INTERVIEW: Andy Sweeney from ESPN680 on UofL & UK’s chances, Cheating, + “Hot Takes”!

Behold! March Madness is upon us, and we at Never Nervous are brimming with hoops hysteria anxiously waiting to see how the local teams (UofL, UK, & NKU) fare in our area’s biggest sports-related happening. For most around this state, the NCAA tournament is bigger than the NBA Playoffs, the World Series, and even the Super Bowl, mostly due to Louisville and Kentucky’s ongoing success and rich tradition. So how will our teams do? Do either of them stand a chance?

To get a some further insight and expert analysis on the upcoming tournament, I reached out to my favorite local sports radio host: Andy Sweeney, co-host of The Afternoon Rush with Lachlan McLean which airs 10AM-12PM locally on ESPN680 (listen the podcast here and/or on iTunes). Their show has become Louisville’s go-to show for (mostly) unbiased coverage on both local programs complete with plenty of hot takes and snarky commentary, all the while not taking themselves too seriously. This ain’t Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith yelling at each other about fabricated stories (or as Steve Czaban might call them: “nothing-burgers”). These dudes bring legitimate insight to a foggy sports world full of bullshit always offering alternate points of view that fans probably hadn’t taken into consideration.

Read on as Andy answers questions about UofL and UK’s chances in the tournament, as well as a few about his radio career, working with Lachlan McLean and his all-time Louisville starting five…

Never Nervous: What do you make of Louisville’s draw? That potential second round matchup with Michigan looks pretty appetizing.

Andy Sweeney: I tend to follow most fans in liking Louisville’s draw. But let me offer one item: the Cards aren’t playing their best basketball. In fact, since February 8 Louisville has played 2 good games and one of those against an NIT Syracuse team. So we agree, love the draw but don’t love how the Cards are playing. Ultimately, if you’re a 2 seed and have Rick Pitino with a favorable draw then fans should expect the Elite 8 and a potential matchup with Kansas.

“Ultimately, if you’re a 2 seed and have Rick Pitino with a favorable draw then fans should expect the Elite 8 and a potential matchup with Kansas.”

NN: How far do you see Louisville going? Do you have a best and worst case scenario?

AS: Best care scenario: the Cards make the Final Four. Given a favorable draw and a shaky 1 seed in Kansas, it’s not crazy to dream.

Worst case is what you mentioned above and that’s falling to 7 seeded Michigan. This is all predicated on Michigan continuing their hot streak which I believe most do. It’s hard to argue that but many are perceiving it as a given. A round of 32 loss after two disappointing ACC tourneys and an NCAA mess would be utterly disappointing.

NN: What about Kentucky’s draw? I’d love to see a UK/Wichita St. rematch.

AS: Kentucky has the chance to flip the narrative of their season, but the draw is murderous. Usually I laugh at Calipari’s whining about his draw, seeding etc but it’s hard to disagree this year. They’re the top 2 seed and are stuck with UNC, UCLA and Wichita State who is the most wrongfully seeded team in the tournament.

The narrative all year has been that UK beat average SEC teams but no one who was really good outside or UNC. If they are to simply make the Final 4 you’re looking at a win over Wichita State/Dayton and then UCLA followed by UNC. It would be a good matchup, I’ll take Kentucky but I’m still not sold on the Cats.

“I just can’t see them (UK) winning that many games against that many good teams.”

NN: How far do you see UK going? How about a best/worst case scenario for them?

AS: I hate to be negative towards UK fans but best case is them reaching the Elite 8 and facing UNC in Memphis. I just can’t see them winning that many games against that many good teams.

Worst case scenario: Wichita State getting their revenge. That would be back to back tourney loses in the round of 32; one to a 10 seed, the other to a 5 in Tom Crean. Also, don’t forget, that would be Crean’s last tourney win if he doesn’t survive at IU.

NN: What is there to know about NKU? Do they stand a chance against UK?

