UK basketball notebook: Cupcake schedules hurt SEC's profile

Herald-Leader staff writerJanuary 25, 2014 

Southeastern Conference arenas were less than two-thirds full during the non-conference portion of the season. SEC teams won only four of 19 games against ranked opponents from outside the league. As of today, only Florida and Kentucky can be confident of playing in the NCAA Tournament.

Message: There will be no quick fix in the effort to raise the profile of SEC basketball.

"We've got work to do," Associate Commissioner Mark Whitworth said. "No doubt about that."

In November and December games, the announced attendances represented 64.4 percent of capacities of SEC arenas. Kentucky and Florida, who are separate entities, filled their arenas to 97.2 and 90.6 percent of capacity.

Take away UK and Florida, the SEC teams played home games in front of crowds that, on average, filled 58.1 percent of seats. Texas A&M's Reed Arena was only 35.3 percent filled, on average.

Most puzzling is Missouri, which was ranked much of the pre-conference portion of the season. Yet, its home games drew crowds of only 49.4 percent of capacity.

Whitworth, a Lexington native charged with helping promote SEC basketball, noted scheduling as a factor. The league continues to encourage its teams to schedule non-conference games that "resonate with fans," he said.

Of course, such opponents will want a return game at their arenas in a future season. That's exactly what Whitworth and the SEC's consultant, former NCAA Tournament maven Greg Sheheen, are encouraging league teams to do to improve their post-season profiles.

"Not neutral games," Whitworth said, "but true road games."

Such games catch the eye of the NCAA Selection Committee as a true indicator of a team's ability, he said.

According to Ken Pomeroy, Texas A&M and Mississippi State played two of the three weakest non-conference schedules in Division I. Five other SEC teams — Georgia, Auburn, Ole Miss, Missouri and Arkansas — played schedules outside the toughest 200. Whitworth said the league is encouraging teams not to play any opponent with a Ratings Percentage Index outside the top 200.

Fans should see SEC teams meeting this goal beginning with the 2014-15 season, Whitworth said.

Kentucky and Florida own three of the four non-conference victories over top-25 opponents. UK beat then-No. 6 Louisville. Florida beat then-No. 13 Kansas and No. 15 Memphis. Missouri has the only other SEC victory over a ranked opponent (then-No. 18 UCLA).

From the vantage point of late January, SEC teams like Tennessee, LSU, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Missouri need to make a splash in league play (read: beat Kentucky and/or Florida) to become viable NCAA Tournament contenders.

'Baseline breakdown'

During a timeout in Kentucky's game against Texas A&M last week, ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes left his mid-court seat and headed to the baseline near the visiting bench.

Huh?

It was time for what he called a "baseline breakdown."

This meant split screen coverage: one camera on the game and one on Dykes. This effort to enlighten viewers in a creative way drew mixed reviews.

"Some people loved it," Dykes said. "Some people hated it. But it doesn't keep us from experimenting and trying new things. All we're trying to do is enhance the viewers' experience and give them a different take on what's going on."

(Full disclosure: I recorded the game, but deleted it because there didn't seem to be anything that merited a second look. So I did not see the "Baseline breakdown.")

The path to a "baseline breakdown" began in a pre-game production meeting, Dykes said. ESPN personnel in front of and behind the cameras met to discuss the upcoming telecast. Upon agreeing that offensive rebounding was a distinctive quality of this Kentucky team, Dykes suggested an in-game report from the baseline to help show UK's rebounding prowess.

Kentucky's many appearances on ESPN also contributed to the baseline breakdown. With the Cats a familiar team to many viewers, ESPN put a priority on a finding a fresh approach.

The idea became a baseline blunder when UK did not grab a single offensive rebound during the four minutes Dykes crouched near the basket.

"You got to be kidding me," Dykes said good-naturedly. "What's the odds of that happening?"

Dykes noted the dangers of working in "live TV."

A baseline breakdown report last season came off without a hitch. Dykes and a camera went to a similar baseline position last season to show how Syracuse's signature 2-3 zone impacted opponents. The focus was put on the middle man in the zone.

"How much talking he does," Dykes said. "You could actually hear him. It worked really, really well."

ESPN will continue to look for innovative ways to cover games, Dykes said. So, there may be another baseline breakdown in Kentucky's future.

FYI: Dykes is scheduled to work four more UK games this season: At Ole Miss on Feb. 18, home to LSU Feb. 22, at South Carolina March 1 and the Senior Night home game against Alabama on March 4.

USA Basketball

Last week, USA Basketball announced the 28-player pool that will be used to fill rosters for international competition in 2014-2016. The first competition will be the inaugural FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain in September.

