will rank up there with almost any of the great games in college basketball history. It is hard to believe, but we were in almost the same situation 24 years ago in the same city. Now this Kentucky team was not the defending champs (runner-up last year) and they were not the juggernaut that 1991 UNLV was, but we are here in Indianapolis with a #1 undefeated team losing to a team that it had beaten in the Final Four the year before. While most people were pointing towards Duke-Kentucky on Monday night as the place where Kentucky’s undefeated season might end, anybody who paid attention all season was aware of how big of a hurdle this would be. Much like the 1991 UNLV-Duke game this had some questionable calls, but this time the team on the wrong end of those calls ended up winning. It isn’t often that games like this live up to their hype (more on that later), but this one did and then some.
Wisconsin showed its toughness tonight. Wisconsin played out of its mind tonight scoring 1.23 points per possession tonight against the best defense of the KenPom era in a performance that made us think that their second half performance against Arizona was not that much of an aberration, but it took more than that. When Josh Gasser found himself on the end of two bad calls–first a charbage call that negated a Bronson Koenig three with eight minutes left followed by a non-call after Trey Lyles slapped him in the face–we thought it might be a turning point where Kentucky would take control of the game. For a few minutes it appeared that they would as they took a 4-point lead before Sam Dekker made a couple of big plays–a lay-up followed by picking up a charge–that swung the momentum back in Wisconsin’s favor. When you have teams that are this evenly matched, you need to make big plays down the stretch. While Kentucky has found a way to win all season long, they misfired when it mattered down the stretch coming up with three straight airballs and shot clock violations. The result was history.
What Kentucky did was incredible. It will be hard for Kentucky’s coaches, players, and fans to think about right now, but this was a great season for the Wildcats. What they did under the direction of Calipari was sacrifice their individual goals and glory for the greater good of their team. Their loss tonight is not a reflection of a failure on their part, but just the reality of the game and life–sometimes things don’t work out even when you plan things out perfectly. Kentucky was the best team in college basketball this season, but in one-game scenarios anything can happen. They were simply outplayed tonight. In all likelihood, we won’t see this group play together again since so many of them are projected to be first round picks, but we won’t forget them any time soon. You can argue about how “great” they actually were, but when they were firing on all cylinders they certainly were overwhelming. In the era of one-and-dones, this type of team (loaded with talent and with at least a little bit of experience) is probably the best we are going to get.
Kentucky basketball special assistant Rod Strickland was arrested Thursday morning for charges including driving on a suspended license, failure to signal, and having no vehicle registration. The university sent out a statement issued by UK athletics spokesman DeWayne Peevy. “Rod Strickland was pulled over this morning in Lexington on a routine traffic stop on the way to the office,” the statement said. “According to police reports, he was pulled over for failure to signal and for driving with a suspended license. According to Strickland, his vehicle was properly registered and he produced his driver’s license at the scene. We are currently gathering information on whether his license was suspended due to a clerical error which led to his arrest.” Strickland was last arrested in April of 2010 for a DUI while a Kentucky assistant.
John Calipari and his Kentucky Wildcats worked hard for their national championship rings. And now they have given one to UK basketball fan and hip hop star Drake. Really? “They gave me a chance to actually come in and talk to them early in the season,” Drake told CoachCal.com in 2010. “Just them listening to me, I think we all connected. They’re all my boys. This is my family.” That’s understandable, but giving the guy a championship ring after he’s been a fan for three years? Come on. Give one to Ashley Judd, coach! Or find a way to reward the loyal fans who camp out for weeks to receive Big Blue Madness tickets. The ring was even etched with Drake’s nickname, “Drizzy”.
