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The Aaron Torres Sports Podcast E1: Evan Daniels

The Aaron Torres Sports Podcast E1: Evan Daniels

The long-awaited arrival of the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast is finally here!

KSR’s resident West Coast contributor debuts the new Kentucky Sports Radio podcast by introducing the show’s format and his weekly co-host, Nick Coffey of 790-KRD and The Card Connect.  Following a College Football Playoff discussion, the master of college basketball recruiting, Evan Daniels, joins Torres to discuss the young college basketball season.  Highlights:

—  Did Ohio State ever have a shot at getting into the playoff?

—  This year proved there does not need to be more than four teams in the CFB Playoff.

—  What’s crazier in the college football coaching carousel: Tennessee fans or the amount of money A&M paid Jimbo Fisher?

—  Lavar Ball’s latest antics and what it was like for Torres and Daniels to cover the Balls in high school.

—  The Future of the One and Done Rule and what it will mean for college basketball.

—  Evan shares the latest on Zion Williamson and where he could end up playing college basketball.

You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play.  Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.  You can also get it directly to your phone by subscribing to “Aaron Torres Sports” feed on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.


Courtney Love wins the 2017 Wuerffel Trophy

Courtney Love wins the 2017 Wuerffel Trophy

Congratulations to senior linebacker Courtney Love, who was just presented with the 2017 Wuerffel Trophy, which honors college football’s top community servant. He accepted the award this morning at the National Football Foundation’s Press Conference at the New York Hilton Midtown Hotel in New York.

Love’s list of good deeds from UK is long. He leads the team in community service hours and has a passion for mentoring children, especially those living in a one-parent household or children who have parents who are incarcerated. Courtney currently volunteers at Amachi Central Kentucky, a mentoring program that seeks to pair caring, positive adults with children and youth in the Bluegrass who have one or both parents in state or federal prison or are affected by incarceration in some way. At age nine, Love ran away from home because of what he calls a “complicated and toxic” relationship with his mother and went to live with his dad Cory, Cory’s girlfriend and three half-sisters. His dad ended up in prison for two years while Courtney was in middle school.

He also has served in a Skype mentoring program with area high school students, and has taken part in many events with the UK Children’s Hospital, Read Across America, and Special Olympics, along with many other service activities. In May of 2016, Love was chosen to participate in a service/educational trip to Ethiopia where he helped build houses as well as shoe-shining boxes for men to be able to work and provide for their families. He also delivered food to impoverished families and visited with orphans and widows.

Photo via UK Athletics

Love is also a member of the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team which is the top college football honor for recognizing outstanding community service achievements. In the classroom, Love was named to the 2016 SEC Academic Honor Roll, graduating in May with a degree in community and leadership development. He is currently working on a second degree in communications. He also serves as one of UK football’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) representatives for the second straight season.

On the field, Love ranks second on the team in tackles with 82 and has started and been in a captain in all 12 games. He ranks tied for 23rd nationally in fumble recoveries with two and has posted a career-high in tackles twice with 10 vs. Missouri and Louisville.

In short, Love is one heck of a good dude, and we’re fortunate to have him as the team captain. For more on Love’s inspiring story, watch the profile below courtesy of UK:

…And Love being surprised by Allstate and the Lexington community with his Allstate AFCA Good Works Team award in October:

Love will be interviewed at “The Home Depot College Football Awards Red Carpet Show” on ESPNU and ESPN3 on December 7 at 6 p.m. EST at the College Football Hall of Fame in downtown Atlanta.

Thank you for making us proud, Courtney.


Seven Reasons why you should go to the Music City Bowl

Music City Bowl

Kentucky did not lose consecutive games in the 2017 season until the final two games of the year, leaving a sour taste in the mouthes of many fans.  Mark Stoops’ Wildcats have a chance to change the narrative with a victory over the nine-win Northwestern Wildcats at the Music City Bowl in Nashville.  That’s just one reason why you should be at Nissan Stadium on December 29.

A Pregame Basketball Party

The Music City Bowl will kickoff at 4:30 ET, hours after the Louisville-Kentucky basketball game tips off at Rupp Arena.  Some may see that as a problem, but like Mitch Barnhart, I see it as a wonderful opportunity.

“I don’t look at it as a problem,” Barnhart said. “I look at it as a great opportunity and unbelievable celebration. I don’t know that there’s probably too many schools that have the incredible opportunity to have two showcase opportunities in one day for your two marquee programs.”

Broadway will be shut down for a Music City Bowl fan zone on Thursday and Friday.  Barnhart is working with the bowl game to create a place where fans can gather to watch the basketball game before heading to the football stadium.

“I intend to work very closely with the Sports Council to try and create an environment down there where our fans will have an opportunity to view the basketball game before the football game and walk across that bridge and go in that stadium for the football game and we’ll have some fun. We’ll look forward to that.”

The Cheapest Football Ticket all Year

It isn’t cheap to attend a Kentucky football game.  Even in the cheap seats it’s usually about $50 per ticket.  Price should not be a problem for those who wish to witness the Music City Bowl with tickets starting at just $22.  On third-party platforms, you can get inside the stadium for as little as $16.  Price should not be a problem.  Get your tickets from UK here.

No Nashville SEC Tournament

Each spring the BBN gets to celebrate the basketball season with a weekend party at the SEC Tournament in Nashville.  This year that will not be the case.  For the first time since 2014, the tournament is leaving Nashville.  Instead, St. Louis will host the tournament for the first time.  Replicating the madness in the Midwest will be difficult, but it’s safe to say Kentucky fans will be crazy for a December trip to Broadway.

It will be Better than the Last Game at the Titans’ Stadium

Mark Stoops’ Kentucky head coaching tenure began with optimism on a hot August day at Nissan Stadium.  The Cats left the stadium with a loss to Bobby Petrino’s Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.  No matter what happens on December 29, it can’t be as bad as that loss.

UK is Great in the Music City Bowl

Kentucky’s record in the Music City Bowl is 2-2, but in hindsight we can ignore the bad moments and appreciate the best parts.

