Tourney talk beginning for Calipari, Cats


UK freshman John Wall brings together freshman DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe near the end of the second half of UK 82-61 win over the University of South Carolina on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010 at Rupp Arena. Photo by Allie Garza

It’s getting to be that time of year again, and the Cats (27-1, 12-1 Southeastern Conference) are eager for it to arrive.

With the calendar flipping to March in just three days, the NCAA Tournament is on the mind of the No. 2 team in the country, now the trick is to keep their current eight-game winning streak intact and earn a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance.

After the Cats avenged their lone loss of the season Thursday night with an 82-61 victory over South Carolina, UK head coach John Calipari said he wanted to get on with “that other tournament” and he wasn’t talking about the SEC Tournament. Though the Cats could clinch at least a share of the regular season SEC crown on Saturday afternoon with a win over No. 19 Tennessee (20-7, 8-5 SEC), Calipari said that didn’t mean anything to him.

“I’ve always taken the approach, that it’s about the seed in the NCAA Tournament,” Calipari said. “… The SEC Tournament is about our seed in the NCAA Tournament.”

While many coaches around the country have said they believe the NCAA Tournament should expand from its current 65-team field to a 96-team field, including Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim and Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl, Calipari said the tournament should stay how it is.

On the Dan Patrick Show on Feb. 24, Pearl said there are a lot of good teams that are not making the tournament, and that by adding one more group of teams the tournament would not be lose any of its drama.

Calipari was open to adding three more play-in games so each No. 1 seed would face a play-in game winner in the first round. But the issue becomes, Calipari said, if you expand it to 96 teams then why not open it up to everybody.

“I just don’t agree with it,” Calipari said. “I think it’s right where it is right now. It’s hard to get in which makes it neat. Hard to be seeded right which makes it great.”

The last significant expansion of the tournament came in 1985 when the tournament moved to 64 teams. Then, in 2001, the tournament added a play-in game which gave the tournament a 65-team field which is still in place today.

It wasn’t until recently the NCAA seriously brought up talks of expanding the tournament once more to a 96-team field. This has drawn concern from many fans around the country who feel the expansion would diminish some of the importance and excitement of the regular season.

Calipari said the NCAA shouldn’t mess with something that is as big as it is and rates as high as it does. Calipari said historically his teams don’t miss much school, but when the NCAA Tournament rolls around they miss a ton of school and expanding the tournament would mean they miss another week. Ultimately, it all boils down to making more money, and more games would likely mean more money, Calipari said.

“That’s all it is, it’s about money,” Calipari said. “It’s about money. ‘How do we expand and make more money.’ If it’s about the kids we’re sticking right where we are and maybe having some play-ins.”

The Cats have three games remaining on their schedule before the SEC Tournament, with two of them being on the road, including one against a Georgia team that lost on Thursday night in overtime against Vanderbilt in Memorial Gym. Calipari has said UK is each team’s Super Bowl, and on Saturday afternoon the Cats will likely face their largest road crowd of the entire season.

Thompson-Boling Arena, the home of the Volunteers, seats 21,758, and with the chance to knock off the No. 2 team in the land and hurt their chances for the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Calipari said it wouldn’t be a game for boys.

“This won’t be for the faint of hearts.”