On only one team in college basketball would a standout veteran player like Patrick Patterson be overshadowed. That would, of course, be Kentucky.
The junior forward has become the forgotten man this season as a pair of freshmen, guard John Wall and center DeMarcus Cousins, have emerged as All-Americans. However, Patterson is not complaining.
When Kentucky, the top seed in the East Regional, faces East Tennessee State in a first-round NCAA Tournament game today at New Orleans, Patterson will be as happy as anyone. It will mark his debut in the NCAAs as Kentucky missed the tournament last season and Patterson sat out with a broken ankle as a freshman in 2008 when the Wildcats lost to Marquette in the first round.
"I'm just anxious," Patterson said. "I'm ready to throw the ball up, ready to tip off and have fun with my teammates on the court. It's something I've always dreamed of, something I've always wanted to do. Finally to have such a successful team and having so much fun and being around a great bunch of guys and the type of family and brotherhood that we have with each other, it just transfers over onto the court."
Patterson had to give up his role of superstar with the emergence of Wall and Cousins. However, it is a trade he has been willing to make just to see Kentucky enter the tournament with a 32-2 record and poised to go to its first Final Four since winning the national championship in 1998.
"We all have a lot of fun with each other on the court," Patterson said. "We just feed off each other's energy. So to be able to go into a game like that, we all just want to have fun."
Though Patterson has played in the shadows of the freshmen, he is having an outstanding season with averages of 14.7 points, 7.4 rebounds, 0.9 assists and 23.6 minutes. His 130.3 offensive rating ranks third in the nation and he is 27th in effective field goal percentage (61.7), 36th in turnover rate (10.2) and 40th in true shooting percentage (63.2).
"We have a veteran player like a Patrick Patterson, who, if he wanted to say, 'It's my team and I'm taking all the shots,' he could have said that," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "He doesn't say it. He's scoring a little bit less. He's rebounding a little bit less than a year ago, yet his stock has gone through the roof, which is a great thing for coaches, all of us to say you can do less yet be more valuable to yourself and your team. But the freshmen, adding them to this team, it's been a boost. It's given us what we've needed to get to that next level."
It certainly has. Wall has averages of 17.0/4.2/6.2/35.0 with a 33.9 assist rate that is 33rd in the country. Cousins has a 15.3/10.1/0.9/23.6 line and is second in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage (20.6), third in fouls drawn per 40 minutes (8.6), 13th in percentage of possessions (31.9) and 15th in defensive rebounding percentage (26.2).
Patterson has also gotten caught up in the excitement that the freshmen and Calipari have brought to Lexington following Billy Gillispie's polarizing two-year run as Kentucky's coach.
"When Coach Calipari came in and the type of success that he's had in his past and what they thought he could do in the future, the fans were more active, more into it, more energized," Patterson said. "Myself, I seem to be happier, to just have more fun and look forward to playing basketball now, especially with the recruits and the team that we possibly could have, and the type of run that we could make."
Moving Past Seeding
Calipari likes to call Selection Sunday "Complaining Sunday" because seemingly no coach is happy with his team's seed or bracket it which it has been placed.
"You complain about it and then on Monday you move on and get ready to play," Calipari said.
Texas-El Paso coach Tony Barbee is admittedly having a hard time getting past his Miners being seeded No. 12 in the West Regional. They won 16 consecutive games before being upset by Houston in the Conference USA tournament championship game last Saturday. At 26-6, Barbee believes his team deserves better instead of getting a tough draw with Butler today in a first-round game at San Jose.
"I was shocked to see the seed that we got," Barbee said. "Those guys don't pick the tournament seeds, but when you see the prognostication two weeks on up from all the bracketologists, all the talk had us in the 7, 8, 9 range. There was never any talk of us being on the bubble or one of the last four in or last four out, so I was a little shocked by the 12 seed. I thought we had a season that deserved a little more respect in terms of the seeding, but at the end of the day we're fortunate to be in, excited to be in and going to have to make the most of it."
That is how UTEP's players are approaching it. They realize seeding goes out the window once the teams take the floor.
"This is the NCAA, no matter what seed you get you're going to have to come and play," junior guard Randy Culpepper said. "It's all good teams in the tournament, so I wasn't worried about the seeding, because each day we come out, we have to play. Each day, it's do or die, win or go home."
Baylor Looking to End Tournament Drought
Baylor's return from the ashes after nearly receiving the death penalty from the NCAA five years ago has been amazing. The Bears reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 20 years in 2008 and are back again this year with a 25-7 record and the No. 3 seed in the South Regional. They face Sam Houston State in a first-round game today at New Orleans.
The one thing Baylor hasn't done during its resurgence, though, is win a game in the NCAAs as it was ousted in the first round by Purdue two years ago. The Bears' last tournament victory came in 1950 when they beat Brigham Young.
Baylor knows all about the 60-year drought and hopes to end it against a fellow Texas school.
"A win would be huge for this program," senior guard Tweety Carter said. "We didn't come up here just to win one game, though. We've come up here to win games and that's what we've worked to do all season long, so we're going to continue that. Any time you get an opportunity to make history, you want to do that, and you want to do it by winning games. So we've got to continue to just strive for that."
When Baylor reached the NIT final before losing to Penn State last season, it marked the Bears' first four postseason victories of any kind since 1950. However, the Bears admit a win in the NCAAs would be more meaningful.
"Now after we've done so well in the NIT, it's a situation for our players to understand the importance and pressure and how to handle that," coach Scott Drew said. "Hopefully, we'll be able to be successful and learn what it would mean to win in the NCAA Tournament. No matter how many games you have or haven't won in the NCAA Tournament, any time you win, those are great memories and something that a school remembers and cherishes."
Celebratory Injury Won't Keep Jenkins Out
Murray State is seemingly America's dark horse. Everyone from President Obama on down is picking the 13th-seeded Racers to upset Vanderbilt today in a first-round game in the West Regional at New Orleans. Murray State not only has the Presidential seal of approval but carries a gaudy 30-4 record into the tournament.
Yet the best story surrounding Murray State as it tries to advance past the first round for the first time since knocking off North Carolina State in 1988 revolves around junior guard B.J. Jenkins, who is expected to play despite having a cut on his left hand. He was injured while, of all things, cutting down the nets following Murray State's victory over Morehead State in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship game on March 6.
"I don't understand how it happened," Murray State coach Billy Kennedy said. "I think he was embarrassed about it and hid it at first. I didn't know about it until the next day but it was a pretty good gash and I wasn't aware it was as bad as it was in the hype of winning the tournament."
The good news is that the OVC plays its tournament a week earlier than most other conferences. Thus, Jenkins has had enough time to heal and should be close to 100 percent today. He has a 10.4/2.4/3.2/25.5 line and is 34th in the nation in steal percentage (4.1) and 88th with 119.0 offensive rating.
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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