Had you fallen asleep on Friday afternoon and not woken up until Sunday morning, you would have been quite shocked to return to the internet Kentucky sports world upon your awakening. It was during this time period that the vocal minority of UK fans – the ones that we’re all so proud to be associated with – flipped their overly optimistic guarantees into a chorus of “we suck again”, capped off with multiple demands for Rich Brooks and Billy Gillispie to be fired. It was an awesome weekend.
So, since I’m just about the only person who hasn’t beaten you down with their thoughts on the game, I’m going to give you my 50 cents on Friday night and the subsequent over-reaction by a few fans. And, I’m going to do it by adressing a couple of charges that were brought up numerous times on these here comments sections.
It’s about time we had a lawyer/blogger around here.
DEFENDANT: Kentucky basketball team
CHARGED WITH: Being on track for an underachieving season
VERDICT: Not Guilty
College basketball teams play roughly 30 games every year, making losses count far less than they do in college football, where an early loss can sometimes end your national title hopes. So, with that thought in mind, if Florida or USC or Oklahoma drops an early season football game, do you think you see the widespread desperation and disappointment that the VMI game brought. No, of course not. Disappointment and frustration, yes, but calling for the coach’s head and saying the program is a disaster? No way. I mean, if your kid fails a spelling test, are you yanking them out of school and kicking them out of the house? I would assume not, but I don’t have any kids, so I’m not sure.
The loss to VMI was disappointing and frustrating and unacceptable. There’s no doubt that Kentucky should not be losing to these inferior teams at home. But, to write off the remainder of the season because of one loss would be one of the most moronic things I’ve ever heard of. Even she would think you were an idiot. The truth is VMI is the type of team you shouldn’t be scheduling in the first place. If you’re looking for a cupcake, then go get one. Don’t schedule a team like VMI and its gimmicky style that, no matter what you do, will present some sort of matchup problem in some aspect of the game. Go get Tennessee Tech again or Northern Kentucky or someone along those lines. This is pretty much the same argument you hear in football when West Virginia schedules a team like East Carolina. What is there to gain? If you lose, you’re a disappointment and if you win, you’re supposed to. You don’t schedule the cupcake teams that can actually upset you – especially in basketball, a sport where ANY team can win on a given night. Poor scheduling and a poor performance from the team. That’s where it should end.
Kentucky has a very good chance to make a bit of a run this year if they execute like they should. They have two All-Conference All-American caliber players and a number of other guys who have the capability to step up once they get their feet under them. Plus, their biggest weakness (point guard) has suddenly turned into a major Achilles heel for their two biggest SEC competitors with the departure of Jai Lucas and the ineligibility of Daniel West. Darius Miller seems to be better than advertised and DeAndre Liggins has at least shown a little glimmer that he’s ready to be the main guy at point in a few more games. Even Perry Stevenson is looking like Charles Barkley. There are some good things going on despite this loss.
So, all is not lost. The game sucked. The taunts around the office today sucked. It all sucked. But, it’s not the end of the world. I think when it’s all said and done, we’re going to be very happy with what we see out of this team. Those of us who didn’t jump ship after one game, that is.
DEFENDANT: Billy Gillispie
CHARGED WITH: Being the wrong man for the job
VERDICT: Not Guilty (for now)
I have to admit, I’m completely shocked about the calls for Gillispie’s job. I can understand the frustration with losing to VMI, but for a guy who, right up until game time on Friday, was receiving God-like love from fans to go to the guillotine so fast blows my mind. What’s even more interesting to me is that it seems the majority of the people who are calling for his head are the ones who said last year was a success and he was handcuffed by what Tubby left behind. For me, had it not been for the 12-4 campaign in the SEC, I’d consider last season an epic failure. The 12-4 turnaround made it only mildly disappointing to me. However, it seems like the majority of the fan base felt that Gillispie didn’t have the right tools to get the job done and polished a turd the best that he could. So, what are you expecting this year?
If having an All-Conference type of point guard to go with two McDonald’s All-Americans and a couple of returning role players gets you a “great” season of 18-13, then what do you expect of a team with 68 combined games started scattered across their entire 20-man roster? If Gillispie got the benefit of the doubt last season, then he’s going to need it at various points of this season, as well. And, well, Gillispie needs that benefit of the doubt right now. This team is still transitioning into one that he wants to put on the floor and until that transition is fully made, there are going to be some bumps. He’s adding the players he wants (and some pretty good ones, I might add) and when he’s putting one of “his” teams on the floor, I think all parties involved will be more comfortable. But, with that being said, there is no doubt that Gillispie has failed to make a few critical adjustments.
The overlying problem with these early season struggles, in my eyes, is that Gillispie doesn’t seem to have a “style” that he wants to play with. When he was hired, we heard about how he was going to adapt the style of play to the talent that he had, but then they crapped out to a 7-9 start and never played the same type of basketball two games in a row. This year, albeit being ridiculously early, they seem as if they think they are a run-n-gun team again. No coach will ever turn down fast break points, but at what point do you have to start reigning everyone in and sacrificing a bucket or two? After limping to that 7-9 start last year, Gillispie’s boys found an identity as a physical, defensive squad that would take their points where they could get them and generally out-tough you. It worked. It worked very well. If they are going to hit a stride this year, I think it will have to be as the same type of team. They don’t have enough athletes or, quite frankly, enough good players to survive at that pace. I know part of the cracked-out tempo they played at on Friday night had to do with being down by a large margin early on, but the really good teams dictate the tempo. Even the decent teams dictate the tempo against VMI. Right now, it seems like this team needs to find its identity and I hope it doesn’t take 16 games to find it again because things will get very ugly. Starting with tomorrow night.
But, having said that. I have no doubt in my mind that Billy Gillispie is going to get the job done here. If Kentucky gets blown out tomorrow night, I’ll still have faith. He’s not a shaman or a miracle worker, he’s a basketball coach. And, from his resume, a pretty damn good one at that. Sure, there are some adjustments to be made, but it’s early people. We will survive. Kentucky will be in Final Fours and SEC Championship games and everything else in the very near future and Billy Clyde Gillispie is going to be the coach when it happens. So, relax, take a deep breath, do whatever you need to do. Just calm down. We’re all frustrated right now but it doesn’t mean we need to lose our cool. And, we certainly don’t need to lose our coach.
And even more surprising? Jeff Goodman agrees! What has the world come to?
Ok, we shall never speak of this again.