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Let’s end the day on a good note: happy birthday to Anthony Davis, who turns the ripe old age of 21 on Tuesday. In his second year in the NBA, Davis has blossomed into a bonafide star, leading the league in blocked shots (2.9 per game), placing 10th in rebounding (10.1), and 16th in scoring (20.1). We all knew Davis was a special player during his time at Kentucky, but I’m not sure any of anticipated he would rise so high so quickly. On Sunday night, Davis tallied a career-high 32 points, 17 rebounds, and 6 blocks in the Pelicans’ win over the Denver Nuggets, and in the last three games, he’s averaging 29.6 points, 15.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 3 blocks, a blistering pace for a player who is just now able to legally order a drink in a bar. He’s surpassed 20 points and 10 rebounds in a game 22 times this season, and has 30 double-doubles. I mean, just look at this dunk from Friday night:
It’s almost painful to think that Davis would just be a junior at UK this season, and leading up to the All-Star game a few weeks ago, he admitted to Bill Simmons that he sometimes wishes he had come back a second year. As this season goes on, it’s becoming more and more apparently just how special Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were as freshmen, with maturity, competitiveness, and skill beyond their years. Just writing this has me reaching for the remote to watch the 2012 Championship game all over again.
Happy 21st, Anthony. Turn off the cartoons and go party.
And now, on with the news…
Kentucky falls out of both polls
Even though we knew it was coming, seeing Kentucky fall out of both the AP and Coaches’ Poll was not fun on Monday. It’s the fourth time a preseason number one has fallen out of the AP Top 25, the previous team being Indiana in 1979-1980. Over on his blog, John Clay did some research Monday afternoon and discovered that Kentucky has been unranked six of the last nine years at the end of the regular season, a sobering statistic when you consider the highs (and lows) of the last five years.
Cal hints at the tweak that “changed everything”
Morale is pretty low in the Big Blue Nation, but Calipari did his best to boost it during his call-in show Monday night. Cal told Tom Leach that his team had their best practice since November in part because he made a small tweak to the offense that “just changed everything”:
“Sometimes it’s pride that steps in the way when you’re coaching, sometimes you just get blinded. We tweaked the offense a little bit, and it was a small tweak, something that I should have done a month ago, and the energy in our building, I’m jacked. Like, I am ready for us now to take the next step. I’m not really gonna tell you what it is or what I did, but the players left like bouncy and talking, and it was something I should have known better to do, and I apologized to the team. I’ve done this twenty some years, what in the world was I thinking? It just changed everything.”
I know, I know, call me when the “light goes on” and we “turn the corner,” but Cal seemed confident that this tweak will change things, and said he’s beating himself up for not doing it earlier. What was the change? Cal said that we’ll be able to spot it immediately: “When you watch our team, you’ll know what I did. When you see it, you’ll say I know exactly what he did. I’m sick to my stomach that I didn’t see it a month ago.” What’s the tweak? Maybe Andrew Harrison was really Aaron all along and they’ve been “Parent Trapping” us. Here are some of the funnier responses I’ve seen on Twitter:
@SeasonNeverEnds: “Cal tweak: Alex was in demo mode, not beast mode. Toggled it back.”
@TBSavage: “Told them to open their eyes when they shoot.”
@Jugg40: “Are u sure he didn’t mean that he taught them to twerk on offense instead of tweaking it?”
@DanStewartJr: “Randle at point. WCS starting QB next year.”
@Mengus22: “Cal tweaked the offense to where UK will play on a rim the size of a hula hoop.”
Leave your best guesses (serious and not) in the comments section.
Let’s get physical
In addition to “the tweak,” Cal had the players practice in football pads and helmets for two and a half hours (an hour longer than their usual postseason practice) to amp up the physical play “so we can foul and take the fouls.” Cal took the blame for his team not being as physical, and said he was pissed off at himself for most of the practice because of it: “We’re not as physical as we should be because of me, because of how I taught them.” Cal went after them Monday to get physical, because if they don’t, LSU or Alabama will send them home Friday night: “You’re gonna have to play through this, this is how they’re playing now and you’ve gotta play this way. Put your hands up and whack the dude!”
Check in with the guys over on the Fox Sports Road Trip
Matt and Drew are wrapping up their college basketball road trip for Fox Sports in Asheville with the Wofford/Western Carolina game for the SoCon title. Over the weekend, they picked up C.M. Tomlin and watched Ohio State play Michigan State in Columbus. For those of you who’ve only read Tomlin’s awesomely ridiculous work on the site, click on over to see him tackle more conventional sportswriting with this recap of the game.
