Cornell and Kentucky: A Study in Contrasts

This Thursday night, the Cornell Big Red will play the Kentucky Wildcats in a men’s NCAA basketball tournament matchup that has captured the imaginations of sportswriters across the country. In the words of ESPN’s Skip Bayless, “Cornell, Kentucky just might be two most different teams that ever played a Sweet 16 game.” How different are they?

“Cornell versus Kentucky at the Carrier Dome, Ivies versus Cheaters, all that’s theoretically good in the college basketball world versus all that is theoretically bad.” - Will Leitch, New York

“The Kentucky players before the game are gonna be talking about which NBA city they’re gonna be playing in next year. The Cornell players are gonna be talking about the Gross National Product of Uruguay.” - Pete Gillen, New York Post

“Now Cornell, the team with five guys who plan to get MBAs, gets Kentucky, the team with four guys who could get drafted in the first round by the NBA.” - Rick Bozich, The Courier-Journal

“[Cornell coach Steve] Donahue is a onetime high school junior varsity coach who has five kids. Kentucky is coached by the one and only John Calipari, a man with more vacancies than the Bates Motel.” - Dan Shaughnessy, The Boston Globe

“A team of non-scholarship players versus a team awaiting multi-million-dollar NBA scholarships. A group of seniors with 4.0 grade-point averages versus some freshmen who won’t be around long enough to post a sophomore GPA.” - Peter Finney, New Orleans Times-Picayune

“Kentucky’s Rupp Arena once hosted a Final Four won by Villanova. Cornell’s Newman Arena once hosted a speech by Desmond Tutu. Kentucky has a freshman, John Wall, who can take over a game in under three minutes. Cornell has a freshman, Eitan Chemerinski, who can solve a Rubik’s Cube in under three minutes.” - Mike Lopresti, Gannett News Service

“Cornell doesn’t hand out its graduation rates. Kentucky should keep its hidden, too, for different reasons…. Kentucky has Ashley Judd, generally acknowledged as the most famous modern-day Cats fan. Cornell has campuses all over the world, including one in Qatar.” - Martin Fennelly, The Tampa Tribune

“Kentucky is the winningest program in college basketball history. Cornell is the sixth-winningest ever in the Ivy League. Wildcats coach John Calipari is getting a salary of $4 million this season. Cornell couldn’t afford to print media guides before the season.” - Chris Chase, The Dagger

“Kentucky once famously sent a recruit an envelope filled with money through the mail. Cornell knows that stocks, even in a down market, are a better long-term investment. Kentucky coach John Calipari’s previous two Final Four appearances were vacated by the NCAA. Cornell knows that V-A-C-A-T-E-D, when played on a triple-word score in Scrabble, is worth 89 points.” - Bracket Boy, The Star-Ledger

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Justin Peters is editor-at-large of the Columbia Journalism Review.