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Kentucky’s highs and lows 

Both Kentucky schools lost their bowl games today. 

Louisville, of course, lost to LSU in the Citrus Bowl, and Kentucky fell to Georgia Tech in the Gator Bowl (or TaxSlayer Bowl if you want to be technical about it). 

That means Western Kentucky has bragging rights in football, not only because the Hilltoppers won their bowl game, but because Western did something its bigger brethren in the Commmonwealth did not–win its conference. Now why don’t Louisville and Kentucky play Western every year? Louisville saw fit to play Charlotte and Marshall,and Kentucky played Austin Peay and a couple of other palookas. Why not keep the money in the Commonwealth? 

How many people actually care Louisville and Kentucky lost today, outside Louisville and Lexington (and maybe scattered people in Frankfort, Covington, Ashland and Paducah)? NOT MANY. 

Basketball soothed the pain on the gridiron for folks in the Bluegrass.

Not only did Rick Pitino’s Cardinals defeat Indiana in Indianapolis, but Duke, the most hated team in every corner of Kentucky, lost at Virginia Tech. 

Duke has never been a favorite of either Kentucky or Louisville. Both the Wildcats and Cardinals own national championship game victories over Duke–Kentucky in 1978 when Jack “Goose” Givens scored 41 points in the Wildcats’ 94-88 win, and Louisville in 1986, when freshman “Never Nervous” Pervis Ellison lifted the Cards to a 72-69 victory over a Duke team led by Johnny Dawkins and Jay Bilas. 

However, the Kentucky-Duke hatred reached a new level the evening of March 28, 1992.

That’s the night when Christian Laettner, one of the dirtiest players who ever graced a basketball court, stepped ont eh chest of the Wildcats’ Ammu Timberlake in the East regional final at Philadelphia. Laettner did not even receive a technical foul for being a gigantic asshole, and he hit the game-winning shot in overtime. 

I have never been a Duke fan. I especially couldn’t stand the Blue Devils when Laettner played. The officials who work Duke games are intimated by Kryzewzski, but with Laettner, it was a whole different level. It’s a wonder how Duke lost games. The free throw dispartity was so lopsided. Not even Dean Smith could catch a break most of the time. 

Duke and Virginia lost today. Good. Two programs which deserve each other. 

I’ve never visited Kentucky. I would like to. Maybe in April when LSU plays baseball in Lexington. 

Trip before the trip

The night before I go on a trip to Kansas City, I usually like to pack and get my laundry done so I’m ready to go the next morning, even if I’m not totally refreshed. 

Tonight, I changed my routine. 

Instead of sitting in the basement in Russell, I ventured to Salina to Buffalo Wild Wings. I stopped at Dillon’s on Ohio Street–the same Dillon’s where my car wouldn’t start the afternoon of January 29–for some stuff I can’t get in Russell or Hays, then headed to South Ninth Street. 

I’m staying until at least 8:30, so I can play ma favorite Buzztime game, Six, which is Wednesday and Thursday from 7:30 to 8:30. I’ll be in Kansas City tomorrow to play it. 

I can’t leave for Kansas City until my appointment with Crista is done tomorrow morning. That starts at 9, so I figure to be out of Hays by 10:15. It will be 30-45 minutes longer, but I can’t miss an appointment with Crista, even if things are going well. 

It will be my last trip to Kansas City for this month, probably a little longer. Next weekend is Easter, and the day after Easter, my parents are leaving for Nashville, where my sister-in-law will be giving birth. 

I didn’t do a blessed thing after getting home from Kansas City Sunday morning. I watched the NCAA tournament selection show Sunday evening, although I did not watch much of either First Four game last night. Then again, neither game was particularly competitive. Florida Gulf Coast demolished Farleigh Dickinson 96-65, and Wichita State easily ousted Vanderbilt 70-50.

The Commodores’ loss leaves TWO Southeastern Conference schools, Texas A&M and Kentucky, amongst the remaining 66 teams. Three teams in the NCAA tournament for a power conference is pitiful, espeically in the 68-team era, which began in 2011. I can remember more SEC teams in the field in 1989 (five), when the SEC had only 10 teams. 

The SEC has long had a reputation in basketball of Kentucky and nothing but weak sisters, and this year has proved the axiom true, save for Texas A&M, which won a share of its first conference championship since 1987 when it is was in the now-defunct Southwest Conference. 

Two more First Four games tonight: Holy Cross vs. Southern (yes, the one in Baton Rouge), and Michigan vs. Tulsa, which doesn’t deserve to be anywhere near the NCAA field. If the Wolverines choke this game, then they should be forced to walk up Interstate 75 from Dayton to Detroit, then west on I-96 back to Ann Arbor. Tulsa is a joke. A JOKE. 

Kentucky and 67 others

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past four months, Kentucky has been the best men’s college basketball team in the United States. 

