Earlier this week, a KSR caller gave us a great research topic: the recruits that →
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©March 22nd, 2017 @ 1:00pm
Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday may play for the same team now, but on Friday, they’ll be cheering for opposite sides when Kentucky takes on UCLA. In that spirit, the folks at Pelicans.com put together this fun video of the two talking trash, although it might be the mildest trash talking I’ve ever seen.
“We kind of owe UCLA,” Davis said. “They beat us early in the year in Rupp, which we don’t take too kindly. We’re going to see them Friday and try come back and beat them when it counts.”
“We’re not worried,” Holiday, who played for the Bruins from 2008-09, said.
Davis wore his Kentucky jersey into the Pelicans arena on Sunday to support the Cats and said he will again on Friday.
“It’s not going to be a hard game,” Davis. “It’s going to be pretty easy for us. We’re going to win by at least 12. We’re going to win by at least 12. I think we’re locked in. We’ve got a lot better players.”
Holiday, whose little brother plays for the Bruins, came back at Davis by mentioning all of UCLA’s great shooters, to which Davis quipped, “Who, the Ball kid?”.
— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) March 21, 2017
Honestly, I’m more partial to Davis’ trash talk back at the McDonald’s All-American Game in 2011. But, I hope he’s right.
One of the best parts about March are the signs and banners that pop up around Lexington when Kentucky makes a run. As you can see above in this picture by Josh Ellis, they’re starting to show up around campus. This is a tradition KSR wholeheartedly encourages, so please send us pics; and for those of you making them, be creative. It’ll be tough, but if we’re lucky, we’ll get one that tops this 2014 classic:
With that good mojo in mind, let’s roll through today’s agenda.
1. The team leaves for Memphis
After a few days in their own beds, the Cats are off to Memphis for the Sweet 16, which means John Calipari is returning to the city he used to call home. Calipari has been back to Memphis on his own accord since leaving the Tigers, but this will be the first time he’s returned with his squad. Eight years later, Memphis fans are still bitter over Calipari’s departure, so his return to the city is definitely a story going in to the weekend. Cal still has plenty of friends in Memphis, so I expect for him, it will be a happy homecoming. He’s used to tuning the haters out anyways.
2. Part of the KSR crew leaves for Memphis as well
Matt, Ryan, Drew, and Shannon are also taking off for Memphis this afternoon, and if the Cats play their cards right, they won’t be back in the Bluegrass until Kentucky wins the national championship. Meanwhile, I’ll be making the three-hour trek to Memphis on Thursday morning because I want one more night in my TempurPedic bed before switching to whatever mattress they have at the Holiday Inn in downtown Memphis.
3. Coming to Memphis Thursday? Come to the open practice
John Calipari and players will address the media at 2:30 p.m. CT on Thursday and take the court at FedEx Forum from 3:00 to 3:50 p.m. CT. It’s free and open to the public, so if you’re in the area, come on out. We’ll see you there.
4. KenPom has the Cats winning
If you believe in KenPom, maybe this will give you an extra boost of confidence going into Friday, although, man, that’s a slim margin. I’m going to take solace in the fact that UCLA’s defensive efficiency is 76th, while Kentucky is 8th because that makes me feel better about it.
5. LeBron James joins the anti-LaVar Ball camp
While LaVar Ball may not have said Kentucky is merely a tune-up game for the Final Four for his son’s Bruins, he’s still said a lot of dumb stuff recently, and yesterday, the most famous basketball player in the world told him to keep his family’s name out of his mouth. After Ball said that his sons are set up better for future success than LeBron’s children, James responded.
“Keep my kids’ name out of your mouth, keep my family out of your mouth,” James said. “This is dad to dad. It’s a problem now.”
LeBron James strikes me as someone you don’t want to be your enemy. As we’ve said a lot, I feel for Lonzo and his brothers.
6. Rajon Rondo got his 6,000th assist last night
After taking in the Kentucky/Wichita State game on Sunday, Rajon Rondo went to work last night, getting his 6,000th career assist (the fifth most among active players) in the Bulls’ 122-120 loss to the Raptors. Say what you will about Rondo, but that’s pretty impressive:
7. Vote for PJ Washington
The future Cat is up for The American Family Insurance ALL-USA Boys Basketball Player of the Year award and this poll on USA Today’s High School Sports site factors in, so do him a favor and vote, please:
Right now, he’s behind Marvin Bagley III and Trevon Duval, but the BBN has yet to meet a poll we haven’t dominated, right?
8. While you’re at it, vote for Malik Monk
Monk is one of 15 finalists for the Wooden Award, given annually to the top player in college basketball. You can help him win it by retweeting the tweet below:
— ESPN College BBall (@ESPNCBB) March 3, 2017
You can also vote for Monk to win the Jerry West Award for the nation’s best shooting guard at HoophallAwards.com, so get to it.
9. The Unforgettable Fairytale
Author Temple Stites has an exciting treat for UK fans that he would love to share with you today.
25 years ago, The Unforgettables inspired us all. That season, and the Greatest Game Ever Played, inspired a young father, who is a lifelong member of the BBN, to want to pass this story of grit and determination on to his young son.
Problem was, the little guy couldn’t yet follow basketball. He was more interested in knights, duels, and castles. So his dad decided to write an epic knight’s tale inspired by the Unforgettables.
“The Unforgettable Fairytale” is a new children’s book filled with heroic knights, jousts, a Tournament of Knights, honor and ultimately, redemption.
This is our story and I think you’re going to want to share this book with your kids and grandkids. And you’ve got to see how beautiful this thing is.
10. The winner of the KSR Best Callers Bracket is…
JT! This proved to be a much more difficult decision than we all anticipated, and going in, I’m not sure we would have predicted the results, but matchups matter, right? Listen to The OTT Podcast to hear our reasoning. To listen, just subscribe to “Kentucky Sports Radio” on iTunes or stream on Podbay.
Radio in an hour…
Kentucky’s loss to UCLA back on December 3 was a much-needed wakeup call. The Cats had just blown out Arizona State in the Bahamas, a performance so impressive that Dan Dakich called it one of the best he’s witnessed in his entire broadcasting career. People were even bringing up the possibility of 40-0. But, UCLA came in and, for the second straight season, exposed Kentucky’s biggest flaws. At the time, Kentucky didn’t play defense, particularly the guards. There was no consistent production at the four spot. There was no discipline. The Cats were cruising by on sheer talent and the ability to run past people, and when faced with a team that was also talented and could also run, they balked. The final score was 97-92, but in reality, it wasn’t really that close.
Fast forward three and a half months and here we are, headed for a rematch in the Sweet 16. Oddly, I feel much better about Kentucky’s chances in this game than I did on Sunday vs. Wichita State. In fact, the more I look at this matchup, the more confident I get. Here’s why.
1. Kentucky plays defense now
Not only did Kentucky let UCLA score 97 points back in December, they let the Bruins beat them in every facet of the game, shooting 53% from the floor, 43.5% from behind the three-point line, and winning the rebounding battle 41-38. Clearly, Kentucky had the offense to compete with UCLA, but they couldn’t get enough defensive stops to take control of the game. We’ve ranted about this team’s defense all season, but here in the past month or so, it’s become one of their biggest strengths. The Cats held Northern Kentucky and Wichita State to 35.6% from the floor and averaged nine blocks and 35 defensive rebounds per game. That, from the same team that essentially let UCLA do whatever they please.
