It seemed that John Calipari’s chronic case of NCAA-induced paranoia resurfaced last weekend as he acknowledged the painful defeat his Kentucky team inflicted on good buddy Bob Huggins.
“I am rooting for West Virginia, and I always do,” Calipari said. “He is rooting for Kentucky. We’re not going to play (again).”
With that, Calipari paused, then added, “Well, we will play each other in the NCAA Tournament. No question they’ll put us in the same bracket because they don’t want the two of us to advance. So we’ll play each other. But hopefully it’s (in the) later rounds.”
It was hard to tell how serious Calipari was. Maybe he was joking. Or maybe he was filling time during a postgame news conference with an entertaining interlude. Or maybe he was basking in the reputation he and Huggins share as nonconformists. Or maybe he couldn’t resist the chance to needle the NCAA.
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Or maybe Calipari meant what he said. Might the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee rig the bracket to get rid of Calipari or Huggins?
In the middle of hearing that question, Tom Jernstedt interrupted. “Before you go any further,” he said, “that is so much B.S. That sort of talk frustrates me, and I’m disappointed because I have a high regard for Cal. He and I have had a good relationship. For someone of his magnitude, who has been around the game and the tournament that long, I’m really disappointed to hear that. It couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Jernstedt worked for the NCAA in a number of executive positions from 1972 to 2010.
“The 38 years I sat in the meeting room, there was never any effort to match this person against that person,” he said. “And I can swear on a stack of Bibles. During my 38 years, that never happened.”
Bill Hancock, a liaison between the Selection Committee and the NCAA from 1990 to 2005, said he did not believe Calipari was serious.
“I think he was joking,” he said. He, too, said a scenario such as matching coaches in order to eliminate one would never happen.
When asked if the NCAA might want to create attractive matchups for television or punish certain coaches or favor other coaches, Jerry Palm of CBS replied in an email, “This one is easy. No, no and no.”
When asked why he believed it was farfetched to think the NCAA looked out for TV or played favorites with coaches, Palm wrote, “Because there is no evidence to support that.”
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi agreed.
“This is an easy one,” he wrote in an email. “Not only do I have complete faith in the Committee on these topics, there are also bracketing rules and procedural considerations that would get in the way of any bracket gerrymandering (bracket-mandering?) Anyone who has ever completed a bracket following the line-by-line procedures would agree. Bottom line: There are 67 games in the tournament, and storylines cannot be avoided. They just happen.”
Hancock cited the rules and guidelines involved in seeding and bracketing that make “bracket-mandering” all but impossible.
The guideline involved in the frequency of teams playing in the NCAA Tournament reads, “If possible, rematches from the previous two tournaments should be avoided in the first round.”
Kentucky played West Virginia in the Elite Eight in 2010, the second round in 2011 and the Sweet 16 in 2015.
Of these three games in six years, Hancock said, “When dealing with bracketing, there’s no way you’re going to know who’s going to win. The committee cannot project (and) would not. There’s no reason to project who’s going to win and advance.”
The frequency of UK-WVU games in the NCAA Tournament is not unique. In the 1990s, Kentucky played Utah three straight years (1996, 1997 and 1998). That was part of four tournament meetings in a six-year span.
And in the 1980s, Kentucky came close to playing Louisville three straight years (1982, 1983 and 1984). A first-round loss to Middle Tennessee prevented UK from advancing to a second-round game against Louisville in 1982.
Those addicted to conspiracies can whet their appetites next Sunday when the NCAA announces its top 16 teams a month from Selection Sunday. This promotional stunt should not be taken too seriously. Last year’s inaugural announcement a month out saw the seed and region correctly predicted for only five of the 16 teams. A sixth team, Louisville, had the right seed, but not the correct region.
During the NCAA convention last month, Ben Roberts of the Herald-Leader participated in a training exercise. Media representatives go through a mock process of selection, seeding and bracketing. It is designed to help pull the curtain back on the Selection Committee’s work.
Might the Selection Committee arrange a Kentucky-West Virginia game in order to prevent Calipari or Huggins from advancing?
“From what I saw, it’s not plausible at all,” Roberts said.
