Brandon Priddy writes for The Smoking Musket, West Virginia’s SB Nation site, but he’s also →
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©March 25th, 2015 @ 8:00pm
Brandon Priddy writes for The Smoking Musket, West Virginia’s SB Nation site, but he’s also a huge Kentucky and KSR fan. Brandon describes himself as a “weird hybrid WVU / UK fan” who grew up in West Virginia cheering for the Mountaineers but went to school at UK in Lexington, where he became part of the Big Blue Nation. He now cheers for both and this week, is understandably torn.
Hello there. You don’t know me but I know you. Heck I am you. Only I’m also them. See, I’m in a really weird spot this week. I grew up (and remain) a huge WVU fan, but I went to school in Lexington and also love my alma mater. What happened is they don’t have any architecture schools in West Virginia but I really wanted to be one so luckily the wonderful folks at Kentucky took me in. By my roots are my roots and I can’t quit you WVU. So here I sit with dual allegiances and for the 3rd time in 6 years the NCAA Tournament Committee has decided to make my life more difficult. Thanks guys. This wasn’t a problem for a decade then you come along and now you’ve made this a thing. Wonderful.
With all that said, I thought that I’d use my unique perspective to give the Big Blue faithful some insight on this Mountaineer squad.
You Will Hate WVU
You are going to hate West Virginia by midnight Thursday. Absolutely detest them. It pains me to say it but you will. They’re annoying and they do things nobody else does and if they were your team you’d love them but they are not so you will despise them. Imagine a team made up of 13 DeAndre Ligginses. That’s what West Virginia is.
You hate WVU cause they get all up in your business. They plop themselves down on your couch, put their feet up on your coffee table and scatter the candy dish. They put their arm around your wife and ask your daughter how old she is. They eat the last of your favorite bag of chips, ask to use your bathroom and are in there for a LOOOONG time. They make you uncomfortable, they make you squirm and at some point you find yourself counting the minutes until they are gone. Eventually you want to punch them. They want to frustrate you. They want to rattle you. They want to break you.
Learn the Name Devin Williams
Devin Williams is the best player on this Mountaineer squad you probably haven’t heard of. Or if you have you don’t know anything about him. Well he’s a 6’-9” 255 pound sophomore and he’s got massive shoulders and awesome rec specs. More importantly he’s the best post presence this Mountaineer team has. He’s strong and smart but is limited by his athleticism. He just doesn’t get off the floor that quickly and tends to get a lot of shots blocked, but he’s relentless. Think bigger and more athletic Chuck Hayes.
Juwan Staten is the name everyone knows, but Williams is the straw that stirs the WVU drink. It’s no coincidence that the Mountaineers are 7-2 in games where Williams goes for a double-double (losses to Iowa St. and Baylor) and 10-2 when you expand that to include games where he missed by 1 and had either 9 points or 9 boards. The numbers aside he’s an emotional catalyst as well. It’s no coincidence that WVU created its first real separation on Sunday night following Williams’ big-boy offensive rebound and putback with about 10 minutes left. That bucket started a run that increased the WVU lead from 1 to 9 and Maryland never seriously threatened again.
Final word on Williams – he’s especially deadly when he can hit his little 18 foot jumper. Once he draws the defense out he has the ability to drive and becomes much harder to handle, not to mention create the kind of driving lanes that have been the only kryptonite to Kentucky’s historically great defense. Keep your eye on Devin Williams.
The Way This Game Is Officiated Will Be Massively Important
I can’t emphasize this point enough. The Mountaineer press has been consistently great, but when they’re allowed to nudge and bump and slap – as they were against Maryland – it becomes a different animal. On the other side of the coin the Baylor Bears easily gave WVU the most trouble of anyone this season, and they shot 33, 34 and 35 free throws in their 3 tightly officiated games. The Terrapins by contrast shot only 13 on Sunday night.
See, the press has a cumulative effect. If you’re forced to play long physical stretches where you’re constantly bumped and chirped at and running and running and running the chances increase that you do something in a hurry and that something is a mistake. On the other hand if the referee’s whistle gives you constant respite and the opportunity to stop and gather yourself while a teammate shoots free throws, you’re much less likely to make the type of mistakes that are the lifeblood of the Mountaineer press.
If you’re a UK fan who’s looking for an early sign that things could be more interesting than you’d like, pay attention to that whistle. If there’s contact allowed early, it could be trouble. If WVU is in the double bonus by the 8 minute mark and the Cats are calmly and confidently extending that lead with their exceptional foul shooting, probably no showers for Matt Jones.
WVU Can Give Kentucky Real Problems On The Offensive Glass
Kentucky doesn’t have many warts, but a surprising one is the ability of their opponents to crash the offensive glass. The Wildcats are currently 129th in opponent offensive rebounding percentage at 28%. Conversely WVU is 2nd nationally in offensive rebounds per game with 14.3 and 7th in percentage at 38.8%. One of the keys to that success is Jonathan Holton, an athletic forward who plays larger than his 6’-7” size. He’s exceptionally active and always around the ball, but has also fought foul trouble all season, picking up at least 4 fouls 15 different times and fouling out 6 of those (including Friday’s win over Buffalo). If he can stay in the game he’s a pesky presence on the glass and could make a small living cleaning up misses.
If WVU Can’t Shoot (Reasonably) Well From 3 They Are Dead
West Virginia’s biggest liability is their struggle in halfcourt offense. They’re not an exceptional passing team and when Juwan Staten isn’t driving, their offense can fall into a pattern of passing around the perimeter and chucking a 3. Not a terribly effective strategy when you’re 273rd nationally in 3 point percentage at 32%. Having said that their shooting has improved as they’ve surged for their last 9 games, going 6-3 while hitting 37.8% from beyond the arc.
A closer look at the numbers reveals a Mendoza line of sorts for the Mountaineers. They’re 0-3 over that stretch when shooting 24 or more 3s and 6-0 when shooting 21 or fewer. Certainly that could simply be the result of end-of-game desperation, but if you see WVU leaning too heavily on the trey early, it’s probably a sign that things aren’t going their way.
(Bonus hint: Jonathan Holton has a season-long obsession with hoisting 3s from the wing, which is maddening when you consider his 21.3% shooting clip. But he hit one against Maryland and also at Kansas in a March 3rd game WVU should have won. If he hits one of those against the Cats it’s a sign the rims are looking big for the Mountaineers.)
Why You Should Love Bob Huggins
He has the driest sense of humor in the business, the least fashion sense, and as friend of KSR Mark Titus so aptly put in his column this week, “has probably apologized a grand total of zero times in his life.” Also much like Cal he’s one of the few coaches willing to point out the hypocrisy of the NCAA even while sitting in the belly of the beast, as he did in his press conference on Saturday when addressing WVU’s late start time:
“You’ve got all these games to cram on TV, and it’s going to happen,” said Huggins, in his 33rd season as a head coach and on his 21st trip to the NCAA Tournament. “But it just tickles me to death that we’re doing this for the student-athletes. It’s all for the betterment of the student-athletes.”
If that’s not enough he took a nice swipe at Seth Davis in his weekly radio show last Monday when told Davis (and virtually everybody else with a microphone and a bracket) had picked Buffalo to beat WVU. “If I need to know about the Duke intramural team I’ll ask Seth Davis.”
I know he’s the guy on the opposing sidelines, but you have to love the Huggy Bear.
Why You Should Fear Bob Huggins
Bob Huggins is a smarter basketball coach than John Calipari. I say this not as a Forde/Goodman-esque troll, but as someone who thinks the world of Cal and feels he gets nowhere near the credit he deserves for his in-game work (as evidenced by his outstanding record in close games during his time in Lexington).
Calipari is a great coach, but Huggins is just a really smart dude – he was a two-time Academic All American player and graduated magna cum laude from WVU. More importantly he’s an exceptional basketball mind who is able to quickly incorporate new ideas to make his team better. That 1-3-1 press that still gives UK fans nightmares? Huggins added it to the WVU arsenal in 2008 on the advice of guard Joe Mazzula who’d seen it work very effectively under former coach John Beilein the years before. This new nonstop press that has defined his Mountaineer’s 2014-15 campaign? He came up with it a week or so into practice when he saw the amount and type of bodies he could throw at people.
Huggins lost the 3 leading scorers off his team last year, completely changed his squad’s identity and has led them to a 25-8 record and the Sweet 16 playing a style he’s never coached in his 30 year career. That’s impressive.
I don’t think there’s any magic formula for beating UK but I do think there are chinks in the armor. Huggins is a master tactician and master motivator – if UK can be challenged, he’ll find a way to do it.
Do Not Underestimate This Mountaineer Team
WVU’s best chance to pull an upset isn’t that they fit “the blueprint to beat UK” or any of those silly things people say to sound smart. In fact it’s the exact opposite. WVU doesn’t have a “blueprint.” In fact on the hardwood they seem to subscribe to the Joker’s theory of existence in The Dark Knight. To paraphrase: “Arkansas has a plan……Florida has a plan……..Cincinnati has a plan…….they’re schemers. WVU just…..does things.”
WVU is an agent of chaos. They create it and thrive in it better than any team in America. West Virginia is what Arkansas thinks they are. I mean, they even press after misses – who DOES that?
