We are one week away from National Signing Day 2015 and the Kentucky football staff →
This is a non-UK post, so if that is the kind of thing that bothers you, then scroll away. If you are interested in something else in the world however, here are just a few things:
— I hate to admit it, but I got way too much entertainment from the Tom Brady “Balls” press conference. Call me immature (you wouldn’t be the first) and note that I might have my mind in the gutter, but there were so many double entendres during the course of that half hour, the panelists on Match Game would have all had their heads explode. My favorite moment was when Brady said, “When I touched the balls, they were perfect. I wish I could have zipped them up and gone right out on the field.” Yes, I admit I giggled.
And on the issue itself, the press conference made it worse. We knew that something was off but the Brady/Belichek combo made it clear that someone is lying. They were the better team and would have won anyway but they have only made this a bigger story. Someone is now going to have check their balls and make sure they are the right size, while investigating their firmness. I have no idea how Brady likes his balls but I do know he is meticulous in inspecting his balls, so for him to act like someone could come and grip his balls and change their texture, without him even knowing about it…well that is beyond belief. A man knows his balls.
Brandon Smith is here
— Can I tell you a story that I find awful? This one about a Kentucky State Senator trying to get out of a DUI charge. Brandon Smith of Hazard was arrested for a DUI while in Lexington and now is trying to defend himself by citing a provision of the Kentucky State Constitution that says:
“The members of the General Assembly shall, in all cases except treason, felony, breach or surety of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance on the sessions of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate in either House they shall not be questioned in any other place.”
Seriously? First of all, this provision is from the 1800s, before cars were even in anyone’s thought process. But even if it were to somehow have merit, the gall of Brandon Smith to try and use it to make an excuse out of driving drunk is appalling. Does Smith want us to believe that the framers of the Kentucky Constitution really would have been good with all the Kentucky legislators driving around drunk during a legislative session? I have no idea whether he will win the argument in court (my guess is no) but I do find Smith’s absurd attempt to go around the law and claim special privileges while engaging in an illegal action to be ridiculous.
— If you listened to KSR today (and if you didn’t you should re-evaluate your priorities), we did the first ever KSR Fast Food Bracket. You can listen on Podcast here if you missed it, but the premise was this. We ranked the 32 most relevant Fast Food places to Kentucky and then pitted them together for their deliciousness. Ryan, Shannon the Dude, Maria the Intern and I all voted and if there was a 2-2 tie, we put it up to the listeners. Some of the choices were baffling, but here is how the bracket went down:
Round of 32:
McDonalds over Little Ceasars
Dairy Queen over Quiznos
Fazolis over Five Guys
Canes over KFC
Burger King over Dunkin Donuts
Panera over Popeyes
Sonic over Panda Express
Pizza Hut over Bojangles
Subway over White Castle
Chipotle over Papa Johns
Arbys over Captain D’s
Steak and Shake over Skyline
Wendys over Boston Market
Chick Fil-A over Hardees
Qdoba over Dominos
Taco Bell over Long John’s
Not a ton of surprises in the First Round, although the pick of Fazolis over Five Guys (I was outvoted 3-1) was ridiculous in my view. I also have a huge love for Skyline, but I understand that commoners can’t understand it, so we move on.
Round of 16
McDonalds over Dairy Queen
Fazolis over Canes
Burger King over Panera
Pizza Hut over Sonic
Subway over Chipotle
Steak and Shake over Arbys
Wendys over Chik Fil-A
Qdoba over Taco Bell
Some real head scratchers here…I will never understand how one could pick Fazolis over the delicious taste of Canes. Burger King over Panera is bizarre. But Subway over Chipotle is honestly a Duke/Mercer type upset. When the caller Steve broke the tie (Ryan and Shannon picked Subway), I honestly thought I was going to have to be held back…never has a bigger travesty ever occurred in a mock Fast Food bracket.
McDonalds over Fazolis
Pizza Hut over Burger King
Steak and Shake over Subway
Qdoba over Wendys
No problems with these selections except the fact that Canes and Chipotle should be filing inquiries with the NCFFAA
Pizza Hut over McDonalds
Qdoba over Steak and Shake
Pizza Hut shouldnt beat McDonalds but I do think it is underrated as a fast food pizza selection. No riots here.
QDOBA OVER PIZZA HUT
In the end, one of the top choices won, as it should be. We can replay the QDoba/Chipotle fight in our heads forever (and locally Salsaritas is better than both), but the quick burrito does make us all happy. The one thing that everyone should take from the game…Shannon the Dude has no taste in the food department.
