It’s happened time and time again this season: just when you get comfortable with Kentucky, →
Not surprisingly to anyone that knows me, my goal of writing every day in 2016 got off to a bumpy start. The launch of the Matt Jones Podcast, some rearrangement at work and the changes coming on the KSR site all took more time than expected, and the writing took a back seat. No excuses however. It is time to do better. With the theory of “Always Set Attainable Goals” now firmly entrenched in my mind, I will set out to write three times a week until the season is over and then move towards more frequency during the lazy Spring and Summer. I have a feeling that a very exciting two months stretch for UK Athletics is coming and I am pumped up about it. So with that in mind, three thoughts on the weekend and life in general:
1. This Kentucky Team has My Full Excitement Now
If we have learned anything over the last seven years of the John Calipari era, it is this. You cannot judge a Calipari team early in the season. Cal starts every season with an idea in mind about how he wants his team to play and the specific playing style that will best fit his roster. Often that mindset works from Day one, as in 2012 and 2015, where the talent clicked at moment one and Kentucky was elite from the opening game. But often Calipari has to play trial and error and it takes some time to get the best out of his (always) new roster. This season Calipari believed he would have a classic Dribble-Drive team…three guards and Poythress run the dribble drive, creating lanes to the basket and open outside shots, while Skal scored on the block and was an elite rim protector. That lineup would play up-tempo, run at every opportunity and had the potential to become a high level defensive team. It was a gameplan designed straight from Calipari’s basketball philosophy and looked to be an exciting team to coach.
It didn’t work out quite like that. Skal was not the offensive weapon the block that UK hoped for and (perhaps more distressingly), his rebounding and defense was significantly below an acceptable level. The penetration ability of UK’s guards was better than advertised (and still is), but the lack of interior scoring made getting to the basket more difficult than the Dribble-Drive requires. Poythress provided little offense from the perimeter (and depending on his effort, occasionally not enough period) and all-to-often the offense was bogged down, sputtering and wasting its potential, like an elite Italian sports car forced to drive in LA Freeway traffic. Calipari tried various tweaks but nothing truly solved the problem until Derek Willis became “so Bullitt County.” Inserting Willis changed the entire dynamic of the team…his three point shooting ability caused his defender to hedge out, creating driving lanes and space on the floor. Alex became a serviceable five and when active, could pull the other team’s big man far away from the basket. The Cats then were able to play with more temp, suffering slightly on defense, but making up for it with quickness and mismatches. With Willis rebounding at a higher level, Ulis transitioning into a dominant scorer and Murray riding waves of hot shooting, UK found its playing style and almost all at once, became a force.
All of this brings me to Saturday night in Lawrence. The final scoreboard says Kentucky lost, but for me the game was the final jolt of excitement I needed to get fully in gear for the March run. For the first time this season, I think Kentucky can win the National Championship. Of course that doesn’t mean they will, or even that they should be among the top five favorites. But the team I saw Saturday night has the pieces necessary to cut down the nets in an otherwise down year in college basketball. Before the flurry of late fouls and corresponding odd lineups, Kentucky outplayed the Jayhawks in the toughest place to play in college basketball. Ulis was a superstar, Alex played very good and everyone who got minutes contributed in some way. Yes, there was poor execution down the stretch and this is something that needs to be improved before March when Kentucky is sure to see many close games. But the reality is that Kentucky looked the part of the better team, done in by a mixture of fatigue, a Selden superstar performance and a (to be generous) shaky whistle. I came away thinking this UK team is leaps and bounds better than the group that lost (bizarrely) in Brooklyn to Ohio State and seemed completely out of sorts just two weeks ago in Auburn. Instead this is Calipari’s sixth team in seven years with a chance to go to the Final Four and win it all. I don’t know about you, but that gets me excited.
2. Appreciate Tyler Ulis
Taking the time to praise Tyler Ulis is not an endeavor that places one out on an argumentative limb of any sort. We all love Tyler and we all think he is a great player. But during this season, Tyler is becoming one of my favorites to ever wear the UK uniform. Leave aside his height and the uncanny way he is able to dominate a game while being (often by far) the shortest player on the court. What makes Ulis such a joy to watch for me is his ability to make the correct decision 95+% of the time, while also often needing to be Kentucky’s best player on the court. It is often said correctly that UK would not have been nearly as dominant in 1996 without the floor leadership of Anthony Epps, whose unselfishness and direction of the team allowed the stars around him to flourish at their highest level. This is true, but imagine if in addition to managing the floor as Epps did, a Point guard needed to score at a Tony Delk-like rate, while defending on the perimeter like a circa 1994 Dale Brown. That is Tyler Ulis. In the same game at the same time, Calipari has to ask Ulis to be the best leader, passer, scorer and defensive player on the team, all the while playing as a second coach on the floor in a hostile environment with virtually no rest. He is asked this nightly and he has consistently risen to the occasion. Saturday he made the occasional late mistake, belabored by an illness and fatigue from his 45 minutes of game action, but he also showcased the traits of stardom. I love watching Tyler Ulis play and it has been a joy to see him wear the UK uniform.
3. Some Random Musings before Monday
— Signing Day is coming on Wednesday and quietly UK is about to have a really strong class. In addition to the guys from Kentucky, Stoops has assembled a quality group of players that can help overcome the momentum lag that occurred due to the end of last season. I know folks are down on football a bit and most have taken the “I don’t want to think about that right now” philosophy. But take some time on Wednesday to follow Signing Day on here and on the UK Athletics live show streaming online. This is a good group and an accomplishment worth celebrating.
— We have to beat Tennessee on Tuesday. Everything I said about this team above is true and will remain true even if they lose. But Kentucky needs to finish 4-1, or at worst 3-2, over its next five SEC road games to finish the season where it wants to going into March. Texas A&M is going to be tough and the road games at Florida, South Carolina and Vandy all present challenges. Dropping a game at Tennessee would be a terrible start and thats why the Cats need to go take care of business against a team that just lost by double digits to a miserable TCU group.
— Thanks to all of you that have been listening to the Matt Jones Podcast and giving it unbelievable numbers online. I have been blown away by how many people have taken the time to listen and it continues to do astoundingly well on the charts. If you haven’t yet subscribed or listened, please do so at this Matt Jones Podcast link (this is the iTunes link, although it is also available on Podbay, Podbean and other podcast apps). There are 10 episodes up and virtually all of them are of the nature that you can listen without it being time sensitive. Check them out and I hope you continue to like the variety of topics.
— Rick Pitino will not be the coach at UL next year.
— Those of you who watch my Periscopes online often see my insane bookshelf and ask for book recommendations. With that in mind, I just finished “The Empathy Exams” which I enjoyed immensely. The overall theme is the notion of empathy and how one can best understand and relate to people by trying to to understand the individual difficulties each person has in their life. I thought parts of it were brilliant and I actually think it can make you a better person just by considering some of its essays. If you have nothing else to do, or are spending too much time yelling at Dan Dakich, check it out.
