Like all of us yesterday, the Kentucky Wildcats basketball team sat on the edge of their seat, nervously waiting to see if they would be invited to this years edition of the NCAA basketball tournament. Unfortunately, their fate was sealed Friday night with the loss to the Vanderbilt Commodores and the Wildcats were relegated to the NIT Tournament. While Kentucky got a number one seed in the NIT, the opening game on Tuesday night will not be played in the friendly confines of Rupp Arena, or even Memorial Coliseum, where Kentucky hosted a NIT game in 2009. Instead, Kentucky travels to Pittsburgh to face Robert Morris.
What gives? Last night, Kentucky released the following statement in an attempt to shed light on the situation:
“We did not place a bid to host the first round of the NIT due to limited staff availability to properly host a game at Memorial Coliseum. Because the University of Kentucky is hosting the NCAA second- and third-round games at Rupp Arena on March 21 and 23, the facility was not available for a first-round NIT game. We placed a bid to host both the second round and quarterfinal games at Rupp Arena if we advance.” – DeWayne Peevy, UK Executive Associate AD
Perhaps the star of the Kentucky/Robert Morris game will be the actual arena itself. The Sewall Center seats just 3,056 fans. Yes. Just 3,056 fans. Our stat guru Corey Price did some research and found out that the venue itself is something historical. Corey texted me that the last time Kentucky played a postseason game in a smaller arena than Robert Morris was in the 1938 SEC Tournament at the Huey Long Fieldhouse on LSU’s campus. The last time that Kentucky played a true road game in an arena smaller than Sewall was 11/26/1985 when they played at Chaminade. Chaminade’s home arena seats just 2,800. And finally, the last time that Kentucky played a true road game against a non conference Division 1 team was on 1/2/1950. Kentucky travelled to Robinson Auditorium to face the Arkansas Razorbacks.
So at least this is some type of historical appearance, right?
At this point, there is no need to keep hating on the NIT appearance. It’s a reality and going to happen, so may as well embrace it, right? Here is the Kentucky half of the bracket and to be honest, it does pose a couple of interesting games. Aside from the Robert Morris game, this NIT schedule is quite an interesting one as it offers a couple of shots at redemption for Kentucky as they can avenge a couple of their worst losses of the season and John Calipari could come head on with his past.
It has already been noted that John Calipari attended Moon Area High School, less than 1 mile away from the Robert Morris campus and there is buzz that his grandmother may have worked in the cafeteria at Robert Morris. If Kentucky progresses, they could have a shot at Baylor in Rupp Arena for a trip to the Final Four in NEw York. Once there, they could face Tennessee in Madison Square Garden. Keep in mind the Baylor and Tennessee loss are two of the reasons that Kentucky finds themselves in the NIT. And if you really want some drama, Kentucky could face UMass in the NIT Finals.
Like I have said, as a fan you hate that this is not the NCAA, but let’s embrace some of these storylines as it will be interesting at best.