Good morning and happy Monday to you, my KSR brothers and sisters. As we get going this morning, we do so with the optimism of a new postseason and a team that appears primed to make a push and surprise a few people thanks to a crop of young players. With that being said, it only seems fair that we pause this morning and wish a happy 46th birthday to Jack Armstrong. The former Major League pitcher finished his career with three teams (Indians, Marlins and Rangers) in three seasons, but will be forever remembered by Cincinnati Reds fans for his part in the Wire-to-Wire 1990 season. Armstrong won 8 of his first 9 starts and was named the National League starter in the All-Star game before tailing off and then re-appearing for three scoreless innings in Game 2 of the World Series. It was an up-and-down performance that was reminiscient of a certain basketball team’s season this year and one that, hopefully, indicates the best is yet to come. So, for that, we honor you, Jack Armstrong. May you have a happy birthday and may the Cats make a run to the Final Four.
Now onto a few UK notes…
– Now that we’ve got all of that regular season nonsense out of the way (right Cal?), the Cats can finally focus on seeding for the NCAA Tournament. Coach Cal used the media like a wet rag again after the game Sunday, telling them that the win over the Vols “moved the seed” (ahem, Pitino) and again saying that road struggles should not be factored into a neutral site event. Calipari might be correct on the latter part of the statement, but it’s tough to see Kentucky’s NCAA seed moving a whole lot at this point without getting help elsewhere. Provided they don’t collapse in the SEC Tournament, they will likely be a four, since the draw does not give them opportunity for quality wins. Regardless of how they fare, a five seems to be as low as they could probably go. However, climbing up to be a three, which would be an obviously better slot and allow you to avoid the top seed for an extra round, would require not only winning the tournament, but also some help from the teams ahead of them. Certainly possible, but it’s again out of UK’s hands. They’re most likely looking at a four as of this moment.
– The idea got thrown around last season and ultimately got no support and it’s been mentioned some this year, but you can expect support of non-divisional SEC Tournament to pick up some steam after the way the East has made the bottom half of the bracket heavy. Thanks to Kentucky’s victory, they not only get a bye, but also a very favorable draw in the SEC Tournament thanks to the way the divisions split. The Cats face the winner of South Carolina-Ole Miss and, most likely, Alabama-Georgia to make the title game, while Florida will face either Tennessee or Arkansas in their first game and then Vandy or Mississippi State. It’s a draw that is incredibly favorable for the Cats. I’ll take it.
– In a game that was tremendously ugly for long stretches, the final body of work was a thing of beauty and came at a perfect time. The Cats were able to find answers to a number of the questions that have been lingering and now have a tremendous amount of momentum heading into the postseason. They won a close game, came from behind, won on the road, found a go-to player (Knight), a guy who won’t back down from a fight (Liggins), got clutch contributions from guys that struggled for the first 35 minutes (Jones and Harrellson), found a bench contributor (Vargas) and executed beautifully on out-of-bounds plays. As Cal said, the team “grew up” in Knoxville Sunday. We’ve feared all season long that it wouldn’t happen, but like all great procrastinators, the Cats appear to have gotten up to speed and now appear ready to make the grade when it counts the most.
– If you want an incredible stat, then consider this: When Josh Harrellson grabbed an offensive rebound with 5:35 left and the Cats down one, it was the first of 11-straight rebounds for Kentucky. The Cats did not allow the Vols to pull down a board for the final 5:35 of the game and rode that into free throws and a 13-6 finish and a victory. Five of those boards went to Josh Harrellson (his game total) and four went to Terrence Jones. That’s how you close out games on the road. Defense, rebounding and free throws are a hard mix to top in the game’s final minutes and the Cats executed perfectly behind the second-life of their frontcourt.
– With the loss to the Cats, it also appears that it might be the beggining of the end for Bruce Pearl in Knoxville. He’s been able to survive all of the NCAA issues to this point because he had the support of the school and the fans thanks to putting a winning product on the court. Now, with a potentially hefty punishment set to come down this summer from the NCAA, his job security appears to be unsettled thanks to the growing losses and some dissension internally. There’s no question that Pearl’s tenure at Tennessee has been good for their program and, for a time, his presence in the SEC was good for the league. Now, with all of the NCAA questions and the finger pointing (he took a shot at the refs after the game), that time seems to be over. Unless they can go on a major postseason run, the window could be closing on the Bruce Pearl era in Knoxville.
– If there was any doubt before about where he stood in the history of former Kentucky high school stars, Scotty Hopson secured his place as the anti-Chris Lofton Sunday after he trash talked with DeAndre Liggins throughout the game and then discredited his defense afterward. Hopson dismissed Liggins’ impact on his 2-10 shooting peformance, saying that the Cats did a good job of giving him different looks and pointed out that he fouled DeAndre Liggins out of the game. While this might be true, Liggins took Hopson out of the game long before he picked up his fifth foul and sat down. Had it not been for free throws, Scotty Smallballs would have scored one more point than Eloy Vargas.
– On a less fun note, the UK women’s team lost to Tennessee in a blowout Sunday, falling one game short of an SEC Title. Matthew Mitchell’s team will find out Monday evening where they will be placed for the NCAA Tournament. Should be a long week of waiting.
– In news that won’t go away, Karen Sypher says she feels like Rosa Parks. A sampling of 300 Lousiville men disagreed, saying she felt like cheap hotel bedsheets, the first day of winter, a dry luffa, Mammoth Cave and a urinary tract infection.
– In case you missed it, some Miami Heat players cried after they lost Sunday. Someone can Erik Spoelstra, hire Tom Hanks and let him give them the “there’s no crying baseball basketball speech”. There’s no excuse for that. Seriously.
That’s it for now. Make sure you stick around all day long as we continue to enjoy and celebrate a win over the low-down, dirty snitches. As usual, Kentucky Sports Radio will get things going at 10am on Talk Radio 1080. There will be no Zach, but we will do our best to move forward. See you in a few…