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(Blank) Is To Basketball As Alabama Is To Football

kentucky-alabama-statesSorry to start your morning with an SAT-style analogy, but the answer to the query posed in our headline should be quite simple.  With Louisville cutting down the nets in Atlanta last night, the Commonwealth of Kentucky is to basketball as the State of Alabama is to football.

The Yellowhammer State is home to the last four BCS championships.  After Alabama won the national crown in 2009, rival Auburn followed up in 2010.  Since then, Bama has captured two more titles.

The Bluegrass State won its first title since 1998 last year under John Calipari.  Last night, their rival, Louisville, won the NCAA Tournament.  Rick Pitino was behind last night’s run and a ’96 UK title, for what it’s worth… becoming the first college basketball coach to ever win national titles at two different schools.

Moving forward, expect both states to be named favorites to keep the hardware within their state boundaries next season.

Alabama under Nick Saban has become the winningest dynasty since Nebraska won or shared national titles in 1994, 1995, and 1997.  The Crimson Tide inked another highly-ranked signing class in February and there’s little doubt that — despite playing in a tough conference — Vegas will make them the BCS favorites in college football again this fall.

Next basketball season, Kentucky and Louisville should both be among the top title contenders as well.  The Wildcats aren’t likely to do another bellyflop, especially not after signing six McDonald’s All-Americans in what some are calling the greatest class in the history of college hoops.  Louisville will lose Peyton Siva, but the Cardinals are bringing in a four-man signing class that’s loaded with backcourt talent.

Chemistry and injuries should serve as caveats to any speculation regarding future national titles.  Calipari’s team had issues with both this past season.  Saban’s 2010 squad didn’t have the same mental makeup as his 2009 team, opening the door for Cam Newton and Auburn to capture their crystal football.

But on paper, Alabama, Kentucky, and Louisville should once again be back in the mix for their respective sports’ national crowns in the 2013-14 academic year.  For that matter, as long as Saban, Calipari, and Pitino are coaching those programs, they will likely be in the mix for a national championship just about every year.

Alabama in football and Kentucky in basketball.  When it comes to college championships, SEC fans don’t have to look to other regions to see where the finest programs reside.

 

CORRECTION — Kentucky’s last NCAA Tournament win came in 1998 under Tubby Smith, not in 1996 under Rick Pitino as initially noted.

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Rick Pitino: “I Think I Do Regret Leaving Kentucky”

gfx - they said itBy capturing a national championship in 1996, Rick Pitino will always have a place in Kentucky basketball history.  But jumping back into the pro game for a second time and then moving on to archrival Louisville has altered the view of the Pitino legacy in the eyes of many UK fans.  Now years after he made the decision to leave Kentucky for the Boston Celtics, Pitino admits feeling regret.

Appearing on a Miami radio station Friday, Pitino was asked if he regretted going to the NBA.

 

“No. I loved going to the Knicks because we won the Atlantic Division championship. We went from winning 21 games or 19 games to winning 52 games in a short period of time. I loved coaching Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley and all those guys. I think I do regret leaving Kentucky because I took over a team with 15 wins banking everything on the Tim Duncan lottery, and once we didn’t get Tim Duncan I realized that leaving Kentucky was not a good move.”

 

Pitino spent four years in Boston before joining Louisville in 2001. (Hat tip – College Basketball Talk)

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Support Group Rallies To Back Petrino As A.D. Long Tries To Navigate Major Mess

(If you read an early version of this story, please re-fresh.  A “draft” when up with multiple errors.  Apologies.)

Ya gotta love double-standards.  Trust me, at MrSEC.com, we see ‘em everyday.

If Team X’s coach jaywalks, Team Y’s fans want him drawn and quartered.  But if Team Y’s coach takes a family hostage, burns down a church and Roseanne Barr’s the National Anthem — yep, used that as a verb — then their coach deserves a second chance.

And then there’s the double-standard within that double-standard.  Team Y’s fans’ look-the-other-way attitude only exists if Team Y’s coach is winning.  If Team Y’s coach is losing, then they — like the fans of Team X — will yelp for the man’s dismissal.

That very scenario is playing out in Arkansas right now.  Some fans want Bobby Petrino gone because he apparently messed around on his wife.  But another group want him to keep his job ’cause — let’s face it — he’s led the Razorbacks out of the wilderness!  Arkansas is winning football games again.  And even some of those who told ESPN over the weekend that they want Petrino to keep his job, admit they might have a different take if he were losing games:

As we discussed last week, we don’t think the “moral” clause of Petrino’s contract will be his undoing.  There is a line of thinking that goes like this: “If you don’t invoke the moral turpitude clause now, when do you?”  Makes sense, but see the bit about double-standards above.  You invoke it the next time a losing badminton coach urinates in public.  Who cares if people say UA has a double-standard?  Everyone does.

