Calipari holding out hope for No. 1 seed

jtipton@herald-leader.comFebruary 24, 2014 

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Kentucky coach John Calipari scolded his players after both teams had to be separated and a double technical foul was called Kentucky played Mississippi on Feb. 18. The Cats beat Ole Miss, 84-70.

PHOTO BY MARK CORNELISON | STAFF — Herald-Leader Buy Photo

John Calipari opened up his own version of the make-a-wish foundation Monday by speaking of Kentucky and a No. 1 seed in this year's NCAA Tournament.

Careful not to sound delusional, Calipari attributed the possibility of a No. 1 seed to ESPN's Basketball Power Index. It rated Kentucky No. 4 in the nation this week.

"And said we were the fourth No. 1 seed," Calipari said on a Southeastern Conference coaches' teleconference. "I'm not sure we're quite there.

"But you've got other teams with the same (21-6) record as us in other places being rated that high. I'm not saying we're to that point, but we are getting better."

In updates this week, ESPN's resident bracketologist, Joe Lunardi, USA Today and CBSSports.com all projected Kentucky as a No. 5 seed. The NCAA's Ratings Percentage Index had Kentucky at No. 10.

Jerry Palm, the numbers cruncher for CBSSports.com, said mock brackets and various ratings are fluid at this stage.

"Three weeks to go, so there is a lot of wiggle room," he wrote in an email message. "Not sure if they can get to a 1, but there's still a lot of room to move. Up and down."

Kentucky, which has a 1-4 record against Top 25 teams, needs greater contributions from Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress "if we're going to be that special team," Calipari said. "If we're going to be that kind of team, he (Poythress) has got to perform. He's got to give us double-digit points and at least six or seven rebounds.

"But he's capable of that."

Poythress had six points and grabbed one rebound in Kentucky's overtime victory over LSU last weekend. He made three of five shots after having made only four in the four most recent games.

Similarly, Cauley-Stein enjoyed an uptick against LSU: seven points, six rebounds and three blocks. In the four most recent games, he averaged 5.8 points and 4.0 rebounds.

Calipari said all players go through ebbs and flows during a season.

"These kids are not machines," he said. "Willie went through it. Andrew (Harrison) went through it. Aaron (Harrison) went through it. James (Young). They're not computers. This is not a computer game."

Dominique Hawkins and Poythress came to UK's practice gym Sunday to voluntarily take extra shots.

Florida special

Speaking of special teams, Florida reached No. 1 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll for the first time since Feb. 12, 2007.

Coach Billy Donovan downplayed the occasion, making it sound inconsequential if not a hindrance to what his team hopes to achieve.

"I don't think a whole lot (about it)," he said. "Rankings are a revolving door. ... Certainly, that is probably a good conversational piece. But it has nothing to do with what we're trying to do."

Other SEC coaches saluted Florida as remarkably good.

"They're good at everything," said Kevin Stallings, whose Vanderbilt team hosts Florida on Tuesday. "They're good at defense. They're good at offense. They're good at rebounding. They're experienced and they're tough. And you can tell they have great leadership.

"There is absolutely nothing that would make them not good. Great guard play. Tough, physical players up front. They have depth."

While reminding reporters of the injuries, suspensions and NCAA rulings hanging over Florida in the pre-season, Stallings also applauded "phenomenal" coaching by Donovan.

"They play for each other defensively as well as any team I've seen in the 15 years I've been in the league," Stallings said. "They're very unselfish on defense and how they cover for each other, and how they play for each other. You just see those seniors all the time getting everything together. 'Hey, we need a stop.' You can see it. It's a real delightful thing to see because ... I think all of us aspire to have our teams be like that. It's inspiring for me to watch them play and to watch them on film because the game is being played on both ends exactly how you'd want to coach it."

Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy said Donovan is his choice as SEC coach of the year, and Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin as SEC player of the year.

"Hard to argue with what he's been able to do," Kennedy said of Wilbekin. "When they need to make a play, he's made it time and time again."

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

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