The debate has raged in emails, texts and Facebook messages sent my way over the last 24 hours. Was this the worst UK weekend in recent memory? I have tried to think of one that was worse in the two major sports and have struggled to reach a comparible set of dual defeats. Losing to a team picked 7th in the Big South (officially the Kryptonite of conferences to the Cats) in basketball and becoming the first team in 19 games to allow a Vandy victory that sends them to a bowl game (and potentially the Cats to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis….more on that later), and well….it was a bad weekend. But rather than simply wallowing in misery and attempting to figure out who should be fired (answer….no one), lets breakdown the two events with a Ridiculously long (KSR tradition) post with 20 thoughts, 12 on basketball and 8 on football:
— There are a lot of things that one can be depressed about concerning the Cats performance against VMI on Sunday, but what we saw on defense was cringe-inducing. I never thought I would see a Kentucky team allow 111 points on its home floor against a team of VMI’s caliber. For me, the most disheartening part of the performance was Billy Clyde’s rugged refusal to make any in-game adjustments to attempt to counter the offensive fury unleashed by the Keydets. Just as in the Gardner-Webb game last year, Gillispie was faced with a team whose only theoretical possibility of winning was to hit three-point jumpers and the Cats found a way to leave virtually every shot wide open. Like Gardner-Webb, the VMI game plan was simple….spread the floor out, each person with the ball drives, waits for Gillispie’s help defense to double team, and then kick out for an open three. Rinse and repeat. However unlike Gardner-Webb, VMI didnt even attempt to backdoor Kentucky, only scoring on one backdoor play that I can recall. Instead, the Cats continued to double-team all drives, even when it wasnt clear that the Keydets were able to score on their bigger defenders at any point. After the game, one older former UK player said to me, “they arent more athletic at any position…..play them straight up and we win by 30!” I tend to agree with that assessment. While I like Gillispie’s overall defensive philosophy, flexibility is not a sign of weakness Coach. The inability to showcase it caused yet another humiliating early loss.
— On offense, I really didnt think the Cats played badly. Many point to Patterson only taking four shots, and that wasnt good….but Patterson wasnt his normal aggressive self. Too often, rebounds that are normally the sole domain of Patrick fell to the ground. I am however now worried about it, because Patrick defines consistency. Next game will be much improved.
— Double-edged sword for Jodie Meeks. On the one hand, he had 39 points and was unstoppable on offense. On the other hand, he had 39 points with seven minutes to go and never scored again. Still yet, Jodie is headed for a monster season and will be a 20+ scorer for the Cats. Can you name the last guard to do that at UK?
— Odd game for Razor Ramon. On defense, he was really the only bright spot for the Cats. He was the only man who wasnt beaten by a step off the dribble and generally played well. He still cant dribble however, but he did score ten points in a row during a crucial stretch at the end. Ramon isnt perfect….but his defense means he will play all year.
— Even though his stats were good, Perry Stevenson also had a disappointing game. He was stuck guarding a guy too quick for him, but I dont blame Perry for that. But being unable to get defensive rebounds was an issue. If he boxes out his man consistently, the Cats win….period.
— It is tough at this point to know how to evaluate Michael Porter. He isnt as bad as most fans act like, but the vaunted improvement we were told to expect simply didnt seem there. He was a BIT more comfortable on the court, but he still made 5 turnovers in 18 minutes, without contributing anything but stalled motion on offense. He is unable to guard even a slightly quick defender and it is unclear how he will get better at his defenciencies. I pull for the guy, but it is frustrating.
— I was generally very pleased with DeAndre Liggins. The young man has to cut down on the turnovers, but they were all of the decision-making kind, which can get better as opposed to the inability kind, which may not. He hit some jumpers and looked aggressive on the offensive end. He is the future for UK at PG and I liked what we saw for most of the game.
— The one unequivocal bright spot is Darius Miller. He is leaps and bounds above where I thought he would be at this point and is the perfect 6th man for the team….he can come in, add energy and offense to the team and gives them exactly what they need for the middle stretches of the two halves. His defense isnt good, which is why he will often be behind Harris, but when the team needs an offensive burst, he can be there. He really has been a bright spot to me and Friday proved it again.
— It really wasnt a style of game where Josh Harrellson could be a factor. Too quick and there was no one he could guard. We will know more on him against a more conventional team.
— In contrast, you have to wonder what to expect from Kevin Galloway. If he doesnt play against a team essentially playing playground basketball, with his one-on-one skills, then when is he going to play? He was a key factor in the argument that UK would have a great deal of depth this year. If he cant play, the depth is not as strong.
— Even with all of those difficulties, the fact remains that Kentucky was up by two with four minutes to go. In those situations, playing at home against a team of VMI’s caliber, good teams win….period. I watched the evil Dukies today (who I dont think are particularly good) and they were down 5 to Rhode Island with four minutes to play….and won. Last year with Joe and Ramel, when the game was in the last four minutes, those guys stepped up and ended up looking like All Americans. For the Cats yesterday, the last four minutes were not pretty at all. Patterson wasnt given the ball, Jodie didnt score in the last seven minutes and the guys taking some of the shots (Harris and Liggins) were not necessarily who you wanted to have in that situation. Wiht the Cats style of play and talent, they will be in a lot of games decided in the last four minutes….they need to handle it better than they did Friday night.
