Men's Basketball

Mark Story: Reasons for confidence, concern for Kentucky fans

Marquis Teague, Kyle Wiltjer, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis give Kentucky four freshmen among the team's top seven players.
Marquis Teague, Kyle Wiltjer, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis give Kentucky four freshmen among the team's top seven players.

Fast-break points from college basketball's Christmas Day:

21. The one-and-done debate. I understand why people have philosophical objections to the concept of one-and-done college athletes. However, it is the NBA and its players union, not the NCAA or its member colleges, that has created the phenomenon in basketball.

20. Can a freshman-dominated team win it all? I don't understand why we are still arguing about this. In winning the 2011 NCAA title, Connecticut — yes, led by junior star Kemba Walker — started three true freshmen and played five frosh in its top seven players.

19. Kentucky. The current Wildcats have "only" four freshmen in their top seven players, meaning UK is more experienced than last year's national champs.

18. Reason for Kentucky fans to feel confident: In the last six NCAA Tournaments (including one that was subsequently vacated) in which he has coached, John Calipari's record is 20-6.

17. Reason for Kentucky fans to fret: John Calipari has coached teams in 13 NCAA Tournaments (including two vacated trips) overall; seven times Cal's teams have lost to a lower-seeded foe.

16. 16 seeds. As everyone knows, a 16 seed has never beaten a 1 seed in a men's NCAA Tournament game since the field expanded to at least 64 teams in 1985.

15. 15 seeds. In the 2000s, No. 15s are almost as futile going against No. 2s — 1-47. The "one" is Hampton's upset of Iowa State in 2001.

14. Rick Pitino at Kentucky. Went 22-5 in six NCAA Tournaments with five Elite Eights, three Final Fours, an NCAA title — and only one exit (1994) on the tourney's first weekend.

13. Rick Pitino at Louisville. Is 12-8 in eight NCAA Tournaments with three Elite Eights, one Final Four — and a whopping five exits on the tourney's first weekend.

12. Party like it's 1995. The commonwealth of Kentucky will have four teams in the 2011 men's NCAA tourney — UK, U of L, Murray State and Western Kentucky. The last time that happened, it was the same four teams in 1995.

11. How it worked out in '95. As a No. 1, UK lost to North Carolina in the South Region finals; WKU, an 8, lost to Michigan in the second round; Louisville, an 11, fell to Memphis in round one; and Murray State, a 15, lost to North Carolina in the first round.

10. Reason for Kentucky fans to feel confident: Talent. According to nbadraft.net, every one of Kentucky's top six players will be taken in the top 47 picks of the 2012 NBA Draft.

9. Reason for Kentucky fans to fret: Talent. North Carolina's top four players are all projected by nbadraft.net to go in the first 16 picks. That is better than UK's top four, who are not predicted to be off the board until the 24th pick.

8. Home boys. If, as expected, Kentucky opens NCAA Tournament play in Louisville's KFC Yum Center, it will be the first time UK has played a Big Dance game in the commonwealth since beating Louisville and Illinois in Rupp Arena in the 1984 Mideast Region.

7. Seven years in a row. That's how many times a No. 11 seed has beaten a No. 6 in the men's NCAAs. If you are looking for a tourney upset, recent history says the 6-11 line is the place to start.

6. Murray State. When you hear (8.9 million times) in the next days that the NCAA tourney is all about matchups, think of the Racers. Led by Isaiah Canaan, Murray's guards can play with any backcourt in the tournament. But if MSU is paired against a foe with a long, athletic front line, I'm not sure the Racers have the personnel to counteract that.

5. Don't sleep on the OVC. Counting Morehead State's victory over Alabama State in the 2009 opening-round game, Ohio Valley Conference teams have won games in the past three NCAA tourneys. In 2010, Murray State bounced Vanderbilt (and came achingly close to snatching Butler's glass slipper). Last year, Morehead stunned Louisville.

4. Ray Harper. The best news for the new coach who guided Western Kentucky to its Cinderella run through the Sun Belt Conference Tournament is that WKU's roster is heavy with talented freshmen and has only one senior (Kahlil McDonald).

3. The 'Ray Harper effect.' The best thing that could happen if Harper, formerly a national championship-winning head coach at Kentucky Wesleyan (and Oklahoma City), thrives at WKU is it could open the door for other "small college" head men such as Kelly Wells (Pikeville), Scott Davenport (Bellarmine) and Happy Osborne (formerly Georgetown College, now an assistant at Tennessee Tech) to get head-coaching shots in Division I, too.

2. Reason for Kentucky fans to feel confident: As tough and resourceful as Syracuse is, do the Orange have the talent level to beat UK? I'm not convinced.

1. Reason for Kentucky fans to fret: UK's last three NCAA tourney losses, UConn (2011), West Virginia (2010) and Marquette (2008), have come to Big East foes. In 2009, Notre Dame of the Big East knocked Kentucky out of the NIT.

So Cats fans, if you need something to worry about, Syracuse is (for now) still in the Big East. So is Louisville.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

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