AS: Absolutely not. Keep it close for a half and pray. It’s too bad since I think the state of Kentucky would rally around NKU if they played anyone but Kentucky. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

NN: If you had to pick just one Cinderella team, who would you choose? I like Middle Tennessee State (sorry, Richard Pitino).

AS: I like former Pitino assistant Kevin Keatts at UNC Wilmington. He’s a hot coaching name to take over NC State and other jobs. They can score a lot with Virginia doing the opposite. If they win that you’re sitting with ETSU and Florida with the Gators being unpredictable and injured.

NN: You’ve been at it as a sports radio host for a few years now. How’d you get started, and how’d you end up getting paired with a contradictory know-it-all like Lachlan McLean?

AS: I fell into sports radio by accident. Like many broadcasting majors, I went into college wanting to do TV but that quickly changed. Nothing against TV but 2-3 minutes sports packages is a thing of the past. Radio offers long form analysis and you see that with the radio boom over the last few years, including in The Ville. You get to expand on ideas, opinions and connect to the audience unlike any other medium.

I started my career interning at 1570, which was then sports. I then landed a job with the same company producing various shows, working high school games and doing a little hosting. I’ve been with 3 companies in 10 years and Union Broadcasting (owns 680/105.7/93.9) is easily the best.

As for the Father of the Hot Take Lachlan McLean, ESPN 680/105.7 was looking to solidify middays with 10-12 being open. When ESPN lost Colin Cowherd that process was expedited. As an aside, ESPN replaced CC with The Dan Lebatard Show, which happens to be the model for how I do sports radio. I was pretty much told by the bosses “how about Lachlan McLean”. I said lets go and here we are 11 months later.

“The one thing me and Lach have in common is not feeling the need to please the local universities.”

NN: Considering that your style of coverage regarding UofL and UK sports isn’t the usual “kiss-ass” approach, a lot of your “hot takes” have been controversial and not well received by some. Have there been any reactions to your thoughts on a topic in particular that stand out as being hilariously overblown or completely ridiculous?

AS: That’s a really good question. The one thing me and Lach have in common is not feeling the need to please the local universities. In fact, our bosses at ESPN 680 give as much leeway as anyone in the country in saying what you think even if it’s negative.

I’m going a little off the board with the one take that garnered a massive amount of negative attention. When Montrezl Harrell threw the haymaker at the WKU player I was critical of Trez and that angered Louisville fans. My point was if Trez would have landed that punch he’s suspended for weeks, including the upcoming UK game. It would have become one of the ugliest incidents in college basketball history. Plus, Louisville fans were making excuses and that bothers me.

On the flip side I crushed WKU for how they behaved. Their team was overly physical and toolish that entire game. I called Ray Harper a joke, which he is. I also said that Pitino was in the right to crush Harper and that Louisville should pull the game and not play WKU for a while as punishment. The Hilltoppers need the Cards a hell of a lot more than the Cards need them. By the way, notice who hasn’t been on the Louisville schedule for a couple years? Yup.

NN: Any general fan of collegiate sports easily recognizes the ongoing problem with rule-bending and cheating. How much do you suspect teams from our area of dipping their toe in to the slime of unfairness?

AS: Unfortunately for Louisville fans I don’t have to wonder. With the ongoing basketball NCAA investigation it’s impossible for Cards fans to argue about other’s indiscretions. Louisville has been dubbed as wrongdoers by the NCAA. (Even though the NCAA is a joke).

Also don’t forget that Louisville and Tom Jurich laughed in the face of the NCAA with the entire Clint Hurtt fiasco. The NCAA pretty much said we know Hurtt lied and here’s proof. Jurich responded by saying that they believed their man. It was a boss move and probably wrong all rolled into one.

And let’s not forget Wakey Leaks. While I don’t see it as a big deal it does give you a real life look behind the scenes.

As for Kentucky, John Calipari has had a quiet time in Lexington as it pertains to the NCAA. Many find that shocking and I guess I’m one of them. Outside an unsubstantiated report out of Chicago about Anthony Davis and the magical mind of Eric Bledsoe (who was able to take Algebra 2 before Algebra 1) Calipari has been quiet. Remember, UK brags about their compliance department more than anyone in the country.

