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March 19th, 2018

Amid Upsets, How John Calipari is Keeping the Cats on their Toes

© Jim Dedmon | USATSI

Over the last month of the season, John Calipari has instilled into his team a “Kentucky against the world” mentality.  His players have bought into the extra motivation, and it’s paying dividends on the court.

“We just try to come out and try to prove everybody wrong, and that’s what we did today. And can’t feel better about this one,” Hamidou Diallo said Saturday night.  Shai Gilgeous-Alexander echoed that sentiment after the fifth-seeded Wildcats defeated 13-seed Buffalo.  “We love proving people wrong, and that’s what we did today.”

Calipari players believe that nobody expects them to win, but after this weekend, everybody expects them to win.  Kentucky is the highest seed alive in the Atlanta Regional, a region that will not have its top four seeds this weekend, an NCAA Tournament first.  UK is a six-point favorite Thursday night and FiveThirtyEight gives Kentucky a 57 percent chance to reach the Final Four.

Even though Kentucky’s path to San Antonio has opened up, he will not let his players put their guard down.  After Cincinnati let Nevada comeback from 22 down Sunday night, Calipari called the team his office.

We’re in the region where everyone is playing well,” Calipari recalled the conversation on his call-in show. “If you just think you’re gonna show up, you’re not gonna advance in this thing. Every game is a dogfight.”

He’s also mentioning the outside noise.  Instead of completely ignoring what people are saying about his team, he’s ignoring the praise and providing his team exclusively with bulletin board material, like this.

“Do you think that’s their hope or their opinion (that UK will not advance)?  It’s their hope.”

Even though Swaggy Cal made multiple media appearances today, no matter what happens over the next two weeks, he will do whatever it takes for his players to believe it’s “us against the world.”

John Calipari Provides Jarred Vanderbilt Update

Will Jarred Vanderbilt return to play in the Atlanta Regional?  John Calipari is still unsure.

This morning Cal teased the Big Blue Nation on Twitter. “I’m looking forward to seeing @JVando today to see how far he’s come along.”  Unfortunately, it was just a tease.  Calipari did not meet with the team today.  Assistant coaches ran individual workouts and he asked them to report back to him on how Jarred looked on the court.

“It would be nice to have one more guy.  It makes us a different team,” Cal said on his call-in show. Vanderbilt makes UK better in a variety of ways.  Most importantly, he gives the Cats another body in the interior, something they desperately needed when they ran into foul trouble against Buffalo.

“He gives you one more,” he said he hopes Vanderbilt could at least be used in case of emergency.  “It may be we don’t need to play him, but I want to see if he can play.”

Just like Kentucky, Kansas State is dealing with an injury.  Dean Wade, the Wildcats’ leading scorer, is dealing with a stress fracture and told the media he’s 98 percent certain to play against UK.  Calipari will prepare for K-State by watching film from before and after Wade’s injury.


UK’s new NCAA path changes fan mindset

In some ways, Kentucky’s path to the Final Four is even harder now — at least for the fans.

For the players, I’m sure they much prefer the group that is heading to Atlanta now, and not the group everyone expected before the tournament began. But for us, the fans, the new path brings on an all new case of anxiety, and I would argue it’s much worse.

I’ll explain: If Kentucky were to play Virginia and then Cincinnati or Tennessee to reach the Final Four, we could live with an early exit from Atlanta. Virginia is (was) the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, so a loss to the Cavaliers would’ve been understandable, as would any outcome in the Elite Eight.

But now, with the No. 9 seed and then the No. 7/11 winner standing between Kentucky and San Antonio, anything short of winning the South region will be considered a huge disappointment. The path is wide open, and Kentucky has to take advantage of this unimaginable opportunity.

How we watch the games changes now, too.

