Jerry Tipton: In more ways than one, SEC knows Kentucky is the gold standard

Herald-Leader staff writerJuly 5, 2014 

With the Southeastern Conference planning to expand each team's number of permanent home-and-home opponents, schools are lining up for the chance to have Kentucky come to town each season. Think gold rush, literally and figuratively.

Yet, this desire to play Kentucky twice each season also shows how coaches and athletic directors can have different perspectives.

New Tennessee Coach Donnie Tyndall made that point after saying the Vols were among the programs that listed Kentucky as a preferred home-and-home opponent in basketball.

"I say this tongue in cheek," Tyndall said. "Coach Hart listed them. I did not.

"Our A.D. (Dave Hart) wants Kentucky in here for ticket sales and revenue. And I get that. Coach Tyndall, with only four returning players and Coach (John) Calipari having nine McDonald's All-Americans, I did not."

Expansion led the SEC to abandon divisional play and concoct an unbalanced schedule that included only one opponent that would be played on a home-and-home basis each season. Kentucky's permanent opponent was Florida.

Other SEC opponents would be played home-and-home on a rotating basis. This happened to mean that Kentucky did not play at Tennessee last season for the first time since 1952-53 (UK did not schedule games that season). Other than the World War II season of 1943-44, UK had played in Knoxville every other season since 1922.

Attention-getting history aside, with SEC basketball reduced to just three NCAA Tournament bids for a second straight year, league officials took notice.

On top of that, Georgia's home attendance (6,126) suffered from not having teams like Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee or Auburn come to Athens last season.

"None of the teams our fans will traditionally come out to see," Georgia Coach Mark Fox said.

No coincidence, the SEC decided to move to three permanent home-and-home opponents beginning in 2015-16.

"Issues like that triggered conversation," Associate Commissioner Mark Whitworth said, diplomatically. "... Athletic directors felt it would be more beneficial to the sport of basketball to get a few more historical rivalries."

The league asked each school to identify, in order, three opponents it would like to play home-and-home every season. The goal is to give each school at least two of its preferences.

Whitworth said the SEC hopes to achieve three goals: 1. help schools sell season-ticket packages; 2. give television attractive matchups; 3. improve as many teams' Ratings Percentage Index (and thus NCAA Tournament bid profiles) as possible.

No surprise that many schools (but not all) listed Kentucky as a preferred home-and-home opponent.

Theater of the absurd

Flopping, faking and biting marred the World Cup for anyone who still cares about sportsmanship. Big South Conference Commissioner Eric Ward is one such person.

"Almost like professional wrestling," he said of the World Cup.

Ward, who headed a "Champions of Character" program when athletic director at Georgetown College, lamented the get-any-edge-you-can underhandedness on display in Brazil. Maybe worse, television commentators chuckled as they showed a player pulling the arm of a competitor to his face and recoiling as if struck in the face.

"When you talk to coaches and players, the response is, 'that's just the culture of our sport,'" Ward said. "It's just frustrating when you see it at the highest level."

The World Cup reached its nadir when Luis Suarez of Uruguay bit Italy's Giorgio Chiellini.

"Like seeing players bite each other in the Super Bowl," Ward said.

Of course, younger players emulate what they see at the World Cup level.

"What do you do?" Ward said. "How do you combat that? How do you teach them that's not the way to do it?"

Top coaches

Last week saw ESPN conclude an arbitrary listing of the top 50 coaches in college basketball.

The all-sports network said it assembled about 100 staffers (writers, editors, broadcasters and researchers) and asked the group to compile a top 50 list. The emphasis was on what-have-you-done-lately. "This isn't about legacy," ESPN said.

That explains why the panel did not select Mike Krzyzewski No. 1, name 49 honorable mentions and go home.

Of course, the panel voted Billy Donovan of Florida as the No. 1 coach currently working in college basketball, and John Calipari of Kentucky No. 2.

The top 50 list, which is fun to ponder in a barroom debate sort of way, contained several decisions ripe for second-guessing. For instance:

 Donovan and Calipari were the only SEC coaches to make the list.

No Bruce Pearl? He set the standard for infusing life in an irrelevant program while at Tennessee only a few years ago. He seems to be off to a good start doing the same thing at Auburn since being hired after last season.

