Posted on: March 16, 2010 11:37 pm
When the NCAA Tournament kicks off Thursday in New Orleans, the feel will certainly be festive. And by festive, I mean hungover, because for reasons that only the brilliant minds behind the proposed NCAA Tournament expansion to 96 could likely understand, the first round is taking place in New Orleans the night after St Patricks Day. So in a city where public drunkedness is not only accepted, it is actively encouraged and at times, mandatory, the NCAA is going to place basketball games after the nation's drunkest collective holiday. Its for the kids ladies and gentlemen.
When the games do actually get started however, there will be a lot to see in James Carville's hometown. One of the top two teams in the country, an #8 seed that was ranked #1 overall this season, a certain NIT team that played its way into a #6 seed and quite possibly the most athletic team in America are all setting up shop in New Orleans as they hope to advance on in the South and West regions. Each game has some intrigue, some wackiness and a whole lot of Harangody. An overview:
NOTRE DAME vs OLD DOMINION 12:25
Most people would claim that the iconic figure in college basketball this year was John Wall, the uber-talented UK point guard who dazzled the country with athleticism, wild dunks and game-winning shots. They are wrong. The real icon of college basketball is the man with the worst hair and body in sports, Luke Harangody. If Harangody were a car, he would be a Kia Rondo, tall and boxy, prone to slow, awkward movements and proportionated in such a way as to seem to make success impossible. But like the Kia Rondo, Harangody finds a way to get the job done. When you watch this game today, take a few possessions and simply follow the 'Gody. Like the fat guy who sweats a lot but still finds a way to get garbage buckets in your church league game, the 'Gody will win no beauty points as he looks to the naked eye as the most unathletic basketball players since the cast of "Hang Time" left the court (still Reggie Theus's best coaching job). But he will score, rebound and even defend, all without seemingly being able to make one impressive movement. He is the basketball equivalent to an episode of "Friends," unlikely to leave you feeling the least bit impressed, but garnering solid ratings.
The 'Gody is playing against Old Dominion, a team I actually saw on our Road Trip across America and one that can cause some problems. ODU is as athletic a small school as you will see in the Tournament. They are long at every position and their goal is to get every rebound and outwork you, while playing a brand of basketball that can best be labeled as "boring." Their coach will try to counter the 'Gody's boxcut with his own moustache, a full feathered beauty that is both dark and bushy, a veritable forest under his lip. With his facial hair mesmerizing, it is easy to forget just how talented this team is and it isnt an exaggeration to say that they will be the more athletic team on the floor.
Notre Dame is full of Irish Catholics and the noon start on the day after St Patrick's Day will ensure a small crowd at the opening tip. ODU has the players to get out on the Irish three point shooters and Harangody will not be able to impose his will down low. However the Irish are deeper, have the best player on the floor and by the second half, Johnny O'Malley and the rest of the Irish faithful will stagger into the gym just in time to see the Irish win by 7.
BAYLOR vs SAM HOUSTON STATE 3:00
Every year the NCAA Tournament sees one team develop into a trendy pick to make noise and allows announcers on the Worldwide Leader to get on television and make proclamations that have no real substance but sound important like "I tell you who I like Digger, I like "TEAM X". The way they shoot the ball, play defense and their great Coach _____, this is a team that can really make some noise. I am not saying I will pick them over (INSERT #1 seed), but it wouldnt shock me if they get hot and cut down the nets to the Final Four. While the announcer says this, all of the other blow-dryed hairpieces on set shake their head and proclaim that they too like this team and have been on board with them all year. Inevitably this team is never as good as these paid airbags say they are and often the disappointment starts in game one.
This season that team is most certainly Baylor. You cant throw a stick without running into someone who has Baylor as their "sleeper team into the Final Four." The Bears are coached by Scott Drew and have found a way to turn around a basketball program that was long thought to be dead. However considering the fact tha tmost fans couldn't name one player on the Bears' roster, annoitment as a Final Four team seems a bit premature. As for Sam Houston State, they are fun to watch. They bring it up and down quickly, like to shoot a lot of three pointers and try to win by managing the game pace. Earlier this season they gave Kentucky a run for its money in Rupp Arena and since then, have put up great shooting performances week after week. Baylor isnt the greatest draw for Sam Houston, because they can match the athleticism that Sam Houston uses to dominate its opponents. But if they hit threes, then who knows what can happen.
