By Jack Pilgrim on ©October 13th, 2019 @ 11:15pm
Good evening, BBN! Welcome back to another edition of Pilgrim’s Insider Notes.
This weekend was a massive one in the world of Kentucky basketball recruiting, as UK hosted ten elite prospects for Big Blue Madness ranging from the best of the best in the senior class to unranked, high-potential athletes in the 2022 class.
The big names? 2020 five-star guard Cade Cunningham, 2020 commitments Terrence Clarke and Lance Ware, and 2021 five-star forward Paolo Banchero, among others.
So how did things go with the top targets, you ask?
Let’s dive right in and find out.
As I wrote in my Insider Notes post last week, the Kentucky coaching staff followed up Devin Askew’s official visit to Lexington by immediately preparing for Cunningham’s visit.
“Next week is the big one,” one source close to the situation told KSR last weekend. “[They are] not playing around, going for the kill.”
Sources told KSR that Kentucky head coach John Calipari took a visit to Cunningham’s school to talk things over and preview his upcoming official to UK.
Going into the trip, sources told KSR that Cunningham was never going to be sold by the lights, pyrotechnics, and smoke of Big Blue Madness. He also wasn’t looking for a pitch that only highlighted his abilities or the opportunity to take as many shots as he wanted like some other top recruits have and continue to do. With UK already picking up commitments from Terrence Clarke and BJ Boston, Cunningham was interested in learning how they would all work together as the most dynamic backcourt in college basketball next season and build their collective NBA Draft stock together.
Ask and you shall receive.
Sources tell KSR that outside the normal impressive official visit techniques the UK coaching staff held a film study session with Cunningham that resonated extremely well with the five-star guard. During this time, the staff broke down his game and how he would be utilized in Calipari’s system next year alongside numerous other elite prospects in what is looking to be one of the UK head coach’s best recruiting classes ever. Clarke – who I’m told (and as evident on his social media pages) has been “relentless” in recruiting Cunningham on his own – was also there during the film session, with all three parties (Cunningham, Clarke, and the UK staff) talking about how well the two star guards would work together. Cunningham had an idea of what he was looking for in this regard and the overall style of coaching, and the Kentucky staff blew him away.
— Terrence Clarke (@terrenceclarke_) October 13, 2019
Outside of the film work, Cunningham explored the facilities, watched practice, visited Keeneland, went to the Kentucky vs. Arkansas football game, and ate dinner at Jeff Ruby’s, among other UK visit regularities. All major boxes checked in terms of learning about the program and what everyday life would be as a potential future Wildcat.
I said on the Sources Say Podcast last week that for the first time since Cannen Cunningham, Cade’s brother, was hired on at Oklahoma State, I felt Kentucky had a legitimate shot at landing the elite five-star guard. The Wildcats were picking up significant momentum going into the visit, and the UK coaching staff went out of their way to go above and beyond to shatter those expectations. It takes a lot to screw up an official visit – seriously, when is the last time you heard of an official visit going wrong? It’s not often – but it also takes a lot to be a difference-maker in a top-five prospect’s recruitment. Kentucky did a phenomenal job making sure the latter came to fruition.
So where do things stand now?
As you guys are well aware by now, 247Sports Director of Recruiting Evan Daniels submitted a Crystal Ball pick in favor of the Wildcats this afternoon, a massive development. Daniels is 42/42 on recruiting predictions in 2019, as the recruiting insider never submits a pick until he’s pretty darn certain. He originally had a pick in for Oklahoma State this summer (when Cunningham was almost certainly going to follow his brother to Stillwater), then changed it to “foggy” when it became apparent he was not tied down to OSU and strongly considering a commitment elsewhere. Even when North Carolina buzz picked up, the popular recruiting held off on an official prediction. The fact that the recruiting insider – who has correctly predicted 94.4% of all-time picks – opted for Kentucky this afternoon immediately following Cunningham’s official visit is quite significant.
To provide some background, Kentucky feels it has done enough to secure a commitment from the 6-foot-7 guard when it comes time for a decision. To take it a step further, those in the Arlington/DFW area – Cunningham’s hometown – believe Kentucky is the firm leader at this point. There are also rumblings that North Carolina is no longer confident in landing the five-star guard, as they are aware of UK’s recent surge and Oklahoma State’s longtime status as the clubhouse leader. Another individual told KSR this evening that those around the UNC program now feel they are running third behind the Cowboys and Wildcats and will likely not land their prized guard target. As for the Cowboys, I can’t get too far into detail here, but there are some other rumblings that the current OSU administration – including his brother – won’t even be there by the time Cunningham ends up on a college campus. I’m not certain how much the five-star guard is factoring this into his decision, but it obviously can’t hurt Kentucky’s chances.
OSU is not losing hope quite yet, but UK’s internal confidence is growing louder. As it should.
Sources tell KSR that despite the UK buzz, Cunningham is still planning on taking his official visit to Washington next weekend, with the five-star guard planning on setting an announcement date not long after. There is strong speculation that Cunningham will then make his decision around Thanksgiving next month and sign during the fall signing period.
Kentucky was tasked with making a jump to the top spot in the 6-foot-7 guard’s recruitment this weekend, and I believe they did just that. It’s not over quite yet, as Oklahoma State will try its best to throw a counterpunch to UK’s momentum, but it cannot be discounted just how promising things look for the top guard in the nation.
A lot of people asked last week about how Kentucky’s positive momentum with Cunningham and potential commitment would affect the team’s pursuit of 2021 five-star guard Devin Askew.
In short, it doesn’t hurt in the slightest. In fact, it only helps.
Ben Roberts of the Herald-Leader – who has done phenomenal work this weekend in Colorado Springs at the Team USA Minicamp – asked both Askew and his father what they thought of Cunningham’s potential addition, and they had nothing but high praise for the five-star guard and the idea of suiting up next to him in Lexington.
I talked about UK making certain both parties were okay with the idea of playing together on the podcast last week, so this confirmation straight from Askew today is certainly a good sign.
To take it a step further, I reached out to one source extremely familiar with Askew’s official visit to UK last week, and I continue to hear only positive news regarding Kentucky’s chances. In fact, this same individual told KSR on Sunday afternoon that it’s not a secret within the UK program that Askew is expected to become a Wildcat in the coming weeks, with a reclassification to 2020 likely to follow.
“Just go on and pencil him in to Kentucky [for the class of 2020] at this point,” the source said.
As crazy as it sounds for UK to land both Askew and Cunningham in the same class, it’s looking more and likely to be reality. With or without Cunningham, I would be shocked at this point if the Santa Ana, CA native ended up anywhere other than UK.
This week, Ben Roberts reported from Colorado Springs that 2020 top-ten prospect Scottie Barnes had scheduled an official visit for Kentucky next weekend for the school’s annual Blue-White Scrimmage. Around the same time, it was reported that Barnes would no longer be visiting Miami (FL) and cutting the Hurricanes from his list, leaving just Florida State, Oregon, and Kentucky in contention.
Oddly enough, both sets of news came not long after Kentucky commit BJ Boston went on Hey Kentucky and hinted at UK having a major silent commitment in the frontcourt.
Coincidence? Strangely enough – especially when you factor in Barnes’ hectic recruitment and the schools long seen as the strongest contenders – it actually might not be.
On Thursday evening, a source told KSR that despite the obvious Barnes may actually be the individual Boston was referring to, with the UK staff looking to utilize the 6-foot-9, 215-pound forward as a small ball four alongside Cunningham, Clarke, and Boston.
On the outside, it admittedly sounds ridiculous. After including Kentucky in his list of final eight schools (Miami, Oregon, Ohio State, Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, California, and Florida State) back in February, he later told reporters at Peach Jam that Oregon, Kansas, Ohio State, Miami and Florida State were the five schools he was most strongly involved with. Kentucky’s chances with the top-ten prospect seemed non-existent, with sources telling KSR that mutual interest between UK and Barnes was lukewarm, at best. In fact, one source close to Barnes told KSR back in the spring that he simply didn’t see a scenario where he would “ever” end up in Lexington.
In terms of the schools in the best position to land Barnes, Oregon has long been seen as the favorite, though Florida State has emerged in recent weeks as a major contender.
Admittedly, I have to see it to believe it simply based on the strong rumblings surrounding both the Seminoles and the Ducks and the longtime absence of UK buzz. That being said, the Kentucky coaching staff likes to move in silence and work behind the scenes. You just never know with Calipari.
I don’t feel strongly enough to stand behind the rumors – correct in the end or not – but it’s at least worth passing along given the five-star forward’s upcoming official visit to Kentucky. It’s also worth noting that the pro-UK buzz was out there before the visit was scheduled this weekend, it that means anything.
We’ll have more on Barnes following his trip to Lexington next week.
This past summer, a high-major Division I assistant coach recruiting 2021 five-star forward Paolo Banchero told KSR at Peach Jam that there was “no way” he ended up anywhere other than Washington.
Since then, though, Banchero has told everyone that will listen to him that the Huskies are not his leader, with one source telling KSR a few weeks back that he would be fairly surprised if the five-star forward ended up at Washington.
So where will the consensus top-four prospect in the class of 2021 land?
After his official visit to Kentucky weekend, I feel strongly that the Wildcats are one of Banchero’s top options, if not the firm leader in his recruitment. Things went extremely well this weekend, as sources tell KSR that the 6-foot-10 forward’s family was “in love” with the UK staff’s approach both on and off the floor. It’s not easy to send your child almost 2,000 miles away, but Calipari and his assistants did a phenomenal job making sure Banchero’s parents were comfortable in doing so, should he ultimately decide to sign with Kentucky.
On another note, despite telling various outlets that he is no longer considering a reclassification, sources in various recruiting circles (both nationally and locally) believe he will ultimately wind up in the class of 2020 when it’s all said and done.
If anyone were to be silently committed to UK for 2020, I’d venture to say Banchero certainly feels more likely than Barnes. After all, he did mesh well together with Clarke, Lance Ware, and Cunningham this weekend…
Calipari casually flaunting that national championship ring in front of Terrence Clarke, Paolo Banchero, and Lance Ware, who seem amused. pic.twitter.com/PlYOpWMVpI
— Tyler Thompson (@MrsTylerKSR) October 12, 2019
I try to stay levelheaded on these notes and try to avoid hyping things up, but it’s fairly obvious that this weekend was a massive success for Kentucky on the recruiting front.
There was no hiding from the fact that this was a monster game for the Kentucky football program. The team was fresh off embarrassing road losses to both Mississippi State and South Carolina after blowing a double-digit lead against Florida. Dealing with all kinds of quarterback injuries, the Wildcats had to figure out some type of spark in the bye week.
The decision was to move Lynn Bowden, Jr. to full-time quarterback and the gamble paid off after two weeks of preparation. The Youngstown, Ohio native was exhilarating in his first career start and Wildcats went on a 24-7 blitz in the final 35 minutes to win the football game.
Behind a unique offensive performance and a defense that made some timely stops, the Wildcats gave Mark Stoops his first SEC West win over a school not named Mississippi State and set UK up to have a nice finish in the last six games.
The Wildcats collected 418 yards (330 rushing, 88 passing) on 66 plays and put up 6.3 yards per snap. That was the offense’s second highest output of the season and their highest in an SEC game since the road win at Florida. The chunk play returned with the Wildcats collecting six plays of 20-plus yards with four of them occurring in the final quarter.
Lynn Bowden’s 51-yard run didn’t ice the game, but his 15-yard sprint on the next snap certainly did. The dual-threat quarterback finished with 196 rushing yards on 24 carries and he would have certainly got to the 200-yard mark if Kentucky doesn’t go to the victory formation on the final two plays. He provided the juice, but UK needed their running backs to do some heavy lifting.
A.J. Rose and Kavosiey Smoke combined for 135 yards on 27 carries to help power this ground game in between attempts from Bowden. Each provided a big play in the fourth quarter as Kentucky pulled away from the Hogs. The Wildcats are still struggling with their short-yardage offense, but when you rush for over 300 yards you are going to win a lot of football games. It was the sixth time they’ve reached that feat under Eddie Gran and the Wildcats are 5-1 when they hit that number.
It was a run heavy attack, but you still have prove you can throw the football. While this is never going to be an offense that goes all in on the pass with Bowden behind center, the future NFL wide receiver showed he can make some necessary throws to move the chains. The most impressive happened on a third-and-long in the red zone.
The star player can deliver the fade and also made some nice throws to Justin Rigg across the middle. He missed Christopher Rodriguez, Jr. on a beautifully designed throwback in the third quarter but otherwise did what he was asked. He’s limited as a passer, but can make more throws than you would think.
Whenever you have that big of day on the ground, your guys in the trenches have to be putting some work in. Again, the short-yardage offense needs work, but UK was moving people in the run game. The group gave up just one sack in limited in pass pro snaps, but also got some help from the tight ends. Keaton Upshaw had a beautiful downfield block to spring Lynn Bowden, Jr. on a 24-yard touchdown to put UK up for good in the final quarter. However, the Wildcats lost Landon Young to injury in the final quarter and his status will be something to monitor closely moving forward.
The performance by the offense was huge boost for the program for a lot of reasons. There was no denying that this group stunk up the last two games and Kentucky’s season would have been headed for a disaster if they didn’t fix things fast. With two weeks to prepare, they went all in on the Lynn Bowden, Jr. experience and it paid off.
UK established the run, converted third downs, scored on red zone trips, and created splash plays. This success allowed them to establish the tempo and make Arkansas play on their terms. That hasn’t happened the last two games and that will have to remain a trend if Kentucky hopes to continue winning football games.
Kentucky allowed 305 yards (183 rushing, 122 passing) on 57 plays and that was a yards per play total of 5.4. For the third time this season, UK held its opponent to 5.5 yards per less and that should win you some football games. With Nick Starkel struggling, the pass defense excelled while the run defense still needs a lot of work.
Rakeem Boyd entered tonight as the SEC’s second leading rusher and he showed why on the second play from scrimmage. The slasher can house it when given a crease and UK got stretched thin immediately out of the gate. After settling in, the Wildcats gave up 6.1 yards per carry and it was the second time this season an opponent put up that large a number. However, thinks to the style of a Chad Morris offense, the Hogs only attempted 27 non-sack rushes and that was a good thing because they put up over 201 yards in a small amount of attempts. This is a huge concern going into Athens next week.
There’s no hiding from the fact that the Wildcats are extremely young in the secondary and that youth is getting thrown to the fire. Brad White is playing a ton of freshman and sophomores in the backend and with that comes some growing pains. There were multiple coverage penalties, but other than that this group continues to grow.
Tonight might have been that group’s best work as they held a pass happy offense to less than 50 percent completions and just 4.5 yards per pass. This was the lowest total of the season for the Hogs and it was clear UK was ready for the challenge. After Nick Starkel was pulled, Ben Hicks had some success but the pass rush delivered when it was needed most.
