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Mark Stoops happy with upset victory over MSU, but ready to move on to South Carolina

Mark Stoops happy with upset victory over MSU, but ready to move on to South Carolina

Mark Stoops’ alloted 24 hours of celebration for the Kentucky Wildcats are over. His football team had their time to party following a massive upset victory over No. 14 Mississippi State, but now, the UK head coach says it’s time to turn the focus toward South Carolina.

“After 24 hours after the win, we go right back at it and are focused on USC. We spent a lot of time on them today. There are still so many things we can do better,” Stoops said in his weekly call-in show.

He singled out Mississippi State’s lone touchdown drive of the night, one where the Cats gave up four third-down conversions and a short Nick Fitzgerald touchdown run. On two of those conversions, one being a third-and-five and another a third-and-13, Kentucky gave up passes of 15 and 24 yards for first downs.

“We didn’t play that drive,” he said. “We totally didn’t execute, we gave them that.”

Beyond those seven points, the Wildcats played a near-perfect game on defense, highlighted by star outside linebacker Josh Allen. On the season, the senior has been just about as dominant as you could hope for.

Allen, who was a preseason All-SEC selection and a candidate for the Bednarik and Butkus awards, leads all active SEC players with 17.5 sacks to go along with 26 tackles for loss. He has already managed 25 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, four quarterback hurries, two pass breakups, and a forced fumble in his first four games this season.

Against Mississippi State on Saturday, he destroyed the competition, earning SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors in the process. When you combine the ten yards he racked up in tackles for loss, along with the false starts and holds he forced against MSU, Allen’s play resulted in over 50 negative yards by the Bulldog offense. One of his quarterback hurries also resulted in a thrown interception by Fitzgerald.

“He only got credited with a few hurries, but he was threatening their offense every time it was a predictable pass play,” Stoops said tonight. “There were six pre-snap penalties on guys lined up against him alone. Josh was affecting their quarterback all night long.”

Kentucky’s stud on the other side of the football, Benny Snell, leaped into the Heisman race with a 165-yard, four-touchdown performance against the Bulldogs on Saturday. This evening, Stoops acknowledged just how special he is to the team and defended his superstar back for speaking his mind on social media and in interviews.

“Benny plays for the team,” he said. “He truly cares about his teammates and wants to play really well for them. Benny’s heart is in the right place. He believes in himself, what’s he supposed to say? “I’m not going to run for a ton of yards?” I’d rather say “woah” than “giddy up.”‘

Following the victory, the Cats moved up to No. 17 in the AP and Coaches Polls, with several media outlets raving about their potential as an SEC East sleeper pick. Stoops believes no team is perfect from start to finish throughout the season, though he feels his team is capable of stacking up against any opponent.

“Without a doubt, they deserve to be recognized (in the polls),” he said. “We beat two ranked teams, they’ve played undefeated football. … Through 12 weeks, teams are not going to play at their peak all 12 weeks. The best teams win even when they’re not at their peak, and we’re trying to be that way. We’re deeper, and we do have a more mature team.”

He’s preparing this team to compete in every game, no matter what logo is on the opponent’s helmet. He believes they have a chance to win every time they step onto the football field.

“We compete to win every game we play,” Stoops said. “We strive to compete in every single game. We don’t look at the season and pick a number of wins as our goal for the year. We don’t have goals on there as far as wins and losses. If I say we’re supposed to win ten games, does that mean I expect us to lose two? We’re prepared to win every game we play. I’m proud of the way we prepared, I’m proud of the work we put in throughout the week. It’s hard to describe the kind of stress these players go through, seven days a week. We spend so much time mentally with these players because there’s so much that goes into it.”

A major factor in the victory over MSU had to do with the crowd’s presence at Kroger Field on Saturday. Stoops called out the Big Blue Nation to not only come out in full force against South Carolina, but to top the 60,037 announced attendance from Mississippi State.

“Without a doubt (the fans) made a difference. They affected the outcome of the game,” Stoops said. “Our composure was a big piece of the game last week. With a crowd almost at capacity, it was key for our team to stay composed throughout the game. This Saturday we really need the stadium to be filled again for another big game. …We need it upped again this week.”

Overall, he understands there are some issues to be fixed, but he is proud of how far they’ve come from this summer, to fall camp, to today.

“I was extremely confident in this team because I saw how hard they were working,” he said. “I saw how important this was to them. I’m proud of this team. We have a long way to go, but I’m proud of what we’re doing right now.”


© Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky No. 2 in NBC Sports’ Preseason Top 25

© Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky’s ranked No. 1 in preseason polls by Blue Ribbon, The Sporting News, ESPN, CBS Sports, and The Stadium, but NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster has the Cats No. 2 in his Top 25, which came out this morning.

