Sports

UK hoops: Cats a cinch for No. 1 seed

Of course, there's no off switch for Kentucky fans. But bracketologists Jerry Palm and Joe Lunardi say UK's game against Florida on Sunday and this week's Southeastern Conference Tournament hold no bearing on NCAA Tournament seeding. The Cats are locked in as a No. 1 seed. So UK fans can bid the seniors — and surely a few other players — a fond farewell, then leave Rupp Arena knowing their important work for this day is done.

"Certainly a No. 1 seed, yes," Palm said last week of Kentucky's NCAA Tournament profile. "As opposed to the No. 1 seed, which would be the overall No. 1."

Palm sees the overall No. 1 seed out of Kentucky's reach. Why? Bad luck with scheduling.

Victories over North Carolina, Louisville and Connecticut looked better at the time than they will on Selection Sunday.

"Those were big-name wins that turned out not to be big wins," Palm said. "That's kind of unfortunate."

Kentucky's strength of schedule rating is No. 39. Good, but not something to turn the Selection Committee's head.

To Palm's mind, Kansas and/or Syracuse have more quality victories than Kentucky and, therefore, are ahead in line for the overall No. 1 seed.

"Kentucky's not played the schedule either of those two have," Palm said. "And they're not going to have the quality of wins those two teams have. So (Kentucky) needs help."

Louisville provided some by beating Syracuse on Saturday.

Bad luck scheduling might lead to sticker shock for Kentucky's freshmen, Palm said.

"At some point, playing teams like Kansas (will) hurt you," Palm said. "Kansas not only has experience, they won a (national) championship two years ago. Those are guys who know what it takes.

"Kentucky's not really played a top-10 team. Maybe when they get to that point of the tournament, some teams will be better than they've seen all year. There's a lack of experience against that quality of team."

Speaking on an ESPN-sponsored teleconference at midweek, Lunardi said an unlikely set of circumstances would have to fall into place for Kentucky to drop out of a No. 1 seed.

"For Kentucky to fall off the top line, four teams would have to be better than they are," Lunardi said. "That's just really unlikely."

Lunardi said there was an "80-to-85-percent chance" of Kentucky keeping its grasp on a No. 1 seed. "And that's probably on the low side," he said.

UK Coach John Calipari did not want to hear about anything being assured. He noted how prognosticators can have a wicked change of direction.

Plus, one of his top concerns these days seems to be lighting a long-lasting fire in his players' bellies.

With Selection Sunday a week away, here are a few other observations from Palm and Lunardi:

■ Florida can cinch an NCAA Tournament bid by beating Kentucky. If that doesn't happen, the Gators need to play into the weekend at the SEC Tournament.

"You have to presume they're going to lose at Kentucky," Lunardi said. "They're going to have to win a game or two (in the SEC Tournament). One for sure and maybe two."

What helps Florida's cause is that no teams seem to be making a big charge up the ratings.

"Everybody's trying to play their way out," Palm said. "Nobody is playing their way in. They (the Selection Committee members) have to take somebody."

■ Speaking of slip-sliding away, Ole Miss and Mississippi State need a strong finish.

Palm gave Ole Miss the advantage because the Rebels have a quality non-conference victory (over Kansas State).

■ Watch the last-four-in column rather than first four out.

■ Lunardi noted that conference tournament upsets "shrink" the metaphorical bubble. The more upsets, the more "bubble" teams get left out of the NCAA Tournament.

One man, one vote

With the SEC Tournament in Nashville this week, the Music City's daily newspaper, The Tennessean, asked media members around the league to participate in a survey.

Some of the questions required a secret ballot. For instance, rating the coaches. I recall John Wooden scoffing at such a question and noting that a coach at, say, Butler, could have a .500 record and done the best coaching in the nation.

Here are my responses to some of the other questions:

Question: Player of the Year, and why

Answer: John Wall. Point guard on the league champion. At his best with the game on the line. With apologies to DeMarcus Cousins.

Q: Most underrated SEC player in 2010

A: Wayne Chism. His play steadied Tennessee when the Vols' season nearly capsized.

Q: Other than Kentucky, which SEC team will go deepest in the NCAA Tournament, and why?

A: Vanderbilt. Steady point guard in Jermaine Beal. Deep pool of talent provides plenty of options for any particular game.

Q: Best SEC player you ever saw in person

A: Shaquille O'Neal. Kentucky played a box-and-one with the box on O'Neal. Old joke, but it absolutely happened in Baton Rouge. And it didn't work.

Q: Best fans

A: Florida. Enthusiastic. Not as judgmental toward their own team as, ahem, another fan base that comes to mind.

Q: Worst fans

A: Auburn. Even the bi-annual visit by Kentucky not enough to fill all the empty seats.

Q: Best official

A: Ted Valentine. Not afraid to be unpopular. Visiting teams like to see his stern face.

Q: Worst official

A: Tie: Mike Kitts, Mike Stuart, Mike Stephens (the crew that worked the Kentucky-Mississippi State game)

Q: Best bar in an SEC city or town

A: At this point, I only drink Metamucil.