Nashville’s New Year’s Eve Party

If you have yet to make plans for New Year’s Eve, few destinations are better than Nashville’s annual party.  The free concert at Bicentennial Park is headlined by Keith Urban and also features Maren Morris, Cheap Trick and Kentucky-native Carly Pearce.  If that option does not float your boat, you can party with Parrot Heads.  Huey Lewis and the News opens for Jimmy Buffett at Bridgestone Arena.

Even if you don’t stay until the 31st, hockey fans can enjoy a night in Smashville when the Predators host the Minnesota Wild on December 30 at 8:00 p.m.

A Proper Senior Send-Off

Stephen Johnson, Courtney Love, Austin MacGinnis, Juice Johnson and the entire 2017 senior class has done incredible things to take the Kentucky football program to new heights.  Their final game at Kroger Field could not have gone much worse.

The seniors have one more game to show the Big Blue Nation how far this program has come since Mark Stoops arrived.  They have an opportunity to knock off a nine-win Big 10 team and leave a lasting legacy, an opportunity I’m certain they will not let slip away.


A Quick Look at Northwestern

A Quick Look at Northwestern

Pic by The Lantern

Northwestern University will represent the Big Ten in the Music City Bowl. The Wildcats are extremely well coached and finished 2017 with a 9-3 record. It is ranked 21st in the nation. The Wildcats are riding a seven game winning streak and is listed amongst the best in several conference statistical categories.

First let’s take a look at the schedule. Northwestern started the season 2-3 but recovered to finish strong. Its nine wins were against opponents that averaged 5.4 victories on the season. The Wildcats played seven home games and won three road contests against two, four-win teams: Maryland and Nebraska as well as two-win Illinois. Northwestern beat Iowa, Michigan State, and Nebraska in overtime. By doing so, it became the first FBS team to win three consecutive overtime football games.

Conversely, the average losing opponent vs. Kentucky averaged 5.8 wins on the season. The Cats recorded road wins against two, eight-win teams: Southern Miss and South Carolina as well as five-win Vanderbilt. Northwestern won two more games than UK. But, Kentucky’s wins came against opponents with slightly better winning records; but significantly grander on the road.

NORTHWESTERN SCHEDULE

Opponent (Record) Final Score
Nevada (3-9) W 31-20
@Duke (6-6) L 17-41
Bowling Green (2-10) W 49-7
@Wisconsin (12-1) L 24-33
Penn State (10-2) L 7-31
@Maryland (4-8) W 37-21
Iowa (7-5) W 17-10 (OT)
Michigan State (9-3) W 39-31 (3 OT)
@Nebraska (4-8) W 31-24 (OT)
Purdue (6-6) W 23-13
Minnesota (5-7) W 39-0
@Illinois (2-10) W 42-7

OFFENSE

Season Result  

Statistical Category Result Big 10 Rank
Scoring 29.7 ppg 4th
Rushing 160.9 ypg 8th
Passing 244.3 5th
Total 405.2 4th
3rd Down 35.48% 8th
Red-Zone 90.74 (39 TD’s) 2nd, 21st nationally
Turnover Margin +5 2nd
Long Scrimmage Plays 180, 10+yds 4th
QB Sacks Allowed 29 9th
1st Downs 23.1 per game 2nd
Tackles for Loss Allowed 68 7th

Top Performers

Category Name Results
Passing QB Clayton Thorson 2809-yards, 60.6%, 15 TD, 12 INT
Rushing RB Justin Jackson 1154 yards, 9 TD’s
Receiving Bennett Skowronek 42 rec, 619-yds, 5 TD’s

Pic by Inside NU

The Wildcats are led by 2nd Team All-Big Ten RB Justin Jackson. Incredibly, Jackson has been named to the league’s 2nd team in four consecutive years. He also surpassed 1000-yards in four straight seasons. Jackson’s rushed for 1154-yards and scored 9 touchdowns. Kentucky has faced an extraordinarily high number of historically significant running backs: Southern Miss’s Ito Smith, Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, and Vanderbilt’s Ralph Webb. Add Northwestern’s Jackson to the list as the senior is the program’s all-time leading rusher.

Northwestern’s passing attack is led by 3rd team all-conference Quarterback Clayton Thorson who finished 2017 by completing 60% of his passes for 2809-yards. After a slow start to the season, Thorson significantly improved throughout conference play. His performances in the Wildcat’s final three regular season games were highly efficient. The junior displayed next-level traits. 6’4, 300-pound guard Tommy Doles was named 3rd Team All-Big Ten and is the leader of the Wildcat’s offense line.

Much like the outstanding running backs that Kentucky has faced in 2017; Thorson is yet another upper-level passer that will put a tremendous amount of stress on a UK secondary that has struggled throughout the season. Thorson is not a runner and is in the mold of South Carolina’s Jake Bentley, Eastern Michigan signal caller Brogan Roback, and Missouri’s Drew Lock.

The Wildcats average 23.1 first downs per game and has executed 921 plays. Comparatively, Louisville’s play total for the season was 889. Missouri ran 848 plays; Ole Miss 804.

Mark Stoops’ run on bowl opponents has been enormously more challenging than the last Wildcat teams that made back-to-back postseason appearances. Bowl opposition can be random, friendly, or cruel like that. Rich Brooks’ first bowl opponent was Clemson in the Music City. The Tigers were preseason favorites to win the ACC but faltered down the stretch by losing four of its last five games. The next Music City Bowl featured Florida State that was minus double digit players due to suspension and lost three of its last four games of the season.

Contrariwise; Stoops’ first bowl team was against Georgia Tech in the Taxslayer. The Yellow Jackets was 6-1 down the stretch including wins over Georgia and 18th ranked Virginia Tech. That triple option nightmare is now followed by the 21st ranked Northwestern Wildcats. The Big Ten representative is one of the hottest teams in the nation and riding a seven game winning streak.

Northwestern is not the complete matchup nightmare that the Yellow Jackets provided a year ago but it will present a significant challenge especially when Northwestern possesses the football.

We’ll have much, much more on Northwestern in the days leading up to the Music City Bowl.


Who are the Northwestern Wildcats?

