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UK-UL & The Battle Of Kentucky

Tyler B.

“Isn’t it great that two teams from the same state are playing each other in a Final Four for the first time since 1961? It’s so great for the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

I live in Louisville and the water cooler and elevator speeches this morning about the statement written above, temporarily replacing the early warm weather conversations, is garbage. Kentucky and Louisville don’t like each other, they hate each other. I went to the University of Alabama and nothing oozes more tree poison than the Alabama-Auburn rivalry – nothing comes close – but this one game tops it and is unlike anything we’ve seen in any sport in a very, very long time.

But…

In nearly every “historical” game played the pressure falls on the better team, but as a lifelong UK fan I strangely feel there isn’t any added pressure on UK because Louisville is just another team in the line of fire. The Louisville fan base is simply happy to be in this in this situation because it will go down as an unforgettable season, regardless of the outcome, so there’s no pressure.  If the Cardinals happen to beat Kentucky and lose the national title game, Louisville fans will take more pride in denying Kentucky the right to play in the title game than actually losing in the title game.

If there is any pressure for UK it’s not on the basketball court. To me the only pressure falls onto the shoulders of Coach Cal by proving he’s a great X and O guy, that nobody wants to give him credit for, and that he can win with his one and done philosophy. From a UK fan perspective there is no pressure because this UK team is one of the best basketball teams that has ever played.

I wrote on the very site a few months ago, before the season played out, that Alabama would go down as potentially the greatest college football teams to every play if they could beat LSU in the Super Dome. Bama did so in a dominating fashion and, even without winning the “SEC” football tournament, with some time and perspective I believe last year’s team will be viewed as just that.

In late February I compared this UK team to the 1996 UK team – many whom consider one of the greatest teams ever – and wrote the 1996 team was better. But if this team returns to Lexington with national title #8 for it will be on the short list as one of the greatest college basketball teams ever

Has winning a game just to land a spot in the national title game ever been so anti-climatic? (You mean Ohio State and Kansas are in the Final Four, too?)

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The outcome of this game will permanently alter the opinion of two coaching giants inside the Big Blue Nation forever. So, yes, there is pressure but if falls directly on the coaches and none of the players.

A Wildcat win recasts Rick Pitino as a mere footnote in the robust and biblical book of UK basketball, something that will eat at his ego for the rest of his coaching and personal life. He did tremendous job at UK and returned it from the dead, but for the greatest coaching job a HOF coach did to be a footnote at arguably the best collegiate program has to be painful. While his personal image has been destroyed in the past 24 months, an unforgettable loss to a former “protégé” at the empire he used to rule would be sting just as devastating.

But the real pressure is on Cal to win the next two games and bring back title #8 to Lexington for a variety of reasons:

1)      A national title moves his coaching resume past Pitino’s at UK after only his third year

2)      Cal gets the respect he deserves as a tremendous bench coach

3)      Softens the “guilty without evidence” charges at UMass and Memphis

4)      Moves up a few rungs on the ladder of greatest college coaches

5)      Coached potentially the greatest team in college basketball history

6)      Proof his one and done philosophy works and can no longer be questioned

UK is by far and away the best team in the country and will find itself on the short list of greatest college basketball teams ever if it wins two more games. Reminding me of the great Alabama football team from last year, this UK team is like group of mercenaries strictly following orders from a commander and then delivering a scorched earth approach to everything. A well-rounded unit doing its job with little flash or flamboyance, the emotionless faces on the UK players can’t hide their addiction to winning or inability to show no mercy. At the end of the day they simply want it more than any other team.

So… Assuming this team wins its next two games it moves ahead of the ’96 team and goes down as the greatest team UK ever let’s look at how this team ranks nationally in key categories:

-          W-L Percentage & Scoring Margin: #1

-          Scoring Offense (#20) & OFG percentage (#10)

-          Scoring Defense (#25) & DFG percentage (#1)

-          Rebounding Margin: #8

-          Blocked Shots: #1

-          Assist to Turnover Ratio: #35

Here are the players doing it, none averaging more than 10 shots per game:

 

Anthony Davis: 14.3

Doron Lamb   13.6

Terrence Jones: 12.6

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist: 12

Marquis Teague: 10

Darius Miller: 10

Returning to the main point of this article, never has a rivalry game had so much at stake for two coaches when it comes to perception. And as UK fan I’m giddy because in a few days Pitino becomes a UK footnote and I can look down on the Louisville program as the little brother forever. Louisville has absolutely no chance in this game and loses 73-63.