The irony is that in a lot of ways the press plays to the Mountaineer’s weaknesses. It creates fouls, they’re a bad foul shooting team. It creates fast break opportunities, but they’re not very good in transition (there were some laughably bad lob attempts against Buffalo). But its chaos and more importantly it’s THEIR chaos. They live in it, they thrive in it. And the rub with chaos is that you never know what will happen. Who will come unglued and wilt in the moment. Who will throw the errant pass that ignites the run and ignites the team and sews the seeds of doubt………and then you’re down 6 with 4 to play and it’s a ballgame.
Inherent in the WVU press is the desire to gamble, and their gamble is that the chaos will get to you before it gets to them. We have a running joke over at the Smoking Musket of the “frustration event horizon.” It’s that moment in every WVU win when the other team breaks and spirals into oblivion. When they finally tire out, their heads sag and they look to their bench for an answer that’s not there. They throw a pass into the 3rd row, they snap off an unnecessary elbow – they are no longer playing their game.
I don’t think WVU will do that to Kentucky but they COULD do it to Kentucky. What I took from the Cincinnati game wasn’t so much that they provided any blueprint. Instead I took away that you can get to Kentucky – even if just for a second. That Aaron Harrison technical was the slightest of fissures but it was there. Cincinnati was only unable to exploit it because a) they’re not that good and b) they’re not used to that level of intensity. Well that is where WVU lives and that is what WVU wants. Given the right set of circumstances things could go a little wrong for UK and then go a lot wrong. I don’t expect it to happen but it could happen and that’s what makes this game so troublesome for the Cats.
Having said all that I think UK is a tough matchup for WVU. They pass the ball exceptionally well, have a reliable post presence in Towns to get buckets if things get hairy and a guard in Ulis who the good Lord seems to have put on this earth to break a press (I’m so excited for this matchup). Not to mention the type of wing threats in Aaron and Booker (if he wakes up) that have given WVU fits all season (look at the stat lines of Baylor’s Royce O’Neale). A lot of things will have to go wrong for Kentucky and a lot of things will have to go right for WVU. I just don’t see that happening.
I’ll leave you with a few resources if you want to read up and study the Mountaineers. First I’d direct you to the blog where I write, the SmokingMusket.com. But for me the bar none best source of WVU info and analysis is beat writer Mike Casazza’s blog.
As far as Twitter feeds I’d point you to
- @abpriddy (me)
- @MKirchner12 (our head basketball fella at the Musket)
Hope this gave you some insight and I hope we can still be friends on Saturday morning.
Today, ESPN aired a thirty-minute special entitled “How to Beat Kentucky.” For a half hour, a panel of college basketball experts including Dino Gaudio, Seth Greenberg, Andy Katz, and Jay Williams batted around ideas on how to beat the Cats, including “gain more possessions,” “take and make threes,” and “score in transition.” Even then, they concluded that it probably can’t be done, the Cats will go 40-0.
No offense to the ESPN folks, but I think they forgot a few items on their “blueprint” to beat the Cats. Here are just a few I came up with this afternoon, accompanied by the Cal “Worried MEATER” to show just how concerned John Calipari should be about these potential problems. Because, you know, Cal loves meat. It’s true, Erin Calipari said so.
1. The team stays up way too late playing Super Smash Brothers
A legit possibility from what we’ve heard. The team is trying its best to tune out the clutter, and during this postseason run, the best method has been playing Super Smash Brothers on their Nintendo 64. What happens if one game turns to two, three, or four and the Cats are up all night playing?
“Karl Towns may take the fifth most turns in the game, but I need him well-rested and taking the fourth most shots on the court!”
2. The team plane gets lost and lands on a desert island
The flight plan somehow gets rerouted and the Cats have to make an emergency landing on a tropical island…in the middle of Lake Erie? Sure, let’s go with that…where mysterious things keep happening and a peculiar set of numbers keep reappearing: 48-49-51-58-78-96-98-12. On one of the first nights there, a huge column of smoke appears and takes Rock Oliver from the group, leaving Sam Malone in charge of strength and conditioning.
“If Sam’s in charge of conditioning, does this mean I have to put on that headband again?”
3. One player gets hit by a mysterious illness
Oh wait, that already happened with Trey Lyles.
“Ellen, make sure we have Clorox wipes anyways.”
4. The team bus gets stuck in a horde of fans on the way to the arena
Everywhere the Cats travel, a huge group of fans follow. At each road stop this season, fans have greeted the team at the hotel and wished them well as they’ve loaded the team bus to the arena. The crowd of fans at the team hotel has grown throughout the season, and with the Cats nearing rock-star status, what will happen if the crowd is so big in Cleveland it delays the team getting to the arena?
“Those people ARE crazy. And they better not have ribbed balls.”
5. They make the teams play football instead
And even then, we have a 7′ wide receiver. And we have West Virginia’s former offensive coordinator.
6. Half of the team is kidnapped
Fortunately, that leaves at least one platoon.
“What other team in the country could survive that?”
7. The Da’Sean Butler curse rears its ugly head
Da’Sean Butler’s four threes helped West Virginia pull off what may be the most improbable upset of the Calipari Era in 2010. Butler famously mocked the Cats by doing the John Wall dance onstage and immediately became a Big Blue villain. KSR was reunited with Da’Sean in the Bahamas this past summer, where he apologized for his antics and became friends with the KSR crew, even inviting Drew and Sean (far right) to his house in France because that’s what drunk people do.
While the beef seems to be buried between Kentucky and Da’Sean, will the West Virginia curse rear its ugly head and render the Cats inept from the three-point line?
“I’m honestly not worried about my team’s shooting. Do the John Wall now, Da’Sean!”
8. They have to face an All-Star squad in the National Championship
Tom Izzo actually suggested this last week. Even then, I still feel good about Kentucky’s chances.
“Nice try, Tommy.”
9. Frank the Tank turns into an actual tank
Wisconsin is considered by most to be Kentucky’s primary threat going forward. What happens if Wisconsin star Frank “the Tank” Kaminsky actually turns into a tank at the Final Four in Indianapolis?
“They’ve only got one tank, I’ve got tanks on a hill!”
10. The other team scores more points than Kentucky does
This is the only way Kentucky will actually lose.
“If that happens and we’ve been the best version of ourselves, I’m fine with it.”
The Kentucky Sports Radio team is home and resting up before the upcoming trip to Cleveland, but Mrs. Tyler and I would like to share a few takeaways before we close the book on the Louisville subregional. Below you will find five things that came to mind when I woke up from my Sunday afternoon nap, followed by Mrs. Tyler’s first impressions of the Yum! Center and the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
Super Smash Bros. is the secret.
The Wildcats are obsessed with a video game, a video game that came out 16 years ago.
Super Smash Bros., a classic on the Nintendo 64, is the team’s only hobby when they’re not playing basketball. I’m told the players were up until the wee hours of the morning Wednesday night — yes, the night before the first game — and got right back to it after team breakfast on Friday. They even played it on the team bus on the way back to Lexington after Saturday’s game.
If Kentucky runs the table and wins a ninth banner in a couple of weeks, we can say the secret behind one of the best college basketball teams ever was a 64-bit video game that came out shortly after they learned to walk.
Tyler Ulis is getting minutes.
Ulis played a career-high 34 minutes in Saturday’s win over Cincinnati, scoring nine points with five assists, three rebounds, three steals and zero turnovers. It was the third time in five postseason games Ulis played over 30 minutes, after playing 30 minutes in only three games during the regular season. It’s clear Cal trusts him when it matters and he and Andrew Harrison have been great together in the backcourt, no matter who handles the point guard responsibilities.
“The greatest thing about Tyler is he’ll do whatever needs to be done,” Calipari said on Saturday.
The Hampton cheerleaders stole the show Thursday night.
While Hampton’s basketball team served as a punching bag for Kentucky on the court, its cheerleaders and fans provided entertainment away from the game. They were energetic and loving the spotlight despite the lopsided contest in front of them.
With all due respect to UK’s 20-time national champions, Hampton was the better squad Thursday night.
Trey Lyles really is “the X-factor.”
Lyles recorded his second career double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds in the Cincinnati game. He took the Bearcats’ physical play in stride and he was huge on the offensive glass, grabbing five of UK’s 12 offensive rebounds in the game. When things got chippy, he did not back down. Ask Octavius Ellis.
Lyles is a matchup nightmare for anyone in the tournament and he’s finally using it to his advantage, just in time for this final six-game run. To quote one Billy Donovan, “Trey Lyles is a major problem.”
Rupp Arena needs suites.
After visiting several friends in suites around the arena, I’ve decided Rupp Arena needs suites and Rupp Arena needed suites yesterday. There was some serious arena envy going on amongst Big Blue Nation, though we hate to compliment anything Louisville, and the two games in the Yum! Center only refueled that old discussion of upgrading Rupp. Let’s move the loud fans closer to floor and put the social crowd up in boxes so they can eat overpriced chicken tenders. Everyone wins.
Don’t tell your UofL friends I said this but that place is realllllllly nice. And it has at least two Taco Bells inside.
MRS. TYLER THOMPSON….