While you’re at it…
Check in with our man Tom Jomby to see how the UK Tennis team is doing. They’re still undefeated in the SEC, and on Friday, beat #8 Texas A&M. (Spoiler alert: Jomby rushes the court)
Now, we turn our sights to Atlanta. Matt and Drew will be live from Asheville in the morning to get you ready for what is still one of the best weeks to be a Kentucky fan. No more moping. We’re going to have fun this week, if for no other reason than it’s too dang depressing not to.
Saturday, what has been an unquestionably disappointing season came to an end. While it has been a frustrating season there have certainly been plenty of fun moments infused throughout. As we head into tournament play perhaps it’s time to look back on those good times instead of focusing on lackluster results. Here are my top 5 picks for great moments during this past year:
5. Julius Randle Debuts
While our heralded freshman class may have arrived a little bit under expectations there has been one player who has delivered from the get-go. Julius Randle has been a star since the day he arrived on campus and it was never more obvious than against Michigan State. Randle went for 27 and 13 as he found a way to finish despite drawing double and triple teams while going up against the first team that was able to combat his high school spin move. Julius adapted his game and showcased why he will be an early pick this summer. Randle has been one guy you could call dependable during this tumultuous year.
4. 5th Gear @ Ole Miss
Without question the game where the Cats have looked the most complete was the one against Ole Miss in Oxford. For 36 minutes they played like the team we all expected them to be and showcased the high gear needed to be dominate in March. The Cats went on an early 23-7 run which saw the Cats score on 10 straight possessions. Here’s how they went down:
1. Julius Randle jumper.
2. Aaron Harrison steal and dunk.
3. Aaron Harrison missed three, Julius Randle offensive rebound, Jarrod Polson three.
4. Julius Randle dunk.
5. Aaron Harrison layup off lob from James Young.
6. Julius Randle dunk.
7. James Young dunk off lob from Jarrod Polson.
8. James Young dunk off lob from Andrew Harrison.
9. Andrew Harrison three-pointer.
10. Alex Poythress three-pointer.
It was great.
3. Willie Hosts A Block Party
Looking back it’s hard to recall when Willie Cauley-Stein was playing like a defensive player of the year candidate but he was on fire to start the year. The game where the new and improved WCS was showcased most prominently was against Providence when Willie blocked himself into the record books. WCS got so close to the elusive triple-double as he finished with 15, 9 blocks, and 8 boards. It was a dominating performance and one that showcased how far Willie had come since arriving in Lexington.
2. Cats Down The Birds
The year of the Cardinal was tough to endure. Louisville beat Kentucky for the first time in the Cal era and then went on to win the national championship. This season it was time for revenge. Andrew Harrison made sure we got it. Andrew had struggled all season until this game when he stepped up to score 18, a mark that has been his second highest this year. UK picked up their signature win and restored order to the Commonwealth. A win over the dirty birds is always a great moment.
1. LSU Elation
The game against LSU may not have been great but the finish sure was. Not because of the buzzer-beating put back but because of all the smiles. “The team without joy” looked like they were finally having fun and playing for each other. They looked like they finally had the signature moment that would carry them the rest of the year. Now we can see the game didn’t mean much as they dropped the next two games in the most disappointing games of the season. Still, for that one night there was so much optimism for what the rest of the year could bring.
Saturday night after the loss to Florida Cal said “We have all the stuff you need … now just do it. It’s time. Let’s do it.”. At various points this season the Cats have showcased all that stuff. Julius has been a grown man, the team is capable of big runs on anybody (See: 15-0, Florida), Willie can be a defensive force, and the Harrisons can each take a game over. Now it’s now or never to get it all to click at once. Do you think they can? What were your favorite moments from this year gone by?
UK fans have long had a strange relationship with former walk-on Steve Masiello. He was at UK for four years, graduated and was on a national title team…as a walk-on that usually puts you in beloved status in the Big Blue Nation. But Masiello was at times hard to love (even he admits that) and went to coach for Rick Pitino at Louisville after his time here. He has been a long-time butt of jokes on KSR and at times was one of the people I least liked to have ever played at Kentucky.
