Part one in an eight part series previewing the 2014 Kentucky Football Wildcats. Barring →
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It looks like Louisville is heading to the ACC with a new football coach. After rumors circulated throughout the week, the first unofficial report comes from 247Sports’ Bobby Burton, saying that Charlie Strong will replace Mack Brown at Texas.
It is still very NEW news and nothing is official, but it’s OK to smile while your Loserville friends go insane.
Update: 11:41 PM
ESPN’s Brett McMurphy is reporting that Strong has NOT accepted the job; wishing to speak first with U of L President James Ramsey and Tom
Update: 11:55 PM
Pete Thamel is now saying Strong and Texas have agreed to a 5-year, $5 million deal. Others are saying that he hasn’t been offered, but will accept the job if they give it to him. Louisville’s play-by-play announcer Paul Rogers said Charlie will stay. Pretty much, things are kind of crazy right now so I’m just going to call it a night and let you decipher the Twitter madness.
The time has finally come. Tomorrow afternoon during the US Army All-American Game, everybody’s favorite defensive tackle from Elizabethtown, Matt Elam, will be making his collegiate selection. The five-star prospect according to 247 Sports has narrowed his list down to two; Mark Stoops’ Kentucky Wildcats and Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide. Just a few short weeks ago, it looked as though ol’ Nick was going pull a Calipari and convince yet another five-star prospect to play his college ball in the confines of Bryant-Denny Stadium. The 247 Sports crystal ball gave these reports legitimacy as the predictions shifted to 55-45 in favor of the Tide. However, a late push by Stoops, his staff, and the current UK commits have shifted the odds back in Kentucky’s favor, 61-39 to be exact.
It goes without saying, but landing a commitment from the 6-foot-5, 350 pound Elam would be quite the haul for Mark Stoops and his staff. Not only does pulling the 9th ranked overall player in the 2014 class boost the national perception of the program, but it also gives some much needed depth to Kentucky’s defensive front. It’s been a long and winding road leading to this point, but thankfully for everyone involved in the recruiting process, it all comes to a close tomorrow around 1 pm ET on NBC. So here’s to you Mr. Elam, enjoy the rest of your senior year and good luck regardless of which school you select tomorrow.
In the mean time, here’s a photo of him making two very large men look not so large.
A highlight clip of what’s to come for Kentucky? We can only hope.
News & Notes
-Erick Smith caused quite the stir yesterday when he took to Twitter and said that he and his friend Marshon Lattimore would surprise everyone with their college picks. The since deleted tweet was replaced with one that said “Me & Marshon Both Are Committing Tomorrow, We Had A Plan A Long Time Ago & We’re Sticking To It.” The very likely meaning of this statement is a commitment to Ohio State. Despite this news, Marcelys Jones is apparently still in play as he signed non-binding financial aid paperwork with both Kentucky and Ohio State.
-Speaking of recruiting, according to Chris Fisher of 247 Sports, John Calipari was doing some of his own tonight in Wheeling, West Virginia. Calipari ventured over to the Mountain State to view a trio of 2015 five-star players, including Stephan Zimmerman, Carlton Bragg, and Chase Jeter.
John Calipari in Wheeling, WV to watch 2015 5-stars Stephen Zimmerman, Carlton Bragg and Chase Jeter. #BBN
— Chris Fisher (@ChrisFisher247) January 4, 2014
-Jayson Taytum, a 6-foot-7 shooting guard in the class of 2016, will be in Lexington tomorrow to play in the Goodfellas Pizzeria National Shootout hosted by Lexington Catholic. The #4 overall sophomore in 2016 and his squad will be playing the host of the tournament, Lexington Catholic, at 6:30 pm. He currently holds a scholarship offer from Kentucky.