This afternoon, Kentucky was officially invited to the Music City Bowl to compete against No. 20 Northwestern on December 29 at 4:30 p.m.

The all-Wildcat matchup will be UK’s first Music City Bowl in eight years, and it’ll certainly be a tough one.

Let’s look at Kentucky’s bowl opponent:

Northwestern is on a seven-game win streak

After falling to Penn State 31-7 back in October and starting the season 2-3, the Wildcats have won seven straight games, including three consecutive overtime victories. In their last two outings, they have outscored opponents by a total score of 81-7.

Needless to say, they’re cooking.

That being said, just two of Northwestern’s opponents in that span had a winning record and three were .500 or above.

Two of those were overtime victories, and the third was by just 10 points. They were also demolished by Duke on the road in the second game of the season, proving they’re not immune to bad games.

They’ve been beating the teams they should be, but they’ve had to fight for the solid wins.

They have a stellar defense

According to some of the stats released by Corey Price of UK Athletics’ Cat Scratches, the Northwestern Wildcats are absolute studs on the defensive side of the ball.

Here are just a few statistics:

  • Tied for 10th in the FBS in running plays from scrimmage allowed of at least 20 yards (10)
  • Tied for 7th in the FBS in opponents’ red zone scoring (71.05%)

  • Tied for 9th in the FBS in opponents’ 4th down conversions (33.33%)
  • 9th in the FBS in rushing defense (111.25 yards per game

  • 19th in the FBS in scoring defense (19.8 points per game)

Yeah, that’s pretty impressive.

Northwestern is the 37th-best total defense in America, compared to UK listed at No. 89.

Benny Snell has been a superstar for Kentucky, rushing for 31 touchdowns and over 2500 yards from scrimmage in his young career, but he has his work cut out for him against this stout Wildcat defense.

The Wildcats outrank Kentucky on offense too

Their defense is scary good, but Northwestern’s offensive attack is just as impressive. They maintain the No. 60 offense in the nation compared to Kentucky’s No. 100.

In the passing department, they are ranked 54th in the country compared to UK coming in at 101st in the country. Kentucky’s rushing attack is better at 54th in America, compared to Northwestern at No. 71, though they still have an 1100-yard rusher in Justin Jackson.

Junior quarterback Clayton Thorson has thrown for 2,809 yards and 15 touchdowns along with 12 interceptions, showing both good and bad this season.

Northwestern is tied for 126th in college football in offensive plays from scrimmage of at least 30 yards at just 14, meaning they will attempt to dink-and-dunk Kentucky all day long. They score touchdowns on 72% attempts in the red zone, good for 18th in the nation.

They inch their way down the field, milk the clock, and score touchdowns. That’s a recipe for success if I’ve ever seen one.

They are coached by a former All-American

From 1993-1996, Pat Fitzgerald dominated the linebacker position for Northwestern. He is a two-time winner of the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (1995, 1996), two-time winner of the Chuck Bednarik Award (1995, 1996), two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year (1995, 1996), and two-time Consensus All-American (1995, 1996).

Oh, and he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008.

In 2006, he was named head coach of his alma mater, and has accumulated a total record of 86–65 and seven bowl-eligible seasons for the Wildcats.

Needless to say, he’s well-respected in Evanston, Illinois.

The Wildcats are 2-5 in bowl games under Fitzgerald, but don’t let that fool you. Kentucky is going heads up with an incredible football mind on December 29.

They almost got snowed-out in early November

Northwestern hosted Purdue in their first November night game in program history, and it almost got snowed out.

Just a few days before the game, the stadium was blanketed in snow, and the field crew had their work cut out for them to get it prepared.

Take a look:

Let’s hope we don’t see similar weather in Nashville in a few weeks.

They have a brand new facility

Northwestern is currently finishing construction on a 500,000 square-foot, $260-million athletics facility for the football team that is set to open this Spring.

Here’s what it looks like:

(Northwestern University)

The inside look of the facility is pretty ridiculous…

Good thing they haven’t been able to utilize that just yet.

I love the Joe Craft Football Training Facility as much as the next guy, but color me jealous of this lakeside beauty.


Similar to last year, Kentucky got matched up with a darn good football team in their bowl game.


Kentucky will Return to the Music City Bowl

It’s official.  For the first time in eight years, Kentucky will finish the season in the Music City Bowl.

Mark Stoops’ 7-5 Wildcats will take on Northwestern at Nissan Stadium in NashvilleThe December 29 matchup with the Wildcats kicks off at 4:30 ET on ESPN, three-and-a-half hours after Coach Cal’s Cats tip off against Louisville at Rupp Arena on CBS.

Mark Stoops and Mitch Barnhart issues statements following the official announcement.

“We’re very excited to have earned another bowl bid and honored to receive an invitation from the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl,” UK Coach Mark Stoops said. “Kentucky has a long history with this game and fans love going to Nashville. Taking on Northwestern will be a great challenge and we look forward to an exciting game.”

“We are proud to participate in the 20th Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl and thankful to Scott Ramsey and the Nashville Sports Council for the invitation,” Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said. “Congratulations to Coach Stoops and our team for reaching a bowl game for a second season in a row. The Big Blue Nation has made Nashville a second home for us and fan support is going to be so important as our team works for its eighth win. Dec. 29 is going to be a big day for the University of Kentucky.”

Following a five-year postseason drought, Stoops has led Kentucky to consecutive bowl berths.  After falling to Georgia Tech in the 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl, the Cats return to their postseason home away from home.  Rich Brooks brought UK to the Music City Bowl three times from 2006-09.  Kentucky’s 28-20 win over Clemson in 2006 was the Cats’ first postseason victory in 22 years.  The following year UK defeated Florida State 35-28 in Andre Woodson’s final game.

Paint Nashville Blue.  Tickets start at just $22 and can be purchased here.  Get the good ones before they’re gone.


