Confession: I fell in love with Mark Pope all over again Wednesday night.
The answer is in the .GIF. It’s so awesome.
When Mark Pope appeared on the video boards during a timeout in the first half Wednesday night, I expected a sentimental, yet simple message to the fans. Maybe he’d give a loud “Go Big Blue!” or a shout-out to his former teammates who were in attendance. Never in a million years did I, or anyone, think Mark Pope would rip off his suit to reveal his full getup from his playing days at Kentucky, before giving a loud and passionate “C-A-T-S! CATS! CATS! CATS!”
But that’s exactly what he did. And it was amazing.
Pope, now an assistant coach at BYU, was unable to attend Wednesday night’s ’96 reunion and ring ceremony, but he left his mark on the evening. With so many Kentucky greats on hand to receive their championship rings and individual ovations from the crowd, Mark Pope is the player we’re talking about 30 hours later. His video message not only fired up the crowd in Rupp Arena, and continues to entertain us via YouTube tonight, but it epitomized the passion for Kentucky basketball that’s instilled in everyone who has been a part of it. Pope is 40 years old now and employed by another basketball program, but he’s still bleeding blue, all the way out there in Provo, Utah.
“I love you guys,” Pope said in his video.
Big Blue Nation loves you too.
With three games remaining on the schedule, Kentucky, Alabama and Florida are in a race for the regular season conference crown and the coveted one seed in the SEC Tournament. Florida currently sits atop the standings and should lock up the top seed in the conference tournament, barring a collapse down the final stretch.
A look at the top three:
FLORIDA (22-5, 12-3)
KENTUCKY (20-8, 11-4)
ALABAMA (19-9, 11-4)
@ Ole Miss
Realistically, Kentucky fans need to worry about locking up that two seed ahead of Alabama and forget about the one seed. It’s still possible to earn the tournament’s top seed, but it’s also very unlikely. Even if Kentucky were to win out, which would include a win over Florida, Florida would also have to lose this Saturday’s game against Alabama or at home to Vanderbilt on Senior Night (not happening.) A Florida win this Saturday would give the Gators the tiebreaker over Kentucky, if both teams were to finish at 14-4 in the conference.
There are a million other scenarios that can still play out, so there’s no point in attempting to dissect them all now, but it appears the best case scenario is to surrender that one seed to Florida in our minds and hope for a two seed and maybe a share of the regular season championship. Things get really complicated if Alabama beats Florida, then Kentucky is looking at anywhere from an unlikely two-seed to a three or four.
Of course, all this talk is based on wishful thinking that Kentucky finishes strong. The Cats need to win two of three to ensure a spot at No. 2 or No. 3 in the tourney. There are a handful of teams, including a hot Tennessee team, patiently waiting for Kentucky to slip up and drop a few spots in the standings. That’s what we can’t have happen.
If you’re going to Nashville and enjoy a good night out on the town, you should really hope to lock up the two seed to avoid playing that ‘Seed #3 vs. Game 6’ winner game at 10:00 p.m. Friday night. The four seed plays early Friday afternoon, which would be ideal for the party animals, but it would put the Cats on the same side of the bracket as the No. 1 team. No thanks.
Enough with all the talk of the future, it’s important for Kentucky to take this final stretch one game at a time. That means 100% focus on Saturday’s game at Arkansas. The Razorbacks are 7-0 at home in conference play this season, including an 11-point win over No. 2 Florida last month. However, Arkansas has slipped up a little bit in its last two home contests; it needed a layup in the final seconds to beat Georgia by two and a pair of free throws in the final seconds to beat Missouri by two. It sounds like Mike Anderson’s squad is primed for a home loss on Saturday.
Mark Stoops and Kentucky football had quite a day on Thursday. Ticket distribution for the spring game got underway Thursday morning and Day 1 exceeded expectations. As of closing time at the UK ticket office, over 23,000 tickets were reserved for the annual scrimmage. That figure doesn’t include any online orders on Ticketmaster.com after 5:00 p.m., so it’s actually much higher, maybe even in the billions. #StoopsEffect
Thursday wasn’t just about feeding the hype machine, Stoops also added another member to the 2013 recruiting class. Melvin Lewis, a 6-foot-4, 320-pound defensive tackle, signed with Kentucky out of Fullerton Community College in California. He picked the Cats over Hawaii, Washington and Miami. Though Lewis has the size of an SEC defensive lineman, he may redshirt next season to develop his technique and work to be a two-year contributor for the defense in 2014. Redshirting is okay be him, he says. Welcome aboard.
Ben Roberts from the Herald-Leader spoke with Rob Fulford, Andrew Wiggins’ head coach, Thursday night and Fulford reiterated what we all already know: it was crucial to have Wiggins’ parents on campus this week. Fulford said he believes Florida State would be a lock had Wiggins not been accompanied by his parents on his official visit. Mama and Papa Wiggins have been set on their son attending Florida State, but maybe Coach Cal was able to sway them a little during their conversations on Thursday. Wiggins won’t discuss his recruitment until after his remaining two visits, so it’ll likely be another week or so before we know for sure how the visit went and where his recruitment stands as it winds down.
I actually feel bad for Kansas…
Louisville’s are bad, but they’ll be able to pull it off. And no one cares what Notre Dame, Cincinnati or Baylor wear. But Kansas and UCLA? Wow. James Naismith and John Wooden don’t deserve this.
In NCAA Tournament news, Kentucky’s tournament chances took a minor hit Thursday night when Virginia upset No. 3 Duke. Virginia was a bubble team entering the game but the win will surely bump the Cavaliers into the tourney, taking up one of the spots Kentucky is fighting to claim.
That’ll do it for now.
See you back here in the morning with a hard-hitting post from Corey Nichols at 9:00 a.m.