Dauster believes Kansas is the best team in the land heading into the season, citing the Jayhawks’ experience and talent. As for the Cats, he says they’ll be plenty of fun to watch, but raises questions about defense.

“As always, there is quite a bit of turnover on the Kentucky roster. Six key pieces from last year are gone, while the Wildcats bring in yet another loaded recruiting class. I think the combination of incoming backcourt talent and the remaining front court veterans is going to be a fun combination for Kentucky fans to watch, especially when Stanford grad transfer Travis is factored into the mix. The big question for Kentucky is going to be how they can put a team on the floor that can both shoot and play the kind of elite-level defense we all are expecting. Cal has plenty of weapons, and it will be fascinating to see how he decides to deploy them.”

It’s worth noting that John Calipari didn’t even install his defense for the Bahamas games. Considering that and how tenacious Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley already look on the defensive end and I think the Cats will be just fine.

[NBC Sports]


UK Fans of the Day want to know which recruits attended UK-Miss. State

UK Fans of the Day want to know which recruits attended UK-Miss. State

Kentucky received two commitments in less than 12 hours after the victory over Mississippi State.  Junior college cornerback Brandin Echols and quarterback Amani Gilmore weren’t the only high profile players at Kroger Field Saturday night.

There were multiple members of Kentucky’s 2019 class in town for the game.  Two linebackers were on their official visits, KD McDaniel and Taures Payne.  McDaniel, a Georgia native, was the first 2019 commitment and is currently the second-highest ranked player in the 2019 class.  Payne is a junior college transfer that currently plays with Echols at Northwest Community College in Mississippi.

@4PFPayne

The highest-ranked member of UK’s class, Moses Douglass, brought a teammate to the game. Isaiah Gibson was in the Kroger Field stands just three days after committing to Kentucky.

There were also plenty of talented in-state recruits in Lexington.  J.J. Weaver is not just one of the best remaining 2019 recruits on the board, the four-star defensive end is one of the nation’s top pass rushers.  I’m sure Josh Allen’s performance was an eye-opener for the Louisville Moore star.  Weaver will return for an official visit later this fall.

Most of the recruits were underclassmen.  Junior quarterback and legacy recruit Beau Allen was in the building.  John Young, a four-star junior offensive tackle from Louisville Christian Academy, saw Kentucky beat up a physical Miss. State team in the trenches.  Another young talent from Louisville, Male wide receiver Izayah Cummings, tried on a Kentucky uniform during his visit.

@IzayahCummings

Another junior quarterback was blown away by Kentucky’s performance.  Michael Wright, a three-star pocket passer from Atlanta, left Lexington typing in all caps.


(Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

Enes Kanter said thought of playoffs “makes his nipples hard”

(Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

There is some excitement in New York with the addition of Kevin Knox to the Knicks’ rebuild of young talent. Knox had an outstanding summer and he is expected to be a major contributor in the team’s push for a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

Enes Kanter is very excited about the possibility of a postseason. Speaking at the Knicks’ opening of training camp on Monday, Kanter said, “When I think of the playoffs, my nipples get hard.”

TMI, Enes. TMI.


Latest Bowl Projections put Kentucky in Florida for New Year’s

I hope you haven’t made any plans for New Year’s.  After Kentucky’s dominant 28-7 win over Mississippi State, multiple college football experts are picking the Cats to play in the Outback Bowl.

Three different outlets predict the Cats will return to the Outback Bowl in 2018. Brett McMurphy picks the Cats to play Michigan State, Sporting News predicts a matchup with Wisconsin and ESPN’s Mitch Sherman foresees a duel between Kentucky and Michigan in the Outback Bowl.

If Kentucky is invited to the Outback Bowl, the game will take place on the 20th anniversary of UK’s only other appearance in the New Year’s Day game.  Tim Couch’s Cats took a 14-3 lead in the first quarter before ultimately falling to Penn State 26-14.

Not everyone projects UK to the Outback Bowl, but a few others believe Kentucky will play on New Year’s Day in Florida.  SB Nation (vs. Wisconsin) and 247 Sports (vs. Michigan) are projecting UK to appear in the Capital One Citrus Bowl in Orlando.

Not everybody is buying the Kentucky hype.  ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura must have forgotten Kentucky played in the Music City Bowl last year, because he picked them to return to Nashville to play Boston College. CBS’ Jerry Palm has Kentucky playing Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl, giving the football team a chance to avenge the basketball team’s NCAA Tournament loss.

Until the haters start believing in Kentucky, I’ll feast on bloomin’ onion.


