College Basketball Nation: Kentucky

UConn, UK meet in unlikely title game

April, 6, 2014

For the first time ever, a 7-seed and 8-seed will meet in the national championship. It’s the highest combined seed total in a title game.

The Connecticut Huskies are the first 7-seed ever to reach the national championship.

The Kentucky Wildcats are the third 8-seed since the tournament expanded in 1985 to reach the title game (2011 Butler, 1985 Villanova).

Villanova is the only 7-seed or lower to win the national championship.

UConn defeated the Florida Gators to reach its fourth national championship, all since 1999.

UConn was led by DeAndre Daniels, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds. He’s the first player with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in a national semifinal win since Syracuse’s Carmelo Anthony in 2003.

The loss was Florida’s second against UConn this season. The Gators are 0-2 against UConn and 36-1 against everyone else.

UConn is now 7-1 in Final Four games, the best win percentage for any team with at least three games in the Final Four.

Only one of UConn’s 14 made field goals in the second half came outside the paint.

Florida was outscored 9-0 in transition in the second half. The Gators didn’t have a single transition opportunity in the second half.

Florida had just three assists, the fewest by any team in a Final Four game since assists became official in 1983-84.

Scottie Wilbekin struggled when he was guarded by UConn’s starting backcourt. He was 0-for-5 on field goals when guarded by Ryan Boatright and turned it over on three of four plays when guarded by Shabazz Napier.

The Huskies were at their best with Terrence Samuel on the court. In 18 minutes with Samuel on the court, they outscored Florida by 15 points and had 11 more points than they had in 22 minutes with Samuel on the bench.

Kevin Ollie is the first coach to reach the national championship within his first two seasons as a Division I head coach since Indiana’s Mike Davis in 2002.

Kentucky defeated Wisconsin to reach its 12th national championship, tied with UCLA for the most all time (not including UCLA’s vacated appearance in 1980).

Kentucky freshman Aaron Harrison made a game-winning 3-pointer with 5.7 seconds left, his third game-winning shot in the final minute in this NCAA tournament.

Aaron Harrison is 3-for-3 on game-tying and go-ahead 3-pointers in the final minute in the NCAA tournament after having zero such attempts in the regular season.

The Wildcats had 66 points from their freshmen, the most by a team’s freshmen in a Final Four game (Michigan had 61 in 1992).

John Calipari is now 18-2 in the NCAA tournament as Kentucky head coach.
Analysts and Vegas oddsmakers may be giving an edge to Kentucky in its Final Four matchup with Louisville on Saturday, but off the court the Cardinals may walk away as the big winner, regardless of the score.

It’s quite likely Louisville will end up as the more successful program once dollars are counted. It’s happened before: Louisville’s net revenue from men’s basketball was higher than any other program in the country last year. At $27.5 million, it dwarfed Kentucky’s $6.5 million, according to NCAA data.

It would be easy to conclude that Louisville’s inaugural season in the KFC Yum! Center propelled the program to its revenue highs. But in Louisville’s last year at Freedom Hall, it still made $11.6 million more than Kentucky.

[+] EnlargeKFC Yum! Center
Mark Zerof/US PresswireThe KFC Yum! Center in Louisvile, Ky., seats 22,000 people.
What about the fact that Louisville sells alcohol at basketball games? The athletic department receives only 50 percent of concession revenue at KFC Yum! Center, which netted out to $421,000 last season.

The biggest difference between the schools comes in a category the NCAA calls “contributions,” which include donations to the athletic department, the majority of which come from the minimum donations people must make to be eligible for suites and other premium seating.

Louisville received more than $20.2 million in basketball-related contributions last year. Kentucky, which did not allocate by sport, received a total of $14.6 million for all sports combined.

In Freedom Hall, Louisville basketball’s previous home, it made $1.6 million on suite rentals and $10.8 million in ticket-related contributions. In its new arena, those numbers skyrocketed to $5.7 million and $17.2 million, respectively, last year.

How much is Kentucky making in suite rentals and ticket-related contributions? Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Rupp Arena doesn’t have a single suite for the University of Kentucky to sell.

While not uncommon (it’s the same at Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Texas A&M, for example), Kentucky is missing out on big money. Tennessee’s suites, added in 2008, each run $35,000 to $50,000 annually. At South Carolina, suites bring in $42,000 each.

Kentucky might not be missing out for much longer, though. The Arena, Arts and Entertainment District Task Force in Lexington has studied renovating Rupp Arena or building a new facility. One key component of the renovation plans would be suites for Rupp Arena. The demand would seemingly be there. During Rupp Arena’s 34-year tenure, Kentucky has led the nation 22 times in home basketball attendance.

