CRAWFORD | Calipari tells Wildcats not to let Stony Brook be a stumbling block
University of Kentucky coach John Calipari was watching Stony Brook in his spare time before the Wildcats' SEC Tournament opener, now the Wildcats will face the Seawolves and talented big man Jameel Warney in their NCAA Tournament opener.
DES MOINES, Iowa (WDRB) — The problem is that, while everybody is supposed to be focused on the University of Kentucky’s first-round NCAA Tournament matchup with Stony Brook, all anyone wants to talk about is the potential second-round game against Indiana.
Stony Brook? Has it been eight years since Stony Brook came into Rupp Arena and played the Ramel Bradley-Joe Crawford-Patrick Patterson-Perry Stevenson Wildcats to a 62-52 loss? Yes. It has.
That also, incidentally, was the last time a UK team went out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Before that, you have to go back to 1987 to find a first-round Kentucky loss (to Ohio State), and before that was 1982 to Middle Tennessee, delaying the long-awaited meeting with Louisville by one year.
So what am I trying to say here? Forget about Kentucky losing in the first round. Las Vegas has the Wildcats a 14-point favorite. Coach John Calipari’s average winning margin in NCAA Tournament opening games at Kentucky is 15.2 points.
Let me put it another way. Kentucky is making its 55th appearance in the NCAA Tournament. It has lost its opening-round game 10 times. It has gone to the Final Four 17 times. It has won eight national championships.
That means if you’re a Kentucky fan, historically speaking, heading into any given NCAA Tournament, you have a better chance of going to the Final Four than losing in the first round. And your chances of winning a national title — based on history — is only slightly lower than the chances of taking a first=round loss.
So relax. Enjoy the game. Right, Coach Calipari? Back me up on this.
“They can beat us,” Calipari said.
Come on. Stony Brook is 26-6. The Seawolves did take Vanderbilt to overtime in Nashville before losing early in the season. Their best win of the season was probably a 9-point win over Columbia, the same Columbia program that came to Rupp Arena and lost by only 10 last season. But with a Ken Pomeroy rating of No. 93, Stony Brook is five slots ahead of an Alabama team UK beat by 26 in the SEC Tournament. So, seriously?
“You know, they can beat us. They can,” Calipari said.
All right. How?
“They’ve got great inside presence, they shoot the ball, they play pack-line defense, they play man-to-man sometimes where they will top you so you can’t really come off screens. They do some great stuff. They run great stuff high-low, slip screens and do stuff to post their big guy and they do a great job. So we can lose the game.”
The big guy Calipari is talking about is Jameel Warney, a 6-8, 260-pound senior forward who averaged 30.3 points and 15.8 rebounds in three America East Conference wins, including 43 points in the America East final against Vermont.
As it turns out, Calipari was watching that game in his Nashville hotel room waiting for the Wildcats' game against Alabama in the SEC Tournament.
“I had dead time and I was sitting in there and I know (Stony Brook coach) Steve (Pikiell), watched his career as a player and as a coach and they’re down 16 and I go this guy has buzzard luck,” Calipari said. “He wins the league every year and in the tournament something happens, a buzzer beater. They have had two buzzer beaters in the last two years, and then they come from 16 down and end up winning the game. Happy for him, and I said, hope we don’t play them. Did not know that my room was bugged by the NCAA. When they heard that, they sad that’s who they’re playing, we’ll work the field around them. But anyway, they’re good. Our team knows they’re good.”
At the very least, UK’s big men seem to know that they have a test ahead of them.
“He’s really good down low from what I’ve seen on film,” UK center Skal Labissiere said. “In his last game he scored like 40 points, so he’s pretty good. Just like every team we play we can beat them but they can beat us. We definitely are going to have to give every team respect and come out and play hard.”
There was a good crowd for Kentucky’s public shootaround on Wednesday, but probably not the usual throng of Wildcats fans. That distinction went to Kansas, whose fans have assumed the Jayhawks would begin the NCAA Tournament here all season.
Calipari had been critical of the NCAA Tournament Selection committee for giving UK a No. 4 seed. But he said on Wednesday that he was over any frustration he felt.
“I like to poke the bear the hour after the show and then after that it really doesn’t matter,” Calipari said. “I poke the bear and then the bear chases me. They haven’t caught me yet. I’ve run up the tree a few times. But it doesn’t matter at this point. Now, it’s like you’ve got to play games and it’s not changing.”
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