It’s clear at this point that Arkansas wants to keep Petrino if at all possible.  He’s worth millions of dollars in cash and exposure — the good, football kind — for the university.  If they find a way to hang onto him, yes, the school will take a few kicks to the ribs from rival recruiters and the national press, but if Petrino keeps winning — and here’s betting he would — that’ll all go bye-bye.

I watched Louisville reach the Final Four this season and I didn’t hear anyone bring up the school’s 2009 decision to stand by Rick Pitino after his sex scandal.

And Arkansas wouldn’t be the first group to be right out front with its double-standard.  See: Newt Gingrich backers who once went after Bill Clinton.  And see: Democrats who now throw low-blows at Gingrich for doing what Clinton did.  Happens every day.  “My guy can do anything he likes, your guy better mind his Ps and Qs.”

At this point, Arkansas AD Jeff Long is likely dealing with a number of groups as he tries to find his way out of mess he didn’t make.  Those people include:

1.  Jessica Dorrell and her betrothed.  Both work for the University of Arkansas.  She can sue the school and/or Petrino for sexual harassment.  Right now the school is most likely trying to find out what it will cost to keep Dorrell and her fiance quiet.  (Sidenote — The folks who initially found Petrino and Dorrell on the side of the road stated that Petrino was alone.  Now they’ve gone into silent mode.  Do they have more dirt to share about what the coach and Dorrell told them?  Might they want some hush money, too?)

2.  Petrino himself.  More than likely the school’s PR wing is cooking up a statement this instant that the coach can read at a presser should he be retained.  At the same time, Long has to be grilling Petrino to come clean on everything that the coach did wrong in this situation.  He’ll also want to know if there are any other skeletons in Petrino’s closet.

3.  The UA legal team and some additional group of private investigators.  The school needs to be thinking of every possible lawsuit that could come its way and it needs to be ready with a defense for each should it hang on to Petrino.  And remember, from Clinton to Tiger Woods, when dirt is found on a celebrity, more and more people tend to come out of the woodwork with new stories, true or not.  If Arkansas keeps Petrino, the school will want to be sure tales of another “inappropriate relationship” aren’t just around the corner.  Also, if Petrino stays, the school will no doubt penalize the coach with a tougher contract worth less cash.  All this is tied to the schools’ lawyers.  (If Petrino’s wise, he’ll take whatever lifeline the school may throw him… winner or not, it would be hard for another school or NFL team to bring him in anytime soon thanks to his various past actions.)

5.  The police.  The Arkansas State Police are now asking questions about the handling of the initial accident.  Just how inappropriately did the officer from Petrino’s in-season security detail act in order to keep Petrino’s dirty laundry in the hamper, so to speak?  If a police officer loses his job over all this, it’ll be an even more difficult sell to keep Petrino.

6.  UA chancellor G. David Gearhart and the school’s board.  This is a group that’s well aware of the money Petino has brought into the school.  It’s also a group that will want to protect the University of Arkansas’ name from being dragged through the mud.  As a prominent booster of another school told me last week, “Usually the ‘he wins’ crowd holds sway over the ‘he’s damaged our good name’ crowd.”  That said, some/many/all of these people might be so ticked that Petrino lied to them and put them into this mess that they’re ready to part with him regardless of the fallout.

7.  The school’s biggest boosters.  Long and Arkansas are raising money with ease these days.  A new football facility is going up thanks to Petrino’s on-field success.  If the biggest boosters at the school threaten to hold back some of their cash pending the outcome of the Petrino scandal, that’s an additional headache for Long.  And it’s likely that some of the biggest boosters will want the coach to stay while a few others might worry more about UA’s reputation.  Long probably won’t get 100% backing from the Razorbacks’ top boosters regardless of what he decides to do.

At this point, like Long, you should probably be keeping tabs on the police investigation into this matter.  If heads roll and charges are filed on that front, Petrino’s probably finished.

If the police investigation yields no further damage, we at MrSEC.com expect the school will do everything possible to keep the coach in the fold, double-standards be damned.

A couple of sidenotes on the situation this morning:

* Robbie Neiswanger of ArkansasNews.com writes that Long is in new territory with this mess.

* “Team Petrino” has formed as a support group for the coach and has launched a Facebook page calling for the school to keep him.  They’re also planning a Monday rally for Petrino.  (See all that stuff about double-standards above.  Gotta wonder how many of these “Team Petrino” folks have ripped, Clinton, Gingrich, Pitino, Woods and others?)

