Cats’ 4-team draw offers intriguing matchups

UK’s players and coaches had to be sweating more than they will in sunny Anaheim, Calif., this week at the NCAA Tournament.

UK’s fans had to be sweating more than they did on Friday when a tornado hit the Georgia Dome and for a few precarious moments, the safety of everyone in the building was threatened.

But potential hysteria turned to euphoria. UK didn’t play itself out of the NCAA Tournament in the Southeastern Conference Tournament with the loss to Georgia.

The selection committee still thought the Cats did enough during the conference season to earn a No. 11 seed in the South Region. Hopefully every professor on campus will understand if there is a significant drop-off in attendance when UK tips off against Marquette on Thursday at 2:30 p.m.

Everyone hoping that UK would make the tournament should have been sweating then, but now they should be rejoicing. Because not only did the Cats make it, they got what appears to be a fairly favorable matchup.

The NCAA Tournament can essentially be broken down for each team into three mini-tournaments of four teams. UK matches up favorably with its first three possible opponents — Marquette, Stanford and Cornell.

If there’s one type of team the Cats are certainly capable of beating, it’s a guard-oriented team with an average post presence. Marquette fits that mold.

Of Marquette’s top four scorers, three are guards and one is a forward. The tallest player of that group is 6-foot-6. That isn’t a personnel problem for UK’s four guard, one power forward lineup.

The matchup of coaches is also an intriguing storyline going into the game.

The Golden Eagles’ head coach Tom Crean was rumored to be one of the possible candidates to replace Tubby Smith at UK last year. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

The Cats chose Gillispie instead. He was chosen for a reason. It’s because he’s the better coach.

Gillispie has done a tremendous job coaching UK on the fly this year, and for this game he’ll have nearly four days to prepare. That should worry any coach, especially Crean, who almost rode one Final Four appearance in 2003 behind a legendary performance from Dwyane Wade to one of the best jobs in college basketball.

If the Cats were to win, they would most likely play Stanford in the second round. The Cardinal would pose a totally different threat to UK.

Stanford is led by 7-foot twin centers Brook and Robin Lopez. One of those players would most likely spend much of the game posting up one-on-one against either UK guard Derrick Jasper or forward Ramon Harris, both of whom are listed at 6-6.

Stanford’s first round opponent is Ivy League champion Cornell. The Big Red might be one of the only teams in the tournament that UK is more athletic than, even without sophomore guard Jodie Meeks and freshman forward Patrick Patterson.

But back to Gillispie, and the possible showdown with the Cardinal.

In the NCAA Tournament, anything can happen when teams only have a day or two to prepare, which would be the case if UK and Stanford met Saturday. Gillispie would have a limited amount of time to prepare for the size problems, but Stanford head coach Trent Johnson would only have a short time to find a way to stop UK guards Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley.

Right now, it’s hard not to like Gillispie in a matchup of wits.

And it’s hard not to like the Cats’ four-team draw, considering how close they were to not making the tournament.

Jonathan Smith is a journalism

senior. E-mail [email protected]