Brandon Priddy writes for The Smoking Musket, West Virginia’s SB Nation site, but he’s also →
So we will play the Mountaineers again for the third time in the last five NCAA Tournaments. On paper, it isn’t a great matchup for West Virginia (despite what Doug Gottlieb says), because speeding up Kentucky has been a recipe for disaster this season. But, this team is physical and could potentially rough up UK a bit. Still, when Charles Barkley was asked about the matchup, he laughed and then said, “Ernie, that’s gonna be a beatdown. West Virginia wants to run and the one thing you don’t want to do against Kentucky is run…it’s going to be a dunk fest.”
It has been a weekend of celebration, but also sadness for Big Blue Nation as the Cats march towards a 9th banner began with the passing of a mountain legend. Ira Combs passed away in Louisville while picking up his media credential for the NCAA Tournament and beginning what was one of his favorite weekends of the year. Ira loved the Sweet 16 and the NCAA Tournament and tweeted earlier this week about how much he was looking forward to covering both:
Have reached top of mtn in 11 year career member of sports media crew in Ky will see 10 games in Sweet 16 at Rupp & 6 games in NCAA at Yum
— Ira D. Combs (@combsbrothers5) March 17, 2015
During his life, Ira was a UK writer, a school administrator, a basketball coach, a football coach, an umpire and a radio host. But more importantly than all of that, he was a wonderful person who was kind to others and loved the state of Kentucky, particularly the mountains of Eastern Kentucky where he lived. Spend any time with Ira, as I have been fortunate enough to do over the last couple years, and he would tell stories about the past, characters he has known or his opinion about the latest gossip around the world of UK sports. He was a regular listener to KSR and would often text me during the show with things he wanted me to make sure and say, and more often than not I did…because he always had good insight and a funny sense of humor. In a world where people are often self-absorbed about their own issues, Ira constantly wanted to help those around him. He came to a dozen of our radio tour stops this summer to give away UK memorabilia from his collection and when I asked him why he was doing it, he said, “I don’t know how much time I have left and I thought the kind of person that would come to one of these shows is the kind of person who would appreciate some of what I have collected.” When Oscar told me of his passing, it made my heart sink and I know I speak for Drew, Ryan, Tyler and everyone at KSR who has been touched by the wonderfully kind Mr. Combs when I say that he will be greatly missed by all of us. Our prayers go out to Oscar, Harold and his entire family.
Photo by USA Today Sports
Three two-game Tournaments. Coaches always say that his how they look at the NCAA Tournament, and correspondingly, I have never believed them. As a fan, I have always spent the first two weekends watching the games in the other brackets, desperately hoping that the favorites would find a way to lose and the Cats’ path to a National Championship would somehow open up. But once I began traveling to the games six years ago, it became clear that for the teams, these tournament experiences are really measured in weekends. When I look back at the best of the Calipari era in the Tournament, I think locations…the amazing Ohio State/UNC double that took place in Newark, the massive UK party in New Orleans with the 2012 title team and the unbelievable fun of the UL/Michigan back to back last year in Indianapolis (maybe the most fun NCAA stop I have had). And when I think of the worst of the NCAA trips, the cold depression of Syracuse, the urban spread awfulness of Houston and the melancholy of the post-UCONN drive back from Dallas come to mind.
All of those past experiences however involved drives and just as in 2012, the first two rounds being in Louisville (where I live) made this an amazing weekend as a UK fan. The streets of Louisville were covered with Blue as the BBN descended in numbers that even dominated the showing in 2012. I was amazed on Thursday night and even more so on Saturday, just how many tickets Kentucky fans were able to procure in the arena, turning the Yum Center into a de facto (and louder) version of Rupp Arena. The fans clearly ignited Kentucky, especially on Saturday, as they took out a physical Cincinnati team in small spurts, a 10-0 run at the end of the first half, a 11-2 sprint in the middle of the second, both of which were ignited by a crowd ready to party with one of the best teams to ever wear the uniform. Unlike last year, when an escape from St Louis was greeted with a bit of disbelief, this time we all expected Kentucky to get out of Louisville and make their way to Cleveland and have been pointing towards next weekend since the Twins decided to return. But nevertheless, there was something refreshing about feeling all of the excitement over the four days in Louisville. Like the SEC Tournament last week in Nashville, it was the culmination of a season of greatness, along with an understanding that the real business gets serious next week. A few thoughts from the madness:
— Kentucky is Still the Best Team by a Lot
I watched A LOT of college basketball this weekend and made it a point to check out all the real contenders. While the teams I expected to flounder did (UVA and Villanova), and one team looked better than I might have expected (impressive two game run from Gonzaga), I spent time watching three teams in particular…Arizona, Wisconsin and Duke. My reason for scouting these three is simple…if Kentucky plays well, these are the only three teams that can give the Cats a true battle. Other teams have a chance to knock off UK, but only if Kentucky participates in their own destruction. But these three, two of which UK might have to play, are the only ones that can beat a UK team that isn’t ice cold. Of those three, my opinions are still the same…Duke is the most dangerous, but also the most inconsistent. When they are hitting threes, they are a tough matchup, although UK’s size will cause major difficulties for them. Arizona is playing the best…their beatdown of Ohio State may have been the most impressive performance of the weekend to me overall. And Wisconsin is still the best suited to give UK fits due to playing style…they were vulnerable against Oregon, but the ability of their bigs to pull you outside makes them the toughest matchup for Kentucky. Still, as good as these teams are, Kentucky’s best is a lot better than everyone else’s best. A UK team firing on all cylinders has no match in this tournament. It isn’t about who UK plays, it is completely about how they play.
