The Florida Gators have looked invincible for over a month now, but the hard charging Kentucky Wildcats may have put a little doubt in that theory with their play in the SEC championship game.
Still, if the Gators shoot the basketball as they did against UK in Sunday’s SEC championship game and play overall at the level they did, they may still cut the nets down in Dallas. But as Adolph Rupp once said, “Every game takes on it’s own course when you throw it up, that’s why they wipe the scoreboard clean to start each game.”
Now on with this weeks column.
One week ago on the heels of a nasty butt kicking from this year’s Kingpin of SEC basketball, the Florida Gators brought the “Snake Oil Salesman” side of John Calipari out front and center, and it appears it worked. At the least Big Blue Nation bought into it and it appears the players psyche played off it in the SEC tournament.
Cal started the week out with a press conference where he announced that he had seen something in several of his recent game tapes that had been holding his team back, and it just jumped right out at him. Something that had been dragging his team down right in front of his eyes all season, but he was just to consumed with other areas to recognize it but he immediately tweaked the UK game plan to use it as a spring board for the post season and the story immediately took on a life of its own.
Everybody, or it seemed like most everybody bought into the theory hook, line, and sinker.
I saw it for what it was, a classic attempt by a veteran coach using the media and fan base to divert all the negative attention away from his extremely young and fragile minded team both mentally and emotionally. Then the team opened SEC tournament play with a sterling performance against a mid-season nemesis LSU by knocking down shots from the perimeter, crashing the boards especially on the offensive end and playing defense with a physical presence at all five positions. Then followed that game up in the semi-finals with another similar performance against the hometown Georgia Bulldogs and finished the weekend off in the championship game with another gallant come from behind effort against the No. 1 Florida Gators.
In all three tournament games the Cats played with a new enthusiasm which was fueled by the ability to knock down a respectable number of jumpers from the perimeter, both behind the 3 point arc and from mid range in front of the 3 point arc, and except for Julius Randle, the team collectively made free throws at a respectable rate which in turn brought a more intense presence on the defensive end … if all that is tweaking then I guess Cal pulled it off.
Now Cal’s boys enter the final leg of the 2013-14 season with some new found pep in their step, not to mention some much needed confidence, and while the No. 8 seed UK will play under, will make for a tougher road to the Final Four there are many people across college basketball today that think the pre season No. 1 ranked Wildcats may have woke up just in time to make that run at another championship, just as everyone had predicted back in November.
It all starts for the Wildcats this Friday in St. Louis, where the No. 8 seeded Cats will take the hardwood against the No. 9 seeded Kansas State Wildcats at 9:40 p.m. on CBS. In order to advance to the Final Four UK will have to beat Kansas St. and more than likely a combination of No. 1 seeded Wichita State, No. 4 seeded Louisville, and either No. 2 seeded Michigan or No. 3 seeded Duke.
This years NCAA tournament will be televised on four different networks; CBS, TBS, TNT, Tru Network, check your local listings late Monday for all the tip off times for the Thursday/Friday games.
KHSAA Boys Sweet 16 In Rupp Arena This Week
The annual boys Sweet 16 basketball tournament takes place this week in Rupp Arena with the first game of the first session tipping off at 12 p.m. Wednesday. There is no prohibitive favorite now that Louisville Ballard has been upset in the championship game of the seventh region. However, most high school basketball followers will tab the team that beat Ballard in Louisville Trinity and the second region champion Hopkinsville Tigers as slight co favorites.
As in most all state tournaments, there will more than likely be a Cinderella team to evolve once the first round has played through and my prediction is that either Wayne Co. or Knott Co. Central will fall into that roll come Friday afternoon when the quarterfinal round begins.
One item of interest to look forward to is that four of the top five juniors in the Commonwealth will be performing in this year’s tournament which should be a great preview of next years Mr. Basketball race. The states top center prospect, Trinity’s 6-foot-9-inch Ray Spalding will lead the Shamrocks as will Hopkinsville’s 6-foot-6-inch forward Jaqualis Matlock who is considered the most talented forward in the junior class.
A possible return match up from January looms in the quarterfinals friday afternoon between arguably the state’s two top junior guards in 6-foot-2-inch Cameron Justice of Knott Central and 6-foot-3-inch Peyton Woods of Wayne Co. if they win their respective games on Thursday afternoon against Bowling Green and McCracken Co. who will be making its first ever trip to the Sweet 16 because they are in the midst of the newly consolidated schools first year of existence. Lone Oak, Heath, and Reidland consolidated to make the McCracken Co. Mustangs.
Johnson Central and Knott Central are two Eastern Ky. schools that are making their third consecutive appearance at the Sweet 16, while another Eastern Ky. school in Clay Co. is making back-to-back appearances at the “greatest hoops show On earth”.
Covington Catholic will be representing the extremely tough ninth region this year, and it’s always a special treat to get to witness the enthusiasm of the Covington Catholic fan section. All signs gear toward a very competitive and exciting tournament that should culminate with a very exciting semi-final round on Saturday night and championship game on Sunday afternoon.
You can go online to www.combsbrothersonkysports.com for more coverage of UK basketball and football as well as KHSAA basketball and football.