Sunday, March 29, 2009

Kentucky has tradition - but not the best job

Sunday's final four:

1. Why, why, why on earth would Tom Izzo, John Calipari, Billy Donovan or any other coach who already has built a top-tier program be even the least bit interested in going to Kentucky now that another good coach has been driven away from Bluegrass country?

Izzo is back in the Final Four with Michigan State, which for the last decade has established itself as the premier program in the Big Ten and one of the very best in the country - far better than Kentucky, in fact.

Calipari is worshipped in Memphis, where he is king of Conference USA and where he successfully recruits some of the very best players in the land.  According to several ratings services, he is bringing the No. 1 class of 2009 to Memphis. At Kentucky, the alums and other hard-core fans probably would expect him to do better than No. 1. Who needs it?

Donovan has won two national titles at Florida and continues to bring top talent to Gainesville, where he is revered for having already given the thumbs down to Kentucky once.

As a bonus - a huge, enormous, gigandulous bonus - none of these guys faces the kind of scrutiny and pressure in his current job as he would at Kentucky. As an extra bonus, all are paid the same kind of outrageous salaries they'd get from the Bluegrass boyz.

There are a handful of traditional powerhouse programs and Kentucky is one of them. (Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Indiana and UCLA also leap to mind.) But I'd say that many others, including Michigan State, Memphis and UConn, have pulled alongside - and, in many cases, surpassed - those traditional powers. 

Funny thing about tradition in sports: It guarantees nothing. Just ask the Cowboys how much tradition has been worth on the playing field the last few years. New traditions get established all the time in sports; witness the Red Sox now being clutch winners while the Yankees have become chokers.

Tom Crean left Marquette for Indiana, saying it was a slam-dunk decision because "Indiana is Indiana." Well, Indiana hasn't been Indiana for awhile now, including Bobby Knight's last half-dozen years there, and Marquette - thanks in great part to Crean - has surpassed Indiana by miles. Crean is counting on tradition helping him recruit better players to Indiana than he did to Marquette, but most ratings services say his Marquette replacement, Buzz Williams, will be bringing in a group as good as or better than Crean will to Hoosierland.

Of course, once upon an Al McGuire time, Marquette was one of those traditional powerhouses. 

Yes, Kentucky has tradition out the ying-yang. But so do many other places where the pressure isn't so great a coach feels like killing himself 50 times a year. There are too many other fantastic schools at which a coach can win big without putting himself through the torture.

2. Saturday's Villanova-Pitt game was so good, I found myself actually cheering several plays - something I very rarely do because I'm more of a detached appreciator of excellence than I am of a fan. I must admit: It was pretty darn fun.

3. As usual, the "experts" couldn't stop talking about the distractions facing UConn after word of possible NCAA recruiting violations surfaced before the weekend. Ridiculous. Why would UConn players be even the slightest bit distracted by this? Turns out, they weren't, as the Huskies took down Purdue and Missouri to get to the Final Four.

4. In honor of  Tiger Woods officially being back, it's time to take a mulligan on my Final Four picks. What other choice do I have, since I managed to go a sterling 0-for-4?

As much as I appreciate Izzo's Spartans, UConn can play whatever game Michigan State wants to play - and play it just a tad better. On the other side of the bracket, I'm going with the upset: Villanova's tough, talented perimeter players, augmented by vastly underrated Dante Cunningham, making Carolina blue.

And in the all-Big East title game ... UConn 80, 'Nova 74.

Call your bookies and pull out those wallets, folks. I mean, I haven't steered you wrong yet!


  1. 2 things...that is the longest 1 i have ever seen in my life and WHAT a put...

  2. i suppose that should have been putt tiger doesn't throw the shot put...sigh