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It’s that time of the year, folks, when Cats fans from all over the southeast get together for a weekend of basketball, fanfare, camaraderie and Golden Flake potato chips. It’s our annual Big Blue getaway with thousands of our best friends, most of whom we’ve never met before and will never see again. It’s the only time of the year we’ll willingly watch Vanderbilt vs. Mississippi State, and the only time of the year we’ll drink Sunkist. It’s a little thing we call the SEC Tournament. And it starts on Wednesday.
This year Big Blue Nation will flood the mean and scattered streets of Atlanta for the tourney’s last stop in the city of Ludacris for at least another decade. The house that sparked UK’s unexpected Final Four run in 2011, welcomed a tornado in 2008, and saw back-to-back UK titles in ’98 and ’99 is passing the torch off to Nashville for nine of the next 11 years, plus two in Tampa. I hate goodbyes, and this is a big one.
If you’re one of the many making the trek to the ATL, we encourage you to join KSR at STATS not far from the dome for Thursday and Friday morning’s radio shows and Friday night’s postgame show. (Pregame show is TBD.) If you’re not one of the many making the trek to Atlanta, you should really consider it. It’s going to be a grand ol’ time and the Cats could really use your hollarin’. This weekend could potentially be the beginning of something great, and if it’s not and the basketball is a letdown, there will be plenty of blue clad shoulders to rest your head on. We’re in this together.
Sooooo… see you there?
That’s what I thought. Cats.
Tweak, tweak, tweakity, tweak, tweak, tweak.
I’m all tweaked out for the day (probably for the week) but you can catch Matt’s opinion on the tweak in the post just south of this one. We share a similar belief that the tweak is more of a motivator for the players than an actual adjustment to the offensive scheme. To me, and I could be 100 percent wrong here, Cal is using all of this tweak talk to convince his team “everything has changed” so they’ll enter the postseason with the confidence they once had. I think he’s playing mind games, and if you saw James Young and Julius Randle’s comments Tuesday, it might be working. They both said they expect elevated play on Friday.
Speaking of Tuesday comments, Calipari explained why he made said tweak now, during his pre-SEC press conference:
“Because it was very clear when you saw it. You run a business and do something for real and all of the sudden you have this business and something’s not working right and you can’t put your finger on it. You do a couple things and you try this and OK, and then something happens and you look and say, that was it. And I think they all kind of got it and, you know, and like I said, I’m just disappointed in me that I didn’t do it earlier. You know, why didn’t I catch this and why wasn’t I thinking in those terms? I think a lot of things this year, there were so many things that we were having to do to get individual players right and then get them together and then get them to fight through things; there were a lot of things. Now it’s, you know, let’s go, let’s do this.”
The Cats will be physical on defense.
If “tweak” was the word of the day, and it was, “physical” wasn’t far behind. We must’ve heard it 50 times on Tuesday. Cal said his players will be more physical defensively and they are working on bodying up since the officials haven’t been calling games as tight as originally expected.
“What we did yesterday, first thing was defensively it was physical, put your arms up, let me see your hands and then foul with your body,” he explained. “Do it on every drive and every post-up. For two reasons, one, we can play against it because that’s how everybody is playing now and I’m not just talking our league, I’m watching around the country. The second thing is if we get in a game where we’ve gotta play that way then we gotta have — we gotta play that way. You know, we went for a season saying hands off, don’t touch the body and it was, you know — obviously as each month and week went on, it got more and more physical. So basically we’re back to where we were a year ago when everybody said you foul on every possession to win. So we just had to practice that way.”
Kentucky wasted a lot of time early in the year adjusting to how the game was to be called in 2013-14, only to see the referees call it the same way they have been. If the refs are going to let ’em play in March, the Cats might as well body up and play physical — make them blow the whistle.
Julius Randle is Calipari’s fifth SEC Freshman of the Year in five seasons.
