February 13, 2010
• In addition to the school's much-publicized spelling issues, Kentucky basketball players apparently also needed a bit of a history lesson from coach John Calipari this week. The Wildcats were mystified when informed that former Tennessee legend Bernard King had told the Vols at Thursday's practice "We don't lose to Kentucky." Said Calipari, " "They asked, who is Bernard King? What number is Bernard King? ... They're like 'I'm guarding him.'"
• Living up to King's words at Rupp Arena already wasn't going to be easy for Tennessee, but now a Vols team coming off a loss to Vanderbilt may be without Wayne Chism as a result of a sprained ankle. At least the Vols are accustomed to overcoming adversity this season, having upset top-ranked Kansas earlier this season despite being down to six scholarship players as a result of the dismissal of star forward Tyler Smith and the suspension of three others.
• It will be like the early 2000s all over again Saturday at Duke as surging Maryland comes to town with control of the ACC on the line. The Terps had a week off to prepare for this one as a result of the postponement of Wednesday's game against Virginia as a result of The Blizzard, part II, while Duke is coming off a gritty win over rival North Carolina but will likely be without forward Lance Thomas.
• The NCAA held its annual gathering for the mock tournament selection committee at its headquarters in Indianapolis on Thursday and Friday, and here's a look at the field of 65 my colleagues in the media concocted. Of note: Six Atlantic 10 teams made the field, Kansas was the No. 1 overall seed, South Florida, Saint Mary's and Charlotte received the final at-large bids and Florida was the first team left out.
• Saturday's matchup between Florida and Xavier is the type of February game that makes you look at the schedule and say, huh? But the Gators were trying to beef up their schedule and mid-February was the only time that worked for both teams, so that's how this critical Atlantic 10-SEC bubble tilt was born. A win for Xavier would give the Musketeers a signature non-conference win that would all but punch their ticket to the tourney, while a loss pushes them closer to the bubble. And, meanwhile, with an RPI hovering around 50 and a history of late-season collapses Florida would be wise not to lose this game at home.
• Jim Calhoun's first press conference since returning to coach UConn shed little light on the mysterious medical condition that forced him to miss seven games. Reports suggest the condition is stress-related, so this comment from Calhoun is not especially encouraging for his long-term future in coaching: "Is my job stressful? It's as stressful as you make it. And I would make any job stressful." Yikes.
• And speaking of stress, Calhoun starts off in the pressure cooker today against Cincinnati in a game both the Huskies and Bearcats desperately need to avoid slipping further out of contention for an at-large bid in the bubble-happy Big East. A UConn loss would mean a 4-8 Big East record, probably curtains for a team that began the season in the top 15. It's nearly as dire for the Bearcats, who have lost three of four to slip to 14-9 overall and 5-6 in conference play.
• The news isn't good for another Big East bubble team as Notre Dame will play without star Luke Harangody (bone bruise on his right knee) against St. John's on Saturday and maybe on Wednesday against Louisville too. Not good when you're 17-8 overall, 6-6 in conference and desperate for a late hot streak to sneak into the NCAA tournament.
• Rhode Island is solidly in the field of 65 at the moment, prompting the more cynical among Rams backers to suggest we stop the race before the team has time to begin a late fade. In all seriousness, Rhode Island's difficult remaining schedule will keep things interesting beginning with a critical game on Saturday against a Temple team that has had seven days to think about a one-sided loss to Richmond last Saturday.