Mark Story

Big Dance stock report: A UK player and a Kentuckian are up; city of Cincinnati is down

Kentucky guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (22) just completed the best two games to start an NCAA Tournament by a UK freshman point guard in the John Calipari era.
Kentucky guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (22) just completed the best two games to start an NCAA Tournament by a UK freshman point guard in the John Calipari era. aslitz@herald-leader.com

Whose stock is up and whose is down after the first week of the 2018 men’s NCAA basketball tournament:

Up: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. You have just witnessed the best opening two games in an NCAA Tournament played by a Kentucky freshman point guard during the John Calipari era.

In victories over Davidson and Buffalo, the 6-foot-6, 180-pound Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 23 points, seven rebounds, 6.5 assists and 3.5 steals.

That’s better than the first two NCAA tourney games for John Wall (15.5 ppg, 2 rpg, 9 apg), Brandon Knight (16 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 4.5 apg), Marquis Teague (18 ppg, 3 rpg, 5.5 apg), Andrew Harrison (13.5 ppg, 3 rpg, 4 apg) and De’Aaron Fox (16.5 ppg, 2 rpg, 2.5 apg).

Gilgeous-Alexander is turning heads with the NBA, too. SI.com’s Jeremy Woo writes “there is a sneaky case for (Gilgeous-Alexander) as the most intriguing point guard prospect in the draft.”

Down: The Pac-12. Bill Walton’s “conference of champions” was the “league of losers” in 2017-18. The Pac-12 got only three teams into the men’s Big Dance, and UCLA and Arizona State sneaked in through the First Four.

Neither the Bruins nor the Sun Devils made it out of Dayton, leaving conference regular-season and tournament champion Arizona as the league’s last hope.

Instead, Sean Miller’s Wildcats — a team that a misguided Lexington sportswriter picked to go to the Final Four — were humiliated in the round of 64 by No. 13 seed Buffalo, 89-68.

Sean Miller
Arizona Coach Sean Miller watched his team’s stunning 89-68 upset loss to Buffalo in the NCAA Tournament round of 64. Zona’s flameout was part of a disastrous NCAA tourney showing for the Pac-12. Ted S. Warren Associated Press

The Pac-12 should be very grateful there is not English soccer-style relegation in American college hoops.

Up: Kelan Martin. In what turned out to be the final two games of his Butler career, the former Ballard High School star was stellar.

In Butler’s 79-62 round-of-64 victory over Arkansas, the 6-7, 220-pound forward from Louisville went for 27 points and nine rebounds. Martin came back in an agonizing 76-73 loss to intrastate rival Purdue with 29 points and five boards.

Kelan Martin
In his final two games in a Butler uniform, ex-Ballard High School star Kelan Martin, shooting ball, was one of the best players in the NCAA Tournament. Paul Sancya Associated Press

After the defeat to Purdue, Martin — who scored 2,047 career points at Butler — put a graceful epilogue on his college time by going on the Purdue team bus to wish the Boilermakers good luck.

Down: Virginia. What were the odds?

Virginia was on the wrong end of the biggest men’s college hoops upset of the 20th century. On Dec. 23, 1982, the No. 1-ranked Cavaliers with 7-foot-4 center Ralph Sampson fell to NAIA school Chaminade 77-72.

Now, after Tony Bennett’s 2017-18 Cavaliers suffered the first-ever loss by a No. 1 seed to a No. 16 by falling to Maryland-Baltimore County by the inexplicable score of 74-54 last Friday night, Virginia has already secured the mantle of being the loser in the greatest men’s college hoops upset of the 21st century, too.

Up: Tony Bennett. Cynics will point out the UVa. coach has ample and growing experience dealing with NCAA tourney disappointments. Nevertheless, Bennett gave a postgame clinic after the UMBC debacle on how to handle a devastating defeat with class.

Tony Bennett
Virginia Coach Tony Bennett looked on as the Cavaliers were routed 74-54 by the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, becoming the first No. 1 seed in men’s NCAA Tournament history to ever lose to a No. 16 seed. John McDonnell The Washington Post

His remarks, which echoed Theodore Roosevelt on the rewards/risks of “stepping into the arena,” were packed with wisdom.

Down: The city of Cincinnati. It was black Sunday for college hoops fans in the Queen City.

First, the University of Cincinnati, a No. 2 seed, lost a 22-point lead in the final 11 minutes and fell to No. 7 Nevada.

Then, No. 1-seeded Xavier lost a 12-point lead in the final 11 minutes and fell to No. 9 Florida State.

Longtime Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty proclaimed it “the worst night in the modern history of Cincinnati sports.”

Leonard Hamilton
Ex-UK assistant Leonard Hamilton has led Florida State to the round of 16. In his 30th season as a college head coach, this is Hamilton’s third trip to the regional semifinals. Mark Humphrey Associated Press

Up: John Calipari. Has a golden chance to take Kentucky to the Final Four for the fifth time in his nine seasons at UK by beating teams seeded No. 12, 13, 9 and either No. 7 or 11.

Down: John Calipari. If you thought the boos the UK coach evoked in Boise during the NCAA tourney’s first two rounds last week seemed a little more vigorous than normal, they were.

In Idaho, Calipari’s pre-tournament complaints about Kentucky being shipped 1,950 miles west to play there were not well received. “Anchorage or Boise? It is what it is,” the UK coach said on Selection Sunday.

John Calipari Idaho sign
In Boise, some of the locals were less than thrilled with John Calipari’s comments after Kentucky was assigned to open 2018 NCAA Tournament play in Idaho. Darin Oswald Idaho Statesman

With two exceptions (2000 and 2008), I’ve covered some part of the NCAA Tournament every year since 1996.

The 2018 “Boise pod” might have been the best one I’ve covered. Boise was a scenic city filled with friendly people and it put on a well-organized tournament.

If Anchorage ever gets to host the Big Dance, it has a high bar to clear.

After win over Buffalo, Kentucky players talk about getting to South Regional semifinal Thursday night in Atlanta.

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