Good morning, sweet KSR readers, and welcome to the second-to-last Wednesday News and Views of 2009. Since we’ve already given a shoutout to Festivus, which officially starts today, and since I spent the night finally starting Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball (it’s excellent so far), why not give a birthday shoutout to basketball player/blogger extroardinaire Paul Shirley? Most people (well, pretty much everyone), knows Shirley as a seldom-used NBA spare part who has found his niche as a writer, most notably as an ESPN blogger. Shirley rose to internet fame in 2005 when he started chronicling his basketball travels as a bench player on the Steve Nash-led Phoenix Suns revival. Shirley continued his blogging through 2008 and penned a book called “Can I Keep My Jersey?” and television pilot titled “The Twelfth Man”, which he says he’s still shopping around. Now, he can be found on ESPN blogging about music (his latest piece covers the top 10 albums of the year) and as one of the select few I follow on Twitter. Had he existed when I was a kid, it’s possible I would have spent more time singing “Like Paul, if I could be like Paul” and paid more attention in my writing classes, which would have been better for all of us. So, happy birthday to you, Paul Shirley. May you save me an extra role in your sitcom (I was on the pilot episode of “Wishbone”!) and may you appear on a KSR Podcast or Live Blog in the near future.
Now onto some UK news….
(1) As the Cats shake off their post-UK2K hangover, they’ll face a potential trap matchup against 6-5 Long Beach State at Rupp Arena, their third game in five days. The 49ers, who were picked to win the Big West Conference, not only pose a legitimate threat as a team who loves to get up and down the floor and shoot the three, but they likely will not be intimidated by the bright lights of Rupp Arena. Long Beach State has shown they’re not afraid to go toe-to-toe with the big boys under the watch of former Gonzaga and Minnesota coach Dan Monson and will head to Cameron Indoor Saturday, wrapping up a non-conference schedule that also saw them take on Notre Dame, UCLA, Clemson, West Virginia and Texas. UK, without question, has the most talent. If they don’t come to play at the very strange time of 1 pm or if they are a worn down from this week’s stretch of games, they could have more trouble than they expect.
(2) A few weeks ago, we mentioned that UK’s 38% three point percentage was the best for a UK team since 1995, which was a pleasant surprise given the low long-distance expectations at the beginning of the season. Since then, however, the Cats have raised their three-point percentage to 42%, which is the best in UK history. Pre-season predictions and perceptions aside, this number is even more surprising given the fact that the Cats don’t really have a single person that you would consider a “shooter”. But, that’s probably more of a tribute to the all-around talent they’ve shown so far. Eric Bledsoe is so phenomenally athletic and gets to the hole so easily that you probably haven’t noticed that his 54.8% is the second-best percentage in UK history – second only to Eric Manuel’s six of ten in 1988-89. Patrick Patterson’s 9-18 ranks him as the 5th-best single season shooter and John Wall’s 10-24 puts him 20th, but you’d classify neither as “shooters”. They’re just “basketball players” and that’s fine with me.
(3) In case you’ve forgotten, the football Cats take the field Sunday in the Music City Bowl and the most recent line has them as seven-point underdogs to Clemson. Rich Brooks is probably a lot happier about that underdog status than he apparently was when the Snuggie picture was posted this week, but I’m not so certain the Cats shouldn’t be favored. They’ll be playing what is essentially a home game in front of a decidedly pro-UK crowd and, with so many Tennesseans fired up about the game (see .com, Twitter), it wouldn’t be surprising to see them bring more fire out of the gates. Either way, we’re in for a great game Sunday night.
(4) Around this time every year, we talk about how important the bowl game is for reasons other than the actual game. So much of what happens in the bowl season is about next year (especially the extra practices) and this game is no different as Morgan Newton will start and look to basically lock up the starting job next season. Even if he throws for 900 yards and runs for 800 more, whoever the coach is next year will talk about a “quarterback battle” in the pre-season, but make no mistake about it. If Morgan Newton plays well, it’s going to take a lot for him to not start next year as a sophomore over the senior. For all the missed receivers and overthrown passes we’ve seen from him this season, he seems to have the intangible “it” factor you want from your quarterback. The players seem to play a little harder and have a little more faith when he’s on the field. Road wins against Auburn and Georgia as a true freshman help that. A bowl win over Clemson will only solidify his spot and give UK fans legitimate off-season optimism for the fifth consecutive year.
