Dick Vitale says the NCAA Tournament selection committee did Kentucky “no favor” by setting the Wildcats up to possibly have to face defending national champion Connecticut in the second round.
Kentucky will play Western Kentucky on Thursday, and Connecticut will face Iowa State.
If both win, they would play Saturday in Louisville in the South Region third round in a rematch of last year’s Final Four game won by the Huskies.
“When I look at that second game if they play Connecticut, let me tell you that is going to be a war,” the ESPN college basketball analyst said Tuesday. “Connecticut can salvage their season if they beat Kentucky. They were underachievers all year. They have two lottery selections in Drummond and Lamb. They have kids who have been to the NCAA championship game. The committee did Kentucky no favors making them the No. 1 overall seed. They said here is the toughest region, prove you are No. 1.”
Vitale says he’s not one to automatically think Sunday’s loss to Vanderbilt is what Kentucky needed because teams that win conference tournaments talk about the momentum winning a tournament gives them.
“But I do think John (Calipari) will get their attention. I do not care who you are. You are a human being. When you are winning and dominating and winning consistently and reading about how you are the team to beat and how you are the best team, after a while you think you are just going to roll through this,” Vitale said. “They got their wake-up call. Nobody wants to lose. I don’t buy that (good loss). Bottom line is John will get their attention and Cal is a master at taking a little situation and utilizing it in a positive way.
“But the loss to Vanderbilt was no fluke. Vandy had played them really tough every game. Vandy finally lived up to what it was projected to be. I had Vandy sixth in my national preseason poll. I was not shocked with that loss.”
However, Vitale also still believes Kentucky is the nation’s best team and that freshman Anthony Davis is the nation’s best player.
“Anthony Davis is my player of the year. I will take back what I said on TV that he might go four-for-four (player of year, freshman of year, defensive player of year, No. 1 overall draft pick),” Vitale said. “I am going to add he could be player of the year in the tournament’s Final Four. This kid is special. His wingspan and what he does emotionally and psychologically to other teams. You have got to get him in foul trouble and not many teams have done that.”
However, one writer on Tuesday’s national conference call with Vitale did irritate him — something that is not easy to do — by asking him about the way Calipari and Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim have “choked” in recent tournaments. The writer noted that Syracuse has just been past the Sweet Sixteen once in the last 15 years and that Calipari’s last three teams have lost to Missouri, West Virginia and Connecticut when his teams were favored in all three games.
“You used the word choked. How many guys would like to choke and have the numbers those people have,” Vitale said. “It is easy to bang out a blog and bury people and search for the negative. I look for the positive. When I sit here and have to defend Boeheim’s and Calipari’s numbers, come on. What you are saying is that unless you win the national title, you are a failure. That’s absurd. These guys are incredible achievers.
“Calipari has had five 30-win seasons in a row. Undefeated in conference play. But the perception is that unless you win the national title you are a failure and that’s sad. If this was the NBA right now,¿Kentucky automatically wins the national title. Nobody beats them four out of seven (games). But the beauty of this is one bad night and the party is over. Calipari has been to the Final Four several times. Last year they lose because they go 4-for-12 at the foul line (against UConn). If they win that game, they probably win the national title.”
Yet Vitale knows the perception of Calipari is out there because he got a reminder at breakfast Tuesday.
“There is a premise that exists in our business. Everybody is only about the last guy who stands (wins),” Vitale said. “A guy told me today at breakfast that if Calipari is a failure if they don’t win the national title. That is a joke. They build statues normally for coaches who that have those kind of numbers.”
Vitale did acknowledge that Kentucky’s youth could be a problem as it was in a 2010 NCAA loss to West Virginia or last year when the Cats missed free throws against UConn. However, he doesn’t think that is as big a problem as some perceive.
“Kids play so much basketball. You are talking John Wall and that gang (in 2010). They had a bad shooting night. That happens,” Vitale said. “Will youth play a vital role in creating problems? I don’t see that as a major problem. I see if they get beat it will be because the other club was better on that night like West Virginia was just better than Kentucky on that night. But Kentucky is special this year.”