Sidelines with John Clay

NCAA Tournament links as we strike up the Big Dance band

NCAA Tournament links:

PJ Washington is the question mark hanging over Kentucky, says my column. Kentucky’s leading scorer and rebounder did not attend the interviews or practice session at Jacksonville’s Veterans Memorial Arena. John Calipari said Washington has a sprained foot, but is expected to play Thursday against Abilene Christian.

Washington’s diagnosis is a relief, reports Jerry Tipton of the Herald-Leader. The rumor mill feared something far worse than a sprained foot. “We sent him to a specialist to make sure he can’t harm himself,” Calipari said. “But we expect him to play.”

Reid Travis will play in his first NCAA Tournament. The Kentucky forward is a graduate transfer from Stanford, where the Cardinal failed to reach the Big Dance during his three seasons. And guess where this year’s Final Four will take place? Travis’ hometown of Minneapolis.

Mark Story has his match-ups and prediction for Kentucky vs. Abilene Christian. “Abilene Christian senior Jaren Lewis (team bests of 13.7 ppg and 6.2 rpg; 2.7 assists, 1.6 steals) is the Wildcats’ best player. A 6-6, 215-pound product of Orlando, Lewis had a double-double, 17 points and 11 rebounds, in the Southland tourney win over Southeastern Louisiana, then came back with 20 points (on 10-of-17 shooting) and six boards in the 77-60 victory over New Orleans in the finals.”

John Calipari shoots down UCLA rumors. Calipari tweeted that his plan and desire is to retire as the Kentucky coach. He said “there is no better job in the world.”

Abilene Christian’s Joe Golding put on a show, says Jordan Hofeditz of the Abilene Reporter-News. “Joe Golding has added some impressive bullet points to his coaching resume this season, even in the past week. But if the whole men’s college basketball coach thing doesn’t work out for the Southland Conference Coach of the Year and the first coach to take Abilene Christian to the Division I NCAA Tournament and he decides he wants a change, a career in comedy — or at least entertainment — might be waiting.”

UK should win Thursday with or without Washington, says Rick Bozich of WDRB. “Sitting Washington for one game is the reasonable call for me. Kentucky has proven it can beat teams better than Abilene Christian without Reid Travis. Montgomery, Nick Richards and the now healthy Travis will tower over Abilene Christian’s front line.”

A judge tossed John Higgins’ lawsuit against Kentucky Sports Radio. You (painfully) recall the controversy surrounding Higgins, one of three officials in UK’s loss to North Carolina in the 2017 South Regional final, who claimed he was harassed by Kentucky fans in large part because of prodding from KSR.

Here is Mac Engel’s takedown of Kentucky, if you haven’t already read the Fort Worth Star Telegram’s piece. “College basketball is full of wire taps, frauds and indictments so it’s only appropriate that a Christian school from West Texas is here to save the NCAA Tournament. And after mighty Abilene Christian slays John Calipari and his merry band of NBA bums from Kentucky, America will know and acknowledge the fighting Christians are the best team not just in West Texas, but all of Texas. Maybe America.”

The inside story of how UK bounced back, from Kyle Tucker of The Athletic. “There was something off about John Calipari, something different. It was the week of Kentucky’s season opener against Duke, and the Wildcats coach was wired. Wound up. Worried? This was a far cry from his comically confident alter ego, Swaggy Cal, who showed up over the summer and stuck around for months, talking at every opportunity like a guy who believed he had the best team in America. Starting out with the fourth-ranked Blue Devils and their freakish freshman class provided an immediate chance to prove it on a national stage. But as the Nov. 6 collision got closer, Calipari grew restless.”

Charles Matthews is now a leader for a Final Four contender. The former Kentucky guard transferred to Michigan after his freshman season. He helped the Wolverines to the national title game last season, and now Michigan is the No. 2 seed in the West Region.

Chris Mack sees a lack of self-awareness from NCAA, reports Tim Sullivan of the Courier-Journal. “There was a trace of annoyance in Chris Mack’s tone and some subtle reproach in his words. The University of Louisville men’s basketball coach has not been consumed by the Rick Pitino narrative attached to his team’s NCAA Tournament opener like a basketball barnacle — has not even mentioned it, he says, to his players — but he remains puzzled and slightly put out by the first-round matchup that pits his Cardinals against the Minnesota Gophers of Pitino’s son, Richard.”

Duke remains an unfinished product, says Luke DeCock of the Raleigh News and Observer. That’s a scary though concerning the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed. “Two years ago, the Blue Devils won four games in four days to win the ACC championship but still never did seem to figure it out. This team is way ahead of that curve, but there’s still so much uncharted territory to explore, so much uncertainty ahead.”

Shoe companies walk a thin line between support and scandal, reports Brian Murphy of McClatchy. “A McClatchy look at the top 100 high school basketball recruits over a five-year period found that nearly every recruit played for at least one shoe-backed grassroots team and matriculated to a shoe-backed college team. The most talented played in the NBA, where the best of the best get their own signature shoe.”

Can Tony Benford lead talented LSU? asks Scott Rabalais of The Advocate in Baton Rouge. “An NCAA staffer pulled the nameplates for LSU players Tremont Waters and Skylar Mays off the news conference podium Wednesday and replaced it with a single one: Tony Benford LSU. Interim Head Coach.”

Syracuse’s Frank Howard was suspended for failed drug test, says the Daily Orange. “Syracuse senior point guard Frank Howard has been suspended indefinitely because he failed a drug test before the NCAA Tournament, three people familiar with the situation told The Daily Orange on Wednesday night. ssIt is unclear when the testing took place.”

Belmont hopes to next knock off Maryland, writes John Feinstein for the Washington Post. “Belmont Coach Rick Byrd cheered, of course, Sunday evening when he learned his team had been granted an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament. But then inwardly — just for a moment — he groaned.”

Maryland not taking Belmont lightly, reports Don Markus of the Baltimore Sun. “One week removed from a stupefying defeat to No. 13 seed Nebraska in the second round of the Big Ten tournament in Chicago, the Maryland men’s basketball team vowed not to make the same mistakes in its NCAA tournament opener Thursday against 11th-seed Belmont at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.”

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