It’s the start of a new month, which means it’s time to look back and →
By Ally Tucker on ©10:30 pm
(Not the highlight of the day for the NFL… The Redskins crowd… Yikes)
The NFL provided us with quite the treat today when in a span of 30 minutes, it seemed as if nearly every single game from the 1:00 time slot ended in dramatic and exciting fashion. If you’re like me, and you have no dog in the fight other than a few fantasy football players of interest, then Sunday afternoon was just plain fun. For those with rooting interest tied deeply to particular teams (I’m looking at you Terrible Towelers), the afternoon might have been nothing short of agonizing. We had the Steelers end of the game near-miracle, that was a mere milimeters away from being one of the most brilliant and exciting finishes in years. Then we had Tom Brady and the Patriots stealing one from the most unfortunate Browns in the waning moments of the game. Then we had perhaps the most overall entertaining game of the day: The Snow Bowl between the Lions and the Eagles. With a field covered in inches of snow, both teams put together a better game of football than many anticipated. The scenes and photos from the game were wild and it became a must-watch, if for no other reason than because of the shock value of the state of the field. And then finally, the poor, poor, poor Vikings. The Vikings’ season, our entertainment. Sorry, Mary Jo Perino.
After an action packed start to the weekend, let’s take a look at 10 thoughts and takeaways from the weekend that was in Kentucky sports…
1) Cal isn’t at a loss like last year, but he is certainly frustrated
During various points last season (a lot of points, in fact), John Calipari seemed almost at a loss when it came to analyzing and figuring out his team. Calipari is certainly not to that point with this team, but he is clearly frustrated after Friday night’s performance. The Cats took one step forward against Providence, and two steps back against Baylor. Calipari seemed genuinely pleased with his team earlier in the week, but whatever positives were to be taken from that victory were quickly erased by the disappointing finish against Baylor. Cal sees what we see… a team loaded with talent and potential. With that said, this team had an opportunity to put the foot on the gas pedal and finish Baylor midway through the second half, and instead did all of the things you can’t do if you want to win a game: lose the rebounding battle, turnovers, poor interior defense, miserable free throw shooting, lack of passion/effort.
2) It’s not time to panic, but there are legitimate concerns to be had with this team…
The good news is, while the Cats are stumbling a bit in the early part of the season… most of the other top teams in the country are doing the same thing. The 4 teams who participated in the Champions Classic (Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and Michigan State) have totaled 7 losses already only a month into the season. That’s probably more than anyone would have expected, but it makes me feel a little bit better about Kentucky’s woes. Kansas strikes an uncanny resemblance to Kentucky, relying heavily on the play of freshmen and a few sophomores. The result has been a struggle with more experienced teams and coaches who can put together confusing defensive schemes to confuse the young players. The 4 teams mentioned above all figure to still be a big part of the national championship picture as the season goes on, but which team will find its stride the soonest and which team will avoid a slide that might wind up hurting seeding come NCAA tournament time (It’s never too early to start thinking about that…)
3) 2 non-double-double games in a row from Julius Randle
It might seem a bit harsh to criticize a guy after a 16 point, 8 rebound performance… but in the case of Julius Randle, he is just held to a higher standard than the average college basketball player. Randle came out guns blazing to start the season, churning out 7 straight double-doubles before missing on the feat for the first time against Providence. Friday’s game against Baylor marks the second game in a row in which Randle has failed to reach the milestone. The early streak probably got expectations a little too high that Randle could do it every time, but a guy as talented and physically as imposing as Randle CAN do it every time. Will he? No. But he can, and I think his production against Baylor could have been a little better.
4) 2 losses both to teams with solid big men
Both of Kentucky’s losses this season (Michigan State and Baylor) have come at the hands of teams with a strong front court. Adreian Payne had a productive night against the Cats when they played in Chicago and Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson were both key contributers on Friday night as well. The two combined for 26 points against the Cats and gave Kentucky some trouble on the defensive end. Between Julius Randle, Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson and Alex Poythress…Kentucky shouldn’t lose the front court battle too often, and definitely should not lose the rebounding battle (41-25 in favor of Baylor).
5) Still waiting on Andrew Harrison and free throws
The two biggest areas where it seems like Kentucky fans keep waiting to see improvement: Andrew Harrison’s play and free throws. It’s not necessarily that Harrison is playing poorly (He had 6 assists and 7 points against Baylor), but he’s yet to look the part of one of the elite point guards in the country. He still struggles on the defensive end against the dribble, and he still hasn’t completely helped the team into an offensive groove for a total 40 minutes.
