UK Men's Basketball

UK players’ NBA Draft status enhanced by Final Four run? Analysts say no.

No one guards De'Aaron Fox like Dominique Hawkins

Kentucky guard De'Aaron Fox talks about the impact on defense made by teammate Dominique Hawkins after UK's 79-84 win against over Alabama in the SEC Tournament.
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Kentucky guard De'Aaron Fox talks about the impact on defense made by teammate Dominique Hawkins after UK's 79-84 win against over Alabama in the SEC Tournament.

Skal Labissiere was a poignant figure at last year’s NBA Draft. He sat with his family and waited and waited for his name to be called. Finally, the Phoenix Suns took Labissiere with the 28th pick of the first round, then promptly traded him to Sacramento.

Tyler Ulis did not attend the draft. So his wait until the 34th pick (or fourth pick of the second round) was not on public display.

More than once Kentucky Coach John Calipari has suggested a deeper run in the NCAA Tournament could have led to the players being picked earlier in the draft. Of course, UK lost to Indiana in the second round.

If true, Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox, Bam Adebayo and Isaiah Briscoe have extra incentive to help Kentucky advance this year. Maybe the same applies to seniors Dominique Hawkins, Derek Willis or Mychal Mulder in terms of playing professionally.

Two NBA Draft analysts found it difficult to believe that Kentucky’s advancement in an NCAA Tournament significantly impacts the draft stock of a Wildcats player. They said that Kentucky players are well-known commodities by the time of March Madness.

“You’re talking of the single-most scouted team of any college team in the country every year,” said Chad Ford, NBA Draft analyst for ESPN. “These NBA teams know the Kentucky players backward and forward. Almost all of their elite players have been followed by scouts since high school.”

Of course, Calipari stages an NBA-styled “combine” for pro scouts each preseason. If that wasn’t enough, Kentucky runs an offense that mirrors the prevalent NBA style.

“Kentucky prospects are the single easiest prospects to evaluate in the entire draft,” Ford said.

Calipari’s suggestion about NCAA Tournament runs affecting draft stock better applies to players on the mid-major level, said Michael Schmitz of DraftExpress.com. Maybe the main man on a non-Power Five conference, say Alec Peters of Valparaiso, could benefit from a run in the NCAA Tournament.

Ford used two former Kentucky players to make his point that NCAA Tournament runs can have little impact on draft stock.

Aaron Harrison hit game-winning shots in three straight games in Kentucky’s surprising run to the 2014 Final Four.

“I don’t think it affected his stock one way or the other,” Ford said.

Harrison went undrafted.

And, Ford added, it was coincidental that Karl-Anthony Towns led Kentucky to the 2015 Final Four and then was the first overall pick in that year’s NBA Draft.

“If they were knocked out in the first round, Karl-Anthony Towns would still be the No. 1 pick in the draft,” Ford said.

Theology and bracketology

Maybe it’s fitting that the NCAA announces its tournament seeding and bracketing on a Sunday.

Sports in general, and especially college basketball this time of year, burn deeply into people’s souls. The day a major religion chooses as its sabbath seems like a good time for judgment day.

Instead of theology, we have bracketology. Both evoke strong passion.

“You’re not going to reason or rationalize with those folks,” said Kristen Dieffenbach, an associate professor at West Virginia University’s college of sports sciences. “‘Of course, we’re No. 1. How dare you say anything else?’ There’s such a strong passion that they’re not able to see the whole picture.

“When you’re a diehard, you have some pretty strong blinders on. It’s an awful lot like ‘My kid is an angel, and how dare you say anything less?’”

This zealotry gets reinforced by fans forming an echo chamber with other like-minded people, she said. Fans create self-styled sovereign states. For instance, the Big Blue Nation, Card Nation, Dawg Nation, etc., etc.

“For a lot of people, there’s an incredible power in affiliation,” Dieffenbach said. “There’s an incredible sense of belonging. … It’s actually one of the core psychological needs that people have, and this provides a really strong sense of identity for people.”

For the Big Blue Nation, one of the many times this identity showed itself came in mid-February of 2015. Kentucky had improved its record to 24-0 by winning at LSU the previous night. A caller to John Calipari’s weekly radio show volunteered a lengthy list of ways UK could improve its play. When the fan paused to take a breath, assistant coach John Robic, who was substituting for Calipari, pointed out that the team wasn’t doing too badly.

