Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 15, 2013

AARON SNYDER: SEC tourney: Love it? H*** it?

Aaron Snyder
The Independent

ASHLAND — SEC Tournament.

When someone utters those two words within earshot of Kentucky coach John Calipari, he reacts as most guys do when their wives ask them to accompany them on a three-day shopping trip.

“I don’t like tournaments before the NCAA Tournament,” Calipari said late last season.

Calipari has a stable of legitimate reasons for expressing his distaste for what he calls an event “for fans.”

For starters, two of the best Kentucky teams in the history of the program lost in the SEC Tournament finals before ultimately hanging an NCAA banner.

Both in 1996 and 2012, the Wildcats — each having one loss heading into SEC tourney play — had already sewn up a No. 1 seed. So, it was basically like playing a series of spring training exhibition games before the World Series. It did nothing to improve (or harm) their resume, plus it was another chance for injuries.

Two seasons ago, Kentucky tore through the SEC Tournament and capped it with a defeat of Florida. The Wildcats’ reward? A No. 4 seed in the toughest bracket of the NCAA Tournament — two spots worse than No. 2 seeded Florida.

So, just a fan spectacle? In those cases, and to Calipari’s point, yes.

This SEC Tournament, though, has a new meaning. It’s not the Antoine Walker Version or the Anthony Davis Testament. No, this rewritten interpretation could instill a revival in the Wildcats.

ESPN bracketology guru Joe Lunardi currently has the Cats in a play-in game for an 11-seed. But, you have to remember, Lunardi is going to shuffle Kentucky every chance he gets because it sparks conversation and increases views of his ESPN.com bracket ten-fold.

That’s why the Cats have been joining more groups than a college student at freshman orientation. “Yes, I’d like to sign up for First Four In and First Four Out ... Oh, and what’s this Next Four Out all about?”

Lunardi’s indecisiveness is understandable, though. After all, Calipari has even said he doesn’t know what he’s going to get with this crew, which is about as predictable as a high school relationship.

Fans feel the same way. One day Big Blue Nation loves them, and the next they, well, I’m trying to break myself of using the four-letter “H” word that rhymes with date — I have a 2-year-old daughter who I’ve nicknamed “Repeat.”

(Warning of impending tangent)

One instance of the word ____ was caught on camera, and then later posted on Facebook for comedy value. “I ____ Duke!” my wife and I had her say as the Blue Devils pretty much had their way with Kentucky back in November. Good work, Dad, now you can’t even punish her when she says it.

(That was actually a transition)

Speaking of Duke — see, I told you — can you imagine a second-round game pitting the Cats and the Devils? 

All (another four-letter “H” word) would break loose, and we’d only be a few days into the Madness.

But, that could happen, in my opinion.

If the NCAA Tournament selection committee puts any stock in the SEC Tournament, Kentucky may earn anything from a No. 2 NIT seed to a play-in game berth for a No. 12 NCAA seed to a No. 7 NCAA spot, depending on what transpires over the next three days.

Since I’ve been on a roll with predictions lately — I even predicted who would receive the final rose on “The Bachelor” (don’t judge) — here’s what I think will happen regarding NCAA Tournament destinations in each possible scenario for the Wildcats.

‰If they lose today > No. 12 play-in game in Dayton.

‰If they lose Saturday > No. 11 seed.

‰If they lose Sunday > No. 10.

‰If they win Sunday > No. 7.

SEC Tournament.

Maybe something good can come out of this, after all.

AARON SNYDER can be reached at asnyder@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2664.