Tomorrow, the Cats will take on fellow blue blood UCLA in the CBS Sports Classic →
We can now confirm that Shannon Dawson will be the new Offensive Coordinator at Kentucky. Dawson comes to us from West Virginia, where he was the leader of a high octane attack that was ranked 11th in the country. He however did not call plays there, which may be part of the reason that he has decided to make the move to Lexington (that and I would guess a raise). I spoke tonight to a source about Dawson’s offense and he told me that it would be “like Neal Brown’s only faster and with more shots downfield.” That is probably music to the ears of UK fans everywhere. Dawson has worked for a number of Air Raid coaches, including Hal Mumme and Dana Holgerson and certainly is known for a high octane offense.
I am told that the final choice came down to Dawson, Lincoln Riley and another candidate, with Dawson being picked because of the most compatible offensive philosophy with Mark Stoops. So there you go. More later and remember Stoops will join us on the air on KSR Radio tomorrow
By Matt Jones on ©December 14th, 2014 @ 10:15pm
photo via Alex Poythress Instagram
If you consider a weekend like most college students do (aka starting on Thursday night), then this past weekend started about as awful as any we can remember…just before midnight finding out that Alex Poythress had torn his ACL. It seemed unnecessarily cruel…a Junior who has done everything right, great student, great teammate and all around great kid, works hard and is starting for a team with the potential to be historically great…and then by himself in practice of all places, tears his ACL to miss the season. It is a painful reminder that basketball, like life, often times simply isn’t fair. The good don’t always get rewarded and those that deserve success sometimes face the greatest adversity. Friday was a day of Big Blue Nation Depression as we all tried to come to grips with an injury that hurt many more than the individual who sustained it.
But then on Saturday morning, basketball was back. If there was any positive in playing a team like UNC immediately after the Poythress injury, it was that it required the team to focus and collectively rally the troops. Kentucky came ready to play and with a Rupp Arena crowd that was at the top of its game behind them, the Cats put forth another masterful performance against a solid opponent. It was one of those great days in Rupp and put the Cats one more step towards a season to remember. As we head towards Finals Week, five quick notes from the last 72 hours:
1. Best Offensive Performance of the Season:
What we saw on Saturday was not UK on top of its game defensively or on the glass. The Cats gave up too many free shots (the Heels did shoot 45%), too many offensive rebounds (18!) and kept UNC around by forgetting about Marcus Paige’s moments of glory. However that shouldn’t overshadow the fact that offensively UK came to play. They once again shared the ball amazingly well, 19 Assists on 27 baskets. UK’s best scorers (Aaron, Booker and Willie) all put up big numbers and other guys (like Marcus Lee and Trey Lyles) did their part to balance the attack. And oh yeah…three pointers fell as well. Seven of them went through the nylon, one more than they had made in the past three games combined. It isn’t that Kentucky has to hit threes to win games…the Cats I firmly believe can win the title even if they aren’t even an average three point shooting team. But if Aaron/Booker/Ulis/Andrew, etc are hitting threes, the Cats are simply unstoppable. The balance that attack can give is impossible to defend and UK will steamroll teams. The most amazing thing about the game? Kentucky beat a Top 25 opponent, with five McDonald’s All Americans on their roster by a comfortable 14 points and the future Top Three NBA Draft Pick Karl-Anthony Towns DID NOT EVEN ATTEMPT A SHOT. This team at times is silly.
2. Poythress on the Sideline
I stood the entire game in my usual sideline reporting spot, which happened to be right next to where Alex Poythress was placed during the game. As many tried to give him his space (it is hard to know what to say in such situations), you couldn’t help but feel bad for the kid as he had such a sad expression on his face. The UK team however lifted him up early as Willie Cauley-Stein (quickly becoming the emotional leader of this group) started a trend of not only slapping all his teammates hands on the bench when he came out, but also walking and hitting Alex’s as well. The other Cats followed suit and at the start of the second half, Alex moved from the table seat on the sideline to back on the bench with his teammates. It was a symbolic move, an affirmation that yes he is still on the team and won’t become a ghost for the rest of the season. His team hugged him when he came over and it was once again confirmed that with this group, the brotherhood is as strong as with any I have seen.