— One last thing to remember. Last night’s loss will hurt Kentucky more than similar losses in years past. During the Rick and Tubby eras, Kentucky was masterful at scheduling for the RPI. They knew the CRUCIAL fact about that index (which has shown repeatedly to be the gold standard for the NCAA selection committee). Tis better to play a good team and lose than to beat a horrendous team. Thus those guys would schedule the San Diego, Western Kentucky, Santa Clara, UAB and Houston type games to compliment the big powers (UNC, Louisville, Indiana, etc) and the RPI would look good. That is why, for instance, the Cats were the #1 overall seed in 2004 and likely made the tournament last year. This schedule is not RPI friendly. Yes the powers are there (UNC, Louisville, Miami, the Vegas tourney), but the other games are against RPI bottom feeders. I had an RPI guru tell me that when UK lost to UAB last year, it was better for their RPI than if they had BEATEN a team like Lamar. The RPI awards good mid-level scheduling, something UK has traditionally been great at exploiting. Because Indiana is down, the SEC is bad and there are no mid-level RPI teams to boost the number, any more losses like the one Friday could spell disaster when seeding time comes around.
— I am not nearly as depressed by the loss to Vandy Saturday night as many others. While UK could have surely won the game, and the Cats let some things slip through the cracks, Vandy and UK are equivalent teams this year. I have always thought that UK would finish 6-6 (although I thought they would lose to Mississippi State and beat Vandy) and with Tennessee down, they may be still able to go higher. When you consider that the two teams are relatively even, the weather was bad and it was a game for a bowl bid for the ‘Dores, I dont think you can be furious at the facts the Cats lost. It was a close game that they let slip, like the South Carolina and Georgia games. But there have been close games they won, like MTSU, Arkansas and Mississippi State….so it all evens out.
— Having said all of that, the referees were beyond horrid last night. The game produced two of the worst calls I have ever seen up close….one, the decision by the Line Judge to award the TD to Vandy late in the first half (which led to a heckler to shout to the Judge “My grandmother can call the game better than that and she is blind”, after which his buddy next to him screamed, “and gay!”, making him a bit perturbed.) That call was made even more egregious when they still got it wrong AFTER instant replay, a bizarre result. Second was the game-changing “roughing the passer” call. The flag was not thrown until AFTER Jones made his interception and was running back, a result that made the call very dubious. It was a poor performance by the men in pinstripes.
— I was very disappointed by the playcalling by Joker Phillips. All year long, it has seemed that this coaching staff has struggled with what type of team this is….is it a dink and dunk group, a run it up the middle team, an option team, etc. But then Saturday night, we were treated to Air Raid 08, as Cobb threw passes on key downs throughout the game. I would much prefer Cobb on his feet, with the RBs we have with him, than attempting long passes on key downs. It is bad enough that we gave away 3 points by inexplicably going for it on 4th and 8 right before the half, but the oddly timed pass calls were beyond perplexing.
— Whether it is Hartline or Cobb, watching our WRs drop passes is difficult. Kyrus Lanxter and EJ Adams have hands that even Jared Carter would mock.
— It is still surprising to me to see how easily our defense can be man-handled at times. The first half saw Vandy roll all over the Cats and really UK had no answer. If not for the kick block, the Cats could have been down 27-0 and the defense was overwhelmed. Part of that was because they couldnt get off the field, but the first two possessions were simply Vandy rolling over top the UK defense. Strange to see.
— Three roughing the punter calls, even if one was potentially bogus is BEYOND stupid. Seriously, you dont see three of those a year, much less in a game. That of course led the Turkey Hunter to begin chanting “Rough that Kick” before a late Vandy punt….much to the crowd’s delight. It wasnt quite as happy as when Hubby turned around after Kentucky’s last touchdown and attempted to pinch the nipples of the random 65 year old man behind him, but it was a good moment nonetheless.
— When your most consistent receiver sounds like an accountant (“Hello, its tax time, call the name you trust, GENE McCASKILL, CPA”), you may be in trouble.
— We will get into this more later today, but all of a sudden the loss to Vandy makes the Liberty Bowl the early favorite for UK’s services come bowl season. I had a long conversation with the Chik-Fil-A Bowl rep at the game on Saturday and he basically assured me that if Vandy and UK had the same record, the winner of the game would win out…..meaning they would take Vandy over the Cats. He likes Kentucky over Ole Miss if both have the same record, but that would take a UK win over Tennessee to assure. We will go over the scenarios later today, but it looks as if the Liberty is now the most likely location, followed closely by Atlanta (assuming a win over UT) and then a slight possibility for the Music City again.
More throughout the day as we get ready for UNC, recount the bowl possibilities and salute the UK volleyball ladies…..