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UK Begins March Thru The South To Final Four

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By - Ira D. Combs
Director / Syndicated Columnist
Tri State Sports Media Service Inc.
 
Why build a new Rupp Arena or even renovate the present when UK can't play an NCAA tournament game in it and the new 14 member SEC is changing the landscape of non conference regular season scheduling down to only an ever other year mega Battle of the Bluegrass with the Cards . Don't need anything more than we've got for the pigeons and ducks that will wander thru the November and December part of the schedule at Rupp Arena .
 
Oops , I forgot we just all got to experience our first non Louisville game in the Yum Center and boy did all those Big Blue Fans gobble up those suite and club box tickets that the Yum Center offers .
 
Never heard it myself but several members of the media said Mitch Barnhart's eyes swelled up on several occasions as he surveyed the surroundings all that money being deposited into the NCAA coffers .
 
Now , on to the purity of college sports and in particular basketball .
 
John Calipari and his youthful but mega talented roster of college hoopsters have now passed the early test of March Madness and those every thing to lose but nothing to gain match ups during the first weekend of 2nd & 3rd round games . However , make no mistake there is no question it was a tremendous advantage that the early round games were held inside the Commonwealth at Louisville's state of the art KFC Yum Center .
 
Who said the states two largest universities can't work together ........ the Cards built it ........ the Cats as well as Big Blue Nation came ............ and in mass numbers .
 
A special thank you to former UK alum Jim Host and all those U of L folks who worked so long and hard to bring the KFC Yum Center project to fruition .
 
The downtown Louisville business and merchant district may have been celebrating St. Patrick's Day saturday just as the rest of the world but little green lepracons didn't roam the River City , instead it was a sea of small , middle size , and piggy moose sized blue smurfs and after an evening of worshiping the 18 sports bars inside the KFC Yum Center all the blue glad boys and gals were mighty brave and boastful in their comments toward any and all friends in red ( whether it be Cardinal red or their next opponent Indiana red ) .
 
It really was a special weekend for any sports enthusiast and hopefully the first of many NCAA experiences for the Commonealth's hoop crazy fans , especially those in blue .
 
Is Wildcats - Hoosiers Rematch Best of NCAA's Sweet 16 ?
 
The last time UK - IU met up it was in the hostile and revenge minded confines of Assembly Hall in Bloomington , Indiana when the Hoosiers hit a 3 pointer at the buzzer to give the Cats their lone defeat of the 2011 - 2012 season until Vandy squeezed out the last 2 1/2 minutes of play in the SEC tournament championship game with the Cats shooting blanks the last nine attempts .
 
This time it will be for all the marbles and the match up will take place in the Georgia Dome or Rupp Arena South in the middle of Catlanta where the University of Kentucky's largest alumni base resides outside of the Commonwealth .
 
Revenge motive this time goes to the youthful Wildcat team with an assist to the good folks at ESPN for making sure the free world didn't forget the first UK - IU game 3 1/2 months ago by showing that final shot more times than they have commercial space for . It will be interesting to see how many times ESPN shows it this week or for that matter how many times CBS jumps on the bandwagon and promos this 2nd match up for it's own viewership . Load it up guys every time Teague and his teammates see it this week should raise the mental and emotional meter to newer heights .
 
It was obvious from the time UK rolled into town that the Hoosiers went out of their way to give Marquis Teague a traitor's welcome when the Cats visited Bloomington back in December . I'm guessing the Indiana faithful felt a double dose of hatred was warranted since Teague had originally verbally committed to Coach Pitino's Cardinals and then Coach Cal's Cats swooped in an big timed both of the Cats rivals with a commitment and will now showcase his talented services for however long he is in the college ranks .
 
It's no secret John Calipari and Tom Crean are big buddies and really don't like playing each other but when you meet up in this situation friendship must be put on the back burner and it will . I would of liked Kentucky's chances anywhere and at anytime in this second game match up but it being an NCAA tournament elimination game and in the deep south of Atlanta , Georgia and with Calipari having a week to tweak his offensive sets and other game planning I really like the Cats chances . Barring an unreal clunker in perimeter shooting by the Cats I see a 10 - 12 point UK win .
 
Both teams are playing at a different and higher level at this point in the season but IU no longer has the services of Verdell Jones III due to a season ending injury and he was one of their key players in the December upset of the # 1 ranked Cats . Jones , a senior guard was fourth on the team in minutes played with 27 plus per game and averaged 8.1 ppg and 3.9 assist per game before he went down .
 
Game time info hasn't been released by CBS yet as of this deadline but for those not lucky enough to have tickets ( or media credentials ) for an NCAA Georgia Dome experience expect tip off to be around ( 9:30 friday night and live on CBS  WKYT - channel 27 Lexington or WYMT channel 57 Hazard ) with live post game shows on both CBS and of course the world wide ESPN network afterward . To be sure check your local TV listings around midday monday or later and that information should have been released to all media outlets by then .
 