Did you like how I got you excited right there....made you think that I was going to pick the upset upstarts? Not going to happen. Had SHS gotten a slow, methodical team, I might pull the shocker. As is, Baylor moves on and makes pundits shake their head and nod that they are the team to watch in the games ahead.
KENTUCKY VS EAST TENNESSEE STATE 7:00 PM
You know all about Kentucky, Calipari, Wall, Cousins, etc. They are really good and no group of players since Shane Battier was smiling and going to class every day at Duke have received the consistent national publicity of this group of Kentucky players. They have been visited by Lebron, Magic, Ashley Judd, Drake, Ben Roethlisberger (pre-college town romp), Mike Tomlin, Charles Barkley and even the biggest star of them all, World Wide Wes. They have raised over a million bucks for Haiti, talked to the President over the phone and even got to rub on Seth Davis's rosy cheeks. It has been such a strange, magical journey. But now it gets real and the games mean more. All the goodwill of the 32-2 campaign that has won the hearts of Kentuckians is at stake in one three-week period where anything can happen.
Well almost anything. What can't happen is losing to ETSU in the first round on Thursday night. ETSU famously was once led by a player that makes the NCAA all "hey I remember that guy but I have no idea where he went to school" list, Keith "Mr." Jennings. For it was 21 years ago that Jennings took a #16 seeded ETSU team and very nearly pulled the shocker over #1 seeded Oklahoma. They hope to bring that kind of magic back to light again, but this time against a much bigger fish and a much more talented group of players. Win partor lose, they will probably take solace in the fact that they will head back to Johnson City, Tennessee after the game and be greeted by the hottest group of mountain coeds this side of a very special episode of Hee-Haw.
Kentucky wins by a lot and moves on, much to the delight of the Big Blue nation. But when ETSU's most famous alum Kenny Chesney sneaks into the building, Jay Bilas becomes so enamored with his soft, beach sounds that he takes off his announcing headset, mumbles something about Baylor being a sleeper to get to the Final Fourand goes on tour with Buffett.
TEXAS vs WAKE FOREST 9:35 PM
What do you get when the two most underperforming participants in a particular endeavor get together to see which can muster up just enough to even showcase a flash of their former brilliance? No, its not every Pacino/Deniro move of the past ten years, but rather is the Underachievement HEavyweight Championship Title Match when Texas plays Wake Forest. Over the course of this past season, no two teams have been more baffling and neither has made its fans groan and search out for signs of life from its coach than the Longhorns and Demon Deacons. Both teams have loads of talent, but both have played so terribly at times that even Mike Dunleavy has asked from afar, "dont you coaches do anything?"
The most egregious offender has been Texas, where Rick Barnes has definitely proven that he is the worst Top 12 program coach in America. While there is no doubt that Barnes has assembled talent by the boatload in Austin, his team has played as poorly in the last two months as any team in the Tournament and has produced an historically unprecedented waste of talent from one program in one season. There may be as many as six guys on the Texas roster who could play in the NBA and players one through eleven, they could be the most talented team in America. But they are stuck floundering around, getting blown out by mediocre teams and backing their way into the tournament on the back of a win against NIT contender North Carolina in December. Remember, Texas was ONCE #1. Now they are hideous and absent a miracle turnaround, will finish a season of disappointment like none other.
There are those that say March forgives all sins. If either of these teams can win this game and then upset Kentucky, a season of disappointment can quickly be forgotten. Both teams have been awful, but in Texas's case there has been the occasional show of life. Wake Forest has been tuned out for months. Texas wins a close one in a game that simply frustrates all who watch.
So there you have it, Notre Dame, Baylor, Kentucky and Texas. Chalk from this guy. But hey, its New Orleans and the fun will be on the streets anyway. Enjoy the games and watch out for Harry Connick on the street trying to sing you a song...he does it to all the tourists.