I was slightly concerned…and then Willie dunked
UK’s game against Hampton seemed like a fluke. The late tip, combined with the fact that each Hampton player seemed about half the height of each Kentucky player, made the game feel like a scrimmage; in turn, Kentucky slept walked through most of it, making for a pretty boring affair. Afterwards, the team was noticeably upset with themselves for their lackluster effort, the freshmen especially. Go figure: a perfect team is full of perfectionists.
Based on that, I expected the Cats to storm out of the gates on Saturday. Not so much. For most of the first half, Kentucky was unable to make a shot, letting Cincinnati dictate the pace of the game. When Cincinnati continued to cling onto a small lead, I started to get nervous. For the first time in a while, the Cats were overthinking things, and the other team looked like they wanted it more. Thankfully, Willie’s dunk woke everyone up and they finally clicked into gear. Octavius Ellis didn’t help his team’s cause by poking the bear with his antics. This team is fun to watch anytime, but they’re really fun to watch when they’re playing with a purpose.
The national media is catching on to Willie
We’ve all known how entertaining Willie is for years. Since the minute that picture of him drawing on the sidewalk with chalk popped up, Willie’s been the most interesting player on this team. Three years later, he’s matured into a superstar, posterizing opponents and holding court in the locker room afterwards. The national media got their first real taste of Willie this weekend, and now, like us, they can’t get enough. When the locker room opens, reporters immediately flock to him, swarming him so badly that poor Dominique Hawkins had to scoot out of the way to make room. Willie makes it worth it, turning in golden quote after golden quote, my favorite coming after his ridiculous dunk yesterday.
“That might have been worse than Florida. I don’t think they put the kid back in the game,” Willie said. “I guess that’s why Coach wants me to dunk everything.”
Lately, Willie’s been more entertaining than Cal after games, and that’s saying something.
The Yum Center is nice, but it looks even better in blue
This was my first trip to the Yum Center and I’ll admit, I was very impressed. As much as I wanted to hate it, the arena was gorgeous, top notch all the way. I wish UK could pick it up and put it right in the middle of Lexington and paint all the red blue. This weekend, that’s exactly what it felt like. Kentucky fans covered up all the red, making Yum their own. Like the SEC Tournament crowd, Saturday’s fans were much louder than Rupp’s. Each time Devin Booker shot a three, the crowd drew in their breath in unison and groaned as one as each rimmed out. Cruelly, the one three Booker did make was after the ref blew the whistle, but the crowd cheered as though it counted. Only Kentucky fans, man.
When in doubt, go to the Harrison Twins
As they’ve done so many times, the Harrison Twins came though in the clutch yesterday. The Twins, especially Aaron, seem to click into a different mode in March, and Aaron called for the ball at least twice behind the three-point line at crucial times. Similarly, Andrew’s “and one” with eight and a half minutes left pushed UK’s lead to double digits:
I’m not sure which is better in that video, Andrew’s drive or Trey Lyles’ towel snaps.
Sitting behind Uncle Verne was cool
Matt, Drew, and I went into this weekend expecting the worst treatment from the UofL Athletics department, who hosted the games and staffed the event. Despite the fact that we didn’t get parking passes, I was very pleasantly surprised. I figured KSR’s seats on press row would be up in the rafters, but one seat was right behind CBS’ Verne Lundquist and Jim Spanarkel, meaning that my laptop got some serious TV time. I hear that Verne was actually pretty terrible to listen to this weekend, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t fun to sit behind him. He really is like college basketball’s jolly grandpa and couldn’t have been nicer to everyone. When I suggested they use a running clock in the second half of the Hampton game, he laughed and said “The room is OPEN,” and even though I have no idea what he meant, I laughed and I feel like we shared a moment. I also capture this moment between him and a young fan who found his way onto press row:
Even if Verne’s best days are behind him, I’ll always be a fan.
By Drew Franklin on ©March 18th, 2015 @ 8:20pm
We’re a little over 24 hours away from Kentucky’s opening NCAA tournament game and the poor souls that will dress in the opposing locker room are in for some trouble.
The Hampton Pirates, winners of last night’s play-in game, will get the first shot at sending the Wildcats home from the dance and they stand about as much of a chance as I do with Beyonce. But, the game will still be played, no matter how lopsided the matchup looks on paper.
So tonight, as we count down ’till Hampton’s imminent, potentially historic demise, let’s get to know the team that has no business being on the same court as Kentucky. With all due respect to the MEAC champs, they are nowhere near ready for what’s coming…
1.) Hampton is the worst team in the NCAA Tournament.
The Pirates entered the tourney with a sub-.500 record of 16-17 before Tuesday night’s defeat of Manhattan. The two most impressive wins of the season came against Northern Arizona and Maryland-Eastern Shore. (Maryland-Eastern Shore is much better than Maryland-Western Inland.)
Hampton made the big dance by winning the MEAC Tournament as a No. 6 seed.
2.) The Pirates rank 255th in the RPI.
Kentucky, on the other hand, ranks first.
3.) They can’t shoot threes.
Hampton shoots 30.5 percent from beyond the three-point line, one of the worst percentages in college basketball. 308 teams shoot the ball better from deep, Louisville not being one of those teams. Hampton and Louisville are tied near the bottom of the rankings.
Considering the only hope to beat Kentucky is to shoot the ball well, Hampton will soon be floating up you-know-what creek without a paddle.
4.) They can’t shoot twos.
Hampton ranks 294th in field goal percentage at 40 percent per game. Now imagine what that number will be when you add three or four inches to everyone on the other team.
5.) They turn the ball over.
Thought the shooting woes were bad? It gets worse. Hampton also turns the ball over often, over 14 times per game. Once again, the Pirates are near the very bottom of the NCAA rankings, at No. 304 in this category.
They also struggle to get assists, which combined with the turnovers, makes for one pretty awful assist-turnover ratio.
6.) The team’s leading scorer and rebounder is injured.
Dwight Meikle, Hampton’s star player, missed the last four games with an ankle injury. He is listed as doubtful for tomorrow’s game and head coach Edward Joyner said it’s very unlikely he will go.
7.) Justin Beiber’s official DJ is a proud Hampton alum.
I had to get away from the depressing basketball statistics for a sec, not that this is much better… DJ Tay James, Justin Bieber’s official DJ, graduated from Hampton with a degree in business management. He would drive to D.C. on the weekends to DJ clubs and other events, like Barack Obama’s inauguration.
A Hampton classmate, DJ Boogie, suggested James to Bieber’s management group in 2009 before Bieber was ever a thing. The Biebs was just a twinkle in Usher’s eye at the time. Now the Biebs is filthy rich and hated by everyone and DJ Tay James is getting a mention on KSR.
8.) Starting guard Quinton Chievous transferred from Tennessee.
Chievous spent two seasons in Knoxville before transferring due to a lack of playing time with the Vols. He averaged 3.6 minutes per game for Tennessee last season. He now averages 10 points and six rebounds for the Pirates.
Chievous suffered an injury last night against Manhattan but he will likely give it a go tomorrow night against the Cats. His coach called him a warrior and said only death will keep him out of the UK game.
9.) No. 15 Hampton upset No. 2 Iowa State in the 2001 NCAA tourney.
That Iowa State team featured future NBA starting point guard Jamaal Tinsley, a second team All-American and Big 12 Player of the Year. Tinsley missed a layup in the final seconds to end one of the NCAA’s biggest upsets and one of my two or three favorite March Madness moments:
10.) They’re going to get killed tomorrow night.
With little to no size inside, an injured star player, an offense that can’t shoot, and one of college basketball’s best teams ever on the other side of the scoreboard, Hampton is in for a beatdown in the Yum! Center tomorrow night.
That 31 point spread? Put me down for every dollar I have, please.
Today, ESPN SportsNation ran a poll asking America whether or not they’re rooting for Kentucky to win the national championship. The results are pretty much what you’d expect: 66% no, 34% yes. The three states to “go blue”? Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi. I see, you SEC brethren.
The rest of the nation? Look, I get it. Kentucky is, and always will be, the big blue villain of college basketball. It’s human nature to hate the best, or in modern speak, they hate us cause they ain’t us. And that’s all fine and well. If Kentucky fans have learned anything over the program’s long and storied history, it’s that no matter how great your team is, there will always be haters.
To an outsider, this team seems especially emblematic of Kentucky’s boom over the past six years: so much talent that John Calipari has to shift them in and out in units. Two platoons of NBA Draft picks, rolling over the competition with unnerving ease.
To anyone who’s really watched them, this group exemplifies the best traits of a team: unselfishness, character, talent, and heart. To anyone who can look past stereotypes, they’re worthy of the history they chase.
In what will most likely be an ill-fated attempt to sway the masses, here are my 11 reasons why America should be rooting for Kentucky to win it all.
1. These kids are great
I could probably stop right here. We’ve said it a million times, but it’s bears repeating a million times more. This group is special. Every Kentucky team has its fan favorites, but this entire group is made up of fan favorites. And they genuinely like each other. Last weekend, a reporter asked Dominique Hawkins if the team hung out off the court together because it was mandatory. Dominique, he of the earth-shattering smile, frowned. “No, it’s not mandatory. We just really like each other. We’re brothers.”
