Monday, February 4, 2013
Blue-blooded bubble for UNC, Kentucky
By Robbi Pickeral
North Carolina coach Roy Williams says he doesn't start thinking about the NCAA tournament mix until after the regular season.
Kentucky coach John Calipari, too, prefers to focus on the here and now.
It's another thing the veterans have in common this season (whether or not they really are paying attention), as their blue-blooded teams find themselves inexplicably sliding all over the postseason bubble.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, you'd have to go back to 1974 to find the last NCAA tournament that didn't feature either Kentucky or UNC. Yet despite their recent victories -- each team has won five of their past six -- the programs find themselves in precarious positions: No. 10 seeds in Joe Lunardi's Bracketology, prior to their overtime victories on Saturday.
The reasons? Youth. Inconsistency. Defense.
UK (15-6, 6-2 SEC), the defending national champion, lost six players to the NBA draft after beating Kansas last April. Since then, Kentucky brought in ESPN.com's second-ranked recruiting class, began the season ranked No. 3 in The Associated Press poll -- and then slid all the way out of the ratings after falling to Duke early, then losing consecutive games to Notre Dame and Baylor in late November/early December.
UNC (15-6, 5-3 ACC), which arguably might have made it to the Final Four and perhaps played UK in the championship game last season if point guard Kendall Marshall had not fractured his wrist, lost four-fifths of its starting lineup to the draft's first round. With an eighth-ranked recruiting class and the return of would-have-been lottery pick James Michael McAdoo, it started the season at No. 11, rose to as high as ninth, and then fell out of the Top 25 mix before Christmas after an 18-point walloping at Texas.
Many other teams (and fan bases) might have expected rebuilding seasons, giving their programs a one-year pass.
But not the Wildcats, who after all won last year's title with a rookie-laden team; why couldn't they do it again?
And not the Tar Heels, who showed after winning the 2005 title that they were still capable of returning to the NCAA tournament despite losing six of their top seven scorers. Why couldn't they do it again?
"I think it is just the reality of it; the expectations are never going to be realistic," Williams said last week. "But sometimes, like last year, we were picked first, and what did I tell you? It didn't bother me, because I knew that was pretty close. This year, we were picked 11th, and I'm thinking, 'Wow, that's not the guys that I see.' But we've got a chance -- sort of like that [movie] 'Dumb and Dumber.' We've got a chance.
"I think it is part of the reality of it, that people aren't going to be realistic, which is OK. I'd much rather have unrealistic expectations than no interest."