The Wildcats’ contract with Rupp Arena expires in 2018, the same year the current renovations would be completed. But the renovations are not fully funded, and it might be two years before they could begin.

University of Kentucky president Eli Capilouto has not supported either a new arena or the renovation of Rupp, noting the campus has other priorities that may need state funding.

Heslip's treys send Baylor to Sweet 16

March, 18, 2012

ESPN Stats & InformationBaylor guard Brady Heslip made nine 3-pointers en route to 27 points in leading the Bears to an 80-63 win over Colorado.

In the Baylor Bears’ Big 12 semifinals victory over Kansas on March 9, Brady Heslip made four of seven 3-pointers to help put his team over the top.

That was just a prelude to Saturday’s performance, when Heslip exploded for nine 3-pointers and helped push his Bears to the Sweet 16 for the second time in the last three seasons.

From the start of the Kansas game through Saturday's victory over Colorado, the sophomore is shooting a scorching 61 percent (22-for-36) from beyond arc.

All of Heslip's 27 points came via the 3-point shot, as he did not attempt a free throw and missed his only 2-point field-goal attempt.

Here’s a snapshot look at the other early-evening statistical highights in the Men’s Basketball Championship.

South Region
(1) Kentucky 87, (8) Iowa State 71

Kentucky scored its most points since scoring 87 against Loyola (Md.) on Dec. 22. The Wildcats join Ohio State as the two teams (so far) who have made the Sweet 16 in each of the last three seasons.

Kentucky shot 55 percent from the field, something it has done in both Men’s Basketball Championship games so far. The last time the Wildcats shot 55 percent or better twice in the same tournament was in 1998, when they won the national championship.

(4) Indiana 63, (12) VCU 61
The Hoosiers advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2002, when they lost in the National Championship game. Indiana is now 15-0 against non-conference teams this season.

Indiana had 22 turnovers, its second-most in a Men's Basketball Championship game in school history. The most for the Hoosiers was 23 in 2002 against Duke, a game that Indiana also won.

But the Hoosiers clamped down on the Rams in the final 12:19, forcing more turnovers (5) than they allowed points (4). VCU shot 2-for-15 from the field to close the game (all in half-court sets), 0-for-8 from 3-point range, and 0-for-2 on free throws.

VCU attempted 30 3-pointers (and made 9), its most in a game since 2006.

West Region
(3) Marquette 62, (6) Murray State 53

Marquette held Murray State to 31.3 percent shooting from the field. That's the lowest shooting percentage by a Marquette opponent in a Men's Basketball Championship game since Arkansas shot 31.2 percent to beat Marquette in the 2nd round of the 1995-96 tournament.

Those are the two lowest opponents’ field goal percentages by a Marquette opponent, covering all but its first tournament appearance in 1955 (for which the box score does not list team field goal percentages).

East Region
(4) Wisconsin 60, (5) Vanderbilt 57
It's the first time in school history that Wisconsin has made consecutive trips to the Sweet 16.

Vanderbilt shot only 26 percent from 3-point range, its fourth-worst shooting percentage from long-distance in a game this season and its second-worst shooting on 3-pointers in an NCAA tournament game.
This is no secret, of course. College basketball coaches make tons of cash. Any time someone argues against these sorts of multi-year, multi-million dollar salaries, coaches respond much like Jim Calhoun did in the UConn coach's famous outburst at an activist reporter in 2009 -- angrily and with justification.

The argument goes like this: Yeah, sure, I make a lot of money. But thanks to all the money I make for my school's athletics and academics budgets, I'm worth it. Now leave me alone. My wife is putting in a second guest house, and I need to shop for bathroom tile. (OK, so that last part may or may not be part of the argument.)

Fair enough. Big-time college hoops coaches do make lots of money for their schools. The claim is worth examining in more detail, though, which Forbes helpfully did yesterday. The conclusion? Even proportional to the revenue they generated, college coaches make way too much cheddar:

By any normal business metric, the top-paid college basketball coaches in the NCAA are the most overpaid leaders in the U.S. Take Kentucky's John Calipari, No. 1 on our pay list. He parlayed a run at the national title with the University of Memphis Wildcats into an eight-year, $32 million deal. It's good money, sure, but it wouldn't be out of place on the trading floor of any top-tier Wall Street firm or in the executive suite of hundreds of multinational businesses.

But measured against the revenue Calipari generates, his take-home looks outsized. Calipari (who left his two prior college programs--Massachusetts and Memphis--in hot water with the NCAA for alleged violations) pulls down 10% or so of the $35 million to $40 million that his program generates for the university (the entire athletic department generates $72 million a year, the school says). The corporate equivalent for Calipari's pay package would be Microsoft ( MSFT - news - people ) handing Steve Ballmer $6 billion a year. The average NBA coach, who works twice as many games as his college counterpart, makes $4 million a year, about 3.5% of an average club's revenue.