UK vs. Harvard recap: Calipari won’t let Cats coast

UK vs. Harvard recap: Calipari won’t let Cats coast

If you didn’t watch today’s game, you might think Kentucky played horribly based on the score, but I’d argue a lot of good came out of the Cats’ 79-70 win over Harvard today. Kentucky withstood some strong shooting from the Crimson and, despite some ugly stretches, put together enough big runs in the second half to get the win. Kevin Knox led the way with 20 points, followed by Hamidou Diallo with 19.

Let’s go over it, shall we?

Harvard was on fire in the first half

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a team we think isn’t that good comes into Rupp and shoots the lights out. That was Harvard in the first half. At one point, the Crimson were shooting 50% from the three-point line, a vast improvement over their 27% clip coming in. Harvard’s Seth Towns wins the Elston Turner Award after going six of seven from the three-point line.

All in all, the Crimson finished 12-28 from three, which makes Kentucky’s 2-14 look pretty sad (shoutout to Kevin Knox for keeping the three-point streak alive). Thankfully, the Cats’ interior defense was much better than their perimeter defense; overall, Harvard shot only 37% for the day.

The big run in the second half was great

How good could this team be? Just look at their big run in the second half. Kentucky turned an eight-point lead into a 20-point lead in two and a half minutes thanks to their defense. The Cats had three steals during that stretch, but the way they coasted back into bad habits once up by a comfortable margin drew Calipari’s ire.

“Then we get up and we have two or three guys that back-up and stand up and lose their man. You know, we break off. But, again, it’s what freshmen do. All right, I did it. Now I’m tired and I’m going to take a few plays off. You can’t do that here. You don’t take plays off.”

As has been the case all season, when Kentucky falters, it’s Knox or Diallo that brings them back into it; both were excellent this afternoon, scoring 20 and 19 respectively.

Hamidou Diallo almost had the best dunk of all time

Can you imagine if that had gone in?? Hami had several ridiculous plays today, but that one proved he may not be human. Also, his wrist has to be killing him.

Free throw shooting was good; rebounding not so much

The good: Kentucky shot 83% (25-30) from the free-throw line today. The bad: they only outrebounded Harvard by one (37-36). You better believe Calipari addressed that afterwards.

“Again, look, we hold them to 37%, but we don’t outrebound them the way we should. I’ll have to go look at it and see what it is. But we make our free throws. You know, there was some good stuff, but I’m expecting more.”

Nick Richards and Kevin Knox had a team-high seven rebounds, followed by Hamidou Diallo with six and PJ Washington with five. Seven-foot Sacha Killeya-Jones? Two. Wenyen Gabriel? Two.

Sacha Killeya-Jones and Nick Richards: The new Twin Towers?

This time of year is for experimenting with new lineups, but I didn’t expect to see Sacha Killeya-Jones and Nick Richards on the floor together as much as we did today. The two seven-footers played alongside each other for a considerable amount of time this afternoon, and Calipari liked what he saw.

“Sacha’s been playing a lot of that in practice, as a matter of fact, he’s playing a lot more of that than he’s playing in Nick’s space. But, yeah, we can do it. We can be really big then. Now all of a sudden you’re like, holy cow, are we big.”

Calipari said he would have played them together more, but Sacha was too tired.

“Sacha got exhausted. Sacha almost passed out in the hallway at halftime when he came off the court. I didn’t know who was behind me. I thought someone was going to get an ambulance. Again, like, okay. You’ve got minutes now. You got to be able to — you don’t just stay out there and get exhausted.”

By now you may be picking up on this, but…

Given everything, Calipari was much grumpier than I expected after the game

I realize Kentucky only beat Harvard by nine, but Calipari seemed particularly grumpy afterwards. Maybe I’ve conditioned myself to this team’s “freshmen moments,” but I was encouraged by their play in the second half, particularly the way the defense spurred the 12-0 run; however, Calipari said he’s seen so many good things from the group that he’s not willing to overlook their errors.

“I told them after the game, I’ve done this 30 years, I’m not saying I’m a genius. I’m not saying I’m the best. I’m not saying that I could even do this. But I do know what winning looks like, and it doesn’t look like what we’re doing right now.”

“If you want to argue with me, I can’t get us to where we need to go. And they’re good. Look, I’m maybe sounding frustrated, but when you think about what I’m asking these kids to do, they should not be able to do this. They’re all freshmen. They’re all freshmen. We’re in the top 10 defensive efficiency in the country, and I’m not pleased. What? Because I think we could even be better.”

That’s why stretches like this are great. Calipari is giving the team tomorrow off then it’s back in the gym this week before they head to New York on Friday. Lots of time to learn.


Kentucky Blows By Harvard in the Second Half 79-70

Kentucky Blows By Harvard in the Second Half 79-70

Harvard hung around for a half until Kentucky’s lengthy defense took over to pick up the Cats’ seventh win of the 2017 season.

Harvard came out of the locker room hot in the first half, making 7 of their first 17 three-point attempts (42.1 percent).  Kentucky did not play poorly, but still only led by five at halftime.  Then Hamidou Diallo took over.

The Cats jumped passing lanes, created turnovers and ran the floor for easy transition buckets.  The 13-0 run put the game out of reach midway through the second half.  In the middle of it all was Diallo.  The uber athletic shooting guard tied a career-high with 19 points and added 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals to the stat sheet.  Kevin Knox was just ahead of Diallo with a game-high 20 points on the night.

Many may have hoped for a bigger final scoring margin, but Kentucky played well in an entertaining game.  The Cats stepped up their game defensively when they had to and stole nine passes, forced 15 turnovers and turned it into 24 points.  Harvard came out with a haymaker and Kentucky punched back.


BREAKING: Stephen Johnson Has Chopped Off His Hair

BREAKING: Stephen Johnson Has Chopped Off His Hair

Since arriving at Kentucky two years ago, quarterback Stephen Johnson’s head has been covered in braids.  His signature mop has taken Kentucky to new heights with 14 victories, one as a 27-point underdog to Louisville, and consecutive postseason appearances.

Johnson’s signature hairstyle is now gone.

Today UK released a video thanking the Big Blue Nation for their support throughout the 2017 season.  Johnson showed gratitude and a buzz cut.

Huh?