UK goes on to win the title and Cal becomes what everyone outside of Lexington doesn’t want him to be:  The best coach in college basketball right now.

 

Tyler B. works as a communications specialist for a Louisville, Kentucky company.  A lifetime SEC fan – long before it became “acceptable” to cheer for every team in the conference – he plans on writing several books about college football that have a fantastic chance of never being written. 

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UK-Louisville Headlines 3/28/12

It’s liable to be the most hyped game in the history of the NCAA Tournament.  For that reason we’re dedicating a special headline section just to Saturday’s Final Four matchup between Kentucky and Louisville. 

Here’s the latest:


1.  John Calipari doesn’t expect the veterans on his team to be as wide-eyed at this Final Four as they were at last year’s.

2.  Still, last year’s experience has the Cats wary of potential “land mines.”

3.  Calipari makes things look a lot easier than they really are.

4.  For UK’s coach, now is the time to hurdle Rick Pitino once and for all.  (He’s 0-4 against him in postseason tournaments.)

5.  Police in Lexington and Louisville are getting ready for the game and its aftermath.  (But it’s just another game, right, Cal?)

6.  Blue and red crazies are already making news across the Commonwealth.  (But it’s just another game, right, Cal?)

7.  Like the two rival fans who broke into a fight at a dialysis center.  (But it’s just another game, right, Cal?)

8.  Just as we wrote yesterday… of course, it’s not just another game in just another rivalry.

9.  Finally, Tony Delk won a national title at UK playing for Pitino, but he’s also coached alongside Calipari.

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UK-Louisville Headlines – 3/26/12

With Kentucky and Louisville shaping up as the biggest story at the Final Four, we thought we’d give that game its own set of headlines today.  Here goes…


1.  Kentucky-Louisville is a dream matchup for Bluegrass State residents.

2.  CBS’ Clark Kellogg says: “When you talk about Louisville and Kentucky playing, that goes to the stratosphere of intensity and history and tradition… This is way off the charts.”

3.  Get ready for a week’s worth of pregame build-up.

4.  While the media fuels up the hype machine, UK’s players will continue to enjoy the ride.

5.  The roles have reversed for John Calipari and Rick Pitino (who faced each other in the 1996 Final Four with Pitino at UK and Calipari at UMass).

6.  The Wildcats set up the matchup with a blowout win over Baylor…

7.  And big-game Michael Kidd-Gilchrist came up large again for UK.

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UF Upsets Marquette; Donovan Proves His Greatness Again

It was just three short years ago.  Billy Donovan’s Florida Gators had just wrapped up a three-game run in their second straight NIT.  There were more than a few rumbles, grumbles and questions about whether the coach had lost his mojo.  Maybe it was time for a change.  After all, Donovan had also taken an NBA job only to give it back hours later.  His heart just wasn’t in the college game anymore.  In the minds of a few, Florida needed someone new.

All this talk came after Donovan had already won back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007.  His whole team had gone pro on him afterward.  He was starting from scratch with his program in ’08 and ’09 and still winning 20+ games (he’s now put together 14 such seasons in a row) and he was still making postseason tournaments (15 in a row as of this season, with only three NITs in that mix).

Well, with Donovan’s Gators upsetting Marquette 68-58 last night in Phoenix to reach their second consecutive Elite Eight, maybe it’s time to look back and mock those finicky, fairweather folks who questioned UF’s coach.  Talk about “what have ya done for me lately.”

Tomorrow, Donovan and his 7th-seeded Gators will face 4th-seeded Louisville in the West Regional final.  Florida’s coach will be battling the man he played for at Providence, Rick Pitino. 

“Obviously, I’ve said that outside of my parents, he’s the most influential person in my life,” Donovan said last night of the man who is a perfect 6-0 against him as a coach.  But if UF can get past Louisville — who upset top-seeded Michigan State last night — Donovan will make his fourth trip to the Final Four.

Two national titles.  Five Elite Eights.  On the verge of a fourth Final Four.  People, that’s rarefied air.  That’s the Mount Olympus inhabited by the Mike Krzyzewskis, Roy Williams, Tom Izzos and Pitinos of the world.  That’s lifetime contract stuff.  In other words, it’s the kind of success that should keep fans’ mouths closed the next time Donovan’s program has to go through the bumps of a rebuilding cycle.