In other words, college coaches are paid a huge percentage of the revenue they generate for their schools, much more than your average bigwig CEO, and much more than their counterparts in the NBA. Not a bad gig, right?

It's worth noting here that much of this money comes in the form of sponsorships and endorsement deals which the school can then guarantee, and also that it's hard to estimate the revenue from an NCAA tournament appearance, each of which usually spurs hundreds of thousands of dollars in alumni donations that don't factor into these percentage calculations. It's also probably worth noting that for every Pitino or Billy Donovan there are hundreds of assistant coaches and small schools who don't pay their coaches nearly this much. Coaching is very much a feast-or-famine proposition.

Still, though, when college coaches feast, they feast. They feast much more than the players they recruit, who, it can be argued, are the reason college athletics are so exciting and profitable in the first place. Those players receive little more than a scholarship and room and board. Those are nice perks but measured against the millions their mentors make, a scholarship must seem like chump change. That's because it is.
DeMarcus Cousins, John WallFrank Victores/US PresswireWhether it's DeMarcus Cousins or John Wall, you can't go wrong in picking the top freshman.
Arguing between John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins is, to use a lame cliché, like splitting hairs. They're both awesome players deserving of the highest honors college basketball has to bestow. But hey, somebody has to force those split ends. I'll volunteer.

The Kentucky duo was both rightfully included in The Sporting News' all-freshman team, joined by Kansas' Xavier Henry, Georgia Tech's disappointing-but-promising Derrick Favors and Arizona's quietly stellar Derrick Williams. Wall and Cousins are the two slam dunks on the list, and the much-hyped Wall has lived up to his billing. He's been a player of the year candidate from the minute he stepped inside the Lexington, Ky., city limits. As such, Sporting News gave Wall its freshman of the year award.

At first glance, this seems correct. Wall is Evan Turner's only realistic competition for the player of the year award; of course he deserves the freshman honors, right? Not so much, actually. Wall has received the benefit of his much ballyhooed existence and Cousins has not. This is despite Cousins' undeniable case -- he's the more efficient, productive and important Kentucky Wildcat. Yes, you read that right. Cousins, and not Wall, deserves the freshman of the year award.

A look down the efficiency stats reveals why: Cousins has an offensive rating of 116.3. Wall's is 107.3. Cousins uses 33 percent of the Wildcats possessions, the eighth-highest ratio in the country, to Wall's 27.1. (Which is still pretty darn high, by the way.) Cousins is arguably the best rebounder in the country, grabbing the second highest number of offensive rebounds per possession in the nation, and cleaning up 26.1 percent of opponents' misses. He also draws an insane amount of fouls -- the eighth-highest in the country here, too -- while shooting around 65 percent from the free throw line. In less mathy terms, Cousins has averaged a double-double in far fewer minutes than his counterpart. If anything, that's the one knock on Cousins' case -- had he been able to (or allowed to) play more minutes, his contributions would have been even greater. That's a scary thought.

Even when you factor in the inevitable argument about intangibles -- Wall is the undisputed leader of his team, has made plenty of big-time shots and has mastered the art of collegiate point play almost immediately; Cousins, on the other hand, is known as a hothead -- DeMarcus is still the choice here. He's just that good.

Again, this is like splitting hairs; it's not a miscarriage of justice. Wall is an amazing player, one of the best freshman to come through the college game since Kevin Durant. It's just that another of those players, though considerably less famous, happens to be in the game this season, too. It doesn't mean John Wall isn't good. Quite the contrary. It just means that DeMarcus Cousins is better.

The end result of all this? Kentucky just so happens to be one of the best teams in the country, despite being one of the youngest. To use another lame cliché, look up "embarrassment of riches" in the dictionary. If Rupp Arena's picture isn't there, it should be.
In many ways, today is the real start of March Madness, though you could just as easily say that about last week, when the conference tournaments really began. But since we have, count 'em, eight conference championships on the line tonight, and since this week marks the beginning of all the power conference tournaments, today rather feels like the start of what will be four consecutive awesome weeks of win-or-go-home hoops. Let's go to the tape:

