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John Calipari looking to finish job, this time with Kentucky

Kentucky head coach John Calipari yells instructions during first half an NCAA college basketball game against LSU  second round

Kentucky head coach John Calipari yells instructions during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against LSU in the second round of the 2012 Southeastern Conference tournament at the New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, Friday, March 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)

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Updated: April 13, 2012 10:36AM

It was just four years ago that John Calipari plucked a precocious freshman from the South Side and conjured an NCAA tournament team to be reckoned with.

With Derrick Rose at the helm for Memphis in 2008, Calipari barely came up short. The Tigers lost to Kansas in overtime in the national championship game.

Coach Cal, one of the greatest recruiters the college game has ever known, will try it again, this time with another South Sider, 6-10 center of attention Anthony Davis, who appears to be the freshman of the year and the player of the year. Like Rose, Davis seems a lock to be the first player taken in the NBA draft.

For the next three weeks, though, the rest of the nation will see if it can stop another star-laden Calipari squad short of the ultimate goal.

‘‘The streak is done now,’’ said Calipari, sounding almost relieved that Vanderbilt ended Kentucky’s 24-game winning streak in the SEC title game Sunday. ‘‘The fact that we’re invincible, that’s done now. We’re going to be in a dogfight now. That’s how you have to approach this, that each game could be your last.’’

Despite the loss, Kentucky is the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament. The Wildcats are joined on the top line by Syracuse and its befuddling zone; North Carolina, where a group of future pros dug in its heels rather than turn pro early; and Michigan State, where Tom Izzo has assembled another refuse-to-lose squad.

The Spartans were the only No. 1 seed that didn’t lose in their conference tournament. That was the difference as Michigan State nudged past Kansas for the fourth No. 1 spot. If the Spartans hadn’t beaten Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game, it’s possible the Buckeyes might have landed on the top line.

‘‘We debated it all the way through the game,’’ basketball committee chairman Jeff Hathaway said. ‘‘As it turned out, this game put the 1 seed into the field.’’

The Big Ten landed six teams in the tournament. Joining the top-seeded Spartans and No. 2 Ohio State are No. 4 seeds Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin and No. 10 Purdue.

It was another tough Selection Sunday for the state of Illinois. Hoping for its first NCAA trip, Northwestern was consigned to the NIT after losing its Big Ten tournament opener to Minnesota.

Illinois’ 2-12 tailspin at the end of the season left it out of the Big Dance for the third time in five years. The Illini didn’t rate an NIT bid, either. Illinois State, which will play in the NIT, and Western Illinois lost their conference championship games in heart-breaking overtime defeats.

Despite winning 11 of its last 14 and finishing third in the rugged Big East, Notre Dame received a tough No. 7 seed and will open against dangerous Xavier. No. 2 Duke awaits if the Irish advance.

Even though Michigan State received the fourth top seed, it brings no guarantees in a rugged West Region, where No. 8 Memphis is lurking and No. 2 Missouri and No. 3 Marquette are also dangerous.

Hathaway said Kansas was the top No. 2 seed, followed by Duke, Ohio State and Missouri.

The uptempo Tigers might be the last No. 2 seed in the eyes of the selection committee, but they won’t be regarded that way when people fill out their brackets.

Let the games begin.

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