It is Christmas Eve, which in my family is actually the time where most of our Christmas celebrations take place. But in the world of college basketball, Christmas Eve is a chance to say Happy Birthday to the best commentator in the sport, Jay Bilas. I am biased towards Jay for many reasons. First, we share a legal background, having both graduated from Duke Law School, although for him it was after a distinguished college basketball playing career and for me it was after a time holding down Transylvania Intramurals. Also, Jay was a guest on the very first edition of Kentucky Sports Radio ever to take place, a podcast that included appearances by recruit Brandon Wright and future KSR co-host Ryan Lemond. We asked Bilas, never thinking he would take the time to appear on an unknown (and rarely listened to) show, but he was kind enough to do so without question. So even if he were not a great announcer, I would be predisposed to like Jay Bilas because of our shared history. But such bias is not necessary, as Bilas is in my view, the most intelligent, thoughtful and articulate commentator the sport has at its disposal. While he is a very good in-game announcer, where Bilas truly excels is pointing out the bigger picture issues with the sport. He correctly identifies areas of concern, changes that are necessary and most importantly, hypocrisies with the NCAA rule structure. All of it combines to make him the most important voice in the sport and the obvious choice if college basketball ever creates a commissioner type role. From the earliest of KSR days, Bilas has been a friend of the show, always available to talk with the crew and we congratulate him on his 68th birthday today.
A few notes before the Holiday cheer:
— The game on Saturday versus Marshall was, in my opinion, the Cats best overall game in a number of weeks. While in the first half, UK struggled to make open shots, they did everything else well, hitting the glass, making great passes and playing some of the best half court defense we have seen in weeks. For the first time, effort was rarely an issue, with players going after loose balls and having fun for seemingly the first time in a month. Even when Marshall cut the game to 4 late, I still felt confident due to the way the Cats were playing and their ability to attack the basket confidently. UK will rarely (hopefully) miss nine wide open three pointers and five open layups as they did in the first half versus the Thundering Herd. But if they replicate the effort they saw against Marshall, they will reach a level that we hoped this team could find.
— The breakout star of the game was Ryan Harrow, who had his best game as a Cat with a career-high 23 points. Ryan looked for the first time this year like the player he was in practice last season. Then, Harrow would go one-on-one with Teague and he seemed to be a player with the ability to be Marquis’s equal. While Teague was more physical and a better defender, Harrow was much more explosive and a better shooter, often leading to great matchups when they got together. But that Harrow has been nonexistent for the Cats this year, as his lack of confidence had shaken his ability to reach that higher level. But now, a player that we thought may never again play for Kentucky just a few weeks ago, has become one of the catalysts of the team and has had three straight strong performances. The test against Louisville will be a tough one…over the past three seasons, the UK point guards (Wall, Knight and Teague) have controlled their battles with Peyton Siva and have been a key reason in the four straight victories. A lot of pressure will be on Harrow to do the same again this year, something that will be a very tall order. But for the first time, that seems possible and Ryan deserves a lot of credit for getting to that point.
— It is worth noting again that this woman was asleep during the second half of the game on Saturday. I talked to her after and she seemed very sweet, but we simply can’t have people dozing off during game play in Rupp. Energy people!
— Finally, we are just a week away from the Louisville game and UK nation seems to be downtrodden about its prospects. It seems that almost everyone believes a loss is inevitable and that next Saturday will be depressing. Even Mr. Positivity, JT from the radio show called me today and asked what we could do to get the BBN excited about the game. Here is the answer…lets not do anything differently. For the next week, lets believe we are going to go into the Yum Center and get our fifth straight win. Look, this much is clear. ALL THE PRESSURE is on Louisville right now. They haven’t won a game against the Cats since Calipari arrived in Lexington and things are only going to get worse in the years ahead. Next year Kentucky is headed for its 9th title and if Louisville doesn’t win one this year, it seems certain that they never will. So if the Cards don’t beat us this season, one has to ask…when will it happen again? This is Louisville’s best team of the Pitino era and this could end up Calipari’s worst. It is now or never for Rick and even with that discrepancy, we have a shot. Win or lose next Saturday, the future is bright. And if we win…well at that point, we can yell louder than we have ever yelled before.
Have a Merry Christmas over the next couple of days. We will still have posts coming up here for the next 48 hours but they will be less frequent so our writers can have time with their families. Have a great holiday and go Cats!