John Calipari says this team’s bond and unselfish nature are the primary reason they’re still undefeated. “The biggest thing I’m going to tell you is this team plays with joy and a love of the game and each other. That always beats hate, mean, nasty, angry, jealous. That joy and that love of each other and the love the game will always overcome.”
2. Their calling card is defense
It’s a saying as old as time, as fundamental as a free throw: offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships. Kentucky’s defense is historic. The Cats are #1 in field goal percentage defense, holding opponents to only 35.5% from the field. That’s the lowest since Stanford held teams to 35.2% in 2000, the record for any squad dating back to the shot clock inception in 1985-1986.
Kentucky has the tallest lineup in college basketball, with an average starter standing at 6’8″. As a result, their opponents miss nearly two-thirds of their shots. “It’s like playing frisbee in a redwood forest,” Jay Bilas said of trying to score on the Cats. “They make you take shots you haven’t taken since grade school,” said Bill Raftery.
Only 14 of Kentucky’s opponents have scored more than 55 points in a game this year, and only seven have poured in 65 or more. According to The New York Times, UK’s defense gives up only one assist every 10 possessions. As Cal would say, that’s something every basketball Benny should respect.
3. They embrace their role in the community
Not only are these players funny, they have their priorities in order and give back to the community whenever they can. Marcus Lee is the most obvious example of this and was named to the All-SEC Community Team last week for his service. “I don’t think of it as going to the hospital to see sick kids,” Marcus told me last week. “I think of it as going to see my friends.”
There are many more examples, the most recent being Willie Cauley-Stein and #TeamBlake. This morning, a man called into the radio show and told Matt about his nephew Blake, who has been battling cancer for three years. Blake became friends with Willie through a family friend on the track team and gave him a #TeamBlake bracelet, which Willie wears regularly, even in his sock during games. “You’re playing with me out there on the floor,” Willie told Blake. Blake and Willie text regularly, and his uncle said that the friendship has made a remarkable difference in his family’s life.
4. They’re not identified by one-and-dones
The laziest of Kentucky’s critics still lean on the one-and-done angle. “Oh, those kids don’t care about Kentucky, they’re just there for a few months to punch their ticket to the NBA.” Not this year. The core leaders, Willie Cauley-Stein, Andrew Harrison, and Aaron Harrison, turned down the NBA to come back and win a championship, and in doing so, inspired John Calipari to do the same and turn down the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Willie and Alex Poythress are seasoned veterans at this point, juniors who have experienced the lows (first-round loss in the NIT) and now, the highs. Cruelly, Alex was robbed of his chance to play most of this season by a freak ACL injury. If he decides to return next year, he’ll be John Calipari’s first senior who was also a McDonald’s All-American. Something tells me he might not be the last, either.
Everyone refers to the 2012 team as the best mix of youth and experience, but this group may be even better. “I think they are totally bought in to each other,” Calipari said yesterday. “Each group, the young kids are feeding off the veterans. The veterans know the young kids have their backs.”
5. They’re sacrificing for the greater good
When Willie, the Harrisons, Dakari, Marcus, and Alex announced they were coming back, John Calipari was thrilled, but also a little panicked. So much talent and not enough playing time. Hence, the platoon system was born, and the Bahamas was its testing ground. “They’re the ones making this possible,” Calipari says. Ten players average double figures in minutes, none over 26 minutes per game, and only two players average double figures in points. What a selfish bunch, right? As Jay Bilas said this morning on KSR, this team is not “me first,” it’s “we first.”
To put this in better perspective, here are the top ten 2015 draft prospects according to Draft Express and the minutes and points they average per game:
1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke: 30.5 minutes, 17.7 points
2. Karl Towns, Kentucky: 20.7 minutes, 9.7 points
3. D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State: 33.5 minutes, 19.3 points
4. Emmanuel Mudiay, playing professionally overseas in China
5. Stanley Johnson, Arizona: 28.4 minutes, 14.1 points
6. Mario Hezonja, overseas
7. Willie Cauley-Stein: 25.5 minutes, 9.3 points
8. Kristaps Porzingis, overseas
9. Justise Winslow, Duke: 28.7 minutes, 12.3 points
10. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: 32.9 minutes, 18.3 points
Karl and Willie average the lowest number of minutes and points by far, but they’re still projected to go in the top 10. Selfless but successful. As Calipari said last night on his radio show, “These kids have shared and it’s been amazing. That’s the story I keep coming back to.”
6. They’re fueled by their failure
This team hasn’t lost this season, but their last loss may be what fuels them. (I don’t count the one in the Bahamas.) On Sunday, Aaron Harrison told reporters the team still has a chip on their shoulder from last season’s loss to UConn in the National Championship game. “Definitely. I think it still puts a chip on our shoulder,” Aaron said. “And we still have that in the back of our minds.”
As Willie said over the summer, it’s unfinished business.
7. They play beautiful basketball
Even Calipari and Kentucky’s harshest critics have to admit that this team plays beautiful basketball. Watching Kentucky play is like watching a ballet of giants, balls and bodies flying through the air at astonishing speed. UK’s play is most poetic when orchestrated by the smallest of them all, Tyler Ulis, a tiny magician who feeds the ball through the air on a string, defying gravity like a waterbug dancing across a pond. Lately, when Willie gets the ball and a clear path to the basket, it feels like the basketball gods slow down time so that everyone can fully appreciate his gift.
8. The only All-American arrived at Kentucky an eccentric project
Remember when the only picture of Willie we had was that one of him drawing on the sidewalk? Willie focused on football in high school, and only after a growth spurt decided to dedicate time to basketball. As a four-star prospect, Willie visited Kentucky on the same weekend as five-star Nerlens Noel and was so unsure about it, he almost didn’t go. He arrived at UK a project, a player most fans anticipated staying about three years. Three years later, he’s the best defensive player in college basketball and will likely be a top ten draft pick.
Willie’s a different kind of kid, with as many interests as tattoos; as the confetti fell on Sunday, he looked up in wonder, a child trying to catch the first snowflake on his tongue. His eccentric style, kind heart and candid personality make him the ultimate fan favorite off the court, but he’s developed a nasty killer instinct on it, dunking and blocking like a man on a mission, brandishing each victim with his trademark stare. Three years later, he’s still the kid with the sidewalk chalk, except now, he’s drawing outlines for the bodies he leaves along the way.
9. Their best player is a goofball kinesiology major
I’m not sure there are enough words in this world to describe Karl Towns, but that wouldn’t stop Karl from trying. Karl is a comedian trapped inside a 7-foot basketball player’s body, John Calipari’s dream machine come to life. Karl’s a perfectionist who’s coming in to his own, a versatile and skilled player who would average 25+ points on any other team. He’s become Kentucky’s go-to player in the clutch, and could be the #1 pick in this summer’s draft.
Off the court, he’s a nerdy Kinesiology major who clowns around with his teammates in the locker room, gives up his seat to reporters likes yours truly, and makes friends with every fan he meets. On top of that, he’s a 3.9 GPA student who chose UK in part because they have a great kinesiology program. Whenever someone asks me about Karl, I always go back to his acceptance speech at the Gatorade Player of the Year awards:
10. Andrew Harrison is his own comeback story
Hey, America, you want your underdog? He’s right there in the #5 jersey. Over the past two years, Andrew Harrison has endured more scrutiny, criticism, and pressure than any player on the team, and a little over a year ago, he pretty much came out and told Matt and Drew he wasn’t having any fun at UK. One magical postseason run and an undefeated season later, Andrew is the clutch leader this team needs, even if his critics still try to take him down with pointless debates over which point guard is better. Andrew and Tyler Ulis complement each other, and fans should feel fortunate to have them both.
To see Andrew’s evolution, all you have to do is look. Last year, he slumped and squinted his way through the regular season; now, he stands tall, smiles, cheers on his teammates, and yes, even cracks the occasional joke in press conferences. (Let’s not get crazy, I said occasional.)
11. They don’t take themselves too seriously
The most popular question in the locker room last weekend? “How are you guys handling the pressure of being undefeated?” The most common answer? “We really don’t worry about that.” I used to think that was just a line, but after hearing it come from every single player I spoke to with sincerity, I’m buying it.
This group is loose and confident, refusing to get dragged down by the clutter. Instead of shouldering the pressure, they’re shaking it off and having fun, photobombing their coach or jokingly taking over their teammates’ interviews. Case in point:
Marcus Lee and Karl Towns take over Willie’s interview pic.twitter.com/lKCQ5xdgaJ
— Tyler Thompson (@MrsTylerKSR) March 15, 2015
America, it’s time to put down the hate and root for one of the greatest teams in college basketball history, if for any other reason, because they deserve it.
Or don’t. Your loss.
By Drew Franklin on ©March 17th, 2015 @ 1:30pm
On this morning’s KSR radio show, Brian, a caller, told the story of his nephew’s new friendship with Willie Cauley-Stein. The nephew, Blake Hundley, has been battling brain cancer for three years and he recently became friends with Cauley-Stein through a family friend on UK’s track team.
When the two met for the first time last week, Blake gave Willie one of his blue #TeamBlake bracelets and Willie has been wearing it ever since. He wore it in his sock during UK’s three SEC Tournament games (no bracelets during play) and he texted Blake to tell him, “You’re playing with me out there on the floor.”