— I also want to take a minute to note the passing of Wendell Ford, one of the great statesmen and icons of Kentucky. (I encourage you to read his NY Times obituary as well). Ford served as Governor, Lt Governor and Senator for Kentucky and is widely considered one of the best representatives of our state in modern times. He was a successful Governor who helped streamline the state government towards efficiency, while modernizing its archaic structure. As a US Senator for 24 years, he was a true representative of Kentucky’s interests, regardless of political party. He took stances that ranged from widespread support of tobacco (which grew more and more unpopular nationally) to helping introduce the Motor Voter Bill, which made registering to vote easier. He stood up for Kentucky, regardless of what those nationally believed, and he took criticism from within his own party for doing so. He once responded to critics by saying, “Kentucky is beautiful women, fast horses, bourbon whiskey, cigarettes and coal. I represent Kentucky, and that’s what I represent.” He was a true Kentuckian in every sense of the word.
But maybe most importantly, Ford was a good man, who was decent and kind to all he encountered. Nearly every person who met him has a story of the ways in which he reached out to them and treated them with compassion. In an age in which most in power seek to surround themselves with others in power, Ford related himself with common, working people and never believed himself to be bigger than any of them. A family minister friend of mine once told the story about going with Ford to the Democratic National Convention, where Ford had sat it up for him to lead the Convention in prayer. While politicians all sought each other out to mingle and advance careers, he noted that Ford spent his free time in the kitchen, meeting and shaking hands with the workers and ushers at the convention that everyone else was ignoring. That was who Wendell Ford was, a great statesmen, representative for Kentucky, but also a wonderful person. There are few like him in politics anymore and we are all worse off for it. He was 90 years old.
What a difference a week makes. In this very spot last Sunday, I wrote about what looked to be a turning point in the UK season. After back to back subpar performances versus Ole Miss and Texas A&M, it seemed that the team could go a number of different directions. There wasn’t a scenario where it felt as if the wheels would fall off, but it was worth considering whether Kentucky was going to be the overwhelming power that we suspected. Seven days later, that thought process seems silly. After two wins by a combined total of 71 points, the doubts about this UK team have once again been removed. Any rust or lingering effects of the layoff and Camp Cal have withered away and the dominating force that we saw in the nonconference has been back on display. Both wins were impressive for different reasons. Beating Missouri by 49 points, even if the Tigers are not good, is historic. It was UK’s biggest SEC win since 2003 and it was the fewest points scored by Missouri since 1950. Then to follow up that performance with a win in Tuscaloosa that included a first half that Oscar Combs called the best he had seen in 50 years of UK road games at Alabama, well that has me feeling warm and fuzzy. The mojo is back and Kentucky is rolling again.
In my view, the Alabama win was the most impressive of the season. The Cats suffocated Alabama throughout the game and even though the Tide made some tough shots (they shot 45% for the game), the Cats were in control from start to finish. We saw great offense from both platoons and the Cats even played better against the Tide zone than they did the pressure man to man. For 35 minutes (leaving aside the first five of the second half), Kentucky played about as well as a team can play against a conference NCAA Tournament contender team on the road. It was so good, I watched it again on Sunday and was even more impressed the second time. So with those two games behind us, I thought it might be good to look back at the Five “Reassessments” I brought up last week and see how this week has answered or clarified the questions brought about by the early SEC struggles.
1. Stop Worrying About Undefeated
I said last week that if Kentucky played like they did in their first two SEC games, they wouldn’t go undefeated and thus I was no longer worried about the feat. Then this week happened. The two games against Missouri and Alabama produced the exact opposite conclusion, as if Kentucky plays like they did in those two games, then no team will even touch them. So what is the true Kentucky team? The one that struggled last week or dominated this week? The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but much closer to the version we saw this week than the one last. Kentucky is a freight train and when it is running on all cylinders, there isn’t a team (certainly in the SEC) that can hang. But as Calipari likes to remind us, they aren’t machines and another couple of bad games are almost certain. I am sticking with the same conclusion I made last week. Until we get to a point where only a couple of games remain in the regular season, I am dropping the idea of being undefeated and letting the magic of this team just play out. If they drop a game on the road, so be it. We now know that at their peak, the Cats are the best team in the country. The key is to just hit that point as much as possible and climb to the apex of play in March.
2. The Cats Need to Platoon Again
Whatever doubts I may have had about this thought when I wrote it on Sunday were obliterated in the first ten minutes of the Missouri game. With Dominique Hawkins placed in the starting lineup, Kentucky found their platoon groove, with each unti coming in and giving full energy and completely wearing the other team down. The Missouri game was a model of UK efficiency, and all ten contributors played great games and got the most out of their 20 minutes of action. Against Alabama, the same was true and until Calipari varied at the start of the second half (when Karl Towns made mistakes and he was pulled, causing the units to mix), platooning once again seemed like the system that made this Kentucky team thrive. They won’t do it every game and they will most certainly vary from it when necessary. But playing a platoon and inserting Hawkins/Willis depending on opponent, clearly seems to make this team flourish. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it and the platoon idea that Calipari created has yet to fail…so I hope it continues.