Posted on: March 14, 2010 12:10 pm
The talk all week has been about the seeding for the SEC Tournament and how it needed to change because it wasn't a true reflection of the relative power of the league. Critics said that the four best teams were all in the SEC East and that the SEC West had no talent and should not have received the benefit of the divisional seeding that characterizes the SEC Tournament. Maybe so. But today, the Mississippi State Bulldogs will be representing the West in the Finals, after defeating two of the top East teams convincingly. Vanderbilt and Florida have gone down, but will MSU be able to repeat its magic against Kentucky? An NCAA bid may be what is at stake.
Because of the wins by Houston and New Mexico State yesterday, there are two fewer bubble teams that will find their way into March Madness. Mississippi State was all but forgotten as a Tournament team but now find themselves squarely on the bubble, potentially the last team in or out. Win today and you take away any mystery...lose today and you are the team the analysts fight about during the endless preview shows from Monday to Wednesday.
As for Kentucky, the city is painted Blue and Calipari admitted he had changed his mind and wants to win this for the fans. There will be a lot of them in Nashville today, where the crowd will give the Cats a huge homecourt edge. MSU has played the Cats well over the last few years and Jarvis Varnado seems to have big games in every meeting. How he plays may determine the winner.
Its raining Cats and Dogs in Nashville at 1 pm...or 2 pm, if you forgot to set your clocks forward, Check it out, and dont forget to make fun of Jimmy Dykes' ridiculous "black on black" Johnny Cash look on the microphone.
Posted on: March 13, 2010 4:38 pm
There is no doubt that Kentucky is a contender to win the national title. But when they are hitting threes with the authority they did in a 74-45 victory over Tennessee on Saturday, they may be very difficult to stop. Kentucky made eight threes, including five by Freshman Eric Bledsoe in beating their biggest conference rival before a loud crowd of what John Calipari called "The Blue Mist." The game was characterized by its emotion and chippiness, as two sets of double technicals were issued, one Vol player was ejected for a flagrant elbow and one Kentucky freshman (Daniel Orton) was sent by his coach to the locker room for a cool-down period after arguing with the staff on the bench. All in all, just another Kentucky-Tennessee game.
For the Vols, the loss probably slots them as a 4 seed for the Tournament, a tremendous accomplishment for Bruce Pearl's team after the loss of their best player, Tyler Smith. The Vols were frigid from the field, shooting just 30 percent and only 13 percent from behind the three point line. They were led with 11 points from Scotty Hopson, who talked trash and gave effort all game, but ultimately fell victim to the Kentucky talent and the fact UT was on its third game in three days.
As for Kentucky, the players said that John Calipari told his team before the game, "dont let them punk you out" and the Cats jumped out early to a lead and never looked back. Demarcus Cousins led all scorers with 15 points, despite missing ten free throws. The Cats shot 52 percent for the game and afterwards admitted, in the words of Patrick Patterson, "we really like beating those guys." They now have one more to win to get an SEC title, and their #1 seed in the tournament is all but assured.
The Cats move on to face the winner of Vanderbilt and Mississippi State, two teams now playing in front of a disinterested crowd of UK fans who feel obligated to stay at the game because they paid so much for their tickets.
Posted on: March 13, 2010 10:27 am
The toughest ticket in 20 years in the SEC occurs today, as the SEC Semifinals take place in Nashville, Tennessee. The three best teams in the conference, Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt, are all in the final four and all are within a four-hour drive from Nashville. Kentucky has approximately 25,000 fans who have travelled here, the vast majority of whom will not even find their way into the arena. Combine that with the Tennessee and Vandy contingents and it will be as one ticket scalper told me, "a day to make some real money."
As for games themselves, each has distinct subplots that will make the games worth watching, The Kentucky vs Tennessee matchup puts together two teams that play similar style, are equivalent athletically (a rarity amongst Kentucky opponents) and have a history of great games. Patrick Patterson said yesterday that he loves playing against the Vols because "they get me focused unlike anyone else. They talk trash before the game starts, while its going on and it doesnt even matter if they are winning or losing, no matter what." Tennessee on the other hand loves to not only compete against Kentucky, but Bruce Pearl has been known to throw a few jabs the Big Blue's way such as his comment after the first round fo this tournament that they were shooting threes so bad that "we looked lke Kentucky."
