UK basketball notebook: Former Hogs welcome call of SEC expansion

Herald-Leader Staff WriterOctober 27, 2012 

If the Southeastern Conference gets lucky, expansion this season will do for basketball what it did in 1991. That's the year Arkansas joined the league, jolted the league and rejuvenated the league.

Or, as Nolan Richardson proudly recalled last week, "The league then became big-time big-time."

What had been perceived nationally as Kentucky and various versions of the Washington Generals transformed into a more dramatic, more competitive league.

The addition of South Carolina in 1991 served as a mere footnote to the revolutionary change set in motion by Arkansas.

Arkan-came. Arkansas. Arkan-conquered. The signature moment came in late January of 1992 when Arkansas won at Kentucky 105-88. SEC basketball was never the same.

"We weren't one of those teams that was going to fold because you were the almighty," Richardson said of that game, which coincidentally marked the first home loss to an SEC opponent by a Rick Pitino-coached Kentucky team.

"From that point when others saw Arkansas can do that, '(Shoot), we can, too.'

"That's when the whole league began to change. We changed the whole energy of the league. I know that for a fact."

The SEC nowadays doesn't need an energizing moment. After all, the league boasts three of the last seven NCAA Tournament titles: Florida in 2006 and 2007, and Kentucky in 2012. In that time, two other teams advanced to a Final Four: LSU in 2006 and Kentucky in 2011.

Yet, the happy talk at the SEC Media Day on Thursday included suggestions that Missouri and Texas A&M might enhance the league's basketball profile.

Missouri spent much of last season ranked in the top 10. From an historic perspective, only Kentucky and Arkansas among the 14 SEC teams have had more NCAA Tournament appearances than Missouri's 25.

"People in the SEC will be shocked when they see the lineage of Missouri," Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy said.

South Carolina Coach Frank Martin noted Missouri's home-court atmosphere as "16,000 people wanting to throw you out."

Texas A&M is one of only two SEC teams to play in the NCAA Tournament from 2006 through 2011. "Might be the most under-rated team in the country," Martin said of A&M.

Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings predicted a record number of NCAA bids someday. "I think that day's coming soon," he said.

The record for bids is six, which has been achieved nine times.

When asked if Missouri might slip into the SEC race unnoticed, Coach Frank Haith smiled.

"It'd be nice if we could go undercover for a while," he said. "I don't think we can. ... I think there are teams chomping at the bit to get to us."

If so, that marks a drastic change from Media Day 1991. Even having won the last three Southwest Conference titles and led by seniors who had advanced teams to the 1990 Final Four and 1991 Elite Eight, Arkansas came away from that Media Day feeling disrespected.

"We felt the buzz around the media was this is not the Southwest Conference you guys are joining," Lee Mayberry recalled last week. "So don't expect to come in and do what you've been doing."

Richardson, who considered the underdog role as "one of my trademarks," welcomed the impression his players (Todd Day, Oliver Miller and Mayberry) took away from Media Day.

"They went into that league with chips on our shoulder," he said. "We're better than those players."

Never mind that a media vote predicted that Arkansas would — ahem — win the 1992 SEC title. That proved correct.

The punctuation on a new, better SEC came in the conference tournament. While Kentucky played Vanderbilt in the quarter-finals, a stirring by the crowd diverted attention. Arkansas fans noticed their players taking a seat and began "Calling the Hogs." OMG, Kentucky was not the center of attention.

For Arkansas, it was same old, same old.

"I used to feel sorry for the Southwest Conference," Richardson said. "A crowd of 17,000 (for the SWC Tournament), 16,000 would be Arkansas. The other thousand, find a seat."

Of course, Arkansas has receded. A Richardson protege, Mike Anderson, hopes to lead a revival.

Meanwhile, SEC fans can only hope that Missouri and Texas A&M bring a similar boost of excitement.

"I don't think the SEC dropped off one bit with Arkansas coming in," Mayberry said, a bit of defiance still in his voice. "I expect the same thing with Missouri and A&M."

75th anniversary

As part of the preparation for a celebration of the NCAA Tournament's 75th anniversary, a CBS crew conducted interviews with reporters and coaches at the SEC Media Day.

Beginning in February and running through the 2013 NCAA Tournament, the network will air features commemorating coaches, players, upsets, memorable moments and other highlights from past tournaments.

Here's a few notes from one session:

■ The working list of greatest coaches in the NCAA Tournament was John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski, Dean Smith, Bob Knight, Phog Allen, Henry Iba, John Thompson, Jim Boeheim, Don Haskins and Jerry Tarkanian.

Comment: No Adolph Rupp? Look for the Founding Father of UK basketball to be added to the list.

Denny Crum (six Final Fours, two national championships) also merits inclusion.

■ One-hit wonders included unlikely players who took center stage. Players on the working list were Charlie Kraak (Indiana, 1963), Kenny Washington (UCLA, 1964), Jimmy Boylan (Marquette, 1977), Terry Donnelly (Michigan State, 1979), Michael Graham (Georgetown, 1984), Harold Jensen (Villanova, 1985), Mouse McFadden (Cleveland State, 1986), Cameron Dollar (UCLA, 1995), the George Mason team of 2006, Ali Farokhmanesh (Northern Iowa, 2010) and Joey Rodriquez (VCU, 2011).