2. Malik Monk plays defense now
Malik Monk’s shot has failed him thus far in the postseason, but he’s channeling his frustrations and energy into the defensive end. Monk, notorious for his poor defense earlier this year, looks like a different player on that side of the ball now; the best example of that is his huge block with 13 seconds left vs. Wichita State that helped the Cats hang on for the win. Kentucky (and Monk) still get burned on straight line drives from time to time, but it’s really encouraging to see the improved hustle, energy, and — dare I say it — pride on the defensive end.
3. Monk is also due
Kentucky’s ability to win games without Malik scoring probably comes to an end this weekend. Bothered by a lower back bruise due to a hard fall vs. Arkansas, Monk has struggled to get his shot to fall all postseason, averaging 31.2% from the floor and only 20% from three-point land. Even though Monk warmed up a little towards the end of the Wichita State, there’s no denying how tentative and gun shy he looked at the start, which is so out of character for a player like him. Will almost a week’s rest get Monk back on track? You better hope so.
4. Derek Willis is a different player
The mismatch that burned Kentucky the most in December was TJ Leaf vs. Wenyen Gabriel and Derek Willis. As Calipari said afterwards, Leaf dominated the game, putting up 17 points off 7-12 shooting, 13 rebounds, and 5 assists. Neither Wenyen nor Derek could contain Leaf, nor did they contribute much on the offensive end, combining for a paltry 13 points.
“I mean, what Leaf did, he basically dominated the game,” Cal said. “We had no one, unless I was going to go big lineup, which we haven’t done a whole lot, which shows me maybe we have to be prepared for that. But he killed us. Straight line drives, rebounds, making shots. We left him a couple times. He played.”
Leaf is still a great player, that hasn’t changed; but, what has changed is Derek Willis. Willis has become a rebounding machine, averaging 7.5 boards over his last eight games. You could always rely on Derek for a big three, but now that he’s attacking the boards and playing defense, Kentucky will rely on him to shut down TJ Leaf.
5. Dominique Hawkins is an integral part of the team now
One of the biggest changes since the UCLA game has been the rotation. Not only has Derek Willis replaced Wenyen Gabriel in the starting lineup, Dominique Hawkins has cemented his place as the team’s sixth man. Dom played 16 minutes vs. UCLA in December, finishing with only five points and one rebound. In the past eight games, he’s averaging 24.8 minutes, and although he may not fill up the stat sheet, his presence is undeniable, particularly on defense. It’ll be interesting to see whom Calipari tasks Dom with guarding on Friday night.
6. Kentucky’s more disciplined
As Calipari has noted time and time again, freshmen are freshmen…until they grow up. Kentucky’s grown up a lot in the past month. They’ve learned to win closes games by being patient and not panicking in the stretch. And, as Malik Monk told reporters on Sunday, the backcourt in particular has matured.
7. Bam is better
Bam actually had a double double vs. UCLA with 18 points and 13 rebounds, but ten of those points came at the free throw line. All in all, Bam was 4-12 from the floor for 33% vs. the Bruins; in the past eight games, he’s averaging 63.5% from the floor, a much-improved clip. Bam will face a tough challenge in Thomas “Feathers” Welsh and Ike Anigbogu, but as his mama said Sunday night, Bam’s going to go at them. (Confession: I may have made this point simply so we can watch the clip of Bam’s mom again.)
Bam Adebayo’s mother, Marilyn Blount, after UK’s victory over Wichita State. “He didn’t shut (Bam) down, did he?! Bam went at him!” pic.twitter.com/uRkR8B1vhD
— Tanner Hesterberg (@TannerWKYT) March 19, 2017
8. LaVar Ball won’t shut up
In case you missed it earlier, LaVar Ball, Lonzo’s dad, kept running his mouth when it comes to Friday’s matchup, telling a Los Angeles morning show that Kentucky won’t be able to beat his son’s Bruins by running.
“Don’t try to beat them at running. You can’t outrun my boy. Don’t play that game,” Ball said. “UCLA has too many shooters. You give my boy all them shooters, you out of luck.”
Keep talking, LaVar.
As we’ve gone over, Kentucky’s made a ton of improvements since December: defense, discipline, Derek Willis. But, the one reason I’ve more confident about this game than any other UK’s played in the postseason? The revenge factor. Thank goodness Wichita State was stupid enough to talk smack on Saturday because otherwise, I’m not sure the players would have “gotten up” enough to beat the Shockers. Motivation won’t be a problem vs. the Bruins. Not only is UCLA a prominent program whose star player’s dad won’t stop making headlines, they beat Kentucky in Rupp this year; for a group of young, talented kids, that’s the number one reason to come out of the locker room looking for blood.
When I walked into Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Sunday, I had two things on my mind: First, I wanted to watch Louisville lose. Check. Second, I wanted to watch Kentucky win and advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Check.
I did not expect to make national news. I did not expect to put Lynn Marshall on blast. I did not expect a Monday interview with Inside Edition or to see my name in a British tabloid or on the front page of about million websites. I simply went to the tournament to watch Louisville lose and Kentucky win. Check and check.
But I did make national news and I did put Lynn Marshall on blast, neither of which were my intent. She has her husband’s basketball program and the tournament officials to thank for that, as well as herself.
All I did was take a short, 20-second video to show how animated she was during the game in the row directly to the right of my media seat. I intentionally shared one that did not catch any of her many F-bombs because I wasn’t there to make a Lynn Marshall story. I was there to watch Louisville lose and Kentucky win, and she happened to be part of my experience. My initial tweet was harmless and only to show that I was sitting so close to the craziest fan in the building.
Things took a turn when someone from Wichita State saw my tweet and sent an official from the tournament over to get my name and organization. That person, who we’ve since learned was also the moderator of all of the tournament press conferences, told me I could no longer take video of Mrs. Marshall because “she saw it and it made her upset.” I politely said I didn’t mean any harm and actually thought she was entertaining, and that I would not record her again. I stuck to my word, because, I really didn’t care. There was a pretty important basketball game being played in front of me and that had my attention.
Then after the game, the same tournament official came up to me in the media work room, along with one of his colleagues, and asked me to pull up the tweet/video on my computer. I did and then he demanded I take it down. I asked why. He explained that it was “intellectual property of CBS.” I said that’s ridiculous. He explained that any footage taken in the arena belongs to CBS. I thought to myself, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” but decided it was best to comply and move on with my life.
But of course I had to tweet about it.
You’re not going to bully me into deleting a tweet and think I’m just going to go away, so I let it be known that my harmless video (we can all agree it didn’t show much) had to be pulled down because the NCAA, or this person representing the NCAA, wanted it down. And it wasn’t taken down because CBS owned it. It was taken down to protect the wife of Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall, who was the loudest, most vulgar fan in the arena. If it is anyone else, none of this happens.
Then came a completely separate report, with absolutely no connection to me, saying Lynn Marshall had been escorted out of the building. Toss that onto the fact she interrupted her husband’s press conference to complain about a foul; sprinkle in all the whispers around the media room about her behavior throughout the entire game and in the postgame; then throw in my deleted-video; and it’s a national story.
That ain’t on me, Wichita State.
I have since received several tweets/e-mails claiming I had it out for Marshall because she was causing a disturbance around me during the game. That could not be further from the truth. It’ll take a lot more than her behavior to upset or offend me. Hell I’ve been Lynn Marshall before, many times in fact. If a video existed of me watching the final play of the Titans-Rams Super Bowl, I’d probably be in prison. She isn’t the first person to curse while watching sports.
