Cats face tough draw in New Orleans bracket


The UK men’s basketball team celebrates UK’s SEC championship win over Mississippi State Bridgestone Arena in the SEC Finals on Sunday, March 14, 2010. Photo by Britney McIntosh

DeMarcus Cousins’ face said it all.

Sure, the Cats had earned their No. 1 seed they had been fighting for all season, but the draw that came with it had the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year ready for another fight.

Watching from UK head coach John Calipari’s house in Lexington just hours after beating Mississippi State in the SEC Championship, the team let out a collective “Ooooooohhhhhh” when Texas, formerly ranked No. 1 in the country, was announced as the No. 8 seed and potential second round matchup against UK.

“They setting us up,” an incredulous Cousins said. “They are setting us up.”

His mood wouldn’t improve.

When West Virginia, a team many believed deserved a No. 1 seed, was announced as the No. 2 seed in UK’s bracket, Cousins’ disbelief continued.

“Oh my god,” he said.

When New Mexico, the No. 8 team in the country and a squad many felt had the résumé of a No. 2 seed, was revealed as the No. 3 seed in UK’s region, Cousins dropped an expletive not fit for print.

UK will open play on Thursday against the East Tennessee State Buccaneers in New Orleans, La. Assuming the Cats don’t become the first-ever No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed, they will face the winner of No. 8 seed Texas and No. 9 seed Wake Forest in the second round.

 “There’s no easy road, they’re all hard,” Calipari said. “Some are a little easier but they’re still hard and there’s no easy road. And you don’t want to look beyond East Tennessee State, Texas, and Wake Forest. All four good teams. You’re in that little bracket of the world. Other than that, you don’t worry about anything.”

Shortly after the rest of the bracket was revealed, Calipari took the team from his living room into the basement, away from reporters, TV cameras, a handful of UK boosters and those close to the program and rallied his players in the basement. Calipari told his players to stick together, and that things were going to be tough no matter what.

“I was looking at the teams, Texas, Wisconsin, I personally thought West Virginia should have been a one-seed,” junior forward Patrick Patterson said. “All the teams that we have, when they started naming them, I was like ‘Man, it’s going to be an extremely tough road.’ But hopefully we can get through that road to Indianapolis.”

For Patterson, seeing the Cats announced as a No. 1 seed was especially sweet. Despite being UK’s No. 16 scorer of all-time and being one of the most beloved players in recent memory to wear blue, he has never played in an NCAA tournament game. He missed UK’s first round exit in 2008 with an injury and UK was relegated to the NIT after a disastrous 2008-09 season.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Patterson said. “All the hard work put in for three years and having a successful career and definitely a successful year and this amazing team we have and finally to be recognized and having that No. 1 seed and just to play in the NCAA tournament… I expect to have a lot of fun.”

Patterson is hardly the only player without tournament experience. UK’s star freshmen were also ready to go, even though many of them were still aching from playing three games in three days in the SEC Tournament.

 “Our bracket is loaded but everybody is fighting for their lives,” freshman guard John Wall said. “The teams that look like they’re going to be tough, they might not make it. You never know who’s going to make it out because everybody is going to put everything on the line because it’s one game and you go home.”

But despite the elation of winning the conference championship and earning a No. 1 seed, some players couldn’t help but think they were given an unnecessarily tough draw by the selection committee.

 “We look at it like that but Coach Cal said every time he makes it to the tournament he gets a tough bracket,” Wall said. “We knew we were going to get a tough bracket and it’s going to be a tough road to get where you want to go.”