It's Selection Sunday, or what could be called college basketball's complaint box. Accompanying the annual announcement of seedings and pairings for the NCAA Tournament are whiny coaches, outraged pundits and — pardon the redundancy — disgruntled fans.
Team X should have received a bid. Team Y deserved a better seed, Team Z believes it didn't get in because the Selection Committee ranked teams alphabetically.
"That just goes with the territory," said Mike Bobinski, the athletics director at Georgia Tech and a former chair of the Selection Committee. "You can never satisfy every need and desire or perceived need and desire."
Kentucky Coach John Calipari stuffs the complaint box each year. This year is no exception. He's hinted that the Selection Committee will stack UK's region with good teams in hopes of a Kentucky loss.
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"The real stuff starts Sunday when we hear how tough our bracket will be," he said Thursday. " ... They called the Lakers, but they can't pull out of the NBA, right now."
Calipari said this with a smile, so there seemed to be a wish to entertain as well as protest.
Calipari has also suggested that as the overall No. 1 seed, Kentucky should be placed in the same region as the least-formidable No. 2 seed. But the Selection Committee no longer uses such a formula — the S curve — in forming the brackets. Keeping teams closer to home is a "key component," current chair Scott Barnes said.
The Selection Committee faces a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't dilemma with Kentucky this year. Because games will be played Thursday and Saturday in Louisville next week, there's two choices:
■ UK plays Sunday in the Southeastern Conference Tournament finals, then faces a quick turnaround to open the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.
■ UK goes to another NCAA Tournament site that has games Friday and Sunday.
Bobinski dismissed fears of a quick Sunday-to-Thursday turnaround as groundless. "Results would tell you it holds no water," he said.
When asked if coaches complain in order to foster an us-versus-them mentality on their teams, Bobinski said, "Sure."
C.M. Newton, a former member of the Selection Committee, said he believed Calipari was sincere in his complaints. And the Selection Committee puts the needs of the tournament ahead of any team's wishes, even Kentucky.
Does the Selection Committee often find itself in an impossible position?
"It comes up every time you have a committee meeting," Newton said. "We knew that there would be people upset. It just didn't make any difference. You had to do what was the right thing to do for your tournament."
One of the smallest people on the court at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday loomed as the biggest figure in the first two days of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Referee Pat Adams' foul call with seven-tenths of a second left led to South Carolina beating Ole Miss 60-58.
The call arguably decided the game, and it ignited a debate about whether Adams should be saluted for calling what he saw no matter the time and score factors or criticized because, as the sporting cliché terms it, he did not allow the players to decide the game.
Speaking of such calls generally, the SEC's Coordinator of Men's Basketball Officials, Jake Bell, noted that not calling a foul would be unfair to the player fouled. Rules should be enforced regardless of time and score, he said.
Adams' call was part of a chaotic final 10 seconds. With South Carolina ahead 57-54, Jarvis Summers hit a three-pointer from the corner while being fouled. The four-point play put Ole Miss ahead 58-57. After checking the sideline monitor, the referees determined that 3.3 seconds remained.
That was enough time for South Carolina to inbound the ball to Tyrone Johnson near the mid-court line. He took a few dribbles and then threw up a desperation heave as Ole Miss's LaDarius "Snoop" White reached for the ball.
Adams' foul call interrupted Ole Miss's victory celebration and sparked a wave of disbelief in the arena.
After again checking the monitor, presumably to make sure the foul occurred before time expired, Adams shot a questioning glance at Bell, who sat court-side in front of his own monitor.
Adams seemed to like the message he got from Bell. The referee nodded in the affirmative as if to say he appreciated the confirmation of a correct call.
Not surprisingly, both teams saw the call differently.
When asked after the game if it was a foul, White simply said, "Not at all."
Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy, who glared at Adams when the game ended, said afterward, "It doesn't matter what I think."
South Carolina Coach Frank Martin, who said Kennedy was like a brother, chose his words carefully. "I don't know if it was a foul or not," he said before adding, "It looked like a foul to me."
Commentators on the SEC Network said Adams made the correct call. Ex-UK All-American Tony Delk told viewers that White had gotten caught "reaching into the cookie jar."
Adams' call evoked memories of the 2010 SEC Tournament finals. A non-call on John Wall breaking into the lane too soon to rebound a last-second free throw miss helped Kentucky beat Mississippi State 75-74 in overtime.