In 2012 and 2015, when Kentucky was the favorite in every game it played, the fans’ mindset was “Please don’t mess this up” because expectations were so high. It made for a fun, but nerve-racking March. Wins were celebrated with a sigh of relief, not so much euphoria; whereas in years like 2011 and 2014, each game had far less pressure, so wins were much more fun. The mindset in those years was “Okay, let’s see if we can do something special,” and each new step forward was considered as somewhat of a bonus. We didn’t expect to go far, so going far was a lot more fun. There wasn’t as much pressure to win, therefore the games were a little easier to watch.

Now we’re back to those 2012 and 2015 runs, which isn’t fair to this team, but it’s how things have played out. Kentucky will be the favorite in both games in Atlanta (should they get two games), and all expectations are for Kentucky to finish the job and reach the Final Four. We’re back to the “Please don’t mess this up” mindset of the past, and it’s going to make for a nerve-racking weekend.

Of course, we wouldn’t trade this new path for the alternative. Give us Kansas State and Nevada/Loyola-Chicago all day over Virginia and Cincinnati/Tennessee. But now that it’s here, the anxiety is real as the Cats go from the South’s scary team with upset potential to the South’s heavy favorite to win the region.

Please don’t mess this up.

The KSR Baseball Podcast E25: LIVE from Performance Physical Therapy

The KSR Baseball Podcast hit the road to hang out with our friends at Performance Physical Therapy.  Trey and Coach are joined by a few special guests as they joke their way through a rough weekend of UK Baseball.  Highlights:

—  Why you shouldn’t be down on the Bat Cats after a bad weekend.

—  Who throws the best changeup Coach has ever seen at Kentucky.

—  Why you should go to The Cliff this Friday to see UK host Auburn.

—  A Roast of Starkville.

—  A chance to win front row tickets to Saturday’s game at The Cliff.

You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play. Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise. You can also get it directly to your phone by subscribing to Kentucky Sports Radio on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.

Calipari calls this season one of his most rewarding

Whether Kentucky wins the national championship or goes home after the Sweet 16, John Calipari says this season will be one of the most rewarding of his career. On The Jim Rome Show this afternoon, Cal said getting the youngest team in college basketball to surrender their egos and play as a group hasn’t been easy, but moments like Hamidou Diallo’s breakthrough vs. Buffalo make it all worth it.

“I’ve done this a long time. You would think the greatest reward is the win over — no. No. It’s seeing a player that was down in that rabbit hole, he was so bad he couldn’t see straight. He had terror. He had anxiety. He couldn’t sleep. His life flashed before him and he slowly got out of that hole and started to play and had a breakthrough. When Hami walked in our locker room after the last game, the team put him up on their shoulders they were so happy for him. Same thing happened to Kevin Knox, who was struggling. He goes to West Virginia and goes for 30 [points] and they went crazy for him. This is a process. You can’t skip steps.”

I think that calls for another viewing of the Hami locker room video:

Hami’s breakthrough is exactly why Calipari is refusing to give up on another player that’s struggling: Nick Richards.

“I stick with guys. Hami, they were saying he shouldn’t be starting, why are you playing him? Because he deserves an opportunity, he’s working hard. Now, if a kid doesn’t work, that’s not on me. Right now, Nick Richards — we have to have Nick Richards playing better. And you know what? I’m still starting him. Is he better than some of the guys that aren’t starting? No. Right now, they’re playing better than him but I’m starting him to give him his opportunity. Get out there and bust through this. I can’t do it for him. I can’t think for him. I can’t perform for him, but I can give him an opportunity, love him and hug him and tell him we’re all here for you, but you’ve gotta do it.”

Calipari’s next statement belongs on an inspirational poster in the Joe Craft Center.

“This has been a rewarding year, maybe one of my most rewarding because I had a team of young kids that went from the look of terror, the look of fear, anxiety to a look of joy.”

