Vitale, Dakich say rivalry games like Kentucky-Indiana good for college basketball

Rivalry games more important, critics argue

jtipton@herald-leader.comDecember 8, 2011 

Through social media, Kentucky Coach John Calipari continued to lobby Wednesday for the end of UK's traditional series with either Indiana, North Carolina or Louisville. Perhaps unwittingly, he's advocating one less special game in the mind-numbing monotony of nightly televised basketball.

So said Dan Dakich, a former Indiana player and interim coach.

"If you really think about it, there are so few true North Carolina coming to Rupp (moments)," he said Wednesday. "Or Kentucky coming to Indiana."

Kentucky plays at Indiana on Saturday.

In his latest explanation of why Kentucky may drop Indiana, Louisville or North Carolina, Calipari tweeted that such a move "allows me to schedule more neutral site games" like the doubleheaders involving Kansas, Duke, Michigan State and Kentucky three straight seasons beginning with 2011-12.

The Southeastern Conference's possible move from 16 to 18 games makes it more difficult to add such made-for-TV games, said Calipari, who tweeted, "Trust me, u won't be disappointed."

Yet, Dakich suggested something will be missing on a neutral court, even one as historic as Madison Square Garden.

"Yeah, you can play at the Garden or go to Maui," he said. "OK, cool. But I think there was something spectacular about that North Carolina-Kentucky environment, and you don't get that in a neutral-site game."

Dakich, who hosts a radio show on Indianapolis' ESPN affiliate (WFNI-AM 1070) and also serves as one of ESPN's college basketball analysts, said he understood how a coach like Calipari must first look for what's in the best interests of his program.

"John must obviously feel like there is a reason this is to the betterment of Kentucky," Dakich said of the dropping of a traditional non-conference rival. "If you ask, what is it? I don't know. I honestly don't know."

But Dakich suggested ending such a series is not in the interest of college basketball.

"It just doesn't happen that often in non-conference basketball," he said. "It's good for the sport. It creates interest. College basketball is on (television) so often, now, where you have a tendency to just have it on.

"That game (UK-UNC) or Indiana-Kentucky this year or the Louisville-Kentucky game, it's appointment TV."

Dick Vitale, ESPN's Hall of Fame analyst, said he planned to advocate the continuation of the UK-IU series when he works Saturday's game in Bloomington.

"That's a series, they should keep that, baby," Vitale said. "You cannot let that go."

When asked about Kentucky's series with Louisville and North Carolina, Vitale said, "They should keep all three. I don't think there's any reason you can't keep all three."

One of the reasons Calipari has stated for ending one of the series is the risk of over-scheduling should Kentucky not always add a highly regarded freshman class.

Vitale dismissed the importance of a non-conference loss.

"A loss early is not going to hurt any," he said. "Do you think that loss (at UK) hurt North Carolina?"

Vitale voiced concern that Calipari might want to replace an opponent like Indiana, North Carolina or Louisville with a "cupcake" opponent. But when told that the UK coach had implied that the replacement game be a made-for-TV matchup, Vitale said, "I can buy that. But don't replace them with a cupcake."

One of Calipari's tweets Wednesday said his original posting of Nov. 27 asking fans to vote on which traditional opponent they'd accept dropping was merely an attempt to "create dialogue."

Dismissing the notion that a fear of losing prompted the idea of dropping a traditional opponent, Calipari tweeted, "I'm the originator of playing anytime, anyplace, anywhere."

Calipari added that he sought "flexibility in our scheduling."

Vitale noted the popularity of Kentucky's games with Indiana, Louisville and North Carolina. Coincidentally, eight minutes after Wednesday's fourth and final Calipari tweet about scheduling, UK alerted media that its Dec. 31 game against Louisville is a sellout.

"I think the fans want it," Vitale said of the traditional non-conference series.

Cats-Cards a sellout

Tickets are sold out for Kentucky's game against Louisville on Dec. 31 in Rupp Arena, UK announced Wednesday. Later in the day the school said tickets for the South Carolina and Alabama games were also gone.

Tickets for the Jan. 17 Arkansas game went on sale Wednesday and can be bought through Ticketmaster.

Upper-level tickets for UK's games against Chattanooga, Samford, Loyola (Md.) and Lamar are also available.

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