Watching Tom Leach yell TOUCHDOWN KENTUCKY is even better than hearing it

Watching Tom Leach yell TOUCHDOWN KENTUCKY is even better than hearing it

For Kentucky fans, few things are better than hearing Tom Leach yell “TOUCHDOWN KENTUCKY!”. The folks at UK Sports Network did us one better today and released a video of Tom calling the game in the booth and it’s absolutely worth a minute and a half of your time:

I’m going to need these for every win.


Ep. 81 Aaron Torres Sports Podcast: Michael Sokolove author of “The Last Temptation of Rick Pitino”

It’s a new episode of the “Aaron Torres Sports Podcast,” and Aaron has a special guest. After Rick Pitino joined the show last week, this week it’s author Michael Sokolove, the author of the “other” Rick Pitino book, “The Last Temptation of Rick Pitino.” Before we get to Sokolove though, Aaron is joined by Nick Coffey to recap the weekend in sports.
A surprising conversation about Tiger Woods: The guys divert from college football momentarily for a quick talk on Tiger Woods’ tournament win on Sunday that momentarily took over the sports world. What is it about Tiger that makes fans so fascinated to watch him?
A recap of Kentucky’s wild win and the rest of Week 4 college football: The guys recap a wild weekend of college football, including Kentucky’s dominant win over Mississippi State. Are the Wildcats actually underrated at No. 17? And why Benny Snell is a major Heisman candidate. The guys also talk about Oregon’s crippling loss, and is Alabama officially too good for the rest of college football? The guys think so.
Next up, Aaron welcomes author Michael Sokolove to the show. Sokolove has a new book out called “The Last Temptation of Rick Pitino” which is chronicles the rise and fall of Louisville athletics and Rick Pitino. The guys discuss:
Their interactions with Rick Pitino: The guys talk about their experiences with Pitino. Pitino joined Aaron’s show last week and Michael interviewed him for the book. Is there anything believable or redeemable about Pitino or anything he says?
What led to Louisville’s downfall? Michael talks about his experiences diving into the Louisville athletics program. He does a deep dive on how the excesses of Tom Jurich and Rick Pitino made it pretty much inevitable that the athletic department would blow up.
The guys also discuss Brian Bowen and whether he knew that his family was soliciting money for his play, and also the FBI scandal as a whole. Is the college athletic model sustainable?

Get the podcast delivered directly to your phone by subscribing to the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast feed on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.  You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play. Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.  Don’t forget to follow the show Instagram too.


Insider Notes: Scottie Lewis is close to a decision and Oscar Tshiebwe visits this weekend

@Scott_Lewis_23

I hope everyone enjoyed the weekend! Another five-star recruit on campus and another football win. Rinse and repeat. It’s been a busy stretch for UK basketball recruiting and it will be a few more weeks before things slow down slightly. Even after Big Blue Madness the Cats are hoping to get all of their current commitments signed in the fall (it would be surprising if that didn’t happen) and ideally two or three players that aren’t currently committed.

Things will be busy until November but we’ll know about the recruitments of Scottie Lewis and Oscar Tshiebwe before then. Here’s the latest:

Scottie Lewis:

He put on Instagram the above picture with the caption “I think it’s about that time!” and it’s seems obvious that Lewis is nearing a decision. Last week he returned from his official visit from Kentucky and announced he was down to a final two of Kentucky and Florida. The Gators visited Lewis the day after he returned from UK and I have reason to believe that the Cats went up and saw Lewis later in the week.

His AAU coach, Brian Klatsky, told me that a decision will not happen this week, so I’m going to believe that a decision won’t happen this week. Of course plans can change and Lewis could wake up tomorrow and say he wants to get it over with and that would be that, but Klatsky said the plan isn’t for a decision this week so we will likely be talking about Lewis’ recruitment this time next week.

I’m not sure if that’s good or bad news for UK. It probably doesn’t matter. If Lewis decided this time last week I would think the Cats would be the pick because he was riding high from the official visit, but he’s taking everything in and clearly won’t be making an emotional decision. He’s heard the pitches from both schools and I still ultimately think it’s a head/heart decision (similar to Tshiebwe). Florida has been recruiting him for five years (which is a crazy amount of time to recruit someone and is extra wild considering Mike White didn’t get to Florida until the spring of 2015, so I’m not sure how that adds up). UK hasn’t been recruiting him nearly that long but it’s clear that Lewis is impressed by UK’s track record with five-star players.