Q: Biggest homecourt advantage, and why

A: Rupp Arena. Bigger the crowd, the more influence on the referees.

Q: Best site for SEC Tournament

A: Atlanta. Georgia Dome means a seat for just about anyone who wants to go.

Q: 2010 SEC Tournament — Kentucky or the field

A: Kentucky. Tempting to take the field in a season when Kentucky must win four-minute segments at the end of close games.

Q: Next SEC coach to be fired, and why?

A: Jeff Lebo. No NCAA bids in six seasons. 25 games under .500 in SEC play going into the final weekend.

Wesley to be agent?

However William Wesley might be helping Kentucky's recruiting efforts, that assistant may soon need to diminish.

SI.com's Seth Davis wrote last week that Wesley might soon be working for Creative Artists Agency as an agent representing NBA and college basketball coaches. Such a role might complicate any relationship Wesley could have with a high school prospect.

Wesley, whose connections with basketball on all levels got him the nickname "World Wide Wes," has been closely associated with UK Coach John Calipari. When Calipari's Memphis team won a region tournament to advance to the 2008 Final Four, Calipari invited Wesley to join the players for an on-court team photograph.

Wesley, 45, has been linked to two current prospects on UK's recruiting radar. Josh Selby reportedly de-committed to Tennessee after speaking with Wesley. And Michael Gilchrist, the No. 1-rated player in the high school class of 2011, refers to Wesley as "Uncle Wes."

SI.com, citing three sources "with knowledge of the situation," said that Wesley had been working for months on a deal to work for Creative Artists Agency. Wesley declined to comment when contacted by SI.com.

Creative Artists Agency's client list includes LeBron James and Calipari.

"His decision to become an agent marks an uncharacteristic shift into a public role for a man who has long been content to operate behind the scenes," Davis wrote of Wesley.

To read more, go to sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/basketball/ncaa/03/05/wesley.gent/#ixzz0hPK15m1s.

Fashion statements

Recent games had home teams varying from the traditional white uniforms. UK wore white at Tennessee while the Vols wore orange. UK wore blue at Mississippi State while the Bulldogs wore black. LSU wore white at Ole Miss while the Rebels wore blue.

Huh?

Here are the guidelines on how such matters are decided. From the 2009-10 SEC Game Management Manual:

(2009 NCAA Rule 3.5.12) The home team shall wear "light" game uniforms and the away team should wear dark uniforms. If a team plans to wear a uniform color other than white, it must notify the visiting team no later than five days before the scheduled game. If the home team's "light" uniforms are not in a color contrasting with the visiting team's uniforms, the home team must adjust and wear a contrasting color. Game officials are authorized to rule on any disputes in uniform color.

Three-point shooting

UK Coach John Calipari says the team's three-point shooting (next-to-last among SEC teams in league play) is irrelevant to post-season success. To use a baseball analogy, skepticism about UK's three-point shooting would be like lamenting the lack of power on a team dependent on pitching and defense.

Defense and rebounding are UK's pitching and defense.

A check of the last 10 NCAA Tournament champions suggests that Kentucky's three-point accuracy is adequate to the task.

UK's three-point percentage (34.6 overall entering Sunday's game against Florida) is better than what Syracuse shot (34.4) in its national championship season of 2002-03.

The other nine national champs shot better than UK's current accuracy. Here's the numbers: North Carolina, 38.7 percent in 2008-09; Kansas, 39.7 in 2007-08; Florida, 40.9 in 2006-07; Florida, 39.2 in 2005-06; North Carolina, 40.3 in 2004-05; Connecticut, 40.2 in 2003-04; Syracuse, 34.4 in 2002-03; Maryland, 37.4 in 2001-02; Duke, 38.5 in 2000-01; Michigan State, 37.8 in 1999-2000.

Wall a finalist

Kentucky freshman John Wall is among six finalists for the Bob Cousy Award. When the season began, there were 73 candidates. The finalists were announced last week.

The other five finalists are Sherron Collins of Kansas, Scottie Reynolds of Villanova, Jon Scheyer of Duke, Evan Turner of Ohio State and Greivis Vasquez of Maryland.

My ballot had four of those six players. I had Matt Bouldin of Gonzaga. I did not have Turner (who was a write-in candidate because he might be considered more a wing than a Cousy-like guard) and Collins.

Each of the final six candidates will be reviewed by a panel made up of media members, head coaches, Sports Information Directors and Hall of Famers. The winner, who is supposed to represent Cousy's "passion and skill for the game," will be announced on April 1.

At the time of the voting, Wall had more assists than every finalist except Vasquez. He also had more turnovers and the second-lowest shooting percentage from three-point range.

Of the finalists, Wall might best epitomize Cousy's creative flair. And he's probably unsurpassed as a clutch performer.

Turner averaged the most points and had the highest overall shooting percentage. He's perceived as the favorite to be national Player of the Year.

Scheyer had the best assist-to-turnover ratio (better than three to one) and the second-best three-point accuracy.

Happy birthday

To Denny Crum. The former U of L coach turned 73 on Tuesday.

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