Well, welcome back, I guess. It wasn’t the greatest weekend to be a Kentucky fan as disappointment seemed to lurk around every corner and come from every direction possible. The Cats found letdowns in four states (five if you count the women’s team) during what’s supposed to be the happiest days of the week and it was a rough return from an emotional high just seven days prior. So, it only seems fair as we reset ourselves from a weekend that was a little tough to be a Cat that we first stop and salute the Big Dog on his 38th birthday. Glenn Robinson, now five and a half years removed from his basketball playing days, remains one of the most dominant college players I’ve ever seen and holds the distinction of being Purdue’s only Naismith Player of the Year not named John Wooden. So, while we salute Robinson’s jaw-dropping 30 points and 11 rebounds per game junior season and think back to when my Dallas high school was filled with kids wearing #13 Bucks jerseys and #5 Mavericks jerseys arguing the timeless Robinson vs. Kidd debate, let’s also remember him for the most unique portion of his legacy – working as a welder during his freshmen year after the NCAA ruled him academically ineligible. What that has to do with UK, we’ll never know. I just hope I took your mind off things for a few seconds.
Now onto a few UK notes…
– Despite losses in football and basketball, the big topic of discussion continued to be the ruling by the NCAA that Enes Kanter would be permanently ineligible. With no appeals remaining for the Turkish big man or UK, the situation finally has so finality to it and the interesting portion now becomes the response of the media. As has been the case throughout, there appears to be a clean division between those for and against him playing college basketball. The biggest supporters of the Free Enes cause continue to be Jay Bilas, Mike DeCourcy and, perhaps the loudest, Dick Vitale. While others have looked at the issue in a black-and-white interpretation of the rule, those three have made a point to voice their support of UK’s big man with essentially the same argument made by UK’s trio of Lee Todd, Mitch Barnhart and Coach Calipari on Friday – there doesn’t seem to be any common sense used by the committee. No one argues that the letter of the NCAA law deems him in violation. But, unlike the cases of the other athletes found in violation of rules lately, the NCAA did not want to look at the situation in a potentially flexible or subjective manner. They looked at the rule and ruled, which does not appear to be the treatment given to Cam Newton or the Ohio State players. It’s frustrating and it’s not a conversation that will likely die soon. Unfortunately, though, the chances of Kanter playing are already gone.
– Somewhat exemplifying that point, the NCAA continued the trend of looking foolish after the fact with their rulings when NCA President Mark Emmert told Seth Davis that “no one should be shocked” by the Kanter rulingand that very few schools recruited him. Emmert, as you know, is the president of the University of Washington, the school that held Kanter’s commitment before he backed out and committed to the Cats. Davis tweeted out that the Huskies backed off of him after they heard there might be problems, but that is absolutely not the case. They were in it as much as anyone and Emmert’s defense seems completely ridiculous. And, as Tyler Thompson pointed out earlier, when you have to publicly defend a decision, there’s probably an issue there. And for the NCAA, it’s because they keep making rulings that leave them no choice to defend them publicly and, more often than not, it ends up making them look more foolish. That’s again the case here.
– He’s faced his fair share of criticism for various things during his tenure, but Mitch Barnhart remained on the offensive over the weekend, calling NCAA rules “a moving target”. Barnhart’s public insistence that the NCAA’s rules are getting more difficult to understand and adhere to lately won’t help Kanter get on the court, but they help keep them in the discussion. For Barnhart’s purposes, doing so might have major benefit. He is the chair of the Men’s Basketball Issues Committee, which according the Bylaw Blog, “has the ear of the Board of Directors” more than any other group. What Barnhart and his committee present in the future or champion as a group could have serious implications on rules going forward. The Kanter issue seems to be rare in its circumstances, but the increasingly inconsistent rulings by the NCAA could become an issue for them going forward.
– As far as the actual basketball being played, Kentucky’s performance against Georgia was ugly. They were out-rebounded and out-shot. But, if you look at the stat sheet, you see some strange numbers. Georgia made 20 more free throws (and shot 18 more), but took 22 fewer field goal attempts. On most nights, when you’re shooting over 20 more times than your opponent and committing only 8 turnovers, you win the game. In Athens, though, racked up 24 fouls and gave Georgia an incredible number of points at the line. While the game was bad, it looks like it’s just one of those bad games teams sometimes have and you can’t really point at any major weakness being exposed. When you lose, that’s always a good thing. Oh, hell, I’m so angry. I don’t know what I’m talking about.
– Another telling number from the Georgia game was the playing time from the guy’s not in the six-man rotation. With the Cats battling fouls, Coach Cal used Jon Hood and Eloy Vargas for a combined eight minutes. This, of course, just after he said that he was working with them, as well as Stacey Poole and Jarrod Polson, in hopes that he could get more minutes from them. One of them will have to step up and the game in Athens showed exactly why that’s the case. After hinting that SEC play could bring more time on the court, they were essentially shut down and that can’t be viewed as promising. By the end of the year, if the Cats are playing a six-man rotation, there are going to be a lot of nervous Cats fans come game time.
– After an embarrassing bowl performance in Birmingham, a lot of heat started swinging toward Joker Phillips for conservative play-calling and an odd fourth-down gamble. While a lot of that frustration is probably fair, the only thing I could think about after the game was Mike Hartline. For the entire season, Kentucky was able to consistently put points on the board. The only question was whether or not the defense could get enough stops. On Saturday, it seemed the opposite for most of the game and it’s hard not to put a good chunk of blame on the shoulders of the senior quarterback for making himself unavailable for his teammates. Derrick Locke said after the game that it would have been different with #5 under center and I can’t disagree. If he plays that game, the Cats win. There’s no question that they score more than 10 points and it’s very likely that field position doesn’t destroy them and Joker doesn’t make the gamble on the fake punt. I don’t want to pile on a guy who I’ve defended every year that he’s started, but this is why you have to be accountable for your teammates. He left the guys hanging and the offense laid a fat egg in the Compass Bowl.
– On a more positive note, I liked what I saw from the Rick Minter defense in its first showing. The play-calling seemed to be a little more aggressive and, more importantly, guys seemed to be playing with the fire that so many of us yearned to see all season. Some of the symptoms of ineptitude remained (shoulder tackling, missed assignments), but the players seemed to have a little extra bounce to their step and appeared to be playing to win, instead of just trying to not break on every play. There’s still work to be done, but it was a nice thing to see in the debut of the new defensive coordinator.
– With the game finished and the season wrapped up, the talk will now turn to Randall Cobb and whether or not he will go pro. At this point, I don’t see any reason that he would stay at UK. Draft projections put him in the second round, which is likely as high as he will climb, and with a glimpse into the future in Birmingham, it doesn’t appear that his stats are going to break out next year. So much of the passing game is based off of relationship and timing and, while that would improve with Morgan Newton with more reps this spring and summer, it will likely never be what it was with Hartline. The two not only had developed a rhythm on the field, they became closer off of it too. Right now, there just seems to be too much risk involved in coming back.
That’s it for now. Stay tuned throughout the day as we look to get the morale up again and look forward to the Cats getting things going again this week against Auburn. As usual, the fun gets going on Kentucky Sports Radio at 10am on Talk Radio 1080. Make sure you check it out and then stick around. We’re going to make this fun. See you in a few…