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Today on KSR: UK Baseball’s season is on the line

UK Athletics

Good morning and happy Saturday, BBN.

Let’s dive right in.

UK Baseball’s season is on the line

Sitting at 26-28 on the year, this season hasn’t been too kind for the Kentucky baseball team.

And there’s a chance that it all might come to a close this afternoon.

In the team’s regular season finale against No. 2 Vanderbilt, there is a specific list of scenarios that need to take place if the BatCats want to participate in the SEC Tournament.

Currently tied in the standings with Alabama and South Carolina going into the last game of the season, here are the three scenarios in play:

  • Three-way tie, Kentucky is in.
  • Two-way tie with Alabama, Kentucky is in.
  • Two-way tie with South Carolina, the season is over.

In short, Kentucky needs to get a win today and/or hope the Crimson Tide and Gamecocks lose.

Opening pitch is set for 2:00 p.m. ET at Kentucky Proud Park.

Come out and support your Wildcats on Senior Day.

The 144th Preakness Stakes

Just two weeks after the most controversial Kentucky Derby in event history, we’re ready for the 144th running of the Preakness Stakes.

Set to run at 6:48 p.m., Improbable is currently listed as the favorite at 3-1, followed by Alwaysmining and Bourbon War at 5-1, War of Will at 7-1, and Owendale at 9-1.

For the first time in 23 years, the Derby winner will not be participating in the Preakness, as Country House is dealing with a cough. Code of Honor and Tacitus, the other top-three finishers at the Kentucky Derby, will not run, nor will Maximum Security, the original Derby winner who was disqualified for riding out of his lane.

Maximum Security’s owner wants a rematch

Speaking of the controversial Kentucky Derby finish, the owner of Maximum Security, Gary West, is looking for a rematch.

On Friday afternoon, West offered up $20 million of his own money to the owners of Country House, War of Will, Long Range Toddy, and Bodexpress if any of the horses could defeat Maximum Security in a race before the year ends.

After a ridiculous stretch of lawsuits and threats of taking this to the higher courts, this is the first move I can get behind.

Rematch. The race of all races. Pay-per-view. Winner gets all the money and bragging rights.

Tiger misses cut at PGA Championship

The Master’s hangover was real for Tiger Woods last night.

Shooting 3-over 73 on Friday, the 43-year old missed the cut on Friday evening at the PGA Championship, just his 19th missed cut on Tour as a professional. Through two days, Woods shot 5-over 145 at Bethpage.

Brad Koepka is the event leader with a -12 through two rounds, followed by Adam Scott and Jordan Spieth at No. 2 with a -5 for each.

Tyreke Evans banned from NBA

One of John Calipari’s very first one-and-done talents is in pretty serious trouble.

Former Memphis Tiger Tyreke Evans, now a 10-year veteran in the NBA, has been banned by the NBA for violating the terms of the NBA/National Basketball Players Association anti-drug program.

According to official NBA rules, players can be disqualified for “testing positive for a drug of abuse, or if he is convicted of or pleads guilty to the use, possession or distribution of a drug of abuse.

ESPN reports that the potential drugs included on thee list are “amphetamine and its analogs, which include methamphetamine; cocaine; LSD; opiates, including heroin, codeine and morphine; and PCP.”

He is eligible for reinstatement in two seasons.


Vince Marrow previews each position, including the one he’s worried about

Vince Marrow is as plugged-in to the heartbeat of the Kentucky football team as anyone, and he has a good feeling about the Cats’ chances during the 2019-20 season.

The Big Dog made a surprise appearance on KSR this morning, where he chatted with our own Matt Jones about next year’s roster. First and foremost, he’s feeling good about his Wildcats.

“I think we’re going to be very good, I really do,” Marrow said. “The schedule sets us up.”

