Eamonn will be here at 1 p.m.CT/2 p.m. ET to take your questions live from Kentucky's open practice.
Hey everyone! I'm courtside in Reliant Arena, where a solid chunk of Big Blue Nation is in attendance to watch the Wildcats' open practice. It isn't quite the turnout we had last year for Butler, but given the distance, it's pretty impressive all the same.
Same goes for Reliant Arena, which, like Lucas Oil Stadium, is really hard to fathom in size until you stand at ground level inside it. It's ... insane.
Anyway, let's do some questions. No time for a marathon today, but let's take 60-90 minutes and get through as many Final Four- and college hoops-related queries as possible.
Who is more important for the success of UK, Jorts or Liggins?
Normally I'd argue that Jorts (aka Josh Harrellson) is the more important player, not only because he's UK's lone post anchor but because he's turned into such a solid contributor in a variety of ways on the offensive end. Plus, his dad's camo cap is the style MVP of the tournament. Against UConn, though, I think Liggins -- who will draw the task of slowing down Kemba Walker -- is the biggest key to Kentucky's defense and thus its chances of advancing to the final game.
Eamonn, do you anticipate that Howard and Skeen will be matched up on each other for most of the game? If so, this should be one of the best hot-player, dual-threat, inside-outside matchups I can remember in quite some time.
In the words of Lana from "Archer": Yuuuup. Both are fully capable of scoring around the rim or out to 21 feet, both force matchup problems for opposing teams, and both are playing some of their best basketball of the season right now.
Is Uk's lineup next year teague,knight,gilchrist, wiltjer, davis? with lamb, liggins, and miller off the bench? if so is there any doubt they're winning it all?
Let's get through this season first, but for one thing, it's pretty safe to say that Brandon Knight will probably not be back next season. It's possible, but very unlikely. His stock has only gone up in recent weeks, and ti's hard to see how another season fighting for touches with that crazy-good recruiting class will help him in that regard. I'm not sure all of those pieces fit in that starting lineup -- do you really want to start that young of a frontcourt when you have guys like Miller and Liggins ready to play from day one? -- but either way, yeah, that teams is going to be sick.
Who does Mizzou target now that Painter re-upped with Purdue?
I think Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall will be in the mix. I think Missouri will probably make a run at Shaka Smart, too.
Everyone keeps talking about Knight vs Walker in the upcoming FF game. But what about Harrellson? No one seems to realize that he has gone toe to toe with the best big men in the country and come out victorious. I feel like the player he has become key for Kentucky, and I don't really see UConn coming up with an answer for him. What say you?
No question, Jorts has been huge. Probably the greatest thing about his play -- and the reason why so many teams haven't been able to handle him -- is that he doesn't need to add scoring for Kentucky to be successful. Other teams focus on Knight, Jones, et al, and Jorts is there on screen and rolls with efficient finishes around the rim. Plus, he defends and rebounds. He's been great. That said, Alex Oriakhi is an awfully big boy, and he's been one of the best offensive rebounders in the nation all season long, so he could give Jorts some issues under the rim.
Hey Eamonn, I was wondering what your take was on the Matt Painter saga as far as all the misinformation that surrounded it and the impact that Twitter, blogs, and message boards had on passing along the false rumors.
Well, media criticism isn't really my gig, but I will say this: The "saga" wasn't really that bad, I thought. It only lasted a couple of days, and really the only conflicting reports came out of trusted mainstream outlets, and seemed to me to be more the matter of confusion than outright misinformation. I'm not sure you can blame the Internet for that one.
Also, it was one of those things where even people at Missouri thought things were one way when they weren't. Point is, in these situations, a lot of different people say different things to different audiences for different reasons.
In a chat earlier in the week, someone asked Forde if he thought VCU winning the championship would be an even more impressive underdog tale than the Miracle on Ice. Your thoughts on how the two would compare in terms of history?
I believe it would be, yes. The odds of VCU's run have been astronomical; before the tournament Ken Pomeroy gave VCU a 1-in-200,000 shot at winning the NCAA tournament. This isn't to detract from what the Rams have done, because they're fully responsible for the run, but from an outsider's perspective ... I mean, we're watching lightning strike in real-time. We're sitting next to our buddy as he wins the lottery. We're witnessing history here, guys. That's not overstating the case.
Which school made the best coaching hire thus far: Arkansas, Providence, Tennessee or Texas Tech?
