Post-Gazette sports reporter Paul Zeise blogs about the world of sports, and Pittsburgh sports in particular, with an assist from Seth Rorabaugh and his Morning Links. Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulZeise and Seth @emptynetters.
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A lot of people asked me yesterday why Kentucky was only a 3 ½ point favorite over Robert Morris and how in the world Robert Morris was able to beat them.
The answer yesterday was the same as it was today – toughness and motivation are great equalizers in basketball.
And we saw another example – one to keep in your back pocket as you finish making your brackets – of how one team was far more talented but the other team was far more motivated and far tougher and came away with a nice upset victory.
Robert Morris shouldn’t beat Kentucky in basketball ever, but the beauty of basketball is you have to do it on the court and unlike football -- where superior talent and size is tough to overcome no matter how motivated you are – toughness can take you a long way.
Let’s be real – the kids from Kentucky were not as motivated as the kids from Robert Morris. It was the Colonials NCAA title game, their most important game ever, the biggest game they have ever played – it was a sold out crowd and a chance to be on national TV (maybe what, the second or third time all year if that?) -- - so you knew Kentucky was going to get their absolute best effort of the year.
Kentucky on the other hand is a young and immature team that plays on national TV almost every game and thought it was going to the big show. There is no way you will convince me they were ready to play and gave it their best effort and they probably thought they would waltz in and win the game because they were Kentucky.
How do I know this – because their coach said as much after the game and he also has said as much all season long as this group he had was for the most part soft, selfish and not always motivated.
Robert Morris kicked their butt physically, the Colonials took it right to them and Kentucky didn’t realize they were in a battle until it was too late.
Andy Toole did a great job here with this group to win this game but you know, this one was really easy to get his team up and ready to play.
Here is when I will determine just how tough the Colonials are – go win the next game, I am assuming on the road and it will be against either Providence or Charlotte. Either way, the atmosphere is likely to be not real great, it isn’t likely to be a national TV broadcast – let’s see them go win.
That is when I will make a determination about where this Robert Morris team fits.
It is easy to get up for a home game against the defending national champs on national TV – heck even I could motivate a team to play under those circumstances. But get up for a mediocre team on the road in the silent of a night – then that will show me what this team really is made of.
Robert Morris deserves a heck of a lot of credit for this win and the Colonials players fought tooth and nail from start to finish – but they also had motivation and energy way in their favor so let’s see if they can find that magic again (rer it was less than a few weeks ago when they lost at home in the NEC Tournament).
As for Andy Toole, I know the fear is that RMU will lose him but let’s look at the reality of this – it is tough to get out of the NEC without actually winning the league – Mike Rice needed to win it twice before he got his shot as did Jim Ferry.
I’m not saying it won’t happen or can’t happen and this Kentucky win adds to Toole’s resume but he made another year or two and win the NEC Tournament and get to the NCAA Tournament before he gets his shot to move on to a bigger place.
Kentucky, by the way, this year only underscores just how amazing it has been what John Calipari has done the last five or six years with his team full of one-and-done guys. I’ve often said people have no clue, NONE, NONE at all as to how difficult it is to win and win at an extremely high level with a brand new team every year and a bunch of high level freshmen.
I don’t care how talented they are.
It has been amazing that he has been able to get a basically brand new team every year, get them all to buy in quickly to what he wants, get them all to play unselfish and buy into a team concept and not miss on any of them in terms of their maturity and ability to handle the pressure of being a big time college player.
That is what he said last night after the game and what he has been saying all along – that this team had too much immaturity, too many selfish guys, too many guys who didn’t buy in and wanted to be bigger than the team.
When you consider how many years in a row he has gone this one-and-done route, the fact that this is the first time it has happened to him is amazing if you think about it.
The AAU culture is tough these days, tough to break, tough to deal with for these college coaches – it is a “me first” generation of players and they all think they are going to the league (and most of his are) so getting one or two of them to buy in is difficult – but getting a whole team of four or five of them to buy in year after year after year so that you can put together a team that wins 30 games and gets to the Final Four or even Elite Eight is amazing.
That’s why I have said – you want to talk about great coaches Calipari is one of the absolute best in the game and there are very few others, if any, who could pull off what he has tried to do.
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