While Marrow recognized the team lost a lot of talented players to the NFL Draft this year (although, he argues more Kentucky guys should have been selected), that doesn’t mean this automatically turns into a “rebuilding” year for UK. Just because they lost experience doesn’t mean the Cats are downgrading their talent. In fact, Marrow argues they’ve done the opposite.

“Here’s the difference: I think we had experience with those guys, the class that just left, because they played a lot. But… our running back room may be more talented than Benny [Snell], and he’s the all-time leading rusher here – the potential is better.”

That potential doesn’t end with the running backs.

“The tight end potential is better,” Marrow continued. “Y’all loved CJ Conrad; y’all are going to love Justin Riggs. Justin Riggs is one of the most complete tight ends that, when I look at it as an NFL guy, he’s 6’6″, 260 and running a 4.7, so he’s going to be a good player.”

He also added some praise for Kentucky’s quarterbacks – both of them.

I think Terry Wilson is going to be 110 percent better,” Marrow said of the Cats’ starter. “I loved the way he played, but you know, you’ll always have critics.”

And as for the Cats’ backup? Well, that’d be Sawyer Smith, and Vince Marrow is pretty happy with him, too.

“He was tutored by Neal Brown; came in and won nine games [for Troy] when their quarterback got hurt. He wanted to be here; he wanted to be here.”

That last part could be confirming the idea Smith was the one who actively reached out to the Kentucky staff, realizing they needed a backup QB option for next season.

But Marrow is always honest, so he did mention one position of concern: the cornerbacks.

“The only thing I’m worried about, and [cornerbacks coach Steve Clinkscale] is going to get mad at me for this, our corners.”

He reminded listeners of his similar worries last season with the team’s defensive line, and he says he was proven wrong, as “it ended up being the best position… The D-line played very well.” But the corner position is going to look very different than it did last year, with the Cats losing years of experience and NFL-level talent in Lonnie Johnson, Derrick Baity and Chris Westry.

To compensate for some tough losses at that position, Stoops, Marrow and the rest of the staff hit the recruiting trail. They brought in two JUCO transfers: Brandin Echols (a former three-star prospect) from Northwest Mississippi Community College and Quandre Mosely from Eastern Arizona Community College. They’ll also have Jamari Brown, Stanley Garner and Cedrick Dort Jr, who all took a redshirt last year.

Even with his worries at corner, Vince Marrow is ready to prove the haters wrong – again.

“Look at the pre-season rankings again. Look at all this stuff again,” Marrow said of a national bias against the Cats. “Hell yeah, it bothers me. It might not bother everybody else, but it bothers me.”

Let’s hope that bother once again pushes that Cats to a successful season – and provides some extra motivation for the cornerbacks.


KSBar’s Top 10 Tweets of the Day

KSBar and Grille is the place in Lexington to catch University of Kentucky games (pre and postgame too) as well as other events such as the NBA Playoffs, UFC fights, the World Cup, MLB games, PGA tour events, and more.

KSBar might be known for their smoked wings but don’t miss out on the brisket platter, fried katfish, chicken and waffles, and the great assortment of burgers. Start off with the house chips loaded to the ceiling smothered with pulled pork or chicken straight off the smoker topped with the house BBQ sauce. 

Head to the KSBar and Grille website ksbarandgrille.com to see a full menu and drink list. 

Be on the look out for different specials and events.

KSBar and Grille is located at: 1030 South Broadway, Lexington, KY 40504


You can be a part of KSR’s Top 10 Tweets by using hashtags like #KSR #BBN or #KSRtop10. You can also nominate tweets by mentioning them with the hashtag. If we like what we see, it could be posted the next day.

If you are interested in sponsoring KSR’s Top 10 Tweets, please contact us at Via Email.

#10

Bosses orders.

#9

Kentucky lives in the Hall of Fame.

#8

*shoots hand into the sky*

#7

Eric Bledsoe 2019 NBA Champion has a nice *ring* to it.

#6

I’m here for it.

#5

Josh Allen 2.0?