— Finally, if you listen to the radio show (and if you don’t, you should), then you know that I have offered Shannon the Dude $500 if he can make 80% of his free throws (out of 20) the week of the SEC Tournament live on the air. I know that he can’t, but he claimed to be a good free throw shooter and even enlisted the help of “Lee” a caller who has said that he can make anyone into a great foul shooter. Shannon had his first “lesson” this week and he filmed his initial attempt at the prize. As you can see from the video below, he is quite good already and likely needed no coaching for his odd, but effective, form. Still, I know The Dude will choke when the pressure is on so I remain confident. But for you kids out there wondering how to make free throws (and Isaiah Briscoe), maybe watch Shannon below. He isn’t bad folks
That’s it…have a good rest of your weekend. See you on the radio tomorrow morning.
This is just about the worst time one could possibly post a journal on the site…a few hours before a big game and everything that could be said may become unimportant after the game takes place. But alas, starting the “Matt Jones Podcast” yesterday made me miss my chance to post and I am committed to writing more…so if I don’t do it now, it won’t get done. The picture above is around the time that the original KSR Podcast got its legs underneath it. We all look ridiculous in it (especially me) and there are at least two people in that picture that I don’t even think I know. But nevertheless, it represents a fun time in the KSR history books (probably circa 2008 or so) and I thought was worth a trip down memory lane. With that in mind, a few afternoon notes:
— I was mesmerized by the Kansas-Oklahoma game last night. From my perspective those two teams looked to be the two best in the nation (which is good since they are ranked 1-2) and the efficiency with which they both played was impressive. I still think Kansas is the overall better balanced team, but Buddy Hield got my attention last night as an All-American type player. His ability to hit shots with hands in his face on the road in front of a hostile crowd was one of the more impressive performances I have seen in quite some time. Kansas has a lot of weapons on their team and a number of guys who aren’t even playing right now (like Chieck Diallo and Carlton Bragg) with talent. They are probably the best team in America and when Kentucky makes the trip to Lawrence in a few weeks, I think it will be VERY difficult for the Cats to get a win. However I do like the position Kentucky will be in. It is very rare that a game occurs for Calipari’s team where no one will expect them to win. The Cats can play loose and at the end have a fence post to see just how far they have to go in order to reach the top team in the nation. The Cats can be as good as anyone by the end of the season…the game against Kansas will let us know just how far that journey will need to be.
— I am hearing a lot of positives about Tai Wynyard and his play so far since arriving to Lexington. There was a slight bit of uneasiness about the big New Zealander before he arrived because no one was really sure just how good he was. Calipari had offered him on a bit of a whim, he committed quickly and there was a sense of the unknown with him in a way that I can’t remember with any recruit since Ramon Harris’ arrival from Alaska. But I am told that he has been very good in practice, providing a physical presence down low and really helping the team in the drills with Skal and Marcus Lee. Wynyard is apparently spending a great deal of time on Skal and the hope is that his physical play will slowly help Skal get used to the roughness of the college game and make him more effective by the end of the season. Wynyard may not provide a great deal of time on the court this year, but even if he doesn’t, he has been a net positive for the team in its practice and preparation.
— Look for Kentucky to likely add JUCO QB Stephen Johnson II to the football team after his visit on January 14. He provides a running option for the Cats and is exactly the type of Quarterback that Eddie Gran would like to have on the roster. Gran was interested in the scrambler at Cincy and now that a SEC school is an option, I Think it is almost certain that he will join. There is a chance that he could visit, commit, sign and maybe even enroll immediately and join the team for the Spring. Whether the latter happens or not, I think it is likely that Kentucky will end up taking him and if that happens, I do think he will compete with Drew Barker for the job. He is versatile and will provide what Drew needs…competition to get him to the level that is required for the team to improve to the degree necessary for next season.
— Thanks to all the KSR Fans who helped make our radio show the #1 show in Louisville yet again. KSR received a tremendous rating (8.7 in the key demo), one of its highest of all-time and once again won its time slot, beating every talk show and music station. For this to happen in Louisville (where of course the Cards are the hometown team), on a crappy AM station and without including the streaming and podcast numbers…well, it is really amazing. We appreciate it more than you know.
Also congratulations to Captain Suntan’s UL show on its 17th place finish…keep working and I could see the heights of 15th in your future.
— Finally, check out the new Matt Jones Podcast if you have not yet. You can listen here directly or (better yet) subscribe on iTunes to the KSR feed here…we will have a specific Matt Jones Podcast feed soon but we don’t yet. Until then, use the one above. Jay Williams is great on it as a guest and I hope you enjoy.
Now let’s go get this win tonight in Baton Rouge…I am not optimistic but if we win, it would be massive for the season.
By Matt Jones on ©January 03rd, 2016 @ 11:00pm
There are two types of greatness. The first is the overwhelming kind, when a person’s talent is so obvious that is jumps off the page and you know you are witnessing a unique superstar from the moment you lay eyes on them. Think Tiger Woods at the Masters in 97, LeBron in his early Akron high school days or John Wall from the moment he arrived on campus. That type of greatness is overpowering and when it happens, it is easy to become consumed by the moment. But then there is another, quieter form of greatness that is achieved less by singular acts and more by slow, mundane excellence. Sometimes you don’t realize what they achieved until it is over and you look back and say, “wow was Greg Maddux really THAT good for that long? He had a body like I do!” Such quiet greatness isn’t necessarily flashy but when viewed in a broader context, is no less impressive.
The game Tyler Ulis played against Ole Miss on Saturday night was a quietly brilliant form of greatness. His statline was impressive…20 points, 10 assists and 6 steals. Quality numbers and a rare points-assists double-double. But to recognize just how good of a game it was, historical context is needed. Saturday’s game by Tyler Ulis was only the 5th time in school history that a player finished with over 20 points and 10 assists in a game. The others with that achievement (John Wall, Kyle Macy, Cliff Hawkins and Stan Key) represent high level company and include 2 of the 5 best Point Guards to ever play at this school. And as impressive as that accomplishment is, the 20-10-6 line puts Ulis into even higher rarified air, as no player in the history Kentucky and only three players in college basketball in this decade have ever had a game with that statline. Further, these amazing numbers were accomplished while leading Kentucky to their most impressive win of the year AND effectively guarding the other team’s best player (and SEC leading scorer) doggedly throughout.
Simply put, Tyler Ulis’s game on Saturday was one of the best individual performances at Kentucky. Now we won’t remember it as such and chances are we won’t remember it at all. Ulis will stick in Kentucky fans’ minds more for his commanding performances in two wins over Louisville, his tournament success and likely future accomplishments far more than one January Saturday night in a rout over Ole Miss (who Kentucky has an unfathomable 108-14 all-time series lead over). Unlike the night Jodie went for 50, Goose had 41 against Duke or Tayshaun drained 5 in a row versus the Heels, we won’t tell our children where we were the moment Tyler picked Stefan Moody and his absurdly long shorts’ pocket for the sixth time. But the fact that it won’t register in our long-term memory does not make Tyler’s game any less impressive. Historically it was as complete a performance as a UK Point Guard has ever had in a game and watching it up close led Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy to say afterwards, “I think he is the best point guard in the country.” Well Andy, I do too. And for that to be the case for a 5’9″ (at best) Point Guard who only ended up at Kentucky because Emmanual Mudiay became swayed by Larry Brown, truly is a sight to behold. Tyler Ulis will never have the star power or overwhelming talent of some of John Calipari’s past and future stars. But when it comes to greatness at the college game, he should be in the conversation.