In other frustrating news, Kentucky still struggles mightily from the free throw line. Such poor free throw shooting has almost come to be expected from Calipari teams, but it’s flat out costing this Kentucky team games at this poiint. Both the Michigan State and Baylor losses could have been remedied with even slightly improved free throw shooting. Heck, if the Cats could just hang somwhere around the 75% clip, the 40-0 t-shirt folks might still have hope. Kentucky shot 52.2% on the night from the free throw line and that’s unacceptable. The most frustrating part? Even guys like James Young, who is a tremendous shooter, can’t be counted on from the free throw line. As the kids say, the struggle is real. And I used to find the kind of people who call into call-in shows about free throw shooting to be terribly annoying. Now I’m fumbling to find the number to place that call myself.
6) Cal’s system perfect for the rule change…not perfect for poor free throw shooters
As many suspected, the dribble drive and type of offense that Cal runs, allowing players to take on their man 1-v-1, is perfect for the new emphasis on calling touch fouls. Kentucky has found itself on the free throw line plenty of times, and with the advantage in athleticism the Cats can put other teams in foul trouble. With that said, the system doesn’t give much of an advantage if the Cats can’t make free throws.
7) The future Wildcats are looking good…
A couple of future Wildcats from the 2014 class played this weekend in the Marshall County Hoop Fest, giving Kentucky fans a front row seat to watch the next batch of Cats. Devin Booker and Trey Lyles both looked impressive in their performances this weekend, showcasing why the future could be bright in Lexington. Booker, a shooting guard, went for 40 points and 9 rebounds in a losing effort against Ballard. Booker’s numbers were fairly efficient too (9 of 18 from the field, 20 of 24 from the free throw line…HEYYYY!!!). Lyles had two strong performances, taking home MVP honors. Lyles finished with 30 points (10-16 shooting), 19 rebounds and 2 assists in an impressive win over Ballard (Kentucky’s top-ranked team). Lyles’ team had another big win later in the day when they took down Huntington Prep, one of the top teams in the country. Lyles finished with 22 points and 14 rebounds. Hurry up and get to Lexington fellas.
8) Football is still rolling…
Mark Stoops and his staff haven’t stopped moving since Kentucky concluded its season against Tennessee last weekend. If you follow any of the future Wildcats and potential future Wildcats on Twitter, you can see that the staff has been making the rounds to visit the guys. The staff is clearly putting a priority on keeping this year’s recruiting class in tact, while also making some visits to the next crop of players. The momentum hasn’t stalled a bit for the Kentucky staff.
9) Dallas is no one’s favorite place after this weekend…
I don’t think I need to go into much detail on this one. Delayed flights, icy roads, late nights, bad losses… Let’s just forget this ever happened. Unless you are the UK women’s basketball team. The real winners of the weekend were the ladies, as they not only came away with a 2nd win over a top-10 ranked team in the span of a week, but also captured the attention of the sports world in a 4 OT thriller win against Baylor. While most of the world tuned into ESPN to catch the Baylor-Kentucky men’s game, they were instead treated to an instant-classic that saw both teams go back and forth before Kentucky finally pulled away from the Bears. Matthew Mitchell’s squad got a ton of good publicity and buzz from the event, which will hopefully propel them in their quest for the school’s first women’s basketball Final 4.
10) We knew that this stretch of games would be a growing experience… Breathe.
When it’s all said and done, we knew that this stretch of games which the Cats are in the midst of (Providence, Baylor, Boise State, North Carolina, Belmont and Louisville) would provide a huge test and a chance for growth for this young team. We expected Kentucky could potentially take a few blows during this stretch, especially once we cooled on the idea of a perfect season thanks to Michigan State. The reality is that this team is young and this string of games allows very little margin for error. The teams are all good teams, and each game provides a challenge in one way or another for the Cats. With Christmas break just around the corner (meaning the Cats will get unlimited practice time with Cal), this team could undergo some serious growth and improvement, even if they still take a few more losses between now and the first of the year. Just breathe though, folks. Perhaps our expectations were too high to begin with. But this team has plenty of time, and plenty of upcoming chances against good opponents to right the ship.
By Wilder Treadway on ©9:30 pm
At Marshall County’s Hoop Fest this past weekend Devin Booker sat down with Steve Jones from the Courier Journal who picked Booker’s brain about all things UK, the tournament, and his fellow 2014 recruiting class. Booker left the interview with some good quotes, my favorite being “I still think we have the best class. Obviously Duke has a really good class. But I feel like even if we ended right now (with no more signees) we’d be the best class. At the end of the day, we have to show it on the next level. ” He also mentioned that him and the other UK recruits for next season have an ongoing group text to talk about all things, not just basketball. Wonder how much people would be willing to pay to read that…
And hallelujah…he thinks free throws are important. The Wildcats need that.
You can check out the whole thing online here.
