CRAWFORD | When the games stop, the spin is only beginning at th - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | When the games stop, the spin is only beginning at the SEC Tournament

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WDRB photo by Eric Crawford. WDRB photo by Eric Crawford.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WDRB) — Another game in the Southeastern Conference Tournament has ended, and the post-game news conference turns into The Spin Zone.

I don’t know if the SEC is paying its coaches to advocate for each other in the NCAA Tournament. It should be. Especially coach John Calipari, who got up Friday to sell the notion that FIVE teams from the league should get to the Big Dance.

At last check, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had three in the tournament — Kentucky as a No. 3 seed, Texas A&M as a five seed, and South Carolina a No. 11 in a play-in game among the final teams in. Vanderbilt was among the first four out.

Calipari’s statement on Friday: “One of our teams loses, they go from bubble to first four out. You're like, I don't get it. I do know, when our teams are in the NCAA Tournament, they do well. We've been in Final Fours, the Elite Eights, a number of Sweet 16s. We had three a couple years ago in the Sweet 16 and two in the Final Four. So I think this league deserves five teams that should be in. I think Vanderbilt should be in. That's just my thought. And I think, if you look at it overall, they should be in, but they lost a tough game. Tennessee played well. We lost to Tennessee. We lost to Tennessee. So I think they should be in, but I'm not on the committee. If I was on the committee, because I'm a normal person, I'm helping my friends, and those other dudes are not getting in. I'm normal. Why is everybody laughing?”

Well, it’s fairly self-explanatory.

Calipari was on the stump again Saturday, after beating Georgia 93-80 in the SEC semis.

“They're 10-8 in our league,” Calipari said. “They're one of the semifinalists. They should be in. Vanderbilt should be in this NCAA Tournament. The team you just watched, the way they played -- now, they just won five games in a row. They won five straight games and had us beat most of the game. We had what we needed at the end to kind of win the game, but I just -- you know, they're an NCAA team.”

The SEC, frankly, is a mystery. It has good coaches. It has good players. But LSU is almost a perfect example of an SEC team. It has as good a talent as anyone, it just doesn’t care a lot of the time, until Kentucky rolls around on the schedule.

You may argue with that assessment, but I know what I see.

Calipari isn’t the only one spinning. After Georgia knocked off South Carolina in the second round, South Carolina coach Frank Martin said: “They're -- I thought all year that they're an NCAA team. They've played, I don't know, third, fourth hardest schedule in the country with some young kids on the front line that didn't know what they were doing early in the year. They've obviously gotten better and better and better.”

Let’s stop for a minute. I hate the Rating Percentage Index. I’ve hated it for years. I think it’s like using a Commodore 64 to rank your teams when you’ve got supercomputers at the ready. Why the NCAA uses it, I can’t fathom. But it is the ranking of record. It is baked into every “nitty gritty” sheet on every team that the NCAA tournament selection committee pulls up.

So let’s look at these SEC teams.

South Carolina? They’re at No. 62 in the RPI. They’re only 1-1 against RPI Top 25 teams. They’ve played only two games against the RPI Top 50. Of their 32 games, 18 were against teams ranked No. 100 or worse. Their only quality win was at Texas A&M on Feb. 6. They also beat Florida at home on Feb. 20. To me, that’s not enough.

To South Carolina coach Frank Martin, however, it’s a little different.

“Absolutely,” he said when asked. “If the third-place (SEC) team that set a school record for regular season wins, that won 11 league games, didn't lose a single game in nonconference play, whose opponents had the seventh toughest schedule in the country is not worthy of the NCAA, then we've got a problem in our business. I don't care what anyone else has to say. I don't care what their opinions are. That's a fact. I'd like to see a lot of these so-called teams that got better looking numbers than us play in our league 18 games and see what their record would be at the end of the year.”

I don’t know. A few in the ACC or Big 10 or Big 12 would like that chance.

Vanderbilt sits at No. 63 in the RPI. It is 2-7 against the RPI Top 50 and 6-10 against the Top 100. I figured if they won one game in the SEC Tournament they were in, without a problem. They lost to Tennessee, rated No. 144 in the RPI. Vanderbilt has lost 13 games. It won four games late in the season. Maybe it gets in. Lunardi has the Commodores in a play-in game. That’s not a comfortable spot.

Stallings would only say they have to “be prepared for whatever happens on (Selection) Sunday.”

Georgia has a better RPI than either South Carolina or Vanderbilt (60), but is 0-6 against the RPI Top 50. That’s not a recipe for inclusion.

Meanwhile, Calipari has launched a second spin initiative — based on what Kentucky’s seed should be. He has used his 2014 team, which made it to the Final Four as a No. 8 seed, to warn the committee not to mis-seed his team. Translation: Don’t seed the team on the way it played all season, seed it on how well it has played in its last several games.

Who knows if that message will stick.

“If you would have rated us a month ago, you would have said, well, where do you see these guys?” Calipari said. “Now it's kind of like uh-oh, like now all of a sudden, where do you see us? Do you want to ruin someone's season and mis-seed us, and we've got to play somebody that they look and say, why are we playing Kentucky? This is crazy.”

Then Calipari poked some fun at himself, for poking fun at the selection committee.

“I've got the bully pulpit. Can I use it? I'm not going to use it,” Calipari said as he smiled. “They've got a tough job. It's tough to do this. . . .  My biggest concern is my own team and our path. Now, our path, as you know, because you followed us every year, will be the hardest path of anybody in the NCAA Tournament,” Calipari said Saturday. “Sometimes they stick the Lakers in there to get that going. Somebody told me they're going to put Louisville back in the tournament in our path. That's how it is. We get a tough path, and that's fine. It hasn't hurt us. It's been kind of exciting. Made the games good. But we will see.”

On Sunday at 6, the spinning stops. Maybe.

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