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Two games, two historic basketball venues, 16 hours, one columnist, lots of orange. The adventure has commenced.
From the University of Kentucky’s win over Tennessee last night, I had 13 hours from leaving Rupp Arena to get to the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y., for today’s 1 p.m. game between the University of Louisville and Syracuse.
So far, so good. I’m in Philadelphia, where they have a couple of feet of snow, but things appear to be running smoothly.
UK looked out of sync for much of last night’s game against Tennessee, but Wildcats coach John Calipari blamed himself for not preparing his team for the Vols’ 3-2 zone. I watched Pearl employ that zone a lot in his Division II days at the University of Southern Indiana, but I don’t know that he’s used it too much at Tennessee. The ploy nearly worked.
One thing UK is not getting, and that’s opportunity for John Wall to get to the rim. With DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson eating up space inside, there’s not much room for Wall to gash defenses. It’s going to be a tricky piece of choreography for Calipari down the stretch to get the right balance between inside and out.
To UK’s credit, once Calipari adjusted at halftime, they really did a nice job of attacking the zone in the final 10 minutes of the game, and they put on the kind of defensive pressure that they’ll need.
One thing I thought as I watched the game — UK was lucky it wasn’t playing Syracuse. The Orange zone is a different thing altogether.
While Calipari claimed that UK’s schedule down the stretch is the toughest in the country, I don’t think trips to Georgia, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Tennessee quite qualify for that.
When all is said and done, expect UK to have played exactly ONE team all season that winds up as a No. 4 seed or higher in the NCAA Tournament.
U of L, meanwhile, is a decided underdog against Syracuse today. The Cardinals aren’t expected by many to win, but they need to show a heartbeat after a humiliating performance at St. John’s. If they don’t, they’re going to be accused of mailing it in. For a team that has played hard all season and have some tough breaks, that’s no way to finish.
I expect another gritty effort from U of L. I also expect Syracuse will be too much.
More on that game to come . . .