Calvin Taylor, Jr. continues to play excellent football and the redshirt senior collected a huge third down sack to take Arkansas out of the red zone down just four. T.J Carter followed it up with a pressure on the next play that created a turnover on downs. Quinton Bohanna recorded the second sack of his career on a third down earlier in the fourth quarter and Boogie Watson continues to answer the bell by recording a sack fumble in the first quarter.
The Wildcats gave up too many third down conversions (6-of-13), but they did get some timely stops against the SEC’s worst red zone offense. Outside of the long run to begin the game, the last two Arkansas scoring drives were a product of possession that started inside the UK 35. The defense was put in some bad spots and they answered the challenge while showing some growth along the way.
Grant McKinniss continues to be a great kickoff specialist and the former punter now has a touchback rate of 82.1 percent as he is helping to eliminate any return opportunities. Max Duffy continues to do his thing with two punts downed inside the 20 with another one going 50-plus yards. However, Duffy punted out of his endzone and outkicked his coverage a bit and that setup Arkansas with a very short field that would result in a touchdown. However, Matt Ruffolo was the story of the night.
The walk-on missed a 47-yard attempt in the second quarter, but drilled one from 51 yards on UK’s first possession of the third quarter. After a sack and false start killed a promising drive, UK’s new kicked saved the team with a big kick to help keep the momentum building. UK should feel good about their kicking situation moving forward.
There were some issues in punt return and they were mainly due to a muff by Josh Ali on the first punt by Arkansas. UK was fortunate to recover and if they didn’t it could have been a totally different game. In the kick return department, Zach Johnson was very serviceable in putting up 48 yards in two returns.
There is no hiding from how big this game was for Kentucky. A loss likely meant a 5-7 season at best with your bowl streak ending while a win still gives you a legit chance at a 7-5 record and some momentum moving forward. With major quarterback issues and a hangover after the Florida loss that lasted two weeks, the Wildcats needed some juice. They got that from the best player on the team.
After a couple games of getting impatient with establishing the run, UK had to stick with the game plan this week after a slow start and it paid off. With some nifty option plays and some creation from a dynamic playmaker, Kentucky had their best offensive night of the season and gained some swagger that was lost in that fourth quarter loss to Florida.
The Wildcats are at their best under Eddie Gran when they are able to run the ball at will and throw no more than 20 times. This is where the coaching staff is most comfortable and that was easy to see in the win. The Wildcats were able to keep their defense fresh while riding an offensive line that led the way to over 300 yards being recorded on the ground. The result was exactly what the program needed and doing it after being down 13-0 makes it even more impressive.
Big picture moving forward is that Kentucky should have won that game. The Wildcats have a better roster than Arkansas at the moment and with an extra week to prepare, they should have been able to scheme up some things for Lynn Bowden, Jr. to have success at quarterback. Sometimes that can be easier said than done and we got to see some proof of concept on Saturday.
Moving forward, the Wildcats need to build on all the positives. The dominant ground game appears to be back and we should see a group that plays confident in the final six games. After the win, the staff now knows what Bowden is most comfortable with on the ground game and can now work to build the passing attack. A young defense continues to grow and now must figure out how to start fast. There’s plenty more things to grow with four home games remaining and a very winnable road trip to Nashville.
On to Georgia.
It was Jared Lorenzen Day at Kroger Field with the Kentucky football program desperately needing a win. UK’s top two quarterbacks were sidelined with injuries, so the Wildcats would be trying Lynn Bowden, Jr. to see if he had some of that Randall Cobb magic. Boy, did he ever.
Behind an offense that rushed for over 300 yards and a defense that played very well outside of the first series, the Wildcats got their first league win of the season and now there’s plenty of optimism entering the final half of the season.
1.) Lynn Bowden, Jr. Has The Juice
The star wide receiver spent the last two weeks getting all of the QB1 snaps in practice according to the UK radio broadcast and it was clear early on that he was going to get all of the snaps. Bowden received all the reps warming up and was throwing fades in short sleeve hoodie an hour before kickoff.
— Adam Luckett (@AdamLuckettKSR) October 12, 2019
The former blue-chipper rushed for 196 yards on 24 carries and made the big plays in the fourth quarter. Bowden’s 24-yard run put UK in front with under seven minutes left and a 51-yard run followed by a 15-yard gash iced the game on UK’s final possession.
He did his thing on the ground, but he also provided a much needed passing spark. The former high school quarterback hit Justin Rigg on pop passes on RPO looks in the first half and threw a beautiful back shoulder fade to Clevan Thomas, Jr. for a 10-yard score in the third quarter. He provided big time playmaking on third down and made the plays when the team needed it.
2.) Defense’s Progression
Kentucky is very young in the back seven this season due to a multitude of reasons and it has showed. Slow starts have been an issue and there was another one tonight. On the second play from scrimmage, Rakeem Boyd sprinted 74 yards for six on an outside zone and that would allow Arkansas to hold the lead until late in the third quarter. However, the group settled in quick.
UK gave up just one touchdown on three red zone trips, got timely stops, played just 57 snaps, and got two big pressures from their senior defensive ends to end it. After the big run, UK held Arkansas to just 4.1 yards per play. That will win you a lot of a ballgames.
3.) Setting The Pace
It’s no secret how Kentucky wants to win football games under Mark Stoops. The Wildcats want to establish the run and shrink the game as much as possible. UK is most comfortable when they are able to play under 70 snaps and stay with that pace all night.
Arkansas only got off 57 snaps on offense and they came into tonight averaging 73.2 plays per game. The Hogs want to get to at least 80 in their hurry-up, no-huddle offense that is built to go NASCAR fast. To pull off UK’s style, however, your offense has to pull a lot of weight.
Kentucky moved the chains 21 times in 66 plays and converted 50 percent of their 14 third downs. The Wildcats were perfect in the red zone until the kneel out to finish the game. Whenever you are able to run for 300-plus yards you are going to win a lot of football games.
4.) Kentucky Might Have A Kicker
Matt Ruffolo received his second start of the season and the junior would attempt his two field goals from 40-plus yards out. Kentucky entered today with just four makes on eight attempts and most everyone in the stadium seemed skeptical.
Well, the Ohio native had plenty of left of leg on a 47-yard attempt that just went wide. After going backwards on a red zone trip in the third quarter, UK would call on Ruffolo again and this time he delivered on a 50-yarder that would cut the lead to three on UK’s first possession after half.
Kentucky might have a reliable option at kicker.
5.) Pass Rush Delivers
Arkansas entered the game having only given up seven sacks and that ranked third in the SEC and in the top-25 nationally. The pass rush has been a thorn in UK’s side with the coaches recently challenging Boogie Watson to provide some more production.
He did that by recording his third sack in two games in addition to a forced fumble. However, others chipped in in timely scenarios. Calvin Taylor, Jr. continues to play excellent football and collected a huge third down sack on the final Arkansas possession. The next play, T.J. Carter would provide a pressure that would lead to an incompletion. Quinton Bohanna would also notch a sack while Jordan Wright is giving UK some outside pass rush.
This group needs to continue to develop and they are showing some positive signs.
6.) Chunk Plays
One of the main reasons for optimism for this season was that the offense was going to have some big play factor. With more speed at running back and Lynn Bowden, Jr. getting plenty of touches, that meant some more big plays for the offense.
The last two weeks those have disappeared for the most part, but we saw the splash play return tonight. Kentucky recorded six plays of 20-plus yards in the win and all of them came on the ground. We would get four in the final quarter.
The Wildcats got all of these on the last two drives of the game with Bowden’s two runs on the last drive icing the game. When the defense was tired the big plays came and this is something you have to have with Bowden at quarterback.
7.) Run Defense Still Needs Work
Kentucky entered Saturday giving up 4.92 yards per carry and this ranked 106th in the FBS. Tonight that didn’t get much better with the Cats allowing 6.1 yards per carry on 30 attempts. You had 74 of the 183 rush yards came on one play, but this defense continues to struggle at stopping opposing ground games.
When you take out sack yardage, Arkansas put up 7.4 yards per attempt and honestly did not run the ball enough. Leaning on the pass allowed UK to pickup some much needed three-and-outs in the third quarter to ride the momentum built entering halftime. Moving forward, this has to improve if the defense wants to continue the growth they’ve shown in other areas.
8.) Max Duffy Is Still Good
The best punter in college football was only used three times in the game and two of his attempts were downed inside the 20. He booted another attempt 50-plus yards but did outkick his coverage punting from the endzone. That punt led to a big return that was the largest UK has allowed all season. That next possession would give the Hogs their only second half touchdown.
He’s still doing his job and if Jamin Davis makes a tackle we’re likely talking about UK holding an SEC foe under 20 points.
9.) Surprising Pass Game
For those that read my KSR Film Room piece on Lynn Bowden’s prowess as a high school quarterback, you likely were not surprised with the throws he made. It’s very clear that he’s comfortable with the fade and is quite capable off getting it to the tight end in the middle of the field.
Bowden tossed a beautiful ball to Wagner in the third quarter that would have been a big play if he gets a foot down inbounds. However, the big receiver helped out later in the possession when he drew a flag in the endzone. The best throw of the night came on a third down late in the third quarter when Bowden hit Clevan Thomas, Jr. for UK’s first passing touchdown since the third quarter of the Florida game.
The ground game was the story, but the pass game showed some potential.
10.) Winning Is Fun
There was a lot of talk about fans checking out from a ton of people this week and many expected a poor crowd on Saturday. However, that was not the case with Kentucky being at about a 94 percent capacity on a beautiful October night for a college football game in Lexington. The Big Blue Nation knew a win was needed and they helped will their team to the finish line.
After a slow start that saw UK get down 13-0 with just under six minutes left in the second quarter, the crowd never checked out and helped UK go on a run from that point. The team delivered and gave the program a great day in what was a memoriam for Jared Lorenzen.
The Wildcats owned the last 35 minutes of the football game as the defense settled in and the offense took off. Lynn Bowden, Jr. provided the big plays while the defense got the timely stops. In end, Kentucky lined up in the victory formation and now there will be some optimism for the final six games of the season.
There were a ton of reasons to be skeptical entering this week, but both the team and the fans brought it and there is now a chance for this to be a good season again.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©October 12th, 2019 @ 11:30pm
Lynn Bowden hasn’t started at quarterback since high school, but on a day when Kentucky desperately needed a win, he stepped into his old role and delivered. With one touchdown through the air and two on the ground, Bowden pushed the Cats to a 24-20 win over Arkansas and may have saved the season altogether.
“It was special to me,” Bowden said of the opportunity to play quarterback. “Two weeks ago when they told me I was going to be in the room I just thought I was giving Sawyer [Smith] a little break. This game week, they were putting me in the rotation, my teammates and my coaches just trusted me back there to lead the team and there’s just something great about it.”
Bowden’s first rushing touchdown came towards the end of the first half to put Kentucky on the board 13-7. Until that point, the Cats were stagnant on both sides of the ball, but Bowden was determined to flip the momentum heading into halftime.
“Just keeping our heads up,” Bowden said of his message to his teammates when Kentucky was down 13-0. “All these guys on the team, they’re all fighters. From the sidelines on the field, everyone’s a fighter. No one wants to lose. Just keeping everybody’s confidence up. I think I did that tonight.”
“I’m a vocal leader on the team so if I get down, then the team gets down. Just kept confidence, always stayed positive throughout the whole game and I think it showed out there with our teammates and how we were effective.”
Bowden admitted that keeping the secret that he was QB1 this week was tough, but the moment really hit home when he saw his old high school coach before the game.
“It’s like a little homecoming thing. My head coach said it too, I saw him during the Cat Walk. It’s just a blessing to be doing that still. I was receiver here, it’s a blessing. I’m at a loss for words for real. Just giving all the glory to my teammates.”
Bowden interrupted Mark Stoops’ postgame interview with the SEC Network with a bearhug:
Lynn Bowden mobs Mark Stoops mid-interview. pic.twitter.com/kA79xYW8Fo
— TheCatsPause247 (@TheCatsPause247) October 13, 2019
“So proud of Lynn, obviously, for what he’s done and the way he’s prepared for the past couple weeks,” Stoops said. “But also just the team for playing really good around Lynn. Offensively, guys were very unselfish, did what they had to do. Blocking, doing tough things on the perimeter, just doing whatever we had to do to move the football.”
Was Bowden disappointed that he missed out on the chance to get another touchdown at the end of the game when Kentucky went into victory formation? Not at all.
“Victory. I just want to win. Anything can happen in football.”
By Nick Roush on ©October 12th, 2019 @ 10:44pm
On Jared Lorenzen Day, Lynn Bowden made magic as the Wildcats’ quarterback, carrying Kentucky to a 24-20 victory over Arkansas at Kroger Field.
Given more than simple wildcat duties, Bowden busted big plays with his legs and made all of the throws Kentucky needed to put the Razorbacks’ defense on their heels. He complete 7-of-11 passes for 78 yards and an incredible back-shoulder fade to Clevan Thomas in the end zone. Bowden carried the ball 24 times for 196 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Most importantly, Bowden kept the boat afloat even after Kentucky fell behind early. A Rakeem Boyd 75-yard touchdown on the second play of the game helped the Razorbacks jump out to a 13-0 lead before UK responded.
Arkansas had a chance to take the lead late, but UK’s pass rush didn’t let Ben Hicks deliver the ball. Leading by four, Calvin Taylor Jr. got a sack on third and eight. On fourth down, T.J. Carter applied pressure, forcing a throw into the dirt. Two plays later Bowden delivered a 51-yard dagger.
Injury woes have plagued the quarterback position all season. With a little help from Lorenzen, Lynn Bowden gracefully ended that trend.
After a much needed bye week, UK returns to Kroger Field and will be facing another SEC team that is in desperate need of a win. Arkansas and Kentucky are set to face for the first time since 2012 and the Hogs make their first trip to Lexington since Bobby Petrino’s first season in 2008. A lot has happened in the decade since.
Nuts and Bolts
Arkansas made the jump to the SEC in 1992 and the program had some rough sledding early on. After a disappointing five-year run by former Clemson national championship head coach Danny Ford, Houston Nutt stepped in for a decade.
The Hogs would win 75 games, go to eight bowl games, play in two SEC Championships, and finish in the top-25 three times under Nutt. Despite winning eight games and upsetting eventual national champion LSU on the road in 2007, the administration decided to make a move. Newly appointed athletic director Jeff Long made quite the splash with the next hire.
Bobby Petrino was fresh off a 41-9 run at Louisville before an embarrassing showing in the NFL . It seemed he resigned from the Atlanta Falcons in December to immediately become the Arkansas coach. What happened next would be the program’s best run in the SEC.
After a 5-7 start, Petrino would lead Arkansas to 29 wins the next three seasons with three top-12 finishes. The Hogs played LSU for a share of the SEC West title on Thanksgiving Friday in 2011 and all signs pointed to them remaining a factor in college football’s toughest division. Then the alleged motorcycle wreck happened.
After the media did some digging, Jeff Long decided to dismiss the very successful coach. Despite this, the program seemed to recover well by hiring Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema who won three Big Ten titles in seven seasons. The Iowa alum would go just 29-34 in five years causing both him and Long to be fired. After what was deemed a bad cultural fit, the Hogs decided to lean into Texas.
