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September 14th, 2014

Cellar dwellers at a crossroads: Charting UK and Vandy over the past 5 years

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Like two pariahs sharing shelter in a storm, Kentucky and Vanderbilt have been quiet companions in the SEC East cellar for the better part of the conference’s modern history, sustaining on the occasional upset and the relief of basketball season right around the corner. However, in the past four years, Vandy pulled a Christian Bale in “The Dark Knight Rises” and climbed out of the well, leaving Kentucky all alone at the bottom. Watching Vandy storm to three straight bowls brought out some mixed feelings in the BBN: some of us were happy for our former fellow cellar dweller, some of us resentful of their success, and all of us just a little bit jealous. Now, with Vanderbilt once again rebuilding after James Franklin’s exit for Happy Valley and Mark Stoops making noise in his second season, Kentucky and Vanderbilt seem to be at a crossroads again, but this time, the Cats are the ones climbing.

To appreciate this critical juncture in the series, let’s examine the relationship between the two programs over the past five years…

Coaching changes

Vanderbilt

2010: Robbie Caldwell
2011-2013: James Franklin
2014 – present: Derek Mason

Kentucky

2010-2012: Joker Phillips
2013 – present: Mark Stoops

In 2010, both programs had new head coaches, albeit under very different circumstances. Robbie Caldwell was named Vandy’s interim head coach after Bobby Johnson suddenly announced his retirement with two months until the season opener, while Joker Phillips took over for Rich Brooks two years after being named his successor. At the time, Kentucky was coming off a 7-6 season while Vandy was trying to recover from another disappointing year. The roles would soon reverse after Caldwell resigned and Vandy gambled on James Franklin, who did the unthinkable and brought immediate success to the Vandy program. Meanwhile, UK struggled under Joker Phillips, and after three seasons, cut ties and hired Mark Stoops. At the end of last year, Franklin left Vandy to Penn State, taking many of his players and recruits with him, and the ‘Dores hired Derek Mason, who has had a shaky start so far this season.

Series History

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My, how quickly things changed once James Franklin entered the scene. UK’s 40-0 loss to Vandy in 2012 with a smattering of fans in the stands was the low point of the Joker Phillips Era, and sealed his fate. Stoops and the Cats were competitive in Nashville last season, but bettors in Vegas feel so confident the Cats will turn the tide this year they’ve made them a 16.5-point favorite.

Overall wins

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It’s amazing how the two programs have mirrored each other in performance over the past five years. If the ESPN Football Power Index projections hold out and UK gets to 6 wins and Vandy 3 (I’ll be a friend and round up), this chart will practically be a mirror image.

Recruiting (Rivals Recruiting Class Rankings by year)

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The cornerstone of any college football program is recruiting. Both Franklin and Stoops are strong recruiters, and put together comparable classes. Franklin’s 2012 & 2013 classes were ranked 29th and 19th in the country, similar to Stoops’ 2013 & 2014 classes, which were ranked 29th and 17th in the country by Rivals. Derek Mason didn’t have much of a chance once Franklin left, and it will be interesting to see what he does with the 2015 class. Currently, they’re ranked 67th in the country. UK is ranked 23rd.

Average Attendance (% of home stadium capacity)

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Both Kentucky and Vanderbilt football fans have been through a lot, so much so that getting back on the football wagon has proved difficult at times. However, after Franklin showed Vandy fans that football success was a legit possibility and not just a fluke, they filled up little Vanderbilt Stadium each Saturday. At Kentucky, Joker Phillips inherited a happy fan base that quickly turned sour, and only started coming back once Mark Stoops reinvigorated the program. Hopefully, UK fans will #PackCommonwealth on Saturday to send that attendance average soaring and get those cautiously optimistic fans back in the stands.

Beat Vandy.


Watch Mark Stoops’ Monday press conference

Mark Stoops sees an improving Vanderbilt team ahead on Saturday. With a positive vibe on the recruiting trail following his team’s good start to the season, being prepared for Vandy’s creative offense and containing its star kick returner are two important aspects to continuing the momentum with a win over the Commodores. Listen to Stoops elaborate on all that, and more.


What is the most distinctive food term in Kentucky according to Twitter?

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A study at the University of Arizona analyzed more than three million tweets about food from October 2013 to May 2014 to determine the most unusual food-related term in each state.

“A common misinterpretation is that these are the most popular terms per state, but they are not—they are the most distinctive terms,” Mihai Surdeanu, one of the study’s authors, told PEOPLE magazine. “For example, ‘cheese’ may be popular in many states, but not distinctive in any.”

So what are we talking about the most in Kentucky, compared to other states?

The answer: TACOS.

I’m so happy I could cry, Kentucky. I also believe I played a huge role in this because I tweet about tacos quite often. Tacos are awesome and I’ve never been more proud to be a Kentuckian than I am right now.

So who wants to go grab dinner? It’s #MexiMonday in Lexington and you’re invited. If not tonight, maybe tomorrow night for #TacoTuesday?