There’s only one appropriate reaction:

UK Athletics


SEC Basketball Seinfeld Index: November 30

SEC Basketball Seinfeld Index: November 30

One month from now, Kentucky starts conference play.

With four teams in the Top 25 and a few others lurking in the wings, SEC Basketball is legit this year, and, for once, Kentucky is not the best team in the conference. In my mind, at least two other SEC teams are better than the Cats right now, meaning Kentucky will be challenged early and often starting December 31.

Here’s a glimpse at what the rest of the SEC’s been up to this season, as told by Seinfeld GIFs because why not?

 

They’re real and they’re spectacular

 #6 Florida (5-1)

Best win: #17 Gonzaga (111-105); Loss: #1 Duke (87-84)

The Gators took #1 Duke down to the wire in the PK80 on Sunday. Behind Chris Chiozza, Jalen Hudson, grad transfer Egor Koulechov, and KeVaughn Allen, the Gators are a scoring machine, hitting 32 three-pointers over their first two games alone. Thankfully, Kentucky’s first game vs. the Gators comes in Rupp, or I’d already have that chalked up as a loss. (Even then…)

 #9 Texas A&M (6-0)

Best win: at #10 USC (75-59)

When potential top 10 draft pick Robert Williams announced he was returning to school, we knew the Aggies would be good this season, but so far, they have exceeded expectations, beating then #11 West Virginia and #10 USC with ease. They also have wins over Oklahoma State and Penn State. Florida will steal the spotlight because of Duke and the numbers they put up, but the Aggies might be the most dangerous squad in the league. They come to Lexington on January 9 in what should be one heck of a game.

 #7 Kentucky (6-1)

Best win: Vermont (73-69); Loss: #4 Kansas (65-61)

Kentucky is improving, but will they pull it together enough to withstand the major challenges that await them in the SEC? Probably not, but this group is getting better by the moment and will benefit from a tough SEC slate come March. I can’t wait to see how they do vs. Florida and Texas A&M, and thank goodness both of those road games come later in the schedule.


Spongeworthy

 #24 Alabama (6-1)

Best win: vs. BYU (71-59); Loss: #14 Minnesota (89-84)

Bama’s best performance came in their only loss. With only three players, Alabama outscored #14 Minnesota in the final ten minutes, and even though they lost, that’s one heck of an accomplishment. Collin Sexton had 40 points in that game and may be the best player in the SEC now that Michael Porter Jr. is out with injury. Thankfully, Kentucky’s only game vs. Alabama this season will be at Rupp on February 7.

Tennessee (5-1)

Best win: #18 Purdue (78-75); Loss: #5 Villanova (85-76)

The Vols are legit this year, beating #18 Purdue in overtime and leading #5 Villanova by double digits before losing in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis. They also beat an NC State team that upset then-#2 Arizona. Sophomore forward Grant Williams is really good, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Vols get the best of the Cats yet again on January 6 in Knoxville.

Arkansas (5-1)

Best win: Oklahoma (92-83); Loss: #9 UNC (87-68)

The Razorbacks held their own in the PK80, routing UConn to finish third after a loss to #9 UNC (during which Daryl Macon went down with an ankle injury). Arkansas is a veteran squad, led by senior guard Jaylen Barford, and I still think Kentucky’s trip to Fayetteville on February 20 has the makings of a classic trap game. We’ll know more about the Razorbacks after they play #12 Minnesota next weekend.


Yada Yada Yada

Missouri (5-2)

Best win: St. John’s (90-82); Losses: at Utah (77-59), #23 West Virginia (83-79)

Mizzou is without Michael Porter Jr., potentially for the season, but they haven’t flatlined in his absence. The Tigers got a quality win over St. John’s and were up on #23 West Virginia by 16 in the second half before losing by four. They clearly aren’t the same squad that they would be with Porter Jr., but they can still cause some teams fits.

South Carolina (5-1)

Best win(s): Western Michigan (78-60, 79-66); Loss: Illinois State (69-65)

It feels odd to have a team that went to the Final Four so low, but life after Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier has been an adjustment for the Gamecocks, who lost to Illinois State in the opening game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Big man Chris Silva is by far the best player on the team, which is still struggling to find consistent scoring.

Auburn (5-1)

Best win: at Dayton (73-60); Loss: Temple (88-74)

Despite not having Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley (suspended indefinitely over eligibility concerns), the Tigers have looked decent this season, beating a good Dayton team. Bryce Brown and Mustapha Heron lead the way, averaging 17 points each, but Auburn’s success this season will really be dependent on whether or not Purifoy and Wiley play.

Georgia (5-1)

Best win: #21 Saint Mary’s (83-81); Loss: San Diego State (75-68)

Georgia’s overtime win over #21 Saint Mary’s is almost enough to make you forget they lost to San Diego State and only beat Texas A&M Corpus Christi by three. Right now, the Bulldogs just look like Yante Maten and a bunch of dudes.


Eh…

Ole Miss (4-2)

Best win: None; Losses: Utah (83-74), South Dakota State (99-97)

I couldn’t even list a best win for Ole Miss because they haven’t beaten anyone of merit. Their wins so far: Louisiana Lafayette, Eastern Kentucky, Georgia State, and Rice. The loss to Utah is forgivable, but they lost to South Dakota State (an NCAA Tournament team last year) by two earlier this week. South Dakota State’s a decent team, but if Ole Miss can’t beat them at home, they don’t impress me much.

Vanderbilt (3-4)

Best win: None; Losses: Belmont (69-60), #10 USC (93-89), Virginia (68-42), #20 Seton Hall (72-59)

Vanderbilt was touted as one of the league’s best teams coming into the season, but they’ve fallen hard vs. a tough schedule. I still think the Commodores are a dangerous bunch — especially at home — but the fact that they haven’t done anything with the number of opportunities they’ve been given is telling so far.

LSU (4-2)

Best win: Michigan (77-75); Losses: #13 Notre Dame (92-53), Marquette (94-84)

The Tigers upset Michigan in the Maui Invitational then got blown out by #13 Notre Dame. Remember Tremont Waters? The onetime UK target and former Georgetown commit leads LSU in scoring with 18 points and 5.8 assists per game. He’s good.