Chad Morris was a former state championship winning Texas high school coach before joining the FBS ranks. After one season at Tulsa, he joined Dabo Swinney at Clemson to help build what is college football’s most popular dynasty today. Morris recruited Deshaun Watson and was one of the pioneers in the hurry-up, no-huddle offense becoming a staple in college football. After four years, Morris was hired by SMU in a move that allowed him to return to the Lonestar State.
Despite some excellent recruiting, the wins have not come. Morris has just one winning season in five years and two years with 10 losses. After losing to San Jose State earlier this season, it appears the Hogs are in for another rough year with games against Alabama, Auburn, and LSU remaining.
This is, however, a program with a rich history. The Hogs have been to 42 bowl games, won a national title in 1964, finished second in 1965, and third in 1969 and 1977. The program won 13 Southwest Conference titles and had a great run from 1958-1989. Frank Broyles, Lou Holtz, and Ken Hatfield all had a winning percentage above .700 as the Hogs were perennial contenders in the SWC during those three-plus decades.
This will be eighth meeting all-time between the two programs with Kentucky owning a 4-3 series lead. The last time these two programs met in Lexington, it was Randall Cobb’s coming out party when he scored two fourth quarter touchdowns to complete a comeback victory.
Out in the desert, Kentucky is a 7-point favorite with a total of 53.5. That’s a projected final score around 30-23. The Wildcats are are 3-4 against the spread and 6-1 straight up as an SEC home favorite since 2014. Arkansas is 8-9 against the number under Chad Morris. The under is 4-1 in Arkansas games this season.
Joe Craddock came with Chad Morris to Fayetteville to become an SEC offensive coordinator at the age of 32. The Razorbacks utilize a spread offense with tempo that wants to throw the ball around the yard. That meant a total roster reconstruction after Bielema’s heavy run based system. So the Hogs have gotten really young, but it’s allowing some of their biggest recruiting wins to get on the field very fast.
— Arkansas Razorback Football (@RazorbackFB) October 4, 2019
Both Treylon Burks and Trey Knox have missed one game due to injury this season, but have started every other. The two four-star rookies have combined for 38 grabs, 529 yards, and two touchdowns. The duo is averaging 13.9 yards per catch and are slowly turning into quality wideouts. Burks is a big slot receiver (6-foot-3, 223 pounds) while Knox is guy the Razorbacks will use to stretch the field.
They aren’t the only weapons in the pass happy offense. Mike Woods has started 12 games and is a true sophomore who is the veteran of the receiving corps. He leads the team in receiving yards. Cheyenne O’Grady has been one of the best tight ends in the SEC and he will provide a unique challenge for UK. The big fella was unleashed against Texas A&M when he recorded a career-high eight receptions so you can expect plenty of targets to head his way. He can rumble.
Cheyenne O'Grady with some SERIOUS YAC on this play. ?
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 16, 2019
The best weapon is found at running back. Rakeem Boyd was on Last Chance U and rushed for 1,211 yards at Independence Community College. The slashing back is second in the SEC in rushing and is on pace for a 1,159-yard season. Stopping the run will be paramount again.
Lining up next to Boyd at quarterback is a bit of a question mark. Arkansas lost two quarterbacks to transfer last season. Therefore, the Hogs brought in two grad transfer quarterbacks who had familiarity with the program. Ben Hicks started for Chad Morris at SMU for two seasons before not being a fit in the offense Sonny Dykes brought to Dallas. Despite being the program’s all-time leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns, he decided to make a move.
Arkansas landed Hicks, but wasn’t done on the quarterback market. Nick Starkel started his career at Texas A&M and beat out Kellen Mond in 2017 before being hurt in the first game. The next year, Jimbo Fisher arrived in Aggieland and Mond would win the QB1 spot. After being A&M’s primary backup last season, Starkel decided to move on. He landed at Arkansas where he would have two years of eligibility remaining.
Ben Hicks won the job leaving camp and started the first two games of the season. In those outings, he completed just 46.7 percent of his passes with a 5.3 yards per attempt average. He’s a game manager who plays it very safe and it was obvious he wasn’t the long-term answer. Therefore, Arkansas turned to Starkel the next week.
The big armed righty started the next three games and put up some pretty big numbers. The transfer isn’t afraid to let it rip shown by 7.8 yards per attempt average and seven interceptions in just 131 passes. The offense moved much better with Starkel in the lineup, but ball security is a major issue.
In the close loss to Texas A&M, Starkel was lost due to an elbow injury that occurred while trying to make a tackle after a red zone interception. Hicks stepped in and played his best game of the season. This week, Chad Morris states that Nick Starkel is good to go, but was vague about who the starter would be. There’s a lot of gamesmanship going on.
The offense’s biggest weakness through five games has been in the red zone. Arkansas ranks 126th in red zone efficiency and 120th in red zone touchdown rate. Kentucky could have an advantage when the Hogs get into scoring territory.
Back in 1995, Phillip Fulmer promoted John Chavis to defensive coordinator at Tennessee. The Vols won a national title three years later and the man they call Chief has called defenses for a quarter-century in the SEC. Tennessee, LSU, Texas A&M, and Arkansas have all employed Chavis, but lately his units have had some issues.
The Hogs currently rank 14th in the SEC in red zone touchdown rate, 11th in scoring defense, 12th in passer rating, and 12th in third down efficiency. Arkansas has been able to rush the passer and force some turnovers, but this old school 4-3 scheme has been a bend-but-don’t-break unit despite having a couple seniors in the front seven who will be draft picks.
McTelvin Agim was a five-star prospect reeled in by Bret Bielema’s staff and he’s played a lot since his true freshman season. The senior has over 30 career starts and will be a bear for UK’s interior offensive line to deal with when they run their normal inside zone concepts. Playing next to him on the line are a handful of seniors and true freshman Mataio Soli at defensive end.
At the second level, De’Jon Harris is back at Mike and the Louisiana native was a second-team All-SEC selection in both 2017 and 2018. The inside linebacker has recorded at least 115 tackles in each of the last two seasons and is a steadying force on the inside. Next to him at Will is sophomore Bumper Pool who is a future star. The Texas native was a blue-chip recruit in the first recruiting class for Morris.
In the secondary, Kamren Curl leads the team in tackles and has been giving the Hogs some very high quality safety play. The San Diego native has two sacks, one interception, and a forced fumble on top of nearly eight stops per game. The strong safety will play a huge role in run defense and he appears to be on his way to All-SEC honors. Surrounding Curl are three sophomore starters as the Hogs have gone full on youth movement in 2019.
Special Teams Breakdown
Connor Limpert is in his third season starting at placekicker and the Allen, Texas native has hit 83.3 percent of his 42 attempts. He’s made multiple 50-plus yard kicks and is a legit weapon for the Hogs when they get into scoring territory. However, in the kickoff department, Lippert has a below SEC average touchback rate of 62.1 percent. Returns will be there.
Arkansas ranks 13th in the SEC in punting, so hidden yards could be there in bunches when facing off against the nation’s best punter on the other side. The coverage teams have been good all season for the Hogs with opponents not picking up many yards.
Keys to Victory
- The offense for Arkansas has been absolutely brutal in the red zone all season and this comes a year after having the worst red zone touchdown rate in the SEC. The Hogs have had turnovers in addition to not getting the ball into the endzone. Through five games, UK has been okay at getting stops in the red zone. This a battle the Wildcats must win.
- Arkansas plays with tempo on offense and would prefer to run about 80 or so snaps on offense. There are quarterback questions to be answered, but there’s no denying that Kentucky wants its defense on the field for no more than 70 snaps. Whoever establishes the tempo and playing style early will have the advantage. UK must get the run rolling early to move the chains and own field position.
- Turnovers could play a huge role with both teams having opportunistic defenses and offenses with a history of loose ball security. If Ben Hicks is in the lineup, expect for the Hogs to be much more cautious. If it’s Lynn Bowden, Jr. at quarterback for UK, this is a question that must be answered.
A Hell of a Game
Kentucky will be honoring one of the most most memorable players in program history on Saturday and earlier this week Mark Stoops said his team was determined to play well. Jared Lorenzen left us back in July, but his memory will be fresh on everyone’s mind Saturday night at The Kroge. It’s no coincidence that this is happening the weekend Arkansas is here.
Back in 2003, UK hosted Houston Nutt’s squad in one of the most memorable college football games of the 2000s. In a contest that would go seven overtimes, UK would fall short but No. 22 would put together a hell of an effort. Back in regulation, he delivered an iconic line that is still being talked about today.
Win it for the legend.
As the big screen comes down and the popcorn gets swept up here in Rupp Arena, the KSR staff sits alone on press row, ready to reflect on all the fun that just transpired at Big Blue Madness.
For the most part, it was more of the same we see every year at the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball practice; although, this year we were introduced to seven new members of John Calipari’s basketball team. We also saw the return of the 3-point and dunk contests of a year ago, as well as Coach Matthew Mitchell, the mayor of Big Blue Madness, taking everyone to the Old Town Road.
I’m sure you have your favorite moments from the evening; below you will find all of ours (“ours” being me, Jack Pilgrim and Zack Geoghegan):
Coach Mitchell’s best dance routine yet
Finally, someone appreciates real country music. Old Town Road was Matthew Mitchell’s secret weapon for his ninth consecutive BBM intro-dance. Shoutout to Mitchell for pulling out the song of the century and killing every second of it. I will now dress as country Matthew Mitchell for Halloween.
— Zack Geoghegan
Kentucky’s slew of elite recruits had a great time
After staying in the back through the first few segments of Big Blue Madness, Kentucky’s ten high-profile recruiting targets made their way across the Rupp Arena floor seconds before the UK men’s basketball team was introduced. Sitting immediately behind the Kentucky bench, Cade Cunningham, Terrence Clarke, Paolo Banchero, and Lance Ware received quite a bit of screen time, most notably when John Calipari was interviewed (2012 National Championship ring exposed for the world to see).
Clarke jumped behind the television camera yelling, “I’m next! I’m next!”
Calipari casually flaunting that national championship ring in front of Terrence Clarke, Paolo Banchero, and Lance Ware, who seem amused. pic.twitter.com/PlYOpWMVpI
— Tyler Thompson (@MrsTylerKSR) October 12, 2019
After the event came to a close, Ware wrapped his arm around Cunningham, with Clarke joking right alongside. Cunningham then stuck around and took pictures with fans for the next 20 minutes until a member of the Kentucky basketball staff ushered him to the back.
Kentucky has landed four prospects in the class of 2020 – top-five prospect Terrence Clarke, top-ten prospect BJ Boston, four-star forward Lance Ware, and four-star wing Cam’Ron Fletcher – and there are rumblings that the UK coaching staff is prepared to add at least two more by the time the fall signing period begins in November.
Will Cunningham be one of those additions?
— Jack Pilgrim
Calipari’s State of the Program address was directed at Cade Cunningham
Speaking of Cunningham, the No. 2 prospect in the class of 2020 got an earful from Calipari during his annual State of the Program Address. Every year, the Kentucky head coach has a “theme” in his speech, and this one was without a doubt intended for the 6-foot-7 point guard out of Arlington, TX.
In an interview with Corey Evans of Rivals.com earlier this month, Cunningham said a major factor in where he ultimately decides to commit is which coach can develop him into a max contract-level player in the NBA.
“I have just been very transparent with all of the coaches recruiting me and I don’t want to just make it to the league but rather, I want to be an all-star and a max contract guy,” he said. “I feel if you just shoot to make it in the league, that is how you sell yourself short, so just telling him that I want to be a max contract guy, that is a good goal to set.
On Friday evening, Calipari came out swinging during his speech, bringing up the seven former Kentucky players who have earned max deals and the $2-billion-plus all 38 of his drafted Wildcats have made as a collective unit.
Calipari wants the nation’s top guard to lead his team next season, and he sure said all the right things to make it happen.
Bruce Buffer announced the player intros because why not
Bruce Buffer announcing the players and coaches was so unnecessary that it was actually brilliant. Who better to yell and scream at 20,000 fans than him?
Junior Nick Richards, a long lost Splash Brother?
Drew here, big Nick Richards fan, as you know. I’m expecting big things for Richards in the rare junior season for a McDonald’s All-American, and tonight he showed off a new outside shot that has Naismith Player of the Year voters salivating.
Richards hit not one, but two long balls in the brief scrimmage to conclude Big Blue Madness. Previous Big Blue Madnesses taught us to never overreact to what we see on this night, but I am overreacting and naming Richards a real weapon from the perimeter this upcoming season. Remember Jimmer Fredette at BYU in like 2011? Imagine that shot but from a big man who can protect the rim and finish lobs.
I’m kidding. (Kind of.)
Kahlil Whitney’s outfit on the Blue Carpet
Brad Calipari will find comfort in knowing the team’s drip is in good hands without him.
The real dunk contest happened during the scrimmage
While the actual dunk contest had its impressive moments – Kahlil Whitney jumping over three humans – and not-so-impressive moments – Ashton Hagans on just about all of his attempts (bless his heart) – the most fun dunks came during the scrimmage.
Whitney and Keion Brooks traded dunks on opposite ends of the floor, ranging from lob throwdowns, self-alley-oops, and windmill jams. Nick Richards and Nate Sestina each threw down several powerful reverses and windmills. Tyrese Maxey and Immanuel Quickley shined on breakaway dunk attempts.
There was little-to-no organized basketball during the actual “scrimmage,” but the dunks were entertaining.
Rupp Arena debuts its “cafes”
Rupp Arena debuted its new catalogue of food options at Big Blue Madness, with the concession stands around the venue now officially being called “cafes.”
Some of the food – like the “Hunk A Pizza” from Hunt’s Pizza – remained the same, while other options such as the “Full Court Press,” “Kentucky Melt,” and “Hot Brown Nachos” made their debuts.
Drew described his Full Court Press selection – which included braised short rib, cheese, and toasted bread – as “a big piece of s**t between two slices of bread,” while my Hot Brown Nachos were incredibly delicious. Order with caution next weekend during the Blue-White Scrimmage. Eat the Hot Brown Nachos, avoid the Rupp Arena McRib.
Lob City in Memorial Coliseum?
Jaida Roper not only has the highest arching shot of any Wildcat, but she can also toss a pretty nice lob. Her floating pass to Rhyne Howard had Rupp Arena holding its collective breath for a slight second as shades of Candance Parker dunking shined onto the court. The 6-foot-2 Howard didn’t go up for the slam, but slipped in a slick reverse layup off the beauty from Roper.
Blair Green went all 606
Gotta love that mountain pride!
We got shooters on deck
Everyone knows that it’s more fun to shoot from as deep as possible, especially if it goes in. Nate Sestina drilled two threes from NBA range while Johnny Juzang also pulled one from Steph Curry’s land. If preseason scrimmages with zero signs of defense tell us anything, it’s that those shots will absolutely translate once November hits. We got some shooters.