  • Ken Pomeroy breaks down this week's most voluminous, and usually most exciting, conference tournament (who's up for another six-overtime thriller, because I am): the Big East. Can Syracuse rebound from its loss to the Cardinals? It might not matter, as Louisville is safely in the opposite side of the bracket. Meanwhile, West Virginia will look to upset the established order, and Villanova will try to overcome its defensive issues -- which actually didn't show up in its overtime loss to the Mountaineers Saturday -- and re-boost its once lofty projected tournament seed in the process.
  • ESPN Insider's LaRue Cook breaks down the historic chances of mid-major at-large bids, finding that conference tournament wins can be both a blessing and a curse for mid-majors on the bubble: "A handful of mid-major teams will receive consideration for at-large bids after strong work during the regular season, particularly given the under-performance of some of their major-conference brethren down the stretch. For those mids -- Saint Mary's, Old Dominion, Wichita State and Siena among them -- a conference crown isn't a must. Instead, our data shows that a single conference tournament win may do the trick. One win doesn't seem substantial, but last season four mid-majors received at-large bids and all of them had one conference tournament win on their resume. In fact, 33 mid-majors have earned an at-large bid in the past five NCAA tournaments, and just seven have not had at least one win in their conference tournament."
  • The New York Times' Thayer Evans has a quick rundown of what's at stake in all of the major conference tournaments. In short, a lot.
  • As expected, The Mid Majority is all over the mid-major conference tourney beat.
  • CAA Hoops tries to summarize the insanity in Saturday's quarterfinals round of the CAA tournament and finds words insufficient to do the tournament justice.
  • Searching For Billy Edelin has a handy little Microsoft Paint-drawn visual bubble aid. Who doesn't love Microsoft Paint? Back before the Internet was awesome, Microsoft Paint, Candystand mini-golf and Solitaire were the best ways to waste time in your high school's computer classes.
  • With the regular season finished, John Gasaway drops his final Tuesday Truths of the season. Maryland is still under-seeded according to their efficiency margin despite last week's big win over Duke, Notre Dame has added defense to its conference-leading offensive efficiency, Wisconsin is first -- yes, first -- in the Big Ten, and the order of the top four teams in the Mountain West might surprise you.
  • Casual Hoya hands out a few post-Oscar awards for its win over Lance Stephenson and Cincinnati on Sunday, which was, according to Hoya, "just the kind of medicine" Georgetown needed before the start of postseason play.
  • The Michigan State fans at The Only Colors relish a season-ending win over Michigan. Taking one look at the Spartans' offensive rebounding against the Wolverines is all you need to know; if Michigan State keeps that sort of obsessive second-chancing (not at all a verb, but let's go with it) going in the Big Ten tournament, it could separate itself from Wisconsin, Ohio State and Purdue just in time for the NCAAs.
  • IU coach Tom Crean fired assistant Roshown McLeod, who will not coach in the Big Ten tournament. IU is 1-0 this season without McLeod on the bench; the Hoosiers won their first game post-firing, a nearly blown home win over Northwestern Saturday. So maybe that bodes well for the Big Ten tournament? OK, probably not.
  • Kentucky fans might not like this column from CBS' Gregg Doyel, which parrots John Calipari's own consistent criticisms of the Cats: "Calipari looks tired. He sounds drained. And he looks and sounds this way on a Sunday afternoon when his team has just beaten Florida 74-66 to win the SEC regular-season title by two full games. He looks and sounds this way because he knows the heavy lifting is still to come, and because he has a team that is talented enough to lift as much weight as any team in college basketball -- but a team that is young enough, and dumb enough, to drop the weight on its own foot."
  • Basketball fans of the semi-nerdy persuasion were no doubt aware of MIT's Sloan sports conference, a collection of some of the best basketball-related statistical and business minds in the world. The conference is of primary interest to NBA fans, sure, but there is plenty of interesting stuff that spans into college hoops, too. Kevin Pelton has a recap, and our blog brothers at True Hoop were all over the gathering from start to finish.
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Here's my latest attempt at video blogging, a hopefully shorter and less blabby version. Thanks to everyone who sent questions on Twitter, especially @MizzouHoops, @torymaynard, @WillBrinson and @RyanCorazza. And thanks to you for watching, for not making fun of my large cranium, and for leaving the feedback you are totally going to leave in the comments section right now. To have questions answered in future Twitter mailbags, hit me up here.
ATHENS, Ga. – John Wall might be a couple of weeks away from playing in his first NCAA tournament, but he knows the difference in playing the kind of defense suited for a deep run in March and the kind that’s tailor-made for an early exit.

And what scares Wall the most is turning the defense off and on, similar to the way No. 3-ranked Kentucky did Wednesday night in its 80-68 beatdown of Georgia at Stegeman Coliseum.

[+] EnlargeJohn Wall
AP Photo/Tricia Spaulding John Wall had 24 points, six assists and three steals against Georgia.
“That’s a game when you go home,” said Wall, his eyebrows raised. “It doesn’t matter what team you’re playing. You might be playing an 8 seed and they might be on fire and you’re not playing defense.

“That’s when you go home.”

The truth is that the Wildcats played enough smothering defense when it counted Wednesday to never really be in danger after halftime.