There are two former UK players in the pool, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

Here are leftovers from last week's teleconference announcing the 28-player pool:

■ USA Coach Mike Krzyzewski lauded Davis. "Anthony's trajectory as far as improving keeps going higher and higher and higher," Krzyzewski said. "The very first thing is he's not a normal big guy. He's very fluid. He can guard probably every position. ... He can be a great rim protector."

■ Cousins has squabbled with more than one of his NBA coaches. But spokesman Craig Miller said that USA Basketball is satisfied that Cousins will be a cooperative player.

"He and Jerry (Colangelo) have had talks in previous years so I'm sure he understands what we expect of our players," Miller said in an email.

■ USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and Krzyzewski stressed how the pool of players is "fluid." No pun intended. Changes can be made. Former UK star John Wall is one of the players who could be added.

■ Krzyzewski lauded foundational pieces he called the "three C's:" Continuity, commitment and camaraderie.

Perhaps no player demonstrates those qualities better than LeBron James, who could play in his fourth Olympics in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

"It appears that's exactly what he wants to try," Krzyzewski said. "I like the fact he loves the game so much. He's really put his face on USA Basketball for the last decade."

Clarification

During a recent telecast, an ESPN analyst seemed to question whether short arms might hinder Julius Randle as an NBA player. ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla offered a clarification.

"I believe he will excel in the NBA and have at least a David West-type career," Fraschilla said in a text message. "He has always been a double-pumper in the lane. NBA guy thought he had short arms or short-arms his shots at times."

Randle seemed bemused by the notion of taller NBA defenders exploiting his short arms. "I think the teams we're playing right now are pretty big," he said after the Kentucky-Texas A&M game. "And what's my shooting percentage?"

Randle had made 54.5 percent of his shots going into the Georgia game Saturday.

'All's fair'

This is a repeat note from the pre-season, but the Texas A&M visit to Rupp Arena last week and what it says about the oxymoronic notion of coaching ethics merits another mention.

Rival coaches used A&M Coach Billy Kennedy's Parkinson's disease as a recruiting tool against him. To which, Kennedy offered a philosophical shrug.

"Recruiting is recruiting ... ," he said at the SEC Media Days.

Kennedy noted a piece of advice he received from former Auburn Coach Sonny Smith: All's fair in love, war and recruiting.

"I was about 20 years old," Kennedy said. "There's a lot of truth to that."

Dunk to funk

Going into Saturday night's game against visiting Auburn, Michael Qualls had made only one of 13 shots (7.7 percent) since beating Kentucky with a last-second put-back dunk.

Qualls, who was Arkansas' leading scorer at the time, made five of 15 shots against UK. In his other four SEC games, he'd made four of 35 shots (11.4 percent) and averaged 4.0 points.

In his first five games against SEC teams, Qualls had made nine of 49 shots (two of 18 from three-point range) and lost his spot in the starting lineup.

Blood

The Big Blue Slam Blood Drive — the annual competition between Kentucky and Florida to see which program can generate the most donations — is this week.

On Monday there will be a blood drive in Rupp Arena from noon to 7 p.m. One lucky donor at Rupp will win a tour of the UK locker room, which will be conducted at a later date.

The Kentucky Blood Center will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. There will also be a number of blood drives on the UK campus and at various other locations throughout the region.

Big Blue Slam donors will receive a commemorative T-shirt and a chance to win a ticket package for two to the SEC Tournament in Atlanta. The prize includes two tickets for the Thursday through Sunday sessions in the Georgia Dome, plus a three-night stay at the Westin Peachtree Plaza.

Blood donors must be 17 years old (16 with parental consent), weigh at least 110 pounds, be in general good health, show a photo I.D. and meet additional requirements. Sixteen-year-old donors must have a signed parental permission slip, which can be found at kybloodcenter.org.

Condolences

To the family of Jim Mitchell, who passed away at age 85 on Wednesday.

A longtime NBA scout, Mitchell was generous with his assessments of players and with a light-hearted comment that gently put basketball in perspective.

Happy birthday

To former UK All-American Tony Delk. He turns 40 on Tuesday. ... To Chris Mills, still the only UK player to ever post a triple-double. He turned 44 on Saturday. ... To Perry Stevenson. He turned 27 on Thursday. ... To Kevin O'Neill. The former Tennessee coach turned 57 on Friday. ... To John Carroll. As the Herald-Leader editor, he guided the newspaper's Pulitzer Prize-winning series on UK basketball in the 1980s. He turned 72 on Thursday.

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

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