— The Open Practice was a WOW Day
Open practices during the NCAA Tournament can seem like a waste of time. Most coaches don’t use them as a real “practice” and it is basically just a glorified shootaround with fans watching. But the event on Wednesday at the Yum took it to another level. The entire lower arena was packed with Blue and it truly felt like a rock concert when the players arrived on the court. For a group that has seen most everything, even Willie Cauley-Stein mouthed “WOW” as he looked at the crowd, chanting, yelling and squealing like the audience for the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. This summer in the Bahamas, Jay Bilas and I talked about whether this would be the biggest “rock star” team since the Fab Five. I think it may be. The reception this group got that day, and then was amplified on Saturday during the highest points of the Cincy win, was one for the books.
— The Cats Escaped Cincy But Were Not Going to Lose
Much has been discussed on the Internet about the Cincinnati game and how physical it was from start to finish. Like many of you, I was driven crazy by the play, especially early in the second half, of Octavious Ellis who was clearly trying to take on the role of instigator with the more talented UK team. Yet, for all the complaining and worry (not to mention poor shooting), in the end Kentucky won by a solid margin and was up 20 with just a minute to play in the game. You cannot beat Kentucky playing the way Cincy plays, no matter what sports columnists poorly skilled in basketball knowledge may tell you. Being physical with Kentucky can make the game ugly and keep it relatively close…but you have to make shots. And no matter how physical you get with Kentucky, making shots inside over them is virtually impossible on a consistent basis. Outside shots have to fall, to then open up penetration lanes and allow you to attack UK players one on one. Cincy could do none of that. And at the other end, fouling consistently puts the Cats on the line and this team is very good, and at times great, at foul shooting. It was a nerve-wracking and at times frustrating game, but the final outcome was never in doubt. You can’t beat Kentucky playing like Cincinnati, and even a B- effort from the Cats led to a victory going away.
The Pressure is Not Getting to this Team Yet
You saw the pictures here on KSR from Drew and others. What did the UK team do all weekend in Louisville? They played Super Smash Brothers in a small hotel room at the Seelbach (seriously, the Seelbach is really nice, but you have closets that are bigger than their rooms). When the warmups were taking place before the game and the Cincy players were whooping and hollering, Kentucky players did the same thing they have always done…go through the same warmup motions, laughing and being as loose as can be. The media swarm increased this week and it will take another major leap next week, but for the players in the locker room at UK, nothing changed. Willie joked with the press, Devin smiled, Karl pulled pranks and the Twins were stoic…exactly as they have been since Day one in the Bahamas. While the circus continues to pick up freak shows, the main acts are going through business as usual, not allowing themselves one misstep in the process. More than any other group in this Tournament, these Cats have been there/done that and for them to keep their composure as they have done thus far…well it truly is a special group.
We will have coverage all week on the road to Cleveland. As of this writing, the West Virginia/Maryland game is in the second half and we will see one of these teams late on Thursday night. Whichever it is, the mission for Kentucky on the road to the title remains the same. IF the Cats play the way they are capable, #9 is there for the taking.
And with that, my favorite photoshop of the weekend, Biden and the sad Villanova piccolo player:
Pic by Chris Greenwell
Vegas is getting so much action on Kentucky basketball games this year, that the MGM has decided to do something different…create an entire prop sheet dedicated just to the Cats. It includes bets about future opponents that aren’t even known yet and much more. So take a look above…which would you take and which would you stay away from?
By Matt Jones on ©March 16th, 2015 @ 10:35pm
There is zero chance that this post gets by without people turning the comment section into an irrelevant political debate, but you know what…this is the internet. Ashley Judd went on MSNBC today to talk about her new movie (called “Insurgent”) and in the process sported her mojo UK shirt, said she wasnt sure about the title of the movie but did know the game time of the Cats (I agree with her on priorities) and talked about the famous kiss picture with Dick Vitale. In the process, she also talked about how her tweet about the UK-Arkansas game (in which she accused the Arkansas players of some dirty play) led to people saying nasty things to her on Twitter. I saw some of those tweets (as I was tagged in them) and they were awful.