I'll go with Arkansas, not only because Anderson is proven but because it officially closes a decade-long blight period in Arkansas hoops history. Anderson was Nolan Richardson's right hand man during the program's hugely successful run in the 1980s and 1990s, and his return (and Richardson's blessing of it) should unite that program and wake up the echoes in a hugely enthusiastic way.
I like Texas Tech's hire -- Gillispie is the perfect guy to take over a struggling Texas program, and he's going to be hungry to get back on top -- but he does present some personal risk. And I think Tennessee has to be happy with getting Cuonzo Martin, but I'm sure Vols fans would have set their sights much higher were their program not about to feel some measure of wrath from the NCAA.
What kind of defense is Calhoun going to throw at the Wildcats?
I don't think he'll play too much zone; these Wildcats are awfully good shooters. I think Calhoun probably believes his team can matchup top-to-bottom from an athletic standpoint, and I think he'll challenge his guys accordingly.
Is Shaka Smart's situation a perfect storm of good young coach, solid team getting hot at the right time, etc etc, or is he THAT good of a coach (in your opinion) who could even do great things with an established, top-tier program?
I don't think the two are mutually exclusive. I think you'd be a fool to chalk up this entire VCU run to luck, and you don't have to spend too much time around Smart and his team to know that he has those guys driven, focused, loose, and hungry. And I think he'd be great at a larger program -- he's a seasoned recruiter and a really, really good face guy. He'll be successful.
That said, I think an athletic director also has to realize that the tournament is crazy, and, you know, you might be taking a bit of a risk when you hire a guy based solely on one incredible NCAA tournament run. Smart has had enough success outside of this tournament that that notion shouldn't hurt his stock, but it is something to consider. An AD would be dumb not to give it a thought.
How is it possible that Derrick Williams finished 7th in the AP All-America balloting? Everyone talked all year about how he was the most efficient player in the country. Was he punished for not having good enough teammates?
I think he was punished because a lot of college hoops writers -- especially the ones who vote for college hoops awards but are more generalized columnists or writers and don't follow the sport closely enough throughout the season -- don't understand or care about efficiency. Because Derrick Williams was arguably, arguably, the best player in the country this year. 7th place is silly.
Is it possible that butler is actually being overlooked again this year? On paper, I would think with experience factored in they would be at least considered favorites but they seem to have been written off by most, surprisingly? As always, thanks for your continued insights, been a fun year
Butler is actually a two and a half point favorite to beat the hottest team in the NCAA tournament. Hard to say they're being overlooked, at least in regards to their next game.
Here in SEC country we see huge UK contingents at all SEC games in which they participate. What will the crowd look like, in terms of traveling fan bases for the UConn vs UK game Sat or if they make the title game Mon? Huge advantage UK?
Kentucky will have a large crowd, no doubt about it. Almost every fan I've seen milling around the media hotel and so forth is from Kentucky. This is Kentucky's practice time right now, of course, but they're the dominant fan base in here, too. Big Blue Nation travels. No surprise there.
Eamonn, there really aren't any underdogs left now, right? I mean, flip a coin, despite UK or UConn being in the final. I know most of the pundits want to pick UK or UConn to win it all, but I honestly think it is anyone's championship, moreso than I can ever remember. You agree?
Totally agree. I joked about this on the podcast (http://es.pn/bmtP5E) the other day, but I have been avoiding making any predictions on these games because I genuinely feel like the various national title percentages should be 25/25/25/25. You'd THINK UConn and Kentucky would be the favorites, but after everything we've seen this March, I don't feel comfortable calling ANYONE the favorite.
Do you consider T Jones a lottery pick? He seems to have peaked early in the year and hasnt really gone anywhere compared to Kight? It wouldnt suprise me to see him stay another year
Eh, he might have peaked, but that peak was still good enough for him to draw plenty of interest from NBA scouts. He's got to be a lotter pick, I think. He's a great defender, long, versatile -- his ceiling is as a hard-nosed Lamar Odom. That's a lottery-worthy ceiling.
Now that UK is the favorite, does that take some of their edge away?
Knowing John Calipari's unique ability to foment an us-against-the-world mentality (among his players and, at times, among fans), I have a feeling this won't be a problem.
No doubt Harrison Barnes would be a Top 10 pick if he leaves this year. But if he stays, he shows either that he is more like Paul Pierce (in which case he becomes a Top 2 pick) or more like Marvin Williams (as a pro) in which case he falls out of the lottery. Is it a gamble he should/will take?