By Matt Jones on ©9:00 pm
In the realm of “only in the Mark Stoops era” stories, is this news. 4 Star Offensive Guard Marcelys Jones visited Kentucky this weekend and a source tells KSR that he “loved his trip.” Jones is currently an Ohio State commit, after giving a verbal to the Buckeyes last Christmas. But now he is looking around some more and the Ohio native spent this past weekend on a surprise official visit to Lexington. Jones is an absolute stud, a difference maker on the offensive line, and a recruit that Ohio State desperately wants to keep. He is taking his official visit to Ohio State next weekend, and one would assume that the Buckeyes are still the favorite. But he did visit UK and a source tells KSR that he is very serious about his UK interest at this point.
Now don’t go getting your hopes up. A recruit from Ohio, who has committed to Ohio State and just watched the Buckeyes go 11-1 would seem a long shot to change to Kentucky. But conventional wisdom isn’t always right and a commitment from Jones could be an offensive line game changer. Stay tuned…long shot or not, just getting Jones to consider this possibility is quite an accomplishment.
By C.M. Tomlin on ©8:45 pm
It’s been a big week for pop culture. A big Christmas tree got lit, Ron Burgundy was everywhere, Kanye went a little crazier, some Grammy things got announced and actor Paul Walker sadly passed away before his time.
It was also — as it is wont to be — a big week at Funkhouser. So if you’ve spent your entire week watching The Voice every night instead of reading over there (and look, I don’t blame you), now’s your chance to cozy up by the fire and see what you’ve missed. And what have you missed? Let’s cue up the fuzzy flashback effect and have a look:
If you’re so inclined, check it out. Knowledge is power, you know.
By Wilder Treadway on ©8:00 pm
Written by Tom Leach
After 27 minutes of the game against Baylor, you probably could have gotten nearly universal agreement among college hoops pundits that this young Kentucky basketball team was going to be playing at least one more game in Dallas’ AT&T Stadium this season (site of the 2014 Final Four).
So what happened to turn a 50-41 lead into a 67-62 defeat?
It may be as simple as the Bears deciding to take this game back and the Wildcats doing very little to stop them. Look at the pregame comments to the media of the Providence coach as well as Baylor’s Isaiah Austin. Kentucky opponents are tired to hearing all of the hype for players who are in the first season of college basketball and it’s putting a chip on their shoulders. And you need to understand that if you’re playing for this Kentucky team. Remember that line from the original “Rocky” movie when Apollo Creed’s trainer said of Rocky, “he don’t know it’s a damn show–he thinks it’s a damn fight.” And Baylor out-fought Kentucky down the stretch.
This group of recruits drew comparisons to Michigan’s Fab Five class and I suspect those guys had to deal with this in their first season, when they lost seven conference games before making a run to the Final Four. Until this Kentucky develops a tougher mindset, it’s in danger of taking several more losses, too.
Coach Calipari’s postgame critique included playing his starters too many minutes. This was supposed to be a deep Kentucky team but the Cats aren’t getting much production from that bench, save for the defensive effort Dominique Hawkins is giving them. It’s hard for a coach to stick with a player who isn’t producing so those bench players aren’t staying on the court very long once they get in the game. He doesn’t start but Alex Poythress is a big key to this team’s long term success because they need him to play significant minutes with significant production, mainly rebounding.
None of what Baylor used to beat Kentucky should have come as a surprise to the players. The scouting report told them about the Bears’ rebounding prowess and that this game could be decided on the glass. They were coached on how to defend Baylor’s pick-and-rolls although you couldn’t tell from the execution– and how Kenny Cherry was inexplicably left wide open for a dagger-delivering basket to make it 65-61. Besides Cherry, Rico Gathers was the key player for Baylor and it was simply all about effort plays for him.
No time for whining. Effort & competitive spirit need to be an always-thing. Waters get deeper. Teams comin’-up are better’n Baylor.
That starts Tuesday night with Boise State, the nation’s highest-scoring team.
–listen to Tom each weekday morning at 9:06am eastern on “The Leach Report” radio network
–check out tomleachky.com for more of Tom’s coverage of the Cats and followTom on Twitter @tomleachky and @leachreport + via Facebook for “The Leach Report”
By Wilder Treadway on ©7:32 pm
According to Yahoo! Sports, former Wildcats Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes are in trade talks to leave the Sacramento Kings and be traded to the Toronto Raptors. The Kings will acquire Rudy Gay, Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray from Toronto who will be getting Greivis Vasquez and John Salmons as well. This will be Patterson’s 3rd different team in less than a year.
Good luck to them as they head to good ole’ Canada.@WilderTreadKSR.
By Wilder Treadway on ©7:00 pm
With Auburn’s dominating victory over the other Tigers from Missouri last night matched with Ohio State’s laughable loss to Michigan State in the Big 10 Championship game, a SEC team will likely yet again make an appearance in the BCS National Championship game. If Auburn was to complete their improbable season under head coach Gus Malzahn with a win over Florida State in the championship game, it would mark the eighth consecutive season that a SEC team was the best in the land. EIGHT. That is complete and total dominance of a conference in college athletics. Kentucky finds itself as the worst team in the league the past few seasons, currently on a 16 game SEC losing streak…Cats fans can rejoice that at least the losses UK is racking up are against the best teams in the nation, but at one point does it go from being awesome to rep the SEC, to envying the success of everyone around you?