I like Ashley a lot and I love that she reps the Cats at all point. Those of you that don’t feel free to fight down below. For the rest of us, here is a cool UK-based interview:
By Matt Jones on ©March 16th, 2015 @ 6:28pm
After watching this, I can’t tell if Olbermann likes the NCAA Tournament or does not (likely the latter). But I do know this…he is pretty sure Kentucky is going to win. For the angriest UK title prediction of the day:
By Matt Jones on ©March 16th, 2015 @ 2:45pm
Some interesting stuff here:
16 Midwest: Hampton vs. Manhattan (-7.5)
11 West: Ole Miss vs. BYU (-2.5)
16 South: Robert Morris vs. North Florida (-2.5)
11 East: Boise State vs. Dayton (-3.5)
No. 8 Cincinnati vs. No. 9 Purdue (-1)
No. 5 West Virginia vs. No. 12 Buffalo (+4)
No. 4 Maryland vs. No. 13 Valparaiso (+4.5)
No. 6 Butler vs. No. 11 Texas (-1)
No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 14 Northeastern (+12)
No. 7 Wichita State vs. No. 10 Indiana (+5)
No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 15 New Mexico State (+11.5)
No. 1 Wisconsin vs. No. 16 Coastal Carolina (+19.5)
No. 8 Oregon vs. No. 9 Oklahoma State (PICK)
No. 5 Arkansas vs. No. 12 Wofford (+6.5)
No. 4 North Carolina vs. No. 13 Harvard (+9.5)
No. 3 Baylor vs. No. 14 Georgia State (+7.5)
No. 7 VCU vs. No. 10 Ohio State (-2.5)
No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 15 Texas Southern (-23)
No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 16 Lafayette (+23)
No. 8 NC State vs. No. 9 LSU (+1.5)
No. 5 Northern Iowa vs. No. 12 Wyoming (+7)
No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 13 UC Irvine (+9)
No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 14 Albany (+13)
No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 10 Georgia (+4.5)
No. 2 Virginia vs. No. 15 Belmont (+16.5)
No. 8 San Diego State vs. No. 9 St. John’s (+2)
No. 5 Utah vs. No. 12 Stephen F. Austin (+6)
No. 4 Georgetown vs. No. 13 Eastern Washington (+8)
No. 6 SMU vs. No. 11 UCLA (+3)
No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 14 UAB (+12.5)
No. 7 Iowa vs. No. 10 Davidson (+2)
No. 2 Gonzaga vs. No. 15 North Dakota State (+17.5)
By T.Walters on ©March 12th, 2015 @ 9:40pm
Tonight we asked the KSR crew to write one paragraph while watching Tennessee/Vanderbilt. Here it is. It’s… um… something.
Tall- I think things. Right?!?!?! Respect!!!! What do you do? i’m watching a girl shake her butt while a friend of mine talks to her about shaking her butt. I think Kentucky is awesome! I think the SEC tournament is awesome!!!! I love fun!!!!
Flener- The intermission was an interesting experience. We traversed across the street to Rippys where grown men took selfies and many a “Let’s Go!!!” was exclaimed. The most impressive part is that we returned to the arena only one man down. The Vols are fighting back which makes Macon Vol Fan happy. And anything that makes Macon Vol Fan happy makes me happy. I’m about as happy as when Whitney won The Bachelor. WHITNEY!! WHITNEY!! WHITNEY!!
Macon_VolFan Nothing makes me happier than this tournament experience each year. I get to see my friends, I get to laugh at all the tomfoolery, and the outcome of the game doesn’t really matter to me. It never has. I have my friends Vols win, Vols lose, it’s a good ti….wait, Vols are coming back. 15 mins later—VOLS WIN!! VOLS WIN! VOLS WIN! The game is all that matters. Also, Tito’s.
Matt There was a time that I came to the SEC Tournament and did nothing but write and work. Now I come to the SEC Tournament and do a few radio shows, take Snapchats and tweet making fun of Louisville (did you see they lost? Wasn’t that funny? It made me happy). It is a much easier gig. My college friends are a little out of control (when you get married and this is the one time you are away from your wife/kids, I guess your tend to take advantage) but so far nothing too dramatic. Five things stick out as of now
1. Vandy fans all tuck their shirts into jeans
2. I still have a crush on Kaylee Hartung
3. Doug Shows is charming when he isn’t flexing
4. Texas A&M has the fewest fans to travel to basketball in America
5. There is no place on Earth where Sunkist is most popular than the SEC Tournament
GP Shannon Spake?!? Good lord girl. How can I be down? (Insert picture)
After coming to the SEC Tourney for many many years I have noticed a few things that never change. 1) Dr. Pepper and Sunkist will be consumed 2) Dave Baker will be seen 3) Kentucky fans will make up 90% of all fans in attendance 4) I will see awful basketball, always involving Miss St. 5) Tennessee sucks 6) Kevin Stallings also sucks. 7) I would marry Shannon Spake today
8) Did you see the shirt Shannon Spake was wearing 9) Someone in the KSR group will not make it through the first game of the night session because they have passed out from drunkenness.
Tyler “It was the best of times, it was the Durst of times” thought Fred, LOL’ing to himself. Though he hated his surname, he just couldn’t shed Durst. His father, Ted Durst, was the one who led Durst’s across the Appalachian Trail a mere 150 years ago. They met several tribes of Indians who fed Durst’s and thank God the Indians were there, otherwise they would have been dead Durst’s. One brother became a doctor (Med Durst) and the other brother became an Iditarod champion (Sled Durst), but the greatest of all was Fred Durst, who penned “Nookie.” That was his largest contribution. Francis Scott Key is a bitch.