#4

Doesn’t matter what time of the year it is, UK Athletics keeps getting it done.

#3

Spicy Twitter Matt is the best Matt.

#2

So who’s getting locked in first?

#1

You mean a different one than what he already has???


PJ Washington reflects on his sophomore season at NBA Combine

PJ Washington did something this afternoon he’s become very familiar with thanks to his two seasons at Kentucky – fielding questions from the media. The NBA prospect met with reporters Friday afternoon during the Combine, giving him ample opportunity to reflect on the two seasons he spent in a Kentucky uniform.

The main point of conversation, of course, was his decision to return to school this time last year. In the one-and-done era, Washington’s choice to remain in Lexington for a sophomore season dramatically altered UK’s success in 2019 – and his own career. Although it wasn’t necessarily an easy decision, it was a simple one.

I feel I grew in every aspect,” he said of his sophomore year. “That was the main [reason] to go back. To better myself and better my game.”

He took the feedback he got from NBA coaches and teams following his freshman year and learned from it. He drastically improved his offensive abilities, specifically his contributions from behind the three-point line.

“When I came back, I just made a commitment to myself that I was going to try to get better each and every day,” Washington said. “Work on some of the things that they told me to work on. I feel I did a great job of that… I feel I pretty much earned myself to be here.”

Washington also revealed he interviewed with 13 NBA teams, which he compared to the repetition of media opportunities and job interviews. Despite the repetition, one team stood out as one of his favorites: the San Antonio Spurs.

While Washington (as well as Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro) are at the Combine, a pair of former teammates has a similar decision to make. EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards have not made formal announcements regarding their plans for next season, past their initial announcements stating they would be “testing the waters.”

While it’s generally believed Richards will return for a junior season, Montgomery’s future is considered a bit more uncertain. Although he did not receive an invite to this year’s NBA Combine or G-League Elite Camp, he could technically still decide to leave his name in the draft. And even though Montgomery’s decision could be compared to the one Washington made last year, Washington says it’s not his place to offer up any advice: “their decision is for them, and my decision was for me.”

“I haven’t really talked to them,” Washington added. “I feel like the best thing for them is to just talk to the people around them the most. And talk to Coach [Calipari] as well. I feel Coach has done a great job with all of us. He wouldn’t lie to them.”


@MaggieDavisKSR


Jaden McDaniels’ brother weighs in on the ongoing recruitment

Photo via Endless Motor

Jaden McDaniels is still quiet as a mouse regarding his will-he or won’t-he commitment that’s down to Kentucky and Washington, but his brother, Jalen, is breaking his silence. In a new report from Jerry Tipton and the Herald Leader, Jalen weighed in on his brother’s pending decision. Unfortunately, he seems as confused as the rest of us.

When will a decision be made?

“Whew, man, I’m wondering the same thing, honestly,” Jalen said Thursday. “I mean, honestly. I feel like it should be coming soon, though.”

He’s also not sure why it’s taking this long.

“To be honest, I don’t know what’s holding it up,” Jalen said. “I know it’s between two schools. He’s just trying to make the right decision.”

Although there is definitely some McDaniels recruiting fatigue, it’s certainly not caused by Jaden McDaniels himself. The five-star prospect has remained silent throughout this entire process, leaving some with questions regarding his ability to handle the spotlight that comes with playing basketball at Kentucky. His brother isn’t convinced that would be an issue.

“He’s a low-key guy. He doesn’t get caught up in that. Like, the attention doesn’t mean a lot to him,” Jalen says. “He knows it comes with it, but something that he doesn’t get caught up in it. So I feel he’d do fine.”

[Herald Leader]


It is never too early to think about March – Lunardi’s Early Bracketology is here

It is never too early to think about March – Lunardi’s Early Bracketology is here

I know it’s really early still, but this one is very interesting.