Of course, Calipari’s complaints about UK’s seed, site and/or potential opponents have become a rite of spring. Roberts found this understandable. He noted that several possible opponents would make a UK partisan suspicious. Indiana. Louisville. North Carolina. Duke. Kansas. Michigan State. In-state schools. And now, apparently, West Virginia.
Said Roberts: “Somebody’s got to be in your region when you count 10 teams as rivals.”
‘That was crazy’
That Vanderbilt guard Riley LaChance missed three straight free throws inside the final minute in the first game against Kentucky surprised Sacha Killeya-Jones.
“That was crazy,” he said of LaChance’s misses. “I’ve never seen anything that like before.”
LaChance’s extended family and friends — numbering about 20 — attended the first UK-Vandy game. After so public a failing, LaChance had an obligation to be social.
“To his credit, he came out,” his father, Tom LaChance, said. “He wasn’t all sunshine and roses. But he went to dinner with us. He wasn’t laughing and joking around. He wasn’t exactly crying either. He was engaging in conversation.”
The elder LaChance enjoyed pointing out that Vandy Coach Bryce Drew later told him that after dinner that night Riley returned to the gym to practice free throws.
LaChance did not miss another free throw . . . until he missed again with in 19.9 seconds left in regulation in the second UK-Vandy game.
Bryce Drew is believed to be part of one of the winningest families of coaches in college basketball history. He and his brother, Scott, and their father, Homer, had combined for 1,098 coaching victories going into last week.
The winningest family is the Ibas. The patriarch, Henry Iba, plus Gene, Moe and Clarence, combined for 1,632 coaching victories.
That second winningest family has a Kentucky connection. The Suttons — father Eddie Sutton, who was UK coach for four seasons in the 1980s, plus sons Scott and Sean, have 1,173 victories.
Lead by example?
Vandy’s coaches scored a cumulative 5,468 points as college players.
Bryce Drew led the way by scoring 2,142 points for Valparaiso. Assistants Casey Shaw and Jake Diebler scored 1,562 and 586 for Toledo and Valparaiso, respectively. Associate coach Roger Powell Jr., scored 1,178 for Illinois.
Before Kentucky played at West Virginia, a reporter asked Bob Huggins if Adolph Rupp was still relevant and influential more than 40 years after his death.
Huggins noted how the game has changed since Rupp retired in 1972. In Rupp’s time, there was no shot clock, no three-point shot and more freedom to play a physical style of defense.
When a media person suggested that you don’t hear anyone speak of Rupp’s system, Huggins said, “You never lived in southwest Ohio, did you?
“You may not hear about it here (in Morgantown), but I’m telling you that you heard about it. The ghost of Adolph Rupp is still alive and well in Lexington, believe me. Really, the whole state of Kentucky.”
Bob Huggins volunteered a reason not to over-react to the good or bad in a game.
“It’s not a game of absolutes,” he said, meaning you don’t know if a player will shoot well, make free throws or even play hard. “They’re not grizzled veterans like when you watch an NBA game.”
Wait till March
John Calipari’s advice about waiting until the NCAA Tournament to make judgments got a reaction from Bob Huggins.
“That’s what you say whenever you’ve lost some league games,” he said. “Cal wants to win the league championship just like everybody does. They probably still may.”
Two in a row
Kentucky played at the site of two consecutive ESPN “College GameDay” TV shows: at home against Florida on Jan. 20 and then at West Virginia on Jan. 27.
Kentucky also played in games associated with consecutive GameDays last season: Jan. 28 against Kansas and Feb. 4 at Florida.
North Carolina is the only other program to be on two straight GameDays. The Tar Heels did so in the 2015-16 season: Feb. 27 at Virginia and March 5 at Duke.
To Walter McCarty. He turned 44 on Thursday. … To Andre Riddick. He turned 45 on Thursday. … To former UK assistant coach Doug Barnes. He turned 72 on Thursday. … To Truman Claytor. He turned 61 on Friday. … To Stan Key. He turned 68 on Friday. … To Texas A&M Coach Billy Kennedy. He turned 54 on Friday. … To C.M. Newton. He turned 88 on Friday. … To Malik Monk. He turns 20 on Sunday (today). … To Tai Wynyard. He turns 20 on Monday. … To Ramel Bradley. He turns 33 on Monday.