This is a big week for UK basketball. As I will go into a bit further down, this is the week where Kentucky could all but lock up a NCAA berth or all but assure itself that it won’t have one, depending on the results. And a big part of the storyline for the week will be the newest college basketball psycho talent, Marshall Henderson. The above moment from the Auburn game on Saturday night has already become legendary on the internet. Writers have poured over the many wonderful reactions in the crowd (the fans at Auburn express virtually every emotion possible as Henderson taunts them…there are many I like, from the guy who takes his hat off and curses, to the old man who stands up ready to throw down, but my favorite is the girl in Auburn pajamas and her expression when what looks to be a fathead is tossed from the rows above her…utter terror), but the main point of the moment is that Marshall Henderson is a star to be reckoned with. He currently leads the SEC in scoring at 19 points a game. He averages four made Threes every night, shoots 86% from the line and has been deadly in big occasions all year. With that said, he is also notorious for having terrible decision-making skills, poor shot selection and the ability to win, or lose, a game for his team at any minute. Over the next two days, you will see a lot of Marshall Henderson on this site as we get your prepared for the one player UK has to stop in order to win its biggest game of the year. My hope is that we see more of this Marshall:
and less of the confident, trash-talking Marshall:
If Henderson is making the face above, chances are he is doing things to UK that will make getting a huge win in Oxford nearly impossible. To the storylines for the week:
1. It is Judgment Week for the Cats:
The next six days will do more to determine whether Selection Sunday is a positive day for UK fans or the beginning of a flood of summer tears than any other week this season. Kentucky is facing two games that at the beginning of the season, would have potentially been seen as acceptable losses. A top 20 Ole Miss team on their home court and a Texas A&M team playing a huge home game in their first SEC season would have been understandable losses for a young, maturing UK team. But unfortunately, the Cats now don’t have that luxury. After losing at home to Baylor and the Aggies, Kentucky now faces a situation where this week has become crucial. If Kentucky wins both games, the NCAA Tournament is almost a certainty…lose both and it becomes unlikely. Split the two games and Kentucky is right where it is at this point…in limbo. In fact, for John Calipari’s team this week creates a huge opportunity. If Kentucky is able to get two big wins, they all of a sudden become a team on the rise with potential to do some real damage over the last few weeks of the season. Florida is almost certain to win the conference, but if the Cats win these two games, Kentucky is likely to finish in the Top three and be set up for a potential SEC Tournament win in a blue-clad Nashville. More importantly, with some almost certain UK wins ahead (home games versus Auburn, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State) and doable road games (South Carolina, Arkansas and Georgia), two wins would put Kentucky in a situation in which they can start playing for seeding rather than their Tournament life. I feel very confident about the game in College Station. The Aggies had a once in a lifetime performance and the Cats will want revenge. But a lot of the momentum of the season could come down to the game in Oxford on Tuesday. With Morgan Freeman in attendance, Kentucky needs to have a Million Dollar Baby performance, in which they become a Dark Knight that rises and play for the Glory that a victory would bring, while making a Deep Impact on the conference race before their overall record makes them Gone Baby Gone.
2. Willie Cauley-Stein Returns
While there is no official word, it is expected that Willie Cauley-Stein will return at some point this week. WCS would have a huge impact on the Ole Miss game, as the Rebels’ physical play could cause foul trouble and potential issues on the boards. The Cats haven’t missed Cauley-Stein a lot on the boards, as they have controlled rebounding in all three of the games he has missed. However some of the Cats’ struggles down the stretch in games can be traced to the fatigue of having to play 35+ minutes, especially for guys like Kyle Wiltjer and Julius Mays. The infamous “Twin Tower” lineup hasn’t been all that effective this season, in part because Noel and WCS havent been able to consistently hit the 12 foot jumper. But Cauley-Stein is able to help guard some of the bigger players and when both guys are in, scoring at the rim is a near impossibility. Against both Ole Miss and Texas A&M, the key player will be Archie Goodwin (especially on the defensive end where he will be required to defend Marshall Henderson and Elston Turner). But with Cauley-Stein giving UK its full compliment of players for the first time in two weeks, the CAts will get a bit more flexibility, where they have recently had none.
3. Which of the Big Football Recruits Commit?
A huge weekend of football recruits on campus. Let’s give some quick updates:
Marcus McWilson: The 4 star Safety has become one of the biggest potential gets for UK in the recruiting class and would represent a huge flip by Mark Stoops. There were reports that he committed to UK this weekend, but they were premature. But what he did do was decommit from Nebraska, a huge first step to getting McWilson to Lexington. He visited UK and by all indications, it went very well. I would say he is still very likely to end up a Cat.
James Hearns: The 4 star LB who was once a Florida commit seems very close to pulling the trigger for the Cats. He did an interview with Rivals.com after his visit this weekend in which he denied reports that he committed to UK (the BBK reports were 0-2 on correctness this weekend), but did not that the Cats were his leader. Most everyone believes Hearns ends up in Lexington and if he does, then the question only becomes whether he can get academically eligible.
Jeff Badet: The Florida Wide Receiver was almost a certain UK commit at the beginning of the weekend. However a wrench got thrown into the equation when he received an offer this week from UCLA. His friend and QB Asianti Woulard is now expected to pick UCLA, and there is some worry that he may end up following him to the bright lights and big city of Los Angeles. He is scheduled to visit UCLA this weekend. UK is the leader, but the situation is slightly more tenuous now than it was just a few days ago.
Jason Hatcher: The biggest news of the weekend came from the Trinity High 4 star Defensive End who ended up visiting Lexington in a surprise. Hatcher had been scheduled to visit Louisville, but he cancelled at the last minute. While he told the Courier Journal that his decision to go to Lexington was not one based on a visit (instead he was just “hanging with friends” at the UK game), he was received well at the game and sat with the UK student section for a time. Kentucky is the favorite for Hatcher at this point and if the Cats can pull off his commitment, it will be potentially be the biggest moment of the recruiting season.
Ryan Timmons: Another surprise visit to Lexington was Timmons, who is choosing between the Cats, Ohio State and Florida. Timmons has been a huge focal point for the staff and has been seen by Neal Brown more than any other player. He is the type of explosive athlete that would be a star in the Neal Brown system and his decision may be the most “down to the wire” of all. Most believe Kentucky has an advantage over Florida, but Ohio State will be the wildcard. They had not offered Timmons until this week…will that play a factor in his decision? It remains to be seen.
Finally, Keith Kelsey, a LB from Florida, will be making his decision at 8:30 am on Monday. He is choosing between Kentucky, Louisville and South Florida. He visited Lexington this weekend and the visit apparently went well. However there is a family connection with Charlie Strong, and thus they have been considered a favorite. Some internet reports predict a UK selection, but as of now, I can’t confirm those beliefs. We will all find out together in the morning.
Until then, a note from Memphis tonight….
and the group of obnoxious Kentucky fans here are now chanting for Darius Miller to be put in the game…
— Jon Roser (@Jon_Roser) January 28, 2013
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