But now I’m attached to Lynn Marshall and I’m the bad guy who made it all happen, all because of an innocent video that had already disappeared into the Twitterverse. The people at Wichita and at the tournament made the mistake of digging it back up by trying to cover it up. Now it’s everywhere.
So to Wichita State, sorry I’m not sorry. Get your girl under control and learn how the internet works. This one’s on you.
And to the NCAA, please don’t call me a liar again when you know damn good and well someone representing you with the tournament told me to take the video down. Oh, and I’ll see you next weekend in Memphis. I’m sure it won’t be awkward at all.
And did I mention Louisville lost?
I’ve been doing this job full time for four and a half years now, and I’m not sure we’ve had a crazier day than we did yesterday. From start to finish, it was a bizarre 24 hours, and the wildest part wasn’t even that Kentucky beat Wichita State to advance to the Sweet 16; in fact, that barely cracks the top three. Books could be written about everything that went down yesterday, but let’s start with a wakeup post, okay?
1. Kentucky beat Wichita State
Let’s get that out of the way. It was an ugly game, and I’ll be honest, I didn’t feel good going into it. The atmosphere seemed ripe for an upset; Wichita State’s players were confident and hungry and Kentucky looked far from impressive vs. Northern. I was very happy to be proved wrong. In the last five minutes of the game, Kentucky’s three star freshmen took over, keeping their cool when Wichita State couldn’t miss and doing all the “little things” to get the W. Why the quotations around “little things”? Because that’s what Gregg Marshall and the Shockers spent two days priding themselves on in press conferences, triumphing their focus on fundamentals over Kentucky’s five-star inconsistency. While I was watching the highlights from UK’s win when I got back last night, I had to laugh at Calipari’s subtle dig at Wichita’s narrative.
“Wichita’s a good team, they got mis-seeded, but our team, we do do the ‘little things.’ I think we are coached where we do block out and we do dive on the floor and we make the extra plays. I was proud of the guys and how we played.”
Me too. Cal’s face after the game said it all:
On this subject…
2. Gregg Marshall is kind of a jerk
Look, Kentucky won, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this, but this weekend changed my perception of Gregg Marshall. It’s one thing to have a chip on your shoulder, but it’s another to be condescending. Marshall practically bragged about not having a five-star recruit on his roster, boasting about how his players do the “little things” and instead of worrying about the NBA, focus on fundamentals. Losing the game just made him sit taller on his high horse.
“I don’t know, Paul,” Marshall said when asked if this loss would get his team respect. “How many years do we have to do this to make people respect our program? I don’t know. That’s up to you guys. I mean, I know that we have the heart of a champion. I know these guys, how they work, how hard our staff works, how much time, energy, passion we put into this. This will just be more fuel for us.”
Give me a break.
3. His wife is kind of insane
If you’re reading this, you know about Drew’s dustup with the NCAA over his video of Gregg Marshall’s wife, Lynn, at the game. I was a few seats away from the drama, and I can confirm that she was out of control. I’ve heard plenty of loud, often inebriated, fans at games and she takes the cake. Not only did she scream insults and profanity at Kentucky’s players, Calipari, and the refs, she ignored the poor security officer who told her three times to pipe down and stop climbing on her chair (the video really doesn’t do her tantrum justice). After Conner Frankamp banged knees with Briscoe and had to be helped to the bench, Marshall’s wife was livid, screaming things I’d rather not repeat about Briscoe. After the game when we were in the media room, another reporter came up to me and Drew and told us that security was escorting Marshall’s wife through the hallway and she was still ranting and raving about the game and walked past Calipari, who gave her a “WTF” look. Same, Cal, same. So, I wasn’t shocked when I saw the Associated Press report that she had to be escorted out of the building. (Is this the first time KSR has been quote in an AP article? If so, like we’ve all probably said in life, what a weird first time.)
I’m sure Drew will get into yesterday’s drama more on the radio show, so I won’t step on his story. But it was intense, and a major distraction after the game.
4. So, that story went everywhere
I was driving while the story went viral, but if you missed it, it was everywhere, including “Mike & Mike” and “Good Morning America” this morning. I’ll have a roundup of clips a little bit later, but until then, check out all the national outlets that reported on the incident:
The story even made it across the pond, with British tabloid The Daily Mail picking it up.
5. Kentucky will play UCLA around 9:40 p.m. Friday night
All of that and we’re just now getting to the Sweet 16. Because of course, Kentucky will face UCLA in the late game Friday night, following the conclusion of UNC/Butler. I need one more day before I can fully turn the page to the Bruins, but honestly, I’m happy we’re facing them instead of Cincinnati. If I’ve learned one thing about this team, it’s that they are much more likely to “get up” for a rematch with a team that beat them on their own floor than a team like Cincinnati. Plus, UCLA likes to run and so do we. Let’s throw it up and GO.
6. Worried about that late tip affecting the players? Don’t.
John Calipari will gripe about it all he wants, but as De’Aaron Fox told us Saturday, the late tips really aren’t that big of a deal to the players.
“We’re all young. We ain’t tired at midnight. I mean, they had to play at midnight too so it was just whoever brought the most energy. I mean, I don’t think you should, but we were all right.”
This team will be up to play UCLA, whether or not the game happens at 8 a.m., noon, 7 p.m. or midnight. Trust me.
7. Here’s the schedule for Thursday and Friday’s games
Regional Semifinals – Thursday, March 23 (7 p.m.-Midnight ET)
|7:09 p.m.||CBS||Kansas City I||Oregon vs. Michigan||Kevin Harlan / Reggie Miller / Dan Bonner // Dana Jacobson|
|7:39 p.m.||TBS||San Jose I||Gonzaga vs. West Virginia||Brian Anderson / Chris Webber // Lewis Johnson|
|After conc. I||CBS||Kansas City II||Kansas vs. Purdue||Harlan / Miller / Bonner // Jacobson|
|After conc. I||TBS||San Jose II||Arizona vs. Xavier||Anderson / Webber // Johnson|
Regional Semifinals – Friday, March 24 (7 p.m.-Midnight ET)
|7:09 p.m.||CBS||Memphis I||North Carolina vs. Butler||Jim Nantz / Grant Hill / Bill Raftery // Tracy Wolfson|
|7:29 p.m.||TBS||New York I||Baylor vs. South Carolina||Verne Lundquist / Jim Spanarkel // Allie LaForce|
|After conc. I||CBS||Memphis II||Kentucky vs. UCLA / Cincinnati||Nantz / Hill / Raftery // Wolfson|
|After conc. I||TBS||New York II||Florida vs. Wisconsin||Lundquist / Spanarkel // LaForce|
8. Oh yeah, Duke lost. To South Carolina!
On any other day, this would lead the wakeup post. The day just got better and crazier when South Carolina — you know, the team Kentucky beat by 16 earlier this season — did the unthinkable and knocked off 2-seed Duke. Unbelievable. Frank Martin’s squad has been up and down all season, and watching them come together to do the universe a collective favor in the tournament may be one of my favorite things of all time. They didn’t just upset Duke, they were ahead most of the game. Eat it, all of us who doubted them! I’d share the video of their locker room celebrating that’s making the rounds, but the last time we did that (even before the Lynn Marshall stuff), CBS and the NCAA made us take it down, so, just click this link or imagine really happy people in your head. Don’t imagine it too vividly or the NCAA might cite you for stealing their intellectual property.