Randle joins Nerlens Noel, Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones and DeMarcus Cousins in the UK basketball trophy cabinet as SEC Freshmen of the Year under Coach Cal. The power forward from Dallas was also named to the SEC’s All-Freshman team, an honor he shares with James Young, and First Team All-SEC. Young earned a spot on the conference’s second team.
UK watched Trinity’s Ray Spalding Tuesday night.
Coach Antigua was in Louisville to watch Trinity junior Ray Spalding help his Shamrocks to a regional championship and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen over top-ranked Ballard. Spalding, ranked No. 88 in the country and No. 1 in Kentucky according to 247Sports, was held to four points and nine rebounds in the win. The 6-foot-9 forward has an offer from Indiana and is catching heavy interest from the Cards.
The New York Daily News says Cal is a candidate for the Knicks job.
Kentucky is now 40-1 to win the NCAA title.
Once the favorite to hoist the Wooden National Championship trophy in 2014, your University of Kentucky Wildcats now have 40-1 odds out in lovely Las Vegas. That’s quite a difference from the 7/2 odds on Kentucky to win the title in the preseason. A $100 bet will pay out $4,000 if you were to get it in now, as opposed to the $350 you would win if you made the same bet last fall.
A woman was drawing on children at a Lexington Salvation Army.
From the @LexKYScanner Twitter account:
Report of a female at the Salvation Army approaching other people’s children and drawing on their faces with lipstick. LexPD en route.
We’ll stay on top of this one.
I’ll leave you with this video, just because.
This is an easy one to forget but one that is on my list of all-time favorites. The 2010 Kentucky team beat up on Tennessee in Nashville and showcased some of the best features of that group. You have the dancing, the Bledsoe/Dodson shooting and the Cousins’ toughness. It is a fun watch and a memory of a time when a team had it clicking. Watch to get yourself ready for the weekend to come.
Coming to you from Asheville, North Carolina, where they grow hippies like Idaho grows potatoes. The people watching in this play is fairly unbelievable and includes some of the odder scenes I have ever encountered. But everyone is nice, generally happy and accommodating and it is a good 2-day layover before the SEC Tournament. With that in mind, a few quick thoughts heading to Cat-lanta:
— I am not sure a word has ever gotten more play in a state than the word “tweak” got in Kentucky this afternoon. Calipari’s announcement last night on his radio show that he has found a tweak in the offense that could “change everything” had Big Blue Nation stirring today. Ever since that moment, folks have been guessing what said tweak could be and others have been assuming that no such tweak exists and writing off the whole thing to “Cal being Cal.” I of course have no idea if there has been a tweak or not, but I think it is likely Calipari is doing this to try and reset the game for his team going into postseason play. At this point, confidence may be his group’s biggest issue. Calipari apparently went before his team and apologized for not finding this tweak sooner and said that this can be the change that is necessary to make a move forward. At least with his team, there can be a belief that Calipari made a mistake (not them) and now they are headed in the right direction. It could all be for naught (and likely will be) but I think it is a smart move by a coach doing his best to try and get the bad vibes out of his players’ heads so they can focus on trying to reclaim their season over the next few weeks.
— Speaking of the SEC Tournament, the bracket in Atlanta is set up well for Kentucky to find its way to the Tournament finals. While everyone wanted to avoid LSU, a team that has given UK fits and is as physical as any in the conference, the rest of UK’s side is fairly convenient for the Cats. If they get past the LSU/Alabama winner, taking on Ole Miss or Georgia shouldn’t cause too many problems. The reality is that if Kentucky doesn’t play better than they have for the last two weeks, they won’t beat anyone and the draw won’t matter. But to have Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri end up on the other side (not to mention Florida), means that if Kentucky finds some kind of real tweak and plays closer to its potential, a spot in Sunday’s final shouldn’t be too much to ask.
