With Kentucky riding high and en route to a 2012 national championship, John Calipari made no secret of his dislike for the Southeastern Conference Tournament. With UK seemingly in need of another victory or two to secure a bid to this year's NCAA Tournament, does the UK coach now relish the chance to play in the league event?
"Not really," Calipari said Monday on the SEC coaches' teleconference. "I wish none of us played in the (SEC) tournament. Let's go on to the next tournament.
"But," he added, "we're in this thing."
Calipari acknowledged that any team's performance in a league tournament can impact whether it receives a bid to the NCAA Tournament. According to those Calipari calls "talking heads," the Cats find themselves in this precarious position.
"There is an importance to the games," Calipari said. "It's not the tournament itself. I have not changed."
When asked about the SEC Tournament, Calipari has shown a level of consistency he'd like to see in his team's play going forward. He said much the same thing last year when Kentucky could view the SEC Tournament as a much-ballyhooed redundancy. UK had won the regular-season championship by six games, which equaled the record margin set by the 1995-96 Cats. UK seemed assured of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
"I'm not a big tournament guy, don't like tournaments before the NCAA Tournament," he said late last season. "I don't like three games in a row. But, guess what, we'll be there with bells on and ready to go."
The coach of this year's regular-season champion, Billy Donovan, said he enjoyed the SEC Tournament as a means of preparing for the win-or-go-home stakes of the NCAA Tournament.
"I do enjoy it," he said, "and, hopefully, our guys enjoy it."
But Calipari has not embraced the notion of a league tournament serving as preparation for the so-called March Madness.
"Three games in three days doesn't prepare you for anything," he said last year. "We just played a whole league schedule. ... Three games in three days is like nothing (else). It's like playing in Maui (Invitational Thanksgiving week). It wears you out."
Even last year, when Kentucky had little beyond pride to use as motivation to win the SEC Tournament, Calipari saw some value in the event. He noted in colorful language how the league tournament gives UK fans a chance to see their favorite team.
"Fans spend their vacation money, their rent money, their cigarette money, and they go to this tournament," he said. "... You almost feel an obligation. Let's go play."UK fans are expected to dwarf other schools' supporters at this year's SEC Tournament in Nashville. Fan support can make a difference for any of the league's many relatively inexperienced teams.
Calipari saluted the guidance provided by several other SEC coaches. He mentioned Mark Fox of Georgia, Rick Ray of Mississippi State and Frank Martin of South Carolina for keeping their teams believing in what might be possible. He also lauded Donovan for his team delivering the expected good play.
Echoing the theme of a wide-open, anything-can-happen week of basketball ahead, Calipari said, "This tournament is going to be crazy."
Calipari expressed the pride he felt with what UK accomplished in the regular season. Despite the losses of point guard Ryan Harrow, 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein and then Nerlens Noel, the Cats finished tied for second in the SEC's regular-season race.
"We overcame a ton," he said.
During an appearance on the Dan Patrick radio show, Calipari noted that UK had the best record in games against teams that finished in the SEC's top six. Then he added that Florida also had the same record.
UK and Florida had 4-3 records in those games. Actually, Ole Miss also had a 4-3 record in games against the top six. Tennessee went 4-4, Missouri 3-4 and Alabama 2-4.
Elston Turner iffy
One of the SEC's leading lights, Elston Turner of Texas A&M, broke a bone in his left (non-shooting) hand last week against LSU. Coach Billy Kennedy said Turner was "questionable" to play in the league tournament.
Turner hoped to practice Monday with a splint or cast or some type of protection on the hand.
When asked how Turner got hurt, Kennedy said, the wing player was "karate-chopped in front of our bench" while trying to split a trap.
"Unfortunately, there was not a call that was made," Kennedy said.
SEC TOURNAMENTKentucky vs. Arkansas or Vanderbilt
When: 7:30 p.m.
What: SEC Tournament at Nashville