You know them. You hate them. They low down. They dirty. They some snitches. And tonight they come strolling into Rupp with their forgetful flirter back in tow after serving an eight-game suspension. Before the Cats get going in a battle between border states, it’s worth mentioning the headlines made by a NFL hero with ties to both states. Former Morehead State quarterback Phil Simms engaged in near-fight with a fellow Super Bowl MVP over the weekend when he confronted ESPN’s Desmond Howard about his assertion earlier in the year that Simms’ son Matt, former blunt roller for the Cards and current Vol quarterback, was one of the three worst signal-callers in the SEC. Simms called Howard a “fraud” and they apparently both agreed to a fight before security intervened. On a New York radio show Monday, Simms somewhat apologized for the altercation, though he still refuses to apologize to the Texas Longhorns, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Denver Broncos, the Louisville Cardinals and the Tennessee Volunteers for his kids.
Now onto a few UK notes…
– It seems that with each passing game, the importance of the next matchup multiplies and the shakedown with the Vols is no different. With the Cats essentially already waving goodbye to a shot at the SEC regular season title, the game in Rupp becomes important in terms of not only protecting the only place they seem to be capable of winning anymore, but also for seeding in the SEC Tournament. A win over the Vols would push Kentucky back into second place in the East, which now becomes the carrot that they must chase for the season’s final eight games. Earning the second seed for the SEC Tournament earns the Cats a bye, which in most years is more of a luxury than it is a necessity. With such a thin and increasingly fatigued (more on that later) roster, it becomes almost essential if they want to make a push for a conference tournament title and a boost in their NCAA Tournament seeding.
– After Florida’s less-than-imposing frontcourt of Macklin-Tyus-Parsons combined for 36 points and 19 rebounds against them Saturday night, the Cats will again face a major test from a Tennessee frontcourt that isn’t necessarily athletic, but has been effective – especially in rebounding the ball. The good news for the Cats is that Brian Williams, who averaged 17 points and 9 rebounds in two games before Saturday’s loss to Alabama, presents a more favorable matchup for Josh Harrellson than some of the more agile and athletic big men he’s faced in conference play so far, and freshman Tobias Harris, who is putting up 15 and 8 per game this year, doesn’t have the significant height advantage that has given Terrence Jones fits this season. However, they form what is arguably the conference’s best frontcourt and, if nothing else, will hit the boards hard and make both play defense in the post. Staying out of foul trouble will again be key, but, on paper at least, this seems to be a favorable matchup for the duo of Jones and Harrellson and a great opportunity for Jorts to get a little of his confidence back.
– Along that same note, for Kentucky to take a step away from the crisis that Calipari spoke of Monday, it’s going to start with the veteran trio of Miller-Liggins-Harrellson. Returning home should hopefully help Darius Miller, who has put up 15 points and 6 rebounds per game in the last four home contests get back on track. For Josh Harrellson, just staying on the court and out of foul trouble gives marked improvement. DeAndre Liggins, who Coach Cal wants to get 8-10 shots per game, should also be set for a good game as he’s posted 26 points in the last two home games – both of which saw him take 10 shots. Calipari said last week that the veterans are going to have to carry this team. That’s not true. What they do have to do, however, is give them just enough to win the game. Tuesday seems to be set up nicely for one of those bounce back contests.
– Through the many ups and downs of this team so far, Coach Cal has been pretty consistent in his stance that fatigue is not bothering his team and that playing with a six-man rotation is sufficient. In his chat with the media Monday, Doron Lamb at least acknowledged the fatigue issue slightly, saying that players sub themselves out sometimes when they are tired and that they are trying to learn to play through it because they know there are “only a few guys that we are playing”. He said that the team has to learn how to play through being tired and find a way to finish the games. You would think that finding a couple more guys to contribute would be an added bonus. Eloy might be getting there. Jon Hood and Jarrod Polson showed flashes against Florida. It almost seems essential at this point that they find ways to steal minutes.
– No matter what Bruce Pearl might say, Scotty Hopson will play. I don’t care if he’s listed as questionable, doubtful or deceased. He will play.
– Interestingly, despite their struggles lately, the Cats enter the game as 9.5 point favorites over the Vols. Granted, two of the three home victories in conference were by over 20 points, but they were against Auburn and LSU. Tennessee, meanwhile, is 3-1 on the road in SEC play, only losing at Arkansas by three points. I think Drew Franklin had something to do with this.
– Finally, a tough loss Monday for Matthew Mitchell’s team as they dropped a home contest to Pat Summitt’s team despite fighting like crazy and taking a lead with six minutes left in the second half. The crowd at Memorial Coliseum was loud for the nationally televised game and it was a fine effort by the 18th-ranked Cats. Now it’s up to the men for redemption.
That’s it for now. Stay tuned throughout the day as we get you all set for Coach Cal’s team finding a way to get back on track for the final stretch of the regular season. As usual, Matt and Zach will get it going with Kentucky Sports Radio on Talk Radio 1080 at 10am. In the meantime, just remember these wise words:
See you in a few…