Mark Story: Defending Calipari on one point

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMarch 10, 2014 

Fast-break points from somewhere on I-75:

21. "Players-first" program. If my email inbox is an indication, a fair number of Kentucky fans have had enough of John Calipari saying he will put the interests of players ahead of what's best for the UK basketball program.

20. Cal's nuanced position. What Calipari usually says is there is a second part to "putting the players' interests first" as it pertains to decisions like whether or not to turn pro. Doing that is supposed to then make other talented players more apt to come to Kentucky because they've seen prior players treated right.

19. The one-and-done model. If you want to argue that essentially having a new team every year as a result of having so many one-and-done players is not in the long-term best interest of UK basketball, the evidence of the past two seasons (so far) supports that. But in design, "putting the players first" is supposed to be a way to boost the Kentucky program, not undermine it.

18. UK struggles against the ranked. Since Kentucky beat Kansas in the 2012 NCAA championship game, the Wildcats are 3-8 against teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25.

17. UK women stronger. Over the same time frame, the Kentucky women's basketball program is 14-9 against ranked foes, including 6-4 this season.

16. Kentucky-Tennessee epic. UK's crushing 71-70 defeat Sunday to the Lady Vols in the finals of the SEC women's basketball tournament was the most intense and the best college basketball game I've seen in person this season.

15. Jennifer O'Neill's "miss hit." The UK women's guard is not the first player I've seen try to miss a free throw on purpose for strategic reasons, only to hit it by mistake.

14. UK Hoops needs a bracket break. If there's any sense of fairness on the NCAA women's tournament selection committee, Matthew Mitchell's Cats should not be in No. 1 Connecticut's region for a third straight year.

13. Frosh with bright futures. If they stay healthy, UK freshman guards Linnae Harper and Makayla Epps are going to be special.

12. Jodie Meeks. Breaking Dan Issel's long-time Kentucky single-game scoring record with a 54-point outburst at Tennessee in 2009 was a stellar feat.

11. A Meeks topper. Given the level of competition, the ex-UK guard scoring 42 points against NBA title contender Oklahoma City to help the woeful Lakers stun the Thunder on Sunday is more impressive.

10. EKU-Belmont. Eastern Kentucky's tense 79-73 victory Saturday over favored Belmont in the finals of the OVC men's basketball tournament was the second best college basketball game I've seen in person this year.

9. Jeff Neubauer. Other than Rick Pitino and Louisville (61), the Eastern Kentucky head coach has led the Colonels to more wins the past two years (49) than any other Division I men's program in the state.

8. Dan Patrick. Neubauer calling into ex-EKU student Dan Patrick's national radio show Monday to give the former ESPN anchor a hard time for rooting for Belmont in the OVC finals was a hoot.

7. Colonels seeding. The bracketologists seem in agreement that Eastern will be a No. 15 seed — that is where ESPN.com, CBSSports.com and USA Today all had EKU on Monday.

6. 15s on a roll. In the past two NCAA tournaments, 15 seeds have three wins vs. No. 2 seeds — Lehigh over Duke and Norfolk State beating Missouri in 2012 and Florida Gulf Coast besting Georgetown last year.

5. Teacher vs. pupil. On the CBS bracket projections, EKU is predicted to face Michigan in the first round. That would mean Neubauer coaching against his old boss and mentor, John Beilein.

4. What makes Eastern go. EKU is a smallish (one starter over 6-foot-5) team built on pressure defense and perimeter shooting. The Colonels are an astounding plus-208 in turnover margin this season. They have shot over 50 percent in six of their last seven games.

3. An EKU upset. For Eastern to win the first NCAA tourney game in school history, the Colonels need to face a foe that cannot overwhelm them with size and that can be harried into turnovers.

2. One billion dollars. I've already budgeted the billion bucks that Warren Buffett and Quicken Loans will award to anyone who submits a perfect men's 2014 NCAA Tournament bracket to a contest they are conducting.

1. Doc Brown's DeLorean. Why am I so confident? Two words, McFly: Time travel.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230.Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com.

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