In fact, the Wildcats are getting better at the right time. They steamrolled their way through the Southeastern Conference tournament, destroying Florida, Auburn and Arkansas to improve to 34-0, 21-0 overall against SEC foes. 

Only six games stand between John Calipari’s squad and immortality. As dominant as Kentucky has been through the years under Adolph Rupp, Joe B. Hall, Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith and Calipari, it has never finished a championship season undefeated. It went undefeated in 1952-53, but the Wildcats were banned from the postseason due to numerous NCAA rules violations. 

Kentucky is 34-0, two more wins than Indiana had in 1975-76. Those Hoosiers of Bobby Knight were the last major college men’s team to complete a season undefeated. In those days, there was no conference tournament in the Big Ten, and IU had to win five games, not six, to claim the title. 

UNLV came very close to running the table. The Rebels of the late Jerry Tarkanian won the national championhip in 1990 and defended that crown with vigor and gusto the next season, destroying eveything in their path. However, UNLV played in the terrible Big West, which is nowhere near the caliber of the Big Ten and SEC, and the Rebels were hardly challenged, save for a Feb. 10 meeting with No. 2 Arkansas in Fayetteville, until the tournament. And even then nobody came close as UNLV easily reached the Final Four. 

Then came Duke. The same team which lost the 1990 championship game 103-73, when the Rebels set records for the most points and widest margin of victory in a championship game, records which still stand. 

Coach K and Duke were not inimitdated by the brash and overly cocky Rebels. He wouldn’t allow it. Neither would point guard Bobby Hurley and center Christian Laettner, who stared down Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony and company and shocked UNLV 79-77. Two nights later, the Blue Devils won their first national championship by defeating Kansas. 

Duke’s best team came into the 1999 championship game 37-1, but it lost to Connecticut. 

There is no reason why Kentucky should not cut down the nets three weeks from today in Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium. Who is going to stop them?

Kansas? Right, the same team which lost 72-40 in November. Not happening.

Notre Dame? The Irish won the ACC championship, but haven’t been able to consistnetly play at an elite level.

Wichita State? Don’t make me laugh.

Wisconsin? Frank Kaminsky may be the natoinal player of the year, but the Badgers aren’t equipped to play Kentucky’s type of game. 

As for LSU, which choked away a golden opporutnity to defeat Kentucky last month in Baton Rouge by going scoreless over the game’s final four minutes, I don’t know what to think. Yes, the Bayou Bengals almost beat Kentucky and have some impressive road wins over West Virignia and Arkansas, but this is the same team which lsot to Auburn twice, Mississippi State and Missouri. Yeech. 

The Bayou Bengals and North Carolina State is an even match. LSU might even be able to slip by Villanova in the second round. But which LSU team shows in Pittsburgh? Okay, I’ll split the baby: LSU defeats NC State, but loses to Nova. 

Kentucky will steamroll, in order, Manhattan, Purdue, West Virginia and Kansas to get to the Final Four. Wisconsin wins the West to face the Wildcats in the national semifinals. Oklahoma emerges from the East and Iowa State from the South to set up an all-Big 12 semifinal.

The Cyclones oust the Sooners and have the privilege of being Kentucky’s 40th and last victim of the season. 

The K Zone

The groan you just heard came from Lawrence, Kansas. 

The Kansas Jayhawks have been assigned the Region of Death for the NCAA Tournament, as in the Midwest Region with the almighty Kentucky Wildcats, the prohibitive favorite to win the title for the second time in four years and 10th time overall.

Kansas has only itself to blame for its predicament. Had it not blown a 17-point lead vs. Iowa State yesteday in the Big 12 tournament championship game, in front a virtual home crowd at Kansas City’s Sprint Center, the Jayhawks almost certinaly would have avoided placement in Kentucky’s region, instead going to the South region with Duke as the No. 1 seed. And the Jayhawks certainly would have had more people in Houston that it will in Cleveland should it make the regional. 

Should the Jayhawks beat New Mexico State, it could lead to the dream game–at least as far as the fanbase at another Sunflower State school is concerned. 

Wichita State has tried time and time and time again to play Kansas (and Kansas State) in the regular season, but the Jayhawks refuse. 

I understand Bill Self’s reasoning. First, why would KU want to give up a home game with 16,300 fans for one in Wichita, where Koch Arena seats less than 11,000? Second, It’s a lose-lose propoistion for the Jayhawks. If they win, they’re supposed to, becuase they’re in the Big 12 and the Shockers are in the Missouri Valley. Third, why give Wichtia State a platform to recruit and take away the top blue chips in Kansas away from Lawrence? 

If Wichita State is that hard up to play KU, it should be at least a five-for-one deal, and the game in Wichita would have to be at the larger Intrust Bank Arena downtown, not at Koch. If one of the games is at Kansas City, so be it. But no way KU should go home-and-home with Wichita State.

