Former IU player Dan Dakich, who once slowed Michael Jordan in an NCAA Tournament upset will call the UK-LSU game Tuesday. (Photo Corbis Images).
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – There are a quintillion reasons I'm relieved the threat of winter weather won't postpone the Kentucky-Louisiana State game Tuesday night in Baton Rouge. But the answer at the top of my list is this:
I don't want Southeastern Conference fans to miss their chance to listen to the next great TV analyst in the college basketball – former Indiana player Dan Dakich, the guy who once turned Michael Jordan into Ryan Harrow.
Actually, I believe that some Kentucky fans have already heard him because Dakich told me that he asked his play-by-play guy, Brad Nessler, if he had ever been shot at during a game.
"I think I can take a bullet," Dakich said.
No doubt. He grew up in Gary, Indiana.
"I'm not sure," he said. "I think I can."
That's because Dakich will sometimes poke a microphone in John Calipari's ribs, just as he's taken a million shots at Indiana, West Virginia, Penn State and others. That list includes LSU football coach Les Miles and his approach to discipline now that you mention it. Only his pal Urban Meyer, Butler, Purdue and Michigan basketball seem to be safe with Dakich. Just kidding (a little), Dan.
It's all part of the shtick, right? No harm, no foul.
That's one thing that separates Dakich from most network analysts. He's not afraid to throw a punch – or take one. He does not call games like he's trying to position himself for his next coaching gig.
He doesn't buy into every inch of the Kentucky Hype, but if you ask Dakich for the names of the five teams that have a chance to be special in March, Dakich absolutely puts Kentucky on his list.
"Arizona, Michigan State, if they get healthy, Kansas, Syracuse and Kentucky are in my top five of having enough to win a national championship," Dakich said. "I wouldn't put them in my top five in the poll yet because they've got some losses.
"But the way I see this Kentucky thing going, I would say they've got it. They've got talent, obviously they've got coaches who have been there before, they've got a margin for error."
If you cut through his Serbian bluster, something I know a little about, you can learn more about basketball. He doesn't try to entertain you with forced alliteration or categories that somebody in the ESPN PR department cooked up.
Dakich will tell you why defenses work – or fail. He'll grab the telestrator and show you which guy set the critical screen or blew his defensive assignment. He doesn't merely rinse and repeat stats from the press notes. He knows the play calls and what coaches have emphasized in practice.
Taking a play off? Dakich will find you – and tell the world. Ask Michigan State forward Branden Dawson.
After Dawson played a so-so game against Indiana last week, the Michigan State coaching staff let the team listen to the ESPN cut of the game. Dakich delivered the same critique of Dawson's play that the coaches had been telling the player: That Dawson was the team's X-factor and that they became an elite team when Dawson brought energy.
Dakich was honest. He said when Dawson played the way he played the first 30 minutes against Indiana the Spartans could not win a national title. But when he plays the way he did down the stretch of that game, Dawson becomes the key to winning the national title.
The next thing you knew Dawson slammed his right hand against a table and broke a bone. He'll miss the next four weeks.
This Kentucky-LSU game is different for Dakich because he is based in Indianapolis and typically works Big Ten games. He said he is eager to see Kentucky live and decide if the Wildcats have improved as much as believes they have.
Dakich says that guy is center Willie Cauley-Stein.
"He can do a lot of stuff to make you a lot better defensively," Dakich said.
He can also struggle – as Cauley-Stein did during a three-game stretch that ended against Georgia Saturday. After the game, Calipari said he had told Cauley-Stein that, "smirking ain't working."
As a former coach, Dakich can relate to that. He said Cauley-Stein better grasp Calipari's message – for the good of this Kentucky team and the good of Cauley-Stein's career.
"There's a lot of good players in the D-League with that smirking attitude," Dakich said.
So can Kentucky make another run?
"From what I've seen on film from a talent standpoint, probably like every other year, not many can match Kentucky," Dakich said. "Arizona probably can. I think Kansas has the most talent in the country. They just have guy after guy after guy.
"But Kentucky's up there. They go to the glass as well as anybody. I'll put it to you this way: I don't think a bad team is going to beat Kentucky."