From a recruiting standpoint, you would think being able to offer play time in the nation’s best conference in which many go straight to the NFL would be an advantage Kentucky has over many schools, even without the rich football history others have. Until about now, with Stoops’ top 10 class coming in next year, that hasn’t been the case. Yes, Kentucky has the SEC to offer but the Cats have not been able to consistently lure in the top talent to come play for them or compete against the top teams in the country so is it really worth getting beat up week in and week out? From a results standpoint, being in the SEC frankly hasn’t been that fun for UK. I truly believe if we had a successful football team in Lexington, fans would come in droves and you would see hints of Kentucky becoming a “football” school, but that has yet to happen.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the SEC. I love being able to play the best competition possible and not have fools gold type success like…Ohio State. But is essentially sucking at football worth being in such a great conference? Who knows. Hopefully soon we will see Kentucky reap the benefits of the Southeastern Conference with top level recruits and respect from around the nation when/if the Cats can pile up some winning results. As of now, I’m not so sure the SEC been good for UK in football.
In terms of football, would you rather be in the SEC (the most dominant conference in the country where the Cats perennially struggle) or somewhere like the Big 10 or ACC (conferences that sometimes yield one or two very impressive team but allow more upward mobility for less talented teams)?
By Wilder Treadway on ©6:54 pm
— Matt Elam™6⃣9⃣ (@FballIsLife69) December 8, 2013
While it was earlier reported that Matt Elam would most likely not be taking his official visit to Alabama later this month, Nick Saban is on the prowl as he is going to visit Elam for an in home visit tomorrow. The recruiting battle continues to heat up between the Cats and the Tide as both teams desperately want the gargantuan defensive lineman.
Elam loves to be mysterious though and tweeted this shortly after announcing Saban’s visit…
— Matt Elam™6⃣9⃣ (@FballIsLife69) December 8, 2013
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?!
By Dustin Rumbaugh on ©6:32 pm
After the loss in Texas, plane delays and a long road home, I really wasn’t sure whether Calipari and his staff would be able to make it to the icy roads of Marshall County. But that’s exactly what he wants you to think. Always one for the grand entrance, Calipari didn’t disappoint last night.
Twas moments before Booker’s game in Marshall Co’s house, not a sharpie-wielding child was stirring, quiet as a mouse. The programs, water bottles and big blue table cloth were hung with care, in hopes that Calipari soon would be there.
I was dumb enough to exit the media area (and accidentally leave my pass, you know, just for extra fun of it) precisely as Calipari and his staff made their grand entrance. There was an announcement and I’m pretty sure I heard trumpets. Before I could turn back the autograph mob was forming and children were already going into spasms (cute side story: the most precious little junior Miss Marshall County Hoopfest ya ever did see had her orange and blue cowboy boot signed by Cal. Awww.)
Trey Lyles watched the mob from a distance, with a huge smile on his face, the same huge smile Booker would have later during Trey’s game (more on this later). Calipari would only get to see Booker and the Gill-Caesar vs Lyles games, but there was plenty other action, including a few guys the UK staff will probably keep tabs on as they progress. Let’s look at the games first, then individual players.
Arsenal Tech 54 Huntington Prep 51 (MVP: Trey Lyles)
Two things stuck out in this game: (1) Huntington Prep is very talented but are not yet playing with a sense of cohesiveness and (2) when Trey Lyles wants to rebound, he rebounds and when he wants to win, he wins. Lyles made a huge 3-pointer and made the clutch free throw his team needed to win, on his way to a manly 22 pt, 14 rebound (3 offensive) stat-line. Gill-Caesar wasn’t a factor in this one, while Jaquan Lyle and Josh Perkins put up 17 and 15, respectively, for Prep. With 14 turnovers and only 3 assists total though, Prep’s guard play was very unimpressive from a team perspective.
Ballard 92 Moss Point 71 (MVP: Kelan Martin)
The game belonged to Ballard but the show belonged to Devin Booker and Kelan Martin. The previous record for most free throws made at the MCHF was 15, Booker hit 20 of 24. I honestly believe that somewhere around 98% of the fouls called on Ballard were while defending Booker. Booker finished with 40 points (the MCHF record is 46), 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block and 1 steal but Ballard’s team play and skill level were just too much for the one-Devin-mensional Moss Point. Kelan Martin (Butler) was very impressive putting up a 30 pt, 12 reb line for Ballard (He’s gonna be a player for Butler). Quentin Snider (UL) was fun to watch as well, showing he can score with relative ease but can also distribute in a highly efficient manner, finishing with 18 points, 9 assists and 0 turnovers.