“It’s lifted my whole family up,” Brian told KSR. “Blake is on cloud nine. This little fella has been through it. He’s had surgeries, radiations, he’s doing chemo right now and he’s fighting for his life.”
This story is further proof that we have an outstanding group of young men representing the University of Kentucky on the basketball court. Kudos to Willie for taking the time to make an impact on a young man’s life; thoughts and prayers to Blake as he keeps fighting; and thank you to Brian for sharing their story with us.
Here’s a shot of the the #TeamBlake bracelet in Willie’s sock during the Auburn game…
Listen to Brian’s call halfway through Hour 1 on today’s podcast.
By Drew Franklin on ©March 16th, 2015 @ 8:30pm
You don’t need me to tell you why Kentucky will reach the Final Four. For one, you have eyeballs. And two, the Wildcats were virtually a lock to play in Indianapolis before the bracket was announced on Sunday. Then the bracket came out and Kentucky was given a path that includes one team it already crushed earlier this season, a team that doesn’t attempt to play defense, and 13 teams that are susceptible to a loss in any game.
But for the sake of running a website with words on it and continuing the NCAA Tournament talk, here are 10 of the 3,405 reasons why your University of Kentucky Wildcats will reach the Final Four…
1.) Only five or six tournament teams can beat Kentucky, none are in the Midwest.
After weeks and weeks of worrying Wisconsin would be in Cleveland as Kentucky’s No. 2 seed, the Wildcats were awarded a gift from the NCAA selection committee: the Kansas Jayhawks, the lowest two-seed in the tournament.
A familiar opponent to UK, Kansas does not pose much of a threat to Kentucky, if any at all. The Cats won the November meeting by 32 points in Indianapolis while holding the Jayhawks to only 11 made baskets in the game.
Virginia and Arizona, two of the handful of teams that can potentially beat Kentucky, were sent to other regions.
2.) Kansas won’t reach the Elite Eight.
Bill Self said today that it’s unlikely Cliff Alexander will rejoin the team for the NCAA Tournament. Alexander, a projected first-round NBA draft pick, has not played since Feb. 23 due to an NCAA investigation, while another KU frontcourt weapon, 38-year-old Perry Ellis, is recovering from a knee sprain.
With a potential meeting with Wichita State — a team Kansas has dodged for years — in the second round, KU isn’t a guarantee to escape the first weekend. Not to mention, red hot Notre Dame stands in the way in the Sweet 16.
3.) Rick Barnes is still the head coach of Texas.
11th-seeded Texas has the weapons to be a contender in the Midwest. Sadly, 11th-seeded Texas still has Rick Barnes as its head coach.
Barnes has coached only two Longhorn teams into the NCAA’s second weekend in the last decade, despite several future NBAers, including Kevin Durant.
4.) Notre Dame doesn’t play any defense. None.
Sure, Notre Dame is one of the best offensive teams in the country with one of the nation’s best scoring point guards in Jerian Grant and weapons all around him. They can score, no doubt. The problem for the Irish is, basketball also requires defense, which Notre Dame does not even attempt to do.
The ACC tournament champion Irish rank No. 111 in defensive efficiency, leaving no room for error on the offensive end. If Brey’s team isn’t lighting it up offensively, it can lose to anyone, in any round.
Let’s assume Notre Dame reaches the Elite Eight to meet Kentucky. Then let’s imagine how many points Kentucky will score in that game, while forcing the Irish to shoot over the longest team in the tournament.
Tom Crean’s Hoosier’s don’t deserve to be in the NCAA Tournament. Indiana is only taking up space in the Midwest.
6.) Wichita State lacks the size to knock off Kentucky.
Wichita State still has outstanding players in Fred Van Fleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton, but Wichita State isn’t as good as the Wichita State team Kentucky sent home one year ago. Kentucky, on the other hand, is much, much better.
And then there’s this…
The Shockers starting lineup goes 6-0, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 and 6-7.
7.) All four games will be home games.
With the first two games being played in Kentucky and a manageable drive to Cleveland for the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight, UK will play four home games before the Final Four. Of course, this likely would’ve been the case had the committee sent the Cats to Oregon and Antarctica, but keeping Kentucky so close to home only makes it easier for blue to get in.
GO-BIG-BLUE!! GO-BIG-BLUE!! GO-BIG-BLUE!!
8.) West Virginia might not get past No. 12 Buffalo.
Worried about that 2010 heartbreak all over again? Don’t worry. West Virginia will have its hands in tournament opener with Buffalo. Not to mention, the Mountaineers’ star player, Juwan Staten, missed the last four games with a left knee injury.
9.) Maryland is good, but not good enough.
Fourth-seeded Maryland set a school record for regular season wins with victories over Wisconsin, Iowa State, Michigan State and Michigan State again. The Terrapins’ Melo Trimble and Dez Wells make up one of the best backcourt duos in America and we all know guard play is the key to an NCAA tourney run. That being said, Maryland doesn’t have what it takes to knock off Kentucky, if it can get that far. Melo and Dez can only do so much and the Terps lack the size and rebounding to contend with the Cats.
10.) Because Kentucky.
If Kentucky shows up, it doesn’t matter who is in the way. The only team that can beat Kentucky is Kentucky. And they’ve given us no reason to believe they won’t show up.
Tomorrow at noon central, the Cats will take on the Florida Gators for the third time this season. Florida just cruised past Alabama 69-61, with Finney-Smith leading the way with 23 points for the Gators.
Kentucky beat Florida 68-61 in Gainesville on February 7, and rallied from a slow start to beat the Gators 67-50 on Senior Day last Saturday. In odd stats, this will be the first time since 1988 UK will face the same opponent in back-to-back games. So, yeah.
Auburn/Texas A&M coming up…
I’ve lived in Nashville since 2006, and after I started working for KSR, I took it upon myself to be the BBN’s travel guide when the Cats play in Music City. A few years ago, I started making flowcharts to help fans figure out which bars and restaurants to try while in town, and with the SEC Tournament in Nashville for the foreseeable future, I’ve updated those with my latest favorites in Music City. Click on each restaurant/bar name to go to their website.
As a general disclaimer, yes, I realize there are tons of restaurants in Nashville, but these are my favorites. If yours isn’t on the list, don’t be offended. Just add it in the comments section.
PDF version (no hyperlinks)
If you asked me for the five restaurants you have to try while you’re here, I’d say The Southern, Lockeland Table, Five Points Pizza, Two Ten Jack, and Prince’s. But really, you can’t go wrong with any of the places listed above.
PDF version (no hyperlinks)
—KSR’s home for the week will be TIN ROOF BROADWAY (316 Broadway). Here’s the schedule of shows (all times CT because that’s how we roll in Music City):
9:00 a.m.: Morning show from Tin Roof Broadway
9:00 a.m.: 30-minute edition of the morning show live from Tin Roof Broadway
9:30 a.m.: The KSR pregame show live from Tin Roof Broadway
Approximately an hour after the game: Postgame show live from Tin Roof Broadway
9:30 a.m.: KSR pregame show live from the arena
Approximately an hour after the game: Postgame show live from Tin Roof Broadway
9:30 a.m.: KSR pregame show live from the arena
Approximately an hour after the game: Postgame show live from Matt’s car as he drives back to Louisville for the Prince concert
— The original Tin Roof location at 1516 Demonbreun Street will host a “Kentucky Takeover” on Friday night:
Before it starts, check out Tin Roof’s sister restaurant South a few doors down. I’ve yet to go there, but Aaron Flener has wonderful things to say.
— UK fan and KSR friend JD Shelburne will perform on the All-State Pressbox Stage at SEC Fanfare Friday at 11 a.m. The stage will be set up at 5th avenue beside the Country Music Hall of Fame. Shelburne will also perform at Tequila Cowboy Saturday night from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., so if you like country with a Kentucky slant, go check him out. Odds are he’ll perform his new BBN single “Indiana,” a cover of Eric Church’s “Talledega.”
— Nashville still allows smoking in bars (21+), but fortunately, most bars on Broadway and 2nd avenue have opted to go smoke-free. There are still a few smoke pits if you want to light up inside, but major honky tonks like Tootsie’s, Layla’s, Robert’s, and The Stage are now smoke-free. Hooray for happy lungs!
— Lower Broadway will be packed, so to avoid some of the lengthy lines to get in to the Honky Tonks, go to the alley behind them (next to the Ryman). Most of the bars have back doors and it’s much easier to get in and maybe even snag a table.
— If you’re downtown, it’s best to walk, but if you’re staying outside the downtown area or just feel like venturing out (you should!), I recommend using Uber or Lyft. Both are cheaper and more pleasant than cabs. Is it your first time using Lyft? Help a sister out and use the code “TYLER380″ for a FREE ride up to $20. Same thing for Uber, promo code nrdp8.
— If you want to get around downtown quickly without walking or taking a cab, try JOY RIDE, the free golf cart shuttle service. The drivers are also great tour guides, and only work on tips. If it’s raining, I expect they’ll be pretty popular this weekend. To order a shuttle, call 615-285-9835 or look for the red golf carts scuttling around.
— The Nashville MTA Green Line bus also transports people around downtown Nashville and the Gulch for free, so keep an eye out for it. (It’s green.) You can also rent bikes via the B-Cycle stations around town.