(5) Kansas again escaped a scare against a hit-or-miss Cal team Tuesday night, but even the most homer UK fan has to admit that the Texas Longhorns are quite impressive. I was a little skeptical of Rick Barnes’ team entering this season, which is surprising since they’re the only other NCAA team I even slightly root for (I grew up in Texas so it will be our secret, shhhh), but they’ve answered every challenge this year quite impressively. Tonight, they showcased their depth while running Michigan State off the court in the second half behind former UK recruit Damion James and what seemed like 2,000 guards. And, though he had 4 points in 12 foul-plagued minutes, any basketball fan has to enjoy watching Dexter Pittman play. I’d love to see UK battle it out with the Horns. In the Championship Game, of course.
(6) Meanwhile, not surprisingly, Indiana remains awful. For a state that continually turns out high school basketball talent at such a high level, the talent for the Hoosiers has been dreadfully low for a decade. They’ve landed only three five-star recruits since 2001 and only one (the thefted Eric Gordon) has come from the Hoosier State. I’ve said this before and I’ll say this again, but I remain skeptical of Tom Crean’s ability to make Indiana a consistent power. He’s had 20 wins only three of his seven non-Dwyane Wade seasons and advanced to the second round only once (we won’t talk about who they beat). He was billed as a perfect fit and a sure-lock to make the Hoosiers dominant. And while the talent level certainly is still low, I just don’t think he can be labeled as a home-run hire (of which there are very few). He seems like a nice guy though.
(7) In other overrated talke, Billy Donovan’s team has started their tank job early this season, after following up their home loss to Richmond with another home defeat to 5-5 South Alabama. After rising to #10 in the AP Poll with an 8-0 start, the Gators have lost three in a row. Let’s see if they can regroup against might American University next week.
(8) We wouldn’t be obeying our Title IX obligations if we didn’t give some love to the UK women’s basketball who won their school record 11th straight game Tuesday against Tennesse-Martin. The Cats got 25 points and six threes from Keyla Snowden and Victoria Dunlap even attempted the first UK women’s dunk late in the game. Matthew Mitchell apparently did get the memo that losing will not be tolerated in the basketball programs.
(9) Another story we didn’t hit today was the news that Bobby Hurley has defaulted on a $1 million loan with a Lexington bank. The former Duke point guard took out the loan for his horse racing business or something. So, on behalf of the KSR Family, let me be the first to say “F you and the horse you didn’t repay us for”.
(10) In a bit of house-keeping news, let us know if you have a Nashville venue interested in hosting the KSR Podcast this weekend. We’d like to record it Saturday night or Sunday afternoon. If you’re interested, email Matt at [email protected].
(11) Speaking of podcasts, don’t forget to get your 2,000th win t-shirt from our buddies at Fan Outfitters. If you’re thinking of holding out for the 3,o0oth shirt, remember we’ll probably be wearing space suits by then and you won’t be able to afford one. It’s a steal!
(12) Finally, if you’re one the proud readers continuing to revive the economy by working Wednesday, check out the KSR Live Blog for the Long Beach State game. They say Matt Jones doesn’t care about the working man, but this surely proves them wrong. Remember that when the big political announcement comes.
Believe it or not, that’s it for now. Enjoy your Wednesday and say a prayer for me as I revive my golf game for the first time in six years. It could be uglier than a Steve Phillips mistress. Stay tuned throughout the day as we bring you….well, the Long Beach State 49ers! What else do you need? In the meantime, enjoy this teaser from Coach Cal’s “In My Own Words”, which aired on Fox Sports Tuesday night. See you in a few….