The Kentucky cheerleaders are not human
The 24-time national champions make my muscles, brain, and organs hurt. How they manage to pull off some of the flips while being tossed directly towards the jumbotron is something I will never understand. I think I did a cartwheel once during my senior year of high school. The cheerleaders probably cartwheel out of bed every morning.
This team is going to be a lot of fun
I feel like we say this every year (because we do) and we are saying it once again: this is a fun group with great personalities. The new class on this team is especially fun, easily the best collection of personalities among true freshmen. They’re so outgoing and loving every single second of everything that is going on around them as they approach their first season at Kentucky. Tyrese Maxey hasn’t stopped smiling since he got to Lexington, Kahlil Whitney is living his best life at all times, and Johnny Juzang and Nate Sestina are right up there with them in personality. We still don’t know how this team will do on the basketball court, but it’s clear the fan base won’t need long to fall in love with this group off of it.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©October 10th, 2019 @ 6:30pm
Two more visitors have been added to the confirmed Big Blue Madness visitor list, which now sits at ten total prospects.
Kentucky will now host at least three prospects in each of the upcoming 2020, 2021, and 2022 recruiting classes.
For 2020, the star of the show is No. 2 prospect Cade Cunningham, with UK commitments Terrence Clarke and Lance Ware also confirmed to be in attendance. Four-star forward and Bardstown’s own JJ Traynor will also be in Lexington for the event on an unofficial visit.
Cunningham, Kentucky’s top guard target in the class of 2020, received a visit from John Calipari at his school on Monday, sparking significant UK buzz in his recruitment over the past several days. The 6-foot-7 guard out of Arlington, TX is down to Kentucky, Oklahoma State, North Carolina, Florida, and Washington, with the Wildcats, Cowboys, and Tar Heels seen as the current favorites.
Traynor, a 6-foot-8, 180-pound forward out of Bardstown, KY, received a visit from UK assistant Kenny Payne last month and took an unofficial to UK last week. The top-100 prospect and No. 1 recruit in the state of Kentucky has not earned a scholarship from the school at this time, though one is expected in the near future. Traynor has not cut his list, though Kentucky, Louisville, Western Kentucky, and Cincinnati are seen as the top contenders in his recruitment.
Clarke, the No. 4 prospect in the class of 2020, and Ware, the No. 33 recruit in the nation (247Sports), both committed to Kentucky back in September.
As for the class of 2021, top-ten forwards Paolo Banchero (official) and Moussa Cisse (unofficial) lead the way, with four-star forward Trey Kaufman also in attendance on an unofficial.
Banchero, ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation (Rivals) and considered a consensus top-four prospect in the class of 2021, recently trimmed his list down to ten. Those in contention? Kentucky, Washington, Duke, Tennessee, Gonzaga, North Carolina, Michigan, Baylor, Georgetown, and Memphis.
Cisse, the No. 9 prospect in the junior class, received an offer from Kentucky back on September 30 when John Calipari visited him at his school. The 6-foot-9, 200-pound Memphis, TN native holds confirmed offers from Kentucky, Connecticut, Georgia, Pittsburgh, Texas A&M, Memphis, and Ole Miss, with the Tigers currently seen as the favorite.
As for Kaufman, he doesn’t currently hold an offer from Kentucky, though UK assistant coach Joel Justus made the trip to Sellersburg, IN to watch the four-star forward at his high school. At 6-foot-8, 210 pounds, Kaufman is listed as the No. 29 overall recruit in the class of 2021 on 247Sports and holds offers from Indiana, Lousiville, Xavier, and Purdue, among others.
Finally, top-15 prospect Brandon Miller and four-star point guard Paul McMillan IV will represent the 2022 class, with Eastern High School (Louisville) prospect James Jewell also making his way to Lexington. All three sophomore recruits will be in town on unofficial visits.
Miller, a 6-foot-6, 175-pound small forward out of Antioch, TN, is considered the No. 11 overall prospect in the class of 2022 in the 247Sports Composite rankings. His lone confirmed offer comes from the Tennessee Volunteers.
McMillan, a 6-foot-1, 170-pound point guard out of Cincinnati, OH, currently holds offers from his hometown Cincinnati Bearcats and Xavier Musketeers. 247Sports lists the four-star prospect as the No. 34 recruit and No. 5 overall point guard in the sophomore class.
To close things out, Jewell, a 6-foot-7 forward out of Louisville, KY, is currently unranked among all recruiting services, though he is considered one of the best up-and-coming prospects in the state and has separated himself as the No. 1 player in Kentucky for 2022.
Known for his elite athleticism, length, and motor, Jewell – who played varsity as a freshman last year – averaged 3.6 points and 1.8 rebounds per game as a role player off the bench in 2018-19.
Needless to say, it’ll be a busy weekend for the Kentucky basketball program…
By Nick Roush on ©October 10th, 2019 @ 4:30pm
Since Arkansas joined the SEC in 1992, the Razorbacks have only traveled to Lexington three times ahead of Saturday night’s showdown at Kroger Field. The previous two trips produced barnburners.
In 2008 a familiar foe was on the opposing sideline, Bobby Petrino. Undefeated against Kentucky during his time at Louisville, Rich Brooks was prepared to serve up a plate of vengeance.
The Razorbacks did what most Petrino teams do, take an early lead. Kentucky trailed 17-0 in the third quarter before punching back with a 71-yard touchdown reception by Alfonso Smith. Still, UK was down 20-7 with less than five minutes to play when Randall Cobb took over. Cobb caught touchdowns from 32 and 21 yards in two minutes of game time to give Kentucky a 21-20 victory and hand Petrino his first career loss to the Cats.
An exciting win, the 2008 game cannot compare to one hell of a seven overtime game in 2003.
In one of Jared Lorenzen’s finest performances, the UK quarterback led the Cats back from a 21-7 halftime deficit to tie the game with 2:10 to play on a 13-yard touchdown pass to Chris Benard. Regulation ended, but the game had just begun.
It took almost five hours to complete the seven overtime game that tied a previous NCAA record. The back and forth affair is too much to cover in print. Just watch it all unfold.
An Arkansas fan compiled the highlights, so you’ll have to deal with a few poor plays from UK early in the game.
The game ended when Lorenzen failed to reach the sticks on a fourth and three. He finished with an incredible stat-line: 326 yards passing and 2 touchdowns, along with 39 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns. Kentucky may have lost 71-63, but we’ll never forget Jared Lorenzen’s heroics in the epic battle.
Kentucky’s best chance at a victory was likely in the 5th overtime. With a defender wrapped around him, Jared flipped a pass to Jeremiah Drobney, beginning an incredible scoring drive that was capped off with Lorenzen rushing into the end zone with the ball held high above his head. Unfortunately, the pressure got to him too quickly on the two-point conversion, taking the game to a sixth overtime. Click below to start watching in overtime No. 5, or watch the game in its entirety.
How are Arkansas fans feeling about Saturday’s game vs. Kentucky? To find out, I spent part of the afternoon on their message boards — because that’s where all the sane, reasonable people hang out, right?
They are not pleased with Chad Morris
Arkansas looked decent vs. Texas A&M, but is still 4-13 in the Chad Morris era, 0-10 in the SEC. In a thread entitled, “Dismal Scenario” on Hogville.net, Razorback fans discuss whether or not it’s time to get rid of Morris, and if so, who could replace him. (Spoiler: Bobby Petrino’s name did not come up.)
I don’t see why people are surprised that our Dollar Store coach is not working out. Isn’t there an old saying about you get what you pay for? Did the PTB really think that Morris was going to be able to compete with Saban, Malzahn, Fisher, Mullins, etc….? I think Morris was able to scam JCP during his interview and then on top of that he had uncle Jerry backing him, and poof, we’re stuck with Dabo Lite.
In this forum, we have been continually regaled with the admonition that “We would be rolling in the clover and everything would be hunky-dory if we would JUST HIRE “______________”. Never mind the inconvenient fact that “_______________” is NOT INTERESTED in being hired by Arkansas. The Powers That Be must necessarily – and inevitably – choose from among those available choices who ARE interested in coming to Arkansas. A person who drives only high dollar new luxury cars is NOT going to shop at a Chevrolet Used Car Lot.
From a different thread whose sole purpose was to get people to be positive about the game:
I think we win this one but if we can’t beat KY after a bye week, then Morris should voluntarily clean out his desk.
They have the same attitude about backup QBs that we do
I had to do a double take on this thread about Kentucky’s quarterback situation because the comments read like they’re from a UK message board, not an Arkansas one.
One of the 2 will tear us a new one
Who ever it is we’ll make them look like an all world QB
We have certainly had a long run of making the opposing QB look like a Heisman candidate.
There is a debate over who the weather will favor
The weather is supposed to be chilly on Saturday, with morning rain showers clearing out to give way to mostly sunny conditions and a high of around 50 degrees at kickoff. Someone needs to give that updated forecast to this message board poster, who believes it will be cold and rainy, aka “Hog weather.”
58 for a high. Probably cooler by game time. Low of 37 Saturday night. 60% chance of rain. If that isn’t Hog weather I don’t now what is.
This one is shaping up to be a blow out. I’ve already predicted the Hogville will win 45 to 12. I may be a little off. I don’t think Kentucky will score 12. Gonna be some turnovers on both sides. Hogs will definitely handle the weather conditions better.
Not only is that forecast incorrect, his reasoning makes zero sense. Thankfully, other message board posters called him out on it.
I think your crystal ball is broken. The score seems to be flipped. As is your assessment of which team is better suited for cold wet conditions…Because you know… Lexington isn’t 250 miles more northerly than Fayetteville and 2/3 of our players aren’t from Ohio, or anything. Not to mention that kentucky rushes the ball more than we pass while arkansas throws it 9 more times per game than they rush.
Forecast in Lexington for a 6:30pm kick is 50 degrees with scattered clouds. Arkansas’ record playing in the fall in similar cool-to-cold weather starting in the low 50s during the past three seasons is 4-7. And one of those wins was the ‘Henry Heave’ game. So no, cool weather doesn’t favor the Hogs at all.
Ehh I’d say the nasty weather definitely favors Kentucky. They will put that running QB in and he’ll gash us for 120+ on the ground on broken plays. A tale as old as time.
They also have an “At least we’re not Tennessee” thread
A common pattern for down-on-their-luck football teams in the SEC is the “At least we’re not Tennessee” mentality. I noticed it on South Carolina’s message boards a few weeks ago and again today on Hogville.net. Here are the comments following a post about this video:
if you would’ve told me 20 years ago that Tennessee would be reduced to this, i’d be more pissed off we lost to them in 98 and in 6ot
What makes this even better……we were at my son’s game Saturday and one of the kid’s dad is a Vol. He walked up to me, showed me the score on his phone when it was 14-10. He then grabbed a screen shot of it and set it as his home screen, haha.
We think our program is bad… Tennessee is much worse…
Man, we’ve gotta beat Tennessee.
The “Separated at birth” thread is amazing
Like a lot of message boards, Hogville has a thread for celebrity dopplegangers for the opposing team. These three are my favorites:
You can’t unsee that Patton Oswalt comparison.
By Nick Roush on ©October 09th, 2019 @ 11:00pm
A week after Kentucky lost its third game in a row, Mark Stoops’ coaching staff hit the road recruiting.
“It’s goods for us to get on the road, to continue to get in front of the prospects that we have committed, to continue to recruit and put the finishing touches on this class,” Stoops said at Monday’s press conference.
Kentucky may be struggling to win on the field, but that has not been the case on the recruiting trail. Vince Marrow is quick to praise the potential in the 2020 recruiting class.
“I think when we close this class out it has the potential to be better than our ’14 class,” said Marrow.
The 2014 class finished ranked 17th in the country, featuring future stars like Mike Edwards, Darius West, Boom Williams and Juice Johnson. Stoops believes the next group of UK signees could feature just as much star-power.
“We have an opportunity to have one of the most significant classes in, certainly in my tenure,” Stoops said. “I can’t go back into the history of this place, but in my time here this can be a very impressive group.”
As of October 2019, Kentucky’s 2020 class ranks 22nd in America, boasting five-star talent Justin Rogers and seven other players ranked as four-star prospects by at least one recruiting service. The reason why the coaches are so excited is that they consider UK’s 17-man class to be larger than you think.
“We’ve got some guys that have silently — gonna announce their dates on a birthday of a mom or a dad,” Marrow said. “We got some guys that are highly, highly — I don’t get into the rankings — but highly, highly recruited that’s about to jump on board. It ain’t going to shock us but it’s probably going to shock a lot of people.”
Meanwhile, UK is looking to add more into the fold. With about 25 available scholarships, this weekend the Cats will host four-star Louisiana defensive back Joel Williams. During the bye week Marrow went to Kansas to offer a scholarship another cornerback, JUCO product Ronald Williams, and visit cornerback Brian George, considered one of the of the five best JUCO players in America.
“I’ve been a lot of places, covered some miles,” Marrow said. “To step your game up in recruiting you gotta have access to planes and stuff like that. You ever try to fly into Highland, Kansas, then try to be at a football game back in Ohio? I appreciate that. I did some traveling the last three days.”
The recruiting trail isn’t as friendly in the middle of a three-game losing streak. Schools will be quick to throw Stoops’ program under the bus.
While Marrow flew to Highland, Kansas, Butler wide receiver Jordan Watkins attended Louisville’s 41-39 win over Boston College. After visiting the Cardinals’ campus, UK fans became concerned when Watkins Tweeted, “I am not answering any reporters right now, sorry!!”
Marrow is well aware of the negative recruiting efforts by other schools. He responds to those questions by asking a question.
“If Justin Fields got hurt tomorrow, you think Ohio State is favored to go to the National Championship? No. If (Jake) Fromm at Georgia got hurt — it’s so different when it comes to Kentucky. We lost Terry Wilson. Terry Wilson won ten games for us last year and he was even better this year, but people seem to overlook that and we still had a chance to beat Florida without him. We have the pieces, but we really lost three quarterbacks. You lose Terry, you lose Gunnar (Hoak), you lose Danny Clark and then the guy we have come in, he gets hurt.
“When we talk to our recruits, they know the message. They know who we are. They know ain’t nothing changed. We’re not using it as an excuse, but I can guarantee you now if Justin Fields went down tomorrow, I bet oddsmakers would say they’re not going to win the Big Ten. We just take it as it comes.”
As other schools put down UK’s program, the Cats have a handful of talented four-star prospects in their crosshairs. Four-star defensive end Tyler Baron recently took an official visit to Lexington. Michael Drennen II officially visited the same weekend. Since the visit, UK has become the favorite to land the nation’s sixth-ranked all-purpose back. The Cats are also in good position for the state’s last two uncommitted four-star recruits, defensive back Vito Tisdale and defensive tackle Octavious Oxendine. Until they reach a decision, Stoops, Marrow and the rest of the staff will be out on the trail.