Speaking of head coaches making friends with music stars, new South Carolina head coach Frank Martin is now friends with Pitbull. Martin sent out this tweet stating, “On my way 2 Atlanta 2 c the best performer that’s our there @pitbull . I want our players 2 play w the same passion w which he petforms.” What’s next? How about Kevin Stallings going to a Reba McEntire performance? Maybe Mike Anderson taking in a Coldplay show? Steven Tyler could befriend Billy Donovan and start attending games in Gainesville. Who knows, maybe John Calipari will give Drake his national championship ring. Oh wait, maybe that’s not quite out there enough. Deadspin calls the relationship “weird,” but I say it’s awesome. I’m not sure how much inspiration the Gamecocks can seek from Pitbull’s performances, but I like a little celebrity action when I take in college basketball. I just don’t think any fan deserves a championship ring that the players and coaches earned.
Rob Dauster of NBC’s College Basketball Talk wrote a post on how “sleaze is alive and well in the recruiting world.” In his article, he utilized a picture of Kentucky’s John Calipari on the cover, even though Calipari wasn’t involved in any of the implications. Oh uh. As you might expect, Kentucky fans responded. As our friends at A Sea of Blue point out, “The article does look a little bit like an attack, even though I’m pretty sure Calipari wasn’t the intended target, but “sleaze” in general. Sadly, for many, Calpari is the poster boy for that word. Yes, that’s unfair, but since when was life fair?”
Make your pilgrimage now, Kentucky fans, and take as many photos as you can, for the Rupp Arena you have worshiped for so long is on borrowed time.
An article from Tuesday’s Lexington Herald-Leader by Beverly Fortune and Jerry Tipton has us thinking that it’s merely a question of time, now, and which model to follow. Do the powers that be in the Bluegrass go the Fenway Park route and make piecemeal renovations over several years to the existing structure in downtown Lexington, or do they adopt the Yankee Stadium philosophy and build a brand new church arena elsewhere? Among UK backers, a discussion on this matter can get every bit as heated as one between Red Sox and Yankees fans about which group has the right to claim moral ascendancy.
Renovate the Old Or Start Afresh? Rupp In Its Current Form (image: uky.edu)
Fenway might call itself the oldest sports venue used by a sports franchise in the United States, but it’s undergone an almost yearly series of alterations since 1999 to bring up to speed everything from the sod to the seats to the scoreboards. Heck, there’s even a party deck. Most importantly, the renovations have been so well done that, even though this isn’t your grandfather’s Fenway Park, Boston officials say that the place has another 60 years of life in it and you can forget any plans for a replacement. Yankee Stadium, as we know, received a different treatment; the one built in 1923 hosted its inhabitants for the last time in 2008 and was demolished in 2010, a year after the Yanks had moved into a brand new glittering jewel of a stadium called…Yankee Stadium. Aside from a tendency for balls hit to right field to carry a little longer than they did in the old park (this happened even when the Yankee pitching situation was more stable), it opened to raves, not to mention a championship in its first year.
So what fate, then, for old Rupp Arena? If it can be updated in its current location, should it be? Or is it time for a brand new facility?
LeBron will probably make a few appearances at Miami's Convocation Center.
That last one, though, may have now found a new crew with which to play. The AP reported earlier today that James joined in some “informal scrimmaging” with the Miami Hurricanes, some of whom hadn’t been notified that he was coming, let alone bringing along the likes of fellow Heat members Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller, and Patrick Beverley, and Chris Paul from the Hornets. According to the AP report (via ESPN.com), NBA players who live in Florida often work out with the team, but this was James’ first visit to “The U.” LeBron’s assessment via Twitter: “Just left ‘The U’ hooping with the team….Great runs! Needed that.”
Messrs. Williams, Thompson, and Calipari — it’s your move. Who’s got Clooney’s number?
Each day this week during the regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region. If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kentucky performed as a top seed should, winning convincingly, building momentum and taking confidence to Syracuse. Ashley Judd isn’t the only star fan, Grammy-nominated rapper Drake was at Saturday’s game and gave hi-fives to the Kentucky coaches.
Cornell is going to its first ever Sweet 16 after exposing Wisconsin in a 18-point victory. Meanwhile, the Big Red feel like they belong and will be playing their regional semifinal game just under 60 miles away from campus.