ESPN’s Bracketology guru, Joe Lunardi, posted an update to his Early Bracketology yesterday, and he has some interesting matchups in Kentucky’s road to number nine. 

According to Lunardi, the Cats would be a number one seed in the south region in next year’s tournament. To most people, that is not shocking for this team coming in. With big talent coming back plus the fresh talent coming in, Lunardi’s isn’t crazy to foresee the Cats as a No. 1 seed. Here’s a look at Lundardi’s placements in the Cats’ region.

via ESPN

There are three things I see that are very interesting to me from this (very early) bracket. 

Abilene Christian

First on the list is another possible matchup against Abilene Christian. Good news: the player who took Nick Richards’ feet out from under him was a senior. So, there is NOT a possibility of this happening again.

I am glad he did not get hurt -I was scared he did something to that shoulder. I had a front-row view of Richards’ nasty fall, as I was sitting in the band section. Richards was obviously in pain, and I’d never heard him scream like that before.

Texas Tech

In this scenario, the Cats might have to face off against the Red Raiders of Texas Tech. This is the same team that was the National Runner-Up and came pretty close to being the National Champion just a few months ago.

Now, it would be a different team. Next year, the Red Raiders will have lost seniors such as Norense Odiase, Matt Mooney and Tariq Owens. Also, the Red Raiders would be losing Jarrett Culver to the NBA draft, as he’s being projected as a top-10 pick.

This still would be an interesting matchup, with the addition to talent coming in such as Virginia Tech grad transfer Chris Clarke. Lastly, it will be a home game for the Red Raiders in Houston. Another draw that might put the four seed in a better location than the one seed.

Three Kentucky state schools in one bracket

Okay, now for the craziest one of them all. Lunardi has not one… not two… but three Kentucky-state schools in the South Region: Kentucky, Louisville and Western Kentucky.

First, I’m glad to see he expects the Hilltoppers to earn the bid.

However, I first laughed seeing this – Kentucky and Louisville? As the one and two seeds in the same region? This would probably never happen, but could you imagine that Elite Eight game?

For Louisville to get to H-Town, they would first have to see a possible matchup with Florida. This would be a rematch from the west regional final in 2012. I know… it is vacated but still, it’s something to think about.

Hey, I know it is early, but this is something to look at during this dead period of basketball. And beside, it’s never too early to think about March.

What do you think about the draw Joe Lunardi has given the Cats?

To see Lunardi’s full (early) bracketology, click here.


Penny Hardaway Has a Loaded Roster – But Can He Win With It?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In case you hadn’t heard, Memphis picked up a commitment from a five-star basketball player this afternoon.

That’s not to be confused with the other five-star they pulled in earlier this week. Or the top-rated grad transfer they secured last Saturday. Or the four-star guard they got last Friday.

That’s right, Memphis is on a recruiting run for the ages right now, one which – at least for now – has landed them the No. 1 recruiting class in the country.

Overall, the Tigers have commitments from two McDonald’s All-Americans (James Wiseman and Precious Achiuwa), six Top 100 players (Wiseman, Achiuwa, Boogie Ellis, Lester Quinones, D.J. Jeffries and Malcolm Dandridge) and one of the top grad transfers on the market (Rayjon Tucker, who averaged 20 points at Little Rock last season). Add them in with a couple returning players, and it’s indisputable that Memphis will have one of the 3-4 most talented rosters in the country next season. I fully expect them to start the year ranked in everyone’s preseason Top 10.

To Penny Hardaway’s credit, he has done what he said he would do when he was hired a year ago. He has convinced the top players across high school basketball to come to Memphis. To his credit he hasn’t relied solely on the players he coached in high school or AAU, but has brought in the best players from across the country, ranging from New York (Quinones, Achiuwa) to California (Ellis) and everywhere in between.

Now to the more interesting part of the equation: Penny Hardaway has signed one of the most talented recruiting classes in the country. But will he be able to win with it? That right there might be the single most fascinating question in all of college basketball heading into the 2019-2020 season.