But time heals all wounds and as part of the KSR Road Trip, we went and watched Masiello’s Manhattan team beat Iona on its home court. Now just a week later, Masiello has defeated Iona again and will be headed to the NCAA Tournament with the Jaspers. Steve is a great young coach, a very good recruiter (he was Pitino’s best at UL) and is a rising star in the college coaching world…plus he loves Kentucky. Congrats to Steve and with all the connections to the Cats in the Jasper program over the years (Masiello, Scott Padgett was an Assistant, Heshimu Evans came from there, Shagari Alleyne transferred there), Manhattan should be a good secondary team for UK fans in the NCAA…and oh yeah, they can beat someone if people aren’t careful. Don’t believe me? Ask Masiello himself who had this to say after the game:
(click to enlarge)
It’s been a rough few weeks in the Big Blue Nation, so much so that the happiest time of the year for Kentucky fans once again feels like a cruel joke. I spent some time this afternoon thinking about this roller coaster of a season, and how it’s affected the fan base’s psyche. I charted the biggest moments of the year (not including all the games because of space), and how I, as a fan, felt after each one.
The world would be a pretty boring place if we all thought the same thing, so I’m sure you may disagree on some, and if so, please share your opinions in the comments section (like you need the encouragement).
Congrats to Jon Hood, who was named to the 16th annual Southeastern Conference Community Service Team, the league announced this afternoon. Here’s the release from UK:
Hood Named to the SEC Community Service Team
Senior earned honor for continuing efforts in the community
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Senior Jon Hood was selected to the 16th annual Southeastern Conference Community Service Team it was announced by the league office on Monday. It is the first such honor of the Madisonville, Ky., native’s career.
In a continuing effort to recognize the accomplishments of student-athletes beyond the field of competition, the SEC once again highlighted a Community Service Team for men’s basketball for the 2013-14 season.
Hood has given countless hours for the community since his arrival at Kentucky. He constantly spends spare time visiting children at the UK Children’s Hospital and befriends children in need or who have terminal illnesses.
The senior guard has volunteered for God’s Pantry multiple times, volunteered for Hoops for Haiti. He’s spent time with Samaritan’s Feet and as a Campton Elementary school volunteer. During his time in Lexington, he has helped work clothing drives and the Hurricane Sandy Telethon with other teammates. Furthermore, he’s a mainstay at UK men’s basketball camps serving as a counselor and mentor to young players.
This marks the 16th year for the SEC Community Service Team for men’s basketball as well as for women’s basketball. All 21 league-sponsored sports have had a Community Service Team since 2004.
Hood is a 2013 graduate of the University of Kentucky and is on track to complete a second degree this May. He’s appeared in more than 60 games in his career and was a member of the 2012 National Championship squad.
Kentucky returns to action on Friday, in the quarterfinal round of the SEC Tournament in Atlanta. UK will face the winner of the LSU-Alabama game at 7 p.m. ET. The game will air on SEC TV.
Jodie Meeks went insane during the Lakers-Thunder game yesterday. Scoring an NBA career-high 42 points, Meeks helped his Lakers defeat the Thunder 114-110. I’ll quickly give you his stats from yesterday’s game; 11-18 from inside the arc (61.1%), 6-11 from downtown (54.5%), and a perfect 14-14 on free throw attempts. In honor of his high-scoring performance, it’s time to relive his historic 54-point game at Kentucky.
Now let’s watch the evolution of Jodie Meeks, as he scores the majority of his 42 points during yesterday’s game(free throws not included).
Wow. How awesome was that? Great game, Jodie!
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©6:19 pm
John Calipari is currently talking to Tom Leach on his weekly call-in show, and started the show off by telling Tom and listeners about a small change he made in practice today that he thinks has “changed everything”:
“Sometimes it’s pride that steps in the way when you’re coaching, sometimes you just get blinded. We tweaked the offense a little bit, and it was a small tweak, something that I should have done a month ago, but the energy in our building, I’m jacked. Like, I am ready for us now to take the next step.”
Cal refused to go in specifics, but said that “the players left like bouncy and talking, and it was something I should have known better to do, and I apologized to the team. I’ve done this twenty some years, what in the world was I thinking? It just changed everything.”
The Cats practiced two and a half hours this afternoon, with football pads and helmets on to amp up the physical play “so we can foul and take the fouls.” He’s not putting up with fatigue either, telling players “If you can’t make it through the whole practice, you will not start.” For the record, everyone made it through the whole practice, and they’re gearing up to do the same thing tomorrow.