Kipp KSR AT THE SEC TOURNAMENT: A ONE ACT PLAY
[DREW enters the bar, hoping for a quiet moment to collect his thoughts before going back to work. A UK fan spots him from across the room and throws up three goggles]
UK FAN: DREW! (inaudible) Fireball!
[Drew, resigned to his fate, dies inside]
Turkey Hunter At what weight can you still rock a belly button ring? Because by my count, 2/3s of all Nashville bartenders currently look like a Chevrolet Silverado tow package and it is really killing my buzz. Certainly, the top 1/3 are wonderful and tuck their problems with their father behind svelte, sculpted abs, but the majority are turning an otherwise ordinary drink ordering process into one that is quite awkward. I was once told you can’t judge a book by its cover (except pornography, because they pretty much tell you what’s going on inside the cover), but if you are in the business of selling “sexiness” I would appreciate a little effort/common sense. So, Cat fans, please do not condone this behavior when you arrive tomorrow by over tipping girls that would otherwise function as tug boats. Oh, as for the current updates on today’s games, please scroll either up or down because they basically function as something to do while my nachos cool off.
I have never been a big Kobe guy but in the past year, I have changed a bit on him. I find him personally interesting, intelligent and then he goes and says this:
Kobe doesn't follow college basketball but he does keep track of the Kentucky Wildcats "I'm a big Cal guy"
— Eric Pincus (@EricPincus) March 11, 2015
Fine Kobe, you win. I like you. I will even watch your documentary.
By Matt Jones on ©March 10th, 2015 @ 5:40pm
As of this moment, Willie Cauley-Stein and Kyle Wiltjer are First Team All American Candidates and two of the best players in all of college basketball. But it wasn’t always like that. At one time, Willie and Kyle were young guys who enjoyed goofing off and called themselves “The Goonies” (along with Polson and Hood). These Goonies would make videos and act silly and with both of them at the top of their game, it is worth looking back and reminiscing at these two guys back in their early days, watching tv, doing karaoke and looking for something to do on a Saturday night:
(h/t Vice Sports)
KSR’s friend Aaron Torres is writing an article on the 2010 UK basketball team for Foxsports.com that is coming out tomorrow. He spoke with many of those around the team that season in order to give a “Behind the Scenes Oral History of the 2010 team.” There were tons of interviews done and I think it is going to be a great article. Aaron was kind enough to give us an early peak of the article for the fans to wet their appetite
Hello and good morning, KSR. My name is Aaron Torres, and I am a long-time friend of Matt’s, who you hopefully remember from my previous posts on KSR, after visiting Rupp Arena for the first time back in 2012.
You don’t remember? Hmm, ok. Let’s just move on then.
Anyway, since we last crossed paths, a few things have changed. You guys won championship No. 8 (a belated congratulations by the way), and I’ve started covering college football and hoops for FoxSports.com, and over the past few months, I’ve been working on a big piece about the 2009-2010 Kentucky team. In total I talked to 20 or so people associated with that team; from players, to assistant coaches, managers, and Coach Cal himself.
So now the question you’re probably wondering is, why would you do an article on the 2010 specifically?
My belief is that, that club — the one with John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson etc. — set the tone for everything that has happened at Kentucky since. Granted, that’s not to say that Wall, Cousins, Patterson and their teammates are the only reason the Wildcats have had success. Only that the 2010 team put the “culture” in place that encouraged sacrificing minutes and stats for the good of the team. It’s an awesome story, and a story that we’ve seen come full circle this season.
The full article runs Monday….but Matt was nice enough to let me run an excerpt here today (on a different note, Matt, thank you for all your help these last few months. I owe you, big time). The idea is to give you — the KSR reader — a little sneak peek. Hopefully you enjoy, and hopefully you’ll click over for the full article, which is on FoxSports.com tomorrow.
Anyway, enough small talk and let’s get to why you’re here: The excerpt of the article.
Here it is…. With this excerpt taking place, as the team prepared for Midnight Madness in the fall of 2009.
After all the hype that came with John Calipari’s arrival, and the arrival of his new recruits, it was time to introduce them to the world.
And as you might remember, one player in particular stole the show:
Chad Sanders (team manager): Big Blue Madness was nuts.
Mark Krebs (senior, guard): You had the energy in the tent area, where people were hanging out, it seemed like it was a party, a festivity, and not ‘Man, we’re camping out for days to go to a practice.’ It was lively; they made the most of it.
Chad Sanders (team manager): Every year, they (the team) do stuff with the fans. That year Cal had the players passing out pizzas and doughnuts to the fans who were camping out.
Matt Jones (founder, Kentucky Sports Radio): Whether they were told to or did it naturally, they engaged in fans in ways they hadn’t done before. Now it’s normal. Players come out and play games
with fans, but that didn’t used to happen before Cal. It used to be that the players stayed away from it honestly.