John Calipari might soon make Kentucky what it once was in terms of regular Final Four visitors and occasional national champs.  The Wildcats certainly appear to be heading in that direction.  But for now — until Coach Cal captures a crown — Florida and Donovan are the Kentucky of the SEC.  (Any insulted Gator fans should look up UK’s hoops history and realize what kind of compliment I just paid them.  Ditto insulted UK fans.)

As for last night’s win, it was a big dose of Bradley Beal — 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting — and some stingy defense that earned UF its latest Elite Eight trip.  Holding the up-tempo Golden Eagles to 58 points is no easy feat.  In its three NCAA tourney wins so far, the Gators have allowed just 51 points per game on average.

Earlier this week we told you that Marquette star Jae Crowder had said Florida is “a great offensive team,” but “they lack a few things defensively… we’ll get a lot of things we want offensively.”

Not so much.

Crowder scored 15 but connected on just 5-of-15 shots.  As a team his Golden Eagles shot just 30% from the floor.

With a dynamic Beal impressing on a nightly basis and the ability and desire to play some downright nasty defense, Florida is an uber-dangerous team right now.  And whether they take down Pitino’s Louisville squad tomorrow afternoon or not, Florida’s coach remains the SEC’s best.  Kentucky’s Calipari is good, but he’s got a ways to go before he equals Donovan in terms of hardware.

Let’s hope people in the Sunshine State remember that the next time Florida stubs its toe.

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ESPN’s Vitale Says Baylor Could Keep UK From The Final Four

ESPN’s Dick Vitale isn’t worried much about Kentucky falling in the Round of 16 to Indiana… a team that beat the Wildcats in Bloomington back in December.  In his view, the “biggest obstacle” to UK making the Final Four is Baylor:


“(Kentucky is) better than Baylor.  I think they’ll beat Baylor.  But Baylor has the athletes to match them athletically…

On a given night, they can really be a major dilemma.”


For now, UK needs to focus on Indiana while Baylor worries about Xavier.  (As well as their own laughably garish uniforms.)

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Silence From Columbia, Horn Appears Safe At USC

Hear that?

It’s the sound of crickets chirping and it’s emanating from Columbia, South Carolina.  After a 2-14, last-place finish in the SEC this season, it was expected that Gamecock coach Darrin Horn would be getting the boot.

If that’s going to happen, there’s no sign of action yet.  And, heck, USC president Harris Pastides blabs about everything.

Horn is under contract to make $1.1 million through the year 2015.  But his buyout is expected to drop from $2 million to $1.25 million in April.  So maybe Carolina is just waiting a few weeks so they can save themselves $750,000.

We think that’s unlikely.  USC would be firing a coach — at the earliest — right smack during the Final Four.  Schools like to can coaches earlier than that, hire their search firms, make under-the-table contacts with prospective coaches, and then meet with those interviewees while at the Final Four site.

If Carolina waits til April to blow up Horn, the Cocks will be slow out of the coach-searching chute.  So as long as silence continues to envelop the Palmetto State, we’re gonna think that Horn’s safe.  Amazingly.

Horn’s four-year basketball record at Carolina is 60-63.  Since a 21-10, NIT season in his first year, Horn has gone 6-10 then 5-11 and now 2-14 in the SEC.  This year’s team was young.  But two league wins and a mausoleum of a new arena would get most coaches canned.

UPDATE — Jay Phillips of WNKT-FM in Columbia tells us Horn’s actual buyout numbers go from $2.4 million  to $1.6 million on April 1st.

So it’s an $800,000 difference, not $750,000 as reported in the piece we linked to. Obviously, that $50,000 difference doesn’t change our thinking on Horn’s status.

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NCAA Prez OK With A Plus-One System

With some form of plus-one “playoff” system gaining steam among BCS commissioners, the head honcho of college athletics has given a thumbs-up to the idea as well.  NCAA president Mark Emmert had this to say yesterday at the body’s annual convention:

“The notion of having what I call loosely a Final Four approach is probably a sound one. … I can see a lot of ways in which a Final Four model can be very successful.  And if people want to go that way, I think it make good sense.”

Can somebody give Brother Emmert an amen?!

The debate over what form a plus-one will take — seeded, not seeded, a rotation of the bowls, a stand-alone beast out for bid to the largest cities (a la the hoops Final Four) — still has to be hashed out and agreed upon.

Another issue that we’ve brought up before — will there be a cap on the number of teams a league can send to a football Final Four?  If not, then non-SEC fans might someday see three SEC teams in the mix.

But Emmert’s statement is further evidence that the BCS train is going to change tracks after 2014.  And that’s a positive for football fans everywhere.

