SEC Tournament notes: Time for Kentucky to 'check the egos at the door'

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 13, 2014 


Kentucky Coach John Calipari scolded his players after a confrontation in Oxford, Miss. Now, with post play returning to the ruggedness of last season, Calipari wants his players to respond in kind.


ATLANTA — ESPN analyst Dick Vitale labeled this season's Kentucky team a "major disappointment" on Thursday.

Speaking on a teleconference (and with 20/20 hindsight), Vitale and fellow analyst Seth Greenberg noted how the freshman-oriented Cats lack leadership, maturity and consistent perimeter play.

"Deep down, (UK Coach John Calipari) has to believe these kids have not lived up to expectations," Vitale said.

Vitale and Greenberg acknowledged that unrealized expectations might say something about recruiting camp followers who speculated last year about Kentucky adding the greatest freshman class in the history of college basketball.

"We got so far ahead of ourselves," Greenberg said of the six McDonald's All-Americans among UK's freshmen. "Until you get to the next level, you really don't know who (is an elite player)."

Added Vitale: "Some of the recruiting services got carried away."

Kentucky, which takes a 22-9 record into a Southeastern Conference Tournament game Friday night, can change perceptions radically in the next few weeks, the analysts said.

"Kentucky can wipe out all the talk," Vitale said. "... If they get on a run, and they're capable. There's talent."

Vitale said he could imagine a Calipari press conference following a dramatic resurrection of Kentucky basketball.

"Didn't I tell you? It takes time," Vitale said in predicting Calipari's reaction. "We finally got our mojo back."

Many of Kentucky's flaws picked at by Vitale and Greenberg had been duly noted earlier this season. For instance, the lack of a veteran presence that's experienced and commands respect.

"They don't have anybody to coach the locker room," Greenberg said. "A strong voice to explain Cal and hold each other accountable. A freshman can't be that guy. It's got to be an upperclassman."

Greenberg also questioned the UK players' willingness to cooperate with each other in a unified style of play.

"I'm not sure this team developed that trust that you want," he said. "... You've got to have guys who want to trust each other."

Like all teams, Kentucky must walk the delicate balance in attacking while also exhibiting good decision-making. That responsibility falls heaviest on the guards, who the analysts found lacking on defense and offense. Vitale said he had not seen the kind of lock-down defense that keeps the ball out of the lane.

"The biggest thing is it's a two-week season," Greenberg said. "What everybody's got to do is check the egos at the door."

No more wins?!

Former Vanderbilt guard Barry Booker, who works as an analyst for the SEC Network, took it a step further. He said Kentucky probably would not win another game, but certainly no more than one more.

"At most," he said.

"Just because of the problem they have. That they're not locked in and unified defensively. Not unified offensively when they're not hitting the open man. These don't get fixed in four days."

Booker questioned whether UK could reinvent itself this week with what Calipari touted as a "tweak" in its approach.

"The team that lost three of its last four is the team here in Atlanta," Booker said. "And that team isn't going to beat good teams."

Past performance

South Carolina's 71-69 overtime victory extended Arkansas' losing streak in the SEC Tournament. The Razorbacks lost their first game of the SEC Tournament for the sixth straight year.

Arkansas' last SEC Tournament victory came in the 2008 semifinals.

Meanwhile, Alabama hoped to avoid a familiar pattern of its own. In Anthony Grant's four previous seasons as coach, the Tide won its first SEC Tournament game and lost the second.

That scenario meant a victory over LSU on Thursday night and then a loss to Kentucky on Friday. UK beat Alabama in Grant's first two seasons (2010 and 2011).

Sick leave

While Missouri won 91-83 in double overtime, Texas A&M Coach Billy Kennedy noted Jamal Jones' performance in defeat.

Jones, who had been hospitalized this week because of a bacterial virus, scored 20 points.

"I mean, he had an incredible game," Kennedy said. "Got out of the hospital (Wednesday) at noon in College Station, flew in last night and played a heck of a game."

Looking ahead

Mississippi State, which finished last in the regular-season race, snapped a 13-game losing streak by beating Vanderbilt 82-68 in Wednesday night's first round.

"I think it's important because you don't want to answer the question the whole off-season about the losing streak going into next season," Coach Rick Ray said. "So now you can go in with a positive note. ...

"You want to make sure that they have an incentive to work in the off-season and get better."

Record attendance

For the first time since the SEC Tournament's renewal in 1979, the first two sessions each drew less than 10,000 fans.

The SEC announced an attendance of 7,132 for Wednesday night's first-round doubleheader (South Carolina-Auburn and Mississippi State-Vanderbilt).

The SEC announced an attendance of 9,308 for Thursday afternoon's session (South Carolina-Arkansas and Missouri-Texas A&M).

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

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