Washington continued its improbable run into the Sweet 16 Saturday. The Huskies are coming together as the East Region bracket falls apart, playing their best basketball in a long time. The Seattle Times is asking… why can’t the Huskies continue this run?
West Virginia handled the pressure and Joe Mazzulla and Darryl Bryant got redemption in their win over Missouri. Mazzulla showed heart in the Sunday win, the Charleston Gazette says.
West Region Notes (Andrew Murawa)
Butler has advanced to their third Sweet 16 in eight years, and while they will be a big underdog to Syracuse on Thursday, they’ve shed the Cinderella label.
Xavier, on the other hand, is one of just two programs in the country to achieve the Sweet 16 in each of the past three years (the other being Michigan State), and they’ve got a label they aren’t too big on either: “mid-major”.
A day after the BYU season ended, head coach Dave Rose still thinks his Cougars had a “special season.” They will lose seniors Jonathan Tavernari and Chris Miles to graduation and freshman Tyler Haws will head off on his two-year Mormon mission, but they also have two kids returning from missions and expect to be a strong contender in the MWC again next season.
And, finally, while it is never too early to get an Arinze Onuaku update (still somewhere between questionable and unlikely for Syracuse vs. Butler on Thursday), Wesley Johnson offered up a pretty good assessment of his hand injury with his play on Sunday.
Midwest Region Notes (Tom Hager)
It may be surprising to hear from Ali Farokhmanesh, but the gutsy shooter claims that open looks are sometimes the harder shots to make, as a shooter has too much time to think.
According to Tom Izzo, the odds of Kalin Lucas having a torn ACL are around 85%. If that is the case, his season is likely over.
When Tennessee and Ohio State will meet, it will be a rematch of their 2007 tournament game, in which the Volunteers led by 17 and OSU needed a Greg Oden block at the buzzer to save a one point lead.
Kansas coach Bill Self asserts that Northern Iowa shouldn’t be surprising the country as much as they are, claiming that the Panthers are not Cinderella.
According to Fox News, the NCAA needs Evan Turner, who can provide the closest substitute to the highly anticipated Kansas vs. Kentucky matchup. If both Kentucky and Ohio State advance to the Final Four, they would not meet until the title game.
A few hours before their game at South Carolina this evening — you’re sure to see a clip of this on ESPN’s coverage and probably on SportsCenter — John Calipari and his Kentucky team were summoned to the phone for a call from a fairly famous fan of college basketball — President Barack Obama. The call was one of gratitude to Calipari and his boys as a result of their efforts in helping to raise over a million dollars in aid money (that dinner with Ashley Judd at Calipari’s house going for a hundred grand didn’t hurt) through Calipari’s Hoops For Haiti initiative.
I spent my college years like a great number of people who are fortunate enough to get to go at all. You know, organizing my schedule so I didn’t have to get up before 2 PM, eating a lot of pizza, hitting on co-eds, doing the Greek thing, maximizing my time in pubs and on golf courses, that kind of thing. And that’s when I wasn’t watching college basketball, or tapes (yes, freaking VHS tapes) of games in the off-season. One thing I wasn’t doing was taking calls from the President and joking with him about how we needed to play horse or how I’d hopefully get to chill with him in the summer. Of course, I wasn’t raising over a million bucks for natural disasters with a group of my friends, either, so there we are. Despite their status as BMOCs on the Lexington campus — and pretty much the rest of the state save for small parts of Louisville — even that can’t compare with conversations with world leaders, especially when they’re giving you some serious props. You can see some nerves on the part of the players, and definitely from John Calipari.
Since you obviously love college basketball, you’re probably aware of some of the goings-on involving a few of the more storied programs in the game: Kansas lost their #1 ranking a couple of weekends ago and some players are said to be unsure of their roles on the team; North Carolina has dropped three straight and just barely managed to stay in the latest Top 25; Connecticut looks bewildered and is out of the rankings; despite having a brilliant coach, this is one of the worst UCLA teams in our lifetime; and just last night, Texas lost at Kansas State, and, after enjoying it for only two polls, will likely drop from the first #1-ranking they’ve ever had.
