“Good to great” could be considered a label Kentucky carries into the NCAA Tournament.
The title of a book about business success became a catchphrase referenced by coaches trying to inspire improvement.
UK Coach John Calipari did not specifically use those three words Monday, but that seemed to be his message in assessing his team as it steps into March Madness.
Kentucky is good. Kentucky could be great, or at least better.
“They’re coming together,” Calipari said on a Southeastern Conference teleconference. “They’re buying into the defensive end. They’re riding the hot player, and guys aren’t fighting it.”
Bam Adebayo and De’Aaron Fox have improved, he said. Led by Dominique Hawkins, UK is getting more production from its bench.
Then came the good-to-great part.
“We’re coming together,” Calipari said again before adding, “we’re still not where we want to be. But we’re coming together, and I’m pleased with all of them.”
When asked what separates Kentucky from being great, Calipari said, “More consistency. We’re not doing it for 40 (minutes). We’re doing it for 30.”
Inconsistency has marked Kentucky’s play much of the season. In November through mid-February, UK’s play would suddenly dip. Turnovers and poor shot selection marked these periods.
More recently, the symptom was poor starts to games. The implications for the NCAA Tournament, which, of course, involves better teams, are not reassuring.
“There are things we’re doing letting people hang around in games,” Calipari said.
A repeat in the NCAA Tournament means “you give a team hope,” he said. “And it’s life and death. They’re coming out clawing. They’re coming out like a cornered animal. So you give them hope. And we do that a lot.
“And that’s where I say, we’re getting better, but what we’re doing, we’ve got to try to do it for 40 minutes. Thirty-eight minutes. I would take 35 minutes.”
5 bids for SEC
After only three of its teams made three of the last four NCAA tournaments, league coaches applauded this year’s five bids.
Calipari used the many freshmen and sophomores who played prominent roles as reason to believe more bids will come in future years.
“If we stay on that path, we’re going to have seven, eight, maybe nine teams in the NCAA Tournament,” he said.
Calipari lamented that Georgia, the league’s hard-luck team this season, did not get a bid.
“I’m so disappointed for Mark Fox, who I think did the best job of coaching in our league,” he said of the Georgia coach.
With a bid possibly at stake, having to play Kentucky in the SEC Tournament quarter-finals Friday “wasn’t fair,” Calipari said.
Vanderbilt, perceived as the brainiacs of the SEC, may be portrayed as villains in a first-round game against Northwestern. Of course, Northwestern, the brainiacs of the Big Ten, will be making the program’s first NCAA Tournament.
Vandy Coach Bryce Drew said he wasn’t concerned with his team being the villains. Then, he added, “If you take the two SAT or ACT scores, both teams could maybe be in the championship game.”
Florida Coach Mike White essentially said he had to coach two teams this season: One with big man John Egbunu and one without. The Gators’ margin of error decreased when Egbunu tore an anterior cruciate ligament.
When asked if he’s gotten the most out of those teams, White said, “In terms of effort, togetherness, buy-in, these guys have been great. If not all the way maxed out, we’re right there knocking on the door with this group.”
South Carolina received its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2004. Now, the Gamecocks will seek the program’s first NCAA Tournament victory since 1973.
Coach Frank Martin saw the bid as sweet validation of a five-year rebuilding project.
“Validated with a pretty darn good seed,” Martin said of his team’s seven-seed. “I’m extremely proud of our players.”
Northern Kentucky vs. Kentucky at Indianapolis
When: About 9:30 p.m.