Men's Basketball
Big Blue Preview: Kentucky vs. Oakland (NCAA Tournament First Round)

Big Blue Preview: Kentucky vs. Oakland (NCAA Tournament First Round)

Making its record 61st appearance in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, Kentucky begins play in the 2024 version of March Madness on Thursday night against Oakland in Pittsburgh (7:10 ET, CBS).

Kentucky (23-9) has a number of connections to the Steel City, starting with head coach John Calipari, who grew up in nearby Moon Township. On Wednesday, Calipari talked about being raised in the Pittsburgh area.

“Let me say this about Pittsburgh – when I grew up it was a blue-collar town, but it’s never changed the roots of what Pittsburgh’s about,” Calipari said. “Where I grew up, my high school teammates are still my friends. We were all brought up the same way. Our fathers were laborers. Our mothers raised us. You were taught that there’s nothing in this world that’s going to be given to you. You’re going to have to go take what you want and if you don’t work, you will not eat. If you want to be better than somebody, you better work. That’s Pittsburgh. Special place.”

A pair of current Wildcats hail from Pittsburgh as well. Both Tre Mitchell and Adou Thiero call Pittsburgh home and both are looking forward to the opportunity to play in their home city on Thursday night.

“It means the world to be back home in my final year of college basketball,” Mitchell said. “To be able to have people around me come full circle. It’s an unbelievable blessing from above. I’ve had my ups and downs and I’ve been through adversity. For it to come full circle like this is proof that this is the journey I was supposed to be on.”

Thiero is also excited to be back in Pittsburgh.

“I’m super excited to play at home,” Thiero said. “I’ve got people who haven’t seen me play since I was a little kid telling me that they’re coming to the game. Super happy to be home and to be playing here.”

Mitchell also expects to have a large contingent of fans in attendance on Thursday.

“Family alone, I would say if they are breathing and they are in Pennsylvania, they are going to be here,” Mitchell said. “The Italian side (of his family) is very loud, I’m sure I’ll be able to hear their voices. On top of that, I think any person that I’ve come into contact with in AAU or high school or whatever it may be, they’ve all told me they’re going to be here.”

Calipari, Mitchell and Thiero are hoping that Thursday night’s game against Oakland proves to be a happy homecoming for all of them.

NCAA Tournament Success under Calipari

UK ranks second in the nation in all-time NCAA Tournament
victories with 130, but no team has more wins in the tournament
than the Wildcats since 2010, when John Calipari first led the Wildcats into the Big Dance:

32 – Kentucky, Kansas
31 – Duke
30 – Gonzaga
29 – North Carolina
24 – Michigan, Michigan State
23 – Villanova
20 – Syracuse, Wisconsin
19 – Baylor, Florida
18 – UConn
17 – UCLA
16 – Arizona, Butler, Louisville

Since Calipari took over the reins at UK, no team has more:
• NCAA Tournament wins (32)
• Final Four appearances (four)
• Elite Eight appearances (seven)
• Sweet 16 appearances (eight)

Kentucky is 32-10 (76.2%) in NCAA Tournament games under the direction of Calipari, ahead of Adolph Rupp (30-18) for most wins by a Kentucky coach. Overall, Calipari is 57-21 (73.1%) as a head coach in NCAA Tournament games.

Calipari, with 57 career NCAA Tournament wins, leads all active head coaches. Bill Self (56) and Tom Izzo (55) are the only other active coaches with at least 50 wins in NCAA Tournament action.


Battle-Tested Cats Approach Postseason

Kentucky once again has taken on a schedule that will prepare it well for postseason competition. The Wildcats have played a total of 10 games against eight teams either ranked or receiving votes in the March 11 Associated Press Top 25 poll.

• In conference play, the Cats squared off with No. 5 Tennessee (2x), No. 12 Auburn, No. 15 South Carolina and No. 19 Alabama while facing Florida, a team receiving votes, twice. In nonconference action, Kentucky played No. 4 North Carolina, No. 16 Kansas and No. 17 Gonzaga
• In addition, Kentucky has played 11 games against eight opponents currently ranked in the top 30 of the KenPom rankings
• Of the top 25 of the most recent NET rankings, UK has faced seven opponents a total of nine times
• The Wildcats have faced nine foes a total of 13 times among the NET’s top 50

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