NCAA Midwest: Bitter rivals meet again

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INDIANAPOLIS -- John Calipari sent Andrew and Aaron Harrison and three other freshmen to sit behind the microphones and answer questions about Kentucky's Sweet 16 matchup against Bluegrass State rival Louisville.

Rick Pitino sent up seniors Russ Smith and Luke Hancock.

That, as much as the 70 miles that separates the schools, is the gulf between the neighbors who play tonight in one of the most important meetings in their long, colorful and not-so-friendly rivalry.

Eighth-seeded Kentucky plays the one-and-done game and won a title that way in 2012. Fourth-seeded Louisville goes for a more long-term approach and took home its own championship trophy last season.

"There's so many arguments," Pitino said. "I think the best of all worlds, me personally, I would like to see exactly what football has."

Whether they stay a minimum of three years (football), one year (basketball) or something else, the issue of how athletes fit into a college campus was thrust into the spotlight by this week's National Labor Relations Board decision that defined football players at Northwestern as employees.

Neither coach would bite when asked how they felt about the ruling. "Has nothing to do with this game, so I leave it alone," Calipari said.

Calipari, whose 2012 title team came behind one-and-doner Anthony Davis, now of the Pelicans, saw the negatives of having to rebuild every year play out in stark detail this season. A starting lineup with five freshmen struggled with expectations, sharing, listening and handling criticism.

Now comes the payoff. Calipari has figured out how to get the most from the Wildcats (26-10) and, as a result, they are clicking. Aaron Harrison has scored 18 and 19 points in the past two games. His brother had 20 in Kentucky's 78-76 upset of top seed Wichita State. Another freshman, James Young, made a 3-pointer that gave Kentucky the lead in that game with less than two minutes to go.

"They had to hear how bad they were as players, how selfish they were, they're not together, this isn't a team," Calipari said. "Instead of separating, they stuck together. They kept believing in the staff and wanted answers, 'How do we get this right?' and they accepted answers."

Not that managing a more experienced roster, with seven players coming off a national title, has been smooth sailing for Pitino and Louisville (31-5).

Pitino dismissed Chane Behanan in December for violating school rules. The rallying point of last year's run, Kevin Ware, took a medical redshirt for more recovery on the right leg he snapped gruesomely in last year's regional final.

"I know everyone wants to talk about experience," Hancock said when asked about the differences between what a senior knows and what a freshman knows this time of year. "But they've got 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 guys who are going to play real hard. We have the same. It's not going to be too big an advantage either way."

Michigan vs. Tennessee

Cuonzo Martin feels as if he has spent his whole life getting to know Glenn Robinson III.

Now the Tennessee coach must figure out how to beat the Michigan star tonight in the other regional semifinal.

"I'm happy for him and it will be fun playing against him," Martin said. "Of course, we'd like to get the win, but I'm happy to see where he's come, how far he's come as a basketball player. He's a great kid."

For Martin, this is not just another game. It's a reunion of sorts, and in his adopted home state of Indiana.

The Tennessee coach and Robinson's father were roommates at Purdue. After college, the two stayed in touch and traded stories about the younger Robinson's life, even the times Robinson brought his newborn son to Martin's apartment in 1994. So when the younger Robinson emerged as a prep star, of course Martin wanted him at Tennessee.

Instead, Robinson went north and wound up in a showdown against one of his favorite college coaches.

"He's a great family friend. I know my mom and grandma are close with him and his family," Robinson III said. "Great guy, and it's just funny how things work out."

Today

n Games: No. 11 Tennessee vs. No. 2 Michigan, No. 8 Kentucky vs. No. 4 Louisville.

n When: 7:15 p.m., 9:45 p.m.

n TV: KDKA.

n Skinny: The previous time Kentucky and Louisville played in the NCAA tournament was in the 2012 Final Four. Kentucky won that game, 69-61, before defeating Kansas for the national title.


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