A few more notes about last night:
— There have been a number of stars at Rupp over the past few years…Jay Z, Drake, Magic, John Boehner, NBA stars and others have graced the Rupp stands and the audience is always excited when they are in attendance. But with the possible exception of the Erruption Zone the first time Josh Hutcherson was in the building, I am not sure I have ever seen more excited people than yesterday during the singing of the national anthem by Jordan Smith. The Harlan native of course won “The Voice” and his rendition of the national anthem was tremendous. But what was fascinating to me was to see just how excited his presence made some in the crowd. There were clearly people there who had no idea who he was, but for those who did, Smith’s national anthem got them there early and the applause for him was deafening. I had the chance to interview him for the radio broadcast and he really could not have been nicer. He was as polite as you would assume with his good Harlan roots and we shared a couple of stories of our shared mountain home during our wait to go on the air. He was clearly overwhelmed by the attention and at one point said to me, “just getting to come to a game in Rupp Arena is awesome!” A true Big Blue fan reaching a high national achievement and staying grounded by his love for his home in the process…a very cool story and one that was fun to watch.
— Marcus Lee’s mask is great…it looks a little bit like that of a superhero (I am not sure it totally fits him) and with the headband on, it turns his friendly smile into somewhat of a menacing figure. I have heard that when people start wearing those masks, it can be hard for them to stop as they grow accustomed to their protections and can feel naked on the court without them. I hope that happens to Lee, because masked Marcus Lee may be my favorite Marcus Lee.
— This was the picture of the year so far by Drew Franklin, recreating Rick Pitino’s final Rupp walk:
— I was really glad to hear that the injury to Dominique Hawkins was not as bad as it looked, as it looked very bad. Not only was he taken off the court by Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress, but he was then put in a wheelchair and pushed to the locker room. The faces of everyone involved were very grim and I honestly expected the worst. But before the game was over, the X rays came back negative and it looks as if he will fine in the long term. Hawkins has now played his way into the rotation and I hope he can bounce back from this setback quick enough to ensure his continued spot in it through conference play.
— We will launch the new Matt Jones Podcast this week and I am very excited about it for this year. It is going to be a chance to do longer interviews with people that we don’t normally get to talk to on the show and provide some entertainment in a different form. I think people will really like it. This week will have three episodes, one with Jay Williams on college basketball, one with Eric Crawford on the UL scandal and one with Louisville attorney Steve Romines on “Making of a Murderer.” I hope everyone will subscribe and check it out…it should be a good addition to the KSR world.
Big week coming with the introduction of the new Offensive Coordinator, the Army All American game with three home-grown Kentucky commitments playing and of course UK vs Ben Simmons. More on that tomorrow…we will also put out the call for our next round of college intern writers, so if that intrigues you be on the lookout…otherwise see you on radio tomorrow at 10 am.
By Matt Jones on ©January 02nd, 2016 @ 2:53pm
This has arguably been the worst Bowl season in recent memory and it seems to be only getting worse. As I sit in the WLAP Radio studio and get ready for tonight’s “How many ridiculous threes will Stefan Moody hit today” games versus Ole Miss, the Georgia-Penn State snoozefest plays on the television, furthering the trend of awful games. The combination of blowouts, poor scheduling (putting the playoff games on New Year’s Eve was a dreadful decision) and lack of Kentucky participation (which unfortunately has been consistent for a half decade) has made this the worst Bowl year in quite some time. But there has been one exception to the sleepy Battlefrog Bowl Championship and that was the amazing show put on by Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey.
I will freely admit to being a complete McCaffrey truther prior to his unbelievable performance last night versus Iowa in the Rose Bowl. I had heard of McCaffrey and vaguely knew that he was the son of that Wide Receiver that played for the Broncos, but due in part to the rash of Kentucky night games and my general aversion to all things Pac 10, I had yet to see him play. Having no actual knowledge of his game, I instead was relying on lazy stereotype. Simply put, I took the view of “seriously, how good could a white Stanford Running Back really be?” Yeah, I remember the guy a few years ago who became Adrian Peterson’s backup in Minnesota, but when I heard people say that McCaffrey was the real deal, I rolled my eyes and incorrectly thought, “yeah right.” Well I was wrong…way wrong. McCaffrey may be the most exciting college Running Back since Reggie Bush and his absolute decimation of Iowa was a sight to behold. Everything he did was spectacular, his moves were eye-popping and his breakaway speed was impressive. Often times when you assume, especially based on stereotypes, you completely miss the boat. Maybe you don’t make any such assumptions ever…good for you (I don’t believe you by the way), but I did with McCaffrey and missed what has to be the most exciting player in college football. I won’t make the same mistake again and the Sophomore’s games next season will be must-watch TV for me.
Some other thoughts for the day:
— I can’t get over the Rick Pitino press conference yesterday, which was yet another bizarre incident in the neverending series of mind-blowing moments of the UL Basketball scandal saga. I will probably write a longer post about all the strange comments Rick made later, but suffice to say he likely should have taken his earlier advice and acted like a man who was not 63 and shut up. He took an innocuous question about whether he flipped UK fans the bird (he did, although he said he didn’t…sort of) and turned his false answer into a 15 minute diatribe about the Katina Powell saga. What followed was verbal diarrhea the likes of which we haven’t seen in quite some time. Pitino blamed the media for reporting false stories that he says he has never read (how does he know they are false?)…he said it was time he took up for the school against a book, the contents of which he says he doesn’t know and he without irony claimed he couldn’t have known anything about the entire matter because he controls the program with such an iron fist. It was truly bizarre and unless you are a homer for whom facts are irrelevant, it looked like the last ramblings of a man on his way out. Maybe there is some good PR strategy that comes from acknowledging for the first time publicly that “scurrilous” things happened and wrapping his plight with that of Joe Paterno, but for the life of me I can’t understand what they would be. If it weren’t for bad decisions, Pitino would make no decisions at all and yesterday’s is just the latest in a long line of odd ones during his prolonged fall.
— I was glad to see the Eddie Gran hire get completed early this week. Whether Gran is the right hire is ultimately irrelevant in my opinion. We can debate it until the cows come home but at the end of the day, if Stoops is going to succeed here then he needed a guy like Gran in the position. It is beyond clear to me that Stoops did not trust his two previous Offensive Coordinators…I think he liked them, they got along and there were some positive moments. But at the end of the day, he didn’t trust their system and in both the case of Neal Brown and Shannon Dawson, that lack of trust made the entire offense inefficient. If Stoops is going to work at Kentucky, he needs a guy who he believes in 100%…I think he believed in Brown about 80% and Dawson about 50%. That doesn’t work for a team. Total trust is not only needed, it is required. I believe he will have that with Gran. The combination of his playcalling and Drew Barker’s Quarterbacking ability will decide if Mark Stoops can be successful at Kentucky. Only time will tell the outcome.
