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NCAA Final 4 Preview - (4) Kentucky vs. (3) Connecticut

Saturday, April 2, 40 minutes after VCU/Butler – CBS

> View all of our 2011 NCAA Tournament Coverage online at CollegeSports-Fans.com!


If one half of the Final Four is a feel-good story, the other half is a tale of excellent on-court coaches with rotten ethics… and resilient players who deserve a great deal of praise. While VCU-Butler is the charming matchup that puts a smile on one’s face, Kentucky-Connecticut is the brand-name semifinal showdown that has created happiness only in two specific pockets of the country.

Unless you reside in Lexington, Kentucky, or somewhere in New England, you’re likely not taken by the second national semifinal this Saturday night. When coach John Calipari leads his Kentucky Wildcats against coach Jim Calhoun’s Connecticut Huskies, the shadow side of college basketball will be very much in evidence.

Calipari owns the dubious distinction of leading two separate schools to the Final Four, only to have those distinctions vacated in the official record books. With Massachusetts in 1996 and Memphis in 2008, Calipari – a truly gifted sideline maestro and a proven motivator of elite recruits – rode a bunch of thoroughbreds to college basketball’s biggest stage, only for behind-the-scenes improprieties to bring down NCAA penalties. Calipari has always operated in the gray areas of recruiting rules and has brought with him liaisons such as William “World Wide Wes” Wesley, a man who entices players to play for Calipari while smoothing the path to a post-collegiate basketball career. After this past Sunday’s win over North Carolina in the East Regional final, global entertainer Jay-Z made an appearance in the Kentucky locker room, underscoring the extent to which Calipari promotes a high-end, big-money image to the young men he coaches with a keen emotional intelligence on the court. Jay-Z is a long ways away from “My Old Kentucky Home,” but as long as Calipari is making Final Fours and squeezing the most out of the talent at his disposal, the locals in the Commonwealth of Kentucky won’t mind at all. UK fans are immensely excited – and relieved – that their beloved program’s 13-year Final Four drought has finally ended. Thanks to a scrappy mixture of overachieving seniors (big man Josh Harrellson) and come-of-age freshmen (point guard Brandon Knight), Kentucky has owned the final minutes of close games this tournament. It defeated the top two seeds in its region to vault Calipari to his third Final Four appearance (just the first one that still counts on the public record).

For Connecticut, the portrait of off-court waywardness is even more pronounced than it is at Kentucky. The Husky basketball program lost focus over the past few years, as the recruitment of a player – Nate Miles – who briefly played for the Huskies brought about numerous NCAA violations, including a spate of phone calls in excess of NCAA allowances. This was a smaller-scale version of the problem that took down and discredited Kelvin Sampson at Indiana. Yet, the fact that Calhoun is able to coach at the Final Four shows how slippery the Huskies have proven to be in an off-court context.

On the court, they’ve been hard to handle as well over the past three weeks.

> Find a great selection of Kentucky Wildcats Apparel as well as Connecticut hats & merchandise online through CollegeSports-Fans.com!

If one half of the Final Four is a feel-good story, the other half is a tale of excellent on-court coaches with rotten ethics… and resilient players who deserve a great deal of praise. While VCU-Butler is the charming matchup that puts a smile on one’s face, Kentucky-Connecticut is the brand-name semifinal showdown that has created happiness only in two specific pockets of the country.

Unless you reside in Lexington, Kentucky, or somewhere in New England, you’re likely not taken by the second national semifinal this Saturday night. When coach John Calipari leads his Kentucky Wildcats against coach Jim Calhoun’s Connecticut Huskies, the shadow side of college basketball will be very much in evidence.

Calipari owns the dubious distinction of leading two separate schools to the Final Four, only to have those distinctions vacated in the official record books. With Massachusetts in 1996 and Memphis in 2008, Calipari – a truly gifted sideline maestro and a proven motivator of elite recruits – rode a bunch of thoroughbreds to college basketball’s biggest stage, only for behind-the-scenes improprieties to bring down NCAA penalties. Calipari has always operated in the gray areas of recruiting rules and has brought with him liaisons such as William “World Wide Wes” Wesley, a man who entices players to play for Calipari while smoothing the path to a post-collegiate basketball career. After this past Sunday’s win over North Carolina in the East Regional final, global entertainer Jay-Z made an appearance in the Kentucky locker room, underscoring the extent to which Calipari promotes a high-end, big-money image to the young men he coaches with a keen emotional intelligence on the court. Jay-Z is a long ways away from “My Old Kentucky Home,” but as long as Calipari is making Final Fours and squeezing the most out of the talent at his disposal, the locals in the Commonwealth of Kentucky won’t mind at all. UK fans are immensely excited – and relieved – that their beloved program’s 13-year Final Four drought has finally ended. Thanks to a scrappy mixture of overachieving seniors (big man Josh Harrellson) and come-of-age freshmen (point guard Brandon Knight), Kentucky has owned the final minutes of close games this tournament. It defeated the top two seeds in its region to vault Calipari to his third Final Four appearance (just the first one that still counts on the public record).

For Connecticut, the portrait of off-court waywardness is even more pronounced than it is at Kentucky. The Husky basketball program lost focus over the past few years, as the recruitment of a player – Nate Miles – who briefly played for the Huskies brought about numerous NCAA violations, including a spate of phone calls in excess of NCAA allowances. This was a smaller-scale version of the problem that took down and discredited Kelvin Sampson at Indiana. Yet, the fact that Calhoun is able to coach at the Final Four shows how slippery the Huskies have proven to be in an off-court context.

On the court, they’ve been hard to handle as well over the past three weeks.

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer
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