UK has no right to look down on NIT

Plus: Morehead's Tyndall not opposed to play-in game or matchup with Louisville

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMarch 15, 2009 

A March with plenty of Madness in these parts:

■ Some Kentucky basketball backers are calling for a boycott of potential UK games in the NIT. Others want the school to refuse to play in the second-tier tournament at all.

Such people need to turn to a football coach, Bill Parcells, for a little guidance. In sports, as Parcells famously said, you are what your record says you are.

Kentucky is 20-13 this season. It is a loser of 26 games in the past two seasons. It is a loser of 51 games in the past four seasons.

Right now, UK basketball is an NIT-level program. So those elements of the Kentucky fan base who are acting like the NIT is somehow beneath UK basketball are deluding themselves.

Kentucky should accept an NIT bid and make a good-faith effort to win the tournament.

Alabama football does not turn down the Independence Bowl because in the past it has played in many Sugar Bowls.

Jennifer Aniston went out with Vince Vaughn after she lost Brad Pitt.

UK fans may as well make the best from this.

An NIT trip should be viewed as a chance for a young player vital to UK's future, Darius Miller, to continue his late-season improvement.

Fans should see it as a chance to enjoy watching Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson play more games in Kentucky uniforms.

Anyone who relishes the history of UK basketball ought to get a kick out of seeing the Cats possibly play an NIT game in the venerable Memorial Coliseum.

Just because everything doesn't work out the way one wants, it's no justification to quit, take one's ball and go home.

■ When North Carolina fired Matt Doherty after only three years as Tar Heels head coach, it had in Roy Williams a North Carolina alumnus with a gold-plated coaching résumé waiting in the wings.

When Alabama football axed Mike Shula after only four seasons, it was ultimately able to justify its quick hook by luring coaching star Nick Saban from the NFL.

The one thing that might yet save what seems to be Billy Gillispie's seemingly tenuous hold on the Kentucky basketball head coaching position is the absence of anyone of the stature of a Williams or Saban who seems likely to take the UK job.

■ Meanwhile, those Kentucky fans who are suddenly agitating to try to lure Rick Pitino back from Louisville just sound desperate.

■ Through games played Saturday, the all-time college basketball wins list was 1. Kentucky 1,986; 2. North Carolina 1,978; 3. Kansas 1,968.

With North Carolina's loss Saturday to Florida State, even if the Tar Heels go on to win the NCAA championship, there is no way they can pass Kentucky this season.

■ Many college basketball coaches want to avoid the NCAA tourney's "opening-round game." That is the Tuesday night contest that pits the tournament's No. 64- and 65-seeded teams.

Morehead State Coach Donnie Tyndall, however, says he can see some advantages to that game.

1. It would be a chance to play a nationally telecast contest on ESPN.

2. For a school like Morehead, it would be a "winnable" game and "any NCAA Tournament victory is a good thing," Tyndall says.

3. Morehead presently stands at 19-15. With a win, the 2008-09 Eagles would become, amazingly, only the third team in Morehead history to win 20 games in a season.

The others were Wayne Martin's 25-6 team in 1983-84 (the last Morehead NCAA Tournament team) and Kyle Macy's 20-9 squad in 2002-03.

■ In at least one edition of his Bracketology over this weekend, ESPN tournament guru Joe Lunardi had Morehead State as a No. 16 seed playing No. 1-seeded Louisville.

Even though it would be a rematch of a game U of L won 79-41 earlier this season, Tyndall would be OK with that pairing, too.

"I think it would generate a lot of attention in the state," Tyndall said of a possible Big Dance meeting with the Cardinals. "For our program, that would only be a good thing."

■ Like many young coaches, Tyndall is an admirer of Rick Pitino's coaching acumen.

In 1991, Tyndall was a Morehead State guard on the Eagles team that lost 101-84 in Freedom Hall to the Pitino-coached Kentucky Wildcats.

In 27 minutes, Tyndall had five assists and three points against the UK team that would go on to lose to Duke on Christian Laettner's buzzer beater.

In his office, Tyndall keeps a photo of himself shaking hands with Pitino after that UK-Morehead game.

"I can still remember word-for-word exactly what he said to me," Tyndall said of the Pitino handshake.

Which was?

"You are a great young player, just keep working hard."

■ Citing an analysis by basketball statistics guru Ken Pomeroy, The Wall Street Journal (which has added a daily sports page) says Louisville is the third "luckiest" team among those likely to make the NCAA Tournament.

The analysis is based on evaluating how many points a team has scored, how many it has allowed as well as a team's consistency from game to game.

Teams whose records are better than the underlying stats suggest they should be are classified as "lucky."

Michigan State and LSU were the probable NCAA teams ranked more "lucky" than the Cards.

■ Meanwhile, that survey that ranked the commonwealth of Kentucky 49th among the 50 states in terms of happiness?

Clearly it wasn't taken during the current UK basketball season.

Otherwise, the commonwealth would have been dead last in happiness.

Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3230, or mstory@herald-leader.com. Your e-mail could appear on the blog Read Mark Story's E-mail at Kentucky.com.

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