Orlando Antigua (assistant coach): During the campout is when you got a chance to realize, ‘holy moly’ there was a connection of our guys and the fans. You had DeMarcus going out there playing pick-up at one in the morning, two in the morning, playing out there with kids on the blacktop. We had to say ‘Guys, you can’t be out there! You’re going to hurt yourselves!’
DeWayne Peevy (sports information director): After we hired Cal, in the summer, and Jason Schlafer, who was our assistant AD for marketing at the time, he was the one running Big Blue Madness. It was probably a dream situation for Jason (Schlafer). That Big Blue Madness (in 2009) was big. It felt bigger than ever.
Martin Newton (Director of Basketball Operations): You take that tradition that was already there, and you take John Calipari, who is one of the most passionate people and creative thinkers you’ve ever been around.
DeWayne Peevy (sports information director): You’ve got to remember that you’re dealing with Coach Cal, who’s a big ‘ideas’ guy, and was used to doing everything at his previous stops, not having a Jason, or myself, or a staff. He’s used to running everything. He’s kind of doing everything from an entertainment standpoint; should we do a dunk contest? Do I need to go make some calls for some entertainment?
Chad Sanders (team manager): Then the actual event, the fans first of all are going crazy, because we hadn’t had a recruiting class like that since Tubby (Smith) had Rondo, Joe Crawford and Randolph Morris.
DeWayne Peevy (sports information director): I remember when he told me about the idea that these guys were going to be on these harnesses, coming down from the rafters.
Mark Krebs (senior, guard): They had (us) go through safety, and I’m glad they did. We were all like ‘We’re going to do what? From where?’ And they were like ‘Don’t worry, you’re going to be safe!’
Jon Hood (freshman forward): We were lifted up one-by-one, lifted up by the scissor lifts. We all got put up behind the big screen, and they put the spotlight on us.
Mark Krebs (senior, forward): I’ve never seen people more scared.
Eric Bledsoe (freshman, guard): I was (scared). It was shaky. That’s scary, you think it’s gonna fall if you’ve never done it before.
Mark Krebs (senior, forward): DeMarcus didn’t want to let go of the railings. He’s scared to death going up on a 30-foot dolly, thing.
DeWayne Peevy (sports information director): DeMarcus Cousins was the most scared person alive doing that. He had talked about dancing like John Wall did, but he was so scared that he just held on and did not move. If you go back and watch the video on YouTube you will notice, he doesn’t move, he doesn’t say a word, he doesn’t shake, because he was scared of heights and he did not want to do that.
John Wall (freshman, guard): He was supposed to dance before me. Then I was going to dance. But he was so scared.
Chad Sanders (team manager): Those guys had done that dance in the locker room before, John Wall and DeMarcus had done that dance, and it just happened that John did it, and it blew the top off of Kentucky.
John Wall (freshman, guard): DeMarcus wanted to dance too, but he got scared. So I did it.
Matt Jones (founder, Kentucky Sports Radio): The moment when John Wall danced, if you asked Kentucky fans to remember something from the Cal era, almost everyone is going to mention that. It was almost like a moment, where people were like ‘Ok, we’re back.’
Chad Sanders (team manager): Next thing you knew, everybody is doing it. There’s YouTube videos of people everywhere doing it.
John Wall (freshman, guard): I didn’t expect for there to be that atmosphere (and excitement) behind it. Everybody went crazy.
Matt Jones (founder, Kentucky Sports Radio): It’s a dance, it seems stupid. But for the first time in my lifetime, with the possible exception of Rex Chapman, Kentucky had the coolest player in the country. Now everyone thinks of Kentucky as the cool team, but that didn’t used to be the case. People kind of looked at Kentucky like, they were always the good team, but they never had the cool player. We weren’t the Fab Five, we weren’t UNLV, we weren’t even Duke, who wasn’t cool, but at least had players everybody knew.
DeWayne Peevy (sports information director): That was the first time but from a staff standpoint (Big Blue Madness) did what it was supposed to do. It started the hype of ‘This is going to be a special season.’
Martin Newton (Director of Basketball Operations): My sense was at Big Blue Madness was that this was going to be something special…
Remember, you can read the full article, on the entire season Monday, at FoxSports.com. For updates on when the article will be posted, feel free to follow on Twitter or e-mail at mailto: ATorres00@gmail.com
pic by WLKY
This video was shot on the Joel Prather Highway in Hardin County by WAVE TV in Louisville and gives you a notion of how bizarre the current travel conditions are in some parts of Kentucky. The picture above is of I-65, which is still closed in some parts and causing a travel nightmare for many, including Rev Jesse Jackson’s wife who is apparently stuck there as well.
Let me start this post by thanking all of you for the tremendous feedback we have gotten on the new KSR app.. Folks seem to really like it and you guys have been great with all your comments. We spent a lot of time trying to make it right and I think we have done a pretty good job with it so I am glad people seem to like it. We hope to continue to make it better in the weeks/months to come and by next season, it will be an even bigger part of your UK Gameday experience.
