Once-mighty Kentucky might be staying home for March Madness
GAINESVILLE, Fla. --
"Collaborative," one helpful scribe volunteered.
"Whatever," Gillispie said, and then he smiled the smile of coach who has no other option but to shake his head and chuckle at his team's fate.
Barring a miracle run through next week's SEC Tournament, Kentucky --19-12, 8-8 in the SEC and loser of four in a row and eight of its last 11 -- almost certainly will miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991, when the Wildcats were banned by the NCAA because of a program-altering scandal. That would snap the nation's third-longest streak of consecutive appearances. The Wildcats missed the 1989 tourney, too, but that entire season was played under the cloud of the investigation. The last time a scandal-free Kentucky team missed the Big Dance, the floor had a disco ball overhead. Of course, in 1979, the tourney only had a 40-team field.
If there is any justice in this world, this Kentucky team will face Minnesota in the NIT. That way, Kentucky faithful will come face-to-face with
The program has earned that high standard. Kentucky has earned a Division I-best 49 NCAA Tournament berths -- 50 if you count the 1988 tourney that was vacated because of the scandal. The program has won 1,985 games, the most in NCAA history.
Gillispie was supposed to carry on that tradition, to bring the Wildcats back to the Final Four that eluded Smith after he began playing with his own recruits. Instead, Gillispie's most notable contributions to this point have been home losses to Gardner-Webb (last season) and VMI (this season), two chivalry-free halftime interviews
Don't expect Kentucky's administration to overreact and fire Gillispie. That's a move an SEC football power might pull, but Kentucky athletics director
Gillispie has said he loves this team's effort at practice, and he said he loved the effort Saturday. Asked if he might make an X and O adjustment going into the SEC Tournament, Gillispie offered a revealing answer. "The games at this point aren't about Xs and Os," he said. "You have to be sound in your Xs and Os, and I think our Xs and Os are sound."
The hidden subtext is this: it's not the Xs and Os. It's the Jimmies and Joes. Somehow, Kentucky is suffering from the type of talent deficit that results in 23 turnovers (compared to seven assists) and 2 of 11 shooting from 3-point range against a Florida team that had to win Saturday to jump back on the bubble. In fact, Gillispie sounded an awful lot Saturday like Florida coach
Gillispie may not need to take such a dire step. His players seem to understand their situation. Patterson pledged to stay away from newspapers and the Internet this week. "I'm not going on the
"If we start thinking we have to win the SEC Tournament," Harris said, "we're going to look past the first team we play."
Meeks, however, took the award for brutal honesty with his response to a question about how the Wildcats could possibly think they could win four games in four days. "It's all we can do," he said.
The last time Kentucky sat out the NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats roared back the following year behind a quartet of overachievers who cared about Kentucky basketball so much that they stayed through the probation. That group, which fell on
So, what do you think this year's team will be called?