Sweet 16 History: Cats Unbeaten Under John Calipari

John Calipari is perfect in Sweet 16 games at Kentucky. In his six Sweet 16 appearances in seven NCAA tournaments with the Wildcats, Calipari is 6-0 with an average margin of victory of 14 points per game. His teams have won twice as the lower seed in those six games, and won by double digits in all four games as the higher seed. Needless to say, Calipari’s Kentucky teams have done very well in the first game of the second weekend of the tournament.

This coming Thursday, Calipari and Kentucky will look to make it a perfect 7-0 in the Sweet 16 when they take on Kansas State in the South Region semifinal. The Cats are the higher seed once again, so history suggests a double-digit victory. But until they tip it off to find out, why don’t we reminisce on the past perfection in this spot?


Chris Chambers/Getty Images

2010: (1) Kentucky 62, (12) Cornell 45

In the “Brains vs. Brawn” match-up of 2010 that drew so much attention from reporters hoping to write “Revenge of the Nerds” after the game, Kentucky steamrolled through Cornell, a 12-seed that upset Temple and Wisconsin just to be there.

DeMarcus Cousins led the Cats with 16 points and seven rebounds, after famously saying before the game, “We’re here to play basketball. It’s not a spelling bee.”



Ray Stubblebine/Reuters

2011: (4) Kentucky 62, (1) Ohio State 60

Brandon Knight’s 15-footer with six seconds left sent the Cats to a second straight Elite Eight with a win over top-seeded Ohio State. Knight’s shot should be remembered as one of the biggest plays in Kentucky’s tournament history, but it’s not even the most memorable moment of that game, for some.

When many fans think back to that classic, they remember Josh Harrellson spiking the ball off Jared Sullinger, the Buckeyes’ consensus All-American big man. It was a message early in the game, to say Kentucky was not intimidated by the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed.



Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

2012: (1) Kentucky 102, (4) Indiana 90

Kentucky got revenge on Indiana for the Christian Watford shot by returning the favor in the 2012 NCAA tournament.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored a career-high 24 points while Doron Lamb added 21 more in the victory. Three other Wildcats joined them in double figures; Anthony Davis not included, although he did have three emphatic blocks on the Hoosiers.



2014: (8) Kentucky 74, (4) Louisville 69

The 2012 national champion met the 2013 national champion (so we thought at the time) in the Sweet 16 in 2014.

Louisville led for most of the game, and by seven with a little over four minutes to go. But Kentucky clawed back and eventually took the final lead on an Aaron Harrison three-pointer, the first of his three magical shots that postseason.

Harrison’s shot was big, but John Calipari said afterward, “Alex Poythress won the game for us.” Poythress, a sophomore, played great defense and grabbed two key offensive rebounds off the bench in the win.



Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

2015: (1) Kentucky 78, (5) West Virginia 39

Once the 36-0 Wildcats caught wind of West Virginia’s pregame trash talk, it was night-night for the Mountaineers. West Virginia almost had as many fouls (14) as it did points (18) in the first half as Kentucky took a 26-point lead into the break, and went on to win by almost 40.

Daxter Miles Jr., who guaranteed a West Virginia win earlier in the week, finished with zero points in the game.



2017: (2) Kentucky 86, (3) UCLA 75

With NBA eyes all over college basketball’s biggest point guard matchup, De’Aaron Fox abused UCLA’s Lonzo Ball for a career-high 39 points in a Kentucky revenge win. Calipari told his team at halftime, “The rest of you take a back seat and play off of him.”

Across the way, Ball had 10 points, eight assists and four turnovers in the loss.

Calipari scared the NCAA will reseed the field

John Calipari went on The Jim Rome Show this afternoon to discuss his team’s Sweet 16 berth. With the road to the Final Four surprisingly open now that so many top seeds lost, Calipari joked that he’s afraid the NCAA might reseed the field and send Kentucky out to Los Angeles.

“They’re talking about our little corner of the world where they put us in the meat grinder but everybody got beat! So, now, all of a sudden, I’m worrying about them wanting to reseed the field and we haven’t got any plans to go to Atlanta because I’m afraid they may send us to [Los Angeles].”

