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From the Pressbox: Debating the 'good loss' question

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When most coaches become TV analysts, they do a good job imparting their expertise from the standpoint of X's and O's but a rare few bring something more to the table with their "feel" for the game. Al McGuire was that kind of analyst and that "feel" led to some unique insights.

Veteran Associated Press college basketball writer Jim O'Connell got to know McGuire from covering his Marquette teams and one McGuire-isms came to his mind as he watched the final seconds of Kentucky's 71-64 SEC Tournament final loss to Vanderbilt tick away.

"What I thought of, with about a minute to go in the game, was Coach Al McGuire. (He) really believed, and I talked to him privately about this, that it's good for a team to lose a game right before the NCAA Tournament," O'Connell said this week on "The Leach Report" radio show.  

"You don't want to go in with a double-figure winning streak because it puts more pressure (on your team). I started thinking about that and Coach McGuire would be sitting there saying 'this will be good for Kentucky,'" O'Connell continued. "A winning streak is a really big thing to have around your neck. Good coaches turn that into something positive. If you're going to look at the glass is half-full, then it was a good thing. If you're going to look at the glass half-empty, then there's something bad going on. It's how the coach and the team handles it. I know people hate to lose games but if you're going to lose a game, that's not a bad one to lose."

Kentucky fans have seized on some historical angles after the Cats' loss in New Orleans last Sunday. First, the 1996 national champions lost the SEC Tourney title game - in New Orleans no loss - and the 1951 champs lost the league tourney title to Vanderbilt. Those might be comforting for fans, but in reality, each team and each season is its own unique entity.

The challenge for this young Kentucky team is to use that loss as a means of sharpening its focus on the kind of attention to detail that it takes to win close games.  And if the bracket analysts are right, the Cats might face a few of those if they make a championship run.

There seems to be a consensus that even though it is the NCAA Tournament's overall No. 1 seed, the Wildcats face the toughest path to the Final Four. And O'Connell says there's good reason to believe that's true, in part because some teams might well be better than their numbers indicate.

"You're putting them in based on the numbers that they have for what they did, who they played, who they beat. But that doesn't necessarily translate into what reality is on the court. You look at a team like Connecticut. They're just a different team than they were two weeks ago," he said. "The games in the Big East Tournament, they looked like (the real) UConn. You're playing a totally different team than the one the computer tells you you're playing. Iowa State is coming on and Wichita State is a really underrated team. Centers that can make a difference are rare in college basketball but Garrett Stutz (of Witchita State) is a legitimate seven-footer who has really gotten better."

Indiana's Cody Zeller is another potentially challenging big man that could show in Kentucky's path. On the other side of the bracket, O'Connell leans toward Duke because he says Baylor has been an enigma to him.

"Baylor, I can't figure them out. There are nights where it looks like they met for the first time and put on really good uniforms," he said.

"If you just look at it (the South Region) as a numbers geek, you'd say it's okay (for UK). But the people who taught me about the NCAA Tournament, guys like Coach (Dave) Gavitt and Coach (C.M.) Newton, said 'use the eye test.' The question you always ask is, 'do you want to play these guys?'" observed O'Connell. "And I think Kentucky has more of those teams that fall into that 'I don't want to play them' than any other bracket."

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1 Comment

there's been a lot said about the "good loss". well ky fans don't like it. i mean what were we supposed to do after the vandy loss? storm the court.

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  • steve: there's been a lot said about the "good loss". well ky fans don't like it. i mean what were we read more
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