A lot depends on the lockout situation. But I actually think Barnes might have played his way back into the top five -- you simply don't find too many 6-foot-8 guys with his combination of strength and refined shooting, and scouts know he will be the hardest worker and most-likely-to-improve entity in this draft class. If the lockout gets scary, it wouldn't be the worst idea to spend another summer adding to his game in Chapel Hill, but I think he'll get plenty of looks at the top of the lottery, too.
So, if VCU happens to win it all, Smart HAS to leave, right? I mean, what are the odds they'd ever get back? Butler has been consistently good for a long, long time, so I don't think the two compare.
The odds they get back would still be very low. Here's my question: Have we ever seen a coach WIN a national title and take another job that offseason? Has that ever happened in the modern era? (Crowdsourcing!)
How long before the NCAA vacates this Calipari FF appearance?
Dude, I've got, like, 5,000 Kentucky fans right behind me right now. Are you trying to get me killed?
Thanks for commenting on the Arkansas, Tennessee and Tex Tech hires. I noticed you had nothing to add about Providence. Can their new coach get them back in the mix or are the irrelevant at this point?
That wasn't an intentional slight. I don't think there's any good reason why Providence can't be relevant again. Is this the hire to get them there? Maybe? (I'm Ron Burgundy?) I will say this: The Friars tried the hot-young-name-hire and got burned with Keno Davis. It's not a bad time to go back to the roots with hometown guy made good in Fairfield coach Ed Cooley. Cooley can coach. And let's be real: There's nowhere to go but up.
I can't think of any coach who has left after a title (modern era, anyway). I think Billy Donovan came the closest, and he would've left for the NBA.
Larry Brown left for NBA job if that counts
Yeah, let's stipulate this: A national title winning coach leaving his college job for another college job. I'm polling my colleagues here and getting nothing. Anyone?
My colleague Andy Katz makes a good point: If Smart won a national title, it'd be smarter (ha) for him to stay at VCU and enjoy the spoils of victory. If you immediately take another job, all of a sudden you're grinding it out right away again. And it's not like that national title is coming off your resume; the offers will always be there.
If you are Indiana's AD, do you fire Crean and offer Brad Stevens a 10-year contract?
Maybe not a national title, but Pitino left after 2 straight FF's.
How did I lose in Page 2's name contest to a guy whose nickname is Bubba I mean, it's not even his real name.
Anyway, to Patrick's question: Crean still has the support of much of the administration there. They really believe in him, and while the on-court product has been bad, the recruits start arriving this fall. I think it'd be pretty bold -- especially with taht 2012 recruiting class coming in -- to ditch Crean now. But you can understand Indiana fans' temptation. Stevens is a fantastic coach.
I was listening to Shaka Smart being interviewed the other day and he purposely quoted "Major League." That's exactly why everyone should root for VCU
Roy Williams left Kansas for UNC after a title game loss.
Jim Harrick got pushed out of UCLA the year after he won.
How does UK look at practice right now? Loose? Focused?
They just finished up, and yeah, I'd say they looked pretty loose. Not as loose as VCU, which had its assistant coaches running a hilarious hustle drill (take a charge, dive on the floor, sprint to opposite sideline, save a ball, get mobbed by your screaming teammates) but all the open practices are really loose. These are not intense sessions. They're really just for the fans.
Harrick was the there the next year when they lost to Princeton
Uhoh. The emcee at open practices just chastised the crowd for not being loud enough. "Come on, people! Texans are loud!" Stereotypes are not always true, sir.
Now there's a 12-year-old kid doing two-ball dribble drills at midcourt to Kanye's "Power." I remember doing these drills as a kid at basketball camp. Or trying to, anyway. This kid is sick.
Ken Loeffler left LaSalle for Texas A&M the year after the 1954 Championship.
Now that's research!
Grow a pair. What are your predictions?
Whoa, settle down. I'm going to chat for another 20-30 minutes. We'll end with picks.
So many think Liggins will/should guard Walker. Why not have Liggins guard Lamb? If you take away Lamb, UConn can't win. Agree or disagree?
I kind of disagree. I think you have to handle Kemba first and foremost -- part of the reason Lamb has been so good has been because UConn has been able to exploit the attention Kemba receives with advantageous sets for Lamb. If Liggins is the best defender for Kemba (and I'd say he is, though Knight might be the quickest UK defender, so that's an option too) then that's what you should do first.
I'm more curious as to how Kentucky will defend Kemba and UConn as a team. Will they throw any junk defenses out there? Will they run an extra defender at Kemba before he gets into the lane? That should be interesting to watch.
Have you been following @ButlerBlue2?