No Kevin Stallings? To stay at one school (Vanderbilt) for 15 seasons surely indicates a job done exceptionally well. Six of Vandy's 13 NCAA Tournament appearances have come under Stallings' guidance. Twice he's been voted SEC Coach of the Year by his fellow coaches: 2007 and 2010.

Richard Pitino at No. 49 and Archie Miller at No. 26? A rush to judgment? They've been Division I head coaches two and three seasons, respectively.

 There are 20 better coaches than No. 21 Larry Brown? He's the only coach to win NBA and NCAA titles. As for the all-important what-have-you-done-lately, he's got a 42-27 record in two seasons at SMU, which was 66-92 in five seasons prior to Brown's arrival in 2012. And McDonald's All-American Emmanuel Mudiay joins the Mustangs next season.

 Krzyzewski at No. 4?

Newspaper reader

Tennessee's new coach, Donnie Tyndall, acknowledged that he — gasp! — reads newspaper coverage.

"I'll read newspapers," he said. "I'm not going to BS anybody about that. I will.

"With regard to message boards or blogs or even articles written, very seldom do I get the chance nor do I want to read things written about my team or the program or staff or players. Good or bad. When you read a bunch of positive things and people are bragging, it's human nature to maybe buy into that."

Such compliments can breed complacency or ego, Tyndall said.

Tyndall then made a confession: He used to read the reviews.

"I'll say this," he said. "That's probably something early in my career that I did do or did let bother me. Now it doesn't faze me whatsoever."

Decisions as coach at a SEC program are subject to comment and criticism.

"Everybody does have an opinion, as I quickly found out," Tyndall said. "That's fine. They're entitled to that. I don't let the good or bad that's written about us bother us."

'Mockery'

Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson welcomes the talk of the NBA and NBA Players Association changing the so-called one-and-done rule. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has supported the idea of requiring players to be 20 years old. Or, if you prefer, a two-and-done rule.

On an SEC teleconference Monday, Anderson said he did not like the one-and-done rule. "I just think sometimes that just makes a mockery of the college experience," he said.

Breeding success

Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings saw significance beyond a trophy in the Commodores winning this year's baseball College World Series.

"When I came to Vanderbilt (in 1999), I think winning a national championship was a bit of a pipe dream," he said. "I don't think, from top to bottom, there was a commitment level necessary to win a national championship. In the last 15 years, I think that's changed.

"The signal it sends (is) the rest of us are capable. ... I'm hoping the other programs in our department can follow suit."

Back to the future

Although Duke won and he played well (22 points, 10 assists, five three-pointers), Bobby Hurley does not remember the so-called Christian Laettner game as a seamless joyride.

"I do remember turning the ball over way too much," he said. Hurley had eight turnovers against UK in the famous 1992 NCAA Tournament game decided by Laettner's buzzer beater.

Now the coach at Buffalo, Hurley turned his attention to the Bulls' game at UK in November.

"I hope my team takes care of the ball better in Lexington than I did in that game," he said.

'Around average'

Noted college basketball numbers cruncher Ken Pomeroy replied to a request for comment when Kentucky announced its non-conference schedule for next season.

As did Jerry Palm of CBSSports and Joe Lunardi of ESPN, Pomeroy noted the lack of "true" road games. UK's one non-conference game on the opponent's court is at Louisville.

Wrote Pomeroy in an email message: "Given that there's only one true road game here, I'd estimate that this schedule will rate out as around average for a top 25 team."

Not just a recruiter

New Missouri Coach Kim Anderson hired Rob Fulford, formerly the coach at Huntington (W.Va.) Prep. The perception: Fulford is a recruiting sharpie who will be asked to bring in talent.

"Yeah, he's going to recruit," Anderson said. "I'm not going to sit here and lie to you about that. But he's more of a complete package than most people thought."

Fulford made a positive impression as knowledgeable and organized about basketball beyond recruiting (if such a realm still exists).

"We clicked ... ," Anderson said. "I'm excited he's here."

Happy birthday

To Todd May. He turned 50 Saturday. ... To Carlos Toomer. He turns 42 on Wednesday. ... To Clark Kellogg. The basketball analyst for CBS turned 53 on Wednesday. ... To Ralph Hacker. The former UK radio play-by-play announcer turned 70 on Wednesday.

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

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