At stake is a birth in the finals, but possibly more importantly for both teams, it is the rubber match of the season series, which is tied at one. Both teams won on their homecourt and each can make a case they should win here. Tennessee is playing in its home state but will be the decided underdog from a crowd perspective, as Kentucky fans will make up the significant majority of the crowd. This game will be a wild scene and unlike anything the SEC has seen in years.
While the first game may be wilder, the Vanderbilt vs Mississippi State game may be more important. While Vandy is playing for seeding, the Bulldogs still want to get in the NCAA Tournament and it might take a win today over the Commodores to make it happen. The Bulldogs dominated Florida early and hung on late to get to this point, but this may be their true play-in game for the Tournament. Vandy won the original meeting between these two teams and will have a crowd advantage on Saturday. But desperate teams sometimes come up with desperate performances, and that may be just what it takes for the Bulldogs to get a win in their biggest game of the season.
It is going to be wild in Nashville today and elsewhere. Kansas vs Kansas State in the Big 12, San Diego State trying to make the NCAA Tournament out West and Evan Turner becoming transcendant in the Big 12. Great day of college basketball awaits:
Posted on: March 12, 2010 4:15 pm
If you look on Wikipedia, you will read that the University of Kentucky is located in Lexington, Kentucky. But if you happened to find yourself in Nashville, Tennessee for the SEC Tournament, you would be forgiven if you thought the campus had moved South. In front of an 18,000 seat arena that was likely 85% filled with Kentucky fans, the Cats kept their dream of the #1 overall seed alive with a 73-67 victory over Alabama.
The game was never easy and early on, Anthony Grant's Alabama team looked as if they would produce a performance as impressive as Grant's starched shirts (seriously, no one has a better shirt collection than Grant...I challenge you to find a wrinkle). The Tide jumped out to an 11 point first-half lead and dominated the offensive glass, producing 10 first half offensive rebounds that they converted into 13 points. Kentucky on the other hand, had little to show for their early start. Demarcus Cousins had 2 points, Patrick Patterson 0 rebounds and John Wall three missed layups. It was as if the team saw the noon start and realized that their decision to stay up all night and watch a "Thats So Raven" marathon may have not been the wisest.
And then, as Tiger Woods can most certainly attest, things can change quickly. In the second half, John Wall attempted to match the performance by Evan Turner, and make his case for National Player of the Year. He took the Cats from down 6 to up 8 on a 16-2 run, highlighted by his continued ability to get to the basket to either score, or create for his teammates. Wall finished with 23 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists in a dominating performance that showcased, as teammate Demarcus Cousins said after the game, "sometimes he is just amazing and that is all you can say."
With Syracuse's loss, Kentucky is now left hoping for a Kansas trip-up in order to garner the #1 overall seed, and more importantly, a trip to St Louis for the Regional final. St. Louis is less than 5 hours from Lexington and if Nashville is any indication, it will turn into Lexington west in two weeks. For now, the Cats await the winner of Tennessee and Ole Miss in the Semifinals tomorrow.
Posted on: March 12, 2010 12:16 am
Edited on: March 12, 2010 1:17 am
After what already seems to be four to five weeks of conference tournaments in our rear view mirror, Selection Sunday is now coming up on the horizon and things are starting to sort themselves out a bit. On Thursday, some teams were relegated to the bubble and prayers (Memphis) while some teams continued their post-season hoops hopes (Notre Dame). With 27 games on the docket for Friday, including the Patriot League Championship, answers are certain to be headed the way of all college basketball fans. Before we get started, though, let's look back at what turned out to be a big-time Thursday in the world of college basktball.
