An exhausting weekend bled into a low key Sunday where I found myself watching the better part of three hours of Daytona 500 qualifying. Now I know lots of folks are not Nascar fans, but I have always loved the “sport” and I consider the Daytona 500 one of the very few “must-see” events of the year (the others are of course, the first four days of the NCAA Tournament, the NBA Draft, the final round of the Masters and American Idol). Still, even though I can enjoy a good race with the best of them, I have never found the notion of qualifying interesting….but today for some reason I was mesmerized. Maybe it was because of the return of Robert Yates racing, the invasion of Toyota, Jimmy Spencer’s toupee, the 72 year old guy trying to make the race, Juan Pablo Montoya or the fact that there are no batteries in my remote, but Speedweeks stayed on my television all day. David Gilliand (who rose to prominence by winning a Busch race here in Kentucky) won the pole with 50 year old Ricky Rudd qualifying second. Expect more Nascar talk all week….along with the only known picture of Barack Obama and Tony Stewart together.
To the news Jeeves…..
(1) Though the hubub of the actual game was on most people’s minds this week, there was also a weekend of recruiting battles between Kentucky and Florida. While everyone knows about the race to land stud Patrick Patterson, the 2008 equivalent, Darius Miller of Mason County is also a target of both schools. Billy Donovan showed his desire to land the superstar by (depending on who you talk to) either going himself, or sending assistants, to see Miller play during the day on Saturday. Then Miller was an unofficial guest of Kentucky for the game that night. Miller is extremely talented, and his year has been quite successful. After his game on Saturday he said that Kentucky and Florida would be two of his final choices when he makes his decision……I will go a step farther and say they will likely be his final two choices. Think Billy D and Tubby now like the same kind of players?
(2) So what could the game on Saturday have shown Kentucky’s two big targets, Patterson and the ubiquitous Jai Lucas? Well if Patterson was watching, he likely would have seen that Kentucky is one player….specifically a top-notch power forward…..away from being the type of team that can run with the elites. Patterson may have seen that he can be a force on the inside and fill in immediately for what will likely be a depleted front line next year, all the while having he adoration of adoring Kentucky fans. And Jai Lucas might see that this is a team that could use a calming influence at point guard, albeit one that has the ability to knock down an outside shot. In the short term, he could be a quality point guard for key situations where offense is a must, and in the long term, a team leader to help mold a group of talented freshmen and take them to the next level. Or PAtterson could have seen that Florida, while stacked now, could easily be awful next year and he might become the go-to guy. And Lucas may have seen that Sean Sutton has an eerie habit of having crazy games in Stillwater and is not nearly as bad a coach as his turkey neck would suggest. Who knows?
(3) So what is the final fallout of the UK-Florida game? Well in my view it shows that this team is much improved from last season, but still a notch below the top 5 teams in America…..two facts that we likely knew going in. When Kentucky played Florida last year, there was never a moment where I believed that Kentucky could legitimately win the game. They were outmatched at every position and it looked like that Florida could score at will. This year was different. After the opening flurry, Kentucky actually contested virtually every Florida shot and looked as if they may be one of the top 5 defensive teams in the country. If defense were all that was at issue, Kentucky would be a Final 4 contender. But offense matters as well, and it was clear Saturday that Kentucky doesnt quite have the horses of a top team. Ramel Bradley does not have the patience, Joe Crawford the consistency, Randolph Morris the continual desire, Derrick Jasper and Jodie Meeks the experience or the Senior class the skill level to make UK a team that can consistently beat the top teams. BUT this team can beat UCLA, can beat Florida and can beat UNC. That is positive and Saturday said that unlike last year, we dont have to dread bracket Sunday.
(4) Boy Duke is not good. 5-6 in conference and a very legitimate chance of going 7-9 in conference. Losing record in conference play…..does that make the tournament? Likely yes (after all it is Duke)….but the Devils may be sweating on selection Sunday. UCONN will be out, Michigan State likely out, and Arizona on the bubble……its a new era in college basketball.
(5) A few weeks ago I said that the final 11 games would be huge for the future of the program. The Cats are now 3-2 in those games with six to play. You gotta think that the Georgia and LSU games at home look good. The Florida game on the road looks bad. That leaves three road games with Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Alabama. If the Cats can go 2-1 in those games…..thus making the conference record 11-5, that would put the Cats second in the SEC (behind the defending national champion) and likely a 4 or 5 seed in the tournament. Get a good bracket (they wont be in Floridas and likely not UNC or UCLAs because of regular season…..maybe Wisconsin as the #1 seed) and you just never know. But a win at Tennessee on Tuesday would be a huge salve for Saturday’s loss.
Oh by the way, “state of our program” has now been banned from this website for severe overuse. 🙂
Finally, listen to EPISODE 23 of Kentucky Sports Radio with Ravi Moss, Kenny Walker, the Sporting News’ Mike Decoursey and WLEX’s Ryan Lemond. WE were live from the Hyatt and attack a number of topics from the Fla game to football recruiting to basketball recruiting to the Rupp Arena security taking the signs to Kenny Walker’s answer as to the basis for those modeling pictures on the internet…..