— UK’s game tonight with Ole Miss should be a good start to SEC play. The win over Louisville was crucial and I think Calipari now finally knows how he wants this team to play. He has rotation (9 guys, with Willis playing if and when he rebounds) and he now knows that unlike his past teams, he must put guys in for offensive reasons and live with the defensive result. Not enough guys can make shots to keep out those who can and that mindset will probably continue to prevail during early conference play. My hope is that over the next five games, we see some development from Skal. Without him becoming a productive player, I think Kentucky’s cap is limited. But I am not ready to give up…he is too talented to just assume he can’t contribute. What is even more important is that Jamal Murray becomes a consistent star. For Kentucky to have beaten the Cards with Murray playing out of control and ineffectively (outside of his threes) was a blessing. Now he has to become the elite player I know he can be and help form the best backcourt in America with Tyler Ulis. I still like Kentucky’s upside and the schedule to start conference play (Ole Miss, LSU, Bama, Auburn and Miss State) gives the team the chance to gain some traction and hit their stride before tougher opposition awaits. There is one important caveat however…because this team has no shutdown weapon like past teams, the Cats could lose some games that they have no business losing…that may be part of the “process” with this group and something we just have to get used to for this bunch.
OK time to head towards Rupp…see you folks on the Pregame at 4:30
Everyone has New Year’s Resolutions. Everyone sees those New Year’s Resolutions fail. It’s basically a requirement of modern life that we try at the beginning of every year to make big changes to our lives, we give a valiant effort for 1-2 weeks and then we give up and go back to eating nachos and watching Wheel of Fortune (how are Pat Sajak and Vanna White still on tv?) Most of the reason for Resolution failure however can be found in the expanse of the goals. People too often want to introduce revolutionary change in their life, when what might make them happier and more successful is a gradual change to their everyday existence. So while I probably should exercise more (and will try), volunteer to help others more often (a noble goal) or find a wife (a high mountain indeed), my goals this year will be much more attainable in my working life. Two Resolutions for this year…get the “Matt Jones Podcast” started and write more. That’s it…easy, doable and I am committed to making both successful.
With that in mind, the idea of a daily journal seems the most fruitful. I tried this once before and I quickly lost interest, but that was because my mind was on other things. Not now…it is time to write again, in part on UK sports but also in part on whatever strikes my fancy. I am committed to doing it every weekday and some weekends, come hell or high water (the latter of which could be fixed by calling 1-800-SERV-PRO). You will be able to see all of the past ones by clicking on the section of the KSR app (which you should have if you don’t) and by the “Matt’s Blog” button on the top of the page (which you should be using to filter posts if you aren’t). Some will appear on the front page of the site and some won’t. If people like it, I will be happy. But if they don’t, I am determined to not let it change my resolve. This journal will be used like the radio show and podcast…to document what is on my mind, while also giving any fact checkers for future political runs substantial amounts of background material to use in commercials against me. See, we all win! And if you are about to say “STICK TO SPORTS!!!!!” save your breath. I am not going to…sorry. Although I will try to limit my anti-Trump comments to one a week.
With that in mind, it is New Year’s Eve and I am at home watching football alone. That may sound sad to you, but it is a decision I do not regret. I hate New Year’s Eve for a variety of reasons that could be their own journal but I will pass on for now. Suffice to say that the buildup is nearly always a letdown and a disproportionate amount of my least favorite nights of my life have been when the ball dropped (that’s what she said). While I will use future journals to talk about the state of the UK Football program and some basketball scuttlebutt, tonight’s is going to be much more joyful. With 2015 coming to an end, I am going to put on my inner pop culture critic hat and give my list of MY FAVORITE TV SHOWS of 2015.
Now the list comes with a bit of a caveat. We are currently in the best time for television in the history of the medium. Simply put, there is more good television on now than at any time ever. I haven’t watched all of it, or even close to all of it (I do have the semblance of a life). However late at night before I go to sleep, I usually watch some shows and this represents a change for me from recent years. From 2005-2010, I probably watched five shows total: Sopranos, Wire, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Office and 30 Rock. Most everything else on tv sucked. Not now…below are my 10 favorite comedies (I will do the Dramas tomorrow), but know that there are great shows that I simply haven’t watched. I hear wonderful things about Manhattan, The Affair, The Knick, Silicon Valley, Transparent and others, but I haven’t gotten to them yet. This is what I have seen and specifically what worked for me in 2015. Who knows…it might work for you too:
10. The Last Man on Earth: There hasn’t been a comedy with a better premise in a decade. Will Forte is the last man left on earth and his job is to survive and entertain himself in solitude. The audacity of the idea is amazing and for it to be able to keep a person’s interest in such a confined world is impressive. When the show debuted last year, I loved it and thought the first few episodes were inspired greatness. Since then, it has added characters (which to be fair, I guess it had to) and I think has lost a bit of quality. Still the writing is good, Kristen Schaal as the annoying wife is hilarious and Will Forte is consistently funny. I still will DVR every episode, so its a win.
9. Married/You’re The Worst: I put these two together because both are on FX, usually on the same night and they share a self-loathing brand of humor that I love. “You’re the Worst” is probably the better show and few sitcoms can deal with depression in a way that is so consistently funny. But the characters on “Married” make me laugh and the idea behind it (that being married in your 30s is kind of a bummer, especially when you think deep down that you are still young and potentially cool…and you are neither) hits close to home as my potential future. Both might not be your cup of tea, but they are mine.
8. Louie: Here’s the thing about “Louie.” It is only barely a comedy. Most of the show isn’t funny and it is actually more of a profile of real life for a certain segment of people in New York than a knee-slapping good time. However the raw realness of the show and the way that is showcases Louie’s personal emotions in its individual episodes is something that I find fascinating. The last season was not his best and I wonder just how much more he really has to give. But before “Louie” I had never seen a show quite like this and I usually find something I like from every episode.
7. Grinder: At times I feel like I am the only person watching this show, but I don’t care. Rob Lowe and Fred Savage’s spoof of an actor who plays a lawyer on TV, only to believe he can be a lawyer in real life is so absurd and ridiculous that I can’t help but praise each episode. The writing is witty, Lowe is hilarious and the supporting cast is one of the best on any comedy. I thought when 30 Rock went off the air that the idea of a Network comedy ever being absurd and successful was over and it would be up to cable/HBO/Netflix to produce such shows. Grinder reaffirms my faith and seems to be only getting better.
6. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Being smart is hard. Being smart and funny is harder. Being smart and funny while trying to tackle really difficult subject matter is damn near impossible. John Oliver’s show does it as well as any I have ever seen and may be the smartest, non-boring television I ever seen. The format works for Oliver in a way that is different than what Jon Stewart did so well. He takes long-form topics, explains them in detail and with humor and in so doing, makes them like funny medicine that you feel good ingesting. His piece on the Kentucky Governor’s election was brutally hilarious (and clearly had no effect), but was just one of a weekly selection of home runs from our British friend. If you want to laugh and feel smart, watch John Oliver on Sunday night…but then get on Facebook and read your distant relatives’ political opinions. We don’t want you getting to high and mighty.