Will the Onuaku injury affect seeding? - Perhaps the biggest story on Thursday (besides Syracuse's loss) was the injury suffered by Syracuse big man Arinze Onuaku which, depending on who you talk to, is either major or minor. Onuaku will have an MRI on Friday and the results will be available….probably after the seeding is announced. Especially if it’s serious. Regardless of what the injury turns out to be, you’d have to assume the Orange is fairly safe with their #1 seed. What they need to be more concerned about, however, is how a team that is now essentially only six-deep is going to respond in a two games in three days tournament setting.
The Big Names are Done - It was really only a matter of time until they all bid adieu to this year’s college basketball season, but a trio of big name programs finally had the final nail placed in their post-season coffin on Thursday. North Carolina jumped out to a double-digit lead against Georgia Tech and then came out in the second half looking all North Carolina-like and gave the game away. Tom Crean’s Indiana Revival, still sputtering along in year two, took a thumping at the hands of mighty Northwestern while Arizona’s run of 25 straight NCAA tourney appearances came to an end (after two years of undeserved bids) against another traditional power on life support, UCLA. They say things are going to get better. I say at least they didn’t give up like UConn. I am worried about Sean Miller, though. The losses seem to be taking their toll and he’s gone from looking like a sober Billy Gillispie to Texas A&M Billy Gillispie. That’s not a good trend.
If a tree falls in the Staples Center, does it make a sound? - The national media wrote the Pac-10 off a long, long time ago. Surprisingly, the Pac-10 fans apparently have done the same. Outside of the Salt Lake City's Megaplex 12 during the premiere of I Got the Hookup, it’s possible that no venue has ever been so empty for such a fan-friendly event. I watched Oregon and Washington’s overtime affair Wednesday night (a great game) while feeding my son and the Staples Center appeared to have about only 7-8 people more than my couch. When UCLA plays in their home city and can’t get fans, you know it’s bad. However, the Pac-10 tournament did introduce me to Rebecca Haarlow, so it can’t be all bad, right?
Coaching redemption in C-USA - With John Calipari gone from Memphis, the national spotlight has dimmed significantly on the only official conference of the United States. UTEP seized the opportunity and grabbed the regular season title with a 15-1 record, but it’s a couple of underdog coaches that are making the most of their chances. Seventh-seeded Houston coach Tom Penders is being reported as a dead man walking whose employment only lasts as long as his team’s season. After an upset of second-seeded Memphis, it lasts another day. His semifinal opponent, Southern Miss, is coached by another recognizable name trying to make the most of his situation. Larry Eustachy, the disgraced former Iowa State coach, has made steady improvements in his sixth season in Hattiesberg and brought home his 20th win in an upset of UAB (and their former big name coach Mike Davis). By Friday evening, one of these two maligned coaches will be one win away from going dancing.
Jimmer! - Obviously wanting to prove that Montana's Anthony Johnson isn't the only guy out west who can fill it up, BYU junior Jimmer Fredette poured in a Mountain West tournament record 45 points in a win over TCU. Fredette, who had been battling strep throat, mono, a stomach virus, typhoid fever, the mumps, pink eye, an ingrown toenail and Osgood Schlatter's disease, returned to the lineup with a bang, though I feel his 45 points are cheapened a bit by 23 made free throws. Anthony Johnson wouldn't do that. But, I do respect The Jimmer for his honesty displayed in this interview, perhaps the most honest in college basketball history (fast forward to 3:45).
The Almosts - Oh, how close they came. Air Force and LSU, winners of a combined three conference games, pushed a pair of highly ranked teams to the brink. LSU gave Bruce Pearl and Tennessee all they could handle before fading down the stretch and Air Force lost a heartbreaker to New Mexico, 75-69. I wish we could say some inspiring things to both teams but there’s nothing left to say. Except maybe to just clean out their lockers. You don’t want this season lingering any longer than it has to.
The other #1 seeds take the floor Friday - On Thursday, Syracuse fell to Georgetown and Kansas got a good little push from Texas Tech. On Friday, the presumed other two top seeds, Kentucky and Duke, take the floor and try to get used to their dancing shoes. Duke will square off with Virginia, a team that once lead the conference and snapped a nine-game losing streak Thursday, in a game where they’ll be heavily favored. With West Virginia still in contention for a Big East title, the Dukies might have to win the ACC tournament to keep their top seed. Meanwhile, John Calipari will lead his troops against Alabama in his first ever SEC tournament game. The Cats beat the Tide on February 9 and shouldn’t encounter much trouble. However, they then will likely face Tennessee and Vanderbilt in loseable games. Their #1 footing is more solid than Duke’s, but it's important that the young Cats get comfortable in the post-season tournament setting before embarking on the what is shaping up to be a journey full of very high expectations.