— If Kentucky gets to the finals of the SEC Tournament, then I think the Cats would get a 6 seed, not a terrible place to be all things considered. Lose before that and I would say a #7 seed is likely in the cards. As much as any other year ever, a lot of the Tournament success will be based on sheer luck of the draw. There are some #2 seeds that I think are simply not very good (Villanova) and some 4/5 that could be great (Michigan State, Louisville, etc). What you are seeded matters less than who you are seeded against and thus we will just have to cross our fingers and hope for the best on Selection Sunday.
— If you are going to Atlanta for the SEC Tournament, here is the schedule of events:
10 am: KSR Radio live from Stats
10 am: KSR Radio live from Stats
2-6 pm: UK Pep Rally like at the Phillips Center next to the Georgia Dome
After the Game: KSR Postgame Show with UK fans at Stats
In addition, the Atlanta Hawks have home games on Thursday vs the Milwaukee Bucks (and Brandon Knight), Saturday night (after the SEC Tournament games) vs the Denver Nuggets and next Friday versus the New Orleans Pelicans (Anthony Davis and Darius Miller). They are offering discounts to UK fans for all these games by clicking on this link and using the promo code: CATLANTA. Check them out if you would like and see some more basketball.
— Finally, KSR is going a bit old school this weekend and bringing back the KSR LIVE RUNNING DIARY FROM THE SEC TOURNAMENT on Thursday. Drew, Aaron Flener and I will be doing what I used to do when the site first started…covering the tournament from the arena and focusing on all the side things going on (goofy pictures, people, etc). It will be a lot of old school KSR fun on the site and I hope you will tune in.
We head to Atlanta tomorrow and will be in the Georgia Dome in the KSR Suite tomorrow night. See you folks then!
A month ago, this entire conversation might have gone a lot different. In the last few weeks, some of the coaches in the SEC who were sitting on burning hot seats have cooled off a bit due to some big wins, or a string of wins. After a mediocre (or even terrible in many people’s eyes) overall season in the SEC, many of the coaches were the brunt of the criticism and blame for putrid performances by their teams and empty arenas across the south. With the SEC tournament just a few days away, standing as the last chance to prove anything one way or the other, it’s time to take a quick heat check on some of the seats of the coaches around the SEC.
Anthony Grant, Alabama (13-18, 7-11 SEC)
I think it’s safe to say that Anthony Grant coached his final game in Rupp Arena, at least as the head coach of the Crimson Tide. Grant’s career at Alabama started off with such promise, as he always had the Tide in the tournament or right there on the edge at the end of the season. Grant, known for his team’s stingy defense, was brought to Alabama with high expectations but never was able to get Alabama over the hump. Grant has probably seen the last of his days at Alabama.
Heat check: Boiling.
Mike Anderson, Arkansas (21-10, 10-8 SEC)
Anderson’s Arkansas team reeled off 6 straight SEC wins at the end of the regular season before dropping the finale to Arkansas. Although the Razorbacks aren’t the image of consistency right now and struggle out of the conference against marquee opponents, Anderson’s team is strong at home and they’ve shown signs of major improvement and promise for the future. Mike Anderson likely still has another year or two before he has to put up or shut up as far as taking Arkansas to the next level in the SEC.
Heat check: Luke warm
Tony Barbee, Auburn (14-15, 6-12 SEC)
Tony Barbee is in his 4th season at Auburn, and the Tigers have yet to have an overall record above .500. The Tigers have also finished no 10th, 14th and 12th in the SEC regular season over the last 3 years. Auburn hasn’t had more than 6 SEC wins since Barbee’s arrival. The fans aren’t showing up either…
Heat check: Boiling
Frank Martin, South Carolina (12-19, 5-13 SEC)
Martin hasn’t exactly made the splash South Carolina and SEC fans hoped for since his arrival from Kansas State. Martin’s team finished 2nd worst in the SEC standings, but a late season win over Kentucky might have bought Martin an inch of breathing room. Martin only has a 26-37 overall record and a 9-27 SEC record at USC in his 2 seasons. Martin will probably have 1 more season to improve what’s going on at South Carolina before his seat reaches the boiling point.