3. Stupid, Unnecessary Debates Should End
Look, I get it. Sports is in part about debates. I host a daily sports radio show that if it included no debates (or jokes about Ryan Lemond) would potentially just be 2 hours of silence. But some debates are unnecessary and counterproductive and the tendency of some fans (and some is the key word…more than most would like to admit but less than it seems like on the internet/Twitter) to want to pit the two sets of guards against each other is ridiculous. The question of who is better, the Harrison Twins or Booker/Ulis is a debate that fans do in part because there is nothing else to complain about. When you have a potentially historically great team, some need something to complain about. And good games by the two amazingly talented Freshman, such as against UNC, lead a certain group to proclaim “THEY NEED TO START!” as if starting makes any difference in this Platoon-type year. Look, there is no scenario where John Calipari doesn’t play the Twins…they helped take a team to the Championship Game and he believes in them. One of them hit three of the most clutch shots in the history of this program…and oh yeah, they are pretty good. But there also isn’t a scenario that Calipari doesn’t play his talented Freshmen, knowing how much they bring on the offensive end and what a tenacious defender/distributor Tyler Ulis can be as well. Just chill out…the reason this team is so good (among others) is because BOTH SETS of players are on it. They bring different skill sets…one twosome is physical, the other quick. One set grinds it out and likes to get to the line, the other quickens the pace and bombs from outside. The two sets TOGETHER make this team so hard to stop. End the needless debate about them and embrace what you have…a team that has yet to play one game with a single digit margin over its opponent.
4. Recruiting Weekend Goes Well for Football
We won’t know the final results for a few weeks but the big visit weekend at UK seems to have gone well. The two biggest targets, Damien Harris and Marcus Lewis both tweeted that the trip was great and there were lots of good vibes all around the program from those involved. Harris once again spent time in the Erruption Zone during the game, Lewis soaked up the UK fans’ energy and all the recruits saw Bud Dupree and Austin McGinnis get a standing ovation for being First Team All SEC. Throw in a HUGE commitment from 2016 top Center Drake Jackson (who is as excited to be a Cat as any recruit I can remember) and it was a big weekend for Stoops Troops. Now the finishing drive has to be pushed into gear…get Harris on January 9th and forge ahead to Signing Day. I like UK’s chances.
5. Offensive Coordinator News
I feel confident in saying that UK has their top choice for the Offensive Coordinator job and that an offer has been made. Whether that offer will be/has been accepted or when it will be announced is unclear to me. But I do think the chance for Lincoln Riley to be the next OC is on the table. Whether he accepts it remains to be seen.
With that little nugget, lets end the night and see you folks tomorrow for the radio show where we will talk about the UNC win, the OC chatter and our dinner with Rick Pitino.
We all celebrate big wins over North Carolina differently. For the KSR crew, it was a Christmas Party sitting 20 feet away from Rick Pitino. For you, it might have been a nice Saturday night dinner and five episodes of Match Game (or at least it should have been). But for Willie Cauley-Stein, it may have been a new large neck tattoo that is quite colorful. A KSR fan (@UKSportsTalk) said that on the UK Women’s Game tonight, they showed Willie and his tattoo and he took the picture above. Now I didn’t see it, so I am trusting my good friend UK Sports Talk, but it looks reasonable to me.
Cauley-Stein may be one of the more interesting players we have ever had to come through here. His interests go much beyond basketball and he is a very well-rounded guy. So I say, Do your thing Willie…First Team All American is on the horizon as the national spotlight is soon to be even more yours.