Illinois vs. Wisconsin 2:00 pm
* denotes championship game
Posted on: March 10, 2010 12:59 pm
Edited on: March 10, 2010 1:21 pm
Nashville is the site of this year's SEC Tournament bash and after last year's debacle in Tampa (long drive for most teams + massive dome + Kentucky not being good = The Hindenburg of SEC Tournaments), we are ready for what could be one of the more exciting editions in recent years. The three best teams in the league are Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Tennessee and the tournament is within four hours of all three schools, ensuring a packed house for Friday through Sunday. Throw in the fact that Kentucky is the favorite to win its first Tournament since 2004 and Cats fans would travel Myanmar to watch their team play, and it is certain that the streets of Nashville will be hopping this week.
The Cats come to the SEC hungry after having finished their regular season 29-2. If they can win the bash in Nashville and Kansas trips up at the Big 12 Tournament, the Cats will have a claim to the #1 overall seed in the Big Dance and the potential to play in St Louis, a short drive for the Big Blue faithful. The difference between St Louis and Syracuse (where they would go as the second or third rated #1 seed) is substantial, and enough to create a sizeable homecourt edge in the NCAA Regionals. Oh yeah and then there is that little thing of Kevin Stallings winning Coach of the Year over Calipari in the voting by the fellow SEC coaches. I have a sneaking suspicion that will make Calipari care a bit more than usual about conference tournament glory.
2. Can Vanderbilt and Tennessee shake their SEC Tournament History?
No two teams have consistently underachieved more at the SEC Tournament than the Big Orange and the Fighting Slide Rules. Neither team has won a Tournament in the past 20 years and in Tennessee's case, they went a long period without even winning a game. This year the tournament is in their home state and Vol upset over Kentucky could set up a matchup between the two rivals for the title. Not even these two juggernauts could both find a way to lose that game.
The rest of the teams are either fighting to preserve their seasons or get selected for the NIT/CBI/CMT/MTV2 postseason tournaments. Here is a rundown of the games, beginning with the first round on Thursday:
I have been going to the SEC Tournament for nearly 20 years and I feel like South Carolina has played Alabama in the first round nearly every season. It almost always occurs on Thursday afternoon, the gym is empty and my friends and I are focused solely on looking for the "Dippin Dots" stand (its the ice cream of the future). I never remember who wins these games and the Dave Odom/Eddie Fogler/Mark Gottfried experiences all tend to run together. I will pick South Carolina because they have Devan Downey and Darrin Horn looks like a child from an early 1960s sitcom.
This may be it for Jeff Lebo, who has turned the malaise of Auburn basketball into outright destruction. With a new arena being built, the days of the follicly-challenged coach roaming the Auburn sidelines may be numbered. I like Florida in this tournament and think they will win this game, beat Mississippi State and then upset Vanderbilt to make it to the finals vs Kentucky. That path starts with this beatdown, which will only be notable for the Gator dance team.
The nightcap brings two coaches together whose programs seem headed into vastly different directions going into next year. Mark Fox has done a tremendous job with the Georgia Bulldogs and their season-ending victory on the road at Nashville likely scares the Commodores for a potential Quarterfinal matchup. John Pelphrey on the other hand, has seen a disaster in Fayetteville, which has led the once proud fanbase to abandon its arena and caused the program to reach unprecedented levels of depression. The Razorbacks however can find life with the three point shot and my sneaking suspicion is that they "win one for the Redhead" and take out UGA and company to head to the next round.