I won’t waste your time with IU. If they’re cheating they need to do better.

NN: You’ve continuously referred to John Calipari as “The Emperor”. What exactly do you mean by that, and where did this nickname come from?

AS: It really is a play off how we worship coaches, especially at the collegiate level. In pro sports we’ll run coaches out of town quickly. There’s only a handful of pro coaches we worship (Popvich, Belichick etc). In college the coach receives too much blame as well as too much credit.

I’ve found it comical in Calipari’s tenure how fans of seemingly every fan base hates him. On the flip side, UK fans worship him and part of me doesn’t blame them considering the final Tubby Smith years combed with Billy Gillispie. The nickname grew from that as Calipari is the best basketball thing to happen to this state since Pitino arrived in Louisville.

It’s a humorous thing because I think it annoys both fan bases.

NN: This question may seem hokey, but I’m generally interested. If you had to put together a starting five consisting of only UofL basketball players after the year 2000, who would you put at each position, and why?

AS: PG – Russ Smith – the ultimate Card and maybe the only player to have a “I’m doing my own thing” relationship with Pitino and that be ok.
SG- Reece Gaines – Besides a great player, Gaines was a perfect bridge from “old U of L” to “new U of L”
SF – Francisco Garcia – dude got Louisville back to the Final 4.
PF – Montrezl Harrel – I swear I honestly almost put Chane Behenan here but didn’t. Trez was a warrior so he’s my personal pick. Maybe not the best pure PF since 2000 but I loved the way he played, his aggression and do think he’ll become one of the better Cards to play in the NBA during the Pitino tenure.
C – Gorgui Dieng – Gorgui improved so much in his time at U of L. He was a great passer, a leader, cool dude and has found his footing in the NBA.

NN: Who would you consider to be your favorite UofL athlete of all time? Mine would probably be Francisco Garcia because he seemed to emulate Reggie Miller in so many ways. Reggie is my favorite basketball player of all time, in case you were wondering.

AS: Russ Smith and it’s not close. Russ’ ability to freelance on the court and that be somewhat acceptable with Pitino is something you’ll never see again. College coaches have to control every dribble and pass but Russ said to hell with that. He tapped into a different side of Pitino and that enabled Louisville to win the championship in ’13 and be in the Final 4 in ’12.

“I believe you protect that banner with EVERYTHING, even if it means no longer employing Pitino.”

NN: Hate to ask this right before we’re balls deep into the NCAA tournament, but here goes: In your heart of hearts, what do you sort of punishment do you REALLY expect to come down from the NCAA this Summer? Do you feel that the 2013 banner is in any REAL jeopardy?

AS: Protecting the banner is the great debate which I imagine will pick back up in June/July. The university has been on the record multiple times that they expect a response from the NCAA during that timeframe.

So let’s talk about the banner. I believe you protect that banner with EVERYTHING, even if it means no longer employing Pitino. Others, such as Lach, believe the banner is superficial and everyone knows the games were played. This is true but imagine having a championship banner pulled down. Louisville fans don’t want to live in that world. UK fans would have ammunition FOREVER. But here’s the kicker…it’s easy for the NCAA to pull Final 4 banners down, but we don’t have evidence of them doing so with champions. Just look at what they did to Calipari. The NCAA were big shots taking 2 banners during his time at Memphis/UMass. What if Derrick Rose hits that FT? They taking a championship down? The answer is we don’t know but we’re about to find out on two levels. First, Louisville and second would be North Carolina. Both played in championship games with ineligible players. Look at the wins they took from Boeheim, Larry Brown etc. Would they do that with champions? We’ll see.

Unfortunately, I do think the banner is in jeopardy. I would still side with it not going anywhere but there’s no way a fan could say that with total confidence. If any media member says the banner isn’t going anywhere they’re talking with their heart and not their mind.