By Matt Jones on ©December 08th, 2014 @ 10:39pm
The story of John Wall and his friend Miyah was a great one from the past year. She came down with cancer and Wall as her favorite player, took it upon himself to meet her. A friendship was born that was chronicled in this great story in the Washington Post. Unfortunately she passed away today and tonight Wall played with a heavy heart. He had an amazing game, scoring 26 points and dishing 17 Assists in a Double Overtime win. But Wall was very emotional after the game and began crying when talking about his friend:
John Wall is a great young man and this is just another example. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the young girl and her family
By Matt Jones on ©December 08th, 2014 @ 10:20pm
The night post is coming to wrap up the day, but a couple of tidbits from the proceedings of the last three days:
— Mark Stoops still hasn’t announced his hire for the new Offensive Coordinator. Because of Kentucky hiring laws, Monday was the first day that the new individual could have been announced, but it has come and gone without a decision. I am told by a source that ECU Offensive Coordinator Lincoln Riley is still the favorite and that he was Mark Stoops’ top choice as of last week. However there is no certainty that Riley will take the position and Stoops still wanted to meet with someone after the games that took place this weekend (this is the candidate whose name I have never been able to find out). Presumably that has happened by now, but Stoops is also trying to finish up a great deal of recruiting before the dead period hits in a week. I am told Stoops isn’t in a hurry, because he doesn’t think any of his recruiting targets hinge on the selection. However if the pick is Riley, I would think we would know within the next couple of days. The longer it goes, the more likely another candidate (Chris Hatcher or the weekend interview) becomes the more likely scenario.
— As you know, UK had two Nebraska transfers here this weekend, LB Courtney Love and TE Greg “The Hitman” Hart. I am told that it is very likely Kentucky gets Love and Hart is a good possibility. Both wanted to go back to Lincoln before making the choice, but Kentucky feels confident in both guys. Love has a shot at being eligible next year, and would be an immediate impact player at Linebacker. The Cats may get a Yahtzee or two out of corn country within the week.
— Damien Harris pushed back his decision to January 9th, and is taking his official visit to UK this weekend. He will be part of a HUGE recruiting weekend that one person told me could be “as talented a set of athletes as we have ever had here at one time.” I believe that had Harris decided this weekend, Kentucky would have been the likely pick. Pushing it back may change nothing (it didn’t for Matt Elam when he too pushed it back), but we shall see. Either way, I think it comes down to Kentucky or Alabama for the star Running Back and I don’t think he can go wrong either way.
— The #1 Center in America for the Class of 2016, Drake Jackson from Woodford County decides on Saturday. Most think his pick will be UK and Mark Stoops. I have no inside info but if he picks anything but UK, everyone I have spoken with will be shocked.
— Finally, in our football-heavy news dump, one basketball note. I talked to a long-time UK employee at the game on Sunday and we were noting how well this team gets along and he said to me, “Matt, this is the truth…in all the years I have been here, there has never been a team that gets along on and off the court better than this one…no egos, no problems. It is almost too good to be true and I don’t want to jinx it.”
Sometimes it feels like that about this season doesn’t it…almost too good to be true. Let’s hope it keeps right on rolling.
If you get a chance, check out the folks at TipsyElves.Com and think about getting an “ugly” Christmas sweater. I have the one below (they sent it to me and I revel in its hideousness) and they also have a great UK one too…check them out at the link above and use the Promo Code: “KENTUCKY” for a 20% discount. You can’t beat it and if you order by Tuesday, you will have it for your parties upcoming. Get it done.
My Favorite Four Pictures in Order from 4-1:
#4 The UK Sorority Girl Dorm Room Poster
One college co-ed told me recently that this was the “hottest team in the history of basketball” and she didn’t mean on the court. If this group is the N’Sync of basketball (as I heard one newspaper writer say last week…not ironically), then Devin Booker is Justin Timberlake…he is Mr Dreamy and his poster is already hanging all over Lexington.
3. The Maker Brothers and Me
Thon Maker was in Louisville on Tuesday with his brother, in town visiting Louisville…they are both crazy tall and even at 6’4″, make me look tiny. Thon is really good and if he reclassifies, watch out.
