I don’t know if you’ve heard anything at all about this, but tomorrow is Michael Jordan’s 50th birthday. Oh, you’ve been hearing about it on ESPN’s slate of 5-6 shows that essentially debate the same topics in different formats all week? Yeah, me too. Between the big birthday and the ongoing debate and banter about who is better: LeBron, MJ, Kobe or Muggsy Bogues… Jordan’s name has been in the news a lot this week. Jordan may be 50 years old, but word on the street is that he’s still “got it.” We learned yesterday that Jordan apparently recently beat NBA Rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in a game of 1-on-1.
We could honor Michael Jeffrey Jordan by talking about the championships, the “flu game,” the fact that he overcame being cut from his high school basketball team, the Hanes commercials, or his baseball career. All of those things are fine, and even admirable and worthy of discussion. I’d rather talk about his greatest achievement, at least in my eyes: Space Jam. The combination of cartoon characters and real people in movies usually works as well as the Kobe/Dwight Howard combination. Somehow though, Space Jam found a way to make it work. The music was great. The Monstars were great. Bill Murray proclaiming, “I don’t play defense” was good. Bugs Bunny really showed his acting chops, breaking his mold in his Bradley Cooper in “Silver Linings Playbook” type of performance. But for me the greatest moment in the entire movie, and one of my favorite moments in any movie period–is when the little aliens “steal the talent” from the NBA stars mid-game. If you can watch those scenes without at least chuckling slightly, you probably also hate puppies and national championships.
(Fast forward to the 40 second mark for a great Patrick Ewing free throw attempt)
And now on to the news and views from the day that we are all probably a little tired of talking about…
—– I’ve tried to think of a creative way to say it. Maybe even a clever way to say it, or an interesting new spin to put on the whole thing. When it comes right down to it though, to use John Calipari’s words, Kentucky got “womped on” by Tennessee 88-58. We’ve been dissecting the game since the conclusion here on KSR. Some things are worth repeating and rehashing, while others aren’t. I’ll take you through a few quotes, stats and thoughts from the game. —– Kentucky suffered its 8th loss of the season to move to 17-8 overall (8-4 in SEC play). Tennessee on the other hand improved to 14-10 overall, with a 6-6 mark in league play. More importantly, Kentucky is 0-1 in the Post-Nerlens portion of the season. In the final 7-8 minutes of the Florida game on Tuesday night after watching their beloved teammate and the heart beat of the team go down in traumatic fashion, the inability to mount a “response” was more than understandable. In a perfect world, you would like a team to be able to immediately respond with unbelievable heart in a moment like that. In reality, the players were likely still dealing with the shock of the situation, as well as the fear of the unknown. Today on the other hand was Kentucky’s true chance to respond to the injury of Nerlens Noel. I’ll be the first to admit that I fell into the category of people who still held out a glimmer of hope that this team could find a way to rally behind the loss of Noel. That glimmer was not completely extinguished today, but it’s simmering quickly. —– Aside from the 30-point drubbing, the hardest part about today’s game was the lack of overall positives to be taken from it moving forward. Kentucky was destined to miss Nerlens Noel on the defensive end of the court. We knew that going in, and right from the start Tennessee put on a lay-up clinic. Perhaps the most disturbing part of the first 15 minutes of the game was Kentucky’s inability to score. Kentucky was sitting on 12 points for a large portion of the first half. Kentucky’s defense was bad, but the offense looked as disjointed as it has all season. I counted at least 10 missed lay-ups for the game. And I wasn’t even actually keeping track very closely. Every now and then I would remember that I was keeping track– and I still counted at least 10. Everyone was guilty at some point, but Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress were the two main culprits. —– Tennessee does deserve a lot of credit for a well-played game. Tennessee looked as good as they have all season, and while a lot of that had to do with Kentucky’s play, you still have to give credit where credit is due. A lot of factors beyond Tennessee’s strong play went in to Kentucky losing to Tennessee today. Kentucky won’t win many games when the following things happen (and yes, they all happened today):
1) When Kentucky only scores 58 points
Unless you are in the Big 10, 58 points doesn’t often translate into a win. Kentucky’s lowest point total in a win on the season was 60 points against Vanderbilt. In every other win on the season, Kentucky has scored at least 70 points.
2) When Kentucky’s opponent scores 80+ points
Kentucky’s offense could have been hitting on a nice clip today and they still would have had trouble out-pacing Tennessee’s 88 points. Tennessee did not enter this game as an offensive powerhouse. In fact, they had been averaging around 60-65 points per game in SEC play as of late. The question without Noel for this team (that was already considered Calipari’s worst defensive team since arriving at Kentucky) is can they hold even the worst of the teams in the SEC to under 70 points?
