It is that time of year again folks! No, not just the time that the temperature falls to sub-Arctic levels and we all go raiding our local grocery store for milk and bread (neither of which I buy otherwise). It is also time for the start of KSR’s fifth favorite sport (behind basketball, football, tennis and Kentucky media fighting), “The Bachelor!” If you have read KSR over the years, you know we love the Bachelor because it combines some of our favorite things…beautiful women, silly competition, unnecessary drama and intense crying. What pops out of that tremendous mixture is a level of enjoyment that can’t truly be put into words. Over the years, our love of the Bachelor has been controversial on KSR. This culminated last year when Aaron Flener’s “Bachelor” recaps became stuff of comment section fight legend (and yes, they will be back again…be ready), and helped that intellectual wasteland move from UK/UL namecalling, diatribes over how much our writing sucks and comments about how gay I am to sassy girl namecalling, rants about how this isn’t about UK sports and comments about how gay Aaron Flener is. It was a tremendous improvement. For those of you that are inclined to dismiss The Bachelor, don’t. The girls reading already know why it is amazing, but guys should like it do. Imagine all the crazy women you knew in college that were really hot, but also slightly psycho, and now put them in one house and have them compete over a guy who can barely speak English…it is amazing. If you don’t believe me, give the first episode a shot (Lucy looks particularly crazy). It is on Monday night during the BCS Title game, so DVR it, watch on Tuesday and then thank me later. No television show gives me more mindless enjoyment and there is nothing that isn’t unbelievably depressing that will cause more tears on television. Plus, you can score brownie points with your girl for watching and be entertained. Thank me later and get ready for Flener’s recap coming soon.
To the three big stories of the weekend:
BASKETBALL TEAM PRACTICES AND IMPROVES
I took the drive to Lexington on Saturday and used the rare weekend day off to watch the Kentucky basketball team practice for the first time since late November. Over the course of 2 1/2 hours, the team went full speed and produced one of the best practices of the season (Calipari said as much afterwards). While I can’t talk about specific things that went on (beyond Dominique Hawkins dunking on Marcus Lee), I can say that my two biggest concerns about the team seem to be showing great improvement. First, the effort of the team is so much better than what it was just a month ago. Early season practices saw much of the time used by Calipari to focus exclusively on competing. He would yell, “PLAYYYY” loudly throughout the gym and the loafing up and down the court was a constant issue. That mindset showcased itself on the court as well, most famously during the Baylor game. The practice Saturday was the exact opposite. While mistakes were still plenty and the guys are still trying to learn all the intricacies of how Calipari wants them to play, the effort was 100% nearly throughout. With most of the practice focusing on 5 on 5 action, players went full bore and never stopped. They subbed themselves out when tired, but I never saw gaps of effort like plagued the team early. More than anything else, this gives me optimism.
Second, I really like steps of improvement on the defensive side of the ball that showcased themselves during the practice. I am not sure this team will ever be great defensively, but they are learning how better to cover up some of the problems and force teams to play to UK’s strengths. Much has to do with positioning and guys look much more comfortable on that end. Early in the year, many people (myself included) watched practice and were amazed at how good these guys looked in a scrimmage setting on offense. In hindsight, a big part of that was how bad these guys were defensively. Now the practices look more like big time basketball and UK’s defensive effort is much better. The Cats’ two best defensive games of the year (in my opinion) were against Belmont (at least in the last 30 minutes) and Louisville. That also showcased in practice and was a very encouraging sign.
Finally, one can see in practice that this is a team that likes to be coached. When a team struggles, often a look at practice shows guys that arent necessarily loving the coaching being given. That isn’t happening here and all the players are attentive, asking questions and trying to get better. That is a huge positive. There is still much improvement that needs to be made and to be fair, this team is not at the level of the January practices in 2012. But, the improvement is vast and my optimism was rekindled. I think when Kentucky gets on the court in SEC play versus Miss State and Vandy to start the league, we will see continued growth from a group that is hungry and eager to learn.
I am telling you, they squint…I am not saying they need contacts, but I am just saying…
MATT ELAM AND FOOTBALL SIGNING DAY BECKONS
I won’t go into great detail on this as I already wrote extensively on the subject on a post earlier Sunday night (scroll down and you can read). But suffice to say that Saturday was a bit of a disappointment when Matt Elam did not pull the trigger for Kentucky. I still as of now think that Elam will end up at Kentucky. UK fans that have totally abandoned hope and make ludicrous statements such as “move on” have no idea how big time football recruiting works. This is how it goes sometimes and Kentucky has never been in these spots in the past. This isn’t like basketball where only a few guys are recruited and few ever waver. This happens all the time in football and we have to get used to it as Kentucky recruits the higher level players. Elam has a lot of interest in Kentucky and he is much closer to the staff and recruits at UK than Alabama. As Signing Day gets closer, those relationships are what I think push him to Lexington. But it could change, one never knows. I was genuinely surprised by Elam’s postponement and am no sure what the future holds. I do know that Kentucky is still going to finish with a few more commitments and Louisville’s losing of a coach (more on that later) provides at least one or two new outlets for potential pickups. (For more on UK’s recruiting status post-Elam, check out this discussion thread on CatsPause). Mark Stoops has had few disappointing days as a recruiter since coming to Lexington. Saturday will hopefully be the last for a while.
The UK Cheerleaders and Dance Team are close to the National Championship Finals. The Cheerleaders nearly always win and the Dance Team is a consistent top finisher…here is the dance team posing in their holiday socks
CHARLIE OUT AT LOUISVILLE
The drama in Louisville this weekend all ended late Saturday night as Charlie Strong said he was leaving Tom Jurich and friends and heading to Austin. It is a great move for Strong, but I question how well he will do there (but that is a discussion for another day). What matters now is who Louisville will hire and what direction they go. I think their #1 target is Rich Rodriguez, the former West Virginia coach who is now at Arizona. Whether he makes the move is anyone’s guess, but I think that is who Jurich favors. Many Louisville fans want Bobby Petrino back (although many others dont) and it will be interesting to see if Jurich would pull the trigger on that move. If he does, then I would argue that UL will have the sleaziest combo of coaches in the United States (seriously find me a school with two sleazier) and will give us some good talking points over the next few years. If Bobby does come however, the pressure will be on in Lexington as Mark Stoops was hired over Petrino, and the strong number of fans who wanted him at UK. If he takes the UL job, that battle will be on. Still, from a UK perspective, Strong leaving is good news…he had done well there and had made them a viable power. Now uncertainty gives a chance to take away some recruits and the possibility of a poor hire (a la Kragthorpe). In that respect, Strong leaving isnt the worst news for a UK fan.
The Courier Journal ran this picture of a UL fan proposing to his woman at Phoenix Hill Tavern on New Years Eve…I love it
With that, stay warm tonight and tomorrow and get ready for a fun week. Cats get back to action in basketball and we will have a big show in the morning from 10-noon. See you good folks then…