We are now in the midst of John Calipari’s 3rd season as the coach of the University of Kentucky. Over the next few months, we’ll see whether he will finally be able to do what he’s being paid to do: Win an NCAA Championship. The stakes are high, but so are the pressure and expectations. Will the team flame out of the 2012 NCAA Tournament the way it did the prior two years? Will it suffer (almost) double-digit losses like it did last year? Will Coach Cal once again produce fewer NCAA Championships than first round draft picks? (h/t: Rick Bozich.) Stay tuned. In the meantime, to stay apprised and educated, follow me on Twitter @NotJerryTipton. Here’s the weekly notebook:
*I Need Love: Last Thursday, Minnesota beat Indiana. This is awful news for Big Blue Nation. In a mere 40 minutes, former Kentucky coach Tubby Smith accomplished something that Calipari has only been able to do once in his three seasons at Kentucky: He won at Indiana. In the loss, the Hoosiers shot a mere 4 for 18 from three point range, as compared to the 9 for 15 they managed against UK. The defense played by Tubby’s Gophers was so stifling that IU was forced to miss wide open threes all night long, which is in contrast to the Kentucky game, in which the Cats allowed the Hoosiers to connect on several contested deep balls. To make matters worse, the victory was clinched when Minnesota pressured IU into making an unforced error in the closing seconds, which is the exact opposite of how the Cats handled the last possession, where they let Christian Watford hit a difficult three at the buzzer. While Minnesota is still at the bottom of the Big 10 standings and UK is undefeated in SEC play, the two teams appear to be heading in different directions at this point. Though they would never admit it publicly, one has to wonder whether UK fans and the UK administration are starting to second guess their decision to run Tubby out of town.
*I’m Bad: Heading into the game against Arkansas, Kentucky led the SEC in free throw shooting at 72%. This is awful news for Big Blue Nation. Calipari’s best teams have always struggled from the line, yet this team seems to have no problem knocking down freebies. In addition to being a bad omen for UK fans, it also serves to give UK players a false sense of security that they will be able to pull out close games in crunch time by hitting free throws when they have to. And not only does Calipari’s history suggest that missed free throws is best path to success (the 2008 Memphis team and the 2010 Kentucky team were arguably the best teams in the country those seasons and they were both abysmal from the charity stripe), but Kentucky’s history says the same thing. Case in point: The 1997 Cats, who were NCAA runners-up. That squad was sub-par from the line (as evidenced by their 9 for 17 outing in the title game, including a perfect 0 for 6 from Nazr Mohammed), yet it was a single point away from winning a national championship. In order for the 2012 Cats to reach the Promised Land, they simply must start missing free throws.
*Mama Said Knock You Out: On Tuesday, The Los Angeles Athletic Club released its 25 midseason finalists for the Wooden Award, and UK freshmen Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were both on the list. This is awful news for Big Blue Nation. Thus far this season, the Cats have been incredibly fortunate to have avoided any of the turmoil, infighting or distractions that usually accompany a roster full of high school All-Americans. However, it appears Calipari’s luck is over. Not only will both of these players now start fighting it out over points, rebounds and hosannas from the media, but they will also be fighting it out for the attention and adoration of Kentucky fans. Consider: One message board thread devoted to this subject contained the following post from “CATS4EVER,” who was apparently irate that Kidd-Gilchrist made the list: “Yaaaayyy!!! Go Anthony!! LUV YOU!!!” A few moments later, tempers flared when “MarryMeMKG” appeared: “OMG I AM SOOOOO HAPPY FOR YOU MICHAEL!!!” Calls to the mothers of each of these young ladies (they are both 11 years old, and are not yet allowed to own cell phones) were not returned, so it has not yet been confirmed that these two young girls did not subsequently engage in fisticuffs in a Kroger parking lot. In the meantime, please keep them in your prayers.
* On this date: On about this date in 2009, Kentucky won at Tennessee, 90-72. UK junior Jodie Meeks set school records with zero offensive rebounds and zero blocked shots.