-After two-a-days for nine consecutive days, the basketball Cats finally enjoyed a day off today after a brief, hour-long meeting to discuss schemes. John Calipari was happy to give a day of rest to his players after the work they’ve been putting forth during the past week. “They deserve a day off. I’m proud of the progress,” Coach Cal tweeted Friday morning. “They’re all learning to deal with the grind of becoming a better team and a better player.”
-Speaking of Coach Calipari and Twitter, he later logged on to share his vision of what this team can become by season’s end. I, for one, am glad to see free throws becoming a key focus for this group.
At the end of the year, this team should be a lethal offensive team, a smothering defensive team and a 70 percent free-throw shooting team.
— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) January 3, 2014
-I’m sure you know this, but Kentucky Sports Radio isn’t the only Kentucky sports blog in the world, not by a long-shot. But every once and again, someone else around the Kentucky blogosphere knocks one out of the park and we must tip our cap and acknowledge their work. Today’s tip of the cap goes to Dakari Johnson who blogged his thoughts on CoachCal.com. Topics included the victory over Louisville, the environment in Rupp Arena, and how the team is coming together.
-Finally, current Kentucky commit Stanley “Boom” Williams took home the overall MVP honors at the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl. He took to Twitter after the game to give Big Blue Nation a message it desperately needed to hear.
Can’t wait to beat UL next year and bring that governors cup where it belongs !!
— Stanley Williams (@boom_that_guy) January 4, 2014
The Texas dominoes are beginning to fall and big changes could be in store for two teams the Cats play each year. According to Orangebloods.com:
“A source close to the Texas coaching search says Vanderbilt’s James Franklin and Louisville’s Charlie Strong are among the finalists to replace Mack Brown at Texas”
The article goes on to state that Franklin is also a contender for the vacant Penn State job which could also mean big things for our own Kentucky Wildcats.
First off let’s examine if Strong were to leave Louisville. You have to think the football tide would instantly switch back to the side of the Wildcats. The Cards will be losing a lot of talent this offseason with Teddy going pro and Senorise Perry graduating on the offensive side of the ball. The Cards will still be a formidable team but with such a step back at quarterback the Cats have a chance to step up. A lot would depend on who the Cards could land as coach and with such high profile jobs coming open it’s hard to see them drawing a top name. They would likely hire a top assistant which could work out like it has with Strong or completely backfire like it did with Kragthorpe. With that Cats bringing in a top 15 class it wouldn’t take long to mark the final game each season as an likely win.
Then there’s James Franklin who looks to almost certainly be departing Nashville this offseason. Franklin has lead the ‘dores to two eight win seasons and three wins over the Cats so if he moved on to greener pastures it would be a certain win for the Cats. It’s hard to imagine Vandy staying relevant without Franklin as they have been a doormat for the majority of the time in the SEC. Also with Jordan Matthews heading to the NFL they will lack a mega playmaker that has allowed them to win games they never could before. Kentucky could continue to rise and take that spot atop the mid-SEC that Vandy has settled. 2015 could shape up to be the year Kentucky could really make some noise.
What do you think about the future of football with these potential vacancies?
I can’t be the only one in the dumps about no basketball game this weekend – thank goodness for Matt Elam’s ability to keep things interesting. With a few more days before the start of SEC season, we have a pretty good picture for what the league might look like. But not a clear enough one to bet the house on, so instead let’s make some potentially reckless predictions – based mostly in reality.
1.) By the end of the season, Andrew Harrison will have worked his way back in to the lottery discussion. We have seen this with every Cal point guard save John Wall – it takes a while to learn to lead a team on the college level. Brandon Knight missed a lot of clutch shots in the regular season before putting it together in time for the final four run, Teague looked lost a majority of the season, and neither had the tools that Andrew appears to have. He’s already looking better,
2.) Dominique Hawkins will be the teams MVP. He won’t have the most minutes, points, assists or really any on court statistic. But he very well may have the most impact on the team throughout the year. We have already seen how his energy affects his team mates, and Cal has mentioned a number of times that he wants to get everyone working as hard as Hawkins. Hawkins may not show up on the stat sheet, but he is clearly Cal’s example for hard work. This team will dominate if they take on Hawkins attitude.