— Hydrate and pace yourself. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, especially with the Cats playing at noon each day. If you need a caffeine and personal space fix, sneak over to the Bongo Java inside the Omni Hotel (250 5th Avenue South).
See y’all soon.
The 2015 SEC Tournament is upon us and we will spend the next few days preparing for what will undoubtedly be an amazing five days in Nashville. The first of our several Music City/SEC previews is tonight’s “DOs and DON’Ts” guide to the city, just a few instructions to keep you on the right path and out of trouble throughout the week. Follow it if you want. Or don’t. It’s your world.
DO go to as many games as you can.
That late Wednesday night matchup between South Carolina and Missouri may not look good on paper, but the atmosphere and the randomness of the SEC Tournament is worth your time. Hang out with other Kentucky fans at the game and see what kind of fun pops up. If nothing else, you can enjoy a Sunkist and a bag of Golden Flakes.
DON’T yell at Dari Nowkhah.
I did that two years ago and he thought I was mocking him. I like Dari Nowkhah. Dari Nowkhah does not like when you yell at him.
DO be careful buying tickets on the street.
There are several scam artists out there looking to capitalize on the high ticket demand in Nashville. If you’re one of the many fans who will be looking to buy off the street, be extra careful when checking the authenticity of the tickets. Don’t get fooled.
DON’T forget to tip the Broadway Rapper.
He’s a Kentucky fan.
DO eat hot chicken.
Tyler will have a rundown of all of the good Nashville eateries tomorrow, but for now just go ahead and plan on eating hot chicken for one of your meals. It’s the official food of the Music City.
DON’T be a close-talker after you eat hot chicken.
In fact, you’ll probably want to find a bathroom immediately to brush your teeth. You’ll also want to find a bathroom immediately to, ya know.
DO pace yourself at Saturday’s Music City Irish Fest, Lucky Stache Bash and St. Pats Pub Crawl.
Remember the reason you’re in Nashville: to cheer the Wildcats on to their third SEC Tournament championship under John Calipari. St. Patrick’s Day takes a backseat to basketball this year.
And we don’t want you throwing up green beer all over the arena.
DON’T attempt to run in the Kegs & Eggs 5K/10K.
Again, we don’t want you throwing up green beer all over the arena.
DO buy Paul Finebaum a beer if you see him at a bar.
Same goes for any of your other favorite SEC Network personalities.
DON’T ask to take a body shot off of Paul Finebaum.
I can’t imagine that is something Paul, or you, will enjoy.
Ryan Lemond, on the other hand… He’s fair game.
DO enjoy yourself because it won’t get any better than the SEC tourney in Nashville with a perfect season.
Nashville is Big Blue Nation’s favorite city because, like Coach Cal said, “It’s a different animal.” Throw in an unblemished record and it won’t get any better than this trip to the Music City to watch the Cats.
DON’T miss out if you have the means to go.
Ticket prices and hotel rates in Nashville are borderline criminal, so not everyone is able to attend. But if you’re able to go and you’re not really feeling it right now, don’t be an idiot. Take off work, take that offer from your buddy to stay on his couch, hit the ATM and go figure it out. It’ll be a blast.
DO join us at Tin Roof Broadway for the morning and pregame radio shows.
KSR will be getting an early start each day with 9:00 am morning radio shows on Thursday and Friday and 9:30 am pregame shows on Saturday and Sunday (assuming Kentucky remains unbeaten). Tin Roof Broadway will host us all four days and there’s plenty of room to pack the house with blue.
It’s not the ideal time to be up and at ‘em after a night out in Nashville, but we’ll be there. Please join us.
Stop for a second. Stop, breathe, and appreciate what just happened. I’ll give you a minute.
Welcome back. First, some historical stats. With a 67-50 win over Florida today, Kentucky moved to 31-0, the best regular season in Kentucky basketball history (and that’s saying something). UK is the first Power 5 school to complete an undefeated regular season since Indiana in 1976. Thirty-one straight wins is the longest season-opening winning streak in SEC history, the second-longest winning streak in Kentucky history, and the longest winning streak for any team coached by John Calipari.
I’m not sure we’ll ever fully appreciate what happened in Rupp today. Right now, it’s too difficult; 31-0 is great, but there are nine more games to go until the ultimate prize, something that, as Kentucky fans, we can’t just ignore. Billy Donovan spoke as a former Kentucky assistant and not as the Florida head coach when he urged the BBN to slow down and soak in this moment. “I get the expectation level here, but people need to reflect on how special and historic this season is for their team.”
“What they’ve done may not happen again for a long, long time,” Donovan added. “There’s not going to be many teams that have a collection of talent like they have.”
You smiling? I’m smiling. Let’s go over it.
This was the starting lineup
That’s right, senior walk-ons Sam Malone, Brian Long, and Tod Lanter got to start on Senior Day, a very cool gesture by Calipari, who said he’s getting this picture blown up to hang in the Joe Craft Center. “The reason I started them is I wanted a picture of them starting,” Cal said. “We’re framing it. CBS is going to get me the starting lineups with their names on it. It’s going to be framed. I told them prior to the game, 35 years from now you can say you started. Who the hell knows?” [Insert swaggy Cal smile]
Of course, the three seniors only stayed in for 22 seconds, but for those 22 seconds, the entire bench was up cheering for them.
It wasn’t easy
Given all their struggles this season, Florida certainly pulled it together today. The Gators were gutty, slapping back at the Cats and refusing to lay down for the 31-0 party. Kentucky looked oddly flat at the beginning of the game, letting Florida take an 11-7 lead before Trey Lyles stepped in and established some offense. Lyles had six straight points to put Kentucky back on top, and after Florida took the lead again, Trey scored Kentucky’s last four points to put Kentucky up by three heading into halftime.
“Trey Lyles, I’m telling you is as good as anybody in the country,” Cal said. Trey finished with 14 points, the most of any Cat, and told Mike Pratt that he came into today’s game ready to prove his 2-point performance against Georgia on Tuesday was a fluke. With each mid-range jumper and nifty post move, the more and more I’m convinced that Trey will be playing a long time at the next level.
Devin’s three at 10:16 opened it up
Florida hung close until Devin Booker connected on a three point shot with 10:16 left in the game. Devin’s three sparked a 7-0 run to put Kentucky up by 10, and Florida didn’t get any closer than eight points after it.
On Senior Day, a freshman was the star
Devin’s three was huge, Tyler Ulis was clutch, and Trey Lyles was great, but Karl Towns was the MVP of the game for me. Karl finished with 13 points, 9 rebounds, 6 blocks, 3 assists, and one steal in 27 minutes. “Karl Towns is as a complete basketball player as there is,” Kenny Payne said afterwards. CBS Sports’ Ian Eagle had the line of the game when he said after a Karl block, “Florida cannot solve the Lexington skyline!” Billy Donovan said he was more impressed with Karl’s 19-point performance in Gainesville last month, but Karl did it all today, changing the game on both ends of the court. I am totally biased, but if you’re picking Jahlil Okafor over Karl Towns with the #1 pick, you’re a fool.
As if his on-court performance wasn’t enough, Karl stole the show in the postgame, giving his shoe to Matt Bunk, a fan from Pennsylvania who was paralyzed in a car accident as a kid. TJ Walker reports that Bunk visited practice yesterday and bonded with Karl, and the first thing Karl did when he came out for postgame interviews was find his new friend in the media horde. He gave Bunk, “the most special Wildcat I know,” his giant shoe as a souvenir:
These kids are special. It can never be said enough.
It may have been goodbye for Willie as well
Everyone gets a little emotional during “My Old Kentucky Home” on Senior Day, but according to those there, Willie Cauley-Stein seemed to be especially moved by the ceremony. Willie’s just a junior, but with recent draft projections putting him in the top ten, it’s likely he played his last game in Rupp today. It wasn’t Willie’s best performance, only 8 points and 7 rebounds, but afterwards, he said he still has more to show.
“Words can’t describe it, I guess,” Willie said when asked about his progress from his freshman year until now. “It’s one of those things that you look back on later in life and realize you made history. Now, you’re living it. It’s not really history yet. I feel like, myself, I’m just now reaching the surface. I still have a lot left to show or to give.”
In true Willie style, he couldn’t help but get a bit reflective. “It’s probably one of the best things you’ll probably do in your life is playing here. Having the fans enjoy seeing you play and enjoy learning about you as a person. That never leaves here. You’re going to always be part of that family here, so it’s a great feeling.”
Before we break out the Sarah McLachlan and weep not for the memories, there’s still some basketball to play. During the mini-celebration after the game, Willie grabbed the mic and told the crowd, “We’re not done yet. We’re coming ready in Nashville.”
“You’re not stealing my joy”
John Calipari was at his swaggiest when he met with the media after the game, firing zingers at his haters and cracking jokes left and right. Cal told reporters he’s giving his team two days off to rest and appreciate the moment before the madness begins on Friday. “I think, again, the one worry I had prior to the game was I wonder if they’re feeling this,” Cal said afterwards. “I’ve been through the grind of this. They haven’t.”
“Only thing I keep telling them is I’m so proud and I respect them so much to able to deal with all this,” Cal said, motioning to the circus of media in the backstage of Rupp. Cal being Cal, he couldn’t help but take a shot at the Selection Committee. “I bet you they slide the Lakers in there,” Cal quipped.