3) When your top rebounder grabs 6 rebounds
Nerlens Noel was good for 9.5 rebounds per game. Kentucky had to find a way to replace those rebounds. I’m not sure they succeeded. The top 3 rebounders in today’s game were Kyle Wiltjer (6), Jarrod Polson (4) and Jon Hood (3). You simply aren’t going to win many games when those 3 guys are your top rebounders. Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress combined for 4 rebounds. That’s not a recipe for victory.
4) When 4 of your best players on paper have little to no production
Willie Cauley-Stein, Ryan Harrow, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin combined for 13 points (on 5-19 FG shooting), 6 rebounds and 10 turnovers. Read that again. #SMDreads
—– John Calipari tried to give the team a jolt when he started the game by shaking up the starting line-up. Alex Poythress and Ryan Harrow both found themselves on the bench to start the game. Jarrod Polson got his first start as a Kentucky Wildcat. Polson was joined by Julius Mays, Archie Goodwin, Kyle Wiltjer and Willie-Cauley Stein. —– We’ve talked about it on here all evening, but Jarrod Polson and Julius Mays have to be commended for their play. The game/the team can almost be summed up in 1 play that took place at the end of the half. Kentucky inbounded the ball with approximately 7 seconds left on the clock right before halftime. Julius Mays sprinted with the ball down the court in an attempt to get off a final shot before the buzzer. As Mays pulled up for the 3-pointer, 3 of Kentucky’s players stood and watched (2 of the players had jogged down the court). Jarrod Polson on the other hand came flying in for a put-back at the buzzer. —– The other troubling moment that stood out from this game came near the very end. Archie Goodwin drew a technical for losing his cool after a shove from a Tennessee player. Goodwin responded by getting up off of the ground and pushing the player in the back with two hands. The frustration from Goodwin seemed more deeply seeded than just a reaction to the initial shove. The next minute or two was what bothered me the most. Calipari was shown shaking his head in disgust at the play. Julius Mays didn’t even walk in that direction. Instead, he appeared to shrug and look annoyed at the entire situation–and rightfully so. His post-game comments showed that he is frustrated by his teammates’ lack of effort. And then the cameras showed the players as they were sitting on chairs in the huddle, waiting for the verdict on the technical foul. The faces were blank and the only way to describe the mood and overall look of the group would be “defeated.” —– Calipari has been pushing more buttons this season than perhaps he’s even had to push, trying to find something that will work for this team. He has thrown different combinations into the starting line-up. He’s sat players on the bench for large stretches of games to send a message. He’s strapped heart monitors to the players. He’s called upon former Wildcat Derek Anderson for inspirational words. He’s been nice about his team and individual players to the media. He’s been critical about his team and individual players to the media. Today he finally uttered the words about some of the players on this year’s team that we’ve all probably secretly suspected might be true for a while now– but also outwardly hoped could be overcome: “a couple of guys that are basically not real coachable.” Simple observation skills would lead one to believe that is talking about one or all of the following core group of players: Ryan Harrow, Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress. —– How many buttons are still left to press? —– We’ve talked about it enough at this point. Let’s close the book on the 30-point blowout today in Knoxville. Unfortunately this game will go down as one of those that you can reference to any Kentucky fan, at any point in time, and they will know exactly which game you are talking about (much like the embarrassing Vanderbilt loss during the Billy G era).
And if anyone out there is still a little disgruntled about Willie Cauley-Stein’s tweets from early, allow this picture to soothe your soul:
—– It’s hard to look too far into the future after a game like today’s, but Kentucky will have a chance to rebound at home on Wednesday night against Vanderbilt. Will the Big Blue Nation continue to turn out in droves for a mid-week game for a reeling Kentucky team coming off a 30-point blowout? How will the reception be? Will the patience wear then for the home crowd? Will the crowd try to literally “will” this team to victory? —– Tennessee’s big-time performance against Kentucky could almost be described as a “shark smelling the blood in the water” type of showing. Every team in the SEC knows Kentucky is extremely vulnerable right now following the loss of Nerlens Noel. Every team in the SEC with Kentucky left on the schedule has to feel like they can grab a win from this team right now. —– According to Adam Zagoria, he talked to an NBA GM tonight who said that outside of Nerlens Noel, this NBA Draft is so weak. The GM went on to say that “10 guys in 2014 would go No. 1 this year.” (Wiggins, Parker, Gordon, etc).
—– A few former Kentucky Wildcats tried to give Kentucky fans a moment of happiness tonight in the NBA All-Star game festivities. Brandon Knight competed in the most boring 32 seconds of basketball the “Skills Competition.” Brandon Knight finished with the second best time for the East squad.
—– Although Eric Bledsoe did not make the finals of the Slam Dunk contest, he did create quite the stir with his second dunk of the night. Bledsoe brought down the house with a high-flying slam that was even more impressive because he’s one of the smaller guys in the contest. The dunk received 10s from the judges, tweets from the masses, and a standing ovation from LeBron James.