BOZICH | Can Kentucky Join The Eight-Seed Club? Ask Massimino - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Can Kentucky Join The Eight-Seed Club? Ask Massimino

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Kentucky is trying to do what only Rollie Massimino and Villanova have done -- win the NCAA Tournament as an 8-seed. Kentucky is trying to do what only Rollie Massimino and Villanova have done -- win the NCAA Tournament as an 8-seed.

DALLAS (WDRB) – Nobody can talk about what this University of Kentucky basketball team is trying to achieve better than Rollie Massimino.

Why?

In 1985, Massimino coached Villanova, the only team to win this NCAA Tournament after starting as an eight-seed. Nova won it by beating Patrick Ewing and Georgetown. They did it in Rupp Arena.

That is what Kentucky will try to achieve Monday night – win this tournament as an eight-seed.

"Never get tired of remembering," Massimino said, his dark eyes dancing.

Massimino is 79 years young, but still grinding, coaching Northwood University, an NAIA program based in West Palm Beach, Fla. He considers UK coach John Calipari a friend, a guy who brought Northwood to Rupp Arena in November 2012 for an exhibition game.

Calipari wanted to help Massimino celebrate one more time. Cal wanted to let Mass celebrate the greatest upset in the history one more time. Mass appreciated that. He considers Calipari a friend.

"Nobody thought we could win," Massimino said. "But we thought we could win. I thought we could win. I would have bet my house on it."

Nobody can talk about what this University of Connecticut basketball team is trying to achieve better than Massimino's buddy, Bill Raftery, the Hall of Fame network television analyst.

Why?

Raftery was at the microphone on March 8, 2014, the day Louisville blitzed UConn 81-48. He saw that Louisville was 40 points better. Then Raftery worked the Huskies first four NCAA games for CBS, toppled top-ranked Florida Saturday night and made their place in the final game against Kentucky.

What happened to the Huskies?

"They didn't have to play Louisville any more," Raftery said.

Raftery laughed. Massimino laughed. Everybody laughed.

Breakfast, bagels and basketball at a hotel in downtown Dallas on Sunday morning.

What a perfect way to start the day after the national semifinals but before the Wildcats and Huskies meet in AT&T Stadium.

Massimino is as impressed as anybody in Lexington by what Calipari has been able to do with this basketball team, fixing all the problems that contributed to the 10 games Kentucky lost and contributed to the Wildcats earning that eight seed.

But Massimino knows that Kentucky is not an eight seed the way that Villanova was an eight seed.

"We were an underdog," Massimino said.

He is correct. Georgetown was favored by nine points. Villanova won, 66-64.

Kentucky is favored by 2 ½ points. Villanova had a couple of pros. Kentucky has at least six.

"And Kentucky isn't going against Patrick Ewing," Massimino said.

No, they are not. The Wildcats are going against a Connecticut team that might not have anybody in its frontcourt who could have started against that Georgetown team.

The guards make UConn go, go, go. But they are tiny guards, especially compared to the Kentucky guards.

They say Shabazz Napier is 6 feet 1. They say Ryan Boatright is 6 feet.

"That's OK," Massimino said. I think Connecticut can win."

Really?

"I do," Massimino said.

Why?

"For nothing else other than they defend so well," Massimino said. "I think they have a real shot. I was just talking to (former St. John's coach) Louie Carnesecca and I told him that.

"I think they have to penetrate the ball with the guard play. I think that Number 2 (UConn forward DeAndre Daniels) has to have a great game. He rebounded and shot very well."

Massimino is not the only one who believes that Connecticut can win the game. Raftery agrees – and he has watched the Huskies at their absolute worst.

"I think the Connecticut guards can give the Kentucky guards trouble," Raftery said. "I'm not saying they're going to win. But I think they can win. It's just something to think about."

That's something that is difficult for me to think about because every time I watched UConn play the Huskies looked like a seven-seed in the NIT.

Louisville 74, UConn 64 in Storrs.

Louisville 81, UConn 48 in downtown Louisville.

Louisville 71, UConn 61 in Memphis

That is not the profile of an NCAA champion.

What am I missing, Raft?

"Defense," he said. "That's why they've got a chance. Nobody talks about defense because it's not attractive.

"When you write about defense it's baloney. What's that mean? Protecting the lane against Kentucky is essential because they break you down so bad. UConn has the kind of guards who can protect the lane. They've done it during the tournament."

Now Kentucky will have to solve that Connecticut defense Monday night as the Wildcats and John Calipari try to do what only Villanova and Rollie Massimino have done – win the NCAA Tournament as an eight-seed.

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