With apologies to the births of Muhammad Ali, Dwyane Wade, Kid Rock, Jim Carrey, James Earl Jones and Ray J, tonight we salute the Murray State Racers for their outstanding achievement in college basketball. Murray State cracked the top 10 in this week’s ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll for the first time in school history. The 18-0 Racers will likely find their way in the top 5 before season’s end, considering they are by far the best team in the OVC and they’ll be heavy favorites in every game up until the NCAA Tournament. It’s not crazy to think they’ll finish the regular season undefeated and then storm right through conference play. Hell, I wouldn’t be shocked to see them as the highest-ranked team in the state of Kentucky at some point this year. Wouldn’t that be something?
They’re probably not one of the ten best teams in the country, but the Racers aren’t going anywhere. Get used to them in the rankings.
— Calipari is back in Lexington after back-to-back days at the Spalding Hoop Hall Classic in Massachusetts and he met with the media before his team’s late Monday night practice. When asked about Kentucky’s rebounding effort this season, Cal said his team has been OK. “Obviously there’s a lot of areas we got to improve,” he said. “That’s my whole point to this basketball team. The margin would be bigger than it is if we got 50-50 balls and they didn’t jerk so many out of our hands.” Kentucky was out-rebounded in its first two conference games and almost lost the rebounding battle again at Tennessee.
— Arkansas is known for its face-paced style of play and vigorous press, and Kentucky’s players say they’re ready to run with the Razorbacks. Marquis Teague told reporters, “That’s the way I like to play.” “Get up and down,” he said. Terrence Jones feels the same way. “I feel it’s an advantage how we play is fast-paced,” Jones said. “I know they’re going to come in playing tough and ready to try to win, and I know so are we.”
— Despite his players’ enthusiasm for a fast-paced game, Calipari knows how it could play to Arkansas’s advantage. “When they speed you up, they’re getting into you,” he said. “They don’t press like normal teams, where if you complete a pass they run down. They come running at you. Then they try to rotate and another guy runs at you. It will be different for our guys. It’s another thing for our point guard to feel and our guards to feel and work their way through.”
— Terrence Jones told reporters that his bum pinky still isn’t at 100%. “It changes, honestly — if it gets slapped or if I dunk sometimes,” Jones said. “It just depends on what I do during a game to how much it hurts or not. But I mean, it’s alright for me. I don’t care as long as I’m on the floor.” In the past few games, Jones has been moving towards the dominant player we know he can be, and he’ll only get closer to full potential as that finger heals. He has scored in double-figures in his last four games, since scoring just two points against Louisville.
— I listened to Coach Robic fill in for Calipari on the radio show Monday and I heard three interesting tidbits that I’d like to pass along to you, in case you missed it:
(1) Don’t underestimate the importance of crowd noise. Robic said the players talked on the bus ride home from Knoxville about the heavy presence of Kentucky fans in Thompson-Boling Arena. We don’t need anyone to tell us how powerful Big Blue Nation can be, but it’s nice to hear that the players were talking about the importance of the fans and how it helped fuel them to get a big road win. It’s one thing to hear the team talk about the fans when there is a camera in their face; it’s another to know they talk about the fans amongst themselves when there’s no pressure to say the right thing. Pat yourself on the back, #BBN.
(2) Michael Kidd-Gilchrist sent Coach Robic a text during the show, asking if they could meet up early to workout before Monday night’s practice. You can’t say enough about the kid’s work ethic and desire to win. We’ve written about similar instances like this before and we’ll continue to do so. It never gets old hearing about MKG.
(3) After a caller called in asked him about beating the press and freeing up foul shooters late in close games, Robic challenged the show listeners to name which two guys they want on the foul line late in games. The answer was pretty surprising. It isn’t Doron Lamb or Darius Miller (the caller’s two guesses), it is Marquis Teague and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Robic said those are the guys they want taking free throws at the end of the game because they make them. Robic noted that Doron Lamb is shooting 82% on the season, but he’s not hitting them when it counts. Interesting.
— #shoutout to Anthony Davis and A’Dia Mathies for earning weekly awards from the SEC. Anthony Davis was named SEC Freshmen of the Week after averaging 16 points, seven rebounds, four blocks, 2.5 steals and two assists in the wins over Auburn and Tennessee. Mathies was named SEC Player of the Week for her 34-point performance in UK Hoops’ win over Tennessee.
— If you didn’t get a chance to see Shabazz Muhammad on television Monday afternoon, well, you missed out. The nation’s No. 1 player scored 37 points and grabbed six rebounds in Bishop Gorman’s win over the fifth-ranked high school in the country. Sometimes players of Shabazz’s caliber can get lazy when they don’t have the ball, but he was active on defense and fighting down low on the block for rebounds. His big time game on the national stage was capped off with an impressive windmill dunk to put it away. After the game, he listed the schools he is considering and Kentucky was the first name out of his mouth, of course.
— Shabazz admitted to being nervous playing in front of Coach Cal and Coach K. He better get used to it because he’ll have to play 30+ games in front of Cal next season. If he’s smart.
— Be sure to read Beisner’s post about Derek Willis. It’s directly beneath this one. Just scroll down.
— On the NBA side of things, John Wall scored a career-high 38 points against the Houston Rockets. Patrick Patterson scored four points and grabbed three rebounds in 24 minutes for Houston.
— Wake up, Eric. We’re almost done.
Bledsoe was catching some sleep on the flight back from New Jersey.
— Ah, those poor, poor Louisville Cardinals. Rick Pitino’s bunch came out hot against Marquette and opened up a 18-2 lead in the first six minutes of play. Then reality set in and the Golden Eagles came back and took a four-point lead into the half and then ended the game with an 11-point win. That’s five losses in the last seven games for Louisville. Point blank. Period.
— With Syracuse’s win over Pittsburgh, Jim Boeheim tied Adolph Rupp for fourth place on the all-time wins list with 876 wins. Rupp still leads Boeheim by 856 games on the all-time-wins-without-a-child-molesting-assistant list.
That’s all for tonight. Come back tomorrow for more of the same as we look ahead to Arkansas.