“It’s that idea that there’s such a strong ownership,” Dieffenbach said of this exchange. “In the eyes of the fans, this is not the coach’s team. This is not the players’ team. This is their team.”

As it does with all aspects of college basketball, the NCAA Tournament turns up rooting interest to full blast.

This passion can elevate fans if directed by, as Abraham Lincoln would say, the better angels of our nature.

“If unchecked or unquestioned or un-analyzed, it has the ability to go down that road of at-all-cost,” Dieffenbach said.

Transparency?

“A stunt.” That’s what ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi called the Selection Committee’s Feb. 11 announcement of its top 16 teams for this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Much could change in a month’s time, so Lunardi and former insiders in the Selection Committee’s work (Bill Hancock, Terry Holland) said the Feb. 11 announcement was an exercise in public relations intended to drum up interest in college basketball’s regular season.

However, UK Coach John Calipari lauded the Feb. 11 announcement as a lifting of a metaphorical curtain that obscures secretive committee work. Using a safe buzzword, he said the Feb. 11 announcement lent “transparency” to the process.

Last week the Committee’s chair, Michigan State Athletics Director Mark Hollis, reminded listeners on a teleconference that at the end of the Feb. 11 TV show he crumpled up the sheet of paper listing the top 16 teams and tossed it in the waste basket.

The message? “That was the end of that process from the committee’s perspective,” he said.

The Feb. 11 announcement engaged committee members earlier than in past years, Hollis said, but had no bearing on the Selection Sunday announcement of seeding and bracketing.

“Kind of a mid-term PSAT,” Hollis said of the Feb. 11 announcement. “What we’re starting (on Wednesday of last week) is the SAT. This is the real test.”

‘It’s irrelevant’

Mike Tranghese, special adviser to SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey on basketball matters, is attending the conference tournament. When asked what he thought of the Selection Committee’s Feb. 11 announcement of the top 16 teams, he answered with a question.

“Truthfully?” he said.

Yes, candor would be welcomed. “I didn’t pay attention,” he said. “It’s irrelevant. It doesn’t mean a thing.”

As an example, Tranghese cited Providence. The Friars had a losing record in the Big East when the Feb. 11 TV show aired. The six straight victories that followed surely put Providence in the discussion.

“They probably weren’t even discussed at the Feb. 11 meeting, and they shouldn’t have been,” Tranghese said of the Friars. “That’s why I didn’t put much stock on Feb. 11. What happened on Feb. 11 isn’t going to have one iota (of importance) in terms of who gets in the tournament and where people get seeded.”

Losing streaks

Missouri extended losing streaks to hard-to-believe proportions this season. When the season ended, the Tigers had lost their last 32 “true” road games (and 35 straight overall).

This begged a question: Was that a record for a Division I program? For a program in a Power Five conference?

Neither the SEC nor the Big Ten and Pac 12 keep a record for consecutive road losses.

The record for consecutive road losses in Big 12 play is held by Colorado, which lost 36 straight from 2006 through 2010.

The ACC record is 29. Clemson lost that many consecutive road games in league play from Dec. 19, 1953, through Jan. 11, 1958.

By the way, the NCAA keeps a record for consecutive “true” road defeats. That record, which includes non-league as well as in-league games on the opponent’s court, is 64. It’s held by Texas Pan American (Nov. 25, 1995 to Jan. 8, 2000). It ended with a 79-62 victory at Oral Roberts.

Rest of AP ballot

Last Sunday’s note about the All-SEC ballot was not complete. Votes for the second-team All-SEC were cast for Bam Adebayo and De’Aaron Fox of Kentucky, Moses Kingsley of Arkansas, Sebastian Saiz of Ole Miss and Luke Kornet of Vanderbilt.

Newcomer of the Year: Malik Monk of Kentucky.

As noted last Sunday, first-team votes went to J.J. Frazier of Georgia, Sindariuus Thornwell of South Carolina, KeVaughn Allen of Florida, Robert Williams of Texas A&M and Monk.

Player of the Year: Frazier.

Coach of the Year: John Calipari of Kentucky.

Happy birthday

To Anthony Davis. He turned 24 on Saturday. … To Rashaad Carruth. He turns 35 on Sunday (today). … To former UK Coach Eddie Sutton. He turns 81 on Sunday (today). … To Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy. He turns 49 on Monday. … To Patrick Patterson. He turns 28 on Tuesday. … To Jock Sutherland. He turns 89 on Tuesday.

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

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