Jokes aside, Calipari insists that the South Region still presents some formidable challenges, starting with the toughest game UK’s played since the SEC Tournament.

“Like Loyola, everybody is like, ‘eh.’ They beat Miami and Tennessee! Tennessee beat our brains in. Nevada comes from 22 down to Cincinnati and Texas 14 down and they’re still playing. Kansas State, without their leading scorer, ends up beating Creighton, who is one of those teams who can score? I’m looking at it saying, I’m telling my guys, don’t listen to all these talking heads. They’ve never coached, they’ve never played in this thing.”

“We have a challenge ahead of us Thursday. Forget about anything else. Our game against Kansas State is going to be the hardest game since our own tournament.”

Beat Kansas State.

BBNBA: Davis leads Pelicans to win over Celtics

Anthony Davis leads his New Orleans Pelicans team to a much-needed victory over the Brooklyn Nets. (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Anthony Davis is the MVP of the NBA. Go ahead and disagree with me, but the former Cat continues to add to his impressive resume. Davis finished with 34 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Pelicans to a double-digit win over the second place team in the East. In that same game, Rajon Rondo dished out 11 assists to only 1 turnover to continue his solid season in New Orleans.

In other BBNBA news, Karl-Anthony Towns scored 20 points and pulled 18 rebounds in the Timberwolves loss to the Rockets.

Full Stats

PlayerResult PointsFG (3FG)Reb.Ast.StealsBlocksTOs+/-Mins.
Patrick Patterson132-125 W vs. Tor31-4 (1-2)23011-1414
Dakari JohnsonDNP- Coach's Decision---------
Anthony Davis108-89 W vs. Bos3414-24 (0-3)113111+1733
Rajon Rondo108-89 W vs. Bos42-5311101+2032
Darius Miller108-89 W vs. Bos31-1 (1-1)11001+39
DeAndre Liggins108-89 W vs. Bos00-100000-23
Karl-Anthony Towns129-120 L vs. Hou209-15181113+235

Just watch this video and tell me how AD isn’t a solid candidate for MVP

Rondo with the wrap around pass


KAT says NO

10 quick things about Kansas State

(Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images North America)

We’ll have in-depth analysis of Kansas State in the coming days, but here are ten quick things to know about Kentucky’s Sweet 16 opponent.

1. Their defense is good…but their offense?

Kansas State’s defense is the reason they’re in the Sweet 16. The Wildcats held a high-scoring Creighton team to 59 points in the first round and a UMBC team that flummoxed 1-seed Virginia to 43 last night. The Retrievers managed only two field goals in the final six minutes and shot 29.8 percent for the game.

On the flip side, the Wildcats are struggling to score themselves. While they rank 46th in the country in scoring defense, holding opponents to 66.9 points per game, they rank 241st in scoring offense, averaging only 71.6 points per game. Last night, they hit only one of twelve threes and turned over the ball 18 times. Part of the problem is…

2. They’ve been without lead scorer Dean Wade

Wade missed Kansas State’s first two tournament games because of a foot injury. The junior big man is averaging 16.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.8 assists. Last night, Wade said there’s a “98 percent” chance he’ll play vs. Kentucky on Thursday night:

Yeah, he’s playing.

3. ESPN thinks they’re the worst team left in the tournament

Myron Medcalf ranked Kansas State 16th in his reseeding of the Sweet 16:

“The Wildcats dominated Creighton in the opening round, also without Wade, who is dealing with a foot injury,” Medcalf wrote. “If Kansas State duplicates Sunday’s effort, however, when it faces Kentucky in the Sweet 16, Bruce Weber’s team will lose by 20-plus.”

4. It will be the battle of the staple remover Wildcats

Kansas State’s logo doesn’t look like two birds fornicating, but…

5. Their costumed mascot is the worst in college sports

(Photo: Ed Zurga/Getty Images North America)

Seriously, where is the rest of his outfit? I can’t wait to make fun of this all week.