Dallas Prime Prep 67 Quality Education Academy 50 (MVP: Emmanuel Mudiay)
If you came to the MCHF hoping that Emmanuel Mudiay would somehow be cursed by returning to the Bluegrass he shunned for Larry Brown U., you left disappointed. Scoring a scorching, athletic, electric 17 pts while pulling down 11 rebs was expected at 6’5” with his athleticism, but the reason he’ll be the best NBA guard to come out of this class is his court vision and IQ. He performed a beautiful NBA-level pick and roll with Paul Washington Jr (more on him later) and generally just found the open man and put his team in a position to score. Quality Education hung around but was ultimately outmatched by Prime Prep, Mudiay and the spark provided by freshman Paul “PJ” Washington. Terrance Ferguson, a USA U-16 member last year, didn’t involve himself too much. He’s a pogo stick and has tons of raw gifts but his game was very one-dimensional in this game, relying on 3 pointers that weren’t falling instead of using that speed and athleticism to his advantage.
Other Final Scores:
Arsenal Tech 87 Ballard 84 OT (Trey Lyles had 30 pts, 19 rebs, 2 blks, 2 stls, MVP honors)
Huntington Prep 72 Atlanta Sports Academy 46 (Gill-Caesar 19 pts, MVP honors)
Trey Lyles (UK) – Lyles averaged 26 pts and 16.5 rebs per game during his two games. He also played 35 and 30 minutes, impressive stamina considering he involves himself in every play, whether rebounding or scoring. Lyles doesn’t rely on a post game, instead getting his points from transition and methodical face-up play that will usually end in a high % jumper or baseline drive, where he can finish through contact. He runs the floor very well for his size and has nice hands to receive the pass and finish on the run. He can hit from 3 point range in and is a monster utilizing his strong frame on drives and around the basket. Most impressive, next to his shoes, his rebounding. Not only does he have the size, strength and vert to box out and go get the ball, but he has an uncanny knack for great positioning and anticipation of missed shots. He may not be Randle-beastly (who is really?) but still, get ready for another double-double machine.
Check out his highlights and see what you think:
Devin Booker (UK) – Booker gave a nice performance for Kentucky fans, mostly because he showed he isn’t just the shooter that he’s been billed as. The stroke was there, smooth as butter, and the rotation on his shot is a thing of beauty. However, they just didn’t seem to be falling, rattling out to start the game. Booker adjusted to try to score other ways and did (to the tune of 40 pts). He showed he can use both hands in transition and to get into the lane. When they threw doubles at him, his basketball IQ and poise shined through as he stayed composed and found the open man. The 2nd half saw Moss Point use him as an inbounder who would immediately get the ball back and bring it up. This led to spacing for Booker, which he turned into drives and foul shots (20-24 from the line). Booker may not be the most athletic (still, check out the put back dunk in these highlights, hops) but he is solid as a rock, with above-average height for his position, which should help him even the playing field with more athletic guards. His IQ shows that, despite the fact he is “the man” for his team, he’ll adjust well to team play and will make the most of the new found open looks he gets at the next level.
Also wanted to throw in here that both Booker and Lyles seemed to really enjoy their celebrity status. Booker was all smiles interacting with fans and signing autographs (he and Cal chatted for awhile as well). Lyles even had an impromptu signing session, on his own accord, for fans in attendance and watched with an ear-to-ear grin as Calipari’s mob formed around him. Booker and Lyles talked briefly between games and Booker told us that Townes, Lyles, Ulis and himself have a group text going where they usually talk about stuff other than basketball, although a big theme, he said, was watching other programs and getting each other amped up and prepared for next season. An early effort at forming chemistry, an important factor that UK fans took a crash course on last year.
Montaque Gill-Caesar (2015) – MGC is a rock just like Booker but may not be as quite as tall as listed (6’6”). The skills are there. He has a nice looking jumper and can get himself free when working off the ball. He can also catch the ball just outside of the elbow on the wing and back down smaller guards for fadeaways or quick moves to the baseline (which he did on more than one occasion). I came away believing that he could reclassify with his size, strength and athleticism but he’ll have to be completely tuned into his college coach if he’s going to pick up the how-to and sustained effort it’ll take to keep himself consistently involved. He was streaky in his involvement but when he wanted to be the focus, he could really pour it on in bunches, scoring most of his 19 in about one and a half quarters of play. A coach that keeps him involved will have a great scoring guard on their hands. One place he was very consistent was defensive effort, where he used lateral quickness to stop drivers and sustained that effort throughout both performances. So while the skill set is definitely there for him to succeed at the next level, this isn’t the same sure thing that Wiggins reclassifying was (but, again, who else really is?). The Buzz: Gill-Caesar has offers from basically all the schools recruiting him hard except for two: UK and Duke. Gill-Caesar said that Duke had recently stepped up their pursuit, not yet extending an offer, and he wasn’t quite 100% on whether UK had officially extended the offer but did say that he was told “If I saw myself there, [Kentucky’s coaching staff] would love to have the opportunity to recruit me.” Both Lyles and Booker specifically mentioned Gill-Caesar when discussing options for the class, with Booker also mentioning Myles Turner. I personally believe UK has the edge in this one, but I’m just not quite sure whether that’ll be next year or the year after.
