The Kentucky men’s basketball program quickly put together a telethon Tuesday night, coach John Calipari tweeted Wednesday morning, raising nearly $3 million for communities affected by flooding across the state that killed more than three dozen people. That is the biggest and most amazing topic. But a second story emerged from the event: Kentucky and Gonzaga — two of college basketball’s top brands — haveFrom this season.
It was a neat scene.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few joined the telethon remotely via video, with a beautiful lake in the background, and first told the Kentucky players that they are proud of their fame for helping people in need. Then he and Calipari went back and forth for a few minutes, enjoying each other’s company, before informally announcing that their programs would meet in each of the next two seasons.
That means the team is ranked No. 1 (Gonzaga) in the CBS Sports Top 25, 1 in the CBS Sports Top 25 and 1 will play at No. 4 (Kentucky) on Nov. 20. Sunday before Thanksgiving. Last season’s National Player of the Year Drew Thiem will line up on one side, while last season’s National Player of the Year Oscar Tshebe will be on the other. As far as non-league matchups go, it’s hard to do better than that — although playing on an NFL Sunday isn’t exactly great.
In any case, while Calipari and some have been talking, with some saying it would be “great” to bring his team to Rupp Arena in the 2023-24 season, Calipari never said his Wildcats would play. McCarthy Athletic Center – AKA The Kennel – through the 2022-23 season. Instead, Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame coach UK Gonzaga went on to say she would play in “Spokane.”
If you understand the story, this is a special difference.
As you know, Calipari coached at Memphis for nine seasons before leaving in March 2009 to continue his career at Kentucky. Louisville, Marquette, Cincinnati and most of the other good programs were the Tigers after they left Conference USA after the 2004-05 season. As Gonzaga dominated — and still dominates — the West Coast Conference was established to dominate that league. With that as a backdrop, Calipari and a few others decided to play every year because Memphis and Gonzaga wanted each other for mostly the same reasons.
It was a great series.
Memphis and Gonzaga played four times before Calipari left for Kentucky – twice in Memphis, twice in Spokane. But both games in Spokane were played off-campus at the downtown Spokane Arena, which is not Gonzaga’s home arena. Obviously few wanted those games at the Kennel. However, Calipari does not play there, and his reasons for doing so were ridiculous. He’s more or less behind the scenes because Memphis shouldn’t be playing on the Gonzaga campus because Gonzaga shouldn’t be playing on the Memphis campus — never mind that it’s Memphis.
The Tigers’ home arena is the FedExForum in downtown Memphis.
The Zags’ home arena is the kennel on campus.
In a perfect and just world, if Gonzaga were to play in Memphis’ home arena, Memphis would have to be willing to return the favor. But Calipari insisted that all games should be between downtown Memphis and downtown Spokane. Finally, there are a few … if anything. So the Memphis-Gonzaga series was switched between the FedExForm and Spokane Arena, and Calipari didn’t take the team to the Kennel. His Tigers won that game 4-0 against Gonzaga. Those two facts are related, though perhaps not.
And now here we are again.
I was told late Tuesday that the Nov. 20 game between Gonzaga and Kentucky was technically a no-show. Still, apparently, few want Calipari to bring his team to the Kennel. Again, unsurprisingly, Calipari is defensive. This is something that should disappear in the coming months.
I hope a few find their way this time, not because I’m running Kentucky on Gonzaga’s side, but because I’ve long argued that college basketball games are better in real home and road environments. Of course, Gonzaga-Kentucky would be fine anywhere — New York, Las Vegas, South Dakota, the Bahamas, anywhere. But the two best venues on Earth for a Gonzaga-Kentucky game are Rupp Arena and The Kennel, the latter a 6,000-seat on-campus facility that produces one of the best environments in sports to play in and play in, thankfully. Partly down to the cozy confines and top-shelf student room.
It’s 100% awesome where Gonzaga and Kentucky should be playing in November. So please allow me, Coach Cal. I understand it makes things more challenging for your team. To be honest, I do. But it’s still the right thing to do, and more importantly, it’s the right thing to do in the spirit of creating the greatest spectacle in what could be the biggest non-league production of college basketball this season.