Of course! I'm still searching for him in Houston, though. He was a highlight of last year's Final Four. Blue kicks it in the media room with his tongue out, sweater on, and swag at a hundred thousand trillion.
Eamonn, your name sounds Irish, b'gosh. Were ya rootin' for Notre Dame?
My name is indeed Irish, though not as Irish as what I'm assuming is your make-believe moniker. And no, I don't really "root" for anybody. Though I will admit that ND's campus is always a fun visit.
Lots of rumors about Weber leaving Illinois. Are you hearing anything substantive?
I really haven't heard much. If I was Weber, I would at least consider a move, provided I wasn't taking an obviously worse job. There's no question the pressure is on at Illinois, and preempting that by taking over at a place like Oklahoma -- where he might not be able to compete right away but at least would get a huge deal and plenty of honeymoon time -- doesn't seem like a horrible idea. But it looks like Weber's staying put, at least for now.
What are the chances Calhoun hangs it up after this tournament? IF he were to lose tomorrow, I doubt very seriously he'd want his last loss to be to Cal...
I doubt that very seriously, too, Criggs. I'd say if UConn was to win this title, then maybe, maybe Calhoun considers calling it a career. Failing that, I think he's back and coaching for as long as he feels up to it/keeps winning.
Would a Butler/VCU title and a Wichita State NIT finally force the committee to relook at some bubble teams outside the Big 6? We've seen a precipitous decline of these spots since the mid decade, and eventually, maybe a bad loss to a Youngstown State or a Northeastern can be written off in a similar way we right off losses to bad USF teams?
I especially like the latter part of this: Mid-majors have such a narrow margin for error compared to high-majors when it comes to profile-killing losses. Maybe these two runs by Butler and VCU give mid-majors a little more leeway in that regard.
Eamonn I honestly think the X factor for KY is Doron Lamb. The dude has been silent but productive for about 7 games. I know Cal ask both he and Jones to sacrifice some of their shots for the Upper classmen. What is your take on KY X-Factor for this game?
I hesitate to single out one player or factor, partially because because I think Harrellson has been the biggest "x-factor" for Kentucky, but also because the Wildcats have to be balanced and comprehensive to win with this team, and they've done that so far.
Do you see the atmosphere affecting any of these teams in a negative way. Maybe a bit of a distraction?
Usually, the "distraction" thing is about going out, having a few too many sodas, etc. But I don't think there will be too many opportunities for players to do that this weekend. So, no, not really. The Final Four is a whole different beast, but I think most of these players will handle it just fine.
I've heard/read that this FF will be bad as far as TV ratings are concerned. How can that be??? We are guaranteed two great semi games, and another "David vs Goliath" (although everyone knows it is really Sampson vs Sampson) championship like last year, which was heavily viewed. I don't buy that America won't be watching the end of this tourney. If I were the NCAA and CBS execs I would be thrilled. Who cares if there are no 1 and 2 seeds left???
Well, typically, America tends to tune out of championships that don't feature marquee brand names. That's why the NBA prefers Celtics-Lakers to Spurs-Magic. And that rule does tend to apply to college hoops, too. But is it really applicable in this case? Will people really tune out despite the two best Cinderella stories in recent NCAA tournament history? And there are a couple of marquee programs playing late on Saturday. I guess we'll find out.
Eamonn, I am so tired of Kemba Walker talk. You would think he was the next Jordan. Lamb is the reason they are in the Final Four. Kemba is great at times but he can have a bad day. Remember Tennesse for instance. His historic run through the overrated Big East was impressive but geez enough already. This just in Kemba walked on water. Sportscenter is next.
Eh. He's been really good. I understand that might get a little repetitive, but that doesn't mean it isn't true.
If Jorts wins the most outstanding player of the Final Four, do you think the sale of jorts across the country will spike?
Good God, let's hope not. It's almost summer again, which means I already have to deal with the Chicago hipsters who cut off their skinny jeans to turn them into ironic skinny jorts. It needs to stop.
I don't think Frank has watched many of Kemba's games recently.
All right, guys, it's time to draw this one to a close. Plenty of writing awaits. Because everyone keeps asking me, here are a couple of picks that I feel absolutely NO confidence making: Kentucky over UConn, Butler over VCU. We'll cross the title game prediction bridge when we come to it.
That does it for me here in Houston. As always, keep an eye out for all of our coverage, because our writers and editors are forming like a sportswriting Voltron out here. Killer bees on the swarm. Wu! OK, sorry I'm done now. Cheers everyone.