Miles Bridges (2016) – Miles is only a sophomore so you can expect some rough edges, especially in terms of his form on his jump shot. However, his physical gifts and what progress he has made in his game are deserving of his early 5-star rankings (he’s smart, gets himself involved and you can see he’s worked on ball handling). Bridges will not shy from contact and can finish through the contact with his strength. This should only get better as he matures. He’s going to annoy other players with his physicality and fierce effort, he’s going to box out, he’s going to get rebounds and he’s going to get garbage points. That’s his role right now for Huntington Prep and he does it well. He already utilizes both hands comfortably on drives and finishes. The potential is definitely there. The Buzz: Told multiple reporters that Kentucky and Michigan State were his dream schools. No offer yet.
Paul “PJ” Washington (2017) – Here we have a 6’7” 200+ lb freshman. Congratulations, collect your D-1 offers. Son of a basketball coach? Here have some more. You’ll want to remember this name because he has the potential to be a star. He logged 14 minutes for a top ten high school program, turning that into 11 points, 2 rebounds and 2 blocks. He repeatedly found himself in great position to involve himself in the play, whether in transition, getting rebounds and put backs or on the defensive end. He can face up and has a nice looking stroke already. The big key will be whether he continues to grow into a big man or stays in more of the wing range. Keep an eye on this kid because I’m sure UK and every other D-1 school is.
By Wilder Treadway on ©5:30 pm
So @CoachMainordUK cheated and knocked the board over 😑😑
— K. Walker Jr (@K_Walk5) December 6, 2013
— K. Walker Jr (@K_Walk5) December 6, 2013
Three star commit Kobie Walker tweeted a picture Friday night after playing a match of chess with Kentucky wide receivers coach Tommy Mainord. Walker is an outside linebacker from Maryland who chose the Cats over Miami (Fl.), Oklahoma State, Wisconsin and Arizona among others. These tweets raise many questions. Is Coach Mainord teaching his players to cheat? Was this an offense vs defense game night? And the biggest one: why were they playing chess and not Yahtzee?!
By Wilder Treadway on ©4:00 pm
After Friday night’s Baylor/Kentucky showdown with the men’s and women’s basketball programs, many fans could say they were not anticipating the events that unfolded. No one expected a record shattering performance from the UK Hoops team, including a quadruple overtime game. No one was ready to witness a Kentucky men’s team flounder away a double-digit lead and completely fall apart in the final 13 minutes of the game. Both games had a multitude of storylines, but after seeing a back-to-back comparison of the two, many could not help but notice certain things that the women’s team is doing a lot better than the men’s team. The women had the heart, determination and perseverance to fight when they were down and win a marathon 60 minute basketball game. The men on the other hand, looked unenthused, whiny, and dejected whenever anything went wrong against the Bears. The men’s team could take a few pages from the women’s team and employ a little energy in their upcoming games. No matter your opinion of the Kentucky women’s basketball team, you can never say that another team is fighting more than they are or that they ever have less than 100% effort. That’s not true for the men’s team.
Heart: Countless times in the women’s game 4OT game against Baylor the Wildcats found themselves in high pressure, nerve-wracking situations in which they could have easily folded or given up. This team has the hustle and the heart to continue to make play after play against top competition. Whether playing with a lead or coming from behind, Kentucky simply does not let up. They have consistent level of energy and perseverance, which is completely untrue of the UK men. Many times you’ll see the men’s team arguing with refs about calls and just looking generally displeased when things start to go wrong. The men’s team needs to maintain positive energy no matter the score or situation, and games like Friday night will never happen.
Love for the team: Every single post game press conference I’ve attended this season at the UK women’s games has some mention from either Coach Mitchell or the players about how there is a general consensus throughout the team that no one cares who scores, who gets the credit, or who stuffs the stat sheet. They only care about winning. That is how you see a bench player score 43 points as Jennifer O’Neill did on Friday night. The women’s team is a true unit on the floor, picking themselves up and huddling together to talk at nearly every dead ball. They truly are “their sisters keeper”. Coming from high schools in which they were the stars of the team, it is harder for the men’s team to simply not care about who gets the stats and just be “role players”. Oftentimes you could argue that UK’s men’s basketball team this season has just looked like individual players with the same jerseys on. Yes, those players can make great plays and win games, but until the team truly comes together and are “brothers”, championships will be hard to come by.
