Notebook: Quick Turnaround No Big Deal to Cats

INDIANAPOLIS – When the final horn sounded following Kentucky’s win over Northern Kentucky and people ushered out of their seats to the exits of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the public-address announcer adjusted his line to the crowd and said “good morning” rather than good night.

The Wildcats and Norse didn’t finish their first-round NCAA Tournament game until well after midnight. Players and coaches didn’t get back to their hotel until after 1 a.m.

For the players, it was a bit of a struggle to finally fall asleep despite the late hour.

“It was around 2 o’clock, got back to the room, laid down and didn’t go to bed until around 3,” said senior forward Dominique Hawkins, who decided to watch a little TV before getting some shuteye.

“It takes a while for your body to start to calm down and actually get settled in and go to bed,” Briscoe said. “I don’t know. Maybe a couple hours after 1 or 2.”

By comparison, Hawkins and Briscoe’s bedtimes were downright early compared to De’Aaron Fox, who didn’t call it a night until 5 a.m.

On Saturday, the Wildcats ate breakfast at 10 a.m., bused to the arena at 3:30 for media obligations and a closed practice on the game court for approximately 90 minutes. They had a team dinner around 6:30 Saturday evening before calling it a night at a much more reasonable hour and getting prepared for Sunday’s game at approximately 2:40 p.m.

“I feel like it won’t affect us as much because we have a full day to rest and we don’t play until around 2:30 or so,” Hawkins said, “so it’ll give us also a little more break.”

Coach Cal has been outspoken in his distaste for the ultra-late tip times, and the Wildcats had just a brief postgame press conference after their NKU win, in part because media members also wanted to call it a day.

Wichita State played the game directly before Kentucky, so extra rest shouldn’t play a role in the two teams’ second-round game. Regardless, the players said they don’t think the late tip and quick turnaround would play a role either way.

“I don’t think (it’s a big deal),” Briscoe said. “At the end of the day, it’s basketball. If it’s something we love to do we should never have a problem playing basketball. I don’t care if it’s 3 in the morning, 4 in the morning. Whenever we’re expected to get on that court and play, that’s when we play.”

SEC showing well in Big Dance

The Southeastern Conference can walk with its chest out after a strong opening round that saw four of five schools advance to the round of 32, and nearly a fifth with ninth-seeded Vanderbilt losing a heartbreaker to Northwestern.

The SEC’s 4-1 record after the first round of the NCAA Tournament is the second-best record among Power Five conferences, trailing only the Pac-12, which went 5-0.

In the South Region, Kentucky was able to survive a tougher-than-expected first-round game against Northern Kentucky, and Arkansas topped Seton Hall in an 8-9 matchup. Behind 29 points from SEC Player of the Year (coaches) Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina defeated 10th-seeded Marquette and won its first NCAA Tournament game since 1973. On the opening day of the tournament Thursday, Florida dispatched East Tennessee State by 15 points.

The strong play by the league could bode well for the Wildcats in that they’ve clearly faced a challenging league schedule and came out with a 16-2 record and both a regular-season and tournament championship. 

The exciting news for fans of the SEC is that the conference is that this season’s opening-round performances may just be a precursor for what is to come.

“We all got to make sure we’re looking at the big picture of this,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said March 13 during the SEC Coaches’ Teleconference. “First of all, out of 32 leagues we’re the youngest in the country. Think about that. The youngest in the country. We are also, we had 11 teams in the top 100. We had, I thought it was seven, it may have been six teams in the top 50. We stay on that path we’re going to end up having seven, eight, maybe even nine teams in the NCAA Tournament.”

Second-round play for SEC schools will begin Saturday with fourth-seeded Florida taking on fifth-seeded Virginia (approximately 8:40 p.m. ET on TNT) in what could be a defensive grudge match. On Sunday, Kentucky has a tough matchup against No. 10 seed Wichita State, the fifth most efficient team in the country, per KenPom.com (approximately 2:40 p.m. on CBS). Arkansas will go up against No. 1 seed North Carolina (6:40 p.m. on TNT), and seventh-seeded South Carolina will face No. 2 seed Duke (approximately 8:40 p.m. on TNT).

Briscoe’s importance not lost on Cal 

Coach Cal has settled on a clear six-man rotation for the postseason.

It features, per usual for UK, three standout freshmen in De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo. Two seniors – Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins – have emerged alongside them to provide a steadying presence.

The one among the six seeming to go somewhat under the radar? Isaiah Briscoe.

On Saturday, Calipari reminded everyone of the sophomore’s importance.

“I think his leadership, his defense, his toughness, his rebounding, his ability to get in the lane,” Calipari said. “I mean, if your team is not attacking that lane, and he gets in 16, 18 times a game, his feet are in that lane. There's unbelievable value to that. Shooting free throws better, shooting the ball better in the last week or so. His ability to create shots for his teammates. But, more importantly, he just comes up with balls. One we needed yesterday, he's the guy that dove on the floor and scooped it.”

Briscoe has gotten better across the board this season, improving his scoring average from 9.6 to 12.7, his free-throw shooting by more than 18 percent and his 3-point shooting by almost 14 percent.

That’s all great, but his presence is even more important.

“He's really become that well-rounded player that I would have hoped,” Calipari said. “And he's playing with young guys, like he's the guy -- he's the old guy. He's like 20. He's the old guy.”