Now to be clear, I’m not as “Anti-Penny” as many others out there. I do understand why he frustrates opposing fan-bases with his confidence (some would say “cockiness”) and bravado on the recruiting trail. Him taking unprovoked cheap shots at Rick Barnes last season certainly didn’t help things.

At the same time, I never believed the notion that he was some AAU hotshot who was destined to be a failure as a college head coach. This is a guy who played basketball the highest level, and brought in a staff full of sharp, smart basketball minds, which includes a former NBA Coach of the Year in Sam Mitchell. That staff, including Penny, knows basketball.

On top of their X’s and O’s prowess, Penny also entered college basketball with an understanding of how the AAU and recruiting game work as well. Unlike other guys who came from the NBA (Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Avery Johnson) he wasn’t going to be overwhelmed by the recruiting aspect of coaching college basketball.

Again, I liked the Penny hire last year, and for the most part I thought he did pretty good in year 1 at Memphis. He inherited a mostly “bleh” roster and led them to a 22-14 overall record and a fifth-place finish in the AAC, where all four of the teams who finished ahead of him (Houston, Cincinnati, UCF and Temple) made the NCAA Tournament. His team got better as the season wore on, winning five of its final six regular season games and beat a couple teams that ended up making the NCAA Tournament.

For the most part I thought Penny actually overachieved in Year 1. And I thought his ability to get the most out of a below-average roster was a positive sign heading into Year 2 at the school.

Still, for as good as he was in Year 1, he is in store for something completely different heading into next season. Understand, there is a big difference between taking a rag-tag group of guys and getting them to overachieve like he did this season, as opposed to what he will face next season, with a roster full of big-time recruits, with NBA dreams and the expectations and egos that come along with it.

Ultimately that will be the story of the 2019-2020 Memphis Tigers: Can Penny keep everyone happy?

It will be fascinating to watch, and something that is impossible to know the answer to. Penny isn’t John Calipari or Coach K, and hasn’t been juggling talented rosters for decades at a time. Quite the opposite. He’s a coach who has never been on this stage, with this pressure and this level of expectations before. Even more, he is doing it with a lot of kids (and their families) who he has known for years, and who at times he coached in the high school or AAU levels. What will happen when he has to tell a kid (or a mom or dad) who he has known for a decade that they simply aren’t good enough? Or what happens when he has to tell a Top 50 recruit that he is headed to the bench?

These are the things that no one has an answer to right now.

And at the sake of using the rest of the article to break down Memphis’ depth chart, here are some of the issues I believe could pop up next year.

  • He has, at the very least four players who expect to use Memphis as a one-season springboard to the NBA next season. And honestly that number might be conservative. They are James Wiseman, Precious Achiuwa, Rayjon Tucker and Boogie Ellis. Can he keep all four happy, especially the first three, if they aren’t the focal point of the offense?
  • Ellis committed to Memphis in large part to prove to the NBA that he can play point guard and run an offense. This despite the fact that he’s really more of a scoring/combo guard than he is a true point. Can he run an offense and keep others happy, while also getting his own offense?
  • D.J. Jeffries decommitted from Kentucky, because he wasn’t happy that they continued to recruit players at his position even after he committed. Well guess what? Achiuwa plays the same position, is a better player and will almost certainly start over him. How will that fly with Jeffries?
  • Tyler Harris (Memphis’ leading returning scorer) and Alex Lomax (a former Top 150 recruit) are both Memphis kids who played for Penny in high school. I’m guessing that both assumed they were headed for bigger roles next season. What happens when they get bumped down the depth chart by the newcomers? Especially since they are both from Memphis, with ties to Penny dating back to their AAU days? How will that fly with their families, and in the community?
  • How do Lester Quinones (a Top 50 recruit) and Rayjon Tucker (a grad transfer) co-exist, when they’re basically the same player? Tucker has declared for the draft and will could potentially stay in. But if he doesn’t, can they co-exist?