From the 1:31 mark of the first half until the 16:15 mark of the second half, Georgia was held without a field goal.

Meanwhile, the Wildcats (28-2, 13-2) were reeling off a 12-0 run to open the second half, and it was all the Bulldogs could do to get off a shot.

But here’s the rub: There are no second chances later this month if you play defense in spurts and it ends up burning you for that one game.

“If we start playing defense like that for 40 minutes, we’re going to be scary,” said Wall, who had perhaps his best all-around game of the season with 24 points on 8-of-10 shooting to go along with six assists and three steals.

The Wildcats also had a season-high 14 blocked shots. Freshman DeMarcus Cousins swatted away six of those.

But in the first half, when Kentucky's defense blew hot and cold, he played just eight minutes after picking up two early fouls.

“In the first half, he got beat on every ball and didn’t rebound and got two fouls and had to come out,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “In the second half, he played like the beast he is.”

The 6-11, 270-pound Cousins even showed off his guard skills a couple of times in the second half, leading the break.

“I told him, ‘You go get every ball and score in the post and do what you’re doing and block shots, I’ll let you do one or two of those a game,’ ” Calipari quipped. “We’ll be up 15 or 18, and it won’t matter.”

In winning, the Wildcats clinched at least a share of their 44th SEC championship, but there wasn’t a lot of talk about that afterward.

Clearly, this team has loftier goals, and it’s equally clear that this will be this group’s only chance together to win an NCAA championship.

Calipari acknowledged that Sunday’s game against Florida at Rupp Arena could turn into “Senior Day” for a lot of his players. Wall and Cousins are both almost certainly gone, while junior Patrick Patterson and freshman Eric Bledsoe could also be playing their farewell games at Rupp.

“Each situation is different, but I’ll sit down and be honest with every one of them,” Calipari said. “In most cases, you know what I’m going to say, because I’ve done it my whole career and then we’ll go back and better sign four or five more guys. Hopefully, they’re as good as the group we just brought in. And then after that, we’ll try to bring in four or five more.

“It’s a different day and age. You don’t have guys for three and four years.”

Wall did his best to deflect any talk about the likelihood that he will be playing his final game in Rupp Arena on Sunday.

But the more he talked, the more it sounded like this would be his one and only chance at an NCAA championship ring.

“College is a great experience, to have a chance to play with a great coaching staff,” Wall said. “And playing at Kentucky makes you want to come back. The team that we have … it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to have a team with this talent and have a chance to do something great.

“I’m just enjoying it while it lasts and will make a decision after the season is over.”

After shooting just 16 percent from 3-point range in its last four games, Kentucky was 8-of-24 (33.3 percent) against Georgia. Darnell Dodson came off the bench to hit three 3-pointers. He was 2 of his previous 21 from 3-point range prior to Wednesday’s game.

Calipari, who earlier refused to call it a slump, took the blame for his team’s shooting woes.

“About two weeks ago, I backed off in practice. I didn’t want to get anybody hurt,” Calipari said. “We lost a little bit of our edge.

"The shooting stuff we do, a lot of it ended up being tiptoe shooting.”

And it carried over into the games.

“If you’re tiptoe shooting, you’re not really getting into your shot,” Wall explained.

Of course, nobody ever accused Wall of being a pure shooter. He laughs about that characterization and says he’d rather be known as a money shooter.

“I’ve been hearing that, but I can make shots when it’s time to make shots,” Wall said. “I might not make them the whole game, and I might not be the best shooter there is in the country.

“But I can make shots when it’s time to make shots.”

Likewise, the Wildcats can play defense when it’s time to play defense.

The tricky part is playing that kind of ‘D’ for the entire game, a prerequisite if the Wildcats are going to make good on their march through March.

“We’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing … and don’t stop,” Wall said.

Final: Kentucky 80, Georgia 68

March, 3, 2010
ATHENS, Ga. – There might have been a hangover for a while, but it didn’t last long.

Still smarting from its loss at Tennessee last weekend, No. 3-ranked Kentucky toyed with Georgia for much of the first half Wednesday night in Stegeman Coliseum.

But when the second half began, the Wildcats were a Big Blue blur on their way to a 12-0 run that took the crowd out of the game and sent John Calipari’s club to an 80-68 victory.

Kentucky (28-2, 13-2) clinched at least a share of its 44th SEC championship and also locked up the Eastern Division’s No. 1 seed in next week’s SEC tournament.

After leading 40-36 at the half, Kentucky turned on the jets and raced out to a 52-36 lead. It was all the Bulldogs (13-15, 5-10) could do during that stretch to get off a pass, let alone a shot.

The bench came up big for Kentucky after producing just five points in the 74-65 loss to Tennessee. Darnell Dodson led the way with 11 points and was 3-of-6 from 3-point range.

