UK basketball notebook: New SEC schedule won't deliver 'true' champion

Herald-Leader Staff WriterJanuary 12, 2013 

Georgia Coach Mark Fox voiced what passes for a crazy idea these days: The Southeastern Conference should have a "true" champion. That is to say all teams should play the same schedule. That way, no one could argue that the team with the best record is not deserving of the SEC championship.

"Part of me thinks we should just play 26 league games and have it out," Fox said on an SEC teleconference Monday. " ... The schedule is very skewed now."

Of course, no one except for that part of Fox wants to play 26 league games. That's impractical, though intriguing. There would be no room for confidence-building guarantee games. Fewer chances to play made-for-TV matchups. No traditional non-conference rivalries.

Besides, does anyone really care anymore if the SEC crowns a "true" champion?

The league's expansion from 12 to 14 teams led to an increase of SEC games (16 to 18). With no thought given to a double round-robin schedule, the league had to decide who should play who once a season and who should play who on a home-and-home basis.

The SEC assigned each team an opponent it will play each season home and away. For Kentucky, that opponent is Florida.

Yes, television interests played a part in the decision, said the man who heads scheduling, SEC Associate Commissioner Mark Whitworth. So did consideration of "what's in the best interest of SEC basketball," he said. "Kentucky-Florida has been so good for so many years, that was an obvious choice."

Tennessee complained about not being UK's permanent opponent. But it will be impossible to please everyone.

A new agreement with ESPN included more Thursday night games. That means more instances of playing two games in three days (Thursday and Saturday of the same week), which Kentucky just did.

UK had only done that once in the first three seasons of Thursday night games. But the Cats will do it twice this season: at Vanderbilt and home to Texas A&M last week and at Georgia and home to Florida on March 7 and 9.

With Tuesday's game against Tennessee, UK is in the midst of three games in six days.

Other SEC teams playing three games in six days this season are LSU, Mississippi, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.

The uneven schedule plays a part in Mississippi being perceived as a contender. The Rebels have to play Kentucky and Florida only once (with the Kentucky game in Oxford). Florida must play Kentucky and Missouri twice each.

"This is what happens when you have expansion," Florida Coach Billy Donovan said. "Everybody has to sacrifice a little bit. The league is doing the best it can to create a competitive, fair, balanced schedule."

GPAs are A-OK

Congratulations to the Cats for their team grade-point average of 3.06 (scholarship players only) in the fall semester of 2012.

Among SEC schools that have responded so far to requests for team GPAs, UK's grades compare favorably. Missouri also had a 3.06.

Alabama had a 3.0, Florida a 2.81, Mississippi a 2.31 and Georgia a 2.27.

Among other traditional basketball powers, Louisville had a 3.41. Fifteen of the Cardinals' 17 players had a 3.0 or better. Both are record highs for the program, U of L spokesman Kenny Klein said.

Indiana had a 3.07.

'Visionary'

While leading reporters on a tour of UK's renovated home locker room last week. spokesman DeWayne Peevy noted several times that the final result was very similar to John Calipari's initial idea.

"He's a visionary," Peevy said. "He thinks big."

Peevy said Calipari thought of the complex as "one of his babies," and visited the construction zone frequently.

Lexington Center Corp. Executive Director Bill Owen told Herald-Leader reporter Linda Blackford that despite UK fundraising and involvement, the entire complex was still owned entirely by the center, and there had been no modifications in the lease with UK.

"It's a public asset," he said. "I think of the Opera House as one of my babies, too, but it's still a public asset."

'AAU mentality'

Texas A&M Coach Billy Kennedy sounded a lot like John Calipari when he said that college freshmen must learn how to compete.

So, generally speaking, why do freshmen have to learn how to compete? Why don't they arrive at college ready to compete? Hadn't they competed in high school? Isn't their elevation to the college level proof of their competitive natures?

"They're so talented," Kennedy said, "and they're the best players on their (high school) teams.

"The AAU mentality is just running up and down and just winning with talent. And not winning with intangibles. You get them in a situation where they're having to compete and using intangibles to be successful. It's an adjustment and it's new to them. I think that's the biggest hurdle."

'Lord help us all'

A few hours before Kentucky played at Vanderbilt on Thursday night, one usher could be heard asking another if Jimmy Dykes was doing the color commentary on the game telecast.

When told that the tempestuous one, Bob Knight, was the color commentator, the usher said, "Lord help us all."

Knight time

Hall of Famer Bob Knight won last week's prize for the longest commute to work. To work ESPN's telecast of the Kentucky-Vanderbilt game, he came to Nashville from a fishing trip in Chile.