5. BoJack Horseman: I just picked up this show this week during my vacation and I love it. Cartoons are hit or miss with me as their ability to not be hampered by reality can turn them into either unique, witty commentary (Simpsons, South Park, etc) or have them hit into absurd realms of comedy that are simply outside my taste. BoJack walks the line perfectly and is one of the best blends of goofy double-entendre, joke-a-second word play (think a faster paced Naked Gun) with deep story lines that actually can be quite thoughtful. An alcoholic washed-up sitcom star horse would not seem like the best vessel for comedy based on loneliness and depression, but it actually works and when combined with some of the best pop culture references of any show I have seen, the whole combination really works. This is one of the few shows (Andy Griffith, 30 Rock, Curb) that I actually think I might like better on repeat viewings and may easily rank higher on my list next year.
4. Master of None: I watched the first episode of Asiz Ansari’s new show and kind of hated it. The pilot episode tried a little too hard to be cute and while my initial reaction may have been due to my past dislike of Asiz’s comedy (I dated a girl once who loved him and I never understood why), I do think the the show changed for the better after their first shot. However from Episode 2 on (which brilliantly contrasted the lives of new immigrants to their Americanized kids), the show was a bullseye. Like a millenial version of “Louie”, Asiz sets in comedy in the real world (or at least the real world of New York) and what makes the show funny is less a string of jokes than revelations about life. I found his dating relationship the second half of the show to strike very close to home (don’t make me analyze why) and the “Nashville” episode is one of my favorites of any show (in part because it had Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Tom T Hall on the soundtrack). It is always nice to be wrong and I thought Asiz’s show would be mediocre at best…instead I can’t wait for Season 2.
3. Catastrophe: Probably almost no one reading this has watched this Amazon show and if you haven’t I understand. When it comes to TV, Amazon is Netflix’s redheaded stepchild (although I hear good things about “Man in the High Castle” and critics love “Transparent”). But “Catastrophe” is worth your time and was one of my favorite surprises of the year. The show builds around a relationship of two people who become pregnant after a one night stand and then try to create a life together for the best interests of the child. The interaction between the new couple is awkward, funny and contains some of the most realistic dialogue of those newly dating speak to each other that I have ever seen on television. It made me laugh quite a bit, but I also was really invested in the two characters, an odd thing for me even on a show I like (I never cared whether Jim and Pam would get together). Watch it since no one else you know likely has and then you can hold it over your friends’ head…with the added bonus that it is also really good.
2. The Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt: I loved “30 Rock.” I still think it might be the smartest network comedy of all-time and (along with Seinfeld and Andy Griffith) my most quotable show ever. So when I say that Kimmie Schmidt is in the same league as “30 Rock”, that is high praise indeed from me. I love Tina Fey’s sense of humor and in Kimmie Schmidt, she has found another perfect vehicle. The storyline (a woman was kidnapped for years and is released knowing little about the world in New York) is ridiculous but the acting and comedy is not. I love everything about the show…the writing is crisp, the characters are hilarious and the stupidity is at just the right level. Netflix allows Fey to push the envelope a little bit more than on “30 Rock” and the season only got better as it went along. I recommend this show to almost everyone I know. Most shows on this list require a certain sense of humor…to me if you have ANY sense of humor at all, you like Kimmie Schmidt. Watch it and thank me later.
1. VEEP: For me, “Veep” is perfect. It is smart, clever, well-acted and about politics. I couldn’t ask for much more. Julia Louis-Dreyfuss may be the best female comedy actress of our generation as I can’t think of another who has been so good on two shows. This season saw her run for President, allowing the ridiculousness of a campaign to infest a show that was already terrific political satire. What is amazing is just how much our current campaign has veered off the rails to make some of the scenes from Veep actually look like predictors of the 2016 race. I would nominate the “Testimony” episode scene where they read Jonah’s nicknames as perhaps my favorite comedy scene of the year. Everything about this show is great and this was probably its best season of its four year run. For me it was the comedy of the year, and thinking about it has me laughing so much, I may just watch it again.
So there you go…I will do dramas later this weekend, after we hopefully take out Stefan Moody and Ole Miss on Saturday. I hope you have a Happy New Year and enjoy the day of consistent football. Your winners today will be Tennessee, Michigan, Ohio State, Stanford and Ole Miss. Invest accordingly. Hope we have a fun year together in 2016 and let’s start it off by finding this panda in the picture below (it really isn’t all that hard)
When I made the decision a few weeks ago to not run for Congress, a number of things were part of the final decision. The factors ranged from timing to the political climate, but it also included the desire to continue to improve KSR in 2016 and take it to another level. I think you will see in the early months of 2016, a renewed emphasis on keeping this site at the top level and adding new features to take KSR into areas. Along those lines, we are expanding the KSR Podcasts, starting with a twice-weekly podcast that I will be hosting. Because creativity is not my top strong suit, I am naming the new podcast “The Matt Jones Podcast”, allowing the extra time spent on naming to be used on content. It will basically be a chance for me to interview guests in a longer form about a variety of topics, ranging from UK sports, pro sports, pop culture, politics or Kentucky issues as a whole. Its a chance in a different form than the radio show to get into a variety of issues that we don’t touch on a lot on the show and hear from people that normally we don’t have time to get to. I think people will really enjoy it and it should help give readers/listeners more content. In addition, we will be starting a UK Basketball podcast in the vein of the UK Football one, giving listeners a chance to get more insight on the team during the year.
With that in mind, we want to give people a chance to be a part of the show. We are currently adding sponsors for our podcasts and the site as a whole heading into 2016. As anyone who has been a part of KSR knows, sponsors who have been part of the radio show have almost universal success and we expect the same to be true on the Podcast. If you are interested, please email me before Christmas at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can discuss how to make it happen.
Thanks for everyone’s support and we look forward to a BIG 2016 around these parts.
As some of you may know, I have been considering running for Kentucky’s 6th District Congressional seat in 2016. It was an idea first brought to me to this past summer and has occupied a great deal of my time in the months since. I have taken the idea very seriously and spent the fall doing my homework, including learning in depth about what being a member of Congress and Congressional campaigns actually entail, the needs of the 6th district and the counties that are within it and the political landscape as a whole that I would be entering. I also have spoken at length with many in the Kentucky political realm on both sides of the aisle, all of whom have been generous with their insights and given me great advice on the subject. I spent time with family and friends to talk about the effect such a campaign would have on my personal life and that of those around me. And most importantly I listened to the people who helped make this entire scenario possible, our KSR fans who have been so kind throughout. This has actually been a wonderful process that has helped me learn a great deal that I will undoubtedly use in the future.
But after much consideration, I have decided not to pursue any office in 2016. The decision is more personal than it is political. Were I to have entered the race, it would have been winnable and a chance for me to put forth a platform that I think is desperately needed in this fractured political landscape. While I think now more than ever, a person who is willing to put aside political affiliations in order to actually work for the common good is needed, it just isn’t the right time in my life to do it. I am extremely proud of what we have built here at KSR and the amazing opportunity I get to have as a part of it daily. Every day I get a chance to get up, work with friends I love and try to entertain thousands of people about a topic we all share. The reality is that as of now, I cannot say I am ready to completely give it up.