Freshman point guard John Wall was more than the Bulldogs could handle. He finished with 24 points on 8-of-10 shooting and also had six assists and three steals in 37 minutes.

Kentucky closes half with a flurry

March, 3, 2010
ATHENS, Ga. -- We're used to seeing Kentucky go on knockout-sized runs, and usually it's freshman point guard John Wall leading the way.

But the Wildcats surged into halftime Wednesday with a 40-36 lead over Georgia in Stegeman Coliseum thanks in large part to a guy who couldn't throw one in the Pacific Ocean coming into the game.

Sophomore Darnell Dodson tossed in a pair of 3-pointers just when it looked like Georgia might go on a run of its own, and Kentucky turned a six-point deficit into a four-point lead at the half.

Dodson was 0-of-11 from the field in his four previous outings. He'd made just 2 of his past 21 3-point attempts before heating up against the Bulldogs.

Dodson's eight first-half points helped make up for freshman big man DeMarcus Cousins being on the bench for most of the first 30 minutes with foul trouble. Cousins played just eight minutes and was scoreless after picking up two early fouls.

Georgia is one of the few teams in the SEC that has the inside muscle to match up with Kentucky in the paint. The Bulldogs outrebounded the Wildcats 21-17 in the first half.

But when the Wildcats wanted to speed up the game, they turned to Wall, who had several baseline-t0-baseline streaks on his way to 10 first-half points and three assists.
Jacob Pullen & Sherron CollinsIcon SMIJacob Pullen and Sherron Collins figure to play prominent roles in Wednesday night's showdown.
Saddle Up is our daily preview of the hoops your TV wants you to watch. The big nights are coming faster and more furious than at any point during the season -- I've barely recovered from Saturday -- and Wednesday night is no exception. Here's the rundown.

No. 5 Kansas State at No. 2 Kansas, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN360: This one doesn't need much by way of explanation. The in-state rivalry. The Big 12 title implications. The seeding possibilities. The two-point Kansas win at Bramlage on Jan. 30. A freaky Frank Martin. Sherron Collins' senior night. The packed Allen Fieldhouse crowd.

Yeah, It's safe to say this is going to be a big game. A very, very big game.

Martin's team can secure a shot -- an outside shot, but a shot -- at a share of the Big 12 title if it wins tonight, but that's probably less of a concern for K-State than A) Beating its hated, abusive basketball big brother on the brother's own floor in Collins' last home game and B) Making a case for a No. 1 NCAA tournament seed. A win would without question put Martin's team on the selection committee's top line. First, though, the Wildcats have to figure out a way to do what they do best -- get to the free throw line -- while preventing the Jayhawks from doing the same. Kansas State is one of the best teams in the country at getting to the line. This is the sort of offensive attribute (alongside great outside shooting from Jacob Pullen) that gives the Wildcats hope against anyone, including a Kansas defense designed to keep opponents out of the lane. In the first meeting, Kansas won the battle of the freebies. The Wildcats can't let that happen again.

Oh, and as you've probably noticed, no, tonight's game isn't being televised. It stinks, I know. But look at the bright side: You get to test out ESPN360. It's actually pretty awesome, so don't knock it until you try it. And no, I'm not just saying that because I work here. Promise. Though I would totally say that anyway. I'm completely shameless. Which brings me to my next point: If you can't watch the game, come here for our live chat from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. I'll be here, as will a bunch of your favorite college hoops heads, answering questions and live-blogging throughout the evening. Don't miss it.

No. 4 Duke at No. 23 Maryland, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: Speaking of big games, well, ahem. This qualifies. It would mean as much in College Park even if the Terrapins didn't have so much riding on the game, for there is little hatred in the country -- in college basketball or elsewhere -- quite like the purely distilled brand Maryland fans brew for all things Duke. And anytime Greivis Vasquez gets this sort of spotlight, you can expect sparks to fly. It's going to be rowdy.

There are more than taunts on the line here, though. With a win, Gary Williams' team could pull even with Duke at 12-3 in the ACC with one game each left to play. It won't be easy. After occasional stumbles, most of them on the road, Duke has quietly morphed into the most efficient offense in the country, and the Devils are finally starting to play the sort of defense that anchored them in last year's campaign. After a 1-4 start on the road, Duke has won its last four away from Cameron. Maryland's is no easy task. But the Terps have been underrated all year, though, and tonight is the perfect opportunity to showcase -- to the tournament committee, especially -- just how far perception lags behind reality.