9. Louisville lost too!
The day got off to an excellent start when Michigan knocked off Louisville in the game before ours. The Wolverines have become a media darling after their wild postseason ride, which included their plane skidding off the runway during takeoff and having to play the Big Ten tournament in their warm-up jerseys, but that game yesterday was something else. It felt like most Kentucky fans were afraid to mess with the mojo and cheer against Louisville for the majority of the game, but in the final few minutes, everyone threw caution to the wind and pulled for Michigan, who pulled off the upset. I took a video of the Michigan team coming over to celebrate with their section, which for some reason can stay on Twitter but Drew’s video of Gregg Marshall’s wife cannot. This one from the Michigan Basketball Twitter account of John Beilein coming into his locker room with a super soaker is also great:
— Michigan Basketball (@umichbball) March 19, 2017
Man, Kentucky winning AND Louisville and Duke losing? That alone makes yesterday one of the best days ever.
10. Shoutout to Arkansas and SEC Basketball
This time last week, we were just getting over being mad at Arkansas for their punkish play in the SEC Championship. If they had pulled off the upset over North Carolina yesterday, I don’t think we would have been so mad. The Razorbacks took the Tar Heels to the wire, and many argue should have won but got hosed by the officials. SEC Basketball has taken A LOT of flack this season, but with three teams still in and a 7-2 record, including upsets over Duke and Virginia, it looks pretty damn good right now.
After his team beat Duke, Frank Martin said this on SportsCenter: “The only reason we won today is that our league got us ready for this moment.” Whoulda thunk it? #SEC #SEC #SEC!
Alright, almost 1,700 words later, that’s a wrap. Buckle up and get ready for what will be a wild radio show, starting in one hour.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©March 19th, 2017 @ 11:00pm
Since the moment the brackets came out and we found out Kentucky might play Wichita State in the second round, it seemed like the chips were starting to stack against the Cats. Sure, this Shockers squad isn’t nearly as good as the 2014 team whose perfect season Kentucky ruined, but still, they had the whole country and, seemingly, CBS, cheering for them. Wichita State fully embraced the underdog role, Gregg Marshall boasting about not having a single five-star on his roster and the players vowing to shut down Bam Adebayo. Even Gregg Marshall’s wife got in on the fun, screaming obscenities at Kentucky players and trying to get Kentucky’s favorite sports blog kicked out of the arena.
Fortunately, Kentucky didn’t play along with the narrative. It wasn’t pretty, but as they’ve done all season, the Cats found a way to win thanks to some huge, gutsy plays from its trio of star freshman. None of us would have guessed it, but Malik Monk’s biggest play of the game was a block. Monk blocked Markis McDuffie’s three with thirteen seconds left, keeping Kentucky ahead by one. Thirteen seconds later, the Shockers made another desperate attempt, but Landry Shamet’s three was blocked by Bam Adebayo at the buzzer. The game was over, and just like that, we’re going to Memphis.
Before the NCAA throws us out of here, let’s run down the rest of the game, shall we?
The first half was horrible
Wichita State’s plan to slow Kentucky down in the first half certainly worked. The Cats looked horrible and out of sync, shooting only 33% from the floor for a paltry 26 points. With Isaiah Briscoe struggling to play point, Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis once again stepped up to steady the ship.
“Well, in the first half, Dom just played outstanding. I was thinking about starting him in the second half, but we got a good group that sticks together so I just went with what I was doing. Mychal Mulder made a huge 3. I put him back in to play the four. I was going to play he and Derek as the fours. I played Derek almost the whole half. He played well. Then Derek made the 3 in the corner, made a couple of 3s, rebounded pretty good. Ended up with eight rebounds and nine points. Think of that. Three steals. Derek Willis.”
Derek was clearly feeling good after the game, telling reporters, “I think it’s safe to say I was the best Willis on the court today.” (Darral Willis Jr. was the one who said the Shockers were going to shut down Bam)
Fox took over again
With the game close, most college basketball fans would expect freshmen to falter; however, as we’ve seen time and time again in the Calipari era, the freshmen rose to the occasion. Tired of Wichita State dictating the pace, De’Aaron Fox took over, stealing the ball with 4:11 left and slamming it home to cap a big Kentucky run.
“There’s been a couple games like that,” Fox said of his late game takeover. “The first one was, I think, Mississippi State. I think the SEC tournament, I was really good down the stretch. Also, the Georgia game, at Georgia, I was good down the stretch. So it’s just been a few games. We don’t have a go-to person down the stretch because we’ve got multiple guys that can get it done. If it’s my turn, I do it. Malik hit a big 3 off the dribble, and he knocked down clutch-free throws. Whoever hands the ball ends up in, that’s who does it.”
Fox would throw down another big slam with 1:25 left to put Kentucky up by four, but Wichita State wouldn’t go away. That’s when Monk and Bam stepped in.
The evolution of Malik Monk
Coming in the postseason, the one knock on Malik Monk’s game was that he didn’t play defense. Malik sure proved them wrong today. With his shot still sporadic, Monk made an impact on the game in other ways, skying high for rebounds, dishing out assists, and blocking Wichita State’s futile last second attempts.
“It was great to have Malik back,” Calipari said afterwards. “Haven’t seen him for a while. He’s on that path, still not all the way back, but he’s on the path that we need him on. And these guys up here, they’re young, but they have a will to win and play with courage and are skilled basketball players and great kids who share. So proud of them.”
Bam had the last word
After Wichita State’s Darral Willis Jr.’s vow to shut down Bam went viral, everyone was looking to see how the big man would respond. After a slow first half, Bam went to work in the second, scoring 11 of his 13 points and playing 19 of the 20 minutes. With other shots not falling, Bam’s slams kept the Cats in the game. In the final seconds, everyone knew Wichita State would shoot another desperation three. After Dominique Hawkins went after the pump fake, Bam saw the opportunity to make his block.
“The way it happened, my man had said a back screen for Zay. And the ball came to my side. He pump-faked Dom, so I had to help my teammate. As soon as he went to jump, I blocked it.”
Bam stayed humble, but his teammates couldn’t stop bragging on him after the game. Neither could his mother:
Bam Adebayo’s mother, Marilyn Blount, after UK’s victory over Wichita State. “He didn’t shut (Bam) down, did he?! Bam went at him!” pic.twitter.com/uRkR8B1vhD
— Tanner Hesterberg (@TannerWKYT) March 19, 2017
Next up: Memphis
The 2014 win over Wichita State was the moment the world realized that Kentucky could make a run. Will this year’s win result in a similar great story? If you asked me after the first half, I’d say no, but after watching three freshmen pull off one of the best finishes of the season and spoil CBS’ narrative in the process, I can’t wait to find out.
From the KSR Archives, UK Beats Wichita State in 2014: Kentucky spoils one story, writing a classic of its own
By Nick Roush on ©March 19th, 2017 @ 11:15am
Editor’s Note: The following story is Mrs. Tyler Thompson’s recap after the eight-seeded Cats upset undefeated Wichita State in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament. The blast from the past will take you back to the moment where you knew something special was happening. The original images have been archived, so it isn’t quite the same, but if you’d like to see the original comments, click here. Enjoy our top story from March 23, 2014.
Three weeks ago in South Carolina, a teary-eyed Aaron Harrison told reporters that this season was still going to be a “great story.” His words rang a bit hollow during the low point of the season, but tonight, after one of the greatest basketball games I’ve ever witnessed, I’m not only seeing that story, I’m believing it.
