The regular season of college basketball is over and now begins one of the most exciting times of year.
This year, it’s true madness. Why? Two programs with storied histories will be watching from home this year. There will be no parting gifts, no year’s supply of Rico-o-Roni. The ‘Cats and Blue Devils didn’t receive invitations to the ball. NCAA basketball royalty not invited?
You read that right. Kentucky and Duke are out. That hasn’t happened since 1976, the year Indiana beat Michigan in the championship to go 33-0. Kentucky was a mess this year. The Wildcats finished 9-17. Duke had three three-game losing streaks this year, but still managed to go 13-11. Duke won its first two ACC tournament games, but had some players test positive for COVID and abstained the rest of the way.
Duke wasn’t extended a bid to The Dance, though it might have gotten one had it not had the bout with the bug. As a result, Duke even spurned a bid to the NIT.
As Howard Cosell once said: “It’s ovah!”
So what happened this year? Not making the tournament is like waking up Dec. 25 and discovering there is no Christmas for those two fan bases. In fact, a lot of UK fans plan their vacations around the tournament. I frankly don’t know how anybody gets anything done in Kentucky during tournament time.
That’s not a criticism.
It’s hard to pin it on any one thing. Duke’s Jalen Johnson, a phenom signee that Duke always seems to get, suffered a foot injury which ended his season early. He decided to focus on an NBA adventure as a result.
I have to wonder, though. UK coach John Calipari and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski have been coaching a long time. Coach K started at Duke way back in 1983. Coach Cal came to UK in 2009, but before that, he was at Memphis and Massachussets. Sometimes I begin to wonder if the game may have passed these guys by.
Having prowled sidelines and baselines for nearly half a century, I’ve seen this phenomenon happen before. I think Phillip Fulmer was victimized by it at Tennessee. I think, to some extent, it happened to Bear Bryant at Alabama. Even after this crazy COVID-19 season, I wouldn’t count either of these coaches out. But you have to wonder.
Meanwhile, Georgia Tech won the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. The Yellow Jackets’ coach? One Josh Pastner, who was ignominiously shown the door at Memphis in favor of Penny Hardaway. Meanwhile, The Tigers are headed to the NIT.
Just thought I’d throw that out there.
Jim Steele is a correspondent for Magic Valley Publishing and the host of The Pressbox, which airs from 4-6 p.m. Monday-Thursday on 95.9 FM, WRJB, Camden, Tenn.