BTI, hit the music. It’s finally here. In a calendar year that brought revival to the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team, the 365th and final day offers an opportunity to take a metaphorical dump on a $240 million jewel of a building. But, before the Cats and Cards can take the court and another youngster can etch his name into the history books as a hero of the final meeting this decade of one of college basketball’s most storied and bitter rivalries, let’s pause and salute one of this decade’s most surprising college basketball heroes. Former Georgia Tech center Luke Schenscher celebrates birthday number 28 Friday. Schenscher, as I’m sure you haven’t forgotten, was the floppy-haired big man for a Georgia Tech team that made a run to the NCAA title game in 2004 and gave Paul Hewitt a cushion to be the worst coach in college basketball for the remainder of the decade. After earnign a spot on the All-Final Four team, Schenscher broke the hearts of D-League coaches by returning to Atlanta for his senior year. After his eligibility concluded, he dabbled in the D-League for a bit and had a 10-day cameo with the Bulls before returning to Australia and deciding to look like this. But, no matter how far on the map his awkwardness in the post make take him, he’ll always be remembered for captivating college basketball for a short time in 2004. Somewhere in Kentucky, there’s a young man all snuggled up in bed, dreaming about joining you among college basketball’s great memories. Let’s just hope he’s wearing blue.
Now onto some UK notes…
– The big news of the day, obviously, was Rick Pitino’s announcement that he was keeping his zipper closed forward Rakeem Buckles would sit out this game with an injured finger. The injury is important on two fronts and goes well beyond his 8 points and 7 rebounds per game. The most obvious affect on the Cards is the issue of depth, where they held, perhaps, their only advantage over the Cats. With Buckles out, this not only forces a guy like Stephen Van Treese to pick up the minutes, but also leaves them without five fouls, something that could end up being very crucial in a pysical and emotionally charged game. But, his injury also removes one of the dreaded “long and athletic” frontcourt types that have given the Cats trouble so far this season. In their two losses (and the close game with Washington), both UK’s big men and guards struggled in getting good looks against frontcourts that weren’t necessarily physical, but played taller than they were. Even though Buckles runs like he has two torn ACLs, he was a guy who could have potentially presented a similar problem. Now, he has to spend the whole game wishing he was in the stands with a Double Down.
– If Louisville is going to beat Kentucky, there’s no question that they’re going to have to shoot the ball well from downtown. The Cards (and their fans, for that matter) are brimming with confidence and expect a frenzy of trifecas. When meeting with the media Thursday, Coach Cal gave the same “whatever happens, happens” speech that he gave prior to the Cornell game last season, saying that they would defend the shooters and contest shots, but if the Cards are hitting them, then they’ll win the game. Calipari said he expects the Cards to shoot 30 three-pointers in the game and, based on how they’ve played lately, you can’t blame them. But, despite what you’re hearing or reading on message boards, Louisville isn’t necessarily a great three-point shooting team. What they are is streaky. And, after their last two games, they’re looking to be pretty hot. But, as is the case with all streaky teams, when the shots stop falling, they’ll usually stop falling in bunches. Coach Cal’s insistence on changing nothing defensively appears to mean that the hopes are that Friday will be one of those games. If it is, it’s going to be a long day in Louisville. Besides, that team in blue can shoot the ball pretty well too…
– The other hot subject of the day was how Kentucky would respond to the hostile environment at the Yum! Center and if the game would turn heated in the opening minutes. Again, Coach Cal downplayed it and said that he doesn’t think his team will be phased and that he hopes the game will be “vicious” and “clean”. The players seemed to echo the sentiment to a certain degree, saying that playing in North Carolina got them prepared and that, for most of them, that was the game they circled on the calendar. With the vast majority of UK’s roster being made up by guys not from the area, it makes sense. However, if there has been anything apparent about the Yum! Center so far in its short existence, it’s that the environment is as rowdy as it is immaculate. Kentucky cannot afford to find itself in a hole early in the game or to get into foul trouble. If they allow the crowd and the Cards to play off of emotion, it’s going to be an uphill battle. Coming out under control and taking an early lead could take the air out of the crowd and, hopefully, the emotion out of a Louisville team that seems to thrive off of it.
– Friday also brought some more buzz around the recruitment of DeAndre Daniels. The five-star forward is back home after taking a trip to Texas and told Scout.com’s Evan Daniels that no decision has been made yet. Later Thursday, Adam Zagoria spoke with his AAU coach, who said a decision could come on Saturday. He still plans on enrolling early at his school of choice (likely UK or Kansas), but it remains undetermined if he will play this season. If he ends up with the Cats, you could assume that there will be a significant push to get him to suit up for the spring.
– This got lost in the afternoon notes, but it’s worth mentioning again. Boyle County linebacker Lamar Dawson won Mr. Football on Thursday. He remains a major target of Joker Phillips’ staff, but will still visit USC, Texas and Michigan. Dawson has also been picked to play in the Army All-American Bowl on January 8. If he commits to UK, he’d be the first UK commit since Micah Johnson to play in it.
– Finally, let’s all give a heartfult goodbye to the UConn women’s team. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
That’s it for now. Stay tuned to KSR as we keep you covered for the game. The Live Blog will start at 11:45 and the party will continue into the morning. Make sure you stick around. In the meantime, make sure you tell Jared that DeMarcus said hello.
12 hours. See you in a few…