2. Rick Pitino Calls Out His Favorite Play
I don’t know what Rick Pitino calls this play, but he certainly seems to like it.
1. Tom Crean’s Doppelganger
This side-by-side created by @ProwLapsdWrekdM is pretty scary. I can’t even tell which one is which.
Rick Pitino came to the game tonight and looked like the above at halftime…he may need some sun. But then Tom Crean had his game tonight (also a win) and looked like this afterwards:
So I ask you UK fans…Who wore it better last night? The pale Cryptkeeping of one Rick Pitino or the Pinky and the Brain “forehead for sale” of Sir Tom Crean. Discuss amongst yourselves…
By Matt Jones on ©December 02nd, 2014 @ 5:30pm
If you were around during the last UK coaching search (the one that yielded Mark Stoops), then you know that KSR is the place to get all your coaching gossip. So with that in mind, one little tidbit from this afternoon. A couple of UK players have started following ECU OC Lincoln Riley on Twitter. This started today and includes some of the offensive guys. Does that mean anything? No…but it gives us something to consider when sorting through all the smoke.
For the record, he is my top choice
By Matt Jones on ©November 30th, 2014 @ 10:30pm
In some ways Saturday at Papa John’s Stadium epitomized the 2014 Kentucky Football Season. The game started out with such promise, as Kentucky not only took the early lead, but was dominating the proceedings in all three facets of the game. The defense was holding UL’s offense stagnant, the offense was moving the ball and the special teams was controlling field position. It was like the early part of the UK Football season, when things seemed almost too good to be true…two SEC wins at home and a road game in the Swamp that not only nearly broke a national-record streak, but also could have put UK in the lead in the SEC East. UK fans would have been forgiven if at the end of the First Quarter, they dreamed of not only a UL win, but a Bobby Petrino squash, with the Cards limping to a massive defeat and the Cats dancing to a Bowl game. It felt like a new era was once again upon us.
But, as with the regular season as a whole, reality crashed down soon after. The Cards showcased themselves to be the better team and while UK did not give up, they were playing as the decided underdog throughout the rest of the game. Just as in the regular season, when UK played with #1 Mississippi State, scored consistently against Georgia and put forth a strong defensive effort at Missouri, the Cats made plays and had stretches where Louisville was completely beatable. But then there were other stretches, where UK looked overwhelmed (as in the Tennessee/LSU games and on Defense vs Georgia), unable to stop the UL Wide Receivers and with an offense that was unable to even get minimal yardage. Just as the season could have swung with one play (the 4th Down at Florida, the onside kick vs Mississippi State), the Louisville game gave UK its painful individual plays (I will think about the Marcus McWilson drop for a long time), but in the end the result was the same….a loss to our rival and another year without a Bowl.
So how do we grade this season as a whole? Overall, I do believe that this was a positive season for UK Football and Mark Stoops. Going into the year, I thought UK would win 5 games and they were the exact five that they won. The schedule was the “hard” one of the two-year rotation (I prefer the “toss-up” games in Commonwealth next year when UT/UL/Florida/Missouri are in Lexington and Georgia/Miss State/South Carolina are on the road) and Kentucky handled itself well. They got the one underdog win (versus South Carolina), had a legitimate shot to pull off two upsets over ranked teams (Miss State and Louisville), were competitive in another (Missouri) and had three clunkers (LSU/Tennessee/Georgia on defense). I firmly believe if UK had simply made it a game in Knoxville, we would all have positive vibes on the year, but that performance against the Vols stung a bit. Still, the offense was improved, the defense handled itself well for the most part and we saw young guys get better. The season was by no means perfect…the Air Raid really wasn’t as “Air Raidy” as we had hoped, the Secondary was exposed big time in the second half of the season and the Offensive Line is still a major concern in the years to come. But, I believed the trajectory for Mark Stoops at UK was this….survive year one and recruit…get better in year two and recruit…bowl game in year three. This season was still a step in that direction and followed the plan, thusI do consider it a success.
