Calipari Tells His Young Team "Just Go Play"
Big Blue fans may be outraged at UK's #8 seeding in the NCAA Tournament, but Coach Cal is taking it all in stride.
The Selection Show is normally cause for celebration, but the Wildcats were in no mood on Sunday.
They had just suffered a heartbreaking defeat in the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game at the hands of Florida, so they watched in a private room in the Georgia Dome quietly as brackets were revealed.
When Kentucky popped up on the screen, they barely reacted -- which surely can't be said for most UK fans who were also tuned in to CBS.
"I think they're still disappointed we lost this game so they're still not thinking," John Calipari said. "We've got a couple guys still almost despondent."
UK (24-10) was tabbed a No. 8 seed in the Midwest Region, facing a second-round matchup with No. 9 Kansas State (20-12) on Friday in St. Louis. The winner will likely face the region's No. 1 seed, unbeaten Wichita State.
Even though the sting from their defeat at the hands of the Gators was still fresh, the Cats know they won't have long to dwell on it. This, after all, is when the games really matter.
The seed came as a surprise to some, particularly considering the fact that UK finished with a top-20 RPI and was one possession away from taking down the No. 1 overall seed in their final game. The Cats, however, weren't surprised.
They were warned ahead of time by a prescient Coach Cal.
"Coach told us the exact number actually," Aaron Harrison said. "I don't know what we deserved and I don't know who does the brackets or whatever but we really don't care."
Of course the Cats wouldn't have minded to see a five, six or even seven next to their names, but that doesn't much matter now.
"We thought we could have gotten a little higher but we kind of expected that's what would happen," James Young said. "It's whatever. We're just going to keep going out to play every game."
That would have been the approach regardless whether UK won against Florida. In fact, Coach Cal doesn't even think UK's seed would have been any different.
"We would have been eight," Calipari said. "They made their minds up that that's what this team was. The only way you can prove 'em wrong is go play ball. And we played today and I'm proud of the guys. We'll go play. We'll go to St. Louis and play."
Adding to the intrigue, archrival and fourth-seeded Louisville looms as a potential Sweet 16 matchup for UK in Indianapolis, Ind. UK is also joined by No. 3 Duke and No. 2 Michigan, leading some to declare the Midwest the "region of death."
"It's a stacked region," Dakari Johnson said. "But I think we showed today that we can compete with anybody in the country so as long as we do that, I think we'll be fine."
Before UK can take its shot at any of those teams, the Cats have to take care of business. Kansas State enters the tournament having lost three in a row, but the Wildcats boast wins over the likes of Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
Preparation begins right away.
"I haven't watched them one second," Calipari said. "I'll probably watch them on the plane."
For the next few days, brackets and seeds will be broken down in every way imaginable and seeds and draws will be analyzed. But come Friday, nothing else matters but the task at hand.
"We just got to go play now," Calipari said. "It's what it is. It doesn't matter what other seeds are now. It's over. I can be mad about it, you can be mad, everybody can be (mad). Explain yourself. They had the fourth strength of schedule. Are you telling people they don't have to play anybody? Explain it. But they don't have to explain it. They said what we did. So, we just got to go play. We got to play basketball in St. Louis."
Plenty of UK fans are sure to make the trip to St. Louis and the Cats are likely to have a neutral-court fan advantage as they do nearly everywhere. Wichita State and Kansas State, however, don't have far to travel either.
That could make for a popular set of Friday and Sunday games.
"It's good," Calipari said. "Yeah, it'll be good. But it's close to Wichita (State), it's close to Kansas State. Everybody's going to have fans. I bet you everybody uses up their allotment."