Add it up and you have a lot of kids, with a lot of expectations and it will be fascinating to see if Penny is able to keep them all happy.

In the end, maybe Hardaway really is that good of a coach, and maybe he figures out a way to maximize all those players and allows Memphis to reach its potential. Maybe Memphis will live up to that preseason Top 10 ranking and make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

But the reality is that this is basketball. We just have too much of a track record (at all levels) that when you have one ball, and that many superstars, it’s hard to keep everybody happy.

Will it work? Won’t it?

This may be the single most fascinating question in college basketball entering the 2019-2020 season.


Handicapping Preakness Weekend

There is an ample void at Pimlico this week with neither Derby winner contesting the Preakness Stakes on Saturday.  Country House got the sniffles after his victorious runner-up finish in Louisville.  Rather than further proving his mettle on the race track, Maximum Security is bedded down at Monmouth Park while his owners seek retribution in the courtroom.  Alas, this decade will not see a third Triple Crown winner like we had in the 1970’s.  However, the absence of the first four horses to cross the finish line in the Derby does make for an interesting betting race in Saturday’s Preakness.  Here is a look at the middle jewel of racing’s Triple Crown along with a few of the stakes races on the undercard:

Image result for pimlico race course

Photo courtesy of the Bloodhorse.

Race 5 – the JAMES W. MURPHY

Real News appears to have a decided pace advantage as he exits a solid runner-up effort behind Breeders’ Cup winner Bulletin in the Palisades at Keeneland.   Rosario should have him on the muscle from the break and he could prove tough to catch in a relatively paceless affair.  Thomas Shelby was a $525,000 2yo purchase last March, and the son of Curlin makes his grass debut in this spot.  His best efforts to date have come over the synthetic surface at Turfway, indicating the lawn may be to his liking.  Wesley Ward excels moving his pupils from the main track to the grass, and this one could surprise at 12/1 on the morning line.

Race 7 – the SEARCHING

Osare makes her 4yo debut for Jonathan Thomas and the half-sister to Arrogate figures to have plenty of upside with only 4 career starts to her credit.  It won’t take a stratospheric leap forward from her Dueling Grounds Oaks performance at Kentucky Downs last summer to find the winner’s circle in this spot.  She is training well, and Thomas can definitely have them ready to run off the bench.

Race 9 – the VERY ONE

Jo Jo Air made a big leap forward taking the William Walker against fellow sophomores on opening night at Churchill, besting Breeders’ Cup winner Bulletin among others.  She fired a 5 furlong bullet in the interim in :59 and 1 around the dogs at Keeneland.  This filly is doing well right now, and Ward is a “run them when they’re right” kind of trainer.  Expect this Scat Daddy filly to best her elders and look good in the process.

Race 10 – the Grade 3 GALLORETTE

Joel Rosario looks well positioned once again to ride pillar to post in a two-turn contest on the Pimlico lawn.  Mitchell Road reeled off 3 straight over 3 different race tracks this winter, most recently edging Beau Recall in New Orleans.  That Brad Cox trainee came back to capture the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile on the Derby undercard.  The Bill Mott trained daughter of English Channel should offer good value with the presence of two Chad Brown fillies in this spot.  I’m So Fancy was successful earning Group 3 accolades in Ireland and makes her 5yo debut on this side of the pond for the very capable Arnaud Delacour.

Race 11 – the Grade 3 CHICK LANG

Pyron and Preamble look well positioned to battle it out in deep stretch and pick up the pieces left by likely pacesetters Malpais, Cabot, and Gladiator King.

Race 12 – the Grade 2 DIXIE

If there was an award for 2nd half 3yo champion, Catholic Boy would have taken last year’s prize.  The More Than Ready colt reeled off three impressive conquests capped by grade 1 mile and a quarter coups on both turf (Belmont Derby) and dirt (Travers).  His versatility on this surface should serve him well, but he will need to bring his running shoes to find the wire in front of Inspector Lynley who has 2 wins from 3 starts already this term.