Hey, I’ll take it.
I know I’m not alone when I say I’m feeling a little deja vu from last March. While this group will make the NCAA Tournament, you could argue that given the high expectations and talent, it’s been an even more disappointing season than last.
Right now, last year’s team and this year’s team suffer from some of the same problems–poor guard play, no offensive flow, no leader, and one excuse to lean on (last year, Nerlens’ injury; this year, youth). At a similar crossroads, will this team change their fate?
It’s been over a year since Nerlens Noel played in a game, but yesterday, the rookie sent out this cryptic tweet hinting at his NBA debut:
— Nerlens Noel (@NerlensNoel3) March 9, 2014
Sources confirmed to The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey that April 4th is indeed Nerlens’ target date for his first game back from injury. The 76ers play Boston that night. Nerlens has been increasing his contact in practice, but has yet to participate in five-on-five scrimmages. So far, the 76ers had planned on him missing the entire season.
At this point, is it worth it for Nerlens to make a comeback even if it’s just for a few games?
After sweeping the SEC opening weekend last weekend on the road, defeating LSU 5-2 in Baton Rouge and No. 66 Arkansas 6-1 in Fayetteville, the Cats started 2-0 in conference play.
Last Friday, the Wildcats won their biggest match year, beating No. 8 Texas A&M 4-0.
After a deceiving start to the season with four losses and the team missing the National Indoor tournament for the first time in five years, the UK men’s tennis took a step up and started practicing harder, said volunteer coach Anthony Rossi. The coaching staff decided to make practices last longer and more intense.
So yes, I have to say it sucks to wake up three times a week at 6 am to go workout before the tennis practice, but at some point you have to choose where you want to be. I for sure didn’t want to be in Lexington in mid-February when the best 16 teams in the country were all fighting against each other in Houston at the National Indoor. Our team had two solid weeks of practice with I believe 10 good practices in a row. I felt like the level of the team increased, but we had to prove it and play that level we knew we could have during a match.
Last Friday, WE DID IT.
The 22nd-ranked UK Men’s’ Tennis team beat No. 8 Texas A&M 4-0 in the best match the team played so far this year.
With free pizza for all the people attending the event, the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Center was packed and I was really happy that a lot of people showed up. It was the first I’ve seen that many people being so loud during the entire match and the crowd had a huge impact boosting our confidence during the match.
It was really easy to get pumped for this match because sophomore Kevin Lai and I were playing the team ranked No. 1 in the country in doubles, Junior Ore and Jackson Withrow. We broke first to lead 6-4 but they broke us back right away to finally push us all the way to a tiebreaker. We did the work winning the tiebreaker 7-4. On court #2 Beck Pennington and Alejandro Gomez played a solid match beating the Aggies 8-5 to earn the double point for UK.
In singles, I was the first one to finish on court 1 with a 6-3, 6-4 win over No. 11 Harrison Adams. Since I lost to Adams last semester at the SEC fall tournament, head coach Cedric Kauffmann knew what I needed to do to be able to get my revenge. We worked on it during the week and I felt really great on the court playing with the game plan we created. I was winning and I could see that Beck winning on court 3 and Jerry winning on court 4, and I was like, ‘Man, we’re going to do this!’
Coach Rossi was making sure I was staying focused on my court and on my game, which can be difficult when you feel like your team is about to win. I also felt like the people pushing me in the crowd at 3-3 in the second set was a huge help as well. I ended up winning in straight sets, giving us a 2-0 lead overall in the match.
Sophomore Beck Pennington, No. 99 in the country, won 6-3, 7-6 against No. 38 Jeremy Efferding for his best win of the year.
“I was really excited to play against a really good opponent today in front of my family that drove all the way from Bowling Green KY,“ Pennington said. “We have been practicing so hard and we really want to win the SEC like two years ago. We have the chance to have a guy like Tom on the team that is one of the best players in the country, and Coach Kauffmann who was a top 200 professional player in the world. I mean we have everything we need to succeed. After this win I can’t be more proud of the team.”
Freshman Jerry Lopez came out clutch on court 4 as he knocked off Junior Ore 6-2, 7-6 to clinch the win for Kentucky. Jerry dominated the whole match, imposing his heavy ball and giving no opportunity for the Aggies to come back.
It’s safe to say that was exciting!