Meanwhile, in Lexington, John Calipari is defecating bars of gold. OK, I know — we can’t prove that. But would you be surprised? In the last several days, the University of Kentucky basketball team (and anything having to do with it) has enjoyed a tidal wave of positive energy of which there is no rival in recent memory. Let us relive the recent days of the Kentucky program, shall we?
Strong work, sir.
First — and there’s only one place to start this list — there was the Hoops For Haiti telethon that Calipari came up with and threw together in a matter of just a few days. This past Sunday, on local Lexington television station WKYT (who donated their own studio time, eschewing commercials), Calipari and some personalities from the station emceed while members of the Kentucky squad sat behind them and took telephone pledges. Even after the players were relieved of their posts, the phones kept ringing and the pledges kept coming in, largely because part of the deal here was that every pledge would be matched, or doubled, by a group called Cal’s Pals For Haiti. Several names from the world of college hoops called in and donated, including Dick Vitale, Texas head coach Rick Barnes (the irony!), Jim Boeheim (who was reportedly pretty funny), and Cincinnati Bengals coach (and NFL Coach of the Year) Marvin Lewis. Ashley Judd, a UK alum — like you didn’t know that — made a taped appearance, but is responsible for a few things in the accompanying auction. In a textbook display of class, ex-UK coach Tubby Smith called in to the show and made a live donation. We at RTC don’t really get mushy over stuff, but this feat is impressive, to say the least. Kentucky is the 44th-wealthiest state in the country, and though it has all classes represented among its populace, it’s safe to say that in several cases people who called in and donated money could not afford to, but still did. With the matching funds, so far, the venture has raised over a million dollars.
Upset Weekend. Let’s get one thing out of the way right away. It was a great weekend of college basketball, with over 175 games of juicy goodness, starting with Friday evening’s Sunshine State battle of A-Sun foes Jacksonville and Stetson, and ending with tonight’s Civil War game in Eugene between the Ducks and Beavers. If you didn’t get enough hoops over the last 54 hours, then you probably need your head checked (our appt. is Tuesday morning). But let’s not get too excited about this weekend just yet. By our count, there were ten upsets involving ranked teams, and a host of others barely survived. But this is something we all knew was coming. It’s called life on the road in conference play (note: we realize, of course, Kansas was on the road in non-conference play), and it’s what makes the next ten weeks so much more fun than the previous ten. No longer will teams be able to play Holy Names and Penn Central and St. Augustanus to pick up easy Ws. No, they now have to face conference foes — the family — and like your nutty Grandma at the holiday dinner table, the family can be harsh in its brutal honesty. If your team has a weakness, the family will find it and exploit it. If your team has multiple question marks, your days of skating by with superior athletes and a friendly home crowd are over. If your team has been using smoke and mirrors to get it done this year, well, the seven years of bad luck are about to begin. This phenomenon happens every single year, and every single year we all get all fluttery and hyperbolic talking about the early upsets, but the fact of the matter is that there are no dominant teams in the 1-and-done era and truthfully the real surprise would be if we didn’t have great weekends of parity like this one.
Hopson Crushed It on Aldrich (credit: Saul Young)
Now, About That Kansas Thing. #15 Tennessee 76, #1 Kansas 68. This was going to be one of the tougher games of the season for Kansas regardless of the Tennessee personnel issues, but you can almost imagine Bill Self fretting about his team’s focus when he found out that 40% of the Vol offense would not be available for this game. There’s no question that Kansas has elite talent, but they’re not robots, and it’s understandable that all the news about the UT players might have led to a bit of a letdown. Bill Self referred to his team’s lack of aggressiveness as manifested in the worrisome fact that KU’s all-american center Cole Aldrich (7/18/4 blks) only took five shots in 30 minutes despite a considerable size advantage inside. Repeated post-ups in the halfcourt offense resulted in few touches for Aldrich, as Sherron Collins and Tyshawn Taylor in particular were more interested in chucking threes and calling their own number throughout (20 and 11 shots, respectively). Tennessee, to its credit in using just six scholarship players and several walk-ons, kept hustling and scrapping for loose balls and hitting big shot after big shot every time it seemed that the superior KU talent was surging. Skylar McBee’s step-through three from the left side as the shot clock expired and UT up three very late was the stuff of legend (see below), and we doubt the walk-on marksman will be buying his own meals in Knoxville for many a year after he graduates.