Everything was set up for Wichita State to win. Despite going to the Final Four and being a number one seed, the mid-major darling still got the Cinderella treatment, and at halftime, the media had their recaps written. “36-0 vs. the team that was supposed to be 40-0.” Even with all the talent in the world, Cal’s one-and-done’s were just freshmen, and would never stay in school long enough to develop the maturity and experience like Ron Baker’s, or Cleanthony Early’s. The leadership just wasn’t there, and because it’s Calipari and because it’s Kentucky, it never will be. Right, national media? Right?!?
Wrong. Kentucky came out in the second half and tore those recaps into confetti, not only withstanding Wichita State’s punches, but delivering ones of their own. The freshmen were no longer freshmen–down the stretch, they played with the poise of seniors, sinking free throws and tightening the noose on defense. A very good Wichita State team gave Kentucky their best shot, and unbelievably, Kentucky responded, coming together as the team we always knew they could be.
After the game, Willie Cauley-Stein said that three weeks ago, Kentucky would not have won this game. Since the regular season ended, the Cats have undergone an unbelievable transformation, bouncing back from their mistakes faster, and creating plays instead of waiting for them to happen. Suddenly, all those struggles Kentucky went through are actually helping them, as Cal said in the postgame press conference:
“You have to understand again, they have been through so much. They have been attacked, they have been bludgeoned, they can’t play, they’re not a team, you can’t do it this way. But they stayed together. It makes you strong. It makes you tough as nails. And we just hung around.”
It all starts with the player that many thought wouldn’t even play tonight. Sore elbow and all, Andrew Harrison stepped up and led the team, sinking shots and crucial free throws with the poise of a pro. Andrew admitted that he was close to not playing because of the pain, but fought through it because he “just had to”:
“Yeah, I wasn’t going to play at first, but I felt like I just had to. And I fought through it. The elbow, once you get your adrenaline flowing, it felt fine, but it was still a little painful.”
You couldn’t tell by his actions. Andrew finished with 20 points off 6-9 shooting from the floor and 7-9 from the free throw line. His brother Aaron wasn’t too shabby either, nailing some threes when the Cats needed the most. Those two have endured enormous scrutiny since coming to UK, and only in the postseason say they’re finally having fun. Had Andrew not played today, this would be a very different recap. He’s the leader this team needs.
Andrew’s leadership was essential, but Julius Randle’s presence in the second half was huge. After scoring only two points in the first half, Randle went to work, finishing with 13 points and ten rebounds. He had more offensive rebounds (5) and second-chance points (6) than the entire Wichita State team. He also had a career-high six assists, a very encouraging stat and one that speaks to how well Kentucky played down the stretch. Cal admitted that he’s struggled with coaching Andrew and Julius at times this season, but now, we’re finally seeing what happens when they buy in.
All season long, this team has been burdened with unreasonably high expectations, and only in the postseason, when it’s either win or go home, have they been able to focus on what matters. Willie Cauley-Stein said that when the buzzer sounded this afternoon, “it felt like five million pounds came off our shoulders.” Kentucky didn’t just beat a good team tonight, they beat a great one, and with that, confidence will continue to grow. Andrew said that the win was big because it was a validation of all the hard work they’ve done. Julius said it was proof that what they’re doing is working:
“All of the adversity we have been through all season, just to see us coming together as a team and getting better each game, and finally get a big win like that, just enjoyed it. Everybody was happy and we just have to keep building on it.”
One of Cal’s most popular phrases lately has been how far this team still has to go. Before today, that comment terrified me. After today, it excites me. Kentucky went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the country today and won. You’re telling me this story gets even better??
If you forgot just how unbelievable the game was, watch the highlights.
What better twist than playing your arch rival in the Sweet 16? When the brackets came out, we saw the matchup with Louisville looming, and now it’s here. Defending national champs against last year’s defending champs. The last team to beat Louisville in the tournament? Kentucky. For the second game in a row, the pressure may be off the Cats again; they’ve beaten the Cards once this season. The matchups are still in our favor. As Willie Cauley-Stein said after the game, “I feel like we were a lot better than them then,” and this team’s ten times better than they were on December 28th. The Cats are riding a freight train of momentum into Indy, and with this win, I’m not sure they can be stopped.
It’s gonna be one hell of a week, folks.
To start the season, Edrice Adebayo epitomized the cliche, “Looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane.”
Adebayo’s resemblance to Dwight Howard and his onomatopoetic nickname fooled us all. “Bam” came to Kentucky built like the NBA All-Star, but mostly on paper, carrying a generous 6’1o” height with a wide, muscular frame. Adebayo’s experience was limited, playing the smallest division of North Carolina basketball for his first three years of high school.
The early box scores reflected his raw talent. In the 2016 calendar year, he recorded double-digit rebounds just three times. Offensively, he scored points, but mostly from dunks. Defensively, he struggled to balance playing physical and fouling.
Like most Calipari post players, he needed time to develop. It’s safe to say that’s happened.
Last night he hauled in 18 rebounds, the most by a UK player in the NCAA Tournament since the 50s. In the last ten games, Adebayo averages 14.4 points and 11 rebounds per game while shooting 63 percent from the field. In his last eight games, Bam has four double-doubles, snapping a skid of more than two months without a double-double.
Bam has developed into the player we all thought he could be, but how did he get here?
Before getting into the X’s and O’s of fundamental basketball, all of his improvements are possible because Bam is now in shape. Most mistakes in basketball happen because you don’t move your feet. You don’t move your feet because when you get tired, you get lazy. It’s now rare to see Adebayo make a lazy mistake because he dropped ten pounds and quit ordering late night Insomnia Cookies.
A Reliable Right Hand Hook
The greatest fallacy about post players is the belief that they need an arsenal of weapons to score. In reality, you only need one go-to move. Bam has found it with the simple hook shot. He struggled at the beginning of the year to find his touch, but he’s finally found a soft sweet spot that gives the ball a chance to go in, even if it isn’t perfectly executed.
Patience in the Post
In the post, you gotta play fast. If you do not have a move ready before you catch the ball, the double-team is already there. You clearly see that in the GIF above, but you can’t do that every time. Like everything in life, there must be balance.
Earlier in the season, Bam would’ve gotten antsy with a one-on-one matchup in the post. Instead, he used a pass fake to keep the double-team away long to drop-step a foot away from the bucket.
That was fine, but this is beautiful.
With the floor completely isolated, he immediately attacks preseason SEC Player of the Year Moses Kingsley, but Adebayo doesn’t get too ahead of himself. The rip puts Kingsley on his heels and the extra head fake provides enough pause to get an easy left-handed look.
Attacking Out of the Pick-and-Roll
Kentucky’s improved play out of the pick-and-roll can primarily be attributed to the decision-making of the guards, but as my sixth grade math teacher always told me before filling out a detention slip, “it takes two to tango.” Even in the smallest of windows, Adebayo remains aggressive and attacks the rim with a leap of faith, relying on his guard to guide him perfectly to the bucket.
Rebounding with Two Hands
This sounds silly, like telling a wide receiver to catch a football, but they still drop passes. The best rebounders attack the ball in the air with two hands.
Using two hands is one big reason why Bam is better on the boards, but it’s a small piece to the puzzle. As the big guy in a small league, he didn’t have to learn the art of rebounding in high school. He was bigger than everybody, so he got the ball. Bam is learning how to anticipate where the ball will bounce off the rim, an under-appreciated nuance of the game.
Using his Feet in Post Defense
Just like post offense, most of the work happens before the opponent gets the ball. Here’s what happened when Bam did not do enough before Kingsley got the ball.