3. The SEC is Better Than Many Believed
I still think this is true, but with a slight modification. It is probably the case that there is no truly “great” or even “very good” team in the league besides Kentucky. However, with the exception of four teams (Mississippi State, Missouri, Auburn and Vanderbilt), I do think every other team is solid. On a given night, if they play well, they can run with any team in the country. Arkansas, Florida, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina aren’t great teams but they can get great wins in the right circumstances. And Ole Miss, LSU, Texas A&M and Tennessee have the ability on the right night to pull an upset (Ole Miss might even be in the first group, but we shall see). At the end of the season, it will be fair to say about Kentucky that they played no Final Four or even Elite Eight contender in conference play. But they did play a lot of teams that are of the Round of 32 variety and the type of 8/9 game they will see in March. When you play those teams on their home floor, you can lose and thus UK will have had harder tests than most will give them credit for.
4. Kentucky Needs Andrew and Tyler to Be Great
I still believe this is the case and this was a good week for both guys. Against Missouri, the first platoon lit up the scoreboard and played up to their UCLA levels during their minutes. Andrew was efficient, distributed well and played an excellent game. Tyler Ulis also hit his stride again and found a way to guard the type of players that had given him fits in the two prior games. Against Alabama, the +/- numbers for the team showcased the two players’ importance. The three top players for the team were:
Andrew Harrison +21
Willie Cauley-Stein +20
Tyler Ulis +19
It isn’t a coincidence that the three top contributors included both young men. When Kentucky is at their best, both players are playing at high levels. Kentucky can be very good with only one, but they cant be great without both. This week they were great.
5. Willie Has to Be Willie
The Willie of last week was disappointing. The Willie of this week was dynamic. When Willie Cauley-Stein plays like he did against Missouri and (especially) Alabama, there is no more dominant player in the country. He doesn’t have to score a lot, dominate the ball or have a gaudy scoresheet. All he has to do is be a defensive presence that completely alters the way the other team plays and requires them to account for him on every play. The Willie of Alabama alters shots, hedges screens, gets his hand on balls, controls his area to rebound and scores when required. And he does so with a tremendously high basketball IQ that is really a pleasure to watch. You can tell how his teammates feed off of him and his ability to control parts of the floor opens up everything for others. When Dakari and Karl Towns dominated on low post moves, it was in part because the offside defender simply can’t double down with Willie on the other side…they know they will get burned. His presence isn’t just seen in blocks or shots at the rim that are missed, but in bad outside shots that are forced because penetrators don’t want to have to deal with his length inside. If you see the replay of the game, watch the stretch in the second half where Kentucky goes from up 9 to up 23 with a lineup that is primarily, Ulis, Andrew, Booker, Dakari and Willie. Just keep your eye on Willie on every play and watch him work…nearly every success that Kentucky has, is in part due to where Willie is and his presence on the floor. That Willie is a player that can lead his team to a National Title.
What a difference a week makes. Kentucky has its groove back and now we are ready for Vandy and another tough test on the road at South Carolina. Whatever happens, it is good to see that the dominating Cats we saw in November/December are still there, and when they come out, it is a sight to behold.
Last Sunday night, the week ahead looked very bright. Many believed that the state’s best football prospect since Tim Couch was going to commit to the Cats on the same week that SEC basketball play began with what were presumed to be two relatively easy wins. Well it didn’t quite work out like that. News mid-week prepared us for the Damien Harris disappointment but I get the sense that the struggles this week from the UK basketball team really took fans by surprise. If it did, you are not alone in this sentiment. I wrote off the Ole Miss game on Tuesday night in Rupp Arena to a team playing its A+ game against a group off a long layoff, not hitting on all cylinders. But then when that was followed up by an equally close, actually closer, game on Saturday in College Station, one couldn’t help but be perplexed. How did this team that played so well, maybe even historically strong, in the non-conference season, all of a sudden turn into a team stuck in battles in conference play against lesser opponents? It is perplexing. So with that in mind, I did a little reassessment and came up with five things to take into the rest of SEC play:
1. I am done thinking about Undefeated…for Now
We were all burned last year with the silly talk of 40-0 and the notion that a group of Freshmen who had never played together were going to come in and go undefeated. Thus most of us shelved such talk in the Preseason because (to quote George W Bush), “fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…you can’t get fooled again.” But then we actually watched this team play and things changed. Blowing out Kansas and UCLA, beating North Carolina handily and then winning on Louisville’s home court, mixed in with a down SEC, and the notion of an Undefeated regular season did not seem silly. A number of prognosticators picked it (Dan Dakich, Seth Davis, etc) and others said it wasn’t silly to believe it (Jay Bilas, Dick Vitale, etc). I have held out the notion they would lose one, but in the back of my mind, the “team to go down in history” angle stayed with me. I was genuinely nervous during the Ole Miss and Texas A&M games because I had in my head that this team could be the first to go undefeated in the regular season from a major conference since 1976, so I didn’t want a fluke loss to end it.