Free Throws: Ah, the curse of Calipari. Free throws are ugly to watch for men’s team. It’s almost a penalty when the Cats get fouled nowadays because when a UK player misses both, it basically equates a turnover. Now, the women’s team isn’t perfect from the line by any means. They have a team average of 69.4% from the charity stripe, but the biggest difference is when the Cats DO make their free throws. In clutch situations, the UK women are almost always good from the free throw line. Getting fouled is an advantage to them when they are coming back, which was noted in their two top 10 victories against Louisville and Baylor. Their mentality is what makes them good when they are good. The men’s team can practice and practice free throws, but they truly need to value the points and opportunities they have to get them. They are “free” throws for a reason..
If the UK men’s team could employ these traits even just a little, they will be a different team….similar to the 2012 national champs. Until then, head scratching losses will continue, and the UK women will continue to steal the spotlight.
Want to catch a game at Rupp this season? Well here’s your chance according to our fearless leader Matt Jones 2000 tickets still remain:
2,000 unclaimed tickets left for UK vs Boise State on Tues. Fans can get at Ticketmaster, students at box office on Mon/Tues
— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) December 8, 2013
For whatever reason people aren’t showing up to sporting events quite like they used to. How many of you will be calling the ticket office tomorrow morning?
By Andrew Cassady on ©2:30 pm
After a lackluster game Friday night which saw the young Cats reach their bedtime and lose all energy nothing sounds better than hosting a Mountain West team. Wait that Mountain West team took the final at large bid from Kentucky last season? That team is 8-0 and currently leads the NCAA in points per game? We could be in for another long night in Lexington. The Cats have all the pieces to win this game with ease. However they are going to need to bring their best defensive effort to these match-ups:
Derek Marks Vs Andrew Harrison
Boise may have rose to notoriety through their BCS winning football team but it’s the Broncos of the hardwood who have been making noise recently. That’s thanks in part to the rise of junior point guard Derrick Marks. Marks started every game for the NCAA tournament team last season and was named to the Mountain West second team. This year he is stuffing the stat sheet by averaging 17.6 ppg, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. Derrick is shooting 53% from the floor this season which is not a good thing for a freshman point guard who has trouble staying in front.
Kenny Chery of Baylor and Bryce Cotton of Providence both had big games against the defense of Andrew Harrison and if he isn’t ready to bring the intensity Tuesday we may see yet another strong performance. With great guard play in each of the next four games the young Harrison needs to make some adjustments and fast.
Jeff Elorriaga Vs Aaron Harrison
While Andrew has been dealing with the challenge of shutting down some of the nation’s best cutting point guards his brother has had the fortune of guarding three point specialists who don’t move around too often. Brady Heslip was held to just two points from the charity stripe Friday night thanks to the length of Aaron not allowing many open looks. The Harrison who wears #2 will have to shut down perhaps an even better shooter this Tuesday night when he guards Jeff Elorriaga.
Jeff is fifth in the nation from downtown with 26 makes on 41 attempts for 63%. Basically just don’t leave him open because he has gone for 18 twice this year and has a career high of 30.
UK Vs The Free-Throw Line
I asked last night what should be the first thing the Cats work on once the plane lands and the answer was effort and free throws. UK was just 12-23 Friday night for one of the worst percentages of the Cal era. John Clay examined some of those games and while two have already happened this year it is interesting to note most of them occur before January. Perhaps they will get this and the defense worked out with time. Otherwise it could come back to bite them like the 16-29 against WVU in the elite eight. With the free throw weakness now exposed you have to think its only a matter of time before teams start playing hack-a-cat.
How do you think the Cats will fare in these match-ups Tuesday night?
By Andrew Cassady on ©1:00 pm
What an amazing turnaround. The Tigers went from 3 wins a year ago to the BCS title game just a year later. As Kentucky fans you look at a 2-10 season and wonder why we can’t do the same. Why can’t we shock the world and land in the SEC championship next season? Well the answer is that it requires some luck and the proper foundation. This is how Auburn went from worst to first and how UK is following a similar path for future success:
Have an Amazing Talent Base
The primary reason Gus Malzhan was able to find success in just his first year as coach was the shelves already being stocked with grade A talent. The Tigers won the national championship in 2011 and that was able to keep the Tigers’ classes inside the top ten despite having little success off the field.
2010- Class Rank 4, Star Average 3.5
2011- Class Rank 7, Star Average 3.63
2012- Class Rank 10, Star Average 3.62
2013- Class Rank 8, Star Average 3.57
The problem for Stoops and the staff at Kentucky was just the opposite. They inherited a team with guys who were just not talented enough to make an impact on the SEC level. The talent is beginning to turn around thanks to Stoops and his amazing recruiting ability. In his first year he added a bunch of guys to a Joker class to bring it up to number 29 with a 3.05 star average. Currently the Cats have the 9th ranked class with a 3.33. Throw in a Matt Elam or flip and Ohio State commit and that average will only rise. As Auburn has shown the talent has to be in place first.