6. Kentucky last faced them in the 2014 NCAA Tournament

The Cats’ improbable run to the 2014 NCAA Championship game started with Kansas State in St. Louis. Kentucky won 56-49 thanks to a double double from Julius Randle. If you remember, Kentucky actually started that game 1-0 because Kansas State’s Brian Rohleder got a technical for dunking in warm-ups, which sent Aaron Harrison to the line to start the game.

7. Bruce Weber may have started the Anthony Davis rumors

Remember all those rumors about Anthony Davis and a $200,000 duffel bag deal to come to Kentucky? According to Gregg Doyel, Bruce Weber — then at Illinois — may have been behind those.

Remember when Bruce Weber may or may not have been running his mouth?

With all the turmoil facing the sports, odds that comes up at all this week?

8. BPI gives Kentucky a 71.6% chance of winning

9. Bruce Weber didn’t even know where the regional was

After his team beat UMBC to advance to the Sweet 16, Weber claimed he didn’t know where the South Regional was.

“Coach, you talked about the unpredictability of a 16 beating a 1. Obviously that’s never happened before this weekend. This will be the first regional ever where there’s no top 4 seeds in Atlanta next weekend.”

“Is that where we’re going?” Weber asked.

“Yes. From that standpoint –”

“I haven’t looked at it. I’m being honest.”

10. Kentucky has NEVAH LOST to them

The blue and white Wildcats are 9-0 all-time vs. Kansas State and 2-0 in the NCAA Tournament. Say it with me…”NEVAH LOST!”

Kentucky ranked the fifth best team in Sweet 16

My, how a week changes things. When the bracket came out on Selection Sunday, Kentucky was the 17th overall team on the NCAA’s seed list; two wins and a lot of upsets later, Kentucky is now considered one of the best teams left.

ESPN’s Myron Medcalf reseeded the Sweet 16 and ranked Kentucky as the fifth best team and the top two-seed, thanks to the incredible play of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander never earned the acclaim that Collin Sexton and Trae Young enjoyed this season as freshman point guard prospects destined for the next level. But his performance in the NCAA tournament will only elevate the stock of the 6-foot-6 point guard who is the key to Kentucky’s immediate future. He averaged 23.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.5 assists in a pair of wins over Davidson and Buffalo. Kentucky outscored both teams 80-50 in the paint.

Gilgeous-Alexander is elevating his play at the right time, as is Kevin Knox, who is contributing to the Wildcats’ dominance in the paint. With higher seeds Virginia and Tennessee already eliminated in the region, Kentucky could reach the Final Four. But it did not have a flawless weekend. Davidson and Buffalo, a pair of double-digit seeds, made 50 percent of their shots inside the arc against the Wildcats.

The teams ahead of Kentucky, according to Medcalf? Villanova, Duke, Clemson, and West Virginia. I don’t see how you can put West Virginia ahead of Kentucky after what happened in January, but whatever — what I really want to talk about is this ridiculous tweet from Medcalf last night:

Umm, YES. How is that even a question? Come on, Myron.


There will be no open practice in Atlanta

Photo by UK Athletics

Here’s some annoying news: unlike years past, Kentucky’s practice on Wednesday will NOT be open to fans. Due to a change in the regional format, all team practices will be closed to the public, which is a shame because those open practices are a great chance for fans to watch the team and show their support.

Have no fear; the practices will be open to the media for 15 minutes, so we will cover it in the most ridiculous manner possible.

ESPN: Penny Hardaway to Memphis

Here we go. As expected, it appears Penny Hardaway is the new head coach at Memphis. Jeff Goodman is reporting that Hardaway will be introduced at a press conference tomorrow.