No more. It’s not that this team can no longer go undefeated. They can. But if the team plays like it has in the last two games, they won’t. The team that ran through the non-conference, that was a team that could make history. This team is still good enough to do amazing things and win a title…but history won’t find them unless they hit that old form. So for now at least, I am done worrying and pacing and its time to consider this like a normal regular season. Let’s see the team get better, fill in holes and hopefully rack up wins. If we get back to that historic form (or something like it), then we will start pacing again later. But for now, I am just going to enjoy the ride and hope to see this team win as many as possible.
2. Maybe Go Back to Platooning
Let’s admit it…the platoon thing has been kind of a “wink,wink” thing for UK fans all season. We know Calipari really has only platooned by the book for 5 or so games this year and thus when he talks about it, we smile and nod kind of like Seinfeld did with Uncle Leo when he talked about his son who worked for the Parks Department. Sure Cal…you are platooning, whatever you say. But the reality is that for most of the year, Calipari played 9-10 guys at least 15 minutes and it worked really well. That stopped a bit when Alex Poythress got hurt, but maybe we should go back to it. Getting away from platooning has rendered Marcus Lee virtually nonexistent and kept Dominique Hawkins (who might have helped on defense in the Ole Miss game) and Derek Willis (who might have helped on offense in the Texas A&M game) forgotten contributors. So why not go back to it? The platoon system requires everyone to bring it every game and make the most of their opportunity. But now that competitive pressure is gone and guys whose playing time has gone back to the levels of the previous season (Twins, Willie) have had games where their play hasn’t been what it was before Christmas. So let’s go back platooning…everyone has to give energy from start to finish! If it doesn’t work so be it…but it wasn’t broken, so why did we fix it? I loved the idea when it started, defended it when it was criticized and knowingly smiled when Calipari slightly deviated from it. Bring it back! We liked it and the team seemed to as well.
3. The SEC is better than we thought
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the SEC is great, nor do I think Ole Miss and Texas A&M are somehow power teams. But the league is not the trash heap that pundits (and some fans) believe. The league is full of tremendous athletes and the coaching is getting better. Thus, there are going to be close games and chances for teams to lose. Throw in the fact that Kentucky is THE story in college basketball and that the entire nation wants to see UK win/lose and every team will give their best effort against Kentucky. It is interesting to me that Duke can lose to NC State (who lost to Wofford) and Wisconsin can lose to Rutgers (who lost to everyone) and that shows depth of the conference. But UK BEATS Ole Miss (who beat Creighton/Cincy) and Texas A&M (who beat Arizona St/New Mexico) and it is because UK could be overrated. Of the Big 6 conferences, the SEC is probably sixth (certainly behind the ACC and Big East…probably behind the Big 12, Big 10 and Pac 10) but the gap isn’t insane. Bracketologists project 4-5 teams into the NCAA Tournament from the league and one of them is not Florida. An most importantly, the SEC has the kind of athletes you have to have to play with Kentucky…you can’t beat the Cats unless you can match their length, strength and speed as best as possible. The SEC may actually be the best league to do that. There is a reason UK struggled in the SEC last year and still made the Title game (and Florida made the Final Four). It is better than people think…and this is something people need to accept.
4. UK Needs Andrew and Tyler to BOTH Play Well
My thoughts on the Andrew Harrison/Tyler Ulis “controversy” are well-known. I think it’s stupid. But what the last two games have told us is that Kentucky needs both players to play well if the Cats are going to reach their potential. In the Ole Miss game, Tyler was abused on defense…and UK struggled. In the Texas A&M game, Andrew was bad on offense…and UK struggled. The Cats need both guys because while they both are very talented, they both also have weaknesses that can be exploited. When the Cats have been great, both have played well…there is no denying that. Pitting them against each other, especially when done by fans, is a self-defeating proposition. UK can’t win it all without BOTH players. It is now up to Calipari and the team to keep them both on the highest plane…if that happens, no team in America will have better collective point guard play.
5. It’s Time for Willie
This team is Willie’s team. I don’t necessarily mean that as an emotional or vocal leader. I mean as a player. He is the best player on this team and when he wants to be, the most dominating defensive presence in college basketball. If he doesn’t win National Defensive Player of the Year, it is his fault because there should not be anyone close to him. No player has his gifts in terms of length, speed and basketball IQ, to create a unique combination of rim protection and perimeter defense that you just do not see. Throw in the fact that he developed some crafty post moves over the summer and he looked like a contender for National Player of the Year during the first ten games. Where has that guy gone? He showed back up for Overtime versus Ole Miss, but besides that, you have to go back to Chicago and the game against UCLA for the last time Willie was truly Willie. Willie should be dominant…he is that good. He has the ability to not only be a great defender, but his low post offense can get easy baskets and open looks for the shooters…throw in his ability on the lob and all of a sudden the penetration lanes for the Harrisons get much more open. Simply put…UK can’t win it all without Willie being Willie. It is time for him do that again…if he does, most of the other problems go away.