Skal Labissiere recaps his visit to Lexington

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Chris Fisher over at 247Sports.com caught up with Gerald Hamilton, Skal Labissiere’s guardian, on Monday to see how Labissiere enjoyed his visit to Lexington over the weekend. Hamilton told Fisher, “It was nice. It was really impressive and the level of players he played with was impressive as well.”

Of the many things that stood out to the five-star power forward, Rock Oliver and UK’s strength and conditioning presentation was one of the most impactful. Hamilton said meeting with Rock and learning how he operates was one of the highlights of the visit.

Labissiere still has official visits scheduled for Tennessee and Baylor in early October, then an unofficial to Memphis around Halloween. He will make his decision some time shortly after that.

Fisher: Labissiere wraps up UK visit


There are FB Game Fights…and then There is This One

Bloody noses, stupid helmets, security guards trying to maintain order, women flipping out….this had it all

(h/t Deadspin)


How the UK recruits and commits fared: 9/19

Alex Stump

Damien Harris- Bye week.

Zy’Aire Hughes- Completed 9 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown, and caught 9 passes for 67 yards in a 52-49 win over Southaven (MS).

Eli Brown- 7 rushes for 23 yards and 7 tackles in a 61-21 loss to Hopkinsville.

Jordan Jones- Helped Cardinal Mooney beat St. Vincent-St. Mary 35-10 on Friday.

CJ Conrad- Had two catches for 78 yards, a one-yard touchdown run, and a punt return for a touchdown in a 54-12 win over Clearview (OH).

Alex Stump- Had 11 receptions for 109 yards in a 21-14 loss to Elder (OH). He picked up an offer from his ‘dream school’ Ohio State over the weekend as well, so it should be interesting to watch and see if he ends up staying a Wildcat.

Keion Wakefield- Bye week.

Quinton Baker- 13 rushes for 77 yards in a 41-13 loss to Ironton (OH).

Jabari Greenwood- Plays against Good Counsel tonight (Olney, MD).

Darius Fullwood- Plays against Jabari Greenwood and Gonzaga tonight (Olney, MD).

Ryan Davis- Plays tonight at 7:30 pm at Gibbs (FL).

Drake Jackson- Bye week.


Tickets for the Blue-White scrimmage go on sale one week from today

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UK basketball fans, your attention please:

Tickets for this year’s Blue-White scrimmage go on sale Monday, September 29 at 9:00 am. Tickets will be available online through Ticketmaster.com or by calling Ticketmaster at 1-800-745-3000. Fans can also purchase tickets via the Rupp Arena Box Office at 859-233-3535 between 10:00 am and 6:00 pm or by visiting any Ticketmaster outlet across the state.

The cost of the tickets will be $10 for lower level and $5 for upper level, all reserved seating.

For you students out there, you may claim up to two free Erupption Zone tickets while they last. Go to the Joe Craft Center ticket office with a valid student ID to get yours on Monday.

The Blue-White scrimmage is scheduled for Monday, October 27 in Rupp Arena at 7:00 pm. It will be carried online through the SEC Network and WatchESPN.

Cats.


Coach Cal is excited and that makes BBN excited

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In a brief post on his website this afternoon, John Calipari recalled the “watershed moment” of 2010 when five of his UK players were selected in the first round of the NBA Draft. “That stage changed me as a coach and changed the direction of the program,” Cal wrote.

Then he predicted another “watershed moment” ahead in his 2014-15 Kentucky Wildcats:

If you wonder why everyone is panicked outside of the Big Blue Nation, why everyone is curious as to how we are going to make this work, why writers with agendas to another program or coach are pitting player against player, platoon vs. platoon, it’s because they are afraid of what could happen. They know that if this turns out the way they think it could, it becomes a watershed moment for college basketball. There will be no going back. No player will ever worry about who else is in the program or who may stay. They will know we have their best interests at heart.

In closing he wrote, “I am so excited to take on this challenge. I truly wake up every morning whistling and skipping for this season to begin.”

And spun around in his chair…

Read it here.

Never before has Cal been this excited to start a season, and that’s exciting for us, Big Blue Nation. He knows the talent he has on his roster and he’s ready to put them out there for everyone to see.


Doron Lamb signs training camp deal with the Mavs

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Former Kentucky guard Doron Lamb has a shot to stick around the league this upcoming season thanks to the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs signed Lamb to a deal one week before training camp begins. There is no guaranteed money in the contract, but it is a contract nonetheless. Lamb will have to earn his spot in camp.

In related news, Doron Lamb’s Twitter account is still the best.


Six Takeaways from Mark Stoops’ Vandy Press Conference

I said six Coach, not five.

I said six Coach, not five.

1.  The Cats need to keep the momentum rolling.  Despite another conference loss, the Florida game validated the players’ “we can beat anybody” belief.  Unfortunately they didn’t have the chance to prove themselves during the Bye Week, but they did address fundamental areas in need of improvement.

“We’d like to continue to build on some of the good things we’ve been doing and try to clean up some of the mistakes,” Stoops said.  This team’s mantra has been energy.  Today’s practice will reflect how well the Cats managed their time off this weekend.