Coach Kauffmann was really proud of the team. “That’s a great win for the boys today,” he said after the match. “I thought us not going to the National Indoors got us really sad and disappointed and we had to make a choice. We had to continue to do the same things we were doing, or we had to take a step up. We decided we were going to step up the physicality in our practices and we aren’t going to stop. This is just one win in the SEC. We will get back to work even harder.”
Lai admitted that beating the No. 1 ranked doubles in the country tastes even better after the team won the match overall. “I look forward to next weekend and playing again against Mississippi State and Ole Miss,” he said. “I now understand that we can compete against everybody in the country and I’m ready for some big things in the coming weeks.”
Kentucky is now 3-0 in the SEC and one of two undefeated teams in the conference, with the Georgia Bulldogs.
The Cats will be back on the court Friday afternoon a 4 p.m against Mississippi and again on Sunday against Ole Miss at 1 pm.
Stat guru Ken Pomeroy combined his ratings with Bill James’ log5 formulas to estimate each team’s chance to win their conference tournament. (What’s a log5 formula? Click here.) According to KenPom, at 18.3%, Kentucky has the third best chance to win the tournament behind Florida and Tennessee:
In fact, KenPom is downright fascinated by the Vols, who he believes should be the most analyzed team in the history of the game (sorry, Cal). After it looked like Cuonzo Martin would certainly get the boot, Tennessee has rallied, and as long as they don’t fall on their face in Atlanta, should make the NCAA Tournament. However, as KenPom points out, many Tennessee fans would welcome a face plant if it meant the administration would fire Martin and bring back Bruce Pearl. Go read more of KenPom’s thought on the Vols here.
The Cats may not be inspiring much confidence right now, but the SEC Tournament is only a few days away. So close I can smell the buffalo wings at STATS. If you’re coming to Catlanta to party with the BBN and KSR, here’s a rough schedule of events:
10 a.m. – noon: KSR live from STATS (300 Marietta Street NW)
10 a.m. – noon: KSR live from STATS
2 p.m.: Greater Atlanta UK Alumni Club Pep Rally at the Hawk Walk near Philips Arena (Cost $15/person, $10/UK Students, children 10 and under free; first 500 fans will receive a free t-shirt)
4:30 p.m.: KSR pregame show (potentially live from STATS)
7 p.m.: Kentucky vs. LSU/Alabama
Approximately 10:30 p.m.: KSR postgame show live from STATS. Win or lose, we will party.
SATURDAY and SUNDAY: If UK wins, pregame and postgame shows will be at STATS (pregame two and a half hours before tip, postgame approximately 75 minutes after the game ends)
Right now, the weather forecast looks pretty awesome:
I see you, Tennessee. They say teams that are playing their best down the stretch tend to get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to making the tournament and the Vols certainly are after absolutely dominating their last three opponents by an average of 31 points per game. Because of this dominance, Tennessee has shot up in the KenPom rankings all the way to 13th, making them the highest KenPom rated bubble team since its creation. Unfortunately for Tennessee, the committee looks at resume and not total team strength. But more on the Vols later. Let’s take a look at the SEC teams and what they’d need to do to make the tournament in this week’s Bubble Watch:
Florida, Kentucky: At this point both teams are just playing for seeding, just of different variety. Florida has all but locked up a number 1 seed in the tournament, and an SEC tournament victory over Missouri or Texas A&M would probably lock it up. An SEC Tournament Championship for the Gators would also probably give Florida the top seed overall. Kentucky, on the other hand, has a plethora of seeding options from a 5-seed to maybe a 9-seed. A tournament championship that has them beating LSU, Georgia and Florida may be good enough to get them a 5-seed, whilst an early tournament exit to either LSU or Alabama could drop the Cats as far as a 9-seed. The way things have been going lately, the latter seems more probable than the former.
Tennessee: As good as the Vols are, they are far from a lock to make the tournament. At 19-11 (against D1 opponents), the Vols boast an RPI of 46 and an SOS of 16, which are both good enough marks to make the tournament.However, a first round SEC tournament loss to either Arkansas, South Carolina or Auburn would make things incredibly iffy, if not doubtful. They can beat crappy teams by as much as they want but at the end of the day they already have three bad losses and a fourth would be killer (although a loss to Arkansas wouldn’t really be that bad). I think a first round win and a loss to Florida will get the job done, but please UT, just win that first game because I don’t like the possibility of a 2-bid SEC.