With all that said…Kentucky is 15-0. Only three times in school history have the Cats reached that mark. Celebrate it…it is still a special achievement and an amazing team.
We thought that headline would come at some point, but it was later and a bit different than we previously imagined. Today, Oklahoma websites are reporting that Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops hired E.Carolina OC Lincoln Riley to the same position on the Sooners’ staff. Riley will take over calling the plays and bring his high-powered Air Raid attack to Norman. You may remember that Riley was considered the favorite for the Offensive Coordinator job here before Mark Stoops chose Shannon Dawson. Stoops interviewed both men but decided that Dawson would be a better fit…now Bob is going to take those leftovers and try to make a major meal with them.
Will it turn out that Bob took little brother’s sloppy seconds and came out worst? Or will Mark have made a choice that ends up benefitting his brother? Only time will tell. We do know this…Stoops brothers have similar tastes.
UPDATE: Now the Oklahoma sources that say he was hired are saying he hasn’t been hired yet…so who knows.
KSR’s Reaction if he picks the Cats
When it comes to Damien Harris’s decision tomorrow, I can’t say with certainty what he will do. Damien has done a tremendous job keeping things quiet and for the most part, very little information has leaked out. My educated guess is that he will pick Alabama, but it just a guess. Sometimes in recruiting, you know what someone is going to do. I was confident that Carlton Bragg was not picking Kentucky, confident that Skal and Briscoe were picking the Cats and felt good about Elam and Barker last year. But sometimes you get educated guesses, but don’t know for certain. That was my feeling two years ago when Nerlens Noel made his decision and on the football side, the same thing was true when Ryan Timmons pulled the trigger for the Cats. In both cases, I hoped UK was the pick but was not sure.
All I have been hearing in the last 36 hours has trended towards Alabama. That comes almost exclusively from those around Damien. Do they know? I guess we will find out. I do not believe the coaching staffs yet know what Harris will do and reports that he has told UK he is not coming are, I believe, incorrect. We had planned earlier in the week to do our KSR show live from the announcement, but I decided to cancel that after talking to some folks around Madison Southern on Wednesday. No matter what happens with the kid, he is a great young man with a bright future and I don’t want to add to the circus if he doesn’t pick the Cats. A day of build-up, followed by a letdown, wouldn’t be the greatest for Harris, so I decided we wouldn’t go. In my view, it is much better for us not to be there and then he surprises everyone with a UK pick than to go and spend a day only setting up for disappointment.
With all of that said, in recruiting, sometimes we are surprised. While I flipped by pick on Wednesday from Kentucky to Alabama, maybe that was premature and those I spoke with were more confident than they should be. Also, it is possible that while Alabama was the choice Wednesday, things changed in the last 48 hours…odder occurrences have happened in recruiting. And then there is always the possibility that this could be the greatest swerve in recruiting history, with info leaked out to have folks going one way, and then the final decision hits the other way. We won’t know until tomorrow afternoon. Whatever happens, I hope Damien becomes a Cat because he will be a HUGE part of the future of UK. But if he doesn’t and joins the Tide, I wish him nothing but the best. He is a great young man and will be successful wherever he goes.
My educated guess is Alabama. I hope I am wrong.
It was an exciting final game of the NFL Playoffs to end a rather eventful weekend around the UK sports world. Normally I try to have some sort of Universal theme for these Sunday night posts, but with no game we will just roundup a few thoughts:
— Vince Marrow is returning to Kentucky. A source told KSR tonight that a deal has been reached between Marrow and UK for him to remain a part of the UK staff. It has been a fascinating weekend to follow the entire Vince Marrow saga. The internet is a crazy thing and this entire situation has showcased that once again. Michigan blogs (and there are a lot I have discovered) were making Marrow a done deal to the Wolverines on Friday. Then on Saturday, things reversed and everyone had him returning to Lexington. One random Twitter follow later (when Marrow followed a Michigan TE recruit) and the bags were packed once again for UK’s biggest recruiter. What has been interesting from my perspective is to see how off everyone really has been on it. While most have been focusing on these secondary signs, sources tell me the basics of the decision-making never changed much at all. Marrow met with Michigan because…well, who wouldn’t? But after receiving the offer from the Wolverines, he returned to Kentucky and met with Mark Stoops and others, before deciding to remain on the UK staff. This is a huge keep for Kentucky football and the type of thing that will pay major dividends for the program but now and in the future. And it once again demonstrates that these are not the old days of UK football. This is a program committed to winning…and keeping Marrow will help make that happen. Big YAHTZEE
— I am amazed that a Governor in the Giants/Eagles home area is sitting in the owner’s box for the Cowboys. If the Kentucky Governor was sitting on the bench at Duke/Tennessee games…well I think a coup might take place. I guess Christie just thinks, “who cares”…something that seems especially apparent by his choice of that orange sweater (ugh).