Kingsley caught the ball on the block, WAY too deep, guaranteeing either a layup or a foul.
The next time down the floor, Bam would not let him get near the block. When Kingsley tried to take a step to post-up Bam near the lane-line, he got pushed to the floor. When Kingsley got up, Bam made him go up the lane, away from the basket to open up a passing lane. When Kingsley eventually got back to the low block, Bam’s hard deny made the guard look elsewhere, ending the possession with a missed bucket.
In conclusion, this is Bam at his best.
He used his lower body to force Kingsley to catch the pass five feet from the paint. When Kingsley got his upper body involved, Bam kept his hands (and head) back. Earlier in the year, he might’ve used his hands and got called for a foul. Instead, Adebayo’s straight-up defense forced Kingsley to try to score over him. While contemplating the move, it gave De’Aaron Fox enough time to dig the ball out and create a turnover.
Bam Adebayo has transformed into a complete post player. He can still make an arena roar with a powerful, posterizing dunk, but that’s not what makes him a great post. His fundamental, hands-off defense gives up nothing easy, while a balanced offensive attack keeps his opponent guessing and forces double teams.
It’s safe to say, Edrice Adebayo has brought the Bam to Kentucky.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©March 18th, 2017 @ 4:47pm
In today’s press conference, John Calipari shed a little light on what could be bothering Malik Monk. After Monk fell hard on his butt vs. Arkansas, he had to sit out two days of practice this week to rest his lower back, which Cal said may have affected his play yesterday.
“Well, he didn’t practice this week because he had a lower back, butt bruise, whatever you want to call it. He didn’t practice for two days.
If you watched the game last night, you could probably hear and or see Calipari screaming “DRIVE THE BALL” at Monk throughout. Monk was 0-6 from the three-point line, so Calipari wanted him to take his game inside to at least get something.
“But what I liked was that he took 2s. He drove the ball. He made free throws. Because you’re not going to be on every game, so you just don’t take 12 3s, then. You’re not on today. Get the ball to the basket, get fouled, take 2s. He’s a great 2-point shooter. They’ll still play him to three because he can make seven in a row.”
Like all of us, Cal has faith that at some point, the shots are going to fall for Monk.
“He’s one of those ones you say, man, he’s due,” Cal said of Monk. “Let’s just hope he’s due. Come on, he’s had about three games where he hasn’t made some shots. …He’ll break out at some point because he’s too talented, and he’s got a great spirit about him.”
Let’s just hope it’s tomorrow.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©March 18th, 2017 @ 12:22am
It got a little scary there at the end, but Kentucky saved us all some embarrassment and finally put away Northern Kentucky by a final score of 79-70. The Cats let the Norse hang around for far too long, due in part to another cold night from Malik Monk, who finished with only 12 points (many of those in the final minutes off foul shots) off 3-11 shooting, 0-6 from behind the three-point line. If Kentucky is going to accomplish anything in this tournament, he’s gotta warm up fast.
De’Aaron Fox led the way with 19 points, but had six turnovers to only three assists. Bam Adebayo had a career-high 18 rebounds to go along with 15 points. Isaiah Briscoe had 17 points and 8 rebounds, and, as often happens, when the Cats were out of sync, became Kentucky’s only source of scoring.
Sure, Kentucky could have been playing to its competition, but man, they can’t afford to play like that on Sunday vs. Wichita State or it will be a very short March.
By the way, the Wichita State game will tip at 2:30 p.m. following Louisville/Michigan game at 12:10 p.m. Both games will be on CBS.
By Nick Roush on ©March 17th, 2017 @ 4:00pm
My Second-Favorite Team in the Field
Let me start by getting this out of the way: my baby sisters Christine and Courtney finished playing four years of basketball for the Norse last year. Naturally, I’m biased, but it’s provided me with extensive knowledge on UK’s first NCAA Tournament opponent.
(If you don’t want to read from a boastful big brother, keep scrolling.)
Before I get to the men, let me brag on my sisters for a minute. Christine scored the first D-I points in the history of the school, knocking down a pair of free throws in their first Division I game. She ended her career as the school’s eighth-leading scorer and consistently was one of the nation’s best free throw shooters. Courtney didn’t get an opportunity to play until her senior year, but when she did, all Norse opponents got Roushed. Courtney broke Christine’s single-game D-I scoring record with 29 points and the two combined for 51. Yup, I’m a proud big bro.
NKU initially operated as an extension center of the University of Kentucky, first opening its doors back in 1948. It became an autonomous four-year college 20 years later as the Northern Kentucky State College. It achieved university status in 1976.
The basketball program was at its best during its D-II years in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, arguably the nation’s best D-II conference, where they fostered an intense rivalry with Bellarmine. While UK played in three straight championships in the 90s, the Norse went back-to-back in 96 and 97, but lost in both title game appearances. Not long after, their women won the D-II championship in 2000.
Five years ago they made the jump to D-I as a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference, the home of Dunk City. Their success was marginal at best, but they made the move to the much better Horizon League for geographical purposes, regularly playing against teams in the Rust Belt instead of the South. In just their second season they won the Horizon League for their first NCAA Tournament berth, an exponentially more impressive feat from the Horizon than the A-Sun.
Viktor E. Viking
The punny mascot is the best mascot in the tournament according to USA Today. I’d take Viktor over WKU’s Big Red any day of the week. Unfortunately, they found a temporary replacement for last year’s fantastic intro video.
NKU’s arena is so awesome, the OVC turned them away because it was an unfair recruiting advantage. Colloquially referred to as “The Bank,” the 10,000-seat arena opened in 2008 in front of a sell out crowd when Rick Pitino took UofL up I-71. The Bank now hosts the Girl’s Sweet 16. Next year they will host the University of Cincinnati’s home games while Fifth Third Arena undergoes renovations.
Summon the Norse
Last year they began a new tradition at BB&T Arena that involves this monstrosity. It was a life goal of mine to Summon the Norse, something my Dad got to do before Senior Night.
UofL women’s basketball coach Jeff Walz, comic book artist Davis Mack and Ohio congressman Steve Chabot are just a few alums who sit in George Clooney’s shadow. Clooney didn’t graduate from NKU, but his brief attendance is a big deal. Still, Clooney’s fame can’t compare to Sunday AM Sports Talk host Mark Buerger.
The Original Home of Todd Svoboda
Everybody’s favorite walk-on from Kentucky’s 1993 Final Four team began his career as a Norse. He scored more than a thousand points in three years at NKU before knocking down this legendary three-pointer against Florida State in the Regional Final.
So Many Connections to the Commonwealth
So many that it has its own post. You should read it here.
A Young Team
NKU only graduates two seniors this year, and only Cole Murray provides significant contributions as the team’s fourth-leading scorer. The 6’7″ guard shoots 40 percent from behind the three-point line for 10.2 points per game.
Their young lineup is a lot like their young coach. In his second-season as NKU’s head coach, John Brannen is just 43 years old. A native of nearby Alexandria, Ky., Brannen served on Anthony Grant’s staff and VCU, action as Alabama’s interim head coach prior to returning home to Northern Kentucky.
Northern Kentucky University has reached their first NCAA Tournament thanks to some of the best basketball the Commonwealth has to offer.
It starts at the top with head coach John Brannen. A native of nearby Alexandria, Ky., Brannen spent three of his first four years coaching as an assistant at EKU from 2000-03. Brannon spent a decade coaching with Anthony Grant, first at VCU then Alabama, acting as the interim head coach of the Crimson Tide before returning home to NKU.