Grab a Dynamic Playmaker
Unlike basketball you can’t just look to one guy to credit all of a team’s success. Yeah, tell that to Auburn. In 2011 the Cam Newton show changed that team and vaulted them to the title game. This season it’s a similar story with Nick Marshall. Like Newton, Marshall was outcast from another SEC school before heading to JuCo and landing at auburn. Marshall has been dynamic with the ability to run and throw which has kept defenses on their heels all season long. Without the big playmaking ability Nick brings to the table it is hard to imagine Auburn having half the success they have had this year.
Perhaps the Cats will be bringing in a dynamic playmaker in the form of Drew Barker. In case you have never read this site or just woke up from hypersleep Barker is a top ten quarterback with a big arm. Rivals has him as the top player in the state and Coach Stoops mentioned the possibility of him starting day one on the radio show last week. Like Newton and Marshall, Drew is going to need some great players around him. But if you let him reach his third year of college like the Auburn guys, watch out.
Play a Unique Offense
The reason Nick Marshall is able to have so much success is due to the unique offense that Gus Malzahn brings to the SEC. Its a run first attack that Gus claims to have invented back when he was a high school coach. He calls it a two-back power rushing attack and with over 4300 rushing yards this season you can see why. Another key is the lightning fast pace the Tigers bring to the line on each and every play. They refuse to give the defense a chance to catch up. That is what you have to do to average 40 points per game in a league known for their defense.
Kentucky will try to play another unique offense when Neal Brown unleashes his form of the air raid. Against WKU we all expected and offensive onslaught that would see the ball hurled from endzone to endzone. Looking back now it’s easy to see why we didn’t. 1) We just didn’t have the playmakers in place to pull it off. 2) Why give opposing defenses a year of tape when you know this isn’t the year we can win. Let’s save all the tricks for a year we can win. With 5 receivers in this class the playmakers are on their way. Perhaps next year we finally see a unique offense debut in Lexington. Perhaps next season UK will look at Auburn tape and have Whitlow in the Marshall role with Braylon Heard & the other awesome backs leading the rushing attack. Just a dream.
While Kentucky may never have the success that Auburn had this season we are definitely on our way up. Kentucky looks to be following a similar route to success that Auburn has used to reach the title game. Do you think we will ever get there?
By Andrew Cassady on ©11:30 am
That is the question Gary Parrish poses in his latest article. Two seasons ago Anthony Davis and MKG, like Wall, Bledsoe, and Cousins before them, made the leap to college basketball like it was nothing. Davis was a defensive force from game 1 and developed on the offensive end exponentially as the season rolled on. MKG was an unstoppable work horse who would never give up on a play and provided the heart and soul for a young Kentucky team.
With the greatest class of freshman entering college basketball in a decade perhaps we just expected too much too fast. Yes, guys like Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon can dominate because of their physical ability but it may take a little longer for players like Andrew Wiggins and Andrew Harrison to adapt. Like Kentucky, Kansas dropped their second game of this season over the weekend and Gary Parrish sees similarity between the two teams:
Kansas’ best lineup is as follows:
- Freshman Frank Mason
- Freshman Wayne Selden
- Freshman Andrew Wiggins
- Sophomore Perry Ellis
- Freshman Joel Embiid
That looks a lot like Kentucky’s best lineup, which is:
- Freshman Andrew Harrison
- Freshman Aaron Harrison
- Freshman James Young
- Freshman Julius Randle
- Sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein
I bring this up because I spent Friday night watching Kentucky lose to Baylor and Saturday afternoon watching Kansas lose to Colorado, and a lot of the things that bothered the young Wildcats also bothered the young Jayhawks, most notably confusing zone defenses employed by Baylor’s Scott Drew and Colorado’s Tad Boyle. If nothing else, those two games in a span of 24 hours made me realize that Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — and a veteran sprinkled here and there — spent the 2011-12 season making something look easy that just isn’t easy. That Kentucky team, highlighted by two incredible freshmen, has distorted what we think is reasonable to expect from talented teams that are young, and I freely admit that I’m among the biggest guilty parties in this regard.
I think it is so much easier to remember both the Wall team and the Davis team as they were in March rather than where they were in early December. Both Kentucky and Kansas should be major factors this March but let’s give both teams some time to go through some growing pains. Perhaps this group is more 2011 than 2012. That season Brandon Knight and the rest struggled to click all season long following a roster turnover and they dropped games to less talented Georgia, Bama, and Ole Miss. Once they got it figured out they went on to knock off the two best teams in the tournament in Ohio St and UNC before coming up short in the Final Four.
I still think we can expect this team to be great but for now and perhaps in the future we may need to all realize that this process just takes some time. Like Parrish says it’s a good thing there is plenty of it between now and March. Do you think Davis and the Kidd have ruined our perception of freshman success?