The rest of the schedule looks like this:
Kentucky vs Bama/USC winner 1:00 pm
Posted on: February 24, 2010 10:08 am
Patrick Patterson is ready for March. I don’t mean he is ready in the sense that all players say they are excited to get on the court and play under the bright lights, in the big games, etc. I mean Patrick Patterson is salivating to play in March in a way that may be hard for any other player to imagine. While other players want to experience the Big Dance, Patrick NEEDS to experience it and it is that passion that could catapult him and his Kentucky teammates to an NCAA Tournament run to remember.
In a season in which John Calipari, John Wall and Demarcus Cousins seem to be the main feature in nearly every discussion about college basketball, it can be easy to forget about Patrick Patterson. On a team full of glitzy stars and bigger than life (at least in the Commonwealth) personalities, Patrick Patterson is a throwback, both on and off the court. On the court, he plays basketball the way your high school coach would have taught you if you were a big man. He hits the glass, block shots, rebounds and this season, has picked up an outside jumper that will likely make him a lottery pick in the NBA Draft this Spring.
However what makes Patrick Patterson the heart and soul of this Kentucky team and a player that is likely as beloved as any to come through Lexington in the past decade is the way he is a throwback to a different era even within Kentucky basketball. Since Calipari has come to town and the Cats have gone from an NIT team to 27-1 and a chance at a national title, it can be easy to forget where the program was just a few short months ago.
In the four priornseasons, Kentucky never advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and even more upsetting to Wildcat fans, was truly an afterthought on the national college basketball scene. The slide began during the end of Tubby Smith’s reign, but hit its nadir during the disastrous two-year Billy Gillispie era in which the program suffered embarrassments on and off the court and a drop in fan and player morale that threatened to put a long-term grasp on the program.
Patrick Patterson felt those disappointments as much as even the Bluest of UK fans. He was initially recruited by Tubby Smith as a potential savior to the program and when he ultimately decided to join Gillispie in Lexington, it ended the most-followed recruitment by the UK fanbase in school history. He came on campus with high expectations and Patterson certainly believed that he would get a chance to make multiple runs in NCAA Tournaments over the course of his career.
But unfortunately for Patterson, it didn’t work out that way. When Kentucky made it to the NCAA Tournament his Freshman year, he was unable to play due to injury and sat and watched as the his team bowed out in the first round to Marquette. Then last season, a late collapse saw the Cats in the NIT with games in sold-out regional tournament sites, but rather on the road at locations like Creighton. Now his first game in the NCAA Tournament this year, will the first taste of the Big Dance for the star Junior. He says that missing out in the past doesn’t bother him but rather makes me “as excited as I can be about finally getting a Championship run in March.”
If the Cats do make such a run, it will be in large part because of the way in which Patrick Patterson has anchored the team this season. Patrick said he knew that with so many talented Freshman coming in that his game would have to change but that he wanted to be “the type of guy to help Calipari make the team buy in.” And that is exactly what he has done. Often the third or fourth option on offense now, Patterson all too often is left out of long stretches and Calipari has noted that the team cannot win when it forgets about his talents.
But if Patterson is upset about such things, one would never know. He says he understands what Calipari has done all season and thinks “he has made me a much better player this year in every way.” While he is no longer the sole focus of Kentucky attention, either on the court or in the media, it has been his grace in deferring to those younger and less experienced than he, that has helped propel this version of the Cats to great heights. Patterson sees this individual sacrifice as necessary to make the thing he desires most, a National Championship, a reality. “I don’t have individual goals, I have goals for our whole team. I want to see John Wall win National Player of the Year, win the SEC, win the SEC Tournament, have three All-Americans on the team and win a National Championship.”
That may seem like a lot, but each one is attainable. If they happen, much credit will be given to the new coach who came from Memphis, the once-a-decade talent at point guard who will soon be the #1 NBA draft pick and the dominating post-presence with the headband. But don’t forget about the player whose name you have known the longest, the one who has been through the battles and seen the UK program at one of the worst, and now at one of the best, of times. More than any other person currently in the program, Patrick Patterson represents the soul of UK basketball. And when March comes, three years of pent-up postseason energy will be unleashed. When that happens and the Cats begin their march towards NCAA Title #8, Patterson says, “everything that has happened over my career will definitely be worth it.”