At some point in the future, it is likely I will pursue public office. My interest and desire to enter into the political realm is strong and I do hope to at some point to be able to serve the public. However the time is not right for me at this moment. I am not yet 100% ready to turn the page on this segment of my life and while I am not sure total immersion into the political world is what our Founding Fathers intended for public office holders, it unfortunately is a reality of our current system. Running for office is a full-time job, a significant portion of which is the demeaning process of calling everyone you know and begging them for money (breathe easy friends, your wallets are safe now). I have too much love for my current job to completely step away, so I know my heart is not ready to shift gears entirely as running a successful campaign would demand. Rick Pitino left UK’s Camelot early in 1997 and ended up finding himself the Coach at UL. I would hate to make the same mistake and find a similar fate.
Thanks to everyone who spent time with me discussing this along the way. Your friendship and help is appreciated more than you know. Those that counseled me to run and helped get my political juices flowing, know there will be a day in the future to make it a reality. Today just isn’t that day. I look forward to getting back to business now and continuing to do what I love, while helping KSR grow to greater heights.
So with that out of the way, let’s get back to the pursuit of #9.
By Matt Jones on ©November 22nd, 2015 @ 8:48pm
Every year the Bowl situation is confusing and isn’t sorted out until a mad scramble over the last few days. But this year, the confusion is even more intense. There are currently 40 Bowl games scheduled, which means that 80 teams have to be eligible. At this moment, only 71 teams have the 6 wins necessary to be eligible. There are currently 13 teams (of which Kentucky is one) that have 5 wins and thus the chance to get bowl eligible next week (you can read more about it here). If one looks at the schedule, it becomes clear that is unlikely 9 of those 13 will win, meaning that at least a few 5 win teams are going to be headed to a Bowl game. This scenario has been contemplated by the NCAA and thus they instituted a provision that stated that if there weren’t enough teams eligible for a Bowl game at 6 wins, any team with 5 wins that is in the top 5 nationwide in APR score, would be eligible as well. The problem is that as of this moment, no such team exists. Thus some amount of 5 win teams are likely to be bowl eligible, and there exists no obvious criteria to determine who they will be.
So what does this all mean for Kentucky you may be asking? Well first it means that a Bowl game can still happen with a loss…and THAT MATTERS. Even if you don’t think Kentucky would “deserve” to make a Bowl, the 20 extra practices and recruiting help means you take it no matter what. So how will this happen? Let’s make it simple:
BEAT LOUISVILLE: If Kentucky beats Louisville, they become bowl eligible and will be slotted into one of the three bottom places for SEC Bowls…at this moment that would mean the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Birmingham Bowl or Independence Bowl in Shreveport. As of this moment, Auburn and Arkansas both have six wins…Auburn plays Alabama this week so they won’t win another. Arkansas plays Missouri at home, a game it likely wins. Thus the Hogs will probably get the top slot of these three bowls, meaning they go to the Liberty. UK beats Louisville and thus the Cats and Auburn are divided between the other two. Since The Birmingham Bowl is in Alabama and thus Auburn would sell tickets, but likely do little for tourism AND because the Independence Bowl is on the same day as the UK-UL Basketball game…my guess is Kentucky would be sent to Birmingham, likely to play Memphis or Houston. Get your Legion Field Funk-protective clothing ready.
LOSE TO LOUISVILLE: This is much more complicated. The NCAA is meeting tomorrow to decide how they will determine which 5 win teams get to go to a bowl. If its APR score, Kentucky is screwed. Of the 13 teams with 5 wins, we are 12th on the list…so it is a no-go. But I can’t imagine the NCAA is going to rely on that alone…so let’s see who these 5 win teams are:
Tulsa (5-6) at Tulane (3-8)
Virginia Tech (5-6) at Virginia (4-7)
Iowa (11-0) at Nebraska (5-6)
Indiana (5-6) at Purdue (2-9)
Northwestern (9-2) at Illinois (5-6)
Wisconsin (8-3) at Minnesota (5-6)
Florida Atlantic (2-9) at Old Dominion (5-6)
UMass (2-9) at Buffalo (5-6)
Washington State (8-3) at Washington (5-6)
Louisville (6-5) at Kentucky (5-6)
Missouri (5-6) at Arkansas (6-5)
Boise State (7-4) at San Jose State (5-6)
So looking at those, who is likely to win. I will give a win to Tulsa, Va Tech (Beamer’s last game), Indiana, Old Dominion and Buffalo. That is 5. Others could win, but those seem most likely. In addition, Texas and Kansas State both have 4 wins and are likely to win one more to get to 5. So this would be the group to select from…
San Jose State
4 of those 9 teams would go. Texas and Nebraska are going…too big programs not to. But after that, I think Kentucky is a pretty solid pick. The fan travel, plus the SEC name means that bowls that could never sniff a SEC team now get a chance to have one. Throw in the fact that one of the Bowls (the Independence) would presumably not have a SEC representative and slotting UK there would make sense. Plus, the Bowl in Detroit (scheduled for Dec 28) currently doesn’t have any team projected to be eligible (you can see the projections here). Kentucky being so close to Detroit would seem to only make sense.
Thus depending on (a) what the NCAA decides tomorrow the criteria for 5 win teams will be and (b) whether any of the above 5 win teams pull an upset next week, Kentucky could end up in a Bowl game, whether they beat Louisville or not.
But let’s just beat them anyway…Petrino is the worst.
Tomorrow’s KSR Radio should be very interesting as UK Head Coach Mark Stoops has agreed to join me for an interview. It has been a tumultuous three weeks for the program and I like the fact that Stoops has agreed to come on and address the fans directly. The time on the show is still up in the air due to team meetings but will likely be 10:30 or later. Make sure and tune in.
By Matt Jones on ©November 03rd, 2015 @ 12:59pm
Like you, I have watched a lot of basketball in my life. And like you, I have seen a lot of plays that I was certain were travels, but yet were ignored by officials. However last night, the Thunder’s DJ Augustin gave us the most blatant no-call walk in the history of basketball. I challenge you to watch this video and not shake your head in shock as Augustin takes one dribble from half court and makes a layup. Notice that the whistle blown is not for a travel, but rather for goaltending, which the officials did see. Put this one in your brain, you may never see a no-call six step travel again in your lifetime.
By Drew Franklin on ©November 02nd, 2015 @ 9:52pm
Turn your radios and your radio streaming devices to 630 WLAP in Lexington or 840 WHAS in Louisville to hear what Ryan Lemond and the KSR callers have to say about tonight’s game.
Or if you would like to be heard, give Ryan a call at 1-800-444-8484 or 502-571-8484.
Listen online here.