2.  Somehow Kentucky is not the younger underdog.  When was the last time anyone in the BBN said that?  With 31 freshmen playing, Vanderbilt is the youngest team in the nation.  The key to keeping the young guys down, is starting fast and stepping on the accelerator.  Stoops’ quote was extremely long, but the gist is, “we need to do what teams did to us last year.”

When it comes to being favored, it doesn’t matter when you haven’t won a conference game since 2011.  “Don’t pay much attention to it. We need to be hungry.”

3.  Vandy is rebuilding, but getting better.  After poo-pooing during their first three games, the Dores finally looked respectable against South Carolina.  Their biggest threat is in the kicking game.  Last week Darrius Sims had two return touchdowns, a facet of the game Stoops said the Cats needed to improve on following the Florida game.

Stoops is familiar with Vandy Coach Derek Mason’s Stanford background from his time at Arizona.  “(They’re) very fundamentally sound, very tough at the core of who they are, and they do a lot of creative things with big sets,”  Stoops said of their multiple tight end formations. “They create some real problems in the run and the pass from big sets.  It’s really new now, not too many people are doing it.”

4.  It wasn’t a win on the field, but it’s helping recruiting.  Stoops’ staff spent the off weekend on the recruiting trail.  It was only one weekend, but he can already tell a difference in the way UK is viewed in that specific atmosphere.

“I do think it’s important for us to show progress.  I’ve never hid from that.  I don’t define that all the time by wins and losses.  I know how important wins are, but I think there was a positive vibe out there that recruits know we’re getting better.  They can see it.”

5.  “He’ll be fine.”  There were a lot of mental hiccups in Gainseville.  Jordan Swindle had three false start penalties, Ryan Timmons dropped a critical pass, and Fred Tiller had an interception hit him in the numbers.  When asked if he had any serious concerns, Stoops never flinched, “He’ll be fine.”

In Tiller’s case, he knows what it feels like to drop six points.  For defensive backs, it’s a moment that everyone has, and one they’ll never forget.  “I remember one — I bobbled it about three times.  I had an easy touchdown and I batted it to myself three or four times.  Maybe I just wasn’t fast enough to run it in.”

6.  Keeping the kids’ heads on straight.  The sport of football has been filled with more off the field scandal than excitement on the field.  Stoops’ staff has not been blind to the social situations.  After numerous preseason meetings and refreshers last week, Stoops is pleased with how his players have conducted themselves on campus.

“We could have those kinds of meetings everyday,”  Stoops said.  “Knock on wood, our players have been very good.  We’re not perfect, but I think they’ve been really trying to embrace the leadership and do the right things.  I think you’re starting to see that carryover from off the field actions, to on the field.”


Coach Cal responds to the Courier-Journal’s apology

Now we can all move on and get back to what we were doing before: criticizing every newspaper.


TMZ reporting Rex pocketed $5,460 in cash from stolen goods

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Court documents obtained from TMZ Sports say Rex Chapman pocketed $5,460 in cash from pawning off $14,278 worth of stolen goods from the Apple Store in Scottsdale. Apple’s Beats By Dre headphones were among the products Rex allegedly took from the store without paying, using the self-checkout app to deceive employees into thinking he made the purchase.

TMZ also has video of Rex’s appearance in front of a judge via satellite:

I still can’t believe this is happening.


Courier-Jurich Writes Apology Letter to Calipari

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Today, the Courier Journal “apologized” to John Calipari via this letter:

Dear Coach Calipari,

Please accept our apology for the inappropriate illustration used with a column in last Friday’s Courier-Journal. The illustration reflected neither the tone of the column it accompanied nor our editorial standards.

This was a failure in our procedures. We have reiterated to those involved and our entire staff that any illustration of this nature must be approved by senior editors, which did not happen in this case.

We regret that this episode cast a bad light on you and the University of Kentucky basketball team.

Sincerely,

Neil Budde

Executive Editor

Guess they realized that running a cartoon of Calipari as a baby wasn’t the smartest marketing move in the world.


Older male reporter asks young female reporter to “fix him a sandwich” at Stoops’ presser

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Gather around, everybody!!! Let’s play a fun game of “Who Was The Asshole At UK’s Press Conference?”!!!

Hands on your buzzers…

For 1,000 points: According to a reporter at Mark Stoops’ Monday press luncheon, an older male reporter asked a young female reporter to make him a sandwich at the buffet table. The young lady refused — as she should’ve — and told him to join 2014.

So who was the old guy with an empty stomach and no respect for a female counterpart?

I can name plenty who would want a sandwich, but I can’t imagine any of the ones we know doing that and being serious.


Zach West and Jeff Badet may play Saturday, Alex Montgomery is “close”

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Veteran offensive lineman Zach West has been out with a mysterious nerve injury in his neck but it sounds like he may return to football sooner than later. Today during his Monday press conference, Mark Stoops said West is getting better and will participate in some form in today’s practice. There is a chance he and wide receiver Jeff Badet play this Saturday against Vanderbilt.

Wide receiver Alexander Montgomery is the only player who still needs a little more time to recover from injury, although he is “close” to coming back. Stoops said Montgomery’s injured leg has healed but he needs to strengthen it before making his return.

Other than that, the Wildcats are healthy entering the Vanderbilt game. Gotta love that.