On his radio show Monday night, John Calipari all but accused the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee of trying to prevent Kentucky from winning national championships.
Of Kentucky’s place in the 2012 bracket, he said, “It was basically, ‘They’re not winning it this year.’”
Later, Calipari turned his attention to this year’s NCAA Tournament. He saw a “crazy bracket” as an obstacle Kentucky must overcome.
“You take that personal,” he said.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
That’s how his Kentucky team took its eight seed in 2014, he said. “We took that personal.”
That sounded like Calipari did not see the Selection Committee literally conspiring to thwart Kentucky. He was trying to foster and use the perception of an unfair process to stir his players. That might be especially timely when the Cats are an overwhelming favorite in an opening game, as they will be Friday night against Northern Kentucky.
Coincidentally, Calipari’s complaints about seeding and bracketing subside once the tournament begins.
ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla saw Cal-culation.
John is as good as anybody in college coaching in creating an us-versus-them mentality.
ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla
“Yeah, for sure, for sure,” he said. “John is as good as anybody in college coaching in creating an us-versus-them mentality.”
Another ESPN analyst, Dick Vitale, echoed the sentiment.
“John’s always searching,” he said. “Psychologically looking for an edge. It’s us against the world. He doesn’t let anything slip.”
The South Region, in which Kentucky is the No. 2 seed, is loaded with college basketball blue bloods. The top three seeds — North Carolina, UK and UCLA — have won a combined 24 national championships.
Yet, a story in The Washington Post on Tuesday said that North Carolina, the No. 1 seed in the South Region, and Gonzaga (No. 1 in the West Region) had “the easiest paths to the Final Four.”
Noted bracketologists did not see the South Region as markedly more difficult to get through than other regions.
Joe Lunardi of ESPN saw the South as the hardest, but “well within the permissible range” of comparable difficulty.
Jerry Palm of CBS said none of the four regions was a cakewalk.
“Cal is never happy,” Palm said. “That’s the thing. Cal is never happy.”
As he suggested on his radio show, Calipari has frequently, if not annually, complained about his team’s seeding, site of games, path to the Final Four or all of the above.
This goes back to his time as the coach at Memphis when his Tigers lost to UCLA in Oakland, Calif., in the 2006 NCAA Tournament, then had to play Texas A&M in San Antonio, Texas, in 2007, then beat Texas in Houston to get to the 2008 Final Four.
“He would talk about the RPI guy who screwed him,” recalled Geoff Calkins, a columnist for the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Of course, there is no RPI guy.
“He lives off that,” Calkins said. “It’s like he needs it.”
I do think they’re in a tough bracket. I don’t think the committee did this purposefully.
Fran Fraschilla, ESPN analyst, on Kentucky’s draw
In 2014-15, Calipari and players spoke of not being respected when Kentucky was unanimously voted No. 1 in top 25 polls on a weekly basis.
Palm, Lunardi and Calkins all said that Calipari had had reason to question the process. Lunardi called last year’s seeding of UK at No. 4 and Texas A&M at No. 3 “a flat-out mistake.”
But suggesting the NCAA Selection Committee conspires against a team was taking it too far, they said.
“I do think they’re in a tough bracket,” Fraschilla said of the South Region. “I don’t think the committee did this purposefully.”
Palm saw the committee doing Kentucky a favor by placing the Cats in Indianapolis.
Fraschilla saw a possible Sweet 16 game against UCLA as favorable for Kentucky. Of course, UK lost to UCLA in early December.
“If I was John, I’d be licking my chops to have a chance to play them again,” he said. “In other words, you get deep in the tournament, you’re going to play somebody really, really good. And John’s method and motivation, in this case, it’s to create an us-versus-them mentality. It’s absolutely right up their alley. It’s smart.”
Fraschilla pointed out that Calipari is not the only coach unhappy with the Selection Committee.
Wichita State, which may play Kentucky in the round of 32 on Sunday, voiced displeasure with its No. 10 seed. The Shockers (30-4) have not lost since January.
“I’m just glad they didn’t forget about (us),” Coach Gregg Marshall said on Selection Sunday, presumably facetiously. “I was starting to think they might forget about us and not put us in at all.”
So Calipari is not alone in questioning the Selection Committee’s decisions. Maybe he’s just more willing to share his thoughts.
“Everyone is going to look at their bracket and say, ‘I wish this didn’t happen’ or ‘I wish we didn’t have to play this team’ or ‘How come we’re in this bracket with this team,’” Fraschilla said. “. . . John is willing to say what’s on his mind. He’s willing to say what the other coaches may be thinking, but won’t say.”
Kentucky vs. Northern Kentucky
What: NCAA Tournament South Regional round-of-64 game
When: About 9:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis
Records: No. 2 seed Kentucky, 29-5; No. 15 seed Northern Kentucky, 24-10