“You can take this message to other schools, of course people are going to take shots at you, even when you win or when you lose. There’s some schools, and they know who I’m talking about, all of a sudden they got the right ingredients down there. Time will tell. We’re anxious to get back on the field. We ain’t going nowhere. We’re going to keep recruiting and recruiting. While other guys were chilling on our bye week, we were recruiting.”
Kentucky Football Class of 2020
|Justin Rogers||DT||Oak Park, MI||6-4||315||5-star, #14 Overall|
|Samuel Anaele||DE/OLB||Miami, FL||6-4||250||4-star, #112 Overall|
|John Young||OT||Louisville, KY||6-6||295||4-star, #5 KY|
|Beau Allen||QB||Lexington, KY||6-2||200||4-star, #20 QB|
|Tre'vonn Rybka||DL||Dickson, TN||6-4`||281||4-star, #18 SDE|
|Andru Phillips||CB||Mauldin, SC||6-0||180||3-star, #5 SC|
|Torrance Davis||RB||Cleveland, OH||6-1||215||3-star, #26 RB|
|JuTahn McClain||APB||Fairfield, OH||5-9||176||3-star, #12 APB|
|Kalil Branham||WR||Columbus, OH||6-1||205||3-star, #84 WR|
|Deondre Buford||OT||Detroit, MI||6-5||270||3-star, #70 OT|
|Jordan Watkins||WR||Louisville, KY||6-0||180||3-star, #13 ATH|
|Izayah Cummings||WR||Louisville, KY||6-3||210||3-star, #11 KY|
|Earnest Sanders||WR||Flint, MI||6-2||190||3-star, #100 WR|
|D'Eryk Jackson||LB||Dexter, GA||6-2||235||3-star, #106 GA|
|Joshua Jones||OT||Phenix City, AL||6-6||300||3-star, #58 OT|
|Carrington Valentine||CB||Cincinnati, OH||6-0||218||3-star, #28 OH|
|Rickey Hyatt Jr.||S||Westerville, OH||6-1||195||3-star, #38 S|
During his interview on KSR this morning, John Calipari did more than talk about his longtime support for players’ likeness rights. He also gave us some updates on his squad ahead of Big Blue Madness. You can listen to the full interview at the bottom of this post, but here are six highlights.
1. He’s still worried about toughness
Echoing his remarks from Media Day, Calipari said his number one concern about his team right now is toughness, which could lead to some guys being pushed around early in the season.
“I think we should be terrific defensively but I worry about the toughness because I think people will just try to beat us up. And it’s not as though you’re not going to know it. You’re going to have to be physical, have some toughness to you and have all that stuff. Expect it, and not have it affect your game. That’s going to take some time for us.”
2. He loves their potential on defense
Cal is a defensive-minded coach, so for him to dole out this much praise for his team’s defense this early on is pretty major.
“We have the returning [SEC] Defensive Player of the Year in Ashton [Hagans] and a player that guards almost as good, maybe not as physical, but almost as good is Tyrese [Maxey]. Immanuel [Quickley] has gotten way better and has a better idea of team defense, off the ball. You’ve got shot blocking behind it and the guy that stood out in the Pro Day was Keion Brooks. He stood out. He blocked shots, he rebounded balls, he mixed it up. You’re talking 6’8” and long, really long. Kahlil [Whitney] has the physical strength to do it.”
3. “When [Johnny Juzang] shoots it, you’re surprised if he misses it”
How good of a shooter is Johnny Juzang? I love how Calipari phrased it.
“We recruited guys here to make shots and they were shooters, they just weren’t makers. So, this guy, so people are understanding what I said, when he shoots it, you’re surprised if he misses it. Thank goodness. You’ve got a guy that’s going to stretch the court and has the green light to let it go from NBA range if he’s open.”
4. The team impressed scouts with their communication
With another week of practice under them, the team continues to follow Nate Sestina’s lead when it comes to communication, so much so that the NBA scouts at Pro Day complimented Calipari on it afterwards.
“The reality of it is, at Pro Day, we talked and it was one of the comments the NBA personnel said to me, ‘Man, this group talks.’ And they know in the NBA, that the teams that chatter, that really have that on the court while they’re playing are the best teams. The other teams are – basically, each individual is worried about their own game and how do I get to that next contract and this that and the other, and they’re not very good teams because they don’t talk.
“So, what I said to my guys after, if you will talk like this everyday – you did it because we talked about it prior to the guys walking in the gym, the NBA people – and if you go as hard as you went in this setting, we’re going to be fine.”
5. Yesterday’s practice started off badly, but ended well
Coming off an impressive showing at Pro Day — “Everyone helped themselves. It was a big deal. It went better than I thought it would” — the team reverted a little bit in practice yesterday, which Calipari said is natural, but he was pleased with how they regrouped.
“What they ended up doing — I had to point it out, I had to stop practice — most cases, players have to conquer themselves before they can worry about conquering somebody else. The moment you feel your worst, if you can end up having a great practice or great game, you just conquered yourself. And yesterday we had a great practice by the end of practice. Early on, it scared me. But it was good. It was a good practice. And they learned something and I learned something about individuals there.”
6. He’s forcing Nick and EJ to compete with each other
With PJ Washington in the pros, Reid Travis overseas, and no N’Faly Dante or Kerry Blackshear on the roster, the post is clear for Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery; however, Calipari still wants them to feel a sense of urgency.
“There was competition. Now, there isn’t and I’m telling you, that fight, you’re going to have to bring it out of yourself and force yourself to understand and not be delusional. This isn’t just about giving me more minutes. This is being a more effective basketball player.”
“Those two, I’m putting them against each other a lot because I want them to compete with each other. But again, yesterday I put Nate and EJ on the same team and Nick is way better. Way more confident. Way more conditioned. The biggest thing with both of those guys has been that strength and conditioning more than the basketball. So, they’re getting better. I’m really proud of both of them.”
People, we have just about made it: This past Saturday marked the one-month countdown to the start of college basketball season. Yes, you read that correctly. Less than a month from now, Duke will play Kansas, Kentucky will play Michigan State, and the start of the greatest sport in the world will be officially underway.
And man, it couldn’t come a moment sooner.
It feels like a lifetime since Virginia cut down the nets and was crowned the 2019 national champs, and boy oh boy, has a lot of stuff changed since then. Mick Cronin left Cincinnati for UCLA, John Beilein left Michigan for the NBA, RJ Hampton left Texas for Australia, and some of the biggest stars in the sport left college for the NBA. Meanwhile, Sean Miller and Will Wade haven’t gone anywhere (remember when everyone assumed both would be gone by the middle of the summer?) and Bill Self is having to explain why he had strippers – excuse me, acrobatic dancers – at Midnight Madness.
What a world. And who could have predicted all that when last season ended?
Yet even with the change, the one thing that remains the same is that there is sooooo much excitement across the country entering the year. Sure, the faces changed, but the sport remains the same fun, unpredictable, rollercoaster ride it always is.
But we are now in October, and it isn’t “Way Too Early” anymore. It’s not even early. It’s just here. Here are those picks.
1) Michigan State Spartans
Key Returnees: Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford, Aaron Henry, Gabe Brown, Foster Loyer, Kyle Ahrens, Xavier Tillman
Key Departures: Nick Ward, Matt McQuaid, Kenny Goins
Key Additions: Malik Hall, Rocket Watts, Julius Marble
Michigan State was No. 1 the day the season ended, No. 1 in May and is No. 1 now. And it’s really no big secret why. Cassius Winston is a National Player of the Year candidate, Aaron Henry is an emerging star on the wing and Xavier Tillman is a force down low. Rocket Watts, Malik Hall and Julian Marble are freshmen who add depth to this squad.
Understand, there are still issues in East Lansing (mostly surrounding the health of last year’s second leading scorer Joshua Langford) but those issues are relative when we’re talking about the Spartans.
Michigan State still has the best player in the country (Winston), depth, and the experience that is on par with just about every recent national champion (Virginia, Villanova, North Carolina).
Michigan State is the team to beat heading into the season.
2) Kentucky Wildcats
Key Returnees: Ashton Hagans, E.J. Montgomery, Nick Richards, Immanuel Quickley
Key Departures: PJ Washington, Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro, Jemarl Baker
Key Additions: Tyrese Maxey, Kalil Whitney, Keion Brooks, Dontaie Allen, Johnny Juzang, Nate Sestina (transfer)
In watching Kentucky’s Pro Day workouts the other day, I couldn’t help but think two things: This team has the chance to be both the best defensive team John Calipari has had since he got to Kentucky, and also the best three-point shooting team. There is no obvious star, but I do believe that with natural development, Ashton Hagans and EJ Montgomery can each be First-Team All-SEC type players, and Tyrese Maxey could end up as the best freshman in the SEC. Johnny Juzang, Nate Sestina and Keion Brooks also looked farther along that I anticipated as well.
All of that is a long-winded way me saying that I not only like Kentucky’s talent this year, but their experience (they haven’t had this much in a long time) and how all the pieces fit together. It’s been five years since Kentucky last made a Final Four, but this Wildcats’ squad has all the pieces to not only get there, but win it all.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©October 07th, 2019 @ 11:00pm
Good morning and welcome back to another edition of Pilgrim’s Insider Notes.
This week, I will reach into the mailbag and answer some recent recruiting questions, most notably involving the likes of Devin Askew and his official visit to Kentucky this past weekend, the home stretch of Cade Cunningham’s recruitment, a potential change of momentum with Jonathan Kuminga, Isaiah Todd cutting his list to two, and where UK stands with other frontcourt targets such as Isaiah Jackson, Greg Brown, and JJ Traynor.
Let’s dive right in.
Who you think will be our next commitment
— wildcat.network (@WildcatSports2) September 26, 2019
Short and sweet: 2021 five-star guard Devin Askew.
Askew just wrapped up his official visit to Lexington, and there is optimism that he’ll announce his commitment to Kentucky sooner rather than later.
Going into the trip this weekend, there were rumblings that the 6-foot-2 guard out of Santa Ana, CA might not leave Kentucky’s campus without pulling the trigger on a commitment, or at least let his intentions be known that he will be making it official in the very near future. He recently said he would like to make a public announcement at his high school – Mater Dei HS – in front of his friends and family, though sources tell KSR that the UK target went into the visit open-minded about potentially leaving as a Wildcat.
While he left campus without announcing publicly that he had committed to Kentucky, I am told that the staff still feels incredibly confident in Askew ultimately ending up in blue and white, no matter when he wants to make it official. In a trip that included a tour of the basketball facilities, film breakdowns, a day at Keeneland, and dinner at Jeff Ruby’s, the Kentucky coaching staff did a phenomenal job making Askew and his family feel right at home, and I firmly feel it was enough to win out in his recruitment at the end of the day.
Following his unofficial trip to Memphis on Thursday evening, there were some initial rumblings that the Tigers were pushing for Askew to return on an official in the coming weeks prior to making a decision. As of today, I feel fairly confident that this follow-up visit will not take place.
Louisville has long been seen as Kentucky’s top competition, with several individuals familiar with UofL’s recruiting efforts indicating over the last week or two that the Cardinals remain in contention, despite the strong UK buzz. After this weekend, though, confidence on their end has waned.
While it remains to be seen when he will opt to set up an official announcement ceremony at his school or pull the trigger on a public commitment, Kentucky holds firm as the heavy favorite. At this point, I would be relatively shocked if he isn’t a Wildcat in the near future.
Chances of getting Cade Cunningham?
— Tyler Harris (@TylerHarris_22) September 26, 2019
Kentucky’s chances of getting 2020 top-three prospect Cade Cunningham are growing by the day, and it very well could go hand-in-hand with Askew’s public announcement.
From the second Cunningham’s brother, Cannen Cunningham, was hired on at Oklahoma State to join Mike Boynton’s staff, the Cowboys jumped into pole position to land the nation’s No. 1 guard. He told reporters immediately after the hiring that he was “wide open,” but there wasn’t an individual out there that felt he would wind up anywhere other than Stillwater.
As time went on, though, momentum slowly shifted.
Evan Daniels of 247Sports was the first to report that the 6-foot-6 guard out of Arlington, TX was telling the schools on his final list that he his interest in their respective programs was genuine, with North Carolina soon nudging its way into serious contention. In fact, sources tell KSR that the Tar Heels actually took over the top spot from the Cowboys, with this remaining true as late as last weekend. One of the big reasons for this movement? A lack of optimism in recruiting circles surrounding Boynton and his job status in Stillwater moving forward. If Oklahoma State struggles this season, the Cowboys could decide to part ways with the third-year head coach. Potential NCAA sanctions following the FBI investigation into college basketball could also shake things up.
While the UNC buzz grew louder, though, I continued to hear that Kentucky was likely next in line for the five-star guard, with UNC and OK State serving as the 1A and 1B options and UK circling as the dark horse right behind. And then this weekend, Ben Roberts of the Herald-Leader was the first to report that Kentucky had overtaken North Carolina as Oklahoma State’s biggest threat to land the transcendent talent.
And with Cunningham now rescheduling his official visit to Kentucky back to next weekend for Big Blue Madness, things are about to get very, very interesting.
Sources tell KSR that Kentucky is recruiting both Cunningham and Askew for the class of 2020, and there is a puncher’s chance of that scenario coming to fruition. I am told that as soon as Askew’s official visit wrapped up in Lexington, the staff’s recruiting focus shifted entirely to Cunningham’s official visit scheduled for this weekend.
“Next week is the big one,” one source close to the situation told KSR. “[They are] not playing around, going for the kill.”
And they are getting this week started with a bang, with Cunningham telling KSR that Calipari will be in to see him this evening at his school less than a week before his official trip to Lexington.
Cunningham, the nation’s No. 2 overall prospect, is Kentucky’s top recruiting target, and has been since he separated himself as a consensus top-five recruit. The Wildcats backed off a bit when it seemed like his commitment to Oklahoma State was imminent, though sources told KSR from the start that they would be “monitoring the situation closely.” Once that door cracked ever-so-slightly, they jumped on the opportunity instantly, going out of their way to make sure his status as the program’s top priority was evident. A trip to see the five-star talent on the first day of the fall recruiting period, followed by another in-home visit with his family in Texas the week after, and then visiting him at Montverde again today, only confirms that.
In terms of his upcoming visit, sources tell KSR that Cunningham will not be swayed by the lights and show aspect of Big Blue Madness. Instead, he will be focused on the staff’s specific plan for him in Lexington and how they could turn him into the No. 1 draft pick in the summer of 2021. If they can align on that front – and Kentucky certainly feels they can – there is optimism on UK’s side of things that they can separate itself as the leader. There are individuals close to the North Carolina basketball program that already feel this is the case.
Oklahoma State and North Carolina remain as major threats, but the Kentucky buzz is not a secret at this point. It is now on them to officially jump out in front this weekend.
What’s the word with Kuminga and Baldwin? Cal has visited them a lot lately, so what chances do we have?
