UK basketball notebook: For coaches, including Calipari, it's Suspicion Sunday

Herald-Leader Staff WriterMarch 10, 2012 

Kentucky Coach John Calipari will want Oliver Stone alerted. In hushed tones with a hand over your mouth, let the noted movie director/conspiracy theorist know it's — shhhh — Selection Sunday.

More than once recently, Calipari has spoken of a shadowy "they" that may try to undermine Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament. Why else would UK have been a No. 4 seed in last year's NCAA Tournament? Other than to thwart Kentucky, why else would the committee place North Carolina and Ohio State in the same East Regional?

The chair of the 2011 Selection Committee, Ohio State Athletics Director Gene Smith, laughed last week when told of Calipari's suspicions.

"I love John," Smith said as he reduced the laugh to a fit of giggles. "That's the furthest thing from the truth."

Noting that the Selection Committee includes such noted figures as C.M. Newton and Craig Littlepage among its alumni, Smith scoffed at the notion of the seeding or brackets being manipulated to impede or aid a particular team.

"There's no conspiracy theory," Smith said. "It doesn't exist. I understand how people get to that. It's athletics."

Competition breeds an us-against-them mentality.

Another former committee chair, UCLA Athletics Director Dan Guerrero, recalled how his team got placed one year in a first-round game against Belmont. This, too, proved to be a breeding ground for would-be intrigue.

"Everybody thought these were the only two teams with a mascot that's the Bruins," Guerrero said last week. "That's how ludicrous it gets."

Without ever directly saying so, Calipari seems to imply that his programs' past rule violations lead the NCAA office to seek his post-season defeat.

Smith and Guerrero said NCAA personnel only serve the selection committee to present facts about teams and remind members of seeding/bracketing guidelines.

Kentucky eyebrows raised in 1982 when the Cats lost a first-round game to Middle Tennessee State in Nashville. Of more recent vintage, UK had to play Wisconsin and Marquette in Minneapolis in 2003.

Then again, the selection committee generally places Kentucky close to home. No one complained when UK advanced to the 1984 Final Four by winning the Mideast Regional in — ahem — Rupp Arena.

Perhaps most famously, Kentucky had to play Alabama and Louisiana State a fourth time to try — and fail — to win the 1986 Southeast Regional. That led to a procedural change in which the committee works to avoid rematches.

There is a list of procedures and guidelines the selection committee follows in picking, seeding and bracketing teams. These rules — which try to avoid games involving two teams from the same conference until the regional finals — can skew the noted "S" curve that ideally would have, say, the overall No. 1 seed bracketed with the lowest-regarded No. 2 seed.

"Somewhere along the line, you're going to say, 'Oh, my gosh,' " Smith said of the inevitability of a matchup that occupies suspicious minds. "It's just going to happen."

For instance, one recent NCAA Tournament saw Michigan State play Dayton in a first-round game featuring Tom Izzo and one of his former assistants.

Aha!

"They thought we did that intentionally," Smith said. "We don't sit around and set things up."

But coaches such as Calipari will continue to think the committee does just that.

"Paranoid, exactly," the Ohio State AD said in agreeing with a reporter's description of coaches. "They're all paranoid."

Home-state advantage

No doubt, it irritated UK fans that North Carolina and/or Duke would play NCAA Tournament games in Raleigh, Greensboro, Charlotte or the Outer Banks each year. That last one was a joke, although Kentucky fans found little humor in this Duke/UNC home-state advantage that was unattainable for UK.

"It stuck in my craw, too," Lexington businessman Jim Host said last week.

Host, a member of the 2012 class of inductees into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, did something to ease the irritation. As chair of the Louisville Arena Authority, he headed an effort to build the Yum Center in Louisville.

Although the shortsighted might question Host's "loyalty" to UK in helping U of L get a new arena, his efforts contributed to the expectations of the Cats playing NCAA Tournament games in Louisville this week.

To attract NCAA events was "one of the real purposes" of building the Yum Center, Host said. In many meetings with NCAA officials, the Louisville Arena Authority learned what must be done so the Yum Center could play host to NCAA national wrestling and volleyball championships, plus serve as a site for the basketball tournament.

Host noted the 4,300 hotel rooms within a pedway walk of the Yum Center. That's the most for any arena between Chicago and Atlanta, he said.

The NCAA required six dressing rooms. "We built seven," Host said.

As a result, UK can expect to play in-state in what Host called a "semi-permanent site" for first and second weekends of NCAA Tournament play.

High/low on seeds

More than once this season, UK Coach John Calipari stated his belief that seeding matters in the NCAA Tournament. Being a No. 1 seed is better than being a No. 2, which is better than being a No. 3, etc., etc.

The win-loss records support Calipari's contention, beginning with a No. 1 seed never having lost to a No. 16.

Yet on a recent appearance on an ESPN radio show, Hall of Famer Bob Knight did more than downplay seeding as an indicator of success. He dismissed it altogether.

"I don't think it makes an ounce of difference," he said. "You have to play well no matter what your seed is ... "

Knight dismissed the entire process of seeding teams as an indicator of advancement deep into the NCAA Tournament.