K-State should not, either. Same reasoning. 

Until Wichita State learns to give a little, it will be stuck where it is. The Shockers are a perch above other mid-majors, but they are not a major school. Not without football. 

KU and Wichita State have played in the NCAA tournament before. In New Orleans. 

The Shockers and Jayhawks each won their second round regional games at the Kansas Coliseum in Park City in the 1981 tournament to advance to the Midwest regional semifinals at the Louisiana Superdome. The other teams in the regional would become bitter conference rivals down the road, LSU and Arkansas. 

The 1980-81 Shockers were the finest team the school produced, until the 2012-13 and 2013-14 units. Coach Gene Smithson had a powerful team led by All-Americans and future NBA players Antoine Carr and Cliff Levingston. Wichita State easily won the Missouri Valley Conference and was seeded third behind LSU and Arizona State in the regional.

KU was a solid, if unspectacular, unit in 1980-81, coached by Ted Owens, an outstanding coach who gets buried behind the headlines created by Naismith, Allen, Williams, Self and Larry Brown before and after him. Owens took the Jayahwks to the Final Four in 1971 and 1974, quite an achievement in the days when only one team per conference qualified for the NCAA tournament. 

The No. 7 seed Jayhawks beat Ole Miss in the first round, then upended the Sun Devils to join the Shockers, Razorbacks and Bayou Bengals in the Big Easy.

LSU fans have developed a healthy dislike for both KU and WSU through the years, but in 1980-81, the first Midwest semifinal was just a time killer before the main attraction.

What a time killer it was. The Shockers and Jayhawks engaged in one of the best games of the tournament, with little brother from the big city coming out on top–barely, 66-65. 

Coincidentally, K-State reached the 1981 West regional final under Jack Hartman despite being the No. 8 seed. The Wildcats shocked top ranked Oregon State in the second round and ousted Illinois in the Sweet 16 before falling to North Carolina, led by James Worthy, in the Elite Eight at Salt Lake City. 

WSU lost the Midwest regional final to LSU 96-85. Smithson would get the program put on major probation by the NCAA and fired, and it took Eddie Fogler several years to pull the Shockers out of the doldrums. It wasn’t until Mark Turgeon came along where WSU finally became a postseason contender year in and year out.

Owens was fired following two bad years in 1982 1nd 1983.  Larry Brown was hired from the New Jersey Nets and took the Jayhawks to five NCAA tournaments in five years, reaching hte Final Four in 1986 and winning it all in 1988. He bolted back to the NBA and the San Antonio Spurs shortly after the championship, well aware the NCAA was about to hammer KU for violations committed under Owens and himself. Roy Williams was left to clean up the mess. 

If KU and WSU meet Saturday in Louisville, the winner could have the unenviable task of taking on the mighty Big Blue from the Bluegrass. At least one team can say they made the Elite Eight if that happens. 

Kentucky conquers The Ides of March

Today is the Ides of March, the date on which in 44 BC Julius Caesar was stabbed by Marcus Junius Brutus and his associates in the Roman Senate. 

In 1970, a rock band named The Ides of March released its one and only hit single, “Vehicle”. The song is a staple of high school and college marching bands throughout the United States. In fact, the first time I heard the song was when it was played by the Brother Martin High School band at football games in the fall of 1989. I didn’t know about its status as a hit for The Ides of March until 1991. LSU’s band has played “Vehicle” at basketball games as long as I can remember, and they would break it out at football games every now and then. 

Kentucky is 34-0 heading into the NCAA men’s Division I basketball tournaement. The Wildcats defeated Arkansas 78-63  in the SEC tournament championship game in Nashville. They have already been named the number one overall seed for the NCAA tournament, and I would be beyond shocked if they don’t cut down the nets April 6 in Indianapolis. When UCLA won seven consecutive national championships from 1967 through 1973, there was no shot clock, so a team could stall as long as it crossed midcourt. Today, that’s not possible. If you’re going to milk the shot clock down to a few seconds on each possession, you had better shot somewehre north of 60 percent, and no team can do that on a night in, night out basis. 

The only problem Kentucky is going to face is going to be the ridiculous media pressure from here on out. You can bet every newspaper which regularly covers college basketball will send a writer to wherever Kentucky is playing. First, the Wildcats will travel west on Interstate 64 to Louisville, where it will play the first two rounds at the KFC YUM! Center, home to the archrival Louisville Cardinals. Every fan not wearing Kentucky blue will be cheering hard against the Wildcats to blow it. Ironically, Kentucky ended Wichita State’s perfect season in the second round on its way to the national championship game, where it fell to Connecticut. 

Needless to say, I’ll pick Kentucky to win any and every bracket I may fill out this tournament season.

Even with Kentucky dominating the men’s scene, it will still be far more intriguing than the women’s tournament. Does anyone give a damn outside of Connecticut, South Carolina, East Tennessee and Waco?