March 22, 2010
Let's call it Socrates vs. Goliath. One of the nation's top academic schools takes on college basketball's preeminent power in the East regional semifinal. When top-seeded Kentucky takes on Cornell in Syracuse, NY on Thursday night, it will be a match-up between two programs which are polar opposites on the college basketball spectrum.
• Kentucky won its 102nd NCAA tournament game on Saturday night over Wake Forest, tied with North Carolina for the most ever. Cornell had earned the first tourney victory in school history just two days earlier.
• When new coach Billy Gillispie failed to win an NCAA tournament game in his two years at the school, fans nearly revolted and Gillispie was fired even though he was owed a multi-million payout. Meanwhile, the Ivy League as a whole hadn't won a tournament game since 1998.
• Kentucky is the winningest program in college basketball history. Cornell is the sixth-winningest ever in the Ivy League.
• Wildcats coach John Calipari is getting a salary of $4 million this season. Cornell couldn't afford to print media guides before the season.
• Newman Arena at Cornell has a capacity of 4,473. Kentucky drew 22,144 fans to Rupp Arena earlier this year for a taping of ESPN's pre-game show "College Gameday".
• Before this season, Cornell had been ranked for a total of three weeks in the AP top 25 poll. Kentucky has 89 weeks in the poll ... at No. 1. (Kentucky has been in a total of 745 AP rankings.)
• When John Wall, one of the biggest college recruits in year, declared his intention to go to Kentucky last year, the announcement was covered by numerous national media outlets and carried on live television. Cornell star Louis Dale had to send out videos of himself to coaches in order to play Division I basketball.
• Ashley Judd cheers on Kentucky at most big games. Cornell has dozen of famous alumni and faculty including 41 Nobel Prize winners, numerous former heads of state, Christopher Reeve and the guy who invented the Heimlich maneuver, but you'll be hard-pressed to recognize anyone cheering on the Big Red at Newman Arena.
Still, despite the gaps in nearly every facet of basketball history, facilities, funding and recruitment, once the teams get on the court the differences between Kentucky and Cornell won't be nearly as pronounced. The Wildcats are still the prohibitive favorites and a Cornell win would be a stunner, but the Ivy League school did travel to No. 1 Kansas earlier this season and nearly walked out with a victory. Don't be shocked if it happens again on Thursday.
The Big Red's element of surprise is gone. Mighty Kentucky knows all about Cornell's slingshot. Now we'll see if the legendary program can dodge the stone.