It’s that time of week again. Time to take an unbiased look at what’s happening with Coach Cal, World Wide Wes, and the overly-hyped freshmen who seem to comprise the UK roster each year. This season, the team hopes to make the NCAA Tournament (though this is looking doubtful), obtain a favorable draw, and a relatively simple path to the Final Four. They also hope against hope that unlike the previous Final Fours in which John Calipari has coached, this one will stick. For those who want to stay informed and educated, follow me on Twitter @NotJerryTipton. Here’s the weekly notebook:
* Hillbilly Rock: Kentucky fans have always had a special place in their hearts for homegrown kids, particularly those from the eastern part of the state. With that in mind, it has to be troubling for UK fans that there are no players from Kentucky, much less eastern Kentucky, in next year’s recruiting class. Adolph Rupp, in speaking of recruiting players from that region of Kentucky, famously said “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.” John Calipari, on the other hand, has never recruited an eastern Kentuckian. Coincidentally, Adolph Rupp won 4 national championships, and John Calipari has won zero national championships. Coincidence? Unlikely. Furthermore, Calipari seems reluctant to take advantage of the Kentuckians he does have on his roster, as evidenced by the paucity of playing time seen by local legends Jon Hood and Jarrod Polson. They may not be from eastern Kentucky, but they are native Kentuckians, and they know what it means to don that uniform. Could either of them scored the one point it would have taken to defeat Arkansas in regulation Wednesday night? We’ll never know.
* There’s Your Trouble: John Calipari has long prided himself on how well his teams play defense. As such, the current group of Cats have to be frustrating to the head coach. Kentucky currently ranks 294th in the country in total (free throw) defense. Opponents are shooting extremely well against UK (from the foul line), and in several close games, this dead-eye marksmanship has been the difference between winning and losing. For example, in Kentucky’s 2 point loss to Florida, the Gators shot 18 of 22. Had they shot their normal (free throw) rate of 66%, then Kentucky wins. Likewise, had Arkansas hit 12 of 18 (their normal rate) instead of 14 of 18, then UK would have defeated the Hogs in regulation. Now, compare UK’s tissue-soft defense, which allows a robust 72% (foul) shooting, to the numbers put up by SEC division leaders Florida and Alabama, whose opponents are shooting 65% and 66%, respectively. If UK could manage to demonstrate the same kind of intensity and effort on the defensive end (when opponents are shooting free throws) as the Gators and Tide, then the Cats could very well be in 1st place in the SEC East, instead of next to last place.
* It Matters to Me: In a recent article, my pal Rick Bozich ruffled some Big Blue feathers when he criticized UK’s incoming freshman class for opting to play in the McDonald’s All-American game and Jordan Brand Classic, rather than the Derby Festival Classic (rules prohibit players from participating in all three games). With all due respect to these young men and their families, Rick is right. These kids owe it to UK fans to play in the game. Of course, some would argue that the vast majority of Kentucky fans won’t be able to see the DFC, as opposed to the other two games, which will be broadcast on ESPN. Or they might say that UK fans would much rather see these recruits match up against other top 20 players, as opposed to the far less talented players playing in the DFC. Even others would contend that UK fans will have plenty of chances to see these kids next year — in games that actually matter — when they suit up for UK. One more argument is that the DFC is an obscure, provincial affair, as evidenced by the fact that Mike Gilchrist “had never even heard of” the Derby Classic prior to receiving his invitation to participate in the mail. But what about tradition? After all, playing in the Derby Festival Classic, rather than the McDonald’s and Jordan games, was good enough for Morakinyo Williams, wasn’t it?
* Here in the Real World: During the 1989-90 season, which was Rick Pitino’s first at UK, the Cats were only able to manage one road win in the SEC all season long. The current team has also won just one away game in the SEC this season, a number that figures to remain intact after the Cats visit Knoxville next weekend and lose to the Vols. In other words, the two teams are identical. However, one may remember that the 1990 Cats were beloved, and earned the affectionate nickname of “Pitino’s Bombinos,” while the current group is often criticized, and given the derisive nickname of “The UnClutchables.” Contrasting the different treatment the two teams have received, only one conclusion is reachable: Kentucky fans have gotten more demanding. What was just fine 20 years ago is no longer acceptable. Why the change? One person has an idea. Zipp, a blogging journalist on Bleacher Report, has opined that “Kentucky is NOT an elite program not even close, and the sooner there dumb redneck fans except this, the better off they’ll be LOL.” This opinion is likely not a popular one in UK Land, but it’s important to remember that people outside of Fayette County have opinions as well.
* Happy Birthday: Finally, a Happy Birthday to Monquerrious Jenkins, best known for composing the smash-hit “Sandstorm.” The song, which gained national prominence after played exactly 312 times during South Carolina’s epic win over Kentucky in Columbia last year, is beloved by Kentucky fans of all ages. Monquerrious turns 27.