So now what is next? Going into the Offseason, I think there are Four Major Questions that Have to Be Answered Before Next Season:
1. Who is the New Offensive Coordinator?
This one is the most immediate, possibly the most telling and almost certainly the most important. I liked Neal Brown and still think he did a good job here. He took over an offense with no playmakers and made it respectable and through recruiting and development, ready to potentially make a leap forward next year. Now there will be a clean start (which might not be a bad thing from a fan perspective) and the question is who Mark Stoops is going to get to replace him. Will he go with another “Air Raid” guy to continue the offensive system that has been in place? Or does he go in a different direction all together and put in a system with which he is more comfortable. I have heard four names associated with the job at this point:
Lincoln Riley: ECU Offensive Coordinator
Chris Hatcher: Murray St Head Coach
Eddie Gran: Cincinnati Offensive Coordinator
Tim Beck: Former Nebraska Offensive Coordinator
The first three guys are clearly “Air Raid” guys and all will run systems similar to Neal Brown. Riley is the hottest name and from my perspective, would be the best get. He can light up the scoreboard and fans will love his offense. Hatcher is a UK guy who is very intelligent and has a bright future. He is very young and could step in and not miss a beat. I know less about Gran, just heard his name this afternoon for the first time, but know he worked with Stoops at Florida State. And Beck is a Youngstown guy who hired Vince Marrow at Nebraska, but also runs a different type of offense. We shall see who he picks, but more importantly is this question….is Stoops an Air-Raid guy or not? We will know for sure when this hire is made and the offense (and recruiting) will derive from whatever is that decision.
2. Can Year Three Recruiting Stay Strong?
Stoops has been golden in recruiting and there is no reason to suspect it won’t continue. He has a great base of a class already in place and has some elite guys waiting to make their final decisions. His goal is just to finalize everyone and then hope to bring in the final pieces and maybe one superstar (Damien Harris). The one worry is that some of the lack of competitive games might have an impact on the final part of this class (and maybe more importantly) the development of the 2016 class. I am not particularly worried as Stoops has sold others with less than what he has now, but it will be important to keep the momentum going. If he gets a Top 30 class (which looks likely still), it will be a tremendous accomplishment and can finally give the depth this program needs to begin its upward march.
3. Is Patrick Towles the Guy Going Forward?
This would not have even seemed to be a debate a few weeks ago, but Towles struggled in three of the last four games and may have had his worst performance of the year versus Louisville. I still think Patrick has NFL potential and has everything you could possibly want from a Quarterback (big arm, mobility, large stature)…but his decision-making has to get better in the offseason. As the year went on, he got “happy feet” and rarely went through his progressions without first taking off and scrambling. Part of that was due to the so-so Offensive Line play, but part was also just an unwillingness to stay put in the pocket and make the right decisions. Patrick can make all the throws but he has to get better on the short timing routes that are the key to Air Raid success. If not, Reese Phillips and Drew Barker are waiting to try and make this a competition. Again, the decision as to the offensive philosophy will play a key role in who the Quarterback will be, but I believe that a competition, whether truly completely “open” or not, will exist in Spring practice.
4. Can the Players Individually Get Better?
This seems like a simple question but it is extremely important. The level of athleticism in the Freshman/Sophomore classes at UK is tremendous and unparalleled in the last decade. But now these guys have to get bigger/stronger/faster and most importantly, better. The young receivers have to learn to run and finish routes, the Offensive Lineman have to get bigger, the Defensive backs have to be good enough to get on the field. Stoops has brought int he talent, now they have to become good enough to play and excel. We see flashes of brilliance from many but there hasn’t been a complete package of a year from any of the Stoops young recruits (with the possible exception of Boom Williams). This is the most important offseason of the Stoops era.
