Do UK fans travel too well for Cats' good? NCAA might think so

jtipton@herald-leader.comFebruary 12, 2014 

AUBURN, Ala. — Given how the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee judges teams, Kentucky's rabid fans don't help the Cats when they flock to neutral-site games.

In selecting and seeding teams for the NCAA Tournament, the selection committee puts more weight on victories on the opponent's court than in neutral-site games, committee chair Ron Wellman said Wednesday.

The committee also can discount neutral-site victories if the winners had a large majority of fans in the arena, thus giving the game a home-court advantage, Wellman said.

The logical conclusion for Kentucky fans is to stay away from neutral-site games so UK can gain the maximum amount of value from victories.

"That's an interesting point," Wellman said on an NCAA-sponsored teleconference Wednesday. "I don't think that any team is going to encourage their fans to stay away to gain added validity to a neutral– site game. I don't know that that really has an impact upon what we are trying to do as a committee. We know those neutral sites sometimes are not as neutral as they are labeled to be. The committee takes that into consideration."

Wellman used his job as athletic director for Wake Forest to explain.

"If Wake Forest were playing in Greensboro, calling that a neutral– site game, it's probably more of a home– court advantage for Wake Forest than the other team," he said. "So is that truly a neutral– site game?

"Those are the type of things we talk about when evaluating neutral– site games."

UK Coach John Calipari has expressed a preference for neutral-site games rather than home-and-home. This philosophy led to the end of Kentucky's long-standing series with Indiana, which insisted on a home-and-home format.

The Ratings Percentage Index, one of the tools the selection committee uses to evaluate teams, credits victories on an opponent's court as 1.4 victories, Wellman said. Neutral-site victories count as 1.0 victories. Home-court victories are six-tenths of a victory.

Winning ugly

Julius Randle acknowledged that UK's victory at Auburn on Wednesday was anything but artistic. "Yeah, it was ugly," he said.

Calipari's eye saw beauty in the game.

"I like the fact we shot 30 percent and won," he said. "That's old school."

Cal challenge

Auburn's largest lead (38-35) coincided with a TV timeout at the 11:25 mark of the second half. UK went to Randle in the post, but Calipari said he did not challenge Randle to come through.

"What I said to all of them was 'I'm playing the guys who are going to fight,' " he said. " 'If you're not into this, I'm going to someone else.' "

Randle scored eight of his 12 points and grabbed 10 of his 12 rebounds in the second half.

Size matters

Calipari had a simple explanation for Auburn's KT Harrell making only two of 15 shots (zero for seven from three-point range).

"We had some size on him," the UK coach said. "If you don't have size on him, he's pretty good."

Harrell failed to score double-digit points for the first time all season.

Auburn Coach Tony Barbee saluted Kentucky's defense.

"I give them credit," he said. "They're a good defensive team and hard with their length. But, guess what, you still have to make plays if you're going to be one of those high-level guys."

Barbee noted the crippling effect for Auburn when Harrell or backcourt mate Chris Denson struggle to score.

"We need Chris Denson and KT Harrell to play big for us at the same time," he said. "We've got some other guys that aren't as good as those two offensively, so he's expected to produce. There's no one hurting more than him."

SEC hurts UK

The perception of a weak Southeastern Conference lessens Kentucky's chances to improve its profile for the NCAA Tournament, committee chair Ron Wellman said.

Any loss in the SEC, except against No. 3 Florida or No. 14 Kentucky, should weigh even more heavily against a team given the conference's weakness, Wellman said.

"There is some factual basis to that," Wellman said. "One factor that is reported on consistently is the RPI ... and whether the other teams that may be under consideration do have an opportunity to move up the RPI as a result of the strength or lack of strength of that particular conference.

"So that is a factor that the committee does consider when evaluating teams and whether they will be selected and where they will be seeded especially."

Conversely, a strong conference, such as the Big Ten, gets more value out of in-league wins and less headwind from an in-league loss.

"Those conferences that are exceptionally strong and have a lot of depth are benefited by that depth and strength of depth," Wellman said.

No other SEC team besides Florida and Kentucky received a vote in The Associated Press media poll this week.

Etc.

■ Wellman said he's heard coaches say 12 to 18 teams are capable of winning the NCAA Tournament this year. "I've never heard numbers like that before," he said.

■ Scouts from the Knicks, Heat, Jazz and Cavs had seats at Wednesday's UK-Auburn game.

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

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