For this sports fan, few events offer a prolonged and sustained period of sports enjoyment than the NCAA Men’s Championship Basketball Tournament, affectionately referred to as “March Madness.” As exciting as this annual pilgrimage through the brackets is, we usually find ourselves starting at fearsome foursome of at or near top seeds during the Final Four weekend. Not so in 2011. Salute the infiltration of the Mid-Majors to the Final Four.
This weekend’s games are comprised of the #4 seed Kentucky Wildcats playing the #3 seed Connecticut Huskies (Saturday, 6:09PM EST) and the #11 Virginia Commonwealth Rams playing the #8 Butler Bulldogs. When I watch the tournament every year, after rooting for my local interests, I secondarily have a secret crush on the underdogs. Yeah, I’m telling you that my ultimate wish would be to see four #16 seeds make it to the Final Four and set the bracket right on its ear.
This completely self-serving post is my response the NCAA’s decision to rule Enes Kanter permanently ineligible. Sure, a knee-jerk, “screw the NCAA” immediately came to mind, but after almost 24 hours to reflect, while allowing the emotion of the moment to dissipate, I think I’m ready share my feelings.
My feelings about a maddeningly-inconsistent NCAA eligibility house that allows Renardo Sidney to atone for his amateur status-threatening ways; about the fact $33,000 is apparently worth more than someone who legitimately tried to restore their amateur status, all while walking away from lucrative contracts and the associated benefits of playing pro basketball in Turkey; about the double-standard folks like A.J. Green have faced; about the entire, farcical, two-faced approach the almighty dollar — all for them (and football, too), none for you — system; and I think I can do it in one word, or expression, if you will.
That word is simply:
That’s about all I’m good for when it comes to anything regard the NCAA’s incredibly-fair enforcement of their rules.
Jack-O-Lanterns have a great deal of mysticism and folklore behind them, the most common of which is to ward off evil spirits. With that in mind, the “Free Enes” Jack-O-Lantern could, perhaps, ward off the an “evil” decision from the NCAA regarding Enes Kanter’s eligibility.
From the self-serving files comes this latest post, and what we have is Randall Cobb’s game-winning touchdown against the South Carolina Gamecocks. While Kentucky beating a top-10 team is probably newsworthy, as is Randall Cobb, Kentucky’s win probably doesn’t resonate on a national level like it does on a personal one for this writer.
Be that as it may, when your team finally beats a coach after losing 17-straight to them, something needs to be acknowledged, and in this case, it’s Randall Cobb and his oft-maligned quarterback, Michael Hartline. Take that, Spurrier!!! Don’t think we forget you abusing Kentucky in the Swamp all those years.
Last year about this time, John Wall, after months of anticipation, burst onto the scene as a Kentucky Wildcat at the school’s Big Blue Madness celebration. While everyone who has an interest in college basketball had their eye on Wall, the freshman point guard added something to his introduction that made his “phenom star” shine that much brighter: the John Wall Dance. With a little pop of his arms and wrists, the move became Wall’s signature and also, something of a craze.
With that in mind, it’s no surprise to hear another highly-regarded Kentucky freshman, Doron Lamb, has a dance of his own he plans on debuting during the team’s introduction.
“I already got it down pat,” Lamb said. “Some of (my teammates) have already seen it in the locker room. I’m just waiting to bring it out.”
While it’s unlikely Lamb’s dance catches on like Wall’s, at least, on a nationwide basis — his popularity quotient isn’t nearly as high as Wall’s was last season — as a Kentucky fan, I have to say I’m looking forward to it.
While I find most trends either silly or annoying, I actually enjoy seeing all this youthful enthusiasm from the players. There’s nothing wrong with having a little fun, not to mention, trying to make lightening strike twice. As long as Lamb’s dance doesn’t involve flexing your biceps and popping your fist back and forth, it’ll work, if, for no one else, the Kentucky fans who are dying for basketball season to start.
After losing 24-straight games (now 25) to one team, getting one’s hopes up for a road win in said team’s house is probably asking a little much, but is asking a team to play like they aren’t scared? Apparently. Kentucky went down to Gainesville, after some hype of an upset special, and laid an absolute egg, losing 48-14. Kentucky’s “defense” (I’m hesitant to call it that after their performance against the Gators, perhaps tackling dummies is more appropriate) essentially played dead against a Florida team who had been struggling on the offensive end.
Well, six Trey Burton touchdowns later, and the Mildcats showed they still have a long way to go to compete with the Florida Gators of the world, no matter how much their offense struggles in the previous weeks. There was one play that summed up Kentucky’s efforts quite well, something I’m sure you’ve seen by now, but thanks to 30fps, we’ve got it in animated gif form:
As John Calipari’s success at recruiting top-flight guards continues, no matter which school’s he’s at, it looks like he’s got another gem in freshman Brandon Knight. Currently, the Kentucky Wildcats are in Canada taking part in an preseason “tournament” against local college teams, something the NCAA allows once every four years; and while there’s still much to learn about Kentucky’s squad — two big men didn’t make the trip, and super-freshman Terrence Jones has a stress fracture in his rib — one thing seems pretty certain: Knight will step in and fill the departed John Wall’s shoes quite nicely.
After tallying 31 points and four assists in Kentucky’s first game, no turnovers either, Knight showed off his athletic ability in the second game with a nice finish, courtesy of a behind-the-back pass from Darius Miller, who, in his own right, looks like John Calipari’s version of Scottie Pippen; that is, he does a little bit of everything when he’s in the game, including setting up nasty dunks for his teammates:
Knight finished yesterday’s blowout with 17 points, 12 assists, three steals and only three turnovers. I think every coach in America would be happy with a 16-3 assists-to-turnover ratio, especially from a freshman point guard.
His (surprising) leaping ability is simply a cherry on top of a very appealing sundae of basketball ability.
During last night’s NBA Draft-powered run on Kentucky basketball players, head coach John Calipari offered this assessment of the “historical” evening: “This is biggest night in the history of Kentucky basketball.” I have seven reasons to disagree with Coach Calipari, but more than that, I wish he’d just ease up with the unending hyperbole assault that erupts from him at will. Yes, it’s true he has every reason to be proud of his first recruiting class for Kentucky, but are over-the-top comparisons really necessary?
5:04: John Calipari tries to claim with a straight face that, since Kentucky might have five first-round picks, it’s the biggest day in the history of Kentucky basketball. Yeah, I’m sure it beats winning the title in 1996 or 1998. Go away.
While the “go away” is a probably more drastic than I’m thinking, Simmons and I agree on this: Stop the hyperbole, Cal. So far, you’ve proven to be exactly what the realistic Kentucky fans expect: a fantastic recruiter who knows how to capitalize on popularity, but a suspect bench coach. That’s always been the give-and-take with Calipari, and failing to at least advance to a Final Four with the roster he put in the draft last night emphasizes this quite well. Clearly, he gets his fair share of top talent; however, he doesn’t go all the way when he’s got such teams.
Granted, winning a National Championship is never easy — Kentucky has seven in over 100 years of basketball history — but please, save the “greatest day” stuff for an actual banner-raising; one that’s safe from being taken away by the NCAA, preferably.