3.) By the SEC tournament, a one seed will be in play for Kentucky. It will be far from locked up, but with the Big Tenners beating each other up (Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin), the ACC having one wildcard team (UNC) and two good teams (Duke and Syracuse), and the Big 12 being littered with teams between Kentucky and a top 4 spot (OK State, Baylor, Kansas, Iowa State) Kentucky has a pretty easy road to a one seed. Louisville and Florida will be our only marquee wins, but assuming we can avoid any embarrassing losses, the Wildcats will control their destiny.
4.) Kentucky will sweep Florida. Originally I wasn’t as sold on this one, I thought there was a chance they would split. But with the first game coming halfway through Feb – and at Rupp – Kentucky will be gelling enough to tackle the Gators. And by the time they get to the final regular season game, Kentucky will be firing on all cylinders. I would be surprised if UK sweeps the SEC – too many road games, potential for foul trouble and Marshall Henderson’s – but their losses won’t come against the Gators.
5.) WCS will have more hair colors than Louisville will top 25 wins. If you count the original, the streak, the blonde, that’s three already. Louisville only has 4 more chances to beat a ranked team in the regular season (Memphis twice, UConn twice). So unless someone else steps up in that conference, this meaningless yet funny stat will probably hold true.
5B.) Kentucky will have more twins on their roster than IU will have top 25 wins.
6.) By the end of the year, Calipari will have more national respect than ever before… but he won’t win SEC CotY. This team has already made huge strides, and the early losses showed national observers that sometimes it’s not as easy as just ‘rolling the balls out’ for even the most talented of teams. The narrative on Cal is already shifting – people are finally beginning to realize how hard it is to have an entirely new team every year and still compete on the highest levels. If Kentucky reaches its potential, the non-biased will finally start giving Cal his due for being a great coach as well as a great recruiter. But for some reason Kevin Stallings will win SEC CotY once again.
Add your predictions below!
The 2013-14 season is here, and Kentucky will spend the entirety of it trying to atone for the disaster was the 2012-13 season. John Calipari’s team is trying to do something that no team in the history of college basketball has ever done: Win a national championship relying primarily on 6 freshmen who were McDonald’s All Americans. With disappointing losses to Michigan State, Baylor (lol) and North Carolina, the team will fail to reach its ultimate goal of perfect season, and will instead try to console itself with a national title. To stay apprised and educated, follow me on Twitter @NotJerryTipton. Here’s the weekly notebook:
*Body Movin’ (Fatboy Slim remix): On Monday, Louisville coach Rick Pitino announced that junior Chane Behanan was dismissed from the team. Pitino refused to say exactly what it was that Behanan did to warrant losing his place on the team, but if one reads between the lines, it’s simple: Pitino was so disgusted by Behanan’s failure to score a point against Kentucky’s overhyped freshmen that he told the youngster to get the hell out. A lot of words have been written about how UK has failed to meet expectations this year, but as far as we know, Chane Behanan is the only player to get kicked off his team for failing to dominate the Kiddie Cats. A look at the big picture doesn’t do Kentucky any favors, either. Prospective recruits will likely see this as proof that when it comes to preparing players for life after basketball, Pitino means business. In the next few months, expect to see a handful of five star recruits commit to Louisville.
*Sabotage: After UK’s lackluster win over undermanned Louisville (Kevin Ware was out with an injury and Akoy Agou would have played more had he not been indefinitely suspended), UofL fans took to the internet to cordially make the same observation that millions of basketball fans were making during the game, probably: The refs cheated for Kentucky. Bear in mind that this was not just some random fan crying foul, either. It was a well respected web log (also referred to as a “blog”) doing so. As such, it carries a great deal of weight. Something else that carries a great deal of weight? Statistics. Due to the dubious fouls called on the Cards, UK was allowed to convert 16 free throws. Meanwhile, the Cats won the game by 7 points. It doesn’t take Sir Isaac Newton to figure out that without the help from the officials, Kentucky loses by 9. If that happens, whispers regarding John Calipari’s job security commence. A job, by the way, that pays him $5.4M per year. With those figures in mind, suddenly the notion that Coach Cal paid off the refs suddenly doesn’t seem so far-fetched, does it? Can you say “incentive?”