Heat check: Hot
Mark Fox, Georgia (18-12, 12-6 SEC)
Fox’s seat was near a boiling point following the non-conference schedule. Georgia started the season poorly with 4 straight losses in the first 5 games. Georgia came alive though in SEC play, shocking everyone by finishing 3rd behind Kentucky with an equal 12-6 record. Fox’s Georgia team still might have to do some work in the SEC tournament to make the NCAA field, but it’s safe to say that Fox won’t be going anywhere this year– even though at one point it seemed almost certain.
Heat check: Cool
Cuonzo Martin, Tennessee (20-11, 11-7 SEC)
Tennessee fans were starting to get a bit disgruntled after another disappointing start to the season for the Vols. Tennessee had plenty of talent, but the slow start had fans wavering on Martin as the head coach. Much like last year though, Tennessee hit its stride late in SEC play. Other than Florida, no one has looked more dangerous in the back half of the SEC schedule than the Vols. Tennessee has probably done enough to be the 3rd SEC team to make the NCAA tournament as well.
Heat check: Cool
Andy Kennedy, Ole Miss (18-13, 9-9 SEC)
Kennedy’s seat was hot last year until Ole Miss rode the back of Marshall Henderson to the SEC tournament title, taking the heat off of Kennedy for the time being. After another average (.500) regular season in the SEC, that has Ole Miss in a position where only another SEC tourney title will ensure an NCAA berth, Kennedy is teetering on the edge again. Kennedy will have to prove next year that he can win at Ole Miss without Marshall Henderson. That will be the deal-breaker moving forward in the next year or two for Kennedy.
Heat check: Luke warm, but heating up
Johnny Jones, LSU (18-12, 9-9 SEC)
Jones’ best years at LSU are likely still to come. LSU should probably be a little bit better than they are this year (watch them play Kentucky, and then watch them play someone else…two different teams), but Jones has hit the recruiting trail hard. LSU will be bringing in some top tier talent over the next year or two. LSU could be a team to watch in the next few years in the SEC.
Heat check: Cold
Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt (15-15, 7-11 SEC)
Stallings has been at Vandy since 1999 and has certainly experienced some good years for the ‘Dores. Vanderbilt hasn’t been the same though since their one really, really good class graduated (Jenkins and company). Vandy has been the epitome of mediocrity in the SEC the last 2 seasons, and add on to that the fact that Stallings has underachieved in the NCAA tournament when he’s had talented teams. The question is…. Do the fans/administration at Vandy really care enough to unseat a guy who has been there for a long time and has done reasonably well?
Heat check: Luke warm
Rick Ray, Mississippi State (13-18, 3-15 SEC)
Although Ray’s team was the worst in the SEC this season, Ray inherited perhaps the most depleted roster in the SEC last season. Ray still needs a year or two buffer to recover from how bad of shape the program was in when he took over. He seems like the right kind of guy when you hear him talk and watch him instill passion in an under-talented team… but how long will he get to make a splash?
Heat check: Heating up
By Andrew Cassady on ©March 11th, 2014 @ 7:00pm
Tomorrow the SEC tournament will tip off with Auburn taking on South Carolina and Mississippi State squaring off with Vanderbilt. It is officially the post-season. Cal’s first three years saw SEC tournament gold with three straight championship appearances. Last year the results weren’t so great to put it gently. The tournament is one final chance to get things right before the big dance so let’s take a look at what the national media has to say about our chances this week:
Kentucky and its ubertalented freshmen grabbed the headlines in the preseason, a squad so once-in-a-generation special it spawned silly talk of a 40-0 season. The Wildcats instead endured the reality of growing pains, and they have yet to realize their potential.
