A different kind of NCAA tournament minus Cats

BY KEITH TAYLOR

Kentucky Today

I’m not used to this.

Normally three days after Selection Sunday, I’ve already made my picks, penciled in my bracket and packed and ready to cover the Kentucky Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament.

Things are different this year as only two Kentucky teams — Morehead State and Western Kentucky — are playing beyond the conference tournament. The Eagles stepped their way onto the main platform and will take on West Virginia in the NCAA Tournament Friday. Western Kentucky is one of 16 teams participating in a scaled down version of the NIT and played St. Mary’s Wednesday night.

It was odd not being at Kentucky coach John Calipari’s home and watching the tournament field unfold following a successful tour of duty in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

Aside from dealing with the ongoing pandemic, Calipari had to deal with Kentucky’s first losing season in 32 years. The Wildcats finished with a 9-16 mark and it’s first absence from the NCAA Tournament in eight years.

The Big Blue Nation wasn’t happy with the finish and neither was a fan base that was equally upset with the finished product, Kentucky started 10th in the nation and fell off the map.

“I’m not satisfied (and) it’s unacceptable what we went through,” Calipari said earlier this week. “I’m going to look at whatever I got to make sure … We all know why we’re here — to compete and win national titles.”

While Calipari ponders his future plans amid a changing landscape, Kentucky’s former coach — Rick Pitino is the talk of the state after leading Iona to the NCAA Tournament. He’s also unofficially a candidate for the job at Indiana, even though he’s publicly said his next stop is retirement.

His son, Richard Pitino, who spent most of his childhood watching his father coach the Wildcats, was fired at Minnesota and hired by New Mexico less than 24 hours later.

Circling back to the Big Dance. It will certainly be interesting to see how things infold starting this weekend with wall-to-wall basketball, ya’ll.

I haven’t made my Final Four predictions just yet, but I like Alabama and Illinois is playing well going into the tournament. Gonzaga appears to be the team to beat as the Zags enter the tournament with an unblemished and hoping to become the first undefeated champion since the Hoosiers accomplished that feat in 1976.

The last time Kentucky had a losing season, Michigan caught fire and won it all. The Wolverines are certainly capable of making a run in the prestigious event. You can’t count Baylor out and Houston has the tools to piece together a run this season.

Now that I’m in March mode, I’m going to fill out my bracket while I still have time to beat the clock.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or Twitter @keithtaylor21