Much of Brannen’s early success is attributed to recruiting excellent local talent. A year ago Carson Williams and Mason Faulkner were at the Mr. Basketball ceremonies. Friday they’ll play in the NCAA Tournament.
Faulkner is a from Glasgow, Ky., a product of Caverna High School. He became a Mr. Basketball finalist after averaging 35.9 points per game as a senior. The elite scorer was a consensus First Team All-State Selection. The first guard off the bench for the Norse, Faulkner averages 7.5 points, 2.1 assists and 2.4 rebounds in about 18 minutes per game.
Williams grew up much closer to Highland Heights. 2016’s Mr. Basketball is from Owen County, just a short drive up I-71 to NKU. Williams’ Mr. Basketball bid was a bit of an upset over the preseason favorite and Xavier signee, Quentin Goodin, but the numbers do not lie. Williams averaged more than 25 points and 10 rebounds as a senior to lead Owen County to a school-record 29 wins. He finished his career just 33 points shy of 3,000. His 1,671 rebounds are the fifth-most in the history of Kentucky high school basketball.
In his first season with the Norse, Williams has exceeded expectations. The team’s third-leading scorer averages 10.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game and shoots 59.7 percent from the field. The 6’5″ forward has created a powerful one-two punch alongside Drew McDonald, another local talent.
McDonald is a sophomore who starred at Newport Central Catholic, leading his team to three straight All “A” Classic Championships. He was also a fantastic golfer in high school, winning the All “A” individual state title. He hopes to use his golf talents at NKU before his eligibility expires. McDonald is the son of former NKU athletes. His father Jeff played tennis and his mother Christie Freppon played basketball, still the school’s No. 12 all-time scorer with 1,339 career points.
McDonald is undoubtedly the Norse’s best player. Despite being an undersized forward at 6’7,” he uses his body well in the post, especially on defense, moving his feet to keep opponents in front of him without fouling. Offensively, he has a killer spin move back to a right hand hook that opponents fall for every time. He averages 16.4 points (48.2 FG%) and 7.7 rebounds a game.
Lavone Holland completes NKU’s talented trio of Commonwealth talent. The athletic junior guard from Ballard High School does not have fond memories of playing Dominique Hawkins, thanks to this play.
NKU’s best guard averages 14.3 points, 4.1 assists and 2.8 rebounds per game. For those who are not keeping track at home, NKU’s top three scorers are all underclassmen from the state of Kentucky.
The Commonwealth’s finest carried Northern Kentucky their first NCAA Tournament berth against the state’s flagship institution. You better believe they’ll be playing for something more than a second round game when they take the court against the Cats on Friday.
Thousands upon thousands of Kentucky fans will travel to lovely Indianapolis, Indiana this week to attend the Wildcats’ first and second round games of the 2017 NCAA Tournament. And with it being such a close locations for Kentuckians, many of the Big Blue faithful will make be making their first trip to Naptown to watch postseason basketball.
If you fall into the category of first-time attendee, please consider the following DOs and DON’Ts while you are visiting our nation’s 12th largest city.
Those of you who have already been can learn a thing or two, too.
DOs and DO NOTs
DO find something to keep you entertained on your drive through Indiana.
Download plenty of podcasts or new music or audiobooks from your favorite author because the drive through the Hoosier state is among the worst of its kind.
Passengers, you can watch movies or play on your phones the entire time. Drivers, good luck. I hope you have passengers.
DO NOT kill yourself because the drive is so bad.
At some point it will get tempting to drive full speed into a dairy barn or to pull over and hang yourself from one of those windmills with a luggage strap, but suck it up and maintain the course. You will make it to Indianapolis, eventually. I’m sorry it feels like it takes two days to drive two hours.
DO attend Thursday’s open practice, if you’re able.
If you’re going to be in the Indianapolis area on Thursday, Kentucky is scheduled to hold its open practice from 5:10 – 5:50 p.m. in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The practice is 100 percent free and open to the public.
DO NOT attend Louisville’s open practice.
Unless, of course, you are going to boo and yell things at Rick Pitino. In that case, I will see you there.
DO stop by the UK Alumni Pregame Party at Tin Roof.
From 4:00 – 6:00 p.m. Friday evening, the UK Alumni Association will conduct a pep rally at Tin Roof Indianapolis with appearances from the cheerleaders, mascots and UK pep band.
Tin Roof is conveniently located directly across the street from Bankers Life Fieldhouse on the corner of Maryland and Pennsylvania, so this will be the place to be prior to the game.
DO NOT go looking for Friday’s KSR morning and/or pregame shows.
Matt and Ryan decided to stay in Lexington so there will be no public shows in Indianapolis as they are doing them in studio back in Kentucky.
The location of Sunday’s pregame show is TBD. We’ll let you know.
DO celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day while you’re in town.
Although it is only a legal American holiday in Suffolk County, Massachusetts and in Savannah, Georgia; Saint Patrick’s Day is widely celebrated throughout the United States as a recognition of Irish and Irish American culture. Many use it as an excuse to, for lack of better words, get extremely blackout drunk and pinch people.
Tin Roof Indianapolis will accommodate all of your Saint Patrick’s Day drinking needs, as well as any blacking out or pinching you may be interested in.
DO NOT get too drunk before the Kentucky game.
With the late tip-off Friday night, I fear that many of our brethren in Big Blue Nation will drown themselves in green beer and miss the Cats’ game. This goes for those in Indianapolis and anywhere else.
So drink responsibly, BBN. It’s peak basketball season.
DO go to St. Elmo Steak House for the shrimp cocktail.
The four jumbo shrimp and cocktail sauce make for a delicious appetizer that is considered “world famous.”
DO NOT overdo it with the cocktail sauce.
The spicy, signature cocktail sauce will put you on your back if you’re not careful, so tread lightly or you’ll be calling for a medic. The smallest dab will open your sinuses like nothing you’ve ever experienced and I can tell you from firsthand experience that it is embarrassing to choke on it while sitting by yourself at an empty bar in the 1933 lounge with two very good-looking blonde bartenders looking at each wondering who is going to have to explain this to the next of kin. That was embarrassing.
DO avoid Louisville fans at all costs.
They’ll be everywhere downtown, throwing their Ls and drinking their malt liquor out of their brown paper bags and puking it back up onto their Big Time Yurts tanktops.
If you somehow end up in the same drinking/dining establishment as a Louisville fan, promptly notify management that one was allowed in so it can be taken care of professionally and in a timely manner.
If the drinking/dining establishment you’re in has more than one Louisville fan, you did a really bad job picking a drinking/dining establishment and you should get the hell out immediately before you find yourself in a sticky situation.
To play it safe, I would avoid likely spots for the UofL pre- and post-parties, like PT’s Showclub, the Red Garter or the Classy Chassy.
DO NOT be disrespectful to the Northern Kentucky fans.
Be happy they made it. We would get behind them if they played any team but Kentucky.
DO go to Indianapolis.
The more the merrier! Don’t have a ticket? Go anyway! You’ll figure it out!
It’s March 15th, so you best watch your back, or, as the soothsayer told Julius Caesar before he was murdered, “Beware the Ides of March.” If you’re not familiar with history or William Shakespeare’s play, Caesar ignored that warning and went about his business, going to the Theatre of Pompey, where he was stabbed by mutinous senators. Hopefully none of you have people plotting to take you down today, but regardless, be on alert. After waking up with a sore throat and cough yesterday, the only thing betraying me right now is my immune system (Et tu, antibodies?), but with one of the busiest weekends of the year on tap, I’m planning to fight back with a potent mixture of Zicam, Mucinex, and chicken soup. Ain’t nobody got time for colds.