The latest hater to try to steal Cal’s shine is Dan Shaughnessy, and from his remarks after the game, I think Cal’s seen the article, which I will NOT link on this site. “I’ll tell you, I would imagine ‑ just saying ‑ there will be some stuff written and said. I want to tell you all, no one will steal my joy,” Calipari said, glaring into the camera. “If you want to attack what we’re doing, be nasty about it, have at it. You’re not stealing my joy. Coaching this team, with these kind of kids, you’re not stealing my joy.”
Then he made this face:
After the game ended, the team put on shirts that read “31-0, NOT DONE.” That’s this team’s new motto. “We’re in the history books. But we want to be in there for cutting down the nets, so we’re not done,” Karl Towns said. “I was surprised we got a t-shirt. I like it, though.” (Oh, Karl.)
“We take pride in it but our journey is not done,” Trey Lyles said. “We have a lot of work to do.”
But for now, just for today, let’s drink this in.
Over the past few seasons, I’ve been fortunate enough to cover some of UK’s SEC road games for KSR. Along the way, I’ve also been reviewing the venues across the SEC, and earlier this week, I visited Georgia’s Stegeman Coliseum for the second time. The first time was in 2013 to see Kentucky lose pitifully, and I was too depressed to review the gym. The results were a little different this time around. Before we get rolling, here are my past reviews:
Vanderbilt’s Memorial Coliseum
Alabama’s Coleman Coliseum
Ole Miss’ Tad Smith Coliseum
South Carolina’s Colonial Life Arena
Florida’s O’Connell Center
Mississippi State’s Humphrey Coliseum
Seating capacity: 10,523
From 2010-2011, Stegeman underwent a major $13 million renovation in which the old facade was removed and replaced with a beautiful glass front. Like a lot of SEC arenas, Stegeman is small but classically designed, and I really love that the architects kept the original bones of the building while modernizing it. The effect is striking, and at night, lights illuminate a huge UGA mural:
This may be the best exterior renovation of an older gym I’ve ever seen.
The inside of Stegeman has a great retro feel to it thanks to the unique patterned ceiling, which has thankfully remained intact throughout multiple renovations. The arena is small, with a capacity of only 10,523, and in turn, there are no bad seats. Interestingly, Georgia’s website says the Coliseum is actually two structures: the roof and the building beneath it. “The only connection between the two is an aluminum bellows which seals the joints and permits the rise and fall of the roof with temperature change.”
The 2011 renovation expanded the concourses, giving the arena an easy flow, even with a sellout crowd. In fact, sometimes there seems like there is too much room in the lobbies, but that’s never a bad thing. Throughout the concourses, there are trophy cases, large murals, and displays highlighting past and present Georgia legends.
Nothing spectacular, just standard fare of pizza, hot dogs, smoked sausage, BBQ, nachos, etc. I will give them half a point for offering an “extra cheese cup” for $1 because sometimes you just need extra cheese. Also, because South be the South, there were “bottomless” options for popcorn and soda.
Hot dog price: $3.50
Popcorn: 3 (incomplete)
Confession time: I did not sample the popcorn. Between the late tip, the press meal, and all of the distractions, I didn’t have time to get popcorn, so I’ll give it the industry standard 3. I noticed the popcorn was in bags, not boxes, so props for that.
Signature food: 2.5
I didn’t really see one. I guess boiled peanuts? That’s a Georgia thing. You can get that for $4.50.
Not impressed. The one I visited was small, had broken locks on the bathroom doors and the paper towel dispenser was broken.
What do Rupp Arena, the O-Dome, and Stegeman Coliseum all have in common? None have a center-hung scoreboard. Despite all the renovations to Stegeman, there is no big pretty scoreboard, just a cluster of speakers; in fact, there is only one large video board, and even it looks outdated.
PA System/announcer/music: 3.5
Typical pop/hip-hop blend, but I appreciated the old school hip-hop, which got the crowd even more hyped. Georgia must have known Charles Barkely was coming, because they had a whole clip reel ready. Sadly, they used ones that weren’t really that funny, which is kind of a crime because Barkley is hilarious.
Fun stuff: 3
Even though their scoreboard sucks, Georgia had plenty of “cams”: Kiss Cam, Dance Cam, etc. Lots of free t-shirts, giveaways, etc. Actually, Georgia’s t-shirt guns were the most impressive I’ve seen, sending some tees bouncing off the roof.
Pep band: 4
Great blend of new stuff and old stuff. They even did a rendition of “Uptown Funk” that made me really, really happy.
Halftime show: 3.5
The popular “Quick Change” act yet again. In case you haven’t seen it before, here it is at a Milwaukee Bucks game a few years back:
Meh. Maybe I’ve just seen it too many times, but they have nothing on the Firecrackers.
Posters and free t-shirts for the student section to promote their blackout.
Ticket price: 5
$15 for all seats, even for the Kentucky game. That’s a deal, my friends.
Very nice and helpful.
Press area/meal: 4
The press meal was fried chicken, green beans, and mashed potatoes, which I’ll never complain about. Sweet tea, water and cookies were also available, and there was a Coke fountain in the press room. God bless Georgia’s Coke monopoly.
Student Section: 3.5
The students got their early, and when the doors opened, they stampeded into the gymnasium:
They also heckled the players throughout warmups:
Oddly enough, I don’t think they used the cheers they came up with for the game, maybe because Drew publicized them on the site. While I was taking pictures of the students, one saw my KSR pullover and yelled “HEY, WHERE’S THAT DREW FRANKLIN” at me. “Because of him, I got cussed out by hundreds of UK fans.” Sorry, dude.
There was an older man in the crowd that obviously wasn’t part of the student section, but did jumping jacks for nearly the entire game in a crazy red and black sweater. He seems to be a bit of a celebrity at Stegeman, and someone in the student section even made a fathead of him that they showed on the jumbotron. I’d love to hear his story.
BBN Effect: 5
Kentucky fans always travel well, but they were out in force in Athens. There’s a big contingent of UK fans in Atlanta, and the Alumni Club even presented the MVP of the game, Andrew Harrison, with the Bill Keightley Mr. Wildcat Award. I met David Shelton, the past president of the Greater Atlanta UK Alumni Club, and he wanted me to spread the word about their campaign to get a UK license plate for Georgia. To help them out, visit ukfan.net.
Back to the crowd. From tip off on, Kentucky fans made their presence known with several LOUD “Go Big Blue” chants. Here’s one of them:
At the end of the game, Andrew Harrison and Tyler Ulis motioned to the crowd to thank them for their support, and a large group of Kentucky fans stuck around to send the team bus off from Stegeman Coliseum. I’ve already written about this, but Kentucky fans across the South have flocked to see this team play, and being able to witness the BBN presence at road games has been one of my favorite parts of this season.
GBB chant count: 10
Athens is right up there with Oxford as my favorite SEC town. In fact, it may have passed it on this trip. Downtown Athens has plenty of great bars and restaurants, along with an excellent music scene (it is the home of REM and the B-52s, after all). My favorite haunt is Trappeze Pub, which has excellent food and tasty craft brews. Over lunch, I sampled Creature Comforts Tropicália, an IPA brewed right across the street. Two thumbs up.
Georgia’s campus is gorgeous as well, all brick and pine trees. It’s pretty much the ideal setting for a big school in the South, and if you haven’t been there yet, put it on your bucket list.
Overall atmosphere: 4
Stegeman was buzzing for Tuesday’s game, and at times in the second half, the atmosphere seemed prime for an upset; however, this Kentucky team was once again just too good. Props to the Georgia crowd for bringing it and the Georgia team for giving Kentucky a serious scare.
As for the building itself, the renovations to the exterior and the concourses are gorgeous, the perfect model for updating older small arenas without sacrificing character. Once Stegeman gets a new scoreboard, it will be one of the nicer arenas in the SEC. Combine that with an ideal college town like Athens and you’ve got one hell of a road trip.
Total score: 75.5/100
Auburn Arena: 84/100
South Carolina’s Colonial Life Arena: 77.5/100
Alabama’s Coleman Coliseum: 76.75/100
Florida’s O’Connell Center: 74/100
Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gymnasium: 71.5/100
Mississippi State’s Humphrey Coliseum: 69/100
Ole Miss’ Tad Smith Coliseum: 68.5/100
After two months of heavy-recruiting, Stoops Troops’ transition into two months of Spring Practice. Before looking ahead, there’s one thing you can’t ignore when reflecting on recruiting: the height of UK’s young wide receivers.
Decommitments had plenty of people worrying in January, but it’s hard to worry whether or not “they still got it” when you see the
ratings size of of the Cats’ new recruits, especially at wide receiver. People make a fuss over ratings, but there are two things you can’t teach: size and speed. Here’s a look of what the Cats already have on the roster, and what’s to come in the future.
All products from the state of Ohio, they are big athletes that can only improve their stock (rating) with more attention at summer camps. Ross and Holtzclaw have the outside speed, whereas Rigg is already a solid 240-pound tight end with another year of high school to grow and develop.