A couple of notes:
— UK extended its deal with Nike for eight more years at a total cost of $30 million. With the two years that were remaining on the current deal, that means UK will be a Nike school until at least 2025, thus meaning no awful Adidas gimmicks in these parts. Some have asked what those numbers mean and it basically means that UK will get a cash payment of a little over half of that $30 million over the course of the eight years and the rest goes for free equipment for all the sports. It is a very common deal that you see at virtually every school and it is the 7th largest of any Nike school (football schools tend to get more for obvious reasons). Adidas and Under Armour pay more than Nike to their schools (like Louisville for instance), but then you are stuck wearing Adidas gear…and who wants that.
— It has gone underreported due to the basketball madness, but Kentucky now has 14 commitments in the 2016 class, an absurdly high number. When one considers that a class can only have 25 players, if all these commits were to stick, then UK would be over halfway done with the class and we are just a little under a year from Signing Day. Of course, that isn’t how this usually works, as we learned this year. Decommitments can happen and my guess is this early rush is a response to last season. Kentucky is trying to find its talent and get commitments early, but also allow themselves the time and resources to have backup options. Of the 14 current commitments, nine are from Ohio, further showcasing how this program is basically becoming Southern Ohio in the football recruiting world.
— We are really good at basketball. I thought last night’s win was the most impressive yet in conference play, because of the unique circumstances of the environment. Georgia is a good team, was up 9 on their home court and had the crowd in a frenzy. Yet, Kentucky fought back at two important moments (down 9 and Andrew scores 7 points in 23 seconds to get UK to 2 and then down 6 with 5:30 left) to get the victory. That is the most hostile environment that Kentucky will face for the rest of the season and they handled the challenge without losing their poise. As Dan Lebatard said on ESPN today, it is fun to watch a great team turn it on when they have to and find another gear. UK did that last night and the result was a great win and having the stage set for one more game to history.
— The UK/Georgia game did a Huge rating for a random SEC game and won the night on cable for sports. Here are the list of the ten highest rated college BB games on cable this year:
Notice a theme? Five of the ten highest rated games are UK games. Duke has four, which showcases once again that when it comes to ratings, UK and Duke are at the top of college basketball and no one else is close. Throw in the fact that the three highest rated CBS games are all UK games (UNC, Arkansas and UCLA) and…as Neal Brown would say, we are the show.
Just so you know, Saturday is going to be a circus at Rupp Arena. Meanwhile at Indiana, they have this:
Sucks to be a Hoosier
Some interesting news from the world of the NCAA as it looks as if they are surveying people in college basketball about potential rule changes. The above survey was sent to KSR friend Matt Norlander (who works for CBS Sports) and he tweeted the survey out, along with his answers. Interesting questions and all areas of change that many fans would like to see. I generally agree with Matt’s answers and hope some of these become reality.
Today is a big day for us around these parts as we finally released the new KSR App for the masses (or at least those with iPhones). It has been a long undertaking that has gone on for the better part of a year, but now that it is done, I am really proud with what we ended up with. It is as visually appealing as any app I have seen and I think it blows every Kentucky-based app out of the water. I hope you will agree and download it to check out the features. We have many more features coming in the next few weeks but we didn’t want to make perfect the enemy of good and so we went ahead and pushed it out. I hope you enjoy it and it changes the way you get your UK information.
Off to a good start on the charts…
— Quick note for the Android users who have been complaining here, there and everywhere about there not being an Android app. We hope to eventually have one, but the path on this is similar to most apps. The reality is that it is easier to get developers to produce iPhone apps because there is more money in them…while there are more Android phones, apps are used more by iPhone users. Plus (and probably most importantly), advertisers pay significantly more to pay for ads on iPhone apps than their Android counterparts. So when a developer comes to someone that runs a website (like say KSR) and says, “we will build you a top-of-the-line professional app for free,” they almost always do so (initially) for the iPhone. It isn’t about leaving anyone out, it is about creating something that makes financial sense. If that iPhone app is successful, an Android version often follows soon after. We hope that will be the case here…this was downloaded 6,000 times in the first 2 hours, so early indications are very positive.
— One more thing on the App, TURN ON THE NOTIFICATIONS so you can get Breaking News…we won’t use them often, but this way you can get breaking UK news as it happens right to your phone. You will thank me later.
— In non-app news, Tom Izzo made some comments about UK and Calipari, but it looks as if they were taken somewhat out of context. Twitter made them seem much more inflammatory than they were and after reading the entire transcript, I think it was much ado about nothing. Kentucky’s success is causing some to want to make wholesale changes to the sport to address the wins of one team…that is shortsighted and dumb. People will realize that after either (a) UK doesn’t win this year or (b) next year’s team takes early bumps. For now though, it doesn’t seem like a Calipari/Izzo feud is developing.
