Will It Be The Sweetest of 16s?

MATT JONES: Well, the brackets are out and for one of the first times probably in the history of NCAA Tournament talk, Kentucky and Louisville fans have been kind of unified. Both times feel like they maybe got screwed with too low of a seed and both teams probably don’t like the fact that they are in the same bracket. Do you agree, Tony?

TONY VANETTI: I do agree with that. I know that Rick Pitino doesn’t like seeing Kentucky on that other side. It is magical for us though – all the fans and broadcasters of Sweet Sixteen in the Dome know that a Louisville-Kentucky matchup is a dream. I was shocked at the fact that so many Louisville fans were shocked that they got the four. I mean, they acted like it was the O.J. Simpson verdict. They were freaking out. The gall of the NCAA Tournament to give them a four when they should have just looked at the matchups and said, “Ok, the first two rounds are pretty sweet and we get to go to Indy.” For Kentucky, the 8 seed – man, that was tough.

JONES: I actually think both teams – while they got lower than they deserved, it wasn’t by much. You could legitimately make the call that Kentucky should be a six through an eight, and they got the eight. You could legitimately make the call that Louisville should be a three through a four, and they got the four. The thing about both teams is that both teams are better on the court than the seed they got. But if you just look at their resumés, they got the seed that their resumés show. I think Louisville is one of the five best teams in the country, but they didn’t beat anybody. And when they got the chance to beat somebody, they lost. I don’t think Kentucky is an eight seed. They’re probably one of the best 15 to 20 teams in the country, but when they had the chance to beat somebody, they didn’t. So I don’t think either team can complain about the seed. What I think they both can complain about is that they got put into a monster region: the Midwest.

VANETTI: I was on a Vegas website today where they were calling the committee a fraud and that this is the most competitive side of a bracket in NCAA history. Would you agree with that?

JONES: Yes. It is certainly the most made. I mean, what you have in this bracket is a whole bunch of teams that, on paper, look really good. But all of them have had stretches in the year where they haven’t been good, and that’s what’s really interesting. As you rounded the form, you’ve got probably five of the best 12 teams in the country today in the same bracket, but they all struggled coming into it at various points. But Kentucky, I don’t mind their match up with Kansas State. They should be able to win that. If they don’t, then they don’t deserve to complain anyway. The Wichita State game is actually not a terrible matchup for Kentucky. Wichita State is good. Really, really good. But they don’t have any big guys. So if you assume as I did that Kentucky was going to have to play a good team in the second round, Wichita State is not a bad one to get because they don’t have any big guys and Kentucky should be able to control the glass.

VANETTI: Do you agree that the expectations for a Kentucky or a Louisville team in the Sweet Sixteen? That a Sweet Sixteen is what these programs should at least get every single year? Correct?

JONES: No, that’s not how I look at it. Here’s how I look at it. You judge the team based on two things: the regular season and the postseason. You can have a great year and not make the Sweet Sixteen if you had a great regular season and you just got upset. So I go back to 2004 where Kentucky was the number one overall seed and got upset by UAB in the second round. That was still a great year for that team, though. They only lost four games. But if you don’t have a great year – and Kentucky did not have a great year – then you need to get to the Sweet Sixteen. So now, Kentucky put pressure on itself and are now going to have to go and beat a 34-0 team to be considered as having a good year.

VANETTI: Now let me ask you about “The Tweak.” Calipari is now talking about “tweak” number two here. What is your take on the “tweak”? Is it real? Will it stay?

JONES: I’ve told you over and over that the moment I started seeing Calipari using “#tweak”, that told me that this is all just a game for him. I think they have changed a couple of things. They are passing the ball a lot more. They are on offense in the SEC Tournament. They did a lot more ball movement. What’s interesting is that they are playing better with Julius Randle not in the game, which I don’t think anybody saw coming. But that’s the truth. The Harrison twins are playing better. I like where they are. My belief is that if they play the way they did in the SEC Tournament, they’ll win these next two games. If they don’t, then they could lose the first one.

VANETTI: I’m trying not to get excited thinking about possibly playing Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen, but I do agree that if they play like they did in the SEC Tournament, they’ve got a real shot at being there. I think Louisville is going to be in Indianapolis.

JONES: It would be a huge upset for Louisville not to be in the Sweet Sixteen. With that said, there are a couple things that are in Louisville’s path. First of all, I think Manhattan is pretty good. If Manhattan was playing anybody but Louisville, I might have picked them to win. I don’t think Louisville is a great draw for Manhattan, but they shot threes well and as they get hot, then you never know. But I think Louisville wins. They’d bury Xavier and they’d bury St. Louis, but the team you need to watch out for is NC State, because T.J. Warren can score a boatload of points. So if they got him on a night that he drops 40, then you never know. Here’s the biggest issue for Louisville, though, and it’s got nothing to do with play: how do they officiate this tournament? Based on how the tournament went last year, they changed the rules. During the regular season in conference play, they stopped calling fouls the way they were supposed to. But for the first time all year, the NCAA is in control of the official. If they call fouls like they say they will, that hurts teams like Louisville who play a really physical brand of defense.

VANETTI: I understand you like the matchups, but when you look at it, do you really think Kentucky can beat Kansas State and beat really two de facto one seeds in a row in Wichita State and then a possible Louisville? After watching all season long, do you think that Kentucky team put three games together like that?

JONES: I think Kentucky can beat any of these teams individually, but at some point the numbers add up and they can’t beat them all consecutively. I think if you told me tomorrow Kentucky has to play Louisville, they’d win. Kentucky plays Wichita State tomorrow – they have a good chance to win. Like I said, the numbers catch up and they can’t beat them all consecutively. I don’t think Kentucky has a good chance of making the Final Four. But I don’t know if they lose to Wichita, Louisville, Duke or Michigan because it will just depend. One of those games, they will have a bad game and lose. I just don’t know which one it is.

VANETTI: Last question. If Kentucky does it – again, we know the guys who run Louisville: its Russ and Harrell – but the question mark has been, and a lot of your fans have asked, is Randle the problem and the solution? What’s the situation there?

JONES: Because of these matchups, Kentucky’s strongest point is going to be having Randle. As it showed in December, Kentucky can’t guard Randle. Neither can Wichita State, but if Randle is playing terrible then the teams play better without him. Against Florida, Kentucky was absolutely better when he was out of the game. The short answer to your question is, I don’t know. What I do think Kentucky has to do is make sure that they are hitting shots. If they hit their shots, they are all right. As for Louisville, they’ve got an easy first two, but then Kentucky or Wichita followed by Duke or Michigan, followed by Arizona, followed by whoever comes out on the other side has a tough draw, and the same thing will hit Louisville. They haven’t beat one good team all year except for Cincinnati. To ask them to beat four good teams? I just don’t think that happens. I don’t know how far they go, but I don’t think they win.

VANETTI: Good luck and we’ll see you in Indy.