In a game where the odds were repeatedly stacked against the Vols — the missing players, the foul trouble of Wayne Chism and JP Prince, the horrid FT shooting (15-29) — Pearl’s team was able to take to heart what has always made the colorful coach such an interesting guy. He sees himself as an underdog, but his teams only seem to take on that scrappy mentality when they are actually sitting behind the eight-ball. Tennessee always comes strong when they’re not expected to win — the game at Memphis in 2008, the wins over the national champion Gators in 2006 and 2007 — but it’s the games where they’re considered the heavy favorite that give Pearl’s teams trouble (last year’s two blowout Ls against struggling Kentucky come to mind). You could very reasonably argue that in the Vols’ two wins this week with six scholarship players (vs. Charlotte and the Jayhawks), they’ve looked better than they did when they went ten deep. The problem is that the underdog role can only be embraced and milked for so long, and there’s still an entire sixteen-game SEC slate ahead of them. Today was a tremendous, mood-lifting sort of win for the UT basketball program, but it won’t mean much if the Vols finish at 8-8 in the SEC East. Still, Bruce Pearl’s charges should be incredibly proud of themselves and by all means should stay away from rental cars and various weaponry after this big win (Pearl didn’t mention that, but he did mention complacency in his postgame speech below). Final thought: Scotty Hopson (17/4). Kid looked like a superstar today; his dunk over Aldrich was ridiculous. Keep it coming, young fella.
RTC Meets Ashley Judd. RTC editor John Stevens got to meet Kentucky Superfan Ashley Judd after Saturday’s Georgia game, and given that this may be a once-in-a-lifetime event, it deserves its own space. Here’s John:
I have to include the fact that I got to meet Kentucky alumna Ashley Judd at this game…and by “meet,” I mean shake her hand, stand beside her with my recorder (one of about 30 total) in her face, ask her a question, and smile dumbly at her like a mental patient who knows it’s almost pill time. Let me tell you something, folks. I don’t usually get star-struck (when you’ve sat behind Goodman, Bozich, DeCourcy, and Forde in a media room, hell, you’re ready for anything, heh), but when Ashley Judd looks you dead in the eye? Ballgame. Good night, everybody. Yes, she’s very attractive. But it’s not just that. She’s got that “star quality,” meaning that when she’s looking at you and talking, it’s morphine. You are tractor-beamed, and you’re very aware of it when your time is over. This is not something she’s trying to do, it’s something with which you’re born or you aren’t. They say politicians have this ability, too, though I doubt I’d feel the same effect if I were standing in front of, say, Strom Thurmond. As for my question, because she had been asked every possible hoops-related question by the 30 or so reporters around her, I asked her how that frenzy in the media room compared to the scene on a Hollywood red carpet. She replied like someone who, though she was glad her Wildcats escaped, was even happier to be home, even if temporarily. She smiled, thought for a second, and said with relish, “This is better! This is the blue carpet!”
Ashley is Happy to See RTC There
Moving On… Obviously, there were a bunch of other upsets this weekend beyond #1 Kansas going down, but we don’t have time to discuss them all so here are some of the key takeaways as we see them.
If you’re pretty much anywhere east of the Mississippi today, you’re cold. At least you are if you bother to venture outside. We’ve entered the pale and gray days of January, of course, which around here means it’s time to implement our favorite cure for our Seasonal Affective Disorder — college hoops. We’re not kidding, either. Nothing gets us through these days like watching (or attending) some fine college basketball, and what’s even better is interacting with other people out there doing the same thing. Not only will we be live blogging today’s slate of basketball games, but we’ve also got some of our correspondents attending games and cranking up the RTC Live from courtside (schedule at top left). So keep checking this space, get that refresh-button finger warmed up, and let’s hear what you’re thinking in the comments section, because it’s another BGTD for your Saturday. We’ll be back around noon to get things going. As the mercury plummets outside, this one’s not only fun for us…it’s necessary!