I enjoyed tonight’s UK televised practice/NBA Combine quite a bit. While watching, I jotted down a few thoughts about the festivities:
1. Skal Labissiere Has a Sweet Mid-Range Jumper:
Of all the players on this year’s Kentucky (with the exception of the two new walk-ons) the one that I have seen actually play basketball the least is Skal Labissiere. His athletic talent is obvious and one need only watch him play pickup for a few minutes to know that his basketball future is bright. However from a basketball skill set standpoint, I didn’t know a ton about what Skal could bring on Day One. While yes, it was just a practice, watching Skal shoot mid-range jumpers was quite the revelation. He elevates extremely well, has a high release point and his touch is astounding for someone that big. Whether he can do it in the flow of a game consistently remains to be seen, but he is as good at that shot…one he will get quite a bit in this offense if he wants it…as any of Calipari’s big men that I can remember at a similar point.
2. Tyler Ulis is Going to Be REALLY Good:
Last year Tyler Ulis was probably the most popular reserve in all of college basketball. The combination of his basketball IQ, never-back-down attitude, and small size made him unbelievably entertaining to watch and when those qualities hit their peak against Kentucky’s in-state rival, a fan favorite was born. But watching tonight just confirmed for me what I already knew, that this is Tyler Ulis’s team and his year. He was great in everything he did on the court and was able to score with ease in whatever game type was being played. Tyler said in an interview with Andy Katz said he was going to be a leader by “leading vocally but also just making sure we can get wins.” I have a feeling he will do that very well.
3. The ESPN U Broadcast Was Much Better:
I have been to a good number of Calipari practices over the last few years and this was as close to an actual practice as I can imagine UK allowing on television. Unlike last year, when they spent way too much time talking, interviewing and not focusing on action, the cameras spent the majority of time of time actually showcasing basketball. We got to see lots of drills, 3 on 3, 5 on 5 and inside the huddles with Calipari and the team. Throw in the fact that Jay Williams, Seth Greenberg and Doris Burke did a great job keeping the commentary entertaining and I thought this was a tremendous telecast produced by ESPNU.
4. We Learned a Little More About Skal’s Situation:
Andy Katz let us know that the NCAA situation with Skal is one that is about amateurism issues rather than academic issues. This is not something that has been public but has been known by those around the program. Listening to Greenberg and Jay Williams talking afterwards made it seem as if the issue is who paid for part of his high school education. I am not certain the issue but I do know that the folks around UK are not worried about it. They believe he will be cleared and will be able to play. It is a decidedly different feeling than what was around the program during the Enes Kanter situation, when everyone knew it was a tough issue. I think the assumption is now that Skal will be cleared and that the young man, who is an excellent student and a great kid, will get to showcase his talents this season in Lexington.
5. I Love the Ulis/Skal Chemistry
During the 3-on-3 part of the practice, the winning team was Tyler Ulis, Skal Labissiere and Charles Matthews. While Matthews played well, the revelation was the chemistry between Tyler Ulis and Skal. They already have produced an inside-outside chemistry that I think will continue to grow as the season goes on. They ran pick and roll a ton (in part because Humphries has a ways to go defending that in isolation) and the two of them made the correct decision time and again. With these two players both being so smooth and (along with Murray) two of the three most skilled on the team, I expect to see their one-two ability to be a key part of the way this group plays all season.
6. Isaac Humphries is Raw but Skilled
To be 17 years old and as skilled as Isaac Humphries is currently, is quite the situation. This is a kid who will get to play for the Cats this year in what is essentially a free season. He doesn’t turn 18 until January and he isn’t eligible for the NBA Draft due to age. So he can play, learn, practice against the best and compete however Calipari sees fit. And I do think he will find his time on the floor. He has a nice touch from the mid-range, has good low post moves and can rebound surprisingly well. Defense is going to be a real issue, especially early, as his lateral quickness leaves much to be desired. But his skill set is such that I think you will see him improve and give Kentucky the occasional boost during this “bonus” college year for him.
7. Lob City, Lob City
Athleticism…that is what stands out to me about this group. They all can leap and get up, making the lob a huge part of the offense. In 2012, lobs were the most devastating part of the UK offense. Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were all able to get easy baskets by heading directly to the rim where Marquis Teague and Doron Lamb did an effective job of getting them passes in the right spot. With Skal, Marcus Lee, Alex Poythress, Charles Matthews and others showcasing that high-flying ability this year, I think you will see a similar emphasis on creating lob lanes, especially with the ability of Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and others to hit open jumpers, keeping defenders from being able to sag deep to stop it.
8. Isaiah Briscoe Shows No Fear
In 2008, I helped run the UK Barnstorming Tour with Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley and it was one of the most fun three week periods I have had in my life. There were many reasons for this ranging from getting to travel the state to me being completely overwhelmed. But probably the biggest reason was the people and I really grew to especially like Ramel Bradley quite a bit. His personality was infectious and his charming trash-talking ways made him a joy to be around. I see a lot of Ramel in Isaiah Briscoe. Like Ramel, Briscoe has no fear, believes he can score on anyone and loves to go to the basket. Plus, he likes to talk…telling everyone from players to coaches just what he is able to do. I always enjoyed watching Ramel do it in his day and I think Briscoe will play what Seth Greenberg calls “city ball” at a very high level here.
9. The Potential of this Group is Tremendous
There is no doubt that this group is nowhere close to where last year’s group was at a similar point last season. With the return of the Twins/Willie/Alex, etc, plus the trip to the Bahamas, the Kentucky team clicked from day one last season. That is not the case yet with this bunch. But one can easily see the makings of a great team. The guards are excellent and may be the best set of guards as a group that Calipari has had at UK. Ulis/Murray and Briscoe can give you a ton of looks and if they learn to play together, will be tough to stop. They still don’t have a lot of meat or toughness down low, but their athleticism is off the charts. They will take some lumps early. But I like this team over the long haul and think they will be right there in contention at the end.
10. UK is Still the Show
Only UK (and maybe Duke) could get this done tonight. Two hours of practice live on national television, with three announcers commentating…it is what makes Kentucky different. Kentucky is the show, no matter who is on the team. That is Calipari’s genius and why he is the perfect captain of the UK Battleship.
By Matt Jones on ©September 27th, 2015 @ 9:46pm
The saga of Daniel Orton continues to be troubled. This news today from Sportando.com, a site that follows European Basketball:
Per SDNA, AEK Athens have called Orton to apologize since they are very troubled with his behaviour. Orton,in the halftime of the game between AEK and the Skyliners,was laughing in the locker rooms. Sakota admonished him and when he left the locker rooms, Orton was out of control and started to smash things. Assistant coach Angelos Koronios tried to calm him down but Orton pushed him back. What is more,the 25-year-old center in the past, had missed unreasonably a training and had abandoned a team dinner.
I wish Daniel the best. Things haven’t gone well for him for quite some time.
By Matt Jones on ©September 22nd, 2015 @ 1:48pm
Sports fandom in the modern age is very interesting. On the one hand, fans have more ability to interact with each other and express their opinions about their favorite teams that at any time in the history of sports. Thanks to social media, message boards, comment sections, etc, fans who have virtually any opinion about their team cannot only give it out to the masses, they are likely to find others who share it and can legitimize its support. Thus there can be a fan chorus of thought that begins in the internet world and slowly becomes the talking point of discussion, regardless of whether or not it is acknowledged by the mainstream media. To put it another way, in today’s fan environment one doesn’t need a newspaper, tv station or radio show to tell them what the major story is after a game, the fans themselves can decide it.