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Don’t Put Too Much Stock In “Athletics Subsidies” Report

When it comes to athletic budgets, no two schools keep their books in the exact same manner.  One school will lump the electricity bill for women’s basketball in with the football expenses.  One school’s “small” budget might not reflect private money and funds used to pay coaches.  And another school might have so little or so much debt that its budget is vastly misleading.

With that in mind, we present USA Today’s latest investigation into the finances of college athletics.  According to the paper’s website, a growing number of athletic departments across the country are being subsidized by their academic counterparts:


“Subsidies account for $1 of every $3 spent on athletics at NCAA Division I schools.  Since 2005, athletics budgets at 219 Division I public schools have increased 22%, and subsidies — the part of the budget that comes from student fees and university money — have increased 26%.”


But before too many folks start harrumphing over those numbers, remember what we said up top — schools don’t report things equally.

According to The Knoxville News Sentinel, the University of Tennessee is a perfect example.  USA Today listed UT as needing the fifth-largest amount of subsidized funds (nationally) to balance its 2009-10 budget.  But Andrew Gribble of The Sentinel writes:


“Of the $13.552 million claimed to have been subsidized to the UT athletic department — through student fees, direct and indirect institution support, and direct state support — only $1 million was actual cash that it used to fund all that goes into the 20 varsity sports it supports.  The rest came from “indirect facilities and administrative support,” a category on the NCAA-submitted financial report that UT and its team of auditors interpreted differently than the majority of its peers.

No matter what way it’s broken down, the UT athletic department continues to be one of the few in the nation that is not only self-sufficient, but also gives back to its university.”


There is nothing wrong with looking at the financial numbers provided by the NCAA or reported by its member schools to the Department of Education each year.  Those are the only numbers any of us really get to see.  So USA Today isn’t guilty of shoddy reporting or any other such nonsense (that it will no doubt be accused of).

But when dealing with 120 different schools, 120 different budgets, and 120 different bookkeepers overseeing said budgets, it’s best to study such data for “ballpark” type information, not hard facts.

With that in mind, we looked at the major football conferences to see who is receiving subsidies — for the most part — and who is not.  Here’s what we found:


 Conference Avg % of 2010 revenue (per school) coming from subsidies
ACC 12.12%
Big 12
4.81%
Big East
26.00%
Big Ten
3.22%
Conf. USA
46.12%
MAC
66.91%
MWC
46.33%
Pac-10
12.62%
SEC
5.27%
Sun Belt
62.67%
WAC
46.44%


(These numbers reflect data from public schools only.)


There likely aren’t too many of you out there who are surprised to learn that — in ballpark figures — the more successful the conference the smaller the subsidies.  Sort of a no-brainer.

But these numbers will lead many academics to suggest that schools need to start cutting back on sports spending.  Unfortunately, that’s a very simple way of looking at things.  Fans count wins and losses, but school administrators count applications and donations.

Think of athletic departments as nothing more than advertising for a school.  As we showed you earlier today, the University of Kentucky — according to John Calipari — had a record number of applications this past year and doubled its revenue from merchandise licensing.  Wildcat fans are happy to have the wins, but UK administrators are likely just as happy to see such an increased awareness in the school’s brand.

For better proof of the overall value of athletics, consider George Mason.  According to USA Today’s data, the Patriots’ portion of revenue from subsidies was 83% in 2010 and 86% in 2006.  George Mason happened to reach the Final Four in ’06.

According to the school, in the year following that 2006 Cindarella run:


* Freshman applications increased by 20%
* The number of campus tours for prospective students nearly tripled
* There was a 25% increase in the number of active alumni
* New gifts and pledge payments went up by $4 million
* Donations to the athletic department increased by 25%
* The general scholarship fund nearly tripled
* And unrestricted gifts to the school went up by nearly 45%


Think those subsidies from the school to the athletic department paid off in the long run?

USA Today has collected some interesting data.  But as is always the case with data, there are lots of different ways one can interpret it.