"I don't know if you could even call it icing on the cake," he said. "I think it might be no more than the cardboard box the cake comes in."

Cat-lanta calling

If UK fans hope Selection Sunday brings a path to a national championship through Atlanta, the feeling is mutual.

Mark Vaughan, executive vice president of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, attended the Southeastern Conference Tournament. He made no secret of his wish that UK play in the South Regional the week after next.

"There is a buzz and a high level of anticipation they will be there," Vaughan said of the Cats and their fans. "And there's a desire from hotels and restaurants."

UK's fan following was on display at the SEC Tournament in New Orleans. "It's literally all Kentucky," said Vaughan, who incidentally is a Lexington native (Henry Clay, Class of 1979) and Eastern Kentucky graduate.

Vaughan used the term "Cat-lanta" in describing UK's possible participation in the South Regional this year. That event serves as a test run for the 2013 Final Four.

One man, one vote

In his ballot for the Naismith Award, ESPN analyst Doug Gottlieb said he voted for Thomas Robinson of Kansas over Anthony Davis of UK.

"How successful would Kentucky be without Anthony Davis?" Gottlieb asked. "Kentucky would still be a top-25 team (and) still probably contend in the SEC.

"But take Thomas Robinson off, Kansas is Tyshawn Taylor and nobody else."

Gottlieb said he had no complaint with those who voted for Davis.

"Because he dominates," the ESPN analyst said. "There's something about getting a shot blocked and getting dunked on that makes you uncomfortable as a player. ... It rattles people."

Lacking character

On his weekly commentary for National Public Radio, Frank Deford noted how coaches in general, and baseball managers specifically, have become more analytical and less intuitive. They're less likely to draw upon a gut feeling or depend on self-deprecation.

"Coaches and managers, as a group, have always been pretty straightforward types," he said. "We don't think of generals or preachers as humorists — and, after all, that's pretty much what coaches are, a hybrid of the military and the pulpit.

"But at least in the past, there were always a fair complement of coaching characters: old cracker-barrel philosophers, feisty wise guys and even a few sardonic intellectuals."

The mind drifts to such former SEC basketball coaches/characters as Sonny Smith, Dale Brown, Hugh Durham, Wimp Sanderson and Ray Mears.

"But the oddballs are diminishing," Deford said. "I think much of this has to do with the fact that sports has increasingly come to depend upon statistics, and so more and more coaches aren't skippers, as they've been, colloquially, in the past, but — for goodness sakes — programmers."

Must-see TV

Last week brought the announcement that ESPN and ESPN2 enjoyed significant ratings increases in college basketball telecasts this regular season.

While Kentucky no doubt is a marquee program and a boost to ratings, Duke played in the higher-rated games. Perhaps this is because viewers tune in to see Duke win or lose. Fewer people are neutral.

Curiously, for all the air time devoted to SEC basketball, the league's teams did not draw the biggest audiences.

Here are the five games that drew the highest ratings on ESPN: 1. North Carolina-Duke, March 3; 2. North Carolina-Michigan State, Nov. 11; 3. Duke-Ohio State, Nov. 29; 4. Kentucky-Indiana, Dec. 10; 5. Duke-UNC, Feb. 8.

Here are the five games that drew the highest ratings on ESPN2: 1. Ohio State-Indiana, Dec. 31; 2. Michigan-Indiana, Jan. 5; 3. Syracuse-N.C. State, Dec. 17; 4. St. John's-Kentucky, Dec. 1; 5. Michigan State-Gonzaga, Dec. 10.

One-and-done

Syndicated columnist Norman Chad (yes, the poker analyst) provided further evidence last week that UK basketball is synonymous with the so-called one-and-done players.

At the end of his weekly column, Chad answers questions from readers. He rewards the best questions with $1.25.

Last week's column included this question:

"Instead of senior night for the last game of the season, wouldn't it be more appropriate for John Calipari to hold freshman night?" — Scott D. Shuster, Watertown, Mass.

To which Chad replied, "Pay the cynic, Shirley."

Hair loss

ESPN analyst Doug Gott lieb is the face — or is that the scalp? — of a contest sponsored by Rogaine, the hair-restoration product.

Rogaine is hosting a nationwide sweepstakes for fans. The prize is a trip for two to the ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., to meet Gottlieb and tour the ESPN facilities. Airfare and three-night hotel stay are included. To enter, visit ESPNRadio.com/rogaine.

Gottlieb, 36, said he recently began using Rogaine.

"The stuff works," said Gottlieb, who noted that hair loss should not bring shame.

"We talk about other types of male dysfunction," he said. "Hair loss is something we don't talk about?"

Happy birthday

To former U of L analyst Jock Sutherland. He turns 84 on Wednesday. ... To former UK player Rashaad Carruth. He turns 30 Monday. ... To Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy. He turns 44 on Tuesday. ... To former UK player Patrick Patterson. He turns 23 on Wednesday. ... To SEC Player of the Year Anthony Davis. He turns 19 today.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Email: jtipton@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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