C.J. Conrad is already on campus, and expected to be a presence on the field immediately. Tavin Richardson has a tweener build, probably more suited for tight end, but much depends on how is how body develops once he’s on campus. Greenwood was one of the best players in the DMV last year. Gosier was a late addition to the class, but with 4.5-speed from South Florida, he’s not just going to take up a roster spot, he’s going to compete to play.
After this Fall’s first open practice, I was prepared to dub Baker and Bone as the best duo of outside receivers in UK history. I bit my tongue — people LOVE telling the young guy he’s short-sighted — but these guys are realer than the chunk missing from the Real Deal Holyfield’s ear. Their confident personalities can appear cocky; perfect for guys that have to “go get it.” They also complement one another well: Baker gets open with his physicality, Bone with his length and athleticism. If Long has improved as much as people have said around the team, he’ll be a consistent contributor in the middle of defenses.
It’s silly to compare these guys to former UK greats, but here’s something important to consider: how many tall UK receivers have been vertically gifted? The short answer is not many. The best of the blue and white have been undersized overachievers: Craig Yeast (5’7″), Randall Cobb (5’10”), Dicky Lyons (5’11”), Derek Abney (5’10”), and (to my surprise) Keenan Burton (6’2″) and James Whalen (6’2″).
After doing some research, here’s a short list of the best UK wideouts 6’3″ and over.
That list looks short because it is. Even if you got back to Bob Windsor (6’4″) in the 60’s, there just aren’t a lot to choose from because “tall wide receivers” aren’t a thing at UK*. Chris Matthews (surprisingly) had better numbers than anybody. Stevie Johnson and Aaron Boone were the only wideouts with double-digit touchdowns in a season and Johnson was the only one to post more than 1,000 yards.
Just because Stoops’ new Troops are tall, doesn’t translate to onfield production, but it does mean that Stoops is addressing changes in the demographics of the game. After watching his DBs get Mossed on repeatedly last season, SEC football is go big or go home.
Or in Chris Matthews’ case, go big and go to the Super Bowl.
* By all means, remind me of any players you believe I missed.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©March 04th, 2015 @ 8:00pm
After 30 hours, 600 miles, one win, and probably three gallons of caffeine, I am back in Nashville from Athens. I’ll admit I didn’t expect this trip to be quite as thrilling as it was, and even though I may have aged twenty years in the process, I think Kentucky’s dramatic win has me more excited about this team than any 30-point blowout could.
The scene at the arena after the game last night was frantic, so I have a lot of leftovers to dish out before I crash. Let’s get started…
Kentucky survived the perfect storm
Since the beginning of conference play, the Georgia game in Athens has been circled as a trap game on most of our schedules. The rout of Arkansas dulled the hype quite a bit, but Josh Hopkins the worrywart was right: UK had its hands full last night. It started to look like the perfect storm. Georgia fans were surprisingly confident about their chances, showing up early and being LOUD throughout the night. Senior Nemanja Djurisic played out of his mind, scoring 18 points and pulling gritty little Georgia along like an old Serbian bear. Somehow, Georgia was able to crack Kentucky’s impenetrable defense and score in the post while also confounding the Cats on offense. During their big run in the second half, Georgia couldn’t miss and I’ll be honest, JJ Frazier’s NBA three felt like a dagger; however, as they have all year, Kentucky found a way to win. That’s why they don’t need to lose a game. That’s why it may be time to start throwing around the d-word and the f-word. (Destiny and fate, you potty mouths.)
Stone Cold Swaggy Andrew
If Djurisic was Georgia’s old Serbian bear, Andrew Harrison was Kentucky’s bulldog. With Georgia up by two with 2:38 left in the first half, Andrew scored 7 points in 26 seconds. Andrew’s been on a tear in the past month, but he kicked it into another gear during that stretch. The normally stoic point guard gritted his teeth, motioned to the UK crowd, and clapped his hands in the Georgia players’ faces, essentially daring them to come at him. After the game, Karl Towns told me that when Andrew’s playing like that–in Stone Cold Killer mode–the rest of the team never loses its confidence. Cal said that Tyler Ulis has been especially inspired by Andrew’s progress. It’s been a long, hard two years for Andrew, but he’s emerged an even better leader than we dreamed he could be.
There was a whole lot of random in that gym last night
From Nemanja Djurisic’s bizarre parents to Bill Belichick, Charles Barkley, Ashley Judd and the random older Georgia fan doing jumping jacks the entire game, there was a lot of random stuff in Stegeman last night. There was a buzz around the arena an hour before tip, with fans lining up to get a selfie with Jay Bilas and ESPN cameras scuttling around the court like beetles to capture every second. Call it Kentucky’s traveling circus.
Meeting Charles Barkley was really cool
Sorry Jay, Ashley, and Belichick, but the coolest celebrity appearance of the night had to be Charles Barkley. Twitter being Twitter, I didn’t even realize Barkley was in the arena until I saw someone tweet a picture of him, so I immediately stood up and looked for him, finally spotting him in a crowd of fans and security guards. If this job has taught me anything, it’s to seize moments like this, so I maneuvered my way across the arena to his section. He was surrounded by three security guards who were turning people and their camera phones away, but I kept my head up and snuck up to the row above him. Shoutout to the super nice Georgia fan who tapped Charles on the shoulder and moved aside for me, and all the shoutouts to Charles for agreeing to take a picture with a starstruck blogger. He couldn’t have been nicer, and I’ll always look at that picture with a smile.
Blue didn’t just get in, it took over
The Big Blue Nation always puts in impressive showings on the road, but this season has been a different animal. Kentucky fans are traveling to each road venue in droves, desperate for the chance to see this team in action. Grantland’s Mark Titus likened it to a religious experience, and he’s right; each Saturday, Tuesday, and Thursday, the Big Blue Nation has made pilgrimages across the South to witness history. Come rain, come snow, come sleet, the BBN is there, praising, prodding, and picking up the Cats when they need it the most.
Last night’s UK crowd was especially loud, starting “Go Big Blue” chants as soon as the game began. I took plenty of videos (seriously, six GBB videos on my phone) and I know some came across on TV, but the chants were deafening in person. My favorite came in the game’s final seconds, when Andrew Harrison and Tyler Ulis motioned to the crowd to get even louder:
We’re just getting started, bro. If the regular season was church, next week’s SEC Tournament will be our revival.
The “March shakes” are back
I feel like I spent the entire month of March and first week of April last year shaking. UK’s improbable tournament run and Aaron Harrison’s flair for the dramatic gave me something I’ve coined the “March shakes,” or the nervous, uncontrollable trembling one gets towards the end of a late game. A few hiccups aside, this season has been a breeze, but the shakes returned with a vengeance last night during Georgia’s second half run. My entire body succumbed to the shakes and I only had control over my fingers, and even then, I could only cap up and sway along to the live blog. That’s one thing I learned about the March shakes: you can’t stop them, you can only ride them out. Kind of like Kentucky this season.
The media swarm around the team right now is staggering
If you’ve heard it once over the last few weeks, you’ve heard it a million times: the media coverage around Kentucky is insane right now. The Cats are all over ESPN, and the Worldwide Leader took over Stegeman Coliseum last night. Jay Bilas, Brad Nessler, Shannon Spake AND Jeannine Edwards were there, along with countless cameramen, cables, and carts. I’m used to this zoo at places like Rupp, but at tiny Stegeman Coliseum, it became a circus.
Just so you guys know, normally at road venues, visiting teams do their press conferences in a press room with a table, microphone, and plenty of seats for reporters to set up their computers/cameras/etc. Georgia has that setup, but for some reason, John Calipari, Karl Towns, Andrew and Aaron Harrison all did their postgame media stuff in a small hallway outside the visitor’s locker room. The players each went to separate corners in the room and the media mobbed them to the point that the group around Karl blocked the door the players needed to use to exit the gym, which Marcus Lee loudly and hilariously blamed Karl for:
The protocol is kind of the same for player interviews at Rupp, so I’m used to it, but it got even crazier when Calipari came out. A pack of 20-30 reporters and cameramen swarmed around Cal so badly that he had to yell at everyone to back up five steps. And then five steps more. This shorty doesn’t enjoy being squished into armpits, so I stayed off to the side and slid my recorder in against the wall.
It’s only going to get crazier as we keep going. Everything: the media, the coverage, the nerves, the stakes, the shakes. When my mom asked me about my trip this afternoon, I told her last night was when it got real. For the most part, this season has been like a blissful sail on a pretty day–calm seas and sun everywhere. Now, the wind’s picking up and the water’s getting choppy, making everything exciting and terrifying. On Saturday, Kentucky can close the book on a historic regular season at home, one last warm fuzzy comfort before the madness begins.
The SEC Tournament starts in one week (one week!), and Nashville will be a Kentucky fan’s fantasyland. Someone needs to invent a TiVo/DVR for life, because I’m seriously going to need it. One day when I’m old and bored or maybe when the Cats aren’t as good, I’m going to want to relive these moments. Whether it’s Ryan Lemond crowdsurfing during the pregame show at Tin Roof Broadway (oh, this will happen), Aaron making another big shot, EJ Floreal performing the ritual pregame dance, or simply seeing Marcus Lee and Karl Towns playfully bicker, this season has been unlike any other, and we’re getting near the last chapter. Like with any great story, it’s bittersweet because the last thing I want is for this to end.