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UK-Louisville Headlines – 3/29/12

Here’s the latest on Kentucky basketball’s “Game of the Century” featuring the Wildcats and Cardinals in Saturday’s national semifinals:


1.  Enjoy a comparison of John Calipari and Rick Pitino.

2.  Players from the 1983 UK-Louisville NCAA tourney matchup say this one’s bigger.

3.  Ex-South Carolina coach and Kentucky native Darrin Horn says both team will have to ignore the distractions this week.

4.  Here’s what was learned from the Cats’ December win over the Cards.

5.  Russ Smith is Louisville wild card…

6.  While Kentucky’s Anthony Davis earns praise for his low-key style.

7.  The fan battle in the Commonwealth is fierce and fun this week.

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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 – 3/27/12

It’s the biggest hoops game of the year so we continue to give the Kentucky-Louisville Final Four matchup its own headline section:


1.  There’s plenty of pressure on Rick Pitino as he faces his old school.

2.  Louisville’s coach says his team will have to play as Villanova did when it upset Georgetown for the national crown back in 1985 — perfectly.

3.  By winning a second national crown this year — his first came with UK — Pitino would join a pretty select group of coaches.

4.  Both coaches will get some nice bonuses for reaching this year’s semifinals.

5.  And both schools will get plenty of pub… and more student applications as a result.

6.  Kentucky is a massive favorite to bring home the national title.  (Perhaps, too much of a favorite?)

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Does Calipari Have Pitino Envy?

John Calipari and Rick Pitino have a longstanding rivalry that traces far back, before the two wound up as competitors in the Bluegrass State.  And every time Calipari gets a chance to take a shot at Pitino or his school, he does so.

Take, for example, what he said about Wildcat fans who camp outside just to get tickets to UK’s first practices of the season:


“It’s a unique thing.  There’s no other state — none — as connected to their basketball program as this one.  Because those other states have other programs.  Michigan has Michigan State.  California — UCLA has all those. … North Carolina has Duke.  It’s Kentucky, throughout this whole state, and that’s what makes this unique.”


Rick Bozich of The Louisville Courier-Journal suggests Coach Cal has “a king-sized case of Rick Pitino Envy.”  Here’s guessing most UK fans will disagree with that one.

Instead, it appears Calipari has a little Steve Spurrier/Dan Mullen to him.  When he sees a chance to dig at his rival — and boost his own school in the process — he’s not afraid to take it.

In this case, his own fans will cheer the above comment, but it’s unlikely that Calipari’s words are powerful enough to erase Louisville’s tradition, Louisville’s arena, and Louisville’s program from the minds and memories of non-UK fans throughout the nation.

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PItino Plays To Big East Fans, Calls The SEC A “Second-Rate League”

It’s probably best not to get too stirred up over the things a coach says at a booster club meeting.  Until recently, most such comments were never available for mass consumption.  But with the internet… oh, boy.  And the messageboards have been lighting up over the weekend due to a comment Rick Pitino made before a Louisville fan club last week.

Introducing his son — who is back as an assistant with the Cardinals after spending two years on Billy Donovan’s staff at Florida — Pitino said:


“(Richard) went away for a couple of years to learn how to do things in a second-rate league, then get back to the big time.”


As we all know, Pitino would have never made that comment while coaching at Kentucky.  And he certainly wouldn’t take a shot — not a serious shot anyway — at the league or program of his old protege Billy Donovan.

Bottom line: Pitino was speaking to Big East fans and playing to the crowd.  Coaches do that all the time.

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How The SEC Found Its Hoops Coaches

Mike Anderson and Cuonzo Martin have completed the set.  The SEC now has a full roster of 12 basketball coaches again and we thought it would be interesting to compare their resumes when they were hired. 

As we showed yesterday, there’s really no guarantee when it comes to hiring hoops coaches.  Some promoted assistants and mid-major hires have done well.  Some proven BCS-level coaches have gone belly-up (with a number leaving the SEC under an NCAA cloud). 

So below, here’s what the SEC’s 12 schools had to go on when they brought in their current coaches:


School
Coach
Year Hired
Hired From
Record at Time (NCAA Bids)
Record Since Hire (NCAA Bids)
Notes
Alabama
Anthony Grant
2009
VCU
76-25 (2)
41-26 (0)
A former Billy Donovan aide
Arkansas
Mike Anderson
2011
Missouri
200-98 (6)
0-0 (0)
A former Nolan Richardson aide
Auburn
Tony Barbee
2010
UTEP
93-72, (1)
11-20, (0)
A former John Calipari aide
Florida
Billy Donovan
1996
Marshall
35-20, (0)
360-147 (11)
A former Rick Pitino aide
Georgia
Mark Fox
2009
Nevada
123-43 (3)
35-28 (1)
A former Trent Johnson aide
Kentucky
John Calipari
2009
Memphis
445-140 (11*)
62-11 (2)
*Has had several wins and 2 NCAAs vacated
LSU
Trent Johnson
2008
Stanford
159-122 (4)
49-48 (1)
Had built 2 programs up
Miss. State
Rick Stansbury
1998
Asst. Coach, MSU
0-0 (0)
272-151 (6)
Asst. on predecessor’s staff
Ole Miss
Andy Kennedy
2006
Interim, Cincinnati
21-13 (0)
105-64 (0)
A former Bob Huggins aide
S. Carolina
Darrin Horn
2008
W. Kentucky
111-48 (1)
50-42 (0)
Replaced ex-UGA coach D. Felton at WKU
Tennessee
Cuonzo Martin
2011
Missouri State
61-41 (0)
0-0 (0)
A former Gene Keady aide
Vanderbilt
Kevin Stallings
1999
Illinois State
123-63 (2)
236-147 (5)
A former Gene Keady aide



