CLEVELAND — Former Duke guard Jim Spanarkel played in the 1978 NCAA Tournament championship game. Of course, the Blue Devils lost to Kentucky.
The following 37 years haven't dulled his enthusiasm for March Madness.
"I can't get enough of it," he said. "I love it."
Spanarkel, who is providing analysis for the telecasts of regional games in Syracuse this week, suggested the NCAA Tournament was not a television show (all evidence to the contrary). It is the pure, highly concentrated essence of sports.
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"For three weeks, it epitomizes the sense of urgency of competition," Spanarkel said in a telephone conversation. "I'm lucky. I have the best seat in the house. (The players') perspiration, you can almost see hit the floor."
Spanarkel, who worked with play-by-play man Verne Lundquist ("a terrific pro") on the games in Louisville last week, suggested Kentucky was not invincible. He noted how Cincinnati's aggressive play "challenged" Kentucky in the first half last weekend.
Spanarkel also noted that UK made only two of its first 20 shots against Cincinnati's matchup zone defense.
He cited two essential ingredients for an upset:
■ Kentucky does not shoot well.
■ The opponent makes good decisions in the paint. Pulling up for eight-foot shots rather than trying to score at the rim.
Kentucky ruined Wichita State's hopes for an undefeated season and national championship in last year's NCAA Tournament. So, of course, it was impossible to ignore the possibility of Wichita State ruining Kentucky's hopes for an undefeated season and national championship this year. If both teams won Thursday, they would play in an Elite 8 game Saturday.
"It's kind of an ironic deal," Wichita State's leading scorer, guard Ron Baker, said Wednesday, "Being put in Kentucky's bracket is probably not the biggest OK in my agenda. But it's reality and we'll deal with them if that happens."
In a sense, the loss to Kentucky last March resonated through Wichita State's current season.
"Kentucky really handled us on the glass, and those are things we stress about all year," Baker said.
That's especially true in the NCAA Tournament. "If you don't (rebound), you're done," he said.
Wichita State ranked 36th nationally in rebound margin (plus 4.8) going into Thursday night's game against Notre Dame.
With his team having gone into last year's NCAA Tournament with an unbeaten record, Wichita State Coach Gregg Marshall was asked about the Shockers' similarities to Kentucky.
"The similarities between us and Kentucky?" he said. "They wear shorts and tank tops and sneakers. And we do the same. I don't know what type hair gel Cal uses, but he uses something, a little bit of product. His suits are probably a little more expensive.
"I don't know if there's many similarities other than that. ... We have our own niche in college basketball, and they have their own niche. (UK Coach John Calipari) does a wonderful job, as well as anyone, with their niche. We try to do the same with ours."
'Odd man out'
Notre Dame was aware of the attention given a possible Kentucky-Wichita State rematch.
"Our guys have seen that," Coach Mike Brey said.
While acknowledging Wichita State's tournament experience, Brey reminded the media that Notre Dame beat North Carolina and Duke en route to winning the ACC Tournament.
"On Tobacco Road," he said of the ACC Tournament being played in Charlotte, N.C.. "... We do feel a little bit like odd man out because I keep (seeing), well, they'll get a shot at Kentucky and maybe they can end their undefeated season."
Feels like home
Brey noted how Cleveland is similar to South Bend, Ind.
"We're hanging out on a different (Great) lake for a couple days," he said.
South Bend is near Lake Michigan. Cleveland is on the southern coast of Lake Erie.
"That's South Bend weather out there," Brey said. "So I feel right at home."
It was gray, wet and cold.