— Jason (@Darezayy) September 26, 2019
Two weeks ago on the Sources Say Podcast, I reported that the Duke talk surrounding 2021 No. 1 prospect Jonathan Kuminga was incredibly overstated and that the 6-foot-8 forward was not leaning toward the Blue Devils. Since this, that talk has grown even louder, and if I were to make a prediction today, I’d say Kuminga will not wind up at Duke if he reclassifies to the class of 2020, as expected.
Without getting too in-depth, there are several Duke connections close to Kuminga at his high school and within his AAU program, the NY Renaissance. That being said, I was adamantly told that these individuals are not steering the 6-foot-8 forward to Duke (or any other program, for that matter) and will let him make the best decision for him when it comes time for an announcement. Looking at the recruiting track records of both The Patrick School and the NY Renaissance of the Nike EYBL circuit, there is a lot of truth to this.
In terms of Kentucky’s chances, the coaching staff continues to visit the five-star forward during the fall recruiting period, indicating they feel at least somewhat confident in their chances. One source familiar with Kuminga’s recruitment told KSR on Sunday that the rumblings of Duke’s chances diminishing are also going hand-in-hand with the buzz surrounding Kentucky going up. The five-star forward told KSR at Peach Jam that he had discussed a “dream class” scenario with Kentucky commit Terrence Clarke, with the two openly talking about playing at the same school in college. When you factor in Kuminga being AAU teammates with Lance Ware, along with him being a current student-athlete at The Patrick School – former home of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Dakari Johnson, and Nick Richards – and a star out of New Jersey – Karl-Anthony Towns, Isaiah Briscoe, Kahlil Whitney, Ware all signed with Kentucky out of the state- the connections are certainly there.
While I’m confident Duke is not the runaway favorite – or even a slight favorite, for that matter – I’m simply not comfortable enough to make a specific prediction right now or even choose a leader for the elite prospect. As one individual told KSR last night, “Kuminga has his options, with or without Duke.”
In short, I genuinely don’t think Jonathan Kuminga doesn’t know where Jonathan Kuminga is going right now, with sources telling KSR that a decision will absolutely not happen in the early signing period and that the earliest timeframe for an announcement is after high school basketball season this winter.
At the end of the day, I am told that Kuminga steers away from the “brand” talk and doesn’t care about promised minutes or worrying about other players at his position. In fact, he actually favors the idea of suiting up with other elite talent over being the lone star on the team, wherever he goes to school. There’s a strong argument that the 6-foot-8, 215-pound forward is the No. 1 prospect in all of high school basketball, and with all due respect to the other elite recruits in the nation, he is simply not scared of potential competition. If another player is looking to score, Kuminga is looking to assist or rebound. If the offense is flowing elsewhere, he’s looking to be a game-changer on defense. It’s tough to find flaws in his game, and he’s prepared to show that at the college level, no matter who else is on the roster.
It’s still early, but look for things to ramp up in a major way this winter and going into the early spring.
Who do you think ends up at UK out of traynor Jackson brown and Todd
— Daniel Collier (@DanielCollier2) September 26, 2019
The most immediate news at hand regarding the frontcourt is that 2020 five-star forward Isaiah Todd announced on Twitter this morning that only two schools remained in contention – Michigan and Kansas – cutting Kentucky, North Carolina, and Memphis from his official list. He also announced he would be making his college decision on October 17, just ten days from now.
As of last night, I really didn’t have a strong feel as to which schools would make the cut, but the growing sentiment over the last few weeks was that the Wildcats would not be the final choice when it came time for a commitment.
This spring, Kentucky was far and away the favorite to land the 6-foot-10 forward out of Baltimore, MD, with sources telling KSR that had he reclassified to the class of 2019 following his junior season (as most expected him to), he would have been a Wildcat.
When he opted to remain in the class of 2020, though, momentum shifted as time crept forward, with overseas buzz growing louder and louder at and around Peach Jam. North Carolina then wiggled its way into strong contention – he took several unofficial visits to the school – as did Michigan and Kansas over the last several weeks.
After making one visit to Todd’s school in North Carolina once the fall recruiting period opened up, Kentucky’s public contact died out almost completely, with some speculation coming out over the last week or two that the Wildcats had pulled out of the race completely.
He then posted on his Instagram page this morning that Kentucky “wouldn’t let” him take an official visit to the school, indicating there was at least some truth to these rumors.
Why? Sources tell KSR that Todd is still strongly considering a move overseas, even if he/when makes a college commitment on Oct. 17. While Kentucky has always been extremely high on Todd’s game – I have said in the past that I felt the skilled 6-foot-10 forward was John Calipari’s favorite recruit in the class – they simply weren’t going to risk securing a commitment and seeing him opt for the professional route after the other options dried up.
So what are those other options?
2020 top-25 prospect Isaiah Jackson recently trimmed his list to three, with Kentucky, Alabama, and Syracuse making the final cut. The bouncy 6-foot-9 forward recently took an official visit to UK, with the Kentucky coaching staff following it up with back-to-back visits to see him at his school and home in the weeks following. As Todd’s recruitment fizzled out, Jackson’s ramped up.
With the five-star expected to commit in the coming weeks and sign in mid-November, it’s apparent that Kentucky feels solid about their chances to secure a signature from the Waterford, MI native. Alabama remains a solid threat, and he will take his official visit to Tuscaloosa on the weekend of October 25, but it appears his decision will come down to the Wildcats and Crimson Tide.
2020 top-ten prospect Greg Brown is set to take an official visit to Lexington in January before making a decision in the spring. While Texas remains as the top option for the five-star forward, sources tell KSR that Kentucky has solidified itself as the No. 2 option in his recruitment. Shaka Smart and the Longhorn basketball staff has developed a phenomenal relationship with Brown and his family, but there are growing concerns about Smart’s job security moving forward. If he is fired at the conclusion of yet another mediocre season at Texas, I strongly believe Brown will head elsewhere.
Another factor to keep in mind? Brown and Cunningham – who are AAU teammates with the Texas Titans – are very close and have been in recent discussion about playing together at the next level. This could play a major role in how the UK coaching staff moves forward in the frontcourt. I believe Kentucky is in a crossroads of trying to decide whether to push for a commitment from Jackson now or wait for a potential commitment from Brown in the spring. While I think they’re different enough – they’re the two most athletic bigs in the nation, but Brown is much more skilled offensively, while Jackson may be a better interior defender – the staff wants to make sure they’re comfortable co-existing in the Kentucky frontcourt.
From there, Kentucky is also seemingly picking up momentum with 2020 top-ten forward Scottie Barnes, as John Calipari will be in to see the 6-foot-8 forward this evening, as well. Oregon has long been seen as the favorite to land him, with Florida State also picking up recent momentum, though the five-star prospect recently told reporters that UK was one of the four schools he would focus on moving forward. Kentucky could plug him in as a small ball four alongside either Brown or Jackson, giving the Wildcats one of the most versatile and skilled starting fives in the entire nation.
2020 four-star forward JJ Traynor is another guy I would pay close attention to, as I believe Kentucky will ultimately offer a scholarship before it’s all said and done. After visiting the 6-foot-9 forward for a workout in Bardstown, KY a few weeks back, UK assistant Kenny Payne immediately called Calipari and told him he needed to come out and see Traynor in person. Last week, Kentucky brought the four-star forward in on an unofficial visit, with another trip to Lexington scheduled for this weekend for Big Blue Madness.
Sources tell KSR that Traynor did not receive an official scholarship offer last week, though one is expected in the near future. I get the sense that the staff would prefer to see him in live game action prior to pulling the trigger, but with Traynor expected to make his decision during the fall signing period, the clock is ticking.
Right now, I’d say Cincinnati and WKU are the leaders, though offers from Louisville and Kentucky would automatically vault them up to the 1A and 1B options. Traynor grew up a UofL fan and the connections are obvious with his father and head coach both being former Louisville players, though Payne’s relationship with Bardstown’s Boo Brewer can’t be discounted, either. I am told that Traynor’s visit went incredibly well last weekend and that the four-star forward’s camp would be more than okay seeing him eventually suit up in blue and white.
I also answered several of these mailbag questions on the Sources Say Podcast last week, so if I didn’t get to your post here, please go back and listen to that episode here.
A new episode of the show will be recorded on Tuesday evening, where I will have a bit of news to share…
We’ll see you then.
We are now less than a month from the start of college basketball and…
Wait, a second now.
Let me repeat that again for emphasis.
We are now… less… than… a month… from… COLLEGE BASKETBALL SEASON!
That’s right, with games tipping off November 6th (including a pretty important double-header at Madison Square Garden that night) it means that we are officially under the one-month watch for the start of the best sport in the world.
And if there was any doubt at just how close we’re getting, it came on Sunday, when Kentucky hosted its annual “Pro Day.” While Pro Day has no real significance to the college hoops season, it is the unofficial marker that the season is right around the corner. It’s kind of like when the groundhog peeks its head out every February 2nd to let you know that spring is coming. Only is this case, replace the groundhog’s head, with the flowing silver hair atop John Calipari’s head and that what you’ve got.
Still, make no mistake: While Pro Day has no major, tangible, significance, it also does hold value, as an important first look at the Kentucky Wildcats every season. Meaning there are still some things to take out of Sunday’s event.
So, after watching Sunday night’s telecast, what did we learn?
Here are 10 things:
This Might Be John Calipari’s Best Defensive Team Ever
We’re now a decade into the John Calipari experience at Kentucky, and because of it, I always hesitate to say things like “This has the potential to be Calipari’s best fill-in-the-blank” ever. After all, he’s had a lot of “bests” over the last 10 years, no matter what the category is.
But when I saw this team on the court Sunday, I really did think “Man, this team has a chance to be special defensively.”
Now obviously, this team won’t have the look of other elite defensive teams under Calipari – there is no Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel or Willie Cauley-Stein down low to protect the rim and block shots. But the one thing that Kentucky does have is a group of mean, nasty defensive-minded guards at the top of the key, and wings with the length and versatility to give opponents nightmares everywhere else.
By the way, if you watched Sunday night, did you see how much trouble Kentucky’s players had getting into offense against that team? And those are guys who go against each other every day in practice. Can you imagine how hard it will be for opponents, who don’t see that size, length and athleticism every day?
(On the flip side, can you imagine how much easier it will be for Kentucky to run its own offense when it isn’t going against a crew of 7-foot wingspan monsters?)
One other note here: Over the course of the off-season, the narrative with this team has been that they are “one big man short” and needed additional size and rim protection.
Well, you know what’s the best way to negate a lack of size and rim protection down low? Don’t let the opposing team’s guards get to the rim – something Kentucky will be extremely good at this season.
This Also Might Be John Calipari’s Best Three-Point Shooting Team in a Long Time
For years Coach Cal has openly spoken about how he was changing the make-up of his team to add more shooting. How in modern basketball, you truly need to be position-less, and need a roster full of guys who can dribble, pass and shoot to be successful.
Well, after years of talking about it, Calipari finally has the roster to match that sentiment. And because of it, this Kentucky team has the chance to be the best three-point shooting team of the Calipari era as well. Johnny Juzang is lights out. Nate Sestina has a quicker trigger and smoother stroke than I expected. Immanuel Quickley proved last year he can knock down threes, and Tyrese Maxey was one of the best three-point shooters in high school basketball last year.
There are other guys who will need to be more consistent (both Ashton Hagans and Kahlil Whitney seemed to be hit-or-miss Sunday night) but the sheer number of quality shooters might be the best Calipari has had in Lexington.
Calipari Had an Incredible Line About Shooting During the Broadcast
Maybe my favorite moment during the broadcast was when Jimmy Dykes and Seth Greenberg were speaking to Coach Cal on the sideline. At one point they asked him about this team’s ability to shoot, and Calipari dropped an ALL-TIME line.
He said: “I’ve had guys who’ve been shooters in the past. The problem is, they just haven’t always been makers.”
I mean, I nearly spit out my water when I heard that.
Thankfully as I said, I don’t expect shooting to be an issue in Lexington this season.
I May Have Been Wrong About Nate Sestina
Since the day Nate Sestina committed to Kentucky, I’ve warned Kentucky fans to temper their expectations. That this was different than Reid Travis – who had played Power 5 basketball for four years – coming in as a grad transfer, and that there would be a big step up in speed, skill and style of play in the SEC from where Sestina was coming from. That fans shouldn’t expect the same kind of production they got from Travis last season.
Again, I literally wrote it the day Sestina committed – and have stood by it all summer.
And I’ve got a confession to make: I think I may have been wrong on this one. Like flat-out wrong.
Sometimes in life you’ve just got to take the “L” and this might be one of those times for me.
When I watched Sestina play on Sunday, I was blown away by how much Sestina looked like… well, a guy that totally, 100 percent belonged at a program like Kentucky. I saw nothing that made me think “This guy doesn’t belong at this level” or heck, even anything that made me say “Well it’s obvious this guy was playing mid-major hoops last year.” Instead, I saw a guy whose body has clearly changed in the last six months (Instagram has proven that) and was effective both defensively and shooting the ball.
Sometimes it’s good to have a truly bad opinion. And my original Nate Sestina take my go down as one of those.
Johnny Juzang Might be the Surprise of the Season for Kentucky
Because Johnny Juzang committed so late in the process, and because – at least on the surface – he wasn’t on Kentucky’s recruiting radar for long (something that absolutely wasn’t true by the way) it doesn’t seem like he got the buzz of some other big-time freshmen in the past.
But as someone who watched Juzang throughout his high school career in California, I knew he would be a breakout player this season at Kentucky. And on Sunday he made me look smart.
During the five-on-five portion of the scrimmage Juzang showed an ability to consistently knock down three-pointer and do it from behind the new college three-point line. Still, as I’ve emphasized all summer, this guy isn’t just a “shooter.” He’s a true hooper, a guy who can beat you in so many ways, whether it’s from behind the arc or off the dribble.
Also, another thing I can tell you is this: Juzang is competitive as hell and unafraid of the spotlight. As I’ve written before, he played for one of the most prominent AAU programs in the country, the Compton Magic, and has played in so many big games and with so many elite players (just on his last AAU team there were three other Top 30 recruits) that nothing will phase him.
Look, I’m not going to make any bold predictions about Juzang. I’m not going to promise a certain number of points or a certain three-point percentage or that he will be in the NBA a year from now.
But the one thing I do believe is that he’ll be ready to step, contribute and be a difference-maker from the day the season starts.
Keion Brooks is the Kind of Guy Every Team Needs
All off-season long, Brooks – the 6-7 freshman from Indiana – had garnered rave reviews as one of the pleasant surprises of early practices. And on Sunday you could see why, as he showed off a versatile game offensively and an ability to guard anyone on defense. And when I say “anyone” I mean anyone. He literally was defending Ashton Hagans at certain points in the scrimmage.
Yes, a 6-7 wing was guarding one of the quickest point guards in all of college basketball. and more than held his own.
In the end, I don’t know exactly what Brooks’ role this season will be. But what became abundantly clear after watching practice is that he’s a guy that can do a little bit of everything, and has versatility on both ends of the floor.
And those are the exact kind of guys that every team needs.