As you can see, a lot of hay has been made over coaches’ connections to other coaches.  Lineage is still important in the South.  Eight of the league’s 12 coaches were hired — in large part — because of whose coaching tree they’d sprouted from.

In terms of the best pre-SEC track record, that would clearly belong to John Calipari.  But.  Kentucky had to endure quite a bit of ridicule for hiring a man of Calipari’s reputation (whether it was fairly earned or not).  Soon after arriving in Lexington, his 2007-2008 NCAA runner-up at Memphis was stricken from the record books because of an ineligible player.  Coach Cal — as UK fans will quickly point out — was never charged by the NCAA in the scandals at UMass and Memphis.  Still, it was a bold hire… which seems to be paying big dividends already.

When it comes to unproven before their SEC arrivals, Billy Donovan, Cuonzo Martin and Andy Kennedy lead the pack.  Donovan had just two years under his belt with no NCAA tourney appearances when UF snapped up the former Rick Pitino assistant.  Two national titles later and that one looks like a good roll of the dice. 

Tennessee fans can cross their fingers about Martin.  He has just three years under his belt and has not reached an NCAA tournament either.  Like Donovan, his main claim to fame comes from his coaching ties.  In his case — like Kevin Stallings — Gene Keady is at the head of the coaching tree (as well as current Purdue coach Matt Painter).

Kennedy had served one season as the interim head coach at Cincinnati following the ouster of Bob Huggins.  Like Donovan and Martin, Kennedy’s work under a proven head coach provided the impetus for the hire.

Rick Stansbury is the SEC’s only current assistant-to-head-coach promotion.  But MSU administrators were well aware of him as he had served on predecessor Richard Williams’ staff.

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Barnhart’s Raise Not Popular, But That Doesn’t Mean It’s A Bad Move

Tell me if this describes your favorite school’s athletic director:


“… a bean-counter who keeps raising the price for parking permits, who seems to care more about the so-called minor sports than the major bread-winners.”


In this case, it’s Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart who John Clay of The Lexington Herald-Leader says is describing.  Clay says that’s how Wildcat fans view their AD.  Not UK athletes or the UK administration, mind you, but UK fans.

We’ve long said that the athletic director’s position is one of the most thankless jobs in college sports.  But with salaries rising — Barnhart got a $125,000 raise and three-year extension yesterday — we may have to amend that to say that the AD position is the most misunderstood in college sports.  At $600,000 a year, Barnhart is getting plenty of thanks for his work even if it’s not coming in the form of fan praise.

Clay believes outgoing UK president Lee Todd’s decision to hand Barnhart an extension didn’t do the AD any favors:


“A retiring president handing his nine-year athletics director a three-year contract extension with an annual $125,000 raise in a tough economic climate gives the perception that he’s providing economic cover to a favored employee before the new boss arrives.”


Not so, says Todd.  He says the next president can still make a change at the AD spot if he likes — albeit a very expensive change thanks to Barnhart’s new contract.  “But I will tell you with every beat of my heart, this is a positive for the next president of this university.”

In truth, Barnhart has done a solid job at UK.  The football program — even after a 6-7 season — has improved from bad to average on his watch.  Fans want good, not average, but you have to walk before you can run. 

The basketball program has more vitality now than it has had at any point since Rick Pitino left Lexington in the mid-90s.  The Cat fanbase is excited and engaged again.

Perhaps most importantly, UK has avoided NCAA scandals on Barnhart’s watch.  As Clay writes: “Given the school’s history, that is an accomplishment worth much applause.”

Athletic directors aren’t popular figures unless their latest hire has just won a national crown.  Otherwise, they are just the folks who raise ticket prices and make seats smaller.  For that reason, there was no way handing Barnhart a contract extension and a raise would go over well with UK fans.

But that doesn’t mean Todd made a mistake in locking up Barnhart through 2019.  Look around the SEC, Cat fans… how many ADs would you trade him for?

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