GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) – Top-ranked Kentucky will carry a perfect record into the NCAA Tournament after cramming in one more win a few hours before everyone’s attention turns toward brackets, seeds and office pools.
It might mean one less day of rest for Wildcats than some of their top competition in the NCAAs, too.
While most of the conferences that wrapped up their tournaments this weekend finished Saturday, the Southeastern and Big Ten conferences were the only power-five leagues to wait until Sunday afternoon, shortly before the NCAA selection committee announces the pairings.
In the SEC, Kentucky beat No. 21 Arkansas 78-63 in Nashville, Tennessee, and No. 6 Wisconsin got past Michigan State 80-69 in overtime in Chicago to win the Big Ten crown.
“Obviously, (a Saturday final) would be the best thing, but it’s above my pay grade to make that decision,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said after Saturday’s semifinals. “So if we have to play on Sunday, we’ll play on Sunday and that’s fine.”
Badgers coach Bo Ryan said it’s really tough to play Sunday and then open the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.
“So what we ask for – I’m on the board of directors of the (National Association of Basketball Coaches) – we ask for if anybody is playing in a conference final on Sunday to not play until Friday,” Ryan said. “That’s been the case most of the time.”
But not every time.
Since 2004, 21 teams have entered the NCAAs with a No. 1 seed after playing a league tournament game on a Sunday. Nine of those ended up with the shorter turnaround and started on a Thursday, including Florida last season and 2012 champion Kentucky, according to STATS.
Most conferences don’t have to worry about it.
Only five of the 19 league tournaments finishing this weekend have a Sunday title game this year, according to STATS. Three of the power-five conferences – the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 – finished play on Saturday.
The ACC joined the Saturday group this year, moving from its traditional Sunday afternoon finish that it had held since 1982 to a Saturday prime-time TV slot as part of the league’s new look with the additions of Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse.
Fighting Irish coach Mike Brey said he, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon and Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim worked to sell the other ACC coaches on the merits of playing a Tuesday-to-Saturday schedule like the trio knew from their days in the old Big East. Brey said they sold the buzz – both in the arena and on TV – of playing a Friday night semifinal set followed by a Saturday night championship game, along with the fact that it would get the teams a little more time to regroup after playing in the title game.
“I would think all the coaches would think it’s a great benefit,” Brey said after his team upended No. 2 Duke in the semifinals before beating No. 19 North Carolina in the title game. “We also felt, and now that I’m in it, I sure would like another day to get my legs under me before we go into the NCAA tournament instead of playing Sunday afternoon. It would be nice.”
Mountain West Conference Commissioner Craig Thompson said it would also be a little easier on the NCAA selection committee. A committee member from 1996-99 and its chairman in 2000, Thompson said those Sunday games make the seeding “brutal” with the 6 p.m. deadline looming.
Look no further than the Big Ten final, which went to overtime and finished less than 20 minutes before the NCAA announced the 68-team field.
“The preference from a committee perspective would be to have all the games done on a Saturday night,” he said. “Not possible. Not probable. CBS has games on Sunday, ESPN and others, and they like that programming and the lead into selection, it’s perfect for TV, but it’s tough for the selection committee.”
AP Basketball Writer John Marshall in Las Vegas, and AP Sports Writers Jay Cohen in Chicago and Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.
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