The Big Blue Lowdown

Insight, Analysis and Expertise on All Things Kentucky Basketball

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The Case for Kentucky

The BBL’s note to the tournament committee before BCS conference tournaments start this week.

Regardless of what happens in the SEC Tournament in Nashville, the Kentucky Wildcats should be in the dance. Period.

Pundits around the nation, many with a history of doubting or outright bashing Coach Calipari for his supposedly shady past, have been at times gleeful to speculate on Kentucky’s tournament future, with many believing the Cats will miss the tourney.

Extolling the virtues of fairness and a meritocratic NCAA selection system, they begin ticking off the various ways the Cats have not fully proved themselves as a worthy tournament contender. Such arguments usually include nebulous RPI numbers and records vs. other teams with other mysterious RPI numbers. 

The case is strengthened through the now almost clichéd phrase “the SEC is down.” Curiously from this commentator’s perspective, the decline of SEC basketball has practically coincided with the league’s seven-year streak of national championships in football.

But here are some fun facts that may surprise many readers. Since the SEC began its unprecedented streak of seven consecutive national championships in football in 2006, the conference has also won three of seven national titles in basketball (Florida 2006, Florida 2007, Kentucky 2012), more than any other conference (the ACC has won two in that time, UNC 2009 and Duke 2010). Moreover, the SEC has had 5 of the 28 teams that have made the Final Four in that seven-year span, more than any other conference save the Big East, which has had 6 in that time.

Keep in mind that the SEC has done this with considerably fewer bids in that span than the Big Ten or Big East, conferences which will once again get a huge number of bids to go along side their shiny RPI numbers (Minnesota and ex-UK coach Tubby Smith, for example, have a top 20 RPI despite a sub .500 conference in the Big Ten and a woeful record in the past month). 

I sense some bias and sour grapes (and preferential treatment) from a media elite primarily based in the Midwest and Northeastern part of the country. 

But I digress.

The issue here is Kentucky and the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Why is this a no-brainer? Let’s start with what Kentucky has done on the floor.

While Kentucky’s lack of signature wins has been well-publicized, it has been equally well-exaggerated. The Cats have wins over Florida, Missouri and on the road at Ole Miss. They also beat fellow bubble teams Maryland and Tennessee and got an out of conference win over LIU which won its conference tournament and will be dancing. This is a solid foundation, if not chock full of high RPI victories (still don’t get why the RPI is so important).

Moreover, the Cats got 4 true road wins in conference (more than a lot of teams labeled as safely inside the bubble) and won 12 games overall in the SEC, good for second in the conference. They are 4-2 in their last six and 4-3 without their best player Nerlens Noel, a likely lottery pick in this summer’s draft.

But now let’s talk about the off-court fundamentals. Kentucky will bring tens of thousands of fans to NCAA tournament arenas. Its brand will bring viewers to TV sets, and thus ad dollars. The media attention will increase tournament exposure, sales of NCAA gear and overall awareness of the sport itself. These are all facts, and a rising tide boosts all ships.

Many will hear this and immediately respond that these things have nothing to do with whether or not Kentucky earned a bid. Hogwash. The Big Blue Nation and its rabid following WAS earned. And it is a big part of everything the Cats do on the floor, and in the tournament. To consider it as part of the criteria for determining the team’s worth is not favoritism toward a celebrated program—it is recognition of the university’s importance during the sport’s biggest event.

Finally, as many of the experts like to ask, we have to consider whether or not Kentucky passes the eye test. In other words, when you look at this group, do you think they are an NCAA tournament team? The answer to that is self-evident. We are talking about the defending champions, with at least 4 future NBA draft picks. A team that finished second in a BCS conference and played possible No. 1 seeds Duke and Louisville down to the wire in neutral and road environments, respectively.
This is a team that, when it plays to its potential, can beat any team in college basketball. And the committee knows this.

Unless the Cats somehow lose by 40 to Arkansas or Vandy in the second round of the SEC tournament this week, this decision has already been made.

It wasn’t a banner year, but it wasn’t a disaster either. The Cats are hoops royalty. You don’t decline to invite the emperor to the ball because he had a bad day.

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Kentucky freshman Charles Matthews is transferring, the school announced. Former ESPN 100 prospect. - via @ESPN App espn.go.com/espn/now?nowId…
1. This loss means nothing. UK lost a game on the road in bizarre circumstances vs a very good team. If anything,... fb.me/4rtUJiRSK
Time to put Texas A&M to bed and get tuned up for a high seed in the big dance.
Epic collapse by UK tonight. Still something not right with this team.
Tough loss over the weekend, but the Cats showed heart...they'll be back. fb.me/7EWsEFppx

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