Comment: Of course, Graham loomed large in the intimidating Georgetown defense that limited UK to 3-for-33 shooting in the second half of the 1984 national semifinal.

■ The working list of memorable buzzer beaters was Jerome Whitehead (Marquette beats UNC in 1977), U.S. Reed (Arkansas beats Louisville in 1981), Danny Ainge (BYU beats Notre Dame in 1981), Lorenzo Charles (N.C. State beats Houston in 1983), Tate George (UConn beats Clemson, 1980), James Forrest (Georgia Tech beats Southern Cal in 1992), Christian Laettner (Duke beats Kentucky in 1992), Tyus Edney (UCLA beats Missouri in 1995), Bryce Drew (Valpo beats Ole Miss in 1998), Mario Chalmers (Kansas beats Memphis in 2008) and Scottie Reynolds (Villanova beats Pittsburgh in 2009).

■ Memorable upsets included Loyola of Chicago over Cincinnati in 1963, Texas Western over Kentucky in 1966, N.C. State over Houston in 1983, Villanova over Georgetown in 1985, Richmond over Syracuse (1991) and Indiana (1988), Santa Clara over Arizona in 1993, Princeton over UCLA in 1996, George Mason's run to the 2006 Final Four, VCU over Kansas in 2011 and the same-day twin killings in 2012: Norfolk State over Missouri and Lehigh over Duke.

There was no list yet of memorable moments. The UK-Duke game in 1992 (the Laettner game) must be included, and will probably take the top spot.

Another largely overlooked classic deserves inclusion: UK-U of L, the so-called Dream Game, in the 1983 Mideast Region finals.

Ratings decrease

National viewership decreased for the second episode of All-Access Kentucky. This past Wednesday's episode drew a rating of .44, which was a decrease from the .57 rating for the first episode on Oct. 17.

ESPN is available in about 100 million homes. So the .44 — less than one half of one percent of potential households tuning in the program — represents about 440,000 homes.

To try to put in perspective the All-Access Kentucky ratings, the ESPN show in the same timeslot on Oct. 18, Audibles, drew a .42. So, by that standard, AAK drew a slightly larger audience than regular programming.

For another comparison, the third presidential debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama had an audience of 59.2 million. Game 7 of the St. Louis-San Francisco baseball series drew 8.1 million. The Monday Night Football game between Detroit and Chicago drew 10.7 million.

Chris Aldridge, the general manager of Lexington station WTVQ, said the first episode of All-Access Kentucky drew a rating of 3.8 in the local market of 40 counties. That means that 3.8 percent of homes in the market watched.

That sounds tiny, but Aldridge said AAK was the highest-rated show on ESPN that day in our area. The third-highest rated ESPN show in our area that day was a repeat of the AAK show.

"For a non-live sporting event, it was a pretty good number," Aldridge said.

Barring a surprise, the All-Access Kentucky series ends with Episode III on Halloween.

Competitive banter

From Herald-Leader staffer Ben Roberts:

After the Blue-White Game, Willie Cauley-Stein spoke of the competitive relationship he enjoys with fellow freshman big man Nerlens Noel.

"It's not even really a competition," he said. "Most people would think that since we were both in the top of our class and he comes in at No. 1 and I'm kind of the underdog, that I'm going at his head every time. But it's not even really like that. You just respect each other's game. One day he's going to bust you and the next day you're going to bust him. And at the end of the day you're just making each other better. ...

"When we start playing, there's going to be nobody like us. You will not play a 7-footer that can jump like Nerlens. You won't play a guy as quick as me that's a 7-footer."

'Travesty'

Rupp's Runt Larry Conley, who attended SEC Media Day, lamented the end of the Kentucky-Indiana series.

"It's a travesty," he said.

The Reason

Georgia Coach Mark Fox considered accepting ESPN's offer to feature his Nevada team on its reality show, The Season, a few years ago. But coaching friend Skip Prosser dissuaded him.

What did Prosser say?

Prosser recalled how his Wake Forest team, with Chris Paul in the starring role, was the subject of The Season. The Demon Deacons lost only six games that season, two of which came while the film crew was on campus.

Fox said he'd have two requests before considering an All-Access Georgia show:

1. "You have to have some kind of control."

2. The show would not be done "when playing games," Fox said. "It's too much of a distraction."

Tickets

Morehead State plans to put tickets for its Nov. 21 game at UK on sale beginning at 10 a.m. Monday. The $50 tickets include a pre-game reception held in the Magnolia Room of the Lexington Downtown Hilton from 5-6:30 p.m. Sales are limited to two tickets per person.

Tickets are available to current MSU basketball season ticket holders only. To purchase in person, visit Room 195 of the Academic-Athletic Center. To purchase over the phone, call 606-783-2088 or 606-783-2386.

Active alumni can purchase a limited number of tickets beginning Wednesday at 10 a.m.

If tickets are still available on Friday, sales will be opened up to the public.

Happy birthday

To Dan Issel. UK's career scoring leader turned 64 on Thursday. ... To ever-youthful Transy Coach Brian Lane. He turned 45 on Thursday. ... To Hall of Famer Bob Knight. He turned 72 on Thursday. ... To former Georgia Coach Hugh Durham. He turned 75 on Friday.

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

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