Guns

A few weeks ago, John Calipari joined the coaching colleagues who shared their thoughts on the mass murder in a Connecticut elementary school. The UK coach questioned the need for assault weapons and suggested the country engage in a thorough discussion about violence in our society. Gun control. Mental health treatment. Violent video games. These topics and others could be part of the country's self-examination.

This sparked several email responses. All were either emotional defenses of the prevalence of guns or calls for much tighter controls on guns.

An emailer who questioned whether Calipari should have commented publicly about the Connecticut shootings brought a response from UK fan Don W. Locknane.

"The maniacal rantings from someone who crawls on his knees in defending the Second Amendment (which by the way I believe is totally out of touch and badly misinterpreted), while also denying Coach Cal his right of the First Amendment is despicable ... ," Locknane wrote. "He states that Coach Cal's opinion will not sway anyone else's opinion. But by his tone, he certainly seems to fear it will. To state that 'our coach has to be one of us, and we are not liberals' pretty much validates the mentality (or lack of) of these demented and paranoid idiots.

"Since assault weapons are used to kill a large group of people quickly (i.e. an army in times of war or terrorists), the people that support and own these weapons are nothing more than delusional creeps who are constantly looking out their windows thinking some organization (government) is coming to get them. Maybe that is the real mental health issue here."

Locknane, a lifelong resident of Lexington, graduated from UK in 1979 with a degree in business administration. He described himself as a "rabid fan who used to pester Coach Rupp at Brookings Restaurant as a young tyke with my buddies as I grew up on Park Ave." He's been involved with the Thoroughbred industry for decades.

Vote

With this year bringing the 75th NCAA Tournament, fans can vote on the top players, teams and moments of the event, the NCAA announced Wednesday.

Fans can vote on NCAA.com/marchmadness through March 24. Winners will be announced at the Final Four on April 5.

Four Kentucky players are among a list of "top 75 players" to consider. The four are Dan Issel, Jack Givens, Tony Delk and Anthony Davis.

Two UK teams are among the 25 teams mentioned for consideration: the Cats of 1995-96 and 2011-12. The only other SEC team mentioned is Florida 2006-07.

For what it's worth, no Kentucky victory is included among the "top 35" moments offered for consideration.

The moments involving UK include losses to Texas Western in the 1966 finals, to UCLA in the 1975 finals (John Wooden's farewell), to Michigan State in the 2005 region finals and, of course, to Christian Laettner and Duke in the 1992 region finals.

One man, one vote

The United States Basketball Writers Association asked its members to vote for the top 15 players in NCAA Tournament history. To help that process, the USBWA provided a list of 75 players.

I voted for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Bill Bradley, Anthony Davis, Pervis Ellison, Patrick Ewing, Gail Goodrich, Bobby Joe Hill, Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Christian Laettner, Jerry Lucas, Joakim Noah, Bill Russell, Bill Walton, Jerry West.

Comment: A bit of wavering on West, who did not win a championship. Neither did Bird nor Bradley, but each became icons. Perhaps, a rush to judgment on Davis, but his championship game performance (1-for-10 shooting, 16 rebounds, six blocks, five assists) will be talked about for a long time.

Players reluctantly left off my ballot: Carmelo Anthony, Shane Battier, Elgin Baylor, Austin Carr, Darrell Griffith, Jack Givens, Dan Issel, Michael Jordan, Danny Manning, Scott May, David Thompson, Kemba Walker, Corliss Williamson.

Comment: Great players. Great performances. But a limit of 15 players mandated difficult choices. For instance, Goodrich and Givens each scored more than 40 points in a championship game. The nod went to Goodrich because he played on two title teams.

The players offered by the USBWA for consideration included Shelvin Mack of Butler and Bryan Station High.

Somehow not included on the USBWA ballot: Wes Unseld, Rick Mount.

Wooden Award

Last week brought an announcement of a mid-season list of 25 players considered top choices for the Wooden Award. That list included two SEC players: Laurence Bowers and Phil Pressey of Missouri.

Russ Smith of Louisville and Isaiah Canaan of Murray State also made the list.

Vitale honored

ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale will be inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame this year.

Vitale, the game's ambassador and pied piper, joined ESPN in 1979. As they used to say, he needs no introduction. But here goes anyway: His ebullient style generates enthusiasm, passion and imitators. He also writes for ESPN.com/dickvitale and his own website, www.dickvitaleonline.com.

The NSSA is a non-profit organization that preserves and celebrates the legacy of sportscasters and sportswriters in the United States. The NSSA values creativity in storytelling, pursuit of truth and conveyance of information.

Vitale will be honored as part of the 54th annual NSSA Awards Weekend June 8-10.

Happy birthday

To Shagari Alleyne. He turns 29 on Monday. ... To Jay Shidler. He turns 55 on Tuesday. ... To Mike Scott. He turns 46 on Monday.

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

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