— Doug Gottlieb came on my radio show and made a case for Willie Cauley-Stein as National Player of the Year. I disagree with that case but I don’t think it is ludicrous. Willie is the most important defensive player in the country and may change the game more than any other player. I don’t think he is quite where he needs to be offensively, but I would probably vote him 3rd or 4th on my ballot (behind Okafor, Kaminsky and maybe DeAngelo Russell). Either way, he should be a first team All American, and if he does it raises the question…Mike Pratt is the only UK First Team All American eligible for a jersey retirement that isn’t in the rafters (and he should be). Would a 40-0, First Team All American Willie be deserving? On the surface it might seem no, but looking at history…worth the debate.
— Finally, remember that UK Football Spring Practice begins Saturday. We will have coverage on here of every practice but there is much to watch for as the team takes the field. Most interesting to me, is getting to see the first glance at the players Redshirted last year. I have been told that as many as 8 of them could see major time this year…it will be fascinating to take our first glimpse and see if the decision to engage in mass red-shirting like the big boys do, pays dividends right off the bat.
More tomorrow as Josh Hopkins of “Cougartown” co-hosts KSR with me.
I got a call this afternoon from a reporter for the Wall Street Journal hoping to ask me some questions about a story he is doing on the Cats. This has become a fairly regular thing over the past few weeks as more and more of the national media descend on Lexington try and cover what has become one of the two or three biggest stories in all of sports. Because of my somewhat self-centric view of the world (ex-girlfriends of mine are all currently nodding in agreement), I tend to judge just how much buzz is out there based on how many times such questions are asked of me, and on that scale, we are entering into unprecedented times. While most ask me about the team or the fanbase, this particular reporter had a very specific question. He asked me, “Is this season the most special ever for UK fans and if so, why?” I thought it about for a second and said that this is quite possibly the most special season for UK fans in my lifetime, and the only one that was close was probably the 1992 “Unforgettables” team. He asked why that was the case and I gave the best answer that I could (I was slightly distracted by NASCAR), but when I hung up, I wanted to explore the subject a bit further. After some reflection, I am more confident than I was before. This season is different and for most fans, has a “special” feel that I haven’t sensed at any point in my UK fandom previously. I think there are a number of reasons why:
1. The HISTORICAL GREATNESS
The most important answer is also the most obvious. Fans love this team because it is one of, if not the, best ever in the history of the program. Sometimes it isn’t easy to see and feel greatness while you are going through it. The 2012 Kentucky team will go down as one of the 2-3 best in school history and possibly the best nationwide in the past decade, but during the season it didn’t necessarily always feel like that. The team took some time to get going (because they were so young), lost a heartbreaker to Indiana, had point guard issues (remember the geniuses saying bench Teague and let Doron Lamb play point?) and didn’t feel like a true juggernaut until February. This team has been a freight train from moment one. Since the day the Harrison Twins decided to return, we have all expected greatness and watching that expectation become reality has been amazingly rewarding. How often in life does something highly anticipated actually come to fruition? Rarely in my experiences, but this time it has met, and even exceeded, our high hopes. It isn’t hyperbole to say that this is one of the best overall defenses in college basketball history. Their Kenpom numbers are the best since the statistic was created and the team’s length has caused difficulties in scoring that we simply have not seen before. The wins this team has produced over Kansas, UCLA, Arkansas, etc are blowouts against ranked teams/historic programs of a scale that simply are unheard of. In order for a team to be loved, it must have many positive characteristics beyond the performance on the basketball court. But make no mistake…what is most important is winning and when a team kicks ass on a historic level like this one…well that’s quite a start.
Even Phil Jackson had to see this group in person
2. The Team’s Unbelievable UNSELFISHNESS
I always knew this team would be good, but even I have to admit that I never thought it would do it in this way. When John Calipari created the now-famous “Platoon” system, I was a skeptic…not of the idea, as I thought it was brilliant. But I was skeptical of whether he could stick with it during the difficult times of the season. And while Calipari has definitely deviated from utilizing the platoons rigidly, the general overall theme of it still rings true. This team plays nine guys, close to equal minutes, and does so with no complaints and to the benefit of all involved. When the Harrison Twins and Willie came back, they couldn’t have thought their minutes would go down…but they have and they have accepted it nonetheless. How could Karl Towns have imagined himself anything but a 30 minute-plus player or Trey Lyles a secondary option, or Devin Booker coming off the bench? The answer is they didn’t, yet the players have not accepted the role, they have flourished in it. What has been better than watching these guys cheer on their fellow teammates during big moments from the bench, knowing that their individual accolades are muted because of the system? I never thought there would be a team mutiny this season because of having too much talent, but I also never believed Calipari could juggle this many players with virtually no negative ramifications at any point? Even when the outside clutter has clouded the views of others (like with the Andrew/Ulis debate of early January), Calipari remained focused and what we have now is a team full of talent, that plays together, sacrifices for the team and passes at a level we haven’t seen at this school since 2003 (still the best passing team of my lifetime). It is truly remarkable and part of what makes each game so entertaining.