Arkansas: As of three days ago things looked pretty swell for the Razorbacks. They were winning road games and dominating teams at home and then Saturday happened. The Hogs went in to Tuscaloosa to face the pitiful Crimson Tide and lost by 25. 25! That’s the same Alabama team that they beat by seven at home a little over a month ago. Oy. So what does this mean for Arkansas’ tournament hopes? Well, for starters, they definitely need to beat the winner of Auburn-South Carolina. If they lose to either of those teams they are done. Truthfully, though, they need to beat Tennessee to give themselves a shot on Selection Sunday. A win over Tennessee would give the Hogs a 5-3 record vs. the RPI top-50, and another game vs. Florida (presumably) would give them a boost in SOS. In order to lock themselves in the tournament, though, a win against Florida is necessary.
Missouri: In the big bubble battle Saturday against Tennessee, the Tigers laid a proverbial egg. Mizzou now sits as the 8-seed in the SEC, with a 21-10 record, an RPI of 56 and an SOS of 83. They only have two top-50 wins, and went 1-7 on the road in conference play. Still, the Tigers have a shot at an at-large bid. First, they must beat both Texas A&M and Florida. I know that’s going to be really hard to do, but the Gators don’t have much to play for and the Tigers already played them tough once this season. But, I’m not sure doing just that will get them in. If Mizzou wants to feel comfortable on Selection Sunday, they best make the conference tournament finals. Can they? Sure. Will they? Doubtful.
Everyone Else: Better win it (sorry, Georgia).
The regular season has officially wrapped up, but the #BBN still doesn’t know what to do with their hands. To say this season wasn’t what we expected would be an understatement. With close games against Michigan State, North Carolina and a win against Louisville, everything was normal for the first half of the season (aside from the Baylor loss). Then the Arkansas game ended like a game of ’21′ with a tip-dunk, then the team was man-handled by Johnny O’Bryant and LSU, and before we knew it the Cats lost four of their final seven.
Objectively, that looks pretty bad. However I’m a college student that is taught to debunk stats and think ‘outside of the box.’ The problem with human nature is that we tend to focus on our problems without acknowledging the problems of others. If you look at the Cats compared to the best of the best in the country, Big Blue could be in much worse shape.
UK: 68.4% (t-223)
Florida: 67.3% (t-260)
Arizona: 65.9% (t-297) w/WKU and Virginia
UL: 65.4% (t-319)
Injuries (knock on wood)
UK: Julius Randle’s cramps during the Louisville game and WCS’ hand in the preseason.
Michigan State: Izzo’s three best players, Keith Appling, Adreian Payne and Gary Harris, all missed multiple games.
Arizona: The team’s Achilles’ heel – the inability to score in the half court – became even more exposed when their most dynamic scorer, Brandon Ashley, broke his foot. The injury will keep him out for the season, one that was undefeated until Ashley’s injury against Cal.
Louisville: Even though the Cards have turned things around and it wasn’t an injury, losing Chane Behanan was a BIG deal.
‘Rush the Court’ Incidents
This could have happened…
Instead, this happened…
UK: Arkansas twice, at South Carolina, at LSU(?)
Syracuse: Georgia Tech, Boston College (4 of their final 6)
Duke: at Wake Forest, at Clemson, at Notre Dame
North Carolina: Belmont, UAB, at Wake Forest
Struggling in conference play isn’t unique to Kentucky: the Big 10 Champ (Michigan) has seven losses, the Big 12 Champ (Kansas) has eight losses, and the ACC Champ (Virginia) has six losses. If you want to blame the lack of success on Kentucky’s freshmen, they haven’t really been that bad either. While none of them have been Anthony Davis/MKG-like, outside of Wiggins, Parker and Embiid, Kentucky’s ‘Big 4′ freshmen have statistically performed better than any other freshmen in the country.
It’s difficult to paint a pretty picture of 2013-14 regular season, but it isn’t the finger-painting we witnessed last season.
Big Blue Nation has been a sad place to reside in the past couple of weeks. Now don’t get me wrong, the entirety of the season has been a bit of a bummer, with fans hoping for a magic traveling circus of ass-kickings and instead receiving a never-ending helping of tedious corporate training sessions. Each game has been hard to watch and at no point has it felt like the team has ever really “hit its stride.” The possible “turn the corner” performances have been many, (Louisville, Arkansas comeback attempt, at Missouri, at Ole Miss, the Randle game winner vs LSU) but at no point has the team come anywhere close to finding its groove. However we continued to have hope that the moment was quickly approaching when all the hype would become reality and UK would be a monster. It was only a matter of time.
