Even before he knew that his team would be playing at Robert Morris on Tuesday night in the opening round of the NIT, Kentucky coach John Calipari did his best to assure UK fans that there was still a reason to keep playing.
“I’m really disappointed we didn’t make the NCAA Tournament but we are going to use this time to make us better. Now, I’m going to coach these guys, try to make them better and give everything I can to make sure we control our destiny in the future,” said Calipari via Twitter.
He also thanks the fans for doing their part. “You showed up in droves and helped us pull through key games. We didn't do our part. We had our chances, but I’m not going to stop. It’s a great lesson for the future of our program and a humbling experience for me as a coach,” said Calipari on Twitter via @UKCoachCalipari.
Kentucky (21-11) was left out of the NCAA tourney in favor of teams such as LaSalle, Middle Tennessee and St. Mary’s, which had a combined four wins over top 50 teams. UK¿had four, but four straight losses by 10 or more points in games away from Rupp Arena apparently doomed UK¿with the NCAA selection committee.
Robert Morris (23-10) failed in its quest to win the Northeast Conference Tournament when it lost to Mount St. Mary’s in the tourney semifinals. The Colonials were on a hot 3-point shooting streak (60-for-150) going into that semifinal contest before cooling off. However, the Colonials have made at least 10 3-pointers in 14 games this season.
The Colonials have six players averaging 8.5 points or more per game and leading scorer Karvel Anderson (12.7 per game) comes off the bench. Junior guard Coron Williams (9.2 points per game) has over 200 career 3-pointers. Forward Lucky Jones (11.9 points per game) has scored in double figures in 14 of the last 16 games. He’s also the team’s top rebounder at 6.4 per game. Jones has 1,575 points, good for fifth place on the school’s career scoring list, and 543 assists, second on the school’s career list. Russell Johnson has 1,178 points, 15th best all-time, and 738 rebounds, third best and only 13 off the all-time school record.
Robert Morris is eighth nationally in 3-pointers made per game, 30th in 3-point percentage, 31st in free throw percentage and 14th in steals per game.
Robert Morris, which won the Northeast Conference regular-season championship, lost in the conference tourney in large part because seniors Jones and Johnson were a combined 4-for-24 from the field, including 0-for-8 from 3-point range. The Colonials lost 79-73 at Arkansas and 61-59 at Xavier during the regular season.
Other No. 1 seeds in the NIT are Alabama, Southern Mississippi and Virginia. The Wildcats become the 20th defending national champion to be left out of the NCAA tournament field and first since North Carolina in 2010. The Wildcats are not hosting Tuesday’s game because of a scheduling conflict with NCAA tourney games at Rupp Arena this week, but UK¿officials indicated bids have been made to the next two rounds if UK¿advances.
Kentucky would face the Charlotte-Providence winner if it beats Robert Morris. If the Cats win a second time, they would face either Detroit, Arizona State, Long Beach State or Baylor in the NIT quarterfinals. Baylor beat UK¿in Rupp Arena earlier this season.
The NIT semifinals are April 2 and championship April 4, all in New York’s Madison Square Garden.