 Mississippi State (5-0)

Best win: None; Losses: None

How can a team that’s undefeated be at the bottom of this list? The most impressive team the Bulldogs have played is Stephen F. Austin and they only won by five. Mississippi State’s schedule is the weakest in the SEC by far, ranking 347th in the country per ESPN. We’ll know more once they face Dayton and #11 Cincinnati in the coming weeks.


Final Analysis: Did Kentucky Meet 2017 Statistical Benchmarks?

Final Analysis: Did Kentucky Meet 2017 Statistical Benchmarks?

This original preseason post presented improvement ambitions for Kentucky to achieve a successful season. “Successful” is a subjective term based on individual expectancy. This post combines original content, preseason projections, and matches numerical targets with final statistical results.

Let’s update season ending data in order to see if the Cats exceeded or failed to match intended result.

Non-Negotiable Improvements

Turnover Margin

Preseason Remarks: Recovered 8 fumbles, intercepted 13 passes for a +21 margin. Conversely, UK lost 16 fumbles, threw 12 interceptions for a total of -28. Combined, it formulated a -7 total turnover margin (14th or last in the SEC).

2017 Goal: This number needs to be in the +2 level at a minimum. Mid-pack in the league was a +3 a year ago. This digit’s reduction will assist most all other statistical areas of concern. Last year’s turnovers twisted potential blowout wins into nail biters (Vanderbilt) and potential close game victories into losses (Georgia).

FINAL RESULT: Exceeded Goal. The Cats finished 2017 with a +5 turnover margin.


Punting

Preseason Remarks: 2016 – 61 punts, 2335-yards, 38.3 yards per, allowed 125 return yards for a 2-yard average, kicked 5 touchbacks which equaled a total 34.6 net yards per punt (SEC-14th).

2017 Goal: Again, just shooting for mid-level production, a 39-40-yard net punt average would greatly improve field position and ease strain on the defense. Strategic, inside the ten-yard line punt placement also needs immense upgrading. Regardless, punting has to drastically improve.

FINAL RESULT: Exceeded Goal. Matt Panton averaged 42.67 yards per punt. 


Third Down Defense

Preseason Remarks: 2016-Opponents converted 80 of 180 3rd down attempts for a 44.4% success percentage (SEC-13th)

2017 Goal: 39% would provide Eddie Gran’s offense with more possessions which could translate to additional points. 39% ranks in the middle of the SEC. Plus, getting off the field has been a struggle for Stoops’ defense throughout his tenure. Personnel shortages have greatly impacted this deficiency. 3rd down defense improved down the stretch in 2016 which could act as a precursor for this number to drop even further.

FINAL RESULT: Failed to Meet Goal. Allowed 41.07% conversion rate on 3rd down.


Rush Defense

Preseason Remarks: 2016 – Opponents had 576 carries for 2966-yards, 25 TDs. 5.1 yards per attempt and 228 yards per game ranked 12th in the SEC.

2017 Goal: A realistic goal and more likely a blue lensed view would be for the Wildcats to allow 195-200 yards per game. Lack of proven defensive line depth significantly factors in this estimation. However, UK has an upper-level linebacker corps and secondary which includes the conference’s top two returning tacklers: LB Jordan Jones (109) and Safety Mike Edwards (100). I’m least confident in rush defense improvement than all other statistical projections within this study. (I was wrong here.)

FINAL RESULT: Exceeded Goal. Allowed 162.17 rush yards per game.


Advantage (Critical) Developments

Quarterback Sacks

Preseason Remarks: 2016 – Kentucky produced 21 QB sacks for a -171 yards (SEC-11th)

2017 Goal: 29. 83% of last season’s QB sacks came from the linebackers. Josh Allen and Denzil Ware combined for 12.5. That total was more than Bud Dupree and Za’Darious Smith combined for in their last season in Lexington. Factor in LB Jordan Jones, Jamar “Boogie” Watson, and a potential rookie or two and 29 is easily an attainable goal.

The Cats had several close call sacks during which the quarterback escaped pressure in 2016. The most important number here is the aforementioned 83%. The defensive line and select defensive backs will need to increase its contribution in order for total sacks to increase by eight.

FINAL RESULT: Failed to Meet Goal. 28 QB sacks. Must be noted that UK registered zero QB sacks in its final game vs. Louisville.


Tackles for Loss

Preseason Remarks: 2016 – 69 tackles for loss for -277 yards, averaged 5.31 TFL per game.

2017 Goal: 80. This column has varied over the years. From 54 in Stoops’ first season to 65 in Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith’s last season in Lexington. 2015’s 53 TFLs was last in the league. Kentucky’s jump to 69 a year ago was quite impressive but not surprising with four explosive linebackers. Matter of fact, LB Jordan Jones (15.5 TFL) and LB/DE Denzil Ware (12 TFL) are the league’s number one and three returning leaders in this category respectively.

SEASON RESULT: Failed to Meet Goal. In fact, failed to do so by a sizable margin. Kentucky finished the season 13th in the SEC with just 58 tackles for loss.


Scoring Offense

Preseason Remarks: 2016 – Scored 49 touchdowns, 44 extra points, two 2-point conversions, 16 field goals for 390 total points, 30 points per game (SEC-9th)

2017 Goal: 35 points per game. A decrease in turnovers will increase scoring opportunities. Couple that with a sustained, efficient Red Zone offense and it’s easy to envision UK adding five points per game.

FINAL RESULT: Failed to Meet Goal. Averaged 25.8 points per game.


Scoring Defense

Preseason Remarks: 2016 – Allowed 50 touchdowns, 48 extra points, one 2-point conversion, 19 field goals, 407 total points, 31.3 points per game (SEC-11th)

2017 Goal: 27 points per game. With question marks surrounding its defensive line, projecting the Wildcats to decrease its total points per game by four-points per game is a realistic approach. This number isn’t as much of a reflection of an ineffective defense but more out of respect to offenses it will face. Many are expected to light up scoreboards. Missouri, Georgia, Louisville, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and even Florida are all projected to possess more offensive weapons in 2017. Expect several shootouts.