Here’s a few pros and cons for Lewis’ recruitment:

Pros:

  • Things changed days before he officially visited UK. Florida’s staff was pushing for a commitment and that didn’t happen. That doesn’t mean Lewis is a lock for UK, but he was at least able to tell Florida no once. Surely he can do it again.
  • Did UK suggest to Lewis not to play in exhibition games in Ireland with Aidan Igiehon this summer because of potential eligibility concerns down the road? Klatsky said that’s not the case but if it’s true it would speak highly of Kentucky’s chances since Lewis would be listening to people close to UK before even committing. Again, probably not much here.
  • Lewis’ quotes to Adam Zagoria were awfully positive for the Cats, plus he’s in a group message with other UK commits. You can read those quotes here.
  • UK really hasn’t reached out to any other guards in 2019. The Cats are still holding out hope for Cole Anthony, but that’s it. There’s also a chance there will be several returning guards, so there isn’t as much pressure for more guards in 2019.
  • This picture, which probably isn’t a huge deal but who knows. He at least likes UK enough to wear a Cats jersey to the beach (with socks):

Cons:

  • Florida has been recruiting him longer.
  • The Gators are still the heavy favorites in Lewis’ Crystal Ball. That doesn’t mean everything, but it’s a sign there aren’t many “pro-UK” rumblings at this point.
  • His friend and teammate will play for Florida, Alex Klatsky. That’s the son of his AAU coach, too. The Klatsky’s are fans of Florida and while they are allowing Lewis to make his own decision, I’m sure Lewis knows it would make them happy if he ended up in Gainesville.

My guess is that UK leads but it’s just a guess. I think Lewis knows where he wants to go but hasn’t told anyone or the staffs of a final decision and it appears that won’t happen until next week at the earliest.

Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Tshiebwe visits this weekend:

This is a huge weekend for UK because the Cats will host five-star center Oscar Tshiebwe. Kentucky hasn’t recruited Tshiebwe (shoob-way) as long as James Wiseman or Vernon Carey, but I’m told they think he can be as good of a college player as those two. Those two are better today, and may have a higher-ceiling professionally, but Tshiebwe’s physicality and hustle could make him elite at the college level. Kentucky really, really likes Tshiebwe.

He picked up an offer like we expected last week and Tshiebwe has known he’s been a take for UK long before the official offer. I’m a little surprised that nearly all the national media still has Tshiebwe pegged to WVU because people around UK feel great about where things stand heading into his official visit to Lexington. I think the Cats land Tshiebwe and I feel more confident about Kentucky’s chances with Tshiebwe than I do Lewis.

This visit should go great this weekend and UK’s campus will be bonkers with USC  in town, but it will be the visit to WVU the following week that is the only thing that can derail UK’s momentum. It’s more head/heart for Tshiebwe but supposedly he’s always enjoyed UK basketball since coming to the states, that’s why I think he ends up in Lexington.

UK is in the picture with Stewart:

Kentucky has done enough to get back in the hunt with Isaiah Stewart. Someone that knows his recruitment better than I do told me that Stewart is thinking about his professional career when making a college decision so “of course he’s considering UK because he could come in and start” and I agree with that take. I didn’t know if Stewart would be willing to put UK back on his list after cutting the Cats back in the spring, but whatever Calipari said over the last few weeks worked because Stewart is fully considering Kentucky and I would expect we hear of a visit in the future.

It would be fitting that we’ve talked about Wiseman, Carey and Matthew Hurt for months and months the Cats end up with Stewart, Tshiebwe and Nnaji. I don’t know exactly how UK’s finishes the frontcourt but UK has plenty of options and is in a decent spot in all six of those recruitments. I don’t think UK leads for Stewart but Stewart won’t be announcing until the spring so there is plenty of time for the Cats to jump ahead.

tyresemaxey | Ig

Maxey is going to be a star:

Maxey’s official visit to UK went well (drink) but it is good news for the Cats that he will return for Big Blue Madness. We know that UK will host Carey and Hurt, two major targets in 2019, that weekend, so it will help to have as many UK commitments in their ear all weekend. Dontaie Allen will also be there. There are going to be other underclassmen that will be at Rupp Arena for BBM (R.J. Hampton and Khristian Lander to name a couple) but having Maxey and Allen on campus will help with the 2019 targets.

I was also reminded that UK believes they have the best scoring guard in 2019. Maxey is going to be a star player on the court for UK in 2019-2020, but he also has recruiting responsibilities. The kid already looks like a Wildcat… hey wait a minute….

Jon Lopez/Nike

Igiehon:

Still no UK visit date set for Igiehon, who also put out a message on social media hinting he may commit somewhere soon. I don’t think UK is a realistic option at this point, but I’ve been saying that for weeks/months. Until we hear of a date for a visit I won’t be changing my mind.

I did hear that UofL is the leader for Igiehon. Chris Mack is doing a solid job on the recruiting trail. Four top 100 commits already in 2019. None are in the top 40, but it’s still the start to a solid class but Igiehon would only help UofL’s momentum. Mack’s plan is to recruit like Villanova. Get top 100 players that will be around for three or four years and every so often land a top 10 or 15 guy. UofL is still actively going after Cole Anthony, who I think ends up at UNC.