Race 13 – the Grade 1 PREAKNESS

Improbable and War of Will will vie for favoritism as the two highest finishing Derby runners contesting this middle crown jewel.  War of Will had a much debated, compromised trip in Louisville.  Whether that was of his own doing or that of the first place finisher, the War Front colt did appear to be full of run rounding the far turn.  Negotiating a cleaner trip this time around may not prove to be a trivial task as his poor luck at the Derby draw followed him to Baltimore.  Mark Casse must be pulling his hair out.  Improbable didn’t really have an excuse, but can definitely benefit from the cut back in distance.  With 7 victories to their credit, no team is better than Bob Baffert and Jimmy Barnes at bringing a Derby runner to the Preakness.  Local hopes rest with Alwaysmining who has reeled off six straight across town at Laurel Park.  In one of those wins he beat the re-opposing Win Win Win (beaten 8 1/2 lengths in the Derby) by a length and a half.  Another victory saw him best Gray Magician, dead last and 26 lengths adrift in the Derby, by a widening 4 1/4 lengths.  Anothertwistafate did not have the greatest of trips in the Lexington at Keeneland, and is among the more intriguing new shooters.  The Scat Daddy colt should get a nice stalking trip from his outside draw.  Chief amongst the group of non-Derby starters are Owendale, a powerful winner of the Lexington, and Bourbon War, who competed admirably in the preps at Gulfstream that proved to be strongest on Derby day.  Owendale affirmed his readiness for this appointment with a :59 and 1 bullet at Churchill last Saturday for Brad Cox.  He looks like a very live shot to upset in Cox’s first appearance in a triple crown event.

 

 

 


Can Kentucky’s SEC East middle tier dominance continue?

Since the hiring of Eddie Gran and placing Stephen Johnson behind center, the Kentucky football program has been on a remarkable run. The Wildcats have won 24 games in this time, have been to three consecutive bowl games, and have four top 25 victories. All of a sudden the results are starting to show up for Mark Stoops and we’re starting to see the national media take notice. 

Fresh off their first double-digit win season in over four decades, the Wildcats now appear to be in a great position moving forward. UK has solid roster balance with proven depth at most spots. The coaching staff has a wave of momentum on the recruiting trail with eight home games looming for this upcoming season. It would be hard for things to be in much better shape for the program, but getting to this point has taken some consistent victories over division opponents.

It’s clear that UK still has a ton of ground to makeup to catch what Kirby Smart is cooking in Georgia. Even with the win in The Swamp to end the streak under their belts, the Wildcats are still behind Florida. Despite their struggles this decade, UK has only been able to claim two victories against Tennessee with zero coming away from Lexington. Where the Wildcats have made their hay is against the rest of the division.

Since 2016, Kentucky is an impressive 9-0 against Missouri, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt. However, this process has not come easy. Kentucky has won six of these nine football games by one possession and seven of these nine squads have been bowl teams at the end of the season. This is an incredible run that has been filled with some very dramatic moments.

Kentucky is 13-11 in league play in the last three seasons with nine victories (69.2%) coming against their division foes they have so much in common with. For the Wildcats to get to bowl eligibility, the recipe has always been the same. Take care of business in the non-conference, pick up an upset or two, and beat your common conference opponents. The Wildcats have done this and more during this recent run.

Entering the 2019 season, however, the task will be tall to continue this dominance. Missouri is fresh off a top 15 S&P+ finish with Clemson grad transfer Kelly Bryant in CoMo ready to take over for second round pick Drew Lock. The Tigers will be on nearly every preseason top 25 poll and could very well be undefeated when they roll into The Kroge on October 26th. South Carolina returns fourth-year starter Jake Bentley at quarterback with a defense that should be the best of the Will Muschamp era in Columbia. Vanderbilt loses four-year starting quarterback Kyle Shurmur, but has three NFL talents in running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, receiver Kalija Lipscomb, and tight end Jared Pinkney. Sooner or later that close game success could start to go the other way.