— Carlton Bragg is likely not headed to Kentucky. When the announcement is over, we will talk more about why (and maybe a bit tomorrow on the show), but the early announcement tells me he is headed to either Kansas or Illinois. With Kentucky’s uncertainty at the big men positions…depending on who returns and with other targets Calipari is more interested still out there…Bragg’s decision to choose now makes UK an unlikely pick. He is really talented but I think Kentucky will be focused on Caleb Swanigan, Stephen Zimmerman and possibly Ivan Rabb as more pressing targets. I still think UK sits well with Malik Newman, depending on who returns for UK, and Jaylen Brown is the wildcard talent that everyone wants. This offseason is way up in the air in terms of UK has coming back…I think you can pencil in Ulis, Lee, Willis, Hawkins Skal, Briscoe and Matthews but after that lots is still to be determined with guys like Lyles, Dakari, Alex and even Booker (who has planned to return but may see his stock skyrocket even more). This will be a roster in flux for some time and makes predicting on the final class a little difficult.
— I watched “Wolf of Wall Street” for the fourth time this weekend. Margot Robbie is possibly the most beautiful woman ever. Am I wrong about that? If you think so, keep it to yourself. And Jonah Hill’s accent and teeth make the movie for me.
— This week will be tense with all things Damien Harris. My current inclination is that he will pick Kentucky but that isn’t certain. We will certainly hear information that will go in every which direction. I am happy for the kid however no matter what he does as I think he is a great young man who has handled this process and circus about as well as anyone could have. I don’t know that there have been many players whose decision has been more followed in the internet age…maybe Drew Barker, but it is close. If he picks Kentucky over Alabama and Ohio State, it will be (as with Marrow) a huge win for UK football and hopefully a sign of a massive year to come.
— It feels like a month since UK last played and thus I am excited we get back to action on Tuesday against Ole Miss. The Rebels have been one of the more inconsistent teams in America, beating teams like Cincinnati and Creighton and losing to jobbers like Charleston Southern and the Brooklyn Brawler. If they come to play (and their star Jarvis Summers is hot), it might be competitive for awhile. If they don’t, it will be ugly. It was a so-so weekend for the SEC, with South Carolina getting a great win vs Iowa State, but Florida falling at home to UCONN after having a big lead. The SEC is probably a little better than it was last year (not saying a lot), but doesn’t have a second power team like it did last year. Luckily for UK, strength of schedule is likely to be of little to no concern.
— The Bachelor is back tomorrow, which gives me more happiness than it should.
— I am also speaking tomorrow night at the WYMT Scholarship Presentation in Hazard. 103 students from Eastern Kentucky will be given college scholarships due to the generosity of a number of donors and various events the tv station has down there. It has always been a tremendous program and I am honored to get a chance to head back towards home and be a part of it.
It’s about to be a big week….Marrow, Harris and Bragg, OH MY! Should be fun. Radio starts it tomorrow morning at 10 as we welcome our 31st affiliate from Irvine, Ky (WIRV) to the party.
A source tells KSR that Vince Marrow will return to Kentucky. A deal is likely to be announced tomorrow. More in a few…
UPDATE: The source tells KSR that after meetings over the weekend, Vince Marrow and UK have reached the parameters of a deal that will have him remain at Kentucky and with Mark Stoops. The deal will be announced tomorrow but does include a raise in salary. The Michigan offer obviously included such a raise as well and UK decided to meet it with a similar amount, once again showcasing the commitment to the UK football program.
This is a big day for UK football fans. For the Cats to be able to keep an assistant, specifically one so crucial to recruiting, the area in which Stoops and company have truly excelled, speaks wonders for this program’s movement. And to keep that assistant from Michigan and the hottest coaching name out there right now, Jim Harbaugh, is even more impressive. Credit Mark Stoops for his relationship with Marrow, Mitch Barnhart and the administration for stepping to the plate and Marrow himself, for showcasing the loyalty and commitment to UK football that he has talked about for so long. Great day for the Cats.
Everyone has been reminiscing about the passing of Stuart Scott today, one of the legends of the SportsCenter franchise. He had many memorable moments, but one of his best for me was actually about the Cats. From 2012, he did a poetry slam about the UK-Florida game on perfection and it was…well it was creative and pretty great. Take a listen and Rest in Peace Stuart:
I wouldn’t overreact to the Michigan TE recruit story. A source close to Marrow tells me that the Tight End reached out to him and that it means very little. I still think nothing has changed with Marrow’s situation. He is torn and a decision is still up in the air. We can all read the tea leaves for fun, but at this point the only news will be when he says he is either staying or going.
