Kentucky fans are all too familiar with the entertainment that is a John Calipari press conference, but UK’s neighbors to the west have an entertaining public speaker as well.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers head coach Rick Stansbury has voiced some memorable quotes in the last couple years, and his most recent idea has people talking.
Stansbury wants to have a Kentucky state tournament with four schools, three of them being Kentucky, Louisville and WKU.
“I wish we could come up with some kind of tournament,” Stansbury said in a media appearance in Louisville. “How we could get Kentucky and Louisville, ourselves, and another school in a tournament somewhere. It’d be great for everybody. You’d get three of the flagship programs in the country tradition-wise.”
There’s been some resistance to this, as Kentucky fans argue that their non-conference schedule is loaded and something like this would hurt the strength of schedule.
First of all, I’d like to point out that no one was as concerned about strength of schedule when the Wildcats had to fight and claw against Vermont (another worthy mid-major opponent). But there are weaker opponents on the non-conference schedule that could be replaced with this, thus increasing the strength of schedule.
Stansbury has WKU rocketing up the mid-major ranks over the last couple years, and the Hilltoppers damn near made the NCAA Tournament last year.
After falling literally inches short of a Conference USA Championship, they made a run to the NIT semifinal this past season. Stansbury took a good portion of last year’s roster and added one of the more prominent recruiting classes in the country to it for 2018-19, which includes five-star big man Charles Bassey.
The Hilltoppers are going to generate excitement and make a splash as a mid-major team for the time being, so this really doesn’t stand to hurt Kentucky (or Louisville) from a strength of schedule standpoint. In fact, just as the Vermont game did for Kentucky last year, it could prove to be a legitimate test.
To get this done, we’d have to determine a fourth team. Northern Kentucky and Murray State have both proved to be strong mid-major teams as well in recent years, and some sort of rotation between the two could stand to be the finishing touches on this four-team tournament. A guaranteed two games for each team and a battle for bragging rights within the state seems like a good idea for a commonwealth that loves hoops so much.
The only issue I see is that Kentucky and Louisville could end up playing twice. That could be solved by pitting them against each other in round one as a tip off to the tournament. Or, and stay with me here, we could just let them potentially play twice each year. As if this rivalry needs any more fuel to its fire.
So yes, sign me up, Rick. I’m all for a Kentucky state tournament. It’s a measuring stick for everyone—Kentucky and Louisville get to see how they match up with teams fighting for a tournament spot, and WKU and Northern Kentucky/Murray State get to see how they stack up against top-tier teams. It’s a win-win.