Eight different players have led the team in scoring
3. The PERSONALITIES
I am a sucker for the big personality. There is a reason I loved Demarcus Cousins and will still go to bat defending him any day…he was full of life and energy and I gravitate towards players of that ilk. This team doesn’t have a lot of huge personalities…Willie Cauley-Stein is probably the closest and he is more eccentric than strong in his personality archetype. But while this team may not be full of guys who could host their own talk show, it might be the highest quality group of young men that Kentucky has seen in my lifetime. Nearly every year, there is always at least one guy that kind of makes your eyes roll and who is at least a bit of a troublemaker. Not in this group. What you see is what you get and what you are seeing is the nicest collection of UK players that I have ever come across. They are uniformly polite, considerate and the type of guys that if they came home to date your daughter, you would be proud of her choices. As Jay Bilas said on College Gameday Saturday, there have been no arrest, suspensions or even fits of bad behavior. In fact, the biggest controversy of the season was when Karl Towns (who is almost too nice to be a real human being) did one chin-up on the rim during a game at LSU. A reporter doing a story recently on Calipari called and asked me, “Matt off the record now…these guys can’t be as nice as they seem. There has to be something I am missing, right?” I told him, the answer is no. They are as likeable as you think they are, and there are no secret dark clouds. This is a team of guys you can root for with no reservations or Bobby Petrino-esque “hold the nose while you win” qualms. They don’t just win, they do it with people you would actually like in real life.
This sign at the game worked. She said yes.
4. Confounding the CRITICS
Let’s face it…Kentucky is the most criticized program and Calipari is the most criticized coach in the country. Part of that is the attention given to Calipari, the most controversial (and best) coach in college basketball today. Because he wins and wins at a huge level, and does so without buying into much of the old-school college mythology (or sucking up to what passes for the college basketball writer “intelligentsia”), he will always be a target for criticism. Put him then at Kentucky, a place that for a myriad of social reasons will never be the favorite of most of the media, and you will have a massive target. However this year, the chattering class of Cal haters has almost nothing they can say. After Pat Forde embarrassed himself with his infamous “Calipari you made your own bed” article last year (seriously read it again a year later…it is hilarious in its awfulness), most held their fire early in the year, waiting to see how this would all work out. Virtually all of them (a) began by criticizing the platoon system, (b) said there was NO WAY the Cats could go 40-0, (c) took shots at Andrew Harrison as a stand-in for Calipari and (d) criticized the SEC for being weak and providing no real test for the Cats, but yet none of these attacks truly hit their target. Why is that? Well Kentucky is too damn good. To say anything except this team is playing at a ridiculous level and doing it with kids that are playing the right way, is even a stretch for Calipari’s most indignant hater. They have to accept what is painfully obvious to everyone…Kentucky is great, with good kids, playing as a cohesive unit and a coach that is at the top of his game. Throw in the players dismissed at Duke/Louisville, the turmoil at Florida, the NCAA problems at Kansas and what do you have…Kentucky on top and oding it the right way. That has to hurt and it makes UK fans even more gleeful in watching the nattering nabobs of negativism squirm.
John Short gets the shirt with the saying he made famous
No fanbase in America cares about college basketball more than Kentucky. The ratings showcase that no matter the game, no matter the team, the state of Kentucky cares more about the sports and watches it more often than any other set of fans in the nation. And that love of all things college basketball extends into its history. Along with Kansas, no place in America cares more about college basketball’s past than Kentucky. No program has been consistently good longer than the Cats and no decade has seen a drop in relevance from the Big Blue. From Rupp to Hall to Pitino to Tubby to Calipari, Kentucky has always been in the college basketball conversation, no matter the players. And thus when we have a team here that is special, that transcends just the normal “great” year into something higher, we not only know about it, we can appreciate it. 29 wins in a row, the best start in the history of the program, means much more to us than just a number. We can remember the teams that didn’t get there, the 54 group that chose not to play in the postseason while undefeated, the 96 group that was clipped by Cal’s UMASS team, the 2010 court storm at South Carolina, the Watford shot in Bloomington and many others. We have seen truly great teams not get to where this one currently stands and that makes us all the more appreciative of what we are witnessing. A school that has seen Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel, can appreciate how Willie Cauley-Stein combines their shot blocking with an unparalleled 7-footer’s ability to guard the perimeter. We know shooting and thus when Devin Booker gets hot, we can be correctly in awe. UK has had its share of large wins, but a 41-7 half against a traditional power like UCLA…well we know that’s special. Its one thing to be a witness to greatness, but it is another to do it at a place where 100 years of basketball at its top level have been played. To go undefeated here, where so many greats have come before them…we know what that means. And to look at this group and watch it take place…how can one not be as excited as at any point in the program’s history?
It seems almost heretical to say…but the interest in Kentucky basketball may be higher now that any point in history. In part because of changes in media coverage and information available due to technology, fans know more about this Kentucky team than possibly any group ever. They obsess over ever game and the tv ratings in Kentucky are higher than they have been in decades. With all of this interest and energy in the fan base, this could end up being the most special season in UK history. While we don’t know the final result, it has been a ride unlike any other, starting in the Bahamas in August heading next to a cold night in Athens this Tuesday. The final ending of this ride is unknown, but the uniqueness of this trip is not. We will never have another year like this one and the UK fan base more than any other, can appreciate just how wonderful it has been.