Everywhere else: While you're futzing around with your laptop -- and totally chatting with us, remember! -- Connecticut and Notre Dame will be slugging it out on ESPN for a spot in the NCAA tournament. Neither team is guaranteed a berth, but both teams can nary afford a loss, and both teams would surely benefit from the win. ... Kentucky will face a test at Georgia, where the pesky Bulldogs have taken down Vanderbilt, Florida, Georgia Tech and Illinois this season. ... Indiana travels to No. 6 Purdue, which should be a nice break from the post-Robbie Hummel meat-grinder Purdue is facing these days. ... Memphis and UAB will duel for bubble considerations. ... Oklahoma State at Texas A&M is an interesting battle between two tourney-worthy Big 12 squads. ... A-10 leader Temple will visit a St. Louis team that has streaked into the tourney-sphere in the last half of the season. ... The fading Demon Deacons have another battle on their hands at Florida State tonight. ... and lowly Fordham, the last team in Division I without a conference win to its name, will try to get that first win over Xavier tonight.
But maybe he should be.

After the Tennessee Volunteers upset No. 2 Kentucky Saturday, the common consensus was that Bruce Pearl had hit on an effective way to slow the Wildcats down. The game plan is simple: Walk the ball up the floor, take good shots where possible (thanks to Wayne Chism's desire to fire the ball at the rim-shaped apparatus so indiscriminately, this part of the plan wasn't on point), get back on defense to prevent transition, and sink into a saggy, help-heavy zone in the half court. Though it's not nearly as bad as some of Calipari's former Memphis teams, this year's Kentucky team only shoots 34.1 percent from three; much of its offense comes from penetration and the offensive rebounding of DeMarcus Cousins.

In other words, according to the parameters of standard basketball strategy, Pearl's strategy makes sense. A zone is the play. And the Vols have the win to show for it.

This may not surprise you, but John Calipari does not agree:

"It's funny, because everybody has the 'This is how you play them.' Yeah, you hold your nose and close your eyes and hope we can't make any shots. Yeah, that's a good way to play. If we make shots -- if we go 5-for-22, which stinks -- we win going away."

This is a fair point, I guess. But part of the reason Kentucky shot 2-of-22 -- which is unusually bad, obviously -- is because they're not a great three-point shooting team. Let's clarify. Kentucky is a great team. But like any of this year's great teams, they have slight blemishes, areas in which they're not as impressive as others. When you play great teams, you have to force them to rely on skills at which they are merely good. Or in the case of Kentucky's three-pointing shooting, average. For better or worse, this is what a zone does. Whether those shots are falling or not is beside the point; the idea is merely to make Kentucky shoot. Which Tennesseee did.

That's what Tennessee did to Kentucky, both in Saturday's win and in Tennessee's tight performance at Rupp Arena on Feb. 13. And it's what other teams will do to UK, too. Fortunately for the Cats, their defensive efficiency is approaching typically high John Calipari-at-Memphis levels, meaning they're built to survive off-nights from behind the arc. But if the Wildcats are forced to rely on their three-point shooting -- if they let tournament teams push them away from the penetrating, dominating inside game that's made them so effective -- they'll have similar struggles in March. Calipari should worry about that.
That's right: Kentucky coach John Calipari got his face on a special-edition bottle of bourbon. In the Commonwealth, it doesn't get any more prestigious than that.

According to Brett Dawson of the Louisville Courier-Journal, the immediately successful Kentucky coach will be the face of a royal blue version of Maker's Mark's classic wax bottle cover. The limited run of 24,000 bottles will be available throughout Kentucky starting April 2. The estimated price is $49. That strikes me as a lot of money for a bottle of regular old Maker's Mark, but for a crazed UK fan base obsessed with all things Calipari -- rightfully so, given the speed of Kentucky's post-Billy Gillispie turnaround -- let's just say I doubt the price will prove too prohibitive.

The only question: Do you pop that bottle? Do you savor the flavors and hope the brown liquid provides some positive bluegrass karma for Calipari's offseason recruiting efforts? (As if he needs it.) Or do you let it sit on your bar, next to the rest of the special bottles you've paid too much money for in the past, a reminder of a season that exceeded every Kentucky fan's already-high expectations? The path is yours, blue-clad bourbon drinker. Choose wisely.
March is an awesome month. The weather in my adopted town has a lot to do with this; in many ways, March 1 is a huge mental marker for the imminent return of days when you don't have to encase your body in 30 pounds of Gore-Tex just to step outside the house. But forget the weather: March is really awesome for the basketball it promises -- the final week of conference play, the 31 conference tourneys, and the rapturous glory that is the NCAA tournament. Welcome, one and all. The next 30 days are going to rule.