Of course, Hardaway coaches James Wiseman at Memphis East, which just won the Tennessee State Championship this weekend. The five-star big man has gone on record saying he wouldn’t necessarily follow Hardaway to a college coaching job, but given the close relationship between two, this certainly makes his recruitment a little more tense. Similarly, D.J. Jeffries also played for Hardaway’s EYBL team, and even though he committed to Kentucky last week, his father admitted that Hardaway at Memphis would be an intriguing option.

If you missed it yesterday, there are also reports that Kentucky assistant Tony Barbee will join Hardaway’s staff at Memphis, which could open up a spot for Orlando Antigua to return to Lexington:

Could Tony Barbee be headed to Memphis?

The college basketball recruiting scene just got a whole lot more interesting.

FiveThirtyEight: UK has a 57% chance of reaching Final 4

With the top four seeds in the South Region all going down, Kentucky’s path to the Final Four suddenly looks wide open. Stats website FiveThirtyEight now gives Kentucky a 57 percent chance of advancing to San Antonio, the best of any team in the Sweet 16.

Per these projections, Kentucky has a 71 percent chance of beating (9) Kansas State to advance to the Elite Eight, and should they knock off the winner of (11) Loyola and (7) Nevada to go to the Final Four, a 30 percent chance of making the National Championship game. If you allow yourself to look this far ahead, they currently have Kentucky’s chances of winning the whole thing at 11 percent.

Villanova has the highest chance of winning it all, at 22 percent, followed by Duke at 18 percent and Kansas at 11 percent. The most likely Final Four? Kentucky, Gonzaga, Villanova and Duke.

Bring it on.


BTI’s Rants and Ramblings: Sweet 16 is Where Cal Dominates

I don’t think any UK fan wouldn’t admit that the bracket has fallen our way this year.  But by no means should Cal or the guys be criticized for something that was completely out of their control.  In fact, they should be celebrated for slamming a Buffalo team by 20 that had just blasted Arizona by 21.  The Cats hammered an opponent that they should have hammered.  Now they catch another break in the draw, avoiding Virginia.  Again, good luck for us but certainly not something that should be held against us.  We simply lace it up against whoever is in front of us and perform.

But whether or not it was Virginia or Kansas State or UMBC that we would be facing this week, there is no round of the draw where Calipari teams have been more superior than in the Sweet 16.  He is 6-0 in Sweet 16 games at Kentucky, winning those games by an average of 14.3 points per game.  But that doesn’t tell the whole tale.  Kentucky also outperforms where Vegas sees the game going in each and every one of those six games:

2017: UCLA (1.5 point underdog, WON by 11)
2015: West Virginia (13.5 point favorite, WON by 39)
2014: Louisville (4.5 point underdog, WON by 5)
2012: Indiana (10 point favorite, WON by 12)
2011: Ohio State (5.5 point underdog, WON by 2)
2010: Cornell (8 point favorite, WON by 17)

And you can’t argue that Kentucky has caught good draws in all of those instances.  In 2010, Cornell was a good draw.  Since that time, Kentucky has played a Top 5 seed in all of these instances.

I think you could argue that 1st round games in the NCAA Tournament are tough because you are trying to get past those early round jitters.  By the time you get to the Sweet 16, you are fully in the tournament and it’s simply about executing.  Cal getting 5 days to prepare for an opponent has led to great performances year after year.  And I would expect nothing different this week.  Whatever the spread turns out to be, lean heavy towards the Cats!

Swaggy Calipari tweets about UK’s draw

Considering how much John Calipari complained about Kentucky’s draw a week ago, how does he feel now that the top four seeds in the South Region are all gone? With the national media seething over the Cats’ suddenly wide open path to San Antonio, Cal couldn’t help but fire up the ole Twitter machine to respond this morning.

“Forget the seeds,” Cal tweeted. “Everybody is 0-0 that’s moving forward and it’s not about seeding; it’s about who is playing the best. We are in a tough region. I’m looking forward to seeing Jarred Vanderbilt today to see how far he’s come along.”

Calipari right after sending that, probably.