*Ch-Check It Out: On Saturday, UK beat Louisville 73-66. This does not bode well for Kentucky. In 28 previous seasons, Kentucky beat Louisville. In 24 of those seasons, the Cats failed to win the national title. Statistically, then, this means that UK now officially has just a 14.3% chance of bringing home the national championship trophy in April. In fact, in one of those years when UK bested the Cards (1985-86), it was UofL who went on to win the whole thing. Will that happen this year? Probably. Yes. Some Kentucky fans may point out that the only time in the last 90 years before last week that UK’s winning margin was 7 (two years ago), the Cats did go on to win it all. However, that’s in the past and has nothing to do with this year.
* On this date: On this date in 1977, Kentucky beat Georgia in overtime, 64-59. However, the celebration following that win was short lived, as the Cats would go on to find themselves on probation twelve years later.
I have three quick reasons why I’m not sweating Matt Elam’s announcement before I go see what this Wolf of Wall Street is all about. I could always be wrong, but I don’t expect to lose any sleep tonight worrying the John Hardin defensive tackle will pick Alabama. We’ve gotten three good signs out of San Antonio this week…
1.) Drew Barker thinks he will.
Barker and Elam have become best buddies over the past several months during their senior seasons in Kentucky and Barker will stand behind Elam when he announces on NBC tomorrow afternoon. If anyone knows where Elam is going right now, it’s Drew Barker. And Drew Barker is confident Kentucky will be Elam’s final choice.
2.) Travonte Valentine switched his Alabama visit to Kentucky.
Valentine, another high-rated defensive tackle in the class, has grown close to Matt Elam and the two have discussed playing side-by-side on a defensive line at the next level. So when Valentine rerouted his January 24 official visit from Tuscaloosa to Lexington yesterday, it told me Valentine already knows what Elam will do. If it were still 50/50, Valentine likely waits to see what Elam does before scheduling that official to UK.
3.) He says he’s more comfortable with Kentucky.
Elam recently said he feels more comfortable with UK as a whole, given his close relationships with the current UK commits and the coaching staff in Lexington. Alabama has the prestige of being Alabama, but I don’t believe that’s enough to pull him away from what feels the most like home, especially when that place is so close to home.
Anyone having any doubts?
We’ll find out for sure tomorrow afternoon.
Glenville High School safety Erick Smith scheduled an announcement, canceled the announcement, and now that announcement is back on, all in a week. He will let everyone know where he’ll play college football at tomorrow’s Army All-American game, unless he changes his mind again.
Smith tweeted Friday evening, “Me & Marshon Both Are Committing Tomorrow , We Had A Plan A Long Time Ago & We’re Sticking To It.”
Marshon is his high school teammate, Marshon Lattimore, who will also announce tomorrow. The assumed plan they’ve had for a long time is to attend Ohio State together. Yesterday Lattimore tweeted he and Smith will surprise everyone with their picks, but he has since deleted that tweet.
There are very few things more frustrating than following a recruit on Twitter.
The Offense-Defense All-American Bowl is underway and you can watch it LIVE on your computer via the game’s live stream. This year’s edition of the game features six future Wildcats in running back Stanley “Boom” Williams, wide receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass, defensive tackle Adrian Middleton, wide receiver Blake Bone, linebacker Kobie Walker, and offensive lineman Nick Richardson.