Since Saturday night’s disappointing loss to Florida, this fan/media dichotomy has clearly existed in the UK world. While the media focuses on missed opportunities, poor line play, Wide receiver drops and play calling, in some of the minds of fans only one topic matters: the conversation begins and ends with the situation at Quarterback. Walking (or in my case running to beat the traffic) out of Commonwealth Stadium, I heard multiple people complaining about UK’s Quarterback play and discussing (or in one case arguing) about whether a change should be made. The Twitterverse after the game erupted with calls for Drew Barker to get snaps and my post game show had a number of opinions that essentially asked, “how much longer of a lease should Patrick Towles get?” Whether it is discussion #1 in media write-ups of the game or in the preparation for Missouri, amongst the fans, Towles vs Barker is the only issue.
I find this relatively disheartening. First and foremost, the Quarterback always gets too much blame whenever a team loses. Because fans naturally follow the ball, their eyes stay on the Quarterback through virtually the entire offensive half of the game and his mistakes are always magnified in a way those of others never will be. If an Offensive Lineman is beaten off the line of scrimmage, a Wide Receiver misses his block or a Running Back doesn’t hit the right hole, hardcore Football fans may easily notice (standing next to Jared Lorenzen on the sideline has been a lesson in how natural that becomes to a former high level player), but the average fan is likely to miss it on first glance. But even the most casual fan knows when a Quarterback makes a bad decision and thus for Armchair experts, his play will always be the most critiqued. There is no doubt on Saturday that Patrick Towles did not have his best game. He missed open receivers, held onto the ball too long and made a couple of bad decisions that were crippling. But it can’t be overlooked that he also dealt with an offensive line that was beaten (often badly) off the line of scrimmage, had key throws dropped in crucial moments and too often was left on an island by other teammates who were struggling. Had Patrick played better, Kentucky would have won…but there are others on the team who could have had the same statement said about them as well.
Mark Stoops reaction to this on Monday was understandable and reassuring. He said that after losing one game by one possession, now was not the time to make a change at Quarterback. He noted that Patrick made mistakes, but he also made some good plays and remains the leader of the team. This is a rational viewpoint and one that I expected him to have. However there is a strong percentage of the fan base that holds the opposite view. For them, the Florida game represents the final proof that backup Drew Barker should be given a chance. It is an oft-quoted expression that the most popular player on the team is the backup quarterback. This is especially true when that backup is like Barker, a highly touted recruit with an exemplary high school career who has never showcased any of his weaknesses to the fan base on the college level. Whereas Kentucky fans are familiar with Patrick Towles, warts and all, Drew Barker is a clean slate, ready to come in and make no mistakes while leading the Cats to victory. Just as in 2013 when Jalen Whitlow struggled to lead a 2 win team and fans called my post game show every week to ask “Where is Towles?!?”, now the shoe is on the other foot and Towles is receiving the same questioning for a younger version of himself.
Fortunately for them, the “PLAY BARKER!” chorus doesn’t have to accept facts and reality yet. Theirs is a view clouded in the mystery of what Barker might be, rather than what he (or Patrick Towles) is. Unlike the coaches, staff, administration and players (all of whom see the Quarterbacks compete everyday), they are free to have their opinion stripped of that nuisance that can make arguments so much more difficult to maintain…facts. I am constantly amazed that fans don’t trust the judgment of the individuals who have the most incentive to play the best players, the coaches. Think about Mark Stoops for a second. His contract is set up where each victory pays him a substantial sum of money and each SEC victory over 2 is worth A LOT of money. So if he honestly believed that Drew Barker were the better option, don’t you think he would play him? A source close to the program told me yesterday, “look Patrick has to play better, but if Mark (Stoops) thought that Drew was the better option, he would be playing yesterday, regardless of his age or anything else.” This group WANTS TO WIN. It is their primary goal and when I have been around them, I am constantly amazed at how obsessed they are at making it happen. Their football judgment collectively is much better than mine and if they believe Towles is the best option (or if one day they believe Barker makes the most sense), I will trust their opinion over my own.
At this point, here is where I think the situation stands. Patrick will be the starter against Missouri but he needs to play well. The two-time defending SEC East Champion is vulnerable and the Cats are a favorite against a Top 25 team for the first time since 2007. For Kentucky to win however, Towles has to play well and if he does and UK gets the victory, the overall start puts Kentucky in a very good position. However if he plays poorly and the game goes South, causing two straight disappointing home losses, I think there is a good chance we might see a different situation for the EKU game. At that point, the coaches may believe that it is worth giving Barker some run, so as to see if they hope amongst many around the program (that he can be a “gamer” like Johnny Manziel, better under the bright lights than in practice) could be true. A bad Towles performance might lead to a situation where both play against Eastern and then the situation is reevaluated after. If the coaches go in this direction (and I think it is possible they could), that would make perfect sense to me.
But for now, Towles is the guy. No amount of fan grumbling or frustration will change that. He has talent and has the ability to play on a high enough level for UK to succeed. The UK coaches believe he puts the Cats in the best position to win Saturday and going forward…my hope is that the fans will give the coaches and Patrick the benefit of the doubt, and get behind that decision for the huge game Saturday against Missouri.
By Matt Jones on ©September 21st, 2015 @ 8:19pm
Hello KSR friends…I check in to deliver a couple of quick recruiting tidbits, one of which is not good and one of which is more positive. The first is concerning one of my favorite recruits in the 2016 class, Miles Bridges, who at one time was a near certainty to go to Kentucky. Over the past two weeks, he has visited Michigan State and Kentucky and now my confidence in his ending up a Cat has dissipated quite a bit. I am hearing that Bridges had a tremendous visit to Michigan State and they put on the full court press (including visiting with some former Spartans) for he and other top talents. His visit to Kentucky was this past weekend and while it went well, there is a growing feeling that the Spartans may have overtaken the Cats as the leader. Bridges is of course making his decision in two weeks and things can always change. But for a long time, I assumed Bridges (one of my 3-4 favorite players in the class) would end up a Cat. I no longer feel that is certain and after talking to some folks today, if forced to predict as of today, I would bet on Izzo getting the commitment (and finishing up maybe his best class ever).
In better news, I feel good about Kentucky’s chances with star Point Guard De’Aaron Fox. He is the best point guard in America and I think John Calipari has done a great job moving the Cats to the top of the list. It is still a dog fight to get his services, but I like Kentucky’s position much more than I did this summer.
If I were to predict now, I would say that UK’s most likely members of the 2016 class would be Fox, Malik Monk and Wenyen Gabriel (replacing Bridges). These three would join current commitment Sacha Killeya-Jones and likely another player or two in the rest of the class (maybe Bam Adebeyo?) There is still a lot of time for things to move, but for now this looks to me to be the most likely scenario.