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SEC Headlines – 6/27/11 Part Four

1.  There’s a slogan war brewing in the Bluegrass State: “The Kentucky Effect” vs. “Louisville First.”

2.  This person thinks the University of Kentucky should sue the NCAA.  Uh, yeah.

3.  Whoever takes the Tennessee athletic director job will inherit a program that’s seen much better days.

4.  The Orlando Sentinel ranks UT’s football team  #49 in the nation.

5.  Georgia’s Mark Fox thinks Vanderbilt “could legitimately contend for a Final Four” this season.

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The NCAA’s Not Out To Get (Just) UK, But It Is Inconsistent

An interesting little story kicked up over the weekend and its exposed a big bit of inconsistency from the NCAA.  First, the backstory:


1.  Last season, John Calipari won his 500th game as a coach.  Kentucky honored him for the accomplishment.

2.  But Calipari has had to vacate two seasons worth of wins from UMass and Memphis due to NCAA sanctions and — according to the NCAA’s actual records — Coach Cal has only 467 wins, not 500+.

3.  Over the weekend, Jerry Tipton of The Lexington Herald-Leader broke the news that the NCAA’s committee on infractions had sent a letter to UK president Lee Todd asking the school “to publicly acknowledge that it was wrong to recognize” Calipari’s 500th win.

4.  UK is expected to let the NCAA approve the wording of its apology.  If the school does not admit the mistake and make changes to its media guides, etc, UK officials will have to go before the committee on infractions (and face who knows what).

5.  Kentucky officials said in April that “regardless of how the 42 victories are statistically noted, they did in fact occur.”  True enough, but such a stance practically taunts the NCAA’s committee on infractions.

6.  Apparently a fan of a rival school turned UK into the NCAA for recognizing Calipari’s previously kiboshed wins, which is weak in our view.


Eric Crawford of The Louisville Courier-Journal — not a man prone to believing that the NCAA is out to get Kentucky — hints in his latest column that that might actually be the case.

We like Crawford and we think this issue is getting way too much attention, but — and it’s a big but — Kentucky is at fault here.

Whether you like the oft-applied “vacation of past wins” penalty administered by the NCAA, it is an official NCAA penalty.  Like it, don’t like it, it counts.  (And let’s face it, if the NCAA went to something with more teeth than vacated wins, fans and writers would really scream about tougher sanctions.)

By ignoring the NCAA’s rulings regarding Calpari’s records, UK can be viewed as thumbing its nose at the NCAA.  Silly?  Not if you’re the NCAA’s committee on infractions.

The NCAA rulebook deals with a whole world full of slippery slope issues. 

“Why can’t a booster buy a kid a hot dog?”  Because the same booster might buy the kid a T-bone steak once a week if the rule is discarded.

“Why can’t a player sell his championship ring for a couple hundred bones?”  Because a school could set up a booster club to purchase rings and other collectibles from every member a team for thousands of bucks a pop.

On the big end, the NCAA’s rules make sense.  On the small end, they often seem silly.  But if the NCAA doesn’t cover the small stuff, then a loophole is created for the big stuff.

That same line of logic applies to the current Calipari case.  If Kentucky is allowed to say its coach has 500 wins — when he doesn’t — then what’s to stop Southern Cal from claiming the 2004 national title and all the trophies that went along with it?  What’s to stop Michigan from re-hanging Final Four banners from 1992 and 1993 that have been rightly taken down due to vacated records?

Now, in this area, we’ll concede a point to Crawford.  He states that UMass still flies a banner from its vacated Final Four year in ’96 — the one that Calipari can’t take credit for — and that Marcus Camby was credited at a recent ceremony for contributing to wins — the same ones Calipari can’t take credit for — that don’t exist in the NCAA history books.

The NCAA is correct to ask Kentucky officials to acknowledge past sanctions and penalties doled out by governing body of collegiate sports.  That said, it must make sure that all schools are abiding by those same rules.  Michigan and Southern Cal are.  Kentucky isn’t and it has been asked to make corrections.  Whether UMass has been asked to make corrections or not is anyone’s guess.  But it should be.

We’ll agree — to an extent — with Crawford on this point too:


“The NCAA does have a point here.  UK honoring Calipari showed a disregard for serious actions the NCAA took in the past against teams he coached.  I’m not saying the NCAA is wrong.  I’m saying it’s silly.  And inconsistent.  It should’ve left this one alone.”


Because of the “slippery slope” argument we made earlier, we disagree that the NCAA should have or could have left this one alone.  But we do think they are inconsistent.

When it comes to COI hearings, it’s hard to be consistent.  No two hearings are the same.  Just as no two criminal trials are the same.  But when it comes to schools acknowledging NCAA sanctions?  Well, that is an area where the NCAA can and must be consistent.

Michigan and Southern Cal and Kentucky and UMass need to all be living by the same rules.  In other words, it’s time for someone to send a letter to UMass about their Final Four banner.

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