As you’ve pretended to be a college basketball expert and filled out your tournament bracket this year, you may have noticed four Kentucky basketball programs amidst the field of 68. Generally speaking, when one says “Kentucky Basketball,” one is referring to only one team. This year, “Kentucky Basketball” means something completely different.
Murray State (6), Louisville (4), Kentucky (1) and Western Kentucky (16) all have spots in this year’s road to the Final Four. While Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals play their first game against Davidson (13) in Portland, OR, three of the four Kentucky teams’ roads begin right here in Louisville, KY at your very own KFC Yum! Center.
It goes without saying that Kentucky’s representation in the tournament is good for the state, but for good measure, I asked Coach Calipari for his thoughts:
Me: “Coach, how about all these Kentucky teams in the tournament this year? Three of the four playing right here. Talk about what that means to the state of Kentucky.”
Calipari: “I think it says a lot about basketball in this state. I mean, you’re talking three of the teams won their conference tournament. We did not. You’re talking three of the teams at the end of the year; they’re all on win streaks right now. Obviously, we are not. But Murray was the story all year, and then at the end of the year, Ray gets Western playing, and out of nowhere they become the story. And then Louisville goes to New York and does what they do. It’s neat stuff for our state.”
Thousands upon thousands of March Madness fans will pack the YUM! Center this week. I spoke to a variety of fans today at practice sessions and found that you basically have five categories of fans here this week:
Visiting Team Miscellaneous (family, band, cheerleaders)
Wildcat Haters (Louisville fans)
March Madness Junkies
The Murray State Racers held shoot-a-round in the Yum! Center in the early afternoon today. Those who are familiar with Murray State’s 2011-2012 season may be a little sour about the Racers’ 6th seed draw from the selection committee, but their spot almost certainly ensures them of advancing at least past their first opponent, Colorado State. Murray State is the best road team in the NCAA (13-0) while CSU is one of the worst road teams in the tournament at 3-9.
It’s unfortunate for Western Kentucky that their first game after winning their play-in game against Mississippi Valley must be against the #1 overall seed Kentucky Wildcats. While the Hilltoppers are only a few hours south of Louisville, their red-shirted fans (and red-shirted Wildcat haters) will likely be heavily outnumbered by Wildcat blue. One thing is for sure, Kentucky and Murray State will both enjoy a substantial home crowd advantage over their opponents here in Louisville.
If you don’t have them inked yet, finish those tournament brackets and get your money to the guy in charge (you know who you are). In the coming days, Louisville.com will be on hand for your NCAA coverage at the KFC Yum! Center. We will provide court side photos, post game locker room updates of your favorite “Kentucky Basketball” teams and much more.
Photos courtesy of: Michael Windle, Louisville.com