Tyrese Maxey is Just… The Best
Listen, we’ll have plenty of time to break down Tyrese Maxey’s game over the course of the season, to break down who he is and what he brings to the table for this team. But watching him on Sunday night, I couldn’t help but think one thing: Man, that kid is just the best. He’s always got a smile on his face, always encouraging, always getting the best out of everyone around him.
I remember last year when I had Maxey on my podcast, and being blown away by his poise, maturity, confidence and just upbeat-ness (yes, I know that’s not a word).
It’s good to see that nothing has changed since then.
(And yes, that was a totally shameless plug of my podcast. But at least for that episode, you should listen anyway)
I expect Immanuel Quickley to be More Confident This Season
During the broadcast, Jimmy Dykes (who is just awesome at his job, by the way) said something that really caught my attention about Immanuel Quickley. Dykes said, “I think he played a little tight last year.”
I completely agree, and it reminds me of something that someone close to Quickley told me this off-season. I don’t have the exact quote, but it was something to the effect of “Immanuel was so in awe of being at Kentucky last year and playing for Coach Cal that he tried to be perfect. That he tried to do too much. Now he’s playing much more confidently and not letting the small stuff get to him.”
One, I can see how that could happen (all freshmen handle the spotlight differently) but also it shouldn’t come as a surprise since the buzz out of Lexington all off-season was that Quickley was much improved.
Without putting too much expectation on him, I expect Quickely to thrive this off-season.
Speaking of Kentucky’s Vets, They Now Look Like… Well, Vets
Nothing much stood out to me about the vets last night that hasn’t already been written up top. Quickley, Hagans, EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards have all been there before and carried themselves that way on Sunday night.
But there was one thing that did stand out. They look like vets now. Like legit, grown men with SEC-level strength to compete with anyone.
Now obviously that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise after they all spent another off-season in an elite strength and conditioning program, but it is still worth noting. It’s obviously important for Hagans, who admitted he wore down a bit last season, and for EJ Montgomery, who will be expected to handle a big load down low this season.
As a matter of fact, another thing that one of the announcers said which caught my attention was when either Dykes or Greenberg (I can’t remember which) said, “Last year, EJ Montgomery just looked like a really tall high school basketball player. This year, he looks like a college basketball player.”
With his improved size and explosiveness, I expect this to be a breakout year for Montgomery.
And Finally, Sunday Showed Us A Team Capable of Getting Back to a Final Four – and Maybe More
College hoops is a fickle sport by nature, something that makes it hard to project who are the real “preseason favorites.” After all, one bad night in March can cost you, even when you have the best team. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Kentucky was a play or two away from going to the Final Four in both 2017 and 2019 and could have won it once they got there – but things didn’t go their way. In 2014, it was the opposite. The team struggled all year, but got hot when it mattered and made it to the national title game.
I bring this up for this reason: While it’s tough to predict who will make it to the final weekend of the NCAA Tournament, the one thing I can definitively say about these Wildcats is they have ever piece needed to get there: Veteran guards, shooting, a tough-minded defensive personality, the talent and coaching. Yes, they lack a little bit of size, but how much size did Auburn have last year? Or Loyola (IL) the year before? Size is overrated. Especially when you have shooting and defensive toughness from your backcourt.
Point being that there are no certainties in college hoops, but on Sunday night I saw a team that has the talent to literally matchup with anyone in college hoops.
Will they? We’ll find out in a month when they take on Michigan State, and in the 30+ games that will come after that.
But as John Calipari is famous for saying, “I like my team.”
And I suspect he, and all Kentucky fans will really like this group by the end of the season.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©October 07th, 2019 @ 7:00pm
While Mark Stoops typically speaks to the media twice a week – once on Monday afternoon for a weekly press conference and another post-practice session on Thursday evening – the Kentucky head coach usually uses weekly call-in radio show on Monday evenings to kick back and relax a bit.
During the hour-long show with Tom Leach, Stoops usually opens up about his team’s performance from the previous week, previews Kentucky’s upcoming opponent, and answers questions via phone and social media from the Big Blue Nation.
This evening, Stoops went in-depth about Kentucky’s recent bye week, discussed the injury status Sawyer Smith, and why he’s excited about Jared Lorenzen Day on Saturday, among other topics.
Here are the ten things we learned during the Mark Stoops Show this evening:
Stoops is excited to honor Jared Lorenzen
Kentucky will honor UK football legend Jared Lorenzen on Saturday against Arkansas with “Jared Lorenzen Day,” something Mark Stoops is very excited for.
In fact, he said the team will actually be watching film of the former Wildcat quarterback in preparation of the matchup.
“It’s an honor for us to recognize Jared. He’s one of the most beloved and iconic players of all time here, and we want to recognize him for that. We’ll be watching film on him this week. I just want to continue to embrace the history and the great players that were here. He was definitely one of them. He laid it on the line every week, did whatever it took to win games. You can’t help but put a smile on your face and a little chuckle because it’s like, how did he just do that?”
Practice today was a success
After a rough three-game losing streak, Stoops said his team had a bit of a pep in its step during practice today after a relaxing bye week.
“Practice was really good today for a number of reasons,” the Kentucky head coach said. “It was the first time they were able to catch their breath for a minute after resting up, healing up a little bit. Very engaged and very locked in. It was pretty nice to be in some cool air, got some football weather.”
Sawyer Smith health update
How did Kentucky quarterback Sawyer Smith look in his first practice back after getting banged up against South Carolina last week?
“No [I don’t have anything to add about his status], I just said in my news conference that he was feeling much better,” he said. “It was great to give him a full week where he didn’t have to throw at all. He’s feeling a lot better out there.”
Other health updates
How about some of the other Wildcats dealing with injuries?
“[Kentucky safety] Jordan Griffin, I just saw him pulling out when I was heading out,” he said. “He said he’s feeling much better today, it was nice to see him basically back to full strength. Almost 100%, so it’s great to see. It’s important for depth, looking at nickel packages and stuff like that. We need as many hands on deck as we can get.”
After a rather pessimistic update this afternoon on defensive lineman Phil Hoskins, Stoops was rather upbeat on his status this evening.
“Phil [Hoskins] was better today, he was out there moving around a little bit,” he said. “He’s not back to full strength yet, but he’s progressing well. It was good seeing him back out there.”
As for wide receiver Isaiah Epps? Not so much.
“Isaiah [Epps], not so much. He was out there last week, made a cut, and he just didn’t react as well to it,” he said. “He’ll need a little bit more time before we throw him back out there.”
As a whole, he could just tell that his team needed some time off to recover.
“Our team is always fun to coach and good to coach. They mean well. But sometimes they can just tell whether they are banged up or not right,” he said. “You’ve got to have a lot of respect for what they do [in regard to their rigorous daily schedules]. It’s a mental grind. It’s not just “get out there and play” like we did in the street growing up.”
Chris Rodriguez continues to impress
After being one of the lone bright spots in Kentucky’s loss against South Carolina, Stoops said running back Chris Rodriguez continues to impress in practice.
“Chris is doing good, he really is,” he said. “It’s not surprising me. Any of the mistakes he made early on, he’s moved on from it. He’ll definitely see a lot more reps moving forward.”
What makes the bye week so important?
What did the Wildcats learn about themselves during the week off?
“There have been times during my tenure here that the bye didn’t come at the right times, sometimes they come right when we’re finding success and it kind of slows us down,” Stoops said. “There’s no denying that we needed this one though. It was time to hit the reset button. Rest, mentally and physically. It’s a good time for look at ourselves, look at our tendencies, get us ahead on Arkansas.”
How did he get Max Duffy?
Stoops received a question about the recruiting process with Max Duffy and how he was able to secure a commitment from the talented punter.
“Max was a really good get for us, we were actually dabbling with a couple Aussies,” he said. “We were recruiting a few others, really close to getting another that was sensational. Actually a little older than Max. I got in touch with a few guys, got me connected to Max, and thank goodness we did. He is one of the most talented guys regarding his ability to do so many different things. He’d even tell you. There may be other guys with stronger legs, but there’s not many other people out there that can do what he does. He’s a beauty.”
Lynn Bowden at quarterback
An individual called into the show to ask Stoops if star wide receiver Lynn Bowden gets a bit of leniency in regard to his playing style and the playcalls when he receives reps at quarterback.
In short, Stoops says he trusts Bowden to find success, even if he has to go off-script a bit. And he expects to see it if the Wildcats are forced to utilize him at quarterback this week against Arkansas.
“A couple things. One of our best plays against South Carolina was where we had one thing scripted, Lynn ad-libbed, the play broke open, and he took it down to the one or two (yard line),” he said. “That was a broken down play where he just created on his own. You can go back and look at a player like Lamar Jackson. When we played him, there were so many plays that stood out because he can sit back there, and because of the disciplined run lanes, he can take his time and make plays through the air. Then there are other plays where you can have him for a four-yard loss and he turns it into an eight-yard gain. All of those players have plays called, but they have the ability to pull it down and do certain things. Some of it is between them and God. It’s instincts.”
He compared the situation a bit to punt and kick returners.
“It’s like people in the return game,” he said. “Someone may have electric speed, but they don’t rip many off because they don’t see the field as others. Sometimes you just have to let [guys like Lynn] do their thing, let them play.”
The tight ends are progressing
How do the tight ends look in practice?
“They’ve been doing really good, they really are. They’re getting better,” he said. “Part of the run game, they need to be physical. They need to be 100% on our looks and on their blocks. There is a lot going on up there. Again, I give so much credit to Coach Schlarman and our offensive line. There is a lot going on in a short amount of time.”
Balance of plays
Stoops received a call asking about the offense slowing down when they revert back to old tendencies or go away from what has been working in recent games.
While he believes there are just as many mistakes in regard to calling too many pass plays as there are with calling too many run plays, he does understand that they have to get better at finding the right balance.
“A lot of people look at things, and when the drive slows down, if it’s because of run plays, then that’s a fair criticism,” he said. “But sometimes it’s because of us throwing the ball too much. I get really upset when we get ahead of the chains, we’re ripping it, we throw it incomplete on first down, gain just a yard or two on second, and are stuck behind the chains on 3rd and long. I think that’s a tough balance, I really do. I think it’s tough. Is that a fair criticism though? Sure. We just need to find the right formula. And when we’re banged up, especially at quarterback, then we really need to find that right formula.”
How close is Florida State transfer Xavier Peters to seeing the field?
“He’s doing good, definitely getting better,” Stoops said. “A young man like that, he has a lot of pressure on him. He was a highly-recruited player coming out, people expect him to live up to that because of it. I think he’s getting closer and closer. When he’s ready, he’ll definitely be helping us.”
How does he keep his team focused?
To close things out, Stoops was asked about how he keeps the team morale up during difficult times.
In short, he’s confident in his team to bounce back mentally just as much as he expects them to physically.
“I think it’s not difficult for our players and team. Do we go through difficult times? Absolutely. The schedule doesn’t relent,” he said. “We went on the road and played two teams like us who had good moments and bad moments, had their backs against the wall. We’re hoping to do that this week. We’re going to play better. Our team, they’re always engaged. They try and they work. The situation changes every week. We’ve been dealt some hands that no one anticipated, I didn’t expect to be short my three top quarterbacks. It is what it is. We just have to adapt to it, find a way to win.”
By Drew Franklin on ©October 07th, 2019 @ 3:30pm
Mark Stoops spent around 30 minutes talking to reporters in his first Monday press conference in two weeks. If you’re like many hard-working Americans that don’t have 30 free minutes to watch the entire video, just read these 10 important quotes from Coach Stoops and move along.
1. Sawyer Smith “feels significantly better”
“He took a solid week off, and he needed that,” Stoops said of his injured quarterback. “The word I got from our trainer here this morning was that he feels significantly better. So that will be the plan. We’ll see.”
2. “We’ll proceed with Sawyer”
Stoops and the staff will proceed as if Smith will be the starting quarterback this Saturday, or at least that’s what we were told. Stoops said, “He’s banged up, you guys know that. You know the other options that we have been working and but we’ll proceed with Sawyer, and anticipate him being the starting quarterback and being able to play this week.”
3. Jordan Griffin “looks pretty close to a hundred percent”
Kentucky’s only experienced player in the secondary was very limited in the last two games due to an injury he suffered before the game at Mississippi State. It sounds like Griffin will be back this weekend in his regular role as the secondary’s leader. Stoops said, “He’s a guy that’s getting more and more comfortable, getting more and more confident, has been pretty steady. I think he’s a guy in this secondary that’s stepping up and been very reliable.”
4. “Phil is still not quite there”
Phil Hoskins needs a little more time before he can, finally, play in his first game of his senior season. Hoskins sat out the first two games as a suspension for academic issues, then injured himself warming up prior to kickoff of the Florida game. If he is unable to go this Saturday, it will be six absences for the defensive lineman.
5. On Lynn Bowden wanting the ball…
If you follow Lynn Bowden on social media, you’ve probably seen he hasn’t been shy about wanting the ball in his hands as Kentucky’s quarterback. Stoops was asked his thoughts on Bowden being so open about it, to which Stoops defended his star player by saying, “Any great player wants the game to go through him and the ball to go through him, so what better way than quarterback. You touch it every snap. So that doesn’t surprise me. Any playmaker wants the ball and wants the game to go through him.”
6. Arkansas is “very close to putting it all together”
Like everyone else, Stoops was impressed by what he saw in how Arkansas played No. 23 Texas A&M to the wire two weekends ago. He was able to watch some of that game live while waiting for UK’s kickoff at South Carolina, and has since seen it on film as part of his prep for the Razorbacks. Stoops said, “They played really well. They played good on both sides. I think you all know what type of team Texas A&M is. And Arkansas had every opportunity to win that game. So you know they are putting it together.”
7. Is it a make-or-break game?
“I’ll leave that to y’all,” Stoops responded to a question about the game being a “make or break” scenario. “I haven’t heard for awhile, because it was kind of comical to me, about how every game was a make or break for me. I was like, what game isn’t? You know what I mean? I think that’s all I heard for six years every week in here.
“So it’s, actually, I had to chuckle inside because every game’s important to us, and I don’t mean any disrespect by that answer. It’s just we, as coaches, I don’t care who we’re playing, what we’re doing, the way we lead up to a game, the way we prepare, all that is really most important to me. The results are the results. We all want to win, but things happen in games that you can’t predict. That’s why everybody loves watching it.”
8. UK’s secondary is “getting better,” learning from mistakes
Stoops sees improvement in UK’s secondary, but admits he isn’t surprised as the new crop of defensive backs gain experience with each game. There have been mistakes, he acknowledged, but no more than he expected. “Nothing that’s been a great surprise,” he said. “You know that mistakes are going to happen, you know that inexperience is going to pop up at times, you just have to have the ability to overcome that.”
9. On what he’s seen from the offensive and defensive lines…
“I think it’s been a lot like our team and been inconsistent,” Stoops said when asked about both sides of the line. “At times they have done some really good things. We have higher expectations on both groups and want more consistency out of them.”
10. “It’s a special week to remember Jared Lorenzen and we’re proud to honor him this week.”