While I try to find some honey to go with my tea, let’s run over today’s agenda, shall we?
1. The Sweet 16 starts today
Freddie Maggard will be covering the Sweet 16 for us as only he can, so check back over the next few days for coverage. Also, if you missed it, be sure to read his post from yesterday about the one-year anniversary of his father’s death. I know it wasn’t easy for Freddie to write, which makes it really special.
2. Here’s the front and back of UK’s postseason media guide
Looking good, Wildcats.
3. UK will hold an open practice tomorrow at Bankers Life Fieldhouse
With the game starting so late on Friday, I doubt many fans will make the trek to Indy on Thursday, but if you do, there’s an open practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse from 5:10 p.m. to 5:50 p.m.
Until then, the long wait continues. I forgot how long this week feels.
4. At least we’re not Indiana
Did you see that the Hoosiers lost last night? Oh yes, a year after Tom Crean garnered some buzz for coach of the year, his team lost to Georgia Tech 75-63 in the first round of the NIT, an embarrassing end to an incredibly disappointing season. Add in the fact that the Hoosiers were too embarrassed to host the game at Assembly Hall and Indiana’s fall is doubly tragic. Tom Crean is almost certain to be fired, which means he could end up in one of the coaching vacancies in the SEC. Bring it on.
Meanwhile, at home…
5. Did you see the Kentucky/Kansas Coke commercial?
Awesome. Maybe we can recreate that moment in the Final Four this year?
6. Vince Marrow got a well-deserved contract extension
KSR was the first to report last night that Vince Marrow has agreed to a three-year contract extension to stay at UK through the 2020 season. The deal increases the recruiting guru’s salary to almost $500,000 a year (he was making $275,000 a year), making him one of the most well-paid at his position in the country. Marrow has been an integral part of Stoops’ turnaround in Lexington, and you could make a case for him being one of the most important people on the staff. Thank goodness he didn’t go to Michigan a few years ago.
7. Let’s hope James Cordon is wrong
“The Late Late Show” host may be good at carpool karaoke, but he admits he knows nothing about basketball, so let’s hope he’s wrong with his prediction of Wichita State beating Kentucky in the second round:
— The Late Late Show (@latelateshow) March 14, 2017
8. The games have officially begun
Last night, the First Four tipped off in Dayton, with Mount St. Mary beating New Orleans in a thriller to play Villanova in the East Region and Kansas State advancing past Wake Forest to play Cincinnati in the South Region. The first game was actually pretty entertaining, especially when two of New Orleans’ players got into a little scuffle:
Don’t fight your own teammate, man!
9. Your daily ‘Aww’: Olly the Jack Russell at Crufts
May you tackle your day with the same enthusiasm (albeit hopefully better execution).
10. KSR is at the Sweet 16
Tune in to hear Matt, Ryan, and Drew live from Rupp Arena as they preview the day’s action at the Sweet 16.
To steal from John Calipari’s quote book, “I like my team.”
While many of college basketball’s so-called experts overlook the SEC Champion Kentucky Wildcats in their predictions and projections, “I like my team.”
I like them over anyone else in the field, and here’s why…
Because they’re coming in hot.
Kentucky is on an 11-game winning streak entering the tournament, the longest of the season and the school’s longest since that 2014-15 team won 38 in a row. The Cats’ last loss came at Florida on Feb. 4 in De’Aaron Fox’s first game back from an ankle injury.
Kentucky is the only undefeated team among the tournament contenders since that date.
Because Cal is Swaggy Cal.
If you’ve kept up with Kentucky in recent years, you know there is a direct correlation between John Calipari’s personality (or swag) entering a season or tournament and then how that team performs. Since running through Nashville last weekend, Calipari’s mood exudes confidence and he is as swaggy as ever before.
“I’m excited. You can tell I’m jacked up to play basketball,” he said on last night’s call-in show.
Because the ESPN experts are picking against them.
And the ESPN experts are almost always wrong.
Because when the Cats are in desperate need of a late bucket, De’Aaron Fox is a proven closer.
As we saw in Nashville, De’Aaron Fox has elevated his game and proven he can go get a score when his team needs it. He was outstanding in the final minutes of the semifinal game and really throughout the entire tournament, which is why he was named MVP.
Calipari credits Fox’s improvement to finally playing through contact on his way to the rim. Fox is bumping back when he gets hit on drives to the basket, whereas he had been falling away from contact and throwing the ball up, hoping the official would bail him out with a whistle. By playing through the contact and continuing to attack, he is either getting all the way to the rim or making that official call the foul.
And the results speak for themselves.
Because Fox might’ve found his shot. (And that is scary.)
Fox shot 60 percent from three-point land in the last five games, hitting six of his 10 attempts from long range. He had only hit nine three-pointers all year in the 29 games before that stretch.
Because Bam Adebayo is getting better by the day.
We assumed we would see Adebayo hit his stride somewhere in early February as many of Cal’s bigs have done in the past. That was not the case, which is okay, but Bam is doing it now.
The inner-beast in Adebayo, that we had hoped would be unleashed a little earlier in the season, is finally loose and dominating the paint.
Matt Norlander over at CBSSports.com named Adebayo one of his 10 players ready to break out, saying, “Adebayo is a beast down low who still hasn’t been in contact with his ceiling. I could see it coming in the tournament, and in fact think that will happen.”
Because the UK backcourt is now a four-headed monster.
Dominique Hawkins is no longer the senior leader who could come in in certain situations to help out in times of need.
Dominique Hawkins is now the senior leader who needs to be on the floor because he helps in so many ways and Kentucky is a better team because of him.
Because Derek Willis is playing good basketball, too.
The four spot has been shaky all season and teams have exploited it to their advantage when Derek Willis and Wenyen Gabriel aren’t producing. But now Willis is playing well and taken ownership of that position by rebounding and defending, along with what he already brings offensively.
Willis had 22 rebounds and seven blocks in the three games in Nashville.
Because Calipari has a way of getting his teams to the Final Four.
Four appearances in seven years…
How could you bet against him?
Because the defense is better than it has been all year.
The reboot, the tweak or whatever you want to call it has Kentucky playing its best defense entering the tournament. Guys like Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Derek Willis have really improved their effort on that end and the team as a whole is much better today than a month ago.
Because Kentucky is 14th in Adjusted Offense and 9th in Adjusted Defense.
The recipe for a champion.
Because North Carolina and UCLA don’t scare me.
It’s easy to say Kentucky is in a tough bracket with North Carolina and UCLA because they’re considered to be Final Four contenders, but who’s to say they’re better than Kentucky? North Carolina already dropped one to the Wildcats, and the current Kentucky team is better than the one UCLA beat in the regular season. You’re going to play a very good team in the second weekend of any region; and of those three likely going to Memphis, give me Kentucky.
Because everyone is beatable.
There isn’t one really good team out there that is a surefire thing to be in it in the end. Any of the top seeds can do it, and I like my team as much as any of them.
Because Malik Monk.
If (and it’s a big if) Malik Monk gets hot like we know he can, give me Kentucky over anyone, anywhere.
When they’re on, Monk and De’Aaron Fox are the best scoring duo in college basketball.
Throw that in with everything else and I really, really, really like my team entering the tournament.