Snodgrass is the only mid-year enrollee of the bunch. He will be in Lexington for the spring semester and spring football with fellow newbies Drew Barker, Mikel Horton, Dorian Hendrix, T.V. Williams, and JUCO transfers A.J. Stamps and Cory Johnson.
I’m excited to see what these guys do in today’s game. Really looking forward to watching Boom Williams.
After thirteen games of play on the young season, Kentucky’s extraordinarily inexperienced team finds themselves with ten victories and three losses. Depending on who you ask, three losses entering conference play is probably a bit disappointing given the high praise that was bestowed upon this squad in the preseason. Of course, there’s bound to be some criticism any time a team stumbles out of the gate while starting the season ranked #1. Regardless of where the team started and how the season has gone thus far, Kentucky now must shift their attention to winning the program’s 48th SEC regular season championship - a feat that will not come easy. Given that the out-of-conference slate has come to a close, I thought a statistical update for the team and individual players was in order.
There are hundreds of different statistics out there that measure any variety of things, but for the team update I chose to use basketball statistician Dean Oliver’s Four Factors, and a handful of other basic numbers. For the unfamiliar, the “Four Factors” as Oliver refers to them, are the statistical summary of what matters the most in winning and losing basketball games. They are; Effective Field Goal Percentage – field goal percentage where 3-pointers are given 50% more credit, Turnover Percentage – a measure of ball security that factors in possessions, Offensive/Defensive Rebound Percentage – the percentage of available offensive/defensive rebounds obtained by a team, and Free Throw Rate – a measure of how often a team gets to the charity stripe. Because Free Throw Rate is difficult to understand, I replaced it with Percent of Possessions with A Free Throw Attempt – a very similar metric to Free Throw Rate, but it’s easier to digest. The remainder of offensive and defensive stats should be self explanatory. Steals and Blocks aren’t in percentage form as the tables indicate, but rather per game form.
The Cats currently rank 74th nationally in Effective Field Goal Percentage, due in large part to poor perimeter shooting. However, we’re ranked 278th nationally in three point attempts, so the harm is minimized. The perimeter has been a struggle this year, but Kentucky’s Effective Field Goal Percentage is boosted by the elite interior shooting abilities of Julius Randle, Aaron Harrison, and Willie Cauley-Stein. Turnovers have also been a problem for the Cats this year. As it currently stands, Kentucky ranks 178th nationally in Turnover Percentage, losing the ball on 18.6% of possessions. Turnover percentage around D-1 has tumbled due to the new rules, but the Cats are still losing possession far too frequently. If the season ended today, 178th would be the lowest national ranking in Turnover Percentage for a John Calipari coached squad.
While Kentucky’s main offensive struggles are well documented, the Cats excel in grabbing offensive boards and getting to the free throw line. Currently, Kentucky’s ranked 1st nationally in Offensive Rebound Percentage and Percent of Possessions with a Free Throw Attempt. As is often the case, when a team struggles to shoot and keep possession of the ball, people tend to think an offense is inefficient. But given the number of second chance opportunities and free throw attempts, Kentucky has scratched and clawed their way to having the 6th most efficient offense in the nation according to Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings. If they could just manage to connect more often at the free throw line we would be looking at a scary good offense.
In terms of Defensive Field Goal Percentage, Kentucky is excelling. Much like our offense, the defense is greatly benefited by interior length, but mainly the shot-swatting presence of Willie Cauley-Stein. Defensive Rebounding Percentage may seem like a red flag with the 156th national ranking, but this is typical of a Calipari coached team. Most of his teams pull down around 69% of available defensive boards, leading me to believe it’s a philosophical belief on his part.
While the defensive rebounding is typical, the low turnover percentage is not – even for a coach who doesn’t preach turnovers like Calipari. For the culprit, look no further than the low post. In recent years, Calipari coached teams have been led in steals by players in the post. Last year, Nerlens Noel led the charge with 50 despite missing half of the season. In 2012, Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones led the team with 54 and 49 respectively. In 2011, Terrence Jones tallied 43 steals, a very close second to DeAndre Liggins in that category. This year, there simply isn’t as much activity in the low post. While Cauley-Stein is carrying the load, he’s getting no help in the department as Poythress and Randle have combined for four steals on the year. Kentucky certainly has issues on the defensive end like defending ball screens, but the activity down low is where some real improvement can be made.