I believe Mark Stoops and this program are headed in the right direction. I think Kentucky has made great strides and has upped the talent level/facilities/coaching to where it needs to compete. But next season will be the most important of the Stoops era. If the Cats improve, make a Bowl Game, and rise farther, the sky could be the limit. If they don’t improve, or worse digress, don’t go to a Bowl Game and waste the favorable home schedule and the opening of the renovated Commonwealth, then one starts to get worried. Recruiting, fan interest and player belief hinges on what happens next season. I think they will get it done, but this offseason will be huge in making it happen.
Thon Maker is a star in the Class of 2016 and the 7 foot big man is one of the best high school basketball players in the country. We have been talking about him for years here on KSR and his talent is only growing. He played in Lexington this weekend and visited UK today and after the game, he had this to say:
Kentucky has a big atmosphere. Beautiful place with a professional coaching staff. This is where pros came before their profession #UK🏀
— Thon Maker (@Thon_Maker) December 1, 2014
Not a bad visit I would suggest and by the way Thon…you are dead on.
It’s been a long day and there is a lot to say, but I will probably save most of it for tomorrow night. For now, two quick things…first is the picture above from Damien Harris’s visit tonight to Alabama for the Iron Bowl. One has to think the kid was impressed and after the game he tweeted this:
You know what it is!! Roll Damn Tide!! 🅰🐘 pic.twitter.com/emGq81YRN4
— Damien Harris (@Damien_D1Harris) November 30, 2014
Even with that comment, I still think UK is in this and people shouldn’t give up…but today certainly didn’t help with their win and great environment.
So how do we cheer ourselves up? Well Kentucky plays basketball tomorrow (which is always good) and John Wall wore this hat tonight. Wall wants you to know that only you can prevent forest fires
Have a good night kids
By Matt Jones on ©November 26th, 2014 @ 4:13pm
It’s Thanksgiving so I am going to make this quick, but two big pieces of news came out this afternoon that have been lingering around KSR-ville for a while:
— First, FootballScoop.com reports that UK Offensive Coordinator Neal Brown is a finalist for the Troy head coaching job. This rumor has been making its way around Lexington for a few weeks and has been a story we have been chasing for the past few days. I couldn’t get confirmation that he is taking the job (apparently the new coach will be named next week) but I know there is interest there. Football Scoop is talking to folks on the Troy side and says a decision has nearly been made with an announcement next week. We shall see what happens but Brown has coached there before and they love him. If he is offered it, I would be shocked if he doesn’t take it. Brown is a head coach in waiting and Troy is a good starter job. If he gets its, I expect him to go. It would be a bump in the road, but not necessarily a crushing blow if UK can continue its progress. The key would be to find someone who can still do the Air Raid (or the version we run) so that one doesn’t have to completely re-tool with Towles, etc starting over. Watch for East Carolina Offensive Coordinator Lincoln Riley to be at least one of the candidates.
— Second, Andy Katz reports what we hinted at on radio last week, that UK and UCLA are likely to begin a 2 year home and home series next season. UK would first go to LA and then UCLA would come to Lexington in 2016. I am told that this series will replace the UNC series for two years (although UK will play UNC in 2016 as part of whatever that UNC/Ohio St/UCLA round robin thing is called) and give the Cats a marquee home and home for fans. It will also allow me (selfishly) to travel to the one great college basketball home court I have never been in, Pauley Pavilion.
With that announcement, UK’s non-conference schedule next year would look like this:
Duke (in Chicago)
Ohio State (in Brooklyn)
Louisville in Rupp
South Florida (in Miami)
Big 12 True Road Game
The final of those games is likely to be Kansas, which could put UK in Phog Allen Fieldhouse for the first time in a number of years. If that happens, the return game would be in 2016 in Rupp (UK would not agree to playing a true road game there without the same team playing in Rupp Arena). That would mean UCLA/Kansas in Rupp in the same year…get those tickets now.
For traveling UK fans, that means trips next year to New York, LA, Chicago and Miami…plus possibly Kansas. That is a heck of a road trip (Drew, I hope you are ready for lots of Conway Twitty).
With that, enjoy your holiday…we will be back on radio on Friday. I leave you with young Calipari and his daughters on an early Throwback Thursday: