Cover 2: Even Sherman and Rice can’t help Stanford

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Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, center watches play between Dayton and Stanford during the first half in a regional semifinal game at the NCAA college basketball tournament, Thursday, March 27, 2014, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Welcome back to BracketRacket, the one-stop shopping place for all offbeat NCAA tournament needs. In today’s edition, we plumb Richard Sherman’s psyche, debunk Peyton Manning’s talismanic quality, examine Mitch McConnell’s phobia and go channel-surfing with John Calipari. Without further ado:

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CELEBRITY ALUM(S) OF THE DAY

Stanford was getting sliced-and-diced again as the second half began, right in front of his eyes. Somebody had to step in.

“They need a lockdown defender,” a member of the CBS broadcast crew said.

Conveniently, one happened to be sitting nearby. Two if you count Condoleezza Rice.

Richard Sherman’s seat at the South Regional in Memphis was a row in front of hers (from Twitter: http://bit.ly/OZBii9 ). But then he got his tickets from Tim Tebow (same agent.).

Rice has been a fellow, a professor and the provost at Stanford, and U.S. Secretary of State, but apparently she doesn’t have as much pull. Either way, and other than Dayton clocking the old alma mater 82-72, they appeared to be having a grand time.

You might recall that Sherman, who plays cornerback for the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, made sideline reporting hazardous duty for a few minutes a few months ago (via YouTube.com: http://bit.ly/1g5GN4H ).

But Thursday night, he was his off-the-field self, which is to say both engaging and chilled when AP freelancer Clay Bailey asked whether it was tough watching his team get beat without jumping in.

“Not when it’s not your sport,” Sherman replied coolly. “It’s easier to watch when it’s not your sport.”

That explains a lot.

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CELEBRITY ALUM OF TOMORROW?

Meanwhile, the last guy who crossed Richard Sherman’s path in his sport probably regrets it still.

That would be his opponent in the Super Bowl nearly two months ago, Denver Broncos quarterback and Tennessee alum Peyton Manning.

Manning’s Vols face Michigan on Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium — aka “The House That Peyton Built,” by turning the once-sorry Indianapolis Colts franchise into a powerhouse before he left town in late 2011. Even if he doesn’t put in an appearance during the game, someone asked Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin whether some of the old Manning magic might rub off on his team.

“I hope so,” Martin said. “He’s texted me several times wishing us good luck.”

Decide for yourself whether that’s a good thing. There’s the recent Super Bowl loss, then there’s the time Manning turned up at the women’s Final Four at Indy in 2005, when Pat Summitt’s Lady Vols lost to Michigan State. And just last October, the Colts spoiled Manning’s “homecoming” and ended Denver’s quest for an unbeaten season with a 39-33 win.

The Vols will understand if he has a previous commitment to honor — somewhere else.

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TODAY IN KENTUCKY BASKETBALL

For a guy with two teams still in it, Mitch McConnell probably can’t wait for the tourney to end. It’s been one headache after another.

The senate minority leader was raised in Louisville, got his B.A. there, and by most accounts is a rabid Cardinals fan. But he got his law degree from Kentucky.

AP’s intrepid congressional reporter, Donna Cassata, tried to get him on the record last year about which team he backs. She looked on helplessly Tuesday as McConnell — who was in the middle of a back-and-forth with reporters about the Ukraine — sidestepped the question yet again, ahead of Friday night’s Louisville-Kentucky clash at the Sweet 16 in Indianapolis.

“You know, I didn’t get this far in my line of work by answering questions like that,” he said to laughs. “That is the hottest issue in our state.”

McConnell briefly distracted the gathering by citing an article he’d read that when “college basketball is on, there are more eyeballs watching college basketball in the Louisville, Kentucky, media market than any other media market in the country. So it is a passion in our state.”

OK, we get it.

So who you got?

“My law school classmate, the governor, has refused to take a position on this important game,” McConnell finally said, “and I think he’s got it right.”

By recent standards, that was practically a command performance. The other question McConnell has been ducking lately is how a clip of Duke basketball players celebrating their 2010 national championship wound up in a campaign video that hit all the state’s other touchstones: horse racing, bluegrass, guns and American flags.

The images of the team in white and blue reveling as confetti rains down was on for no more than a split-second. Even so, a few of those “eyeballs” saw it and nearly popped out of their passionate owners’ heads. McConnell’s campaign blamed the mistake on the vendor. Might it have been pressure instead?

The incumbent Republican is up for re-election in November, likely against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. If nothing else, she was a lot more candid about her bracket. She picked Wichita State to beat Kentucky (didn’t happen) and Florida to beat defending champ Louisville in the title game.

Not saying McConnell’s campaign shouldn’t be nervous.

But at the moment, Grimes seems more focused on winning her office pool than the senate seat.

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SEE NO EVIL — AND ANYWAY, THE ADULT CHANNELS HAVE BEEN BLOCKED

Waiting around to play a basketball game can be tough on the nerves. With so many of his highly regarded freshmen finally fulfilling their promise, Kentucky coach John Calipari is worried more about egos.

At Thursday’s news conference, he repeated the instructions he gave his young Wildcats when they were finished with practice and under lockdown (presumably) in their hotel rooms. He’d rather they stare at blank walls and then hear about how good they’ve become.

“Don’t watch any TV,” Calipari began. “Watch the History Channel, watch Biography, watch the military channel, watch movies and don’t read anything, don’t look at anything.”

He better hope his players aren’t nearly as sharp as some his fans (see above). Because the way March Madness is settling in, UK basketball will probably make a cameo on all those channels and more.

We suggest Animal Planet’s “River Monsters”, which was the go-to show for UConn star Shabazz Napier last year when he wanted to avoid any mention of the tournament. OK, so UConn was barred from last year’s NCAAs because of academic sanctions, but they weren’t going to get mentioned, anyway. Not only that; it’s all fishing all the time.

“I love fishing,” said Napier, whose Huskies face Iowa State on Friday night in New York. “And I could get the smallest fish, but I think it’s the biggest fish ever.”

Quit bragging.

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STAT OF THE DAY

In honor of the bluegrass state, STATS offers handicappers this tip: Based on the experience level of the teams, each of Friday’s four regional semifinals is a potential mismatch. Looking at total tournament man-games on each team’s roster entering 2014, the matchups break down this way: Michigan State (49 man-games) vs. Virginia (three); Louisville (53) against Kentucky (nine); Michigan (47) battling Tennessee (five) and Connecticut (23) vs. Iowa State (nine).

And they’re off!

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“People grieve for a year after the game. People celebrate for a year after the game. I’ve tried to not make it bigger than it is. But it doesn’t work.” — Calipari on the Louisville-Kentucky rivalry.

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THURSDAY’S RESULTS

Regional Semifinals

South Regional

At Memphis, Tenn.

Dayton 82, Stanford 72

Florida 79, UCLA 68

West Regional

At Anaheim, Calif.

Wisconsin 69, Baylor 52

Arizona 70, San Diego State 64

FRIDAY’S GAMES

Regional Semifinals

East Regional

At New York

UConn (28-8) vs. Iowa State (28-7)

Michigan State (28-8) vs. Virginia (30-6)

Midwest Regional

At Indianapolis

Kentucky (26-10) vs. Louisville (31-5)

Michigan (27-8) vs. Tennessee (24-12)

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