As for the individual stats, there isn’t much to complain about other than turnovers and free throw shooting. While free throws are still a work in progress, turnovers have been cut during the past two games which is a positive sign. Most of the other stats here are self explanatory, but the final three are somewhat foreign to the general basketball public.
Offensive Rating is a complicated formula developed by Dean Oliver to determine individual points produced per 100 possessions. Percent of Possessions used is the percentage of possessions that end because of an individual player while he’s on the floor. Offensive Rating and Percent of Possessions need to be used in conjunction for the best evaluation. For instance, Julius Randle’s Offensive Rating of 115.5 at 29.8% of possessions is considered more impressive than Willie Cauley-Stein’s 125.3 at 15.4% of possessions. A rating of 100.0 at 20% is considered average. Percentage of shots taken is what the name implies, but in relation to time on the floor.
While the results haven’t been what most had hoped for thus far, there’s certainly time and room for improvement. If the Cats can cut the turnovers and connect on more free throws, we’ll see this team morph from the 6th ranked offense to the most efficient in the nation. Also, continuing to learn proper ball screen defense while gaining a bit more activity down low would go a long way in building a championship caliber team. It’s been a wild ride so far, but I have a feeling the best is yet to come with this group if a few tweaks can be made.
Jayson Taytum, a 6-foot-7 shooting guard in the 2016 class, will play in the Goodfellas Pizzeria National Shootout at Lexington Catholic on Saturday. The No. 4 overall sophomore and his St. Louis high school team will take on Catholic in the 6:30 p.m. game.
Taytum was the first member of the 2016 class to receive a scholarship offer from UK. He visited Lexington in October for Big Blue Madness and loved the reception he got from Big Blue Nation while he was in town.
Go check him out after you watch the Army All-American game tomorrow.
By Drew Franklin on ©2:00 pm
Don’t let the scarf, designer jeans and salon-quality hair fool you. This possibly-good-looking Alabama fan will go all WWE on your ass if you say something bad about her beloved Crimson Tide.
Watch as my new favorite cougar comes off the top rope to hit a crowd of Oklahoma bros with a diving body splash last night in the Superdome. The technique, the disregard for human life… It’s perfect.
And that, my friends, is why all major sporting events should be held within a cab ride of Bourbon Street.
With the exception of a one-hour meeting to go over schemes, the Wildcats have Friday off to do whatever they please. It has been a long and tiring run since the team started practicing again on Christmas night, so Coach Cal is giving his players a day of rest today. They have gone nine straight days, practicing twice most days, with an evening meal and meetings to end the night.
“They deserve a day off. I’m proud of the progress,” Coach Cal tweeted Friday morning. “They’re all learning to deal with the grind of becoming a better team and a better player.”
Practice picks back up Saturday for a few more days before Wednesday night’s game against Mississippi State to open up conference play. This is the longest stretch of the season between games, and it’s an important one. Big Blue Nation can’t wait to see how the players come out of Camp Cal.
Kentucky freshman center Dakari Johnson is the next in line to write for CoachCal.com. The former Sayre Spartan wrote about the win against Louisville and how the boys are holding up in Camp Cal. He says he has been with his teammates 24/7 since returning from Christmas break; they are practicing two times a day and doing team activities at night. They went to the movies one night this week, with half of the players seeing Anchorman 2 and the other half seeing The Wolf of Wall Street. He saw the latter and though it was pretty good.
Read more from Dakari about the team’s hard work during the winter break and what he expects as conference play approaches. Check it out at CoachCal.com.
“Guys are competing way more,” he says.