Stoops did not have a close personal relationship with Jared Lorenzen, but he is excited and honored for his UK team to play for the former Wildcat QB, for whom Kentucky will pay tribute to on Saturday. “One of the most beloved and iconic players to ever play at the University of Kentucky,” Stoops said. “It will be an honor for us to recognize him and recognize his family this week. So just more incentive for us and for our team.”
He said he will show film of Lorenzen to the team throughout the week, among the many other things planned for Jared Lorenzen Day.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©October 07th, 2019 @ 12:38pm
Kentucky head coach John Calipari will be in to see his top guard target in the class of 2020.
Sources told KSR this morning that Calipari will visit 2020 No. 2 prospect Cade Cunningham today, with the 6-foot-7, 215-pound confirming the news to KSR not long after.
Cunningham, the consensus No. 2 prospect in the nation and top overall guard, is scheduled to take his official visit to Lexington this weekend for Big Blue Madness.
This morning in my Pilgrim’s Insider Notes post, I wrote that immediately following 2021 five-star guard Devin Askew’s official visit this past weekend, the UK coaching staff turned its attention to preparing for Cunningham’s upcoming trip to Lexington.
Sources tell KSR that Kentucky is recruiting both Cunningham and Askew for the class of 2020, and there is a puncher’s chance of that scenario coming to fruition. I am told that as soon as Askew’s official visit wrapped up in Lexington, the staff’s recruiting focus shifted entirely to Cunningham’s official visit scheduled for this weekend.
“Next week is the big one,” one source close to the situation told KSR. “[They are] not playing around, going for the kill.”
Cunningham has taken three official visits thus far to Oklahoma State, North Carolina, and Florida, with a trip to Washington also scheduled for Oct. 18 after the five-star guard wraps up his visit to Lexington.
Oklahoma State has long been seen as the runaway favorite to land the Arlington, TX native, though North Carolina and Kentucky have picked up serious momentum in recent weeks.
Check out some of his most recent Nike EYBL highlights below:
By Drew Franklin on ©October 07th, 2019 @ 7:00am
Good morning! It sure is nice to wake up without a hangover from the day after a Kentucky football loss. We did three straight Mondays of those so it feels good to breathe a little better and enter this new work week without the weight of defeat on our hearts. Kentucky is back to its regular football routine this week — get excited about that — as the Cats focus on the upcoming game against Arkansas in Kroger Field.
Before we buckle down and attack this week together, a recap of a rather busy weekend with no football:
UK BASKETBALL PRO DAY
A bye weekend for the Kentucky football team allowed the Kentucky basketball team to sneak in and borrow the spotlight for a day or two. Coach Cal’s program held its sixth annual Pro Day, a preseason event to promote the program and its players in a televised workout in front of scouts from every NBA franchise. I don’t know what it did for the players’ NBA futures, but Pro Day did its job in igniting a fan base that is growing hungrier and hungrier for basketball season.
Here are some of the highlights
— Nate Sestina was the MVP. Sestina opened a lot of eyes during his introduction to Kentucky basketball fans, mostly for how well he shot the ball. In case you haven’t heard already, Sestina hit 20 out of 24 three-pointers while on camera and he didn’t need the rim on most of the makes. The shot looked great, folks, and the performance has many of Big Blue Nation’s most excitable fans losing their collective minds over Sestina’s potential. He will get a lot of those looks from the pick-and-pop, and Pro Day suggests he can thrive in that role, so why wouldn’t we get excited?
— Johnny Juzang can really shoot too. Maybe the hype’s real? Juzang showed off his jumper in the scrimmages, hitting a couple of three-pointers (in a row, I believe) in the 5-on-5. The quickness from catch to release is a real beauty when Juzang is letting it fly, and at his size he will have no problem getting them up. The looks test says Juzang will be the best shooter on the team. We’ll have to wait to see how good that actually is.
— Before we got to the good stuff like Sestina and Juzang looking like Splash Brothers, we did have to fight through a slow start. The program began with drills — 3/4 Court Sprint, Jump Testing, Shuttle Run & Lane Agility, Full Court Drills, in that order — before getting to the shooting and scrimmaging portion of the evening. There was a lot of talking to fill time.
— Kentucky is LONG. Pro Day taught us that seven players on the team have a seven-foot wingspan or better, which is nice for Calipari’s goal of being a long, disruptive defense.
Dontaie Allen with a surprising 7’2 wingspan there.
— Jimmy Dykes believes this team’s strength will be its defensive versatility. In summarizing his thoughts on the day and UK’s team as a whole, Dykes said he believes the offense will struggle early and defense will need to carry the load, and that defensive versatility will ultimately be what makes UK go.
— Tyrese Maxey hit a step-back three-pointer in Nick Richards’ face at the buzzer. It was nasty but also lovely. Kid’s going to be REAL good.
— Two of the scouts in attendance were none other than Tayshaun Prince and Chuck Hayes, a couple of former Wildcat greats. Prince, now a member of the Memphis Grizzlies front office, did an interview with Jimmy Dykes in which he had a lot of nice things to say about Big Blue Nation.
— Once it was all over, Calipari tweeted, “If our guys practice that hard every day and talk like they did throughout the whole #UKProDay, we will be fine. Only two guys got cramps. I expected half the team to get them. I like my team.”
If our guys practice that hard every day and talk like they did throughout the whole #UKProDay, we will be fine. Only two guys got cramps. I expected half the team to get them. I like my team. pic.twitter.com/cKPEo9SYbd
— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) October 7, 2019
UK BASKETBALL RECRUITING
— Though UK’s Pro Day was the headline, we cannot let the news of Devin Askew’s visit slip under the radar. A five-star guard in the Class of 2021 (for the moment), Askew was in Lexington for an official visit to the University of Kentucky over the weekend and it went very, very, very….. very, very… very, very, very well. Askew did not announce a commitment to Kentucky before heading back to Santa Ana, Ca., but both sides walk away extremely happy with how the visit went. His announcement is expecting to come soon.
— More good news! Cade Cunningham will visit for Big Blue Madness after all. The No. 1 guard in America will skip USA Basketball training camp in Colorado to attend Big Blue Madness this coming Friday. Cunningham is reportedly warming up to the idea of becoming a Wildcat, as opposed to Oklahoma State, where his brother was just hired on as an assistant. This is an enormous visitor ahead for Calipari and his staff.
Lots more (and more thorough) recruiting talk ahead in Jack Pilgrim’s insider notes. He will publish a new version of the notes later this morning.
How is Austin MacGinnis not on an NFL roster? How? HOW?! I do not get it. Obviously we are biased here, but it makes no sense that a proven kicker with game-winners and all-time records on his college resume can’t get a phone call when many of the kickers in the league can’t make a field goal. I watched the Titans’ kicker miss ALL FOUR of his field goal attempts in the Titans’ 14-7 loss to the Bills. I was saying all kinds of words someone shouldn’t say out loud in KSBar, but it was painful to see because (a) it screwed my Titans and (b) MacGinnis can’t get a call. What in the actual %&$# am I missing here?
Meanwhile, down in Dallas, former Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson wore Randall Cobb’s old Kentucky jersey on the sideline of the Packers’ game against Cobb and his new team.
Circa Sports released its opening lines for Week 7 of the college football season and Kentucky finds itself as a 6.5 point favorite against Arkansas.
The total on the game is 54.5.
Did you know NBA preseason play began over the weekend? Well, it did, and several former Kentucky Wildcats played well.
— PJ Washington shined in his professional debut with the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday, scoring a team-high 16 points in only 19 minutes played off the bench. Washington went 6-of-7 from the field, 3-of-4 from 3-point range, and grabbed five rebounds in the loss to Boston. Washington’s two UK alum teammates, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Malik Monk, did not play.
— Keldon Johnson also made his debut, but it didn’t go as well as Washington’s. Truth be told, it didn’t go well at all. Johnson made only two of his team-high 14 shot attempts, with three misses from outside and two at the foul line.
— Journeyman James Young exploded for 31 points on the Memphis Grizzlies. Bet you didn’t see that one coming, did you? (You didn’t.) Can you name which team he did it for? (You can’t.) Answer: Young’s 31 points were scored for Maccabi Haifa, a professional Israeli basketball club and Young’s new team, apparently. Maccabi Haifa traveled from Israel to West Tennessee to help the Grizzlies get ready for the upcoming NBA season. There is a lot to digest in this paragraph.
— Out in LaLa Land, Anthony Davis stole Lebron James’ show with 22 points and 10 rebounds in his first action as a Laker. Lakers head coach Frank Vogel, a fellow UK alum, said of A.D., “He’s a monster. It’s going to be very difficult to slow him down with what we had around him. I’m excited about what he’s going to do, and Lakers fans should be too.”
— Isaac Humphries made the Orlando Magic with three minutes played. Hey, that is more than no minutes played.
— Andrew Harrison got seven minutes with the Golden State Warriors and scored four points with two assists.
— De’Aaron Fox and Wenyen Gabriel came to Kentucky together, and now they’re together again on the other side of the world, in India, playing for the Sacramento Kings. The Kings played two games against the Indiana Pacers in the first ever NBA action held in India. Fox was greeted by chants of “MVP! MVP! MVP!” from the crowd while at the foul line. That’s pretty cool.
Eat it, St. Louis fans.
— Mark Stoops will address the media in the return of his weekly Monday press conference following a week off. You can hear his comments right here on KSR beginning at noon today. Stoops will likely tell us the status of Sawyer Smith, the status of the offense with Lynn Bowden at quarterback, and what is ahead for the week of the Arkansas game.
— A new UK football depth chart will be released around 11 am. Refresh KSR around that time until it pops up to see the rotation for Arkansas week.
— Want something fun to do after work (in Lexington)? Come to KSBar and Grille from 5-6:30 today to hang out with me and my friends from UK Federal Credit Union. UKFCU will be giving away some very nice prizes and we’ll be having lots of fun, way too much fun for a Monday evening.
— The “Hammer It Out Of The Park” cash giveaway continues at KSBar and Grille with four MLB playoff games today beginning at 1:00 in the afternoon. If you’re at KSBar when there is a home run in any of the playoff games today through the World Series, you can win $50 cash just for being there when it happened.
— There will be a new KSR Football Podcast. Sometime later tonight, a new KSR Football Podcast will pop up on your podcast feed. I haven’t heard it yet because we haven’t recorded it yet, but it’s a great episode. I just know it.
Now get out there and punch this Monday in the face.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©October 05th, 2019 @ 11:00pm
Coming in as a top-ten recruit in the class of 2018, expectations were high for Fort Pierce, FL native EJ Montgomery out of high school. Known for his smooth, guard-like abilities, the 6-foot-10 forward was seen as the perfect complementary player to PJ Washington and Reid Travis, two strong, physical talents down low for the Wildcats last season.
But as Washington and Travis separated themselves as two of the most consistent and productive big men in the SEC, Montgomery was limited to a bench role with sophomore center Nick Richards. Washington and Travis averaged nearly 30 minutes per contest with the offense running through them both, while Montgomery and Richards each struggled to break the 15-minute threshold each night. The freshman forward showed flashes of brilliance at times, but without a defined role and limited stretches on the floor, consistency was never had.
With Washington being taken in the lottery of the NBA Draft this summer and Travis pursuing his professional basketball dreams in Germany, Montgomery is now expected to take over as the team’s premier big man in 2019-20.
“We saw him last year, we’re all saying how does E.J. get more time? What do we do to get E.J. more time?” John Calipari said at UK Media Day this week. “Well, guess what? He’s going to get more time.”
Montgomery, who averaged 3.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks in just 15.1 minutes per contest, flirted with the NBA Draft right until the withdrawal deadline this past offseason. He even told reporters this summer that despite most of the mock drafts indicating he was a likely second-round candidate, there were a few teams in the late first round that were ready to pull the trigger had he kept his name in.
“[Kentucky] wanted me to come back. They said if I came back and got stronger, I’d go higher in the draft,” Montgomery said this summer. “Probably the main reason, just my physical part, my body. I went out there and I showed I could do a lot of things [during the pre-draft process] but they just wanted me to show I could go out there and play with the physical guys. [They said] I would be late first round, but if I came back, I would be a lot higher.”
With summer workouts now out of the way and fall practice now officially underway, Montgomery says he can already see a physical change in his body and that he’s ready to take over down low.
“This year, I’ve been in the weight room a lot with Rob (Harris), and that’s been my main focus, just getting more physical and staying consistent and stuff like that,” he said. “But this year, I’m definitely going to be ready.”
Montgomery saw the massive transformation Washington underwent between his freshman and sophomore seasons both physically and in terms of on-court production.
The Fort Pierce, FL native is using Montgomery’s success last season as a blueprint for his own this year.
“Once I heard where I would land in the draft, I knew if I came back and go hard every day like he did, it would improve my stock,” Montgomery said this summer.
“Just how hard he went in everything he did, he was always the first one in [the practice gym],” the 6-foot-10, 228-pound forward reiterated this week at UK Media Day. “Just watching how his body changed over the summer, I wanted that.”
According to Calipari, he has used Washington’s growth both on and off the floor as a teaching tool for Montgomery. As much as the Wildcat sophomore wants to look at Washington’s productivity on the floor and mimic that, the Kentucky head coach wants him to know that it starts outside the white lines.
“One of the things, I sat him down and we talked. [I told him to] understand that P.J. did all these things, but he changed his approach to this,” Calipari said. “P.J. finished first in every conditioning (drill). P.J. pushed himself physically. P.J. was a better leader. He wasn’t looking to what’s the least amount I can do, what’s the most I can do, can I do more, can I stay after, what can I do? A lot of this becomes changing your approach to this. And E.J.’s walking through that. There are things that’s got to be more consistent with, but he is a talent.”
If you ask Montgomery, though, he is up for the challenge.
“[My focus has been on] just staying in the gym and having my confidence up,” he said this week. “Just know what I can do and just get more physical. [I don’t have a defined role], I just like to think of myself as a basketball player. Anything Coach Cal asks of me on the floor, I want to be able to do that. I just want to contribute to wins this year.”
So how does he feel he has improved personally?
“Just my physicality, getting stronger,” he said. “I want to go out there and play my game, keep working and staying in the gym. Coach Cal keeps saying we need to be a defensive team, so we’ve been working on that a lot. Just going out there and competing.”
And the team’s improvement as a whole?
“Getting up and down the floor, we like to do that a lot,” he said. “Lockdown defenders, we have a lot of those. [The best defender is] definitely Ashton Hagans, he doesn’t let anybody score on him. He’ll foul you before he lets you score on him. We’re all competing, we’re battling in practice, trying to knock each other’s heads off.”
Now that he’s one of the “older guys” on the team, Montgomery knows he has to take the next step up and be one of the leaders both on and off the floor, especially in the frontcourt.
And if he can do that, he believes this team can be special.
“I just wanted to come back and get better everyday with my guys,” he said. “I’m one of the older guys now on this team, so I’ve got to just be a leader, go out there and help this team compete [for a national championship.”