Well, here we are. Back together again after a 24 hours of condolences and airing of grievances. I know we’re both happy to see that sun does indeed rise again this morning and doubly thrilled that we’re again on the cusp of some Kentucky basketball. Before we get our emotions all stirred up again about basketball, let’s first pause and give a hearty KSR salute to a Wildcat who is thriving away from home. Actor and noted Kentucky fan Josh Hutcherson (face painted above) is set for a big weekend as his film, The Kids Are All Right is nominated for best picture at Sunday’s Academy Awards. For those of you who have kids, you probably remember Hutcherson from films like Bridge to Terabitha, Journey to the Center of the Earth or Kicking and Screaming. And if you’re a sports blogger, you’re just writing that in a feeble attempt to make yourself feel better about dedicating this post to a teenage boy. I promise, it didn’t start out weird. It just ended that way.
Now onto a few UK notes…
– At this point, the post-Arkansas discussion and breakdown has covered essentially every angle of what happened Wednesday night in Bud Walton Arena. Kentucky made a lot of the same errors that have plagued their conference schedule and again fell to a team that didn’t really have the talent to compete, leaving us all with one question. What is this team’s upside? Throughout the early struggles and even in the non-conference successes, the rallying cry for all who discussed John Calipari’s squad was that they were going to get better as the year wore on. They had more upside than anyone in the country. They freshmen were going to take the next step. This team was going to look like a veteran squad and be a force by the time the tournament came around. With three regular season games remaining, that appears to have been a vast error in analyzing this team and probably rooted simply in the fact that freshmen were playing. At this point, you can legitimately make the point that this team has still not found a way to be a team consistently. They’ve won 19 games because they have talented parts, but they’ve shown no sign yet that they can be more than the sum of those parts – the team with the most upside. As I mentioned before, it just seems like a lot of the parts don’t fit together very well and that might have been what was underestimated the most. Brandon Knight has shown flashes of being a great point guard, but when you look at his best games, they are the ones that we all rave about his scoring. Terrence Jones isn’t a selfish player. I just don’t know if he has the right skills to make his teammates better. Everyone else has been inconsistent. Hypothetically, the light can still come on and they can take that next step together. This late in the season, though, you have to wonder if it’s just too late to expect anything different.
– Part of that struggle in taking the next step in becoming a formidable team and making that upside a reality is getting over the mental block of not playing in Rupp Arena. Mike Pratt noted on the radio Thursday that he believes the players in that locker room have let the road struggles creep into their minds as they hear about it from friends and family and whoever else is talking about it around them. With a 1-6 record on the road and so many of those games falling apart at the end, it’s hard to argue otherwise. If you lose one or two, that’s understandable. When you lose six games and you do it against teams you’d slaughter by 20 at home, that’s the sign of a mental block. The optimist in me wants to look at the SEC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament as neutral sites, rather than road games, and look at UK’s 3-1 record this year in those neutral site games and feel good about it. Truth is, though, this team isn’t the one that weathered Washington’s push in Maui or thoroughly handled Notre Dame in Freedom Hall. The psyche appears damaged and the only way it can be repaired is by winning away outside of Lexington. Sometimes, one game can be the catalyst for that and can shake off that rust. The Cats have to hope that’s the case and put together a strong showing in Knoxville and Atlanta to enter the NCAA Tournament with confidence that they can make a run.
– And while they’ll be returning to Rupp and looking to keep Calipari undefeated, they’re going to face a Florida team that is going to attack them where they looked the weakest Wednesday in Fayetteville. Though they had a chance to win on the game’s final possession in Gainesville, Kentucky struggled to rebound against a subtly physical Florida team and had trouble stopping a veteran team that could execute. It will be the same old story again for Kentucky Saturday against a Gators team that, if anything, has gotten better since they last played and is riding a six-game winning streak. They will again be challenged on the boards and will need to find maturity in executing down the stretch and avoiding bad fouls. If they can do so, they will not only get a win, but potentially find themselves a step closer to finally finding that elusive “upside”.
– On a happier note, UK target and presumed future commitment, Trevor Lacey, set an Alabama high school record Thursday, singlehandedly out-scoring East Lawrence in a playoff game. Lacey went for a playoff record 44 in his team’s 84-40 victory, which earned him a little bit of ire from the opposing team’s coach, who felt like they run up the score for no reason.
– Speaking of Lacey, there is still a little bit of happiness to be found for the few of you who were upset by the decisions of UK’s four 2011 All-American’s to skip a stop at the local all-star game. Lacey was named to the Derby City Festival Classic game, along with four Louisville commits and our dear old friend DeAndre Daniels. So, there you go. You can now sleep at night.
– And while we’re on the subject of waiting, former Clemson linebacker Brandon Maye will decide March 28 on which school will get his services in his final year of college football, according to Aaron Cordero. That might have been posted already. If it has, just know that it’s that extra important and be thankful you heard it again.
– This world needs more Todd Packer. More Todd Packer. That’s all.
That’s it for now. Stay tuned throughout this Friday for more Florida prep talk and a whole lot of fun. As usual, the fun gets going at 10am on Talk Radio 1080 with Kentucky Sports Radio. In the meantime, appreciate the random greatness of this Fan of the Day photo submitted by photographer Nema Etebar. It’s mesmerizingly awesome.
See you in a few…