This run has been impressive, but Kentucky has to start winning consistently against the big three in the SEC East. After going winless against the trio of Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee in his first four years, Mark Stoops finally got on the board and recorded a win in each of the last two seasons. However, he’s currently 2-16 against the trio in his coaching career.

Kentucky’s program is in a very good place. The Wildcats are fresh off three a top 15 finish highlighted by a win in The Swamp and a Citrus Bowl trophy due to the New Year’s Day victory over Penn State. Kentucky just had the best NFL Draft in program history and it’s starting to feel like Mark Stoops and Vince Marrow are putting together a top 2o class for the 2020 recruiting hall. Now the next step is to start consistently collecting victories against the historic divisional blue bloods.

Kentucky has emerged as the best middle tier program in the SEC East by their ability to consistently win close football games against common foes. This has given them a chance to compete for a divisional crown into November and reach two bowl games in the Sunshine State. But for the program to take the next step, the Wildcats have to start consistently collecting wins versus the big three. The streaks against Florida and Tennessee have been snapped, but now the Wildcats must start collecting wins more consistently. Ending the nine-game losing streak against Georgia would help the cause. So would beating Missouri, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt every season.


Was Vince Marrow a fan of Bobby Petrino and the old football staff at Louisville? “No, not at all.”

Over the course of the Mark Stoops era at Kentucky, the coaching staff’s recruiting philosophy has changed quite a bit. At the beginning, they tried to sign any and all of the the top three and four-star prospects they could get their hands on, no matter where they came from.

As they’ve established themselves on the recruiting trail and wins are coming at a more consistent rate, the staff has been able to be a bit more selective with high-level prospects and their focus has shifted a bit.

Among many other areas of focus, keeping Kentucky’s top high school talents in-state has become one of the staff’s biggest priorities as of late.

After signing five in-state talents in 2019, they’ve already got two of the top 2020 prospects in the state committed to Kentucky in John Young and Beau Allen for 2020. And it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down anytime soon.

In an interview with KSR this morning, Kentucky recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow said that Mark Stoops told him specifically that he needed to recruit the state of Kentucky harder and keep them from going to other local schools.

“When Mark Stoops came to me last year, he was like, “We need your presence more in Kentucky.” We were losing a lot of the top guys, they were going other places.”

According to Marrow, that momentum shift happened back in 2016 when Kentucky defeated Louisville on the road with Heisman trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson leading the Cardinals.

Ever since, recruiting in-state talent has come easy for the UK coaching staff.

“I think when we beat Louisville two years ago with Lamar [Jackson] down there, it showed people we were on the right track,” he said. “But still, we had to really get down and recruit harder in Louisville. I think in the past, we were recruiting kids [from there], and they were using negative stuff against us. I’m not going to go into what they were saying, but once I went down there and cleaned that up, it improved.”

Marrow said that in the past, Louisville negatively recruited against Kentucky, which hurt them with some of the local talents. Now, he has found a way to combat that.

“Louisville, being a city school, they were getting a lot of inner-city kids,” he said. “I don’t know what they were telling them, but I tell them now, “Look, we had the first African-American players in this league. We have a very diverse culture.”‘

A big part of that, he says, was Bobby Petrino’s old coaching staff at Louisville and what he was feeding some of the in-state kids on the recruiting trail.

“And that was the old staff, not the new staff,” he said. “I don’t mind some of the guys on the new staff.”

To put it simply, he wasn’t a fan of Petrino and his assistants.

Not in the slightest.

“No, [I wasn’t a fan of the old staff at UofL],” Marrow said. “No. Not at all. Not at all.”

We couldn’t agree more, Vince.