It has been an action-packed weekend in Big Blue land with lots of news, most of it good. But the one downside to an otherwise weekend full of bliss, was the utter train wreck of an announcing performance on Saturday by Jimmy Dykes. Up until this weekend, I had nothing against Dykes. I have always found him to be relatively well-informed on the status of Kentucky basketball, full of insight into the Xs and Os of the game and of a generally positive disposition. He has always found himself to be a little too cute, but when his observations were limited to “the nail”, “violent cuts” and “getting on the plane”, they were harmless diversions from an otherwise sufficient announcing performance. Not anymore. For reasons that only he knows. Dykes has suddenly transformed into “Jimmy the Clown”, making all games his personal opportunity to divert into nonsensical remarks rattled off with Dr. Seuss-like rhyming patterns. We now “clip hips”, “guard yards” and “house the mouse” with such frequency that one imagines Brad Nessler (whose skin tone is hitting John Boehner levels of orange at this point) feels the need to consult Shel Silverstein just to keep up.
The problems had been bad up until Saturday, but then Dykes took it to a whole new level with his Jarnell Stokes obsession. Correctly noting that Stokes had only practiced four times and was in his first game in college, Dykes then took to acting as if the Tennessee Freshman was a basketball version of “Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer.” Apparently not familiar with our basketball ways, Dykes proceeded to (with increasing volume), tell us that Stokes didn’t know the plays or defensive sets, where things were on campus and (most bizarrely), “how to even stretch.” Dykes yelled, “I saw him yesterday and the guy couldn’t even stretch…can you believe that?” No Jimmy, we can’t. The former UK assistant seemed just one step away from trumpeting Stokes’ inability to properly conjugate a verb, warm up a Hot Pocket or breathe through his nose while sleeping. He turned the headbanded youngster into a walking basketball Frankenstein, unable to form basic human tasks, but able to “score the ball.” It became so bad that I had to not only turn the television off, I had to delete all phone numbers in my phone of people named Jimmy, on the off chance that I might accidentally dial Dykes and hear more of his rambling nonsense. Look, I am all for entertainment and making the game fun. I am an unabashed Dick Vitale fan and would watch Charles Barkley read the phone book for entertainment. But I simply cannot take anymore of Jimmy Dykes. His role as the lead announcer for the SEC coverage on ESPN means he will return multiple times, but when he does, I will instead simply blast Four Non Blondes’ “What’s Up” on repeat over the game. Even it won’t be quite as mind-numbingly hideous.
And with that, the ten takeaways from the weekend:
1. Cats Win a Gutsy One: If we wanted to, there would be much to critique about Saturday’s win in Knoxville. Kentucky started slow, played without toughness in the first half and still can’t consistently make shots. But that would miss the point of what may be the most resilient win Kentucky has had all season. Playing on the road, with most of their attempted offensive scheme thwarted, Kentucky gritted their way to a victory in a game that easily could have gone the other way. The second half saw all six of the main players make key contributions and the ability to close down the stretch was the best of the season. Tennessee with Jarnell Stokes all year might have been an NCAA Tournament team, and to win against them on the road after a poor first half, is quite impressive.
2. MKG is MVP : It is becoming difficult to think of more superlatives to put on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He is the unquestioned leader of this team and is the most consistent performer amongst all the top players. But more importantly, he is the heart and soul of the program right now and the one individual who unites all types of fans. Kids and old codgers all can agree that MKG is their favorite player and whether it is his hustle on defense, ability to grab all the important loose balls or infectious smile, he holds the current Kentucky group together. We learned on Sunday that at halftime in Knoxville, MKG yelled at his teammates to focus and gave an impassioned plea to play like they were capable. They did for much of the second half and Gilchrist was front and center throughout. No player has risen more than MKG this season and he is headed on a collision course with UK legend status very shortly.
3. Davis/Teague/Witljer: I was also impressed with the other three Freshman on Saturday, as each gave important contributions to the overall victory. Davis was once again a defensive stud and he will likely break the blocks record next week. But his ability to make a key late post-move could have given the team one of its most important shots. Teague shook off some early turnovers to once again make big plays down the stretch and he ran a much better floor game than many have given him credit for up to this point. And Kyle Wiltjer had one of his best stretches in a UK uniform, nailing a three, blocking a shot and coming up with an aggressive rebound. The Freshmen showed toughness in a hostile road environment and one has to like that result.