The loss cost Mississippi State a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Ole Miss, which came into the SEC Tournament saying it needed to win a game or two to solidify its case for an NCAA bid, sounded resigned to being left out. Kennedy spoke about how athletics teaches people how to accept failure as well as success.
White summed up the Rebels' sense that its NCAA bubble had burst by saying of the team's postseason résumé, "I don't feel we did enough."
After Auburn beat LSU Friday, reporters waited in a hallway outside the locker room for Bruce Pearl to return from a postgame news conference. In this less formal setting, Pearl figured to entertain, and, if we got lucky, fill notepads, iPads and TV cameras with pithy observations.
But before all that, SEC officials asked reporters to move down the hall and stand in front of an Auburn logo painted on the wall. That would make a better backdrop for Pearl.
The seating chart for what used to be called press row at the SEC Tournament included five spots for the league's marketing staff. The Tennessean, Nashville's daily newspaper, was the only media outlet with that many seats.
Pearl is the only SEC coach who can rival UK's John Calipari as a promoter. Upon being hired last spring, he wasted no time generating attention for Auburn basketball. In his first 36 hours as coach, he did 19 radio interviews.
In the marketing sense, the SEC Tournament semifinal game against Kentucky on Saturday was a victory for Auburn no matter what the scoreboard said.
"Dick Vitale's going to call our game tomorrow," Pearl gushed on Friday. "It doesn't get any bigger than that."
After Arkansas beat Tennessee on Friday, Bobby Portis was asked in the formal postgame news conference about whether the prospect of playing Kentucky on Sunday might distract the Hogs in their next game.
"Just one game at a time ... ," Portis said. "We still haven't won the game we play Saturday to even play Kentucky. And, like, Kentucky hasn't even won their game against Auburn yet.
"So in due time, everything will play out."
Coaches past and present
The Kentucky-Auburn games this season put a spotlight on Tony Barbee, who coached at Auburn the past five seasons. Now he's a special assistant to UK Coach John Calipari, his college coach at UMass.
"I was a big fan of Tony Barbee," said John Caylor, an Auburn player in the 1980s. "He did a lot to bring older guys back. ... He started to reach out to alumni."
Barbee simply didn't win enough. That could be said of a lot of coaches at a tough job like Auburn's.
When asked about Barbee being on the UK bench for Saturday's game, Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl tried to defuse any presumption of ill will. "We're all in the same fraternity of coaches," Pearl said.
Pearl has won over Caylor.
"I think he should run for president," Caylor said of Pearl. "Governor, to say the least. There's an amazing energy he brings to the program."
Before the SEC Tournament, Willie Cauley-Stein was asked if he remembered what it was like to lose. He shook his head.
"I don't want to remember," he said.
Write and wrong
Former Auburn coach Sonny Smith recoiled from a question about whether the SEC Tournament would be better (as in more competitive) without UK this year.
"Make sure you write it for another paper," he advised. "I don't think Kentucky people are violent. But they are a close second on that one."
Cecil Hurt, the sports editor of the Tuscaloosa News, reads a book during timeouts at the SEC Tournament.
This year's selection: a novel by Kevin Powers titled The Yellow Birds. Powers writes about a friendship between two young men during the Iraqi War.
Before Friday's games at the SEC Tournament, the SEC Network previewed four new films in its SEC Storied series. The new documentaries cover the lasting friendship between Shaquille O'Neal and his former coach at LSU, Dale Brown; former assistant coach Bernadette Locke's impact on UK basketball in the early '90s; Dominique Wilkins' troubled transition from high school in North Carolina to the University of Georgia; and the 1985 Mississippi State Bulldogs baseball duo of Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro.
The documentary on Locke, which is titled Coach Bernie, will air on the SEC Network April 20 at 9 p.m. In the film, Rick Pitino acknowledges that he hired Locke (one of the first women to be an assistant coach on a men's team), in part, to change the perception of a UK program then associated with rule-breaking.
The Shaq & Dale documentary will air April 13, Wilkins on April 27 and Clark-Palmeiro on May 4.
To Patrick Patterson. He turned 26 on Saturday. ?? To Sam Bowie. He turns 54 on Tuesday. ... To Jim Master. He turns 53 on Monday. ... To Patrick Sparks. He turns 32 on Tuesday. ... To Jock Sutherland. He turned 87 on Saturday. ... To Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy. He turned 47 on Friday. ... To Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl. He turns 55 on Wednesday.