Today has been a very interesting day (and not just because it represented the one year Anniversary of Jones and Bruce opening its doors). ESPN did a front page website feature on the basketball team from Elliott County, led by Jonathan Ferguson. The story is written by Pat Forde (our burrito-loving friend) and is a wonderful look at the team that has the potential to create a magical run in Rupp Arena in a few weeks. I have been following Elliott County for the last three years, after seeing the team play in Lexington one summer over Christmas break. The story has now been told by writers much better than I, but the excitement the team is generating in Eastern Kentucky is hard to exaggerate. My father, who isnt really a huge sports fan and whose basketball watching consists of the occasional UK game, has asked me about Elliott County and has said that he is going to follow their postseason run. There is something about the group of young men from Appalachia and their very real opportunity to win one for the little guy. They opened up their postseason run on Tuesday night and won their first round district game…..barely over East Carter by 5 points…..a sign that the attention may have them a bit nervous. I am going to be making a trip to see the guys in the 16th Region Tournament next weekend and we will use the blog to follow America’s newest darling team over the coming three weeks.
To the news…..
(1): Its all South Carolina all the time as the Cats prepare for the game that could ensure a trip to the NCAA Tournament. As the various bubble teams have dropped games over the last ten days, it is becoming more likely that the Cats can still punch a ticket to the NCAA Tournament with 2 wins in their last 4 games, especially if one of those wins is against a team in the SEC East competing with them for a Tournament slot. With Florida’s loss tonight, the Cats can jump into first place in the SEC East by themselves if they can win in Columbia, while a loss would likely make it impossible to win the conference by giving South Carolina a crucial tiebreaker advantage over the Cats. The importance of the game cant be overstated and the Cats realize what is at stake.
(2): It looks as if the folks in Columbia also understand how big the game is Wednesday as they are expecting their first sellout of the season for the game. The relatively new arena in South Carolina holds 18,000 people and has only sold out three times since it opened in 2002. This will be one of those times and the folks in Columbia are calling it the biggest game to take place there in the last decade. With all that emotion, the matchups for the Cats will be especially crucial. Darrin Horn said today that he expected to use Devan Downey on Jodie Meeks for much of the game….an interesting decision since it will certainly effect Downey’s ability to produce on the offensive end. Getting Meeks open shots will be a crucial factor on Wednesday night, but equally important will be cutting off the open three point looks for the Gamecocks, who absolutely torched Kentucky with open threes in Lexington.
(3): ESPN has been following UK for game prep throughout today and what they saw was a team focused on trying to find the correct roles for each player for this game. Gillispie had this to say on the topic of whether the players have known their roles so far this season:
“We are very far away from that. They have been defiant. Every single person has to defensive rebound much better. We have to help defend much better. We have to offensive rebound much better. We have to reverse the basketball better. We have to feed the post better. And when you talk about those things that need improving as a team, those are the things that individuals must do to improve as a team and we are not doing that right now.”
(4): Billy also made the case today for Jodie Meeks as the Player of the Year. UK Athletics launched an aggressive attempt at marketing Jodie for the National Player of the Year award by creating a website to promote Jodie’s play, getting him ready for more media appearances in the coming weeks and scheduling a live chat on Friday with the fans and Jodie. While it is very unlikely that Meeks will actually pick up the award (it looks as if Blake Griffin has emerged as the consensus winner), the campaign and the heightened publicity generated by UK for its basketball players this year may very well propel Meeks to make many First Team All American lists. If so, he would become the first player to make multiple lists (Bogans made a couple of singular lists) since Ron Mercer in 1997. It couldnt happen to a nicer kid and one on whose shoulders so much of this season has rested.
Its South Carolina day on here….we tell you all you need to know about the big game in Columbia and bring up the South Carolina games of the past that you loved and hated. It is a big day in UK land…..lets get ready….