By Matt Jones on ©January 04th, 2015 @ 2:13pm
There has been good news and bad news regarding Vince Marrow’s upcoming decision as to his future. Chalk this up on the “bad news” column. Michigan TE recruit Chris Clark says he has spoken to Vince Marrow today and he thinks he is headed to Michigan. In an interview with a Michigan newspaper, here is what he said:
Clark told MLive he spoke with Marrow over Twitter direct message on Sunday, the first time he’s really ever talked with him, as he’s not interested in going to Kentucky. And while Marrow didn’t directly mention Michigan, Clark said he left the conversation more or less convinced that Marrow is leaning toward taking a job in Ann Arbor.
“It’s not officially done, but it sounded like he’s going there, he said it was a great school, but he was sort of talking about it generally — he really didn’t mention Michigan specifically,” Clark said. “He didn’t really (talk about Kentucky either, though), we sort of talked about how he could really help me in terms of coaching, help get me ready for the next level.
“But if I had to say, was the conversation leaning more toward Michigan? Yeah, I’d have to say that. Because, Kentucky, I’m not really looking at Kentucky. … I think he’s going to end up (at Michigan), if I had to guess.”
Well that’s not good news…the drama continues
This has all of a sudden become a busy week in UK sports, with SEC play starting and three big decisions that will have an effect on the programs. Let’s get to a couple of quick updates on the decisions:
— I think Vince Marrow is genuinely torn as to whether to leave for Michigan and stay here. UK presented a counter offer to the Wolverines and now it is up to Vince as what he wants to do. I don’t expect money is a crucial factor as all indications I am hearing is that UK was competitive with what Michigan is offering. The question is just what Marrow wants to do. He loves Lexington and he loves Mark Stoops. Harbaugh may be a superstar at Michigan and that program may compete for titles. It is a tough spot and I think Marrow is pulled in a couple of different directions. We should know by tomorrow at the latest, maybe today.
— I don’t think Carlton Bragg picks UK. He has moved his decision up earlier in the process than a lot of people expected and with the timing, I just don’t think Kentucky is going to be the selection. UK has a lot of big men irons in the fire (Swanigan, Zimmerman still deciding and Skal has committed), along with the uncertainty of who will return from this team (Dakari, Lee, Alex and Trey all possibilities)…after talking with some folks, I just don’t think the timing works for Bragg right now. I suspect he picks Kansas or Illinois.
— The big decision on Friday with Damien Harris is still up in the air. Most of those around him believe he too is torn, but suspect in the end he picks Kentucky. I just have no idea. I think at one time Kentucky was the favored selection, but I do think Alabama came on strong at the end. There will be a lot of information coming from all directions this week and I have no idea what to believe. This may be one that comes down to the moment of selection before we truly know. The best thing UK has going for them…he loves the coaches and he is very close with some players, specifically Matt Elam…who you may remember chose the Cats over Alabama as well.
Big week…we shall see.
The biggest recruiting moment for UK Football in a long time may be taking place this weekend as Vince Marrow contemplates whether to leave UK and take a job at Michigan. There is a great deal of misinformation out there on this and reports have ranged from Marrow definitely coming back to having already accepted the job at Michigan. I have spoken with a source close to the situation and am confident neither one of the above reports is true. At this point, here is where things stand:
— Marrow has a job offer from Michigan and Harbaugh to take a job similar to the one that he has here.
— Marrow is torn as to what to do and has a deep affection for both Mark Stoops and Lexington.
— UK will be communicating with Marrow this weekend to try and keep him at the University.
This is where we stand as of now. I am not sure when the final decision will be made, but I can’t imagine that it goes later than Monday. My gut instinct after talking to some folks is that Marrow is genuinely torn and that if Kentucky can come close to the offer on the table from Michigan, he will stay. But that remains to be seen and is just my feeling, not fact.
Either way, I do think whatever happens with Marrow will be huge for the program. He is responsible for around 30% of UK’s commits under Stoops and has had an impact on a number of others. While I trust Stoops could find a replacement, Marrow is a known, successful commodity and would be a huge loss, especially on the 2015 class. It is important to do all that can be done to keep him.
By Matt Jones on ©December 30th, 2014 @ 9:25pm
Picture by Getty Images
I don’t enjoy the Kentucky-Louisville game. In fact, in recent years I think it has been fair to say that it comes upon me with a heavy sense of dread. For me, when Kentucky plays Louisville there is simply too much at stake. When I made the fateful decision nine years ago to move to Louisville, a number of things immediately changed. The team that I once considered our greatest rival (Tennessee), the team that I thought had a fanbase that held us in the greatest contempt (Indiana) and the team that I wanted to see lose more than any other (Duke) all went out the window, and those three “traits of hate” combined to form around one school, the Louisville Cardinals. For if you live in the city of Louisville, or find yourself in a circumstance in life where you must deal with their fans on a consistent basis, the UK/UL rivalry can become a bit overwhelming. As with Auburn/Alabama football (the only rivalry in the same league), obsession over this game and this series in the city of Louisville is a 365 day, all-encompassing affair that dominates the entirety of sports conversation no matter the setting or forum (this is especially true if you happen to host a daily sports radio talk show in said city as well). It so drives the yearly city chatter, that when the day of the game finally arrives and the two teams actually hit the court, it can almost seem like too much is at stake. All this talk, all this hype, all this anticipation…and in two hours it is over. It is slightly overwhelming.