To celebrate, how about some links? OK then:
  • Hoyas fans are none too pleased with the effort Georgetown gave in Saturday's not-really-all-that-competitive loss to Notre Dame, a loss that will likely hurt Georgetown's seed and has put Notre Dame right back in the bubble conversation.
  • Georgetown's shame had a lot to do with the suddenly off-the-charts play of Ben Hansbrough, who, yes, is Tyler Hansbrough's brother and who, yes, heard plenty about being Tyler Hansbrough's brother throughout his first season for the Irish. Hansbrough doesn't have the sheer talent or raw strength of his older sibling, but on Saturday he displayed several of those vaunted Hansbrough-y qualities: basketball intelligence, will, and boundless energy. Oh, and it helps that he can stroke the outside shot; that's at least one thing Tyler never quite mastered.
  • If you were a Kansas fan, would you be upset about Saturday's loss at Oklahoma State? The Jayhawks are 27-2, after all, and the loss doesn't demonstrably effect Kansas' accomplishments this season -- they'll still be the Big 12 regular season champs and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Still, though, something more was lost on Saturday, as the Kansas City Star's Martin Manley wrote this weekend: "If you stop and think about it, this is one of the most disappointing regular season losses in KU’s 500 years of basketball. How can I make such a radical statement? Well, first of all I don’t care about a loss. For crying out loud, they are 27-2. But, here is what got flushed down the toilet Saturday. 1) They probably will not beat North Carolina to 2,000 wins. 2) They will not make 2,000 wins on March 6th, the last regular season game and on the road against their primary rival – Missouri. 3) They will not hit 30 wins on March 6th. 4) They will not be 16-0 in the conference. 5) They are no longer chasing the best beginning in KU history of 34-1. 6) They no longer have a chance at 39 wins – which would be an NCAA record. 7) They likely will not be #1 in the polls. 8) It was only the second game in the last 103 that a KU opponent has hit over 50% from the field and they were at 60.4%!..." OK, so none of these are reasons to freak out -- but for fans interested in historical markers and statistical quirks, the loss will still be disappointing.
  • For now, though, Rock Chalk Jayhawk is more concerned with honoring Sherron Collins, who will play his final game at Allen Fieldhouse when Kansas State comes to town on Wednesday.
  • Ballin' Is A Habit praises Tennessee's win over Kentucky Saturday, and asks the question: Just how good are the Volunteers? Here's my short answer: Good, not great, but with Bruce Pearl at the helm, the Vols will always be a dangerous tourney team. Fair?
  • Meanwhile, John Calipari claims that two of his players "sleepwalked" against Tennessee, though he wouldn't name names. The Lexington Herald-Leader's Jerry Tipton does a quick elimination process and comes up with Darnell Dodson and DeAndre Liggins -- and perhaps forward Patrick Patterson -- as the prime suspects of Cal's postgame scorn.
  • The Only Colors takes a long look at Durrell Summers' inconsistency, finding that Summers is actually pretty peerless on offense so long as he stays inside the three-point line. Defensively? That's a slightly less complimentary story.
  • As is the case every March, there's been plenty of discussion lately about the methods the selection committee uses to pick its field of 65; I could link all of these posts separately, but since Mike Miller went ahead and rounded them all up, head over and peruse accordingly.
  • Adam Zagoria asked former Pitt players whether they were surprised at the success of the star-less 2009-10 team. The answer is unlikely to surprise.
  • The New York Times' Pete Thamel remains on top of the Binghamton beat, where there is concern the school hasn't entirely shifted its focus from the win-at-all-costs attitude that got Kevin Broadus suspended and upended the team in the offseason. The key graph: "Even though the university president, Lois B. DeFleur, has announced she will retire in July; the athletic director, Joel Thirer, has resigned; and the men’s basketball coach, Kevin Broadus, has been placed on paid administrative leave, faculty members and administrators are concerned that those who carried out the orders in building a big-time basketball program remain. They worry that when the SUNY chancellor, Nancy L. Zimpher, makes recommendations to the board March 23, she will focus on Binghamton’s athletic problems, not its academic troubles."
  • Are officials overworked? They would tell you no. The reality seems otherwise.
  • The Big 5 title -- the yearly championship awarding the Philadelphia area's best team -- will go to Temple for the 26th time in 2009-10.
  • Finally, everyone's probably familiar with the basketball odyssey taken by Wes Johnson before he ended up at Syracuse, but this story from the Post-Standard lays out the recruiting pitch given to Johnson and his brother by assistant coach Rob Murphy: “I said ‘OK, if you guys want to waste time, go ahead, but I’m telling you in the next couple days, you’ll call me back and say I’m going to Syracuse,’” Murphy said, recalling the final conversation of the trip. “‘You’re not going to find any place like this. We’ve got everything you want. You want to be a professional. You’ll work hard and play against Paul Harris and all these guys next year in practice and then next year, you’ll probably start for us, we’ll have a good year and you’ll go pro. It’s just that simple.’" Not bad, right?