12:35pm: Great timing! As soon as we decided to light this candle, the internet connection tenders its resignation. But we’re back up now, it looks like.
12:37: The first thing I should mention is that we have someone courtside at UConn vs Georgetown for RTC Live, so while I might say a few things about that one, for now I’ll be focusing more on some of the other games happening. A link to the RTC Live for GU/UConn is above left, or just click here. UConn is currently spanking the Hoyas, 36-21.
12:44: Right now, St. John’s is looking pretty confident at Louisville, up 26-22. Man, that’s all Rick Pitino needs right now. A home loss in a Big East game. St. John’s is very patient on offense and the only threes they’ve taken have been virtually wide open, which is why they’ve hit 50% of them so far. Just under 3 minutes to go in the first half there.
Backdoor Cuts is a college basketball discussion between RTC correspondents Dave Zeitlin, Steve Moore and Mike Walsh. This week they each pick their favorite moment of the decade — and their answers may surprise you.
DAVE ZEITLIN: Guys, in life I only have two rules: 1) Don’t commit murder; and 2) When a decade is coming to an end, I need to categorize everything in “best of” formats. Seriously, I eat that stuff up like I’m Rick Majerus at a buffet table. I’ve already listed the top 10 Penn basketball moments of the decade for my new Penn sports blog (yes, that’s a plug — now click on the link before I consider breaking rule No. 1) and I’ve read countless more of these types of lists. Who knows why? I guess I’m just a sucker for moments — glorious, spine-tingling, remember-where-you-were-when-you-see-them moments that shed a little light on why I devote way too much of my pathetic life to sports.
But this is a column where we get stuff done. So our goal is to pick out the truly best moment of the decade. Of course, this can mean a lot of things. For me,it’s hard to pick just one from the NCAA tournament, which features a handful of memorable games and plays every year. So after further consideration, I’ve decided my favorite moment of the 2000s happened this year. It wasn’t a do-or-die game for either team and many people didn’t even watch the end. But Syracuse’s six-overtime win over UConn in last season’s Big East tournament was truly epic — and my No. 1 choice.
I won’t recap the game for you. That would take up too much space, and I don’t even think I remember much of it. Here’s what I do remember: placing a friendly wager with my sports editor about the game (I picked ‘Cuse!), leaving work after the first overtime, listening to one or two overtimes in my car ride home, coming home and chatting with anyone who was online (was that you, Steve?) through the next couple of overtimes, and then pacing around my apartment and muttering like a crazy person during the final two overtimes. How many overtimes is that? I don’t even know. That game made me forget how to count.
Seriously, I didn’t know what to do during the last hour of that game. I wanted to scream. I wanted to run around the city and find people to talk to about the 2-3 zone. I wanted to drive to Syracuse, find the walk-on that played the final overtime because everyone else fouled out and hug him. I wanted to write the words “March Madness” on a piece of paper and then make out with it. It was that good.
Was it the most important moment of the decade? Definitely not. But it was my favorite. And now I’m eager to know — what are yours? There are no rules, no restrictions. Mike, this is your chance to pen a poem on why St. Joe’s was the best sports story in Philadelphia in 2004 other than a horse. And Steve, you can, um, write about how BU’s only trip to the tourney was spoiled by Bob Huggins being mean. I’ll be anxiously waiting — it’s just too bad there won’t be any six-overtime games to keep me entertained in the meantime.
A polarizing figure for our columnists
STEVE MOORE: First of all, that 2002 tournament game still gives me nightmares. Did Steve Logan really need to go back in the game when Cincinnati had a bazillion-point lead? Bob Huggins thought so. Bob Huggins also hates puppies. So there’s that. Also, what does a list of Top 10 Penn Basketball moments of the decade look like, exactly?