SEASON RESULT: Failed to Meet Goal. Allowed 28.6 points per game.


Sustains

Offensive 4th Down Conversions

Preseason Remarks: 2016 – 12 out of 16 attempts, 75% (SEC-1st)

2017 Goal: More of same; 75%

SEASON RESULT: Failed to Meet Goal – 55.56%


Rushing Offense

Preseason Remarks: 2016 – 560 carries, 3044 yards, 5.4 yards per carry, 30 touchdowns, 234.2 yards per game (SEC-3rd)

2017 Goal: Continued success. The Cats will be in more shootout games this fall. Its ability to maintain line-of-scrimmage management and a physical run game will be the separating factor that could catapult Kentucky to an improved win total. Ramifications of losing Stanley Williams will be quickly identified.

RB Benny Snell is an established, 1000-yard rusher. Finding a rotation behind Snell will be paramount. Promising freshmen AJ Rose and Bryant Koback are capable, fast, and powerful. Sihiem King is a change of pace and direction back that could get quality carries.

QB Stephen Johnson is the key to the Kentucky rushing game. He must be able to present the threat of an RPO (Run-Pass-Option) to keep additional defenders from stacking the box. In addition, a higher completion percentage of short to intermediate pass plays can also act as a preventer from opponents focusing solely on stopping the run.

SEASON RESULT: Failed to Meet Goal. Kentucky averaged 167.75 rush yards per game.


Pass Defense

Preseason Remarks: 2016 – Opponents attempted 352 passes, completed 202, 13 interceptions, 57.4%, 2679 yards, 7.6 yards per, 20 touchdowns, 206.1 yards per game (SEC-5th).

2017 Goal: Projecting a number here is difficult. This category will be greatly impacted by pass rush and an increase of quarterback sacks. UK has talented cornerbacks and an elite safety. It has a top-5 SEC secondary. However, numbers are driven by exterior influences.

SEASON RESULT: Failed to Meet Goal. Allowed 263.5 pass-yards per game, 14th in the SEC.


Red Zone Offense

Preseason Remarks: 2016 – Converted 36 times from 42 trips to Red Zone, 85.7%, 25 touchdowns, 11 field goals.

2017 Goal: Sustain success and become more diverse.

SEASON RESULT: Exceeded Goal. UK converted on 92.31% of all red-zone trips. However, it scored just 24 touchdowns or 61.54%. Kentucky’s inability at times to finish drives with touchdowns influenced its win/loss category.


Field Goal Percentage

Preseason Remarks: 2016 – Attempted 19 field goals, converted 16 for 84.2% (SEC-3rd)

2017 Goal: Kicker Austin MacGinnis is one of, if not the best kicker in the history of the University of Kentucky. Enough said.

SEASON RESULT: Failed to Meet Goal. Austin MacGinnis is hit 77.8% of attempted field goals. However, the program’s all-time leading scorer has been called on for several 50+ yard kicks which adds to level of difficulty.


What does all this mean?

Kentucky failed to meet the following defensive goals: QB Sacks, Tackles for Loss, Pass Defense, and 3rd down conversions. It exceeded the run defense expectation. The lack of explosive, across the line-of-scrimmage plays (TFL-QB Sacks) was a reflection of a defensive front that failed to force the issue. Defense is circular, a lacking pass rush coupled with struggling secondary coverage equaled a staggering increase in pass yards allowed. Add the two together; 3rd down conversions lessened. Linebacker was the expected strength of the defense. The position group finished the season with disappointing performances against Louisville and Georgia.

Offensively, Benny Snell once again demolished program rushing records but the team dipped in run-game production. Sihiem King was a times a complimentary addition to the Wildcat rushing attack. AJ Rose’s absence in the rotation lessened a second, physical presence. The offensive line took time to gel. This was not a surprise given the unexpected attrition after losing starting left tackle Cole Mosier and Nick Haynes’ situation. Stephen Johnson and his receivers did not frequently connect on deep routes which led to opposing defenses to stack the box which factored in a lower rushing yardage total. Again, unexpected attrition impacted. Eddie Gran was down 3-4 All SEC candidates that he was expecting to contribute in 2017.

Matt Panton was a significant upgrade at punter and Kentucky vastly improved its turnover margin.


On the Road: Catch Up with UK Football’s Busy Recruiting Week

On the Road: Catch Up with UK Football’s Busy Recruiting Week

The Kentucky football season ended on Saturday, but this might be the busiest week of the year for the Kentucky football coaches.

On Monday morning Mark Stoops’ assistants hit the road, covering the country from Michigan to Florida and everywhere in-between.  Mark Stoops joined them on the recruiting trail on Tuesday after his call-in show.  Here’s who they’ve met with and what has happened at the start of the busy recruiting season.

New JUCO Targets

The first JUCO prospect to receive an offer is one who has a close connection to KSR.  Bryant Pirtle was a pass rusher for my DeSales Colts that led the state in sacks twice and in the process broke a little school record I used to hold.  Committed to WKU out of high school, he headed west to junior college in Arizona.  He’ll likely stay on the West Coast, but the Kentucky offer could change things.

Pirtle’s Pima C.C. teammate, defensive back Aaron Maddox, also received a scholarship offer from the Cats.  A native of North Augusta, South Carolina, the safety currently holds offers from Arizona State, Louisville, Arkansas and others.

Another new defensive back target on the board is Warren Saba.  A 3-star prospect out of Cleveland Benedictine, he does not yet have an offer from UK, but could pick up one when coaches watch Garden City C.C. this weekend.  If that school sounds familiar, it’s also the home of quarterback Terry Wilson, who plans on taking an official visit to Kentucky in two weeks.

JUCO defensive line targets have yet to emerge, but that will surely not be the case much longer.

Quarterback Recruits

As of today, Wilson is probably the quarterback that is most likely to commit to Kentucky.  The dual-threat JUCO quarterback will take an official visit to UK just before NSD with most of Kentucky’s committed 2018 class.