Thus while I get virtually no joy out of the actual game itself, when it is over and Kentucky comes out on top, the sense of relief/elation after a win is exhilarating. At no time during the regular season series between the schools was this more true than yesterday. While the stakes were not quite the same as the 2012 Final Four or the 2014 Sweet 16 (when the two teams probably should be separated from having to play each other by state, or if necessary federal, law), for Kentucky fans it may have been the most “at risk” game of the regular season series in a generation. Kentucky is a team on a crash course with history. The question is not “if” this team is great…we know it is…the question is only how great and if it can have a historic regular season. No Big 5 Conference team since 1976 Indiana has ever gone undefeated in the regular season and only four (Larry Bird’s Indiana State, the UNLV juggernaut, Jameer Nelson’s St. Joseph’s team and Wichita State last year) have done it period that timeframe. And this Kentucky team’s most difficult obstacle on the path to that accomplishment was its in-state rival. To lose that game, in those circumstances, would be particularly brutal, especially because of the satisfaction it would give to the fan base of #L1C4. As is often the case for the favorite in this rivalry, the pain of a loss would have exceeded the joy of a win, and much of BBN felt the weight of that expectation.
But once the clock struck 4:20 on Saturday, more than just Darnell Dodson were thrilled, as the Cats got a victory that now turns the hype machine up another notch in the march towards history. The game wasn’t a thing of beauty, but it gave us two memories that will be a part of this rivalry forever. Tyler Ulis first gathered our attention with the stream of blood running down his face, but then followed it with 14 critical points and a domination of the game in the second half. Louisville then gave us a tremendous gift with the Chris Jones’s Flop for the Ages, that made him the internet’s whipping boy of the day. Both of these will join the Cedric Jenkins tip, Rex flying through the air, DA’s dunks, Patrick Sparks’s shuffle, Boogie’s elbow, Aaron’s three and many more images as moments that will be a part of our UK-UL memory bank. Kentucky legends are made in this series and what we saw Tyler Ulis do, after taking a shot to the eye that wouldn’t seem to fully heal (his bandage grew larger each timeout and he ended with three stitches after the game), will forever make him a household name in the Bluegrass state. His two threes were the moments that extended the lead and gave the separation that Kentucky needed to hold on to its victory. The Jones flop was a golden gift for the internet age and spawned countless bad jokes (of which I participated), gifs and re-enactments that will be with us for years to come, especially as the UL fan base falls farther and farther out of love with him. These moments, combined with the sight of a withered Pitino, sad Jennifer Lawrence, staring Willie and swaggy Calipari guarantee that UK’s second victory in three tries versus the Cards in the Yum Center will always be remembered fondly.
What happens next still remains to be seen. Conference play has no obvious challenger, but I do agree with many of the pundits that Kentucky will have a couple of road games in the SEC that will be closer than people predict and could lead to at least one defeat. Florida, LSU, Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia are not a murderer’s row of difficulty but at least one will come on a ridiculously hot shooting night and may require UK to play “crunch time” minutes at least once before postseason play begins. The ride through the SEC will be beset with contrived media controversies (the Calipari haters are already aggressively promoting an unnecessary Andrew vs Ulis debate), uninspiring halves (a Buffalo or Columbia home clunker will surely arise) and unparalleled hype from media ready to ride the “Undefeated” train to its final moment. Kentucky will almost certainly finish the journey as the overwhelming favorite to win the 9th Championship and could potentially be in a “Greatest of All Time” debate. With only the Match Game-esque “HOW GREAT ARE THEY” question remaining, it should actually be one of the more fun trips through the SEC conference schedule in UK history.
But before we head down that road with the start of “Camp Cal” on Monday, take a minute to savor what just happened. This may have been the best non-conference season that Kentucky basketball has ever played. The Cats beat historic powers by historic margins, defeating Kansas, UCLA and North Carolina by a combined 87 points. They took down the #4,5 and 6 ranked teams convincingly, leaving no doubt in any of the games, which was the better team. They won games by nearly unprecedented margins, finishing only one in single digits. And they played defense on a historically great pace, crushing school and national records in the process. And oh yeah…they beat our biggest rival for the 7th time in the last 8 tries, on their home floor, playing their preferred style, at the tail end of their best run in their program’s history and they did it with room to spare. Even if the game itself arrived with a slight sense of dread, it ended with yet another example of the conclusion that has been reinforced every day since John Calipari arrived in Lexington. For as long as he is roaming the sidelines, Kentucky is college basketball, its biggest star, its most visible program, its proverbial elephant in the room and this year at least, its undoubtedly best team. This group clearly has the heart AND the hype.
(Photo by Jamie Rhodes…USA Today Sports