Lets start by making a point that should be obvious. If anyone needed a dose of perspective in life, the events in Tuscon, Arizona showcased this weekend that no matter how bad a series of sporting results and decisions may be, in the grand scheme of things, they are meaningless. The vast majority of fans understand this and thus when we talk about “worst weekend ever,” the assumption is that everyone knows we mean in the utlimately irrelevant world of sports (someone tell John Clay that, as his column for Monday’s newspaper takes random insane, inappropriate comments to Pete Thamel on Twitter, combines them with a shot at KSR’s obviously in jest Louisville Hate Week and then compares them to the shootings in Arizona. I find that to be highly inappropriate, but due to a respect for my blood pressure, thats a rant for another day). Sports are not life, but they surely did affect some people’s moods in the Bluegrass this weekend. Some quick thoughts on each of the four losses (prior to the Lady Cats defeat) in UK land:
I have already said my peace in this rather long article on CBSSports.com about Enes Kanter and the NCAA’s decision. I understand why he wasn’t deemed to be an Amateur and think in the abstract, the reasoning makes sense. But in the context of the other high-profile NCAA decisions of the recent few months, it showcases an overall inconsistency that seems prevalent throughout the NCAA. One can get worked up or not, but the result is the same, Enes won’t play. Long term for Kentucky, it likely means that this team is not a national championship contender, but can still be very good. Jorts has improved enough to provide some stability inside and can be a solid piece of whatever March run this team makes. Kanter would have made this team explosive and next season’s team transcendent, but the program will be fine and move on without him.
As for Enes, he now becomes a UK legend without having ever played a game. Contray to what a local radio host in Louisville said recently, I think the “Free Enes” movement showcased what I love about UK basketball fans. They rallied around one of their own and created a secondary, fun part of UK basketball that gave fans something to talk about. With only a few exceptions, most took the “Free Enes” movement for what it was…fun. The fans enjoyed it, took pictures all around the world and made the kid an instant celebrity. Enes Kanter will always be a part of the UK program, even though he never played a game here and UK fans will adopt him as one of their own. What could be wrong with that? In my view, nothing. Enes will be fine. He is a Top 5 pick and has a whole state of fans who love him. There could be worse fates.
A report came out Saturday that Daniels had his scholarship offer pulled by UK and that they were no longer pursuing him. Maybe that is true, as I have no reason to say it is false. But, in the end it is all semantics. On Friday, December 31, it seemed certain Daniels was to become a Cat. The folks at UK thought he was a Cat and most of us expected a commitment that evening. Then something changed. Maybe it was his father or some other outside influence, but it seems that something pushed him into Rock Chalk Jayhawk land. I still think Trevor Lacey is a better fit for UK, although Daniels’ talent cannot be questioned. If he goes to Kansas, chalk it up as a rare loss for Calipari, but one that doesn’t diminish the spectactular class coming next season.
FOOTBALL loss to PITT:
This one hurts much more. There is no other way to say it than to put it bluntly. UK got flat out embarassed on Saturday and simply wasn’t prepared to win. All three sides of the ball were poor and Joker Phillips’s program seemed like one that was unfortunately headed in the wrong direction. The offense wasn’t as good with Morgan Newton instead of Mike Hartline…anyone who argues otherwise is simply hanging onto the last thread of Hartline hate. Hopefully Newton can be the type of player his potential suggests next year, but he was not this season. Defensively, the Cats were overwhelmed and never looked capable of stopping the Pitt attack. And a blocked punt on special teams in which the blocker runs free without being touched is unacceptable.
I like Joker Phillips. I think Joker Phillips is a great recruiter and can succeed at UK. His upcoming class is one of the best in school history. BUT, there are major issues in the program right now. It isn’t clear that next year’s team will be much better than this one, as at least four of the five best players are surely gone (Cobb, Locke, Matthews, Hartline) and maybe the fifth as well (Trevathan). This is a crossroads point for Joker as he must win the faith of the fans and maybe more importantly, the locker room, where some internal issues reared their ugly head late in the season. Add to all of this the fact that Louisville has the #22 ranked class in America and a top 5 Quarterback coming in…and the heat is rising. Joker can win at UK and I think it still is possible that he will. But next season is huge in terms of fan support and program momentum. Lets hope Saturday was the low point and not an indicator of things to come.
BASKETBALL loss to Georgia:
I worried about this game all week. On radio and tv, I repeated many times that I thought UK could lose and Georgia could be the worst matchup the Cats would face in all of SEC play. The combination of athletic bigs, good perimeter defenders and one monster scorer is exactly the formula that beat UK in the UCONN and UNC games. Long term however the UGA loss isnt a huge deal. I think the Cats lose two of the UT, Fla and Vandy road games to finish the conference 13-3 and go into the NCAA Tournament with a #2 seed. The Georgia game was always much more difficult a game than fans assumed, but some things that happened in the game wont be repeated. UGA shot twice as many free throws as UK and made 20 more…that wont repeat itself very often. And Brandon Knight/Doron Lamb missed more open threes than they have missed the rest of the season combined.
I do have one worry longterm however. The Cats need to have more success in late-game winning time situations. Last year, UK was money at the end of close games. Miami, Stanford, UNC, UCONN, Tenneseee (both games), South Carolina, Vandy, Florida, Mississippi State (twice) are ten games off the top of my head that could have gone either way with five minutes to go. In those ten games, UK went 8-2. This year, UK has had two games that could have gone either way with five minutes to go (UNC and UGA) and they have lost both. I want to see this team win a close game down the stretch. That is what very good to great teams do.
There you go…lots of words on a bad weekend. Now, after we go after NCAA President Mark Emmert for a bit, lets all move on.