4. SEC Putrid Officiating: If not for the moronic comments of Jimmy Dykes, most of my ire tonight would have been for the officials Saturday. The crew missed nearly every close call of the night, and found a way to blow 8-10 crucial whistles throughout the game. Most were against UK, but all were consistently awful, with the worst offender the perpetually underachieving Roger Ayers. You may remember Ayers as being part of the crew that could not count to 6 in the Western Kentucky game and you might have assumed he would be under some sort of suspension. No dice. Instead, Ayers went to Tampa on Friday night and called the South Florida game (which ended at 9 pm) and somehow found himself in Knoxville at noon the next day for the UK-UT tip. He missed virtually every close call he made, most famously on the Marquis Teague charge call late in the first half. Not only did he get the original call wrong, he then grew rabbit ears long enough to call a Technical on Calipari from the opposite side of the court, turning a potential three point play for UK into a three point play for UT. That six point swing could have cost the Cats the game, but instead only served as a reminder that members of Congress are the only individuals able to keep their jobs while consistently performing worse than college basketball officials.
5. Cats Get a Good FB Commitment: There was good football news today as former Illinois commit Cody Quinn announced a verbal to Kentucky. Quinn is a 3 star DB from Ohio who is considered to be a borderline 4 star talent and may end up one of this classes top recruits. Quinn had offers from Illinois, Wisconsin, Purdue, West Virginia and Cincinnati and had received some late interest from Michigan and Michigan State. His verbal gives a shot in the arm to the UK football recruiting class and his impact on the field could be seen very soon.
6. Derek Willis: Mark your calendars for next Friday when Bullit East’s Derek Willis has announced that he will give his college decision. Willis is part of the 2013 class and his father stated this weekend that Derek had essentially made up his mind as to where he wants to go to school. With the terrible week that just finished for Louisville, one has to assume that the news could be positive for Kentucky, an assumption made more plausible by some internet reports suggesting Kentucky is the leader. I spoke with a source on Saturday who said that while Willis’s dad is a Louisville fan, most everyone believes Kentucky will be the pick and that if he went anywhere else, “all those around him would be shocked.” We shall see on Friday, when we learn if the Cats will get their first 2013 commitment from right under the Cardinals’ nose.
7. Nerlens Noel/Amile Jefferson: Two other UK targets were in television action on Sunday, when 2012 recruit Amile Jefferson and 2013 recruit Nerlens Noel both played in Springfield, Mass on the ESPN networks. Jefferson, who may have faded a bit to a secondary option for UK in recent weeks, says he will make a decision very soon and if that happens, I would be surprised if it is UK. The Cats are focused heavily on Shabazz and Anthony Bennett, as showcased by the fact that Calipari did not to arrive to the tournament until after Jefferson played. Still, UK is in the mix and may still play a role in the final pick. The bigger news is Noel, who is the best shot blocker I have ever seen in high school (including Anthony Davis) and who told reporters today that Kentucky has come to stand out a little bit in his recruitment. He is my favorite player in the 2013 class and one of my favorite in watching high school basketball period. If Calipari gets him, the 2013 class could become legendary and he might be the one person who could challenge the block record that Anthony Davis is about to set.
8. Cheerleading Dynasty Continues: The Cats won their 19th National Championship in cheerleading tonight, besting all the other schools that cheer in ways that surely left them quaking in their boots. I admit that I don’t know how cheerleading is scored or what makes a cheerleading team good, but I do know that UK is dominant and will continue its reign. Much props go out to the coaches and young men and women who work so hard to bring consistent success to the program. They sit right in front of us at games and no group works harder. We give them hearty congratulations and hope they will celebrate doing the Blue and White proud once again.
9. UK Women’s Team in First Place: Kentucky’s women’s basketball team is in sole possession of first place in the SEC after today’s road victory at South Carolina. Watching this team play over the past few weeks suggests that the notion that the program could have two Final Four teams in the same season is not farfetched at all. Matthew Mitchell’s group continue to play not only an exciting style, but they represent the new wave for women’s basketball. After beating Tennessee and with a loss by LSU today, the chance of Kentucky getting its first conference title since the 1980s becomes more real every day.
10. KSR Uncensored Podcast: On Friday night, Drew Franklin, Beisner, Turkey Hunter, Tomlin, Hubby and I spent the evening taping a two-part podcast on the 50 Greatest UK Players since probation. The final product is 2 1/2 hours and may be the most fun we have had as a group in the last few years. We basically passed on analysis to essentially share personal stories of the players and address some of the rumors that have surrounded the program from the past. We tell you which player finally helped Gillispie get the boot, the truth (or not) of some supposed chemistry killing stories of the past and we finally tell the Brassow story. It is a must get for any KSR fan and we will release it on Wednesday for 2 dollars. If you are a fan of KSR, you will like it. If you dont like us, you will hate it. Either way, it was much fun to do.
The radio show will be going in full effect in the morning as we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr day, review the weekend in news and look towards our future together when little black boys and girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and girls as brothers and sisters and scream in unison, “BTI SUCKS!”