Team with the most to gain
Kentucky. Yes, the Wildcats are firmly in the NCAA tournament, but if there is a team that can use a dose of feel-good medicine, it is the Wildcats. Kentucky ended the regular season with a 19-point loss to Florida, the disheartening exclamation point on a season that never quite became what anyone expected.
But nothing cures the November-December-January-February blues quite like a good month of March. Kentucky is one good run from becoming a very dangerous team, and a hot start at the SEC tournament could be the spark
Along with Florida, Kentucky is the only other SEC team that is a lock for an NCAA tourney at-large berth. The Wildcats field the youngest team in the nation, often starting five freshmen, including standout forward Julius Randle. But they limped down the stretch and fell out of the top-25 poll this week after losing three of four games, including an overtime home loss to Arkansas and a road loss to lowly South Carolina.
It starts with Kentucky. The Wildcats entered the season as the No. 1 team in the country and have, since then, essentially remained the same team. That’s not a compliment. The best teams in the country improve throughout the year. Kentucky hasn’t gotten any better. Every step forward is followed by a step back. Their performance in March this season is going to be used as a referendum on head coach John Calipari, the Kentucky program and the way Cal uses the one-and-done. It just is. If Kentucky is going to put it all together in the NCAA tournament, that momentum will need to be built this week.
I don’t really want to pick Kentucky as the second-most likely team to win the SEC tournament, but there really isn’t a choice here. In terms of talent, it doesn’t even compare. The Wildcats are head-and-shoulders above anyone else in the league, and they are probably more talented than Florida. But that doesn’t make them a better team. All of Florida’s pieces fit. All of their guys buy into their roles. They have a senior point guard that’s a leader on the floor and capable of taking and making big shots while spending the rest of the game distributing the ball around.
Kentucky doesn’t have any of that. But if, somehow, everything does happen to click, this group will have a real chance to make a run in March.
Do you think the Cats will get it right and pull out their 28th SEC championship?
By Drew Franklin on ©March 11th, 2014 @ 6:15pm
The Glitter Gulch neon sign on Fremont Street is one of the most popular images associated with old Vegas. And right down from the sign you’ll find a familiar flag hanging in front of the Golden Goose Gentleman’s Club.
Look closely. Yup, that’s the UK logo, flying among the bright Fremont lights.
The SEC Tournament Championship round won’t count toward the NCAA tournament seeding, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. While they are already predicted to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, Kentucky can use this opportunity to not only bring the fans back, but to also give them the confidence and experience they need to continue their careers in basketball no matter where they end up.
Kentucky has the chance to face several teams they have lost to throughout the season as a chance to redeem themselves, giving the Cats a confidence boost they have needed all season. A run in the SEC tournament will also bring back fans who have been left disappointed from the season. Fans might be surprised to see the games go more in Kentucky’s favor in the SEC tournament.
As Matt has said on the radio show, a lot of SEC refs have not been following the new hand check rule. Cal didn’t expect for this to happen so he has taught his players to play under the new rule. In the SEC and NCAA tournaments, each game is like an audition and whoever calls the best games will go on to call the next. This will encourage the refs to follow the new rules and thus giving Kentucky the advantage.
This along with good play will help push Kentucky to the championship game, which is exactly what the team needs to gain the confidence we saw in them in the pre-season. Kentucky needs to have a strong run in the SEC tournament to give them the determination they need to play in the NCAA tournament. That determination is something the team currently does not have.
Since Cal’s arrival, excluding last year, UK has put up very impressive tournament runs and it would be a huge injustice to not expect the same out of this team. The positive runs(2010,2011, and 2012) far outweigh the negative one(2013). One aspect to think about is the matter of who is going to step up and be the “General” that we need. The old term of “Floor General” has been thrown around erroneously over the years in college basketball.
When someone from the media throws out the term, 9 times out of 10 the point guard shows up and is the one setting things in motion and relaying what the coach calls out. Floor Generals are great to have, but sometimes the real general is someone that might not necessarily be your point guard. Sometimes, it is simply the most intense young man on the court that has the “refuse to lose” attitude, has the eyes that will shoot fear into the opposition and who doesn’t shut off until the final buzzer.
