Kentucky looks ready for the Madness of March

Kentucky has restablished itself as serious player for a No. 1 seed

All signs pointed to a surge. Few teams were playing better college basketball than Kentucky.

Coach John Calipari--the Zenmaster of How to Succeed with one-and done basketball--certainly knows the process of building with young players, although that role has been dominated the past few years by that guy from Duke.

And last week was going to be crunch week for Coach Cal's Wildcats in the Southeastern Conference--home games against LSU, an upper tier SEC team and No. 1 ranked Tennessee, which hadn't lost a game since December.

But the script had a twist in the Wildcats game against LSU, when the Tigers won on a controversial tip-in at the buzzer.

All of which created more of a frenzy, and just the tinge of doubt in Wildcat country.

There was no way Kentucky was going to lose back to back games at Rupp Arena? Right?

. That had never happened under Coach Cal's watch, which is now in its 10th season.

Still, lots of people were saying that Tennessee was the only serious threat to challenge a Duke team if the Devils had their game faces on. And Coach Rick Barrnes' Volunteers had prepped for their showdown against Kentucky by rolling over a decent South Carolina team.

For a half, it looked like a match up of ranked heavyweights. Kentucky, led by the spectacular play of forward PJ Wasington played great--and the Wildcats led by only 6 points.

Coach Cal told his team to change tactics, go for the knockout punch early.

And just like that, it was over. Kentucky scored the first 14 points of the second half, built a 24 point second half lead and then coasted to an 86-69 victory.

Tennessee's 19 game winning streak was over. Kentucky's winning streak was at 1 game, but the odds were now different.

Not only was Tennessee no longer No. 1 in the country, but their No. 1 seed was now more of a question mark, with Kentucky in a familiar and comfortable spot.

Great expectations are nothing new in this era of Coach Cal basketball at Kentucky.

In each of the past 3 seasons, the Wildcats started the season ranked in the Top 5 in the polls, but failed to reach the Final Four each time.

A year ago they tumbled to 26-11 and a pedantic 10-8 in the SEC.

Coach Cal restocked, but he adjusted. Instead of bringing in all freshman, he brought in a graduate transfer from Stanford, which added a more sophisticated one and done transaction.

There will be more regular season showdowns in the next few weeks--Duke tangles with Carolina on Wednesday.

And in case you were wondering, Kentucky travels to Knoxville on March 2nd.

In terms of making the NCAA tournament field, there will be no changes. All the Top 20 teams are locked in place.

But with each upset, teams such as Kentucky and North Carolina will take their claims for No. 1 seeds.

It isn't March yet, but you can feel it coming.

***

As good a year in college basketball as it has been in the ACC and SEC and to a lesser degree the Big Ten and Big 12, it has been a bust in the Pac-12.

If first place Washington wins the Pac-12 tournament, the conference deserves only 1 bid.

But the worst region of the country is New England. Aside from Vermont in the America East, only Harvard (Ivy) and Northeastern in the Colonial Athletic Association look like contenders, and both of those teams must pull off some upsets.

Normally NCAA tournament regulars such as UConn, URI and Providence are more NIT caliber.

And then there is Boston College. The Eagles have put together a 2-game winning streak in the ACC, but those wins came in home games against 12-14 Wake Forest and 11-14 Miami, who are behind the Eagles in the ACC standings.

The Eagles made a break through last season by posting a 19-16 record which got them an NIT bid. With a 13-11 record, they are again sniffing the post season, but they have a pair of games against North Carolina State, road game at Georgia Tech and Clemson and home games against Louisville and North Carolina remaining on their schedule, which might be too tough of a hurdle for the Eagles to clear to stay above .500, which would mean winning a pair of games in the ACC tournament.

If that doesn't happen, BC athletic director Martin Jarmond will have to make a call on whether to keep Eagle coach Jim Christian for a sixth season.

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