In the last nine games, Bam Adebayo has averaged a double-double: 14.3 points and 10.2 rebounds. Kentucky would like for that kind of production to continue for six more games.
“Something we’re going to need if we want to make a run,” Isaiah Briscoe said Thursday on the eve of UK’s opening game in the NCAA Tournament. “We need to establish a post presence.”
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When asked how well Adebayo has been establishing Kentucky in the post, Briscoe said, “I think he’s doing tremendous. He’s been playing great. Just playing with confidence.”
Adebayo embraced the role of invaluable post player.
“If you need last-second free throws, I’m confident enough to knock down free throws,” he said. “If we need a screen or a post-up, I’m confident. I’m just blessed that my teammates believe in me.”
Oddly enough, this belief does not always show itself in passes to Adebayo around the basket. As recently as Saturday, in the Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals, UK Coach John Calipari reminded his players to pass to the post.
Point guard De’Aaron Fox explained.
“It shouldn’t be a problem, but it is,” he said. “We guards, when you’re good off the bounce, it’s just something you forget about. In the tournament, we know we need him.”
Weeding out teams?
Wichita State Coach Gregg Marshall, who made no secret of his unhappiness with a 10-seed, voiced suspicion about some of the early-round matchups.
For instance, the Shockers’ game against Dayton here on Friday. Or Virginia Commonwealth against St. Mary’s Thursday. Or Winthrop against Butler on Thursday.
“They want to weed out the non-Power Fives as quickly as possible, it appears,” Marshall said. “... There’s a lot of quality basketball being played at some of these (non-Power Five) places.
“I’ll go a step further: There’s a lot of bad basketball being played in the Power Five leagues.”
When asked if this weeding out was an attempt to leave in marquee teams that could generate greater money-making opportunities, Marshall said, “That could be the case. ... I really don’t know the answer to that question because I don’t study the Nielsen ratings.”
A deep run by a non-Power Five team is “what makes the tournament special.”
After linking poor shooting performances to the lack of a pregame shootaround, Malik Monk took action. He did his own early-morning shootaround before UK’s last two games in the SEC Tournament. And he shot better.
That will not be a problem Friday. UK will begin playing Northern Kentucky sometime after 9:30 p.m.
But Monk was still interested in an extra shooting session.
“I’m still going to come over and get my shots up with K.P. (Kenny Payne),” he said. “It’s a late game. I’m looking forward to it.”
Calipari voices concern with the late start.
“That worries me,” he said. “But the thing that worries you more is you’ve got the youngest team in the tournament, and they’ve never been in this tournament setting. You’re trying to talk them through, but you can’t. They have to feel it.”
‘Missed it terribly’
A self-imposed penalty left Louisville out of last year’s NCAA Tournament.
“It’s always my favorite time of year,” U of L Coach Rick Pitino said. “When I was in the pros, I missed it terribly. All the guys on the bus in the pros were talking about what team they’re picking.”
Pitino led Providence to the 1987 Final Four, then became coach of the New York Knicks. He led Kentucky to the Final Four in 1993, 1996 and 1997. Then he became coach of the Boston Celtics.
Michigan’s team flew to Indianapolis on Wednesday to continue preparing to play in the NCAA Tournament. That sounds routine, but it was anything but.
A week earlier, the Wolverines survived a scary aborted takeoff in a flight intended to take them to the Big Ten Tournament in Washington, D.C.
Of the subsequent flight to the Big Ten Tournament, senior guard Zak Irvin said, “The hardest part for our team was just getting back on the plane. Once we landed back in D.C., we felt like, ‘Why can’t we just go out and win this? Why can’t this be one of the greatest stories ever told?’”
Michigan did just that.
The aborted flight happened on March 8. In high winds, the plane sped down the runaway. Then the pilot slammed on the brakes, causing the plane to slide through the end of the runaway. The landing gear collapsed before the plane crashed through a fence and stopped short of a ravine.
Past crashes involving sports teams crossed Coach John Beilein’s mind.
“I thought about Evansville,” he said. “I thought about Marshall. You think about all those tragedies that have happened. ... We’re just blessed.”
Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery and sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson will call the game for CBS.