NCAA 2nd & 3rd Round Tidbit's After First KFC Yum Center Visit
 
I've had the pleasure of experiencing many great sports venues over my 59 plus years and I have to admit Louisville's KFC Yum Center is everything people have been raving about and maybe more since it opened 1 1/2 years ago . There are probably 13,000 to 14,000 great seats within the lower llevel of the arena and then a complete row circling above those seats of several different type suite's and club level box seats . The only little scar that I could see was that the third level of seating ( which is the smallest in numbers ) may be a little to steep and far away from floor level in distance but the sight lines have those folks basically hanging right over top of the playing floor .
 
Here are some tidbits of interest that caught my eye in this years 1st weekend of games in the NCAA tourney :
 
# 1 - The NCAA tourney media reps had a nice story in the NCAA game program on Morehead State's Donnie Tyndall and his special upset win of Louisville in last year's tourney .
# 2 - Having seats on the baseline of Rupp Arena in recent years I've seen and heard a lot of trash talking between players but never heard any between player and coach like I did between U Conn's Jim Calhoun and his players in thursday's 2nd round game with Iowa State . It was an eye opening experience to this former country high school coach .
# 3 - The quality of NCAA tournament officiating is no better than regular season play and quite possibly worse .
# 4 -  For several years I've felt the only difference between low major and major college Div. 1 A type teams were the 4's and 5's ( meaning the power forwards and center or post players play at different levels both in talent and size ) . After watching the eight teams at the Yum Center it validated my opinions . Not all but most major college teams bigs play ( above the rim and a few way above ) while the Colorado State , WKU's and Murray State's of college hoops play a level below or even with the rim . Either way when you hear basketball experts speak of playing at the next level above high school it literally is another level and one that you can't appreciate just watching on TV . There really isn't a dime's difference in most teams perimeter players , most all have at least one great 3 point shooter and everybody as a lightning quick point guard who can play under control with most of his game even in transition .
 
Kentucky boy's  Darren Horn and Rick Stansbury are out of the basketball coaching ranks in the SEC . Horn was let go last week after a 3rd consecutive losing season in SEC play where he lead the Gamecocks of South Carolina to only a scant few triumphs in conference play . Stansbury on the other hand actually termed his end in Starkville , Mississippi as a retirement , personally , I don't think he nor his program ever recovered from the Bulldog players fight last year over in Maui , Hawaii early in the 2010 - 2011 season . Look for Stansbury to rebound and get another head coaching job . As for Horn it may take a little time before he can get his own program again , but his youth will serve him well in getting back since he is several years younger than Stansbury .
 
On another more positive note concerning Kentucky basketball alumni my good friend Mike "Bear" Rogers the pride of Clark Co. and a multi valued employee of the UKAA informed me last weekend at the KHSAA Sweet 16 that the historically successful Clark Co. high school men's basketball program is on a special run of having a former player participating in seven consecutive NCAA tournaments and could continue on for a few years into the future with a young Vinny Zollo on the WKU roster .
 
I have no idea if it's a record nor do I want to research the topic for several hours to validate it but that's a pretty special accomplishment especially for an old fashioned public school basketball program .
 
Cal's Boy's Not The Only Story In Town
 
While John Calipari and Kentucky basketball is as usual stealing the media lime light as we jaunt thru March there are a few other sports surprises unfolding across campus as well .
 
Matthew Mitchell's female hoopsters are off an running on their own March Madness track having conquered their first opponent McNeese State at the Ames , Iowa site in the 1st round of the women's NCAA tourney and set to match jump shots with the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay monday night live at 9:45 on ESPN2 .
 
Not to be out done over on the other side of campus at Cliff Hagan Stadium Gary Henderson's UK baseball team just swept a three game series from the two time NCAA champion South Carolina Gamecocks baseball program over the past weekend with scores of 4 - 3 , 4 - 3 , and 6 - 3 . UK baseball was ranked # 16 last week and is sure to jump upward again this week in the college baseball rankings .
 
Henderson's baseball team is evidently front loaded with some serious starting pitching talent for each 3 game SEC weekend series that basically sets the invitation and seeding process for the growingly popular NCAA  baseball tournament which ends in Omaha , Nebraska for the ultimate college baseball experience in the college baseball World Series .
 
The pride of Louisia , Ky. and Lawrence Co. high school Chandler Shepherd is 1 - 0 with a 3.14 ERA having pitched 14.1 innings with three starting assignments and one relief appearance to his credit so far in the infant spring baseball season .

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