In 2010’s tournament run Cousins filled the General role in the SEC title game. Did Wall score 7 in OT that sealed the game? Yes. But without Cousins’ effort turned what was almost certainly about to be Mississippi State’s title win in regulation into an overtime loss.
In 2011, lightning struck twice in the NCAA tournament with Brandon Knight hitting game winners against both Princeton and Ohio State.
In 2012, Big Blue Nation saw a team that was something special. Many believe the MKG’s motor was a huge driving force behind that championship. In 2013, a General was hardly noticed and the result doesn’t need to be brought up again in this post. Who’s it going to be this year? Someone needs to grow up quick and be our General. If not, we know what will happen.
By Drew Franklin on ©March 11th, 2014 @ 4:30pm
Julius Randle and James Young spoke to reporters before Tuesday’s practice, but they weren’t giving any hints about the new “tweak.” The recently named All-SEC freshmen dodged question after question, saying, “You’ll see Friday” and “You’re not getting anything from me.”
However they did support what Calipari said, that things will be a lot more physical. Physical this, physical that. Physical.
By Drew Franklin on ©March 11th, 2014 @ 3:29pm
If officials aren’t going to call the game the way the NCAA said it would this season, it’s time to get physical on defense. The Cats spent a lot of time in the preseason working to stay in front of their man by shuffling their feet, hands up and no body, but that’s not the way to defend when the refs are letting both sides play. Coach Cal anticipates leniency from the stripes in the tournament, so he dropped that preseason passive D in practice this week for a more physical style.
“What we did yesterday, first thing was defensively, it was physical,” he said today. “‘Put your arms up, let me see your hands and then foul with your body then do it on every drive and every post up.’ For two reasons, one we can play against it cause that’s how everybody’s playing now. And I’m not just talking our league. I’m watching around the country. Then the second thing is if we get in the game and we’ve got to play that way then we’ve got to play that way cause you can’t…You know we went for a season saying, ‘Hands off, you can’t touch the body.’ You know, obviously as each month and week went on it got more and more physical. So basically we’re back to where we were a year ago when everybody said, ‘You foul on every possession to win.’ So we just had to practice that way.”
It’s time to let us hear your body talk, Wildcats. Let’s get physical, physical. I wanna get physical.
Coach Cal was available for questions today before his team takes off for Atlanta and the hottest topic of discussion was that mysterious tweak he made to the offense that he claims “changed everything.”
Of course, he wouldn’t reveal the big adjustment but he did say it changed the way his team thinks and what they’re trying to do offensively. Some of you will see the change Friday night, others won’t even notice it, he says.
“If you know anything about basketball, you’ll know exactly what I did,” Calipari told reporters. “If you don’t know anything about basketball, you’ll read everyone’s tweets and their blogs and say, ‘What is he saying they did? Because I don’t know basketball.'”
Whatever it may be, it is making a big difference, according to Cal. He said there was a different feel in the building after yesterday’s practice and the tweak, along with more physicality on both ends, brought something out of them he wanted to see.
“It was very clear when you saw it,” he said. “I’m just disappointed in me that I didn’t do it earlier. Why didn’t I catch this and why wasn’t I thinking in those terms?”
So why did it take so long to figure out?
“I have no idea,” he admitted. “I was just sitting at home on Sunday and it popped in my mind and I said, ‘You know what, let’s do it. Let’s do this.'”
This is either the greatest post-regular season adjustment in the history of basketball or Cal is dragging us along as he gets his team ready for the tournament. Either way, it is causing quite the headache as we all try to decipher his comments and figure it out. Only at Kentucky would an offensive “tweak” consume our lives the way this one has over the past 24 hours and we still have a few more days before we see it in action.
A “tweak,” people. We’re losing our minds over a tweak. We’re crazy.