Well somewhere between the last minute of the Arkansas loss at Rupp and Calipari getting tossed in Columbia, a large part of the fan base finally gave up. While some members of the BBN continue to hope for a final postseason miracle turnaround (and I do respect those folks and their dedication), it is clear that for many/most fans the belief in the magic of the 2014 team has completely disappeared. For a while, this disappointment manifested itself in anger. Message boards, comment sections, KSR Radio and more showcased a fan base baffled by the team’s complete inability to win against even the bottom feeders of the SEC. While some (maybe a lot) of the anger was over the top (with a few lost souls even wanting to get rid of Calipari), it still showcased a group of fans who cared and wanted to let off steam from a year that had been so greatly anticipated. The anger bothered me, especially when directed at the players, but the sentiment behind it is something that makes this fan base so special. We really care about this team and the program, and this time of year, which sometimes has the feel like a month-long state holiday in Kentucky, has been ruined for two years in a row. This can’t help but hurt and expressing that pain makes perfect sense to me.
But now as we get ready for SEC Tournament week, a time that is usually the UK fan base’s time to be at its absolute best, a feeling is creeping in that is even worse than anger. I get the sense that a significant portion of the Big Blue Nation has now turned off the season completely and has become apathetic. What is usually Cats’ fans best quality, a dedication to the program and its successes/failures through thick and thin, now seems to be waning this March in ways that while not without precedent, are extremely rare. This apathy is manifesting itself through all types of fan behavior. For the first time that I can ever remember, UK announced last week that it still had SEC Tournament ticket books for sale thanks to cancellations in the last two weeks. Think about that for a minute…the SEC Tournament tickets, once so hot a commodity that fans would buy SEASON TICKETS from other schools to be able to buy them at the end of the season, now aren’t even sold out in Lexington. Even just two years ago, that would have been unfathomable. It showcases itself in everything from web traffic, to twitter Retweets to radio show calls, all of which have seen a small downturn from normal numbers in the last 10 days. I am told by a retail source that sales of UK gear are “as low as I can remember” for this time of year. I can’t get over how many people have said to me, just in the last few days, that they have given up on the season and are either not going to the Tournament or making other plans during these March weekends. Even last year, with all the team’s struggles, UK beat Florida in the final game of the regular season and Nashville was rocking before the Cats threw up a stinker versus Vandy in the SEC Tournament. This year just feels different. What was once a time to be the Bluest of Blue is this year, just another option on the entertainment schedule.
I expect we will see the lowest Kentucky attendance at the SEC Tournament since Gillispie’s swan song in Tampa (a truly depressing affair). Many regulars of SEC Tournament trips for years are bowing out, thinking there is no chance for a positive outcome. While the KSR crew is still making the journey (with 14 people, our largest group ever), I expect less Blue, at least on Friday, than at any point in my memory. It will still be a majority Kentucky contingent and if you go, the most fun you can have with fellow Kentucky fans…but it will be slightly different. If you ever wanted to go to a SEC Tournament and were worried about tickets or expenses, this is the year to go.
The effect is also showcasing itself on conversation about next year’s team. Hype, which is something the BBN has mastered for decades (no program in all of basketball, maybe all of sports, talks more about the future than we do), is at an all-time low for next year’s team. Even though the Cats will once again have the #1 or #2 recruiting class, fans are not nearly as energized about the future players. For understandable reasons, UK backers are taking a “wait and see” attitude that could make this a very boring Spring and Summer around Lexington. After two straight years of awful football and disappointing basketball, Kentucky fans want to see happiness and success before they get their hopes up again. The fun of anticipation has been sucked out of Lexington, at least for the foreseeable future.
All of this can of course change on a dime. Win the SEC Tournament and most of Big Blue Nation will be “all in” when the brackets come out. If the Cats make the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, I know that the Regional will be filled with Blue as fans think the light has turned on and we all get set up for what Aaron Harrison called “a great comeback story.” But until that happens, the feeling around here is not a good one. Kentucky fandom is, as of today, really depressing. While there is no place better when it is going well, and no place angrier when it is going badly, the feeling that exists now may be the worst of all. BBN with apathy is no good whatsoever and all I can hope is that whatever happens in Atlanta this week, it will be enough to get rid of this foreign, painful feeling.