Today Darin Hinshaw visited another dual-threat quarterback, former Missouri commit James Foster.  The day after the Cats extended an offer, the No. 14 dual-threat QB prospect in America included UK in his top five.  LSU and Florida State are currently the favorites and this weekend he will be in Tallahassee.  If Jimbo Fisher leaves for Texas A&M, that will give Kentucky another leg up in Foster’s recruitment.

Foster isn’t the only quarterback Hinshaw has visited this week.  He also caught up with Matthew Baldwin, a Colorado State commit who is considered one of the nation’s top 25 pocket passers in the 2018 class.

Targeting Tennessee Commits

Butch Jones’ termination has created a hysterical scene in Knoxville, one that is primed for opposing coaches to pick apart the Vols’ recruiting class.

At the top of that list is former UK commit Shocky Jacques-Louis.  He has re-opened his recruitment and KSR is hearing things are trending Kentucky’s way for the Florida wide receiver.

There are a few other talented new names Kentucky is trying to pull from Tennessee.  Yesterday Matt House was in Hampton, Georgia for an in-home visit with Trey Dean.  A four-star safety and the No. 275 player overall according to the 247 Composite, Dean has tentatively planned an official visit to Kentucky for the pre-NSD recruiting weekend of December 16.

Another highly-touted Tennessee commit will take an official visit to Kentucky on that same weekend.  Nashville native Tanner Antonutti is a 3-star, 6’5″ 260-pound offensive tackle that has become a top target in the final weeks of the recruiting season for John Schlarman.

Catching up with the Commits

The first order of business for Kentucky coaches during the post-Louisville week of recruiting is paying in-home visits to Kentucky’s verbal commits.  The Twitter timeline is not filled with as many pictures with players and coaches, but Keaton Upshaw, Darrian Kinnard, Brenden Bates and Quintin Wilson have all shared snapshots from their visits.  Where Kentucky’s class stands as of today:

Kentucky Football 2018 Recruiting Class

NamePositionHometownHeightWeight 247 Composite
Marquan McCallOGOak Park, Mi.6-43204-star
Darian KinnardOTCleveland, Oh.6-73364-star
Xavier PetersOLBWest Chester, Oh.6-42254-star
Terry WilsonQBOmaha, Ne.6-21803-star
DeAndre SquareS/OLBDetroit, Mi.6-12003-star
Brenden BatesTECincinnati, Oh.6-52303-star
Stanley GarnerCBFt. Lauderdale, Fl.6-31803-star
Meechi HarrisWRXenia, Oh.6-21883-star
Quintin WilsonCCincinnati, Oh. 6-32903-star
Marvin AlexanderWRHollywood, Fl.6-31753-star
Jamari BrownCBPompano Beach, Fl.6-31803-star
Davoan HawkinsDEHollywood, Fl.6-42703-star
Akeem HayesATH/WRHollywood, Fl.5-101753-star
Keaton UpshawTELima, Oh.6-72253-star
Christopher RodriguezRBMcDonough, Ga.5-112003-star
Ashton PierreATHDeerfield Beach, Fl.6-21913-star
Domonique WilliamsJUCO CBKnoxville, Tn.5-101903-star
Chance PooreKAnderson, Sc.6-32003-star
Max DuffyPWestern Australia6-11763-star
Kenneth HorseyOTSeminole, Fl. 6-43253-star
Jerquavion “Qua” Mahone DTManchester, Ga.6-4195N/A

This week the ground work is being laid for the Cats to cash-in on a few Yahtzees prior to the first ever college football early signing day on December 20.  While all is quiet now, it’s going to get crazy in about two weeks.


Ranking Rick Pitino’s 10 Worst Decisions

Ranking Rick Pitino’s 10 Worst Decisions

Rick Pitino’s legacy could’ve been one of college basketball dominance, including national championships at two different schools in one state; instead he will leave behind a legacy of bad decisions. Here is a definitive rankings of those bad decisions…

 

10. Leaving Kentucky

He never should’ve left “Camelot” for Boston; however, he still would’ve been fine, if not for the many more bad decisions to come.

9. Trading Chauncey Billups

Once he got to Boston, he never should’ve traded Chauncey Billups. He had a young backcourt of Billups and Paul Pierce, and gave it up. Celtics fans still hate him for it.

8. That stupid tattoo

7. Flipping off the Rupp Arena crowd

What little support he still had from Big Blue Nation, ended at that moment.

6. Suing Adidas

Adidas will try to prove he was involved in the pay-for-play scheme.

5. Suing the University of Louisville

Why open the door for Louisville to dig up all of the skeletons from his time there?

4. Strippers

And their side deals.

3. Paying players

Excuse me: *encouraging Adidas* to pay players.

2. Porcini’s

If he had gone to any other restaurant on that July 2003 night, he probably doesn’t end up with his pants down in a booth after hours.

(Probably.)

1. Not guarding the inbounds pass

His most unforgivable offense.


Pitino is suing the University of Louisville

Rick Pitino isn’t going to go away quietly into the Miami night.

He’s made statement after statement since being relieved of his duties; he has a lawsuit against Adidas, which isn’t going to go well; and now he is suing the University of Louisville.

Pitino and his attorneys are crying breach of contract, and seeking $4,307,000 per year through June 30, 2026 in the lawsuit against his former employer. That’s about $40 million he’s asking for.

Here’s the full release courtesy of Joe Sonka:

This will get very ugly, and we’re very excited about it.

Pass the popcorn.


Jarred Vanderbilt still not practicing; future still uncertain

John Calipari does not know when — or if — Jarred Vanderbilt will play basketball for Kentucky this season.

On Thursday, Calipari said Vanderbilt still hasn’t begun practicing with the team, and it is unclear if he will play at all in 2017-18. It will be up to Vanderbilt when he returns, Cal told reporters.

“It’s not going to be my call — it will be his,” Cal said. “He’s doing individual work right now, but he has not started practice yet. We’ll let it play out and if he thinks it’s good for him to play, then he will play.”

If Vanderbilt doesn’t join the team soon for the very important month of December, it’s hard to imagine he’ll ever be a big factor this season.