Thu Mar 18 08:17am EDT
NEW ORLEANS — Listen long enough to John Calipari talk before Kentucky's match-up with East Tennessee State, and it's easy to forget which team is the juggernaut No. 1 seed and which team is the scrappy underdog No. 16.
He called his team the youngest in the NCAA tournament. He protested, "we're so inexperienced it's scary." And then when asked about his expectation's for Thursday's first-round game, he dared to play the survive-and-advance card.
"The message I've given the team is land the plane," the ever-entertaining Calipari said. "There's storm, there's lightning, people drinking their "Hater-Ade" coming at you. There are going to be things written and said. It's all coming at you. Land the plane. Survive and advance."
In spite of Kentucky's lack of NCAA tournament experience on its roster and tendency to play some puzzling close games, the Wildcats are going to survive and advance on Thursday – and chances are it will not be close.
Whatever the recipe for a No. 16 beating a No. 1 for the first time is, it probably doesn't include a frontline of DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson going up against an opponent whose nine-man rotation includes only one guy taller than 6-foot-6.
Of course, ever the master motivator, Calipari appears to have gotten his message of not overlooking anyone through to his team.
"You don't want to be the first school to lose to a 16 seed," John Wall said. "You never know what could happen. They could come out and hit a lot of shots and they might get the lead and feel confident. We've just got to go out and play basketball like we've been doing this whole season, and don't overlook any team."