Move over horse racing and bourbon; Kentucky is a basketball state again.
I challenge you to find another state in Amurrica with more success on the hardwood than the Bluegrass State right now. The University of Kentucky is the unanimous No. 1 team in the country again, Murray State is in the top 10 for the first time in school history and UK Hoops is No. 6 on the women’s side of things. The Racers could run the table for a perfect season and Matthew Mitchell’s squad is off to their best start in school history.
Oh, that’s not enough for you? Let’s go to Division II, where Kentucky Wesleyan is the top ranked team. The Panthers will slip from that top spot when the new D-II rankings are released Tuesday afternoon, but Bellarmine is right behind them at No. 2 waiting to move up to No. 1. Northern Kentucky is also in the top 10 in Division II and Georgetown is a top 5 team in the NAIA rankings.
Now tell me another state that dominates from top to bottom like that. Yeah, we’ve got Louisville keeping us down, but that just adds to the satisfaction of UK fans. Louisville dropped out of the top 25 in the AP poll and somehow stayed in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll in a tie with Wisconsin at No. 25. Thanks for ruining the state’s beautiful records across the board, baby bro.
It’s still just past the midway point in the regular season, so a lot could go wrong before season’s end. But, no matter which team you’re rooting for in the state, it’s safe to say Kentucky is the unofficial official home of college basketball. Enjoy it.
Now your News and Views…
— The Cats are No. 1 in the country, but John Calipari isn’t thrilled with being on top again. During his pre-Georgia media afternoon before practice today, Cal said he tried to get ahold of Jim Boeheim after his Orange went down to Notre Dame. “I was so mad at him. It’s just an added thing,” he said. “I just watched Georgia and Vanderbilt, Georgia had Vanderbilt beat at Vandy. I don’t know if they need anything added, they are at home against us and it will be sold out.” Calipari added that doesn’t want his guys getting too caught up in the hype that comes with being the top ranked team. He said, “I’ll tell these guys it’s a badge of honor, not a burden. It’s a badge of honor, let’s go play.”
–When asked about how he recruits young guys who can handle the atmosphere, Calipari used Kyle Wiltjer as an example of a freshman who isn’t afraid. “You don’t know until they are in there doing it, but you’re hoping you peg the kids that you think can deal with all this. I’ll give you an example, Kyle Wiltjer, not afraid at all. We pegged it right, he is not afraid at all. If he is open he is shooting it, defensively he is out there playing hard and he’s not playing timid in any way. We’re not playing poorly down the stretch in games, we’re giving ourselves a chance to win but there are things we are going to have to do to keep getting better.”
— Wiltjer has noticed his own improvements as the team gets deeper in conference play — mostly on the defensive end. “I just feel like I’ve been better on defense, with angles and being in the right spots, doing what Coach Calipari asks,” he said. “I’ve gotten a lot better in all aspects of my game because we’ve been working hard in the gym.” Wiltjer said the combination of film study, practice, and more games under his belt are making him a better player.
— During the SEC teleconference Monday morning, Calipari again talked about how loaded he thinks the SEC is this season. Cal said this is the best the conference has been in his three seasons at Kentucky. Just like he did last week, he predicted that four of the top five teams in the SEC will reach the Sweet 16 in this season’s NCAA tournament. If he thinks it’s stacked now, imagine how tough the conference would be if Missouri was already in. The nation’s top two teams would be from the SEC.
— Calipari is also impressed by Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. “He’s a terrific player,” Calipari said on the teleconference. “I’m telling you, he’s one of the best in our league and forget about class. I think anymore when you start looking at class, you’re making a mistake. If a kid can play, he can play, and forget about age.” The freshman guard leads UGA in minutes, points, and steals, and he’s third on the team in rebounding. Caldwell-Pope’s 16.6 points per game in conference play is good for fifth best in the SEC. Watch him.
— Kentucky opened up as 12.5 favorite over Georgia. KSR does not condone gambling.
— What did you make of Calipari telling his players they probably need to get beat? He dropped that bomb on his Monday morning appearance on 790 the Zone in Atlanta. “I said ‘we probably need to get beat so you guys will understand that you cannot let a team come in and kick sand in your face and accept it.’ You can’t do it.” He’s exactly right, but I’d rather they learn a different way. I don’t like to see them lose.
— In recruiting news, the pursuit of Amile Jefferson officially came to an end Monday afternoon when news broke that the 2012 power forward is down to Duke and NC State. Although, you could say the pursuit of Amile Jefferson unofficially came to an end months ago. The young man from Philadelphia dropped to the second/third option in the eyes of the UK staff, behind Anthony Bennett and Tony Parker. Bennett has long been a priority for Kentucky and the staff believes they’re in good standing to land the prospect from Las Vegas. Interest in Tony Parker has also increased recently, while Jefferson has slowly moved down Kentucky’s big board. Jefferson is a good talent, but don’t lose any sleep over him cutting Kentucky from his last. Just trust the staff.
— Speaking of Anthony Bennett, he spoke with Five-Star basketball about the five schools he is considering and, of course, Kentucky is a major player. Bennett said he sees an opportunity to start at Kentucky right away because “they’re trying to lose like seven players this year.” (Spin that however you want; I see it as a kid talking in front of a camera.) Scout.com’s No. 2 power forward is also considering UNLV, Washington, Florida and Oregon. Why does Washington even bother recruiting against UK anymore?
— Cats and Dawgs will tip off in the 9:00 pm game on ESPN Tuesday night. We’ll spend the afternoon getting you ready for that first dreaded game on the road as the top-ranked team.
I’ll leave you with this All-Access feature on Brandon Knight entering his first start: