The Big Blue Lowdown

Insight, Analysis and Expertise on All Things Kentucky Basketball

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Can Notre Dame Give the Cats a Game?

Well, here we go.  UK is now 37-0 and the entire BBN is awaiting and realistically expecting #9. And as well they should. So far UK has looked like a runaway freight train in almost every facet.

They were disinterested versus Hampton and still won by 26. Against UC they started slowly missing multiple shots but their size, length and depth tormented the Bearcats in the second half. In the Sweet 16, much was made about the matchup with the West Virginia Mountaineers and their pressing, ballhawking attack. Even more was made about Bob Huggins being the nemesis of Coach Cal. Much ado about nothing. 

UK literally obliterated them. It was over in the first 3 minutes when UK jumped out to an 18-2 lead. At that point the zebra’s took over and started calling a foul every 40 seconds. The game was unwatchable from then on. But what Bob Huggins had to endure was quite literally the biggest beatdown of his career. At one one point with 12 minutes to go in the second half the Mountaineers hadn’t reached 20 points scored for the game. In fact, at the same moment and time they were shooting 14% from the floor. It was ugly and it was over from the start.

Now UK gets the Notre Dame Fighting Irish who have been on an incredible roll since they stormed through the ACC tournament. Winners of their last 8 games, they face LONG ODDS and matchup problems at virtually every position on the floor versus the vastly more talented Cats.

For the purposes of giving BBL fans a precise breakdown and analysis position by position, we’ll begin at the guard position. 

Backcourt

ND plays two guards virtually the entire game. Both are NBA prospects. Jerian Grant son of ex NBA baller Harvey Grant is an excellent college pg who can handle the ball and make shots off the dribble. He is athletic and ultra quick. Demetrius Jackson is also an excellent guard who can shoot it and break guys down off the dribble. But he is undersized. Even with ND’s guards breaking guys down, they still will be going up against a warrior class of tall timber inside with WCS, Towns, Dakari, Lee and Lyles.  

UK has 4 guys that will be rotating on them defensively in Ulis, Booker and the twins. Grant and Jackson will be physically gassed playing nearly 40 minutes versus UK’s fresher guards. Not to mention they will need to play defense against a confidence brimming Booker. It will be interesting to see how Aaron Harrison is on Saturday with the finger sprain. Those kind of injuries can play havoc with a shooter.  But all in all, the guards are a MAJOR ADVANTAGE for UK.

Frontcourt

At the power forward position ND has Zach Auguste and off the bench with Bonzi Colson. Both guys are undersized and neither has a lot of physicality to hold their own versus UK’s 7 footer rotation. They also play an undersized wing at the 3 spot in Steve Vasturia. He can shoot it and has the ability to lure UK’s bigs away from the basket. But considering the wing UK will be using to guard him is is 6-10 (Lyles), there isn’t much of a risk of ND pulling away UK’s centers as they do against most teams they face.

ND also plays another guy spot minutes- VJ Beachem-a 6-8 187 pound forward who is totally physically outclassed. All three of these guys will be going up against the likes of Lyles, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson. Not to mention having to deal with WCS and Karl Towns. If the WVU game proved anything it's that small teams supremely struggle against UK to get any good looks and even more importantly from a rebounding standpoint. 

Intangibles

Mike Brey is a very good coach. His teams are cohesive and they play with a purpose. Unfortunately in this game they are undersized at every position. Their one great skill is scoring the ball and shooting from the perimeter due to excellent floor rotation, ball movement and spacing. The way UK plays defense and with their length, it would be shocking to see ND spread the floor and get easy threes. But as the NCAA tooney has shown time and time again, a team that can shoot it always has a punchers chance. 

The biggest problem for ND however is defending UK themselves. Even if they get incredibly hot and UK is asleep defensively, how will they stop UK from scoring in both the half court? The truth is they can’t. They also have NO CHANCE to keep UK off the boards. Against WVU UK put up a wall around the perimeter. I see a deja vu situation versus the Irish.

In my opinion ND has less of a chance to beat UK than UC did. A better chance than WVU because they are much better shooters but they don’t intimidate you personnel wise. And their defense is nothing like UC’s or even WVU’s for that matter. 

This game is an M&Mer in almost every conceivable fashion. You have to give ND a puncher’s chance. Plus if Aaron Harrison is out on Saturday, then that puts a lot of pressure on Booker to score 12-15 points. Anything is possible at the Regional Final Level, but UK would have to pull a FULL BLOWN POLYESTER SUIT for this game to even be under 10 points. ND does not rebound well enough, nor do they play the physical kind of defense to necessary to fluster UK. They can shoot the ball really well but against UK’s size and length? Doubtful. 

I think this game is close for a Half. Maybe 30 minutes but only if ND is unconscious and UK is shooting 25% from the field. Which we all know is possible. If UK shows up however, plays defense and shoots 40%, this game could be another 15-20 point win. ND just doesn’t have any depth. They will be worn out with 10 minutes to go.

UK 79 - ND 67

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UK Gets to 25-0

Kentucky is now 25-0. This is tied for the best start in school history. With a win over Tennessee this week, it will become the best start in the storied history of this great program.

Regardless of what happens from here on out, let’s take a second to appreciate what coach John Calipari has accomplished.

He has taken a program that continually faces huge expectations from fans and the national media and consistently upped his game in response.

This year’s bunch has been ranked No. 1 in the country since the first preseason polls began popping up last summer. Nothing has stopped its momentum.

Though there have been challenges here and there, the overall body of work is incredible.

Wins over other storied programs such as UCLA, UNC and Kansas, as well as an undefeated conference record and victory over hated arch-rival Louisville. In all, this team is 11-0 against the current RPI top 50. Even with another month of regular season play to go, this is impressive.

The roster that has done it is truly an assortment of players who have bought in to the system. There are no egos, no superstars and no one hogging the ball or minutes. It has been a true team effort.

They’ve faced injuries, for instance to team hear and soul Alex Poythress, and close, gritty games in decidedly hostile situations, such as the win on the road in LSU last week.

No matter what happens, one thing is sure—this has been a hell of a ride, even by Kentucky’s lofty standards. And as the season creeps ever so much closer to March, it’s beginning to look like it may come down to just as memorable an ending as has been the journey itself. a

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Possible SEC Road Bumps in Cats’ Title Quest

The preseason is done. The new year is upon us. And now it is time for Kentucky to embark upon their quest for conference supremacy.

While conventional wisdom might lead one to believe that the Number 1 ranked Wildcats will blow through conference play like a deep south tornado, the truth is that regular season titles in the SEC have not been easy to come by of late.

The surprising reality is that Kentucky has won the SEC outright only three times in the past 10 seasons. Despite the tremendous success of John Calipari’s tenure, the Cats have only taken home the regular season title twice in his first five seasons at the school.

And while the SEC has not been one of the stronger power conferences in basketball the past few years, this year could be different. As of this moment on the eve of conference play, at least nine SEC teams have realistic hopes to compete for an NCAA tourney bid, and that doesn’t include perennial national championship contender Florida, which has been decimated by injuries up to this point.

There are 8 SEC teams in the top 50 of ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, and teams such as Georgia, LSU, South Carolina and Arkansas have shown the ability to beat highly ranked teams.

With Kentucky wearing a big blue and white target on its back as the top ranked team in the country, the Cats are sure to have their hands full on more than a few occasions, especially on nasty winter nights in hostile opposing gyms.

And while the SEC is not always known as a hotbed of great basketball programs, it is consistently among the most athletic conferences in America and this year is no different. While no one will possess near the all-around talent as Kentucky, there are a handful of teams with the size, speed and athleticism to make things interesting.

The following are the dates we have circled as most interesting conference clashes for the Wildcats:

Jan. 24 – at South Carolina

In 2009-10, Kentucky was 16-0 and No. 1 in the country going into a January game in Columbia. The Wildcats fell to a Devin Downey-led SC team that ended the season under .500. But on that night, the crowd was raucous and the Gamecocks were very physical, blocking 8 shots and pushing Kentucky around. Kentucky lost on the same floor last year. This year’s Carolina team is quick and has some talented young players. They play typical Frank Martin-style tenacious defense. Kentucky cannot overlook this one.

Feb. 10 – at LSU 

LSU is a very athletic team with some size inside and good guard play. Overall, the tandem of Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin in the paint gives LSU a front line that should be at least able to hold its own with Kentucky’s imposing big men. Again, this is a venue where Kentucky has struggled in the past, so this game should be no exception.

Feb. 17 – at Tennessee

A week later, the Cats will travel to Knoxville where they will meet a dangerous Tennessee team that possesses a lot of long, rangy athletes and an excellent all-around player in Josh Richardson. The Vols have played a tough schedule, where they’ve hung with and beat some tournament quality teams. This could be an interesting late season road game.

Feb. 28 – Arkansas

While we have trouble seeing anyone coming into Rupp and beating Kentucky this year, Arkansas probably has the best chance of any SEC team. The Razorbacks have a future pro in Bobby Portis and experienced veterans like Michael Qualls and Rashad Madden who have the experience of beating Kentucky twice last year, including once in Lexington. If the Hogs have a chance here, it will likely be due to their frenetic pace and pressure.

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So Far, So Dominant

Through seven games, the 2014-15 Kentucky Wildcats are undefeated, ranked number 1 in both major polls and have already won a couple tilts with highly regarded big conference teams in Kansas and Providence (the only loss for both of those squads). Starting this Friday, Kentucky will kick off a three week stretch of games that includes high-profile battles with talented, nationally ranked programs Texas, UNC, Louisville and UCLA. 

So in this calm before the storm, it seems appropriate to take a look back in awe at this turbo-charged start to the season.

In getting to this point, the Cats have been positively spectacular. Both statistically and aesthetically, this team is dominating the opposition. The “closest” game of the season was a 19 point win over Buffalo, and the average margin of victory thus far stands at 34 points.

Most notable among the list of truly remarkable qualities to this team is the stifling defense it plays.

The Wildcats are holding opponents to a 27.9% field goal percentage and giving up only 44 points per game. What’s more, the team is leading the nation with 9.3 blocks per game, and rejecting a mind-bending 18% of all opponents’ shots. This past Sunday Kentucky held Providence’s LaDontae Henton, who was leading the nation in scoring at 28 points per game coming in, to 3 points on 1 of 8 shooting.

But the numbers hardly tell the story. In seven consecutive rampages, the opposition has not simply been beaten. They have been summarily decimated—reduced to a disorganized rabble of slump-shouldered kids roaming the court desperately hoping to find an inch of space to breathe.

Obviously, it’s too early to start making bold proclamations. But suffice to say that if Kentucky maintains this level of defensive effort, it could rank as a historically excellent defense.

Another superlative that’s been thrown around in the season’s opening weeks has been: “biggest team ever.” While we aren’t sure if this Kentucky team is, in fact, the longest in college hoops history, there is no doubt that it is close. Among the 12 players receiving regular minutes, 10 are over 6-6, and seven are over 6-8. That’s tall.

But did we mention that Kentucky plays 12 guys? 12. The White and Blue platoons have been so successful that talented contributors from last year’s national runner up team Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins are relegated to victory cigar duty, though each is more than capable of making the most of their minutes.

A key as the season goes on will be how opposing teams handle the fresh legs of Kentucky, which sees no one playing more than 22 minutes per game at this point. On the flip side, the Cats must stick together and avoid any ego-driven issues resulting from the sharing of so many minutes among so many players who would doubtlessly star in other major programs.

Up until now, Coach Calipari deserves an A+ grade for getting everyone to buy in. In the past two seasons, meshing incoming talent with returning holdovers was a tall order for the staff, and as a general rule, the early part of the season has been marked by inconsistency.

Not so, this year. The mental makeup of this team more closely resembles the 2011-12 edition than any other of Calipari’s UK rosters, at least so far. The players are accepting their roles, and the body language resembles a group that enjoys playing together and revels in crushing the spirit of whomever they’re matched up with.

So let’s take a quick look at how the two platoons have measured up to date.

Blue Team

The Blue Team is the more experienced outfit, and the more lethal defensively. Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress are absolute rejectors in the paint, but it’s Karl Anthony-Towns who is leading the team with three blocks per night.

Towns also shows an incredible touch around the goal and is capable of creating offense from anywhere in the paint. He’s shown a small arsenal of post moves and a sweeping hook that is both unblockable and beautiful to behold.

The Harrison twins have picked up where they left off last year, with both showing improvement in the primary areas of concern from last year. Andrew has increased his assist to turnover ratio to above 2.0 and, surrounded by a plethora of offensive options, is not forcing shots. His brother Aaron, fresh off an NCAA tournament performance for the ages, has firmly established himself as a deadly long range shooter and an overall go-to scorer.

If there is a cause for concern with the blue team it is probably free throw shooting, which lingers around 60%. This platoon has rim protection to rival any of the greatest defensive teams of the past, but could also be susceptible to quick backcourts who can get around bigger bodies and shoot from distance. Towns also has a tendency to foul too much.

White Team

Arguably more productive per minute than the “A Team,” this group is fueled by the revelation that has been Tyler Ulis. The kid has jitterbug quickness and true point guard instincts, dishing out dimes while remaining perfect from the line and a lights out 8 for 14 from beyond the arc. He is also a perpetually annoying on-the-ball disruptor defensively whose numbers project to 4 steals per 40 minutes.

Ulis is complemented nicely by two other frosh in Trey Lyles and Devin Booker, who are collectively shooting just a hair under 50% from the field (45-92). Add in a lighter, more polished Dakari Johnson and the White Team may be the superior look to turn to when the Cats need a bucket. Providing insurance on the back line is the enigmatic Marcus Lee, who still hasn’t shown his full potential offensively but who is capable of eye popping defensive play and highlight reel dunks on breakaways.

The White Team’s weakness is inexperience and understanding its role. Thus far, they’ve been able to fall back on the knowledge that no matter what happens, there is another group of 5 studs on the bench ready to relieve them. This takes off the pressure to perform and has resulted in this platoon becoming a lethal counter punch to Kentucky’s formidable starting five.

Through this point in the year, it’s safe to say that whoever said you could split Kentucky into two top 25 teams was 100% on the money. The question now is can it be sustained?

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Breakdown After 2 Games

Offense:

We will see how the platoon system holds up. The team has had two easy wins but the offense was not very fluid at times with all the rotations. There is a ton of talent but no one stands out that needs the ball like Randle did last year.

Perhaps, that will be a good thing in a lot of ways but I think someone is going to have to establish themselves as the alpha male post player as the season gets on.

With that said, the interchangeable talent that Cal can run out into the frontline is incredible. Towns, at 7 foot, moves quick. Lyles has a very polished inside-outside game and will make a lot of 3s. DJ is a different player from last year; he runs twice as fast and is much slimmer than last season, but he still cannot be moved off the block. Just an Ox down low.

The Twins, particularly Andrew, took a lot of heat last year. They are in shape and a lot faster than they get credit for. Andrew drove the ball hard. Of course when you have Ulis looking over your shoulder…

Booker has been quiet and his shot a bit off but having seen him play several games, I think he will be a much faster version of Lamb and will bust a lot of zones this year.

UK did not shoot the ball very well from outside in their latest game vs Buffalo. Overall, the team hit 48% but a lot of that percentage can be accounted for on offensive put backs and dunks.

This team will dominate the offensive glass like last year and go to the line a lot. But this team will need to shoot better from outside and get more fluid on offense against better competition.

Defense:

Cal pressed the entire first half and a lot of the second half against Buffalo. The depth will wear out teams. This team has the length and speed to press the whole game and Cal said they will press a lot. Of course he says that every year so we'll see.

UK set a record for blocked shots in 2011-12. They may challenge it this year.

WCS has become an incredible shot blocker. Towns, Lee, Poythress, and Lyles will get their fair share, too. This team is full of athletic rim protectors. What they don't block, they eat up on the boards. DJ is a beast on the block.

The only real fault that I saw in the first two games was when UK was spaced out on defense and was slow to cut off driving lanes. That will get fixed.

Overall:

This team is worth the hype and loaded with talent. Chemistry is the key. If Cal can keep the playing time balanced and everyone happy, this team will be hard to beat in March.

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Recap: Big Blue Bahamas Tour

Six games in eight days. Grueling heat and humidity. Opponents full of professional and ex-college players. The general lethargy of late summer.

The Kentucky Wildcats Big Blue Bahamas Tour, for what it’s worth, ended up being a little more than a casual Caribbean vacation. It was a week’s worth of challenges and, at times, stiff competition. Overall, it was an experience that will help make this team much better in the long run.

Going 5-1 in the tour, the Cats at times looked like a team poised for an historical type of season. Boasting a devastating front line, an embarrassment of talent and depth that isn’t common in the “one and done” era, Kentucky showed a great range of abilities to do damage to the opponent.

Double digit victories over national teams from France, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, before a one-point loss to the Dominican Republic on the last day of the tour, showed that there is room for improvement. But more room for optimism.

Amazingly, they did it without the services of future lottery pick and experienced junior Willie Cauley-Stein, as well as incoming McDonald’s All-American Trey Lyles. The Cats weren’t even whole.

Here are some observations about the kids who did suit up:

Andrew Harrison – Appears to be a bit stronger and focused more on distributing the ball to his arsenal of weapons. Harrison is still not an elite ball handler and will be challenged for playing time by freshman Tyler Ullis.

Aaron Harrison – Looks like the confidence from the NCAA tourney has carried over. Harrison is a scoring machine and looked aggressive and ready to give the Wildcats a bucket whenever they needed a score.

Tyler Ullis – A defensive terror that was totally disrupting opposing backcourts. Also demonstrated the ability to handle the rock and knock down open jumpers. Diminutive but could be the PG of the future for UK.

Devin Booker – Didn’t look ready yet. Struggled shooting the rock, but possesses a big body and athleticism.

Alex Poythress – Also carrying over more confidence and effort from a strong stretch run last year. Will need to play a lot of 3 this year.

Marcus Lee – Human pogo stick. Human eraser. Still needs more bulk.

Dakari Johnson – More confident, stronger and in better shape. Not a tremendous athlete, but incredible touch and looks lighter on his feet. Could have a huge year.

Karl Towns – Total package. Top 5 pick next year, most likely. Still has lots of maturing to do, but at 6-11 can handle the rock and stroke from deep.

Derek Willis – Presents a conundrum for Coach Cal because there really is nowhere to play him on this roster, but it looks as though he is ready to be a major contributor. Great offensive polish and more athletic than last year. Could easily be a 10 min per game zone buster or could redshirt.

Dominique Hawkins – Also may be a candidate to redshirt due to depth issues. But he is athletic and can be a dynamic defender for this team.

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Kentucky NBA Prospects Ready For 2014 Draft

People who follow the Kentucky Wildcats have to be pretty pleased with so many players opting to return to school. Guys like Willie Cauley-Stein, Marcus Lee, Alex Poythress, Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison all had chances to be first-round picks if they declared. Instead, the focus is now on those who are eligible for the upcoming draft. 

There are 2 potential lottery picks, and they could take off in fantasy basketball at the NBA right away if they land on the right team.

All season long, the heart and soul of the Kentucky team was freshman Julius Randle. He was highly regarded out of high school, and he really seemed to step things up on big stages. He is pretty much a lock to be a top 10 pick, even though there are concerns about his size at the NBA level. He is listed at 6’9” and 250 pounds, but his relatively short wingspan could be problematic against bigger bodies at the NBA player. His strength, offensive skill and rebounding ability makes him someone teams covet. Boston and Los Angeles seem like the two likeliest landing spots for him at this time, although things can obviously change with trades.

James Young did not really come on until late in the season, but he projects as a pretty serviceable player in fantasy basketball. He is a guy who can score in a variety of ways, and his outside shooting could really floor at the NBA level. He was largely overlooked coming in to Kentucky because there was so much other talent on the roster. However, scouts love his size and his ability to play some solid defense as well. He is a solid 6'7", and many have compared him to a bigger Arron Afflalo. Ironically, the Orlando Magic with the 12th overall pick could possibly consider him as the heir apparent to Afflalo. Minnesota, Phoenix, Atlanta and Chicago all have picks in the teens with a need for his position. He probably does not slip any lower than 16th overall.

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Do They Stay or Do They Go?

We know everyone is hurting out there, but rather than dwell on the brutal finale to an amazing run, it's better to focus on the future. 

The number one question on every Kentucky fan's mind today is who is coming back for next year and who is heading elsewhere. The following are our thoughts on who stays and who goes.

First off, the John Calipari to the LA Lakers rumor is just hot air for now. We see no reason Calipari would want to give up his cush position for the stress of an NBA franchise and the big egos (Kobe Bryant) that come with it. Especially if he has to move his family to California and give up more than 50% of his income to taxation. As a 55-year-old coach, it doesn't make a lot of sense. But we will stay tuned to the situation. 

As for the players, let's just get to the point. James Young and Julius Randle are gone 100%. 

Willie Cauley-Stein is 99% gone. We think Willie wants to come back, but next year's team will be post-loaded and, after the injury scare in the tourney, he would be best suited to leave now, while his draft stock remains in lottery territory. 

After an overall solid NCAA tourney, the Harrison twins are now 50-50 to stay. The fact is, they will probably decide what they decide together. So if they stay, it will be both of them. 

Alex Poythress and Dakari Johnson are both coming back. Johnson has the chance to mature into a lottery pick, and Poythress is a 4.0 student who could perhaps graduate next year as a junior. Don't think it makes sense for him to test the waters now. Besides, next year's class is light on wing players and Poythress looks to get a lot of minutes at the 3 position.

Marcus Lee is probably coming back, too. It sounds funny to even contemplate it after a year where he saw so little action. But Lee's talents were on full display in this year's tourney and there is no doubt he has a high ceiling. But frankly, we think he is bought into the Calipari system and understands that another year gives him a chance to put up double-double type numbers and be a certified lottery pick by year's end. Not to mention compete for a national title. 

Despite the many criticisms we've made about them, the Big Blue Lowdown sincerely hope the twins come back next season. If they do, Kentucky will have a "legitimate" preseason No. 1. Not a fantasy number 1 like they had before this year.

Here is our projected roster if the Cats get somehow get Lee/Johnson/Poythress/Twins back. Regardless of what the twins do, UK will probably need a transfer to add depth on the wing. Ballhandling and free-throw shooting proved to be a big problem vs. UConn. 

1. Andrew Harrison/Tyler Ullis/Dominique Hawkins
2. Aaron Harrison/Devin Booker
3. Alex Poythress/Derek Willis/Transfer
4. Marcus Lee/Trey Lyles
5. Dakari Johnson/Karl Towns

Bring on 2014-15!

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Is Number 9 Coming? Title Game Preview

What an absolutely epic run by the University of Kentucky in the 2014 NCAA tooney.

Left for dead by yours truly (and just about everybody else with a pulse), this UK team led and owned by frosh has done a 360 with performance in the dance.

Aaron Harrison, Alex Poythress and Julius Randle have put on quite a show. Let's not forget the play of arguably UK's go to offensive player James Young as well as the emergence of Dakari Johnson.

With one game left on Monday night—it’s time to break down the matchup.

I have seen UConn play four times this season in depth. I watched them get absolutely blown out by Louisville twice and now have seen them twice beat Florida.

They have hands down the best college backcourt in the country. Shabazz Napier is a clone of Kemba Walker but with better floor vision, and Ryan Boatwright is a clone of Eric Bledsoe. Both can expose their defender off the dribble and also pull from 25 feet and dagger you.

Both play sensational on the ball-pesky defense and love to take away passing angles into the lane. They are really good at forcing you to take perimeter jump shots. They are both smallish guards and UK perimeter players should have no trouble shooting over them. I do have concerns the Harrisons will be able to get to the rack freely.

On the wings UConn has two guys who can punish you—Niels Giffey a 5th year sharp shooter and emerging force and ex-UK recruit DeAndre Daniels.

Giffey likes to float on the perimeter and get kick out wing and baseline 3-point shots. Both Boatwright and Napier are sensational at finding open shooters off dribble penetration. Daniels is long and lean and can score in the post and from the wing. He is a really good weak-side offensive rebounder and UKs bigs will have to block him out. He is skinny and no real match for the girth of Randall-Poythress or Johnson on the interior defensively. UK will really need to focus their efforts on limiting Giffey's wide open looks.

UConn's other post players are really just role guys. They have a young shot blocker off the bench but nobody who is going to come in unexpectedly and do damage a la Marcus Lee.

The Keys to this game will be the following:

  • How do the Harrisons perform under sticky ballhawking defensive pressure? Andrew Harrison has a poor handle, and he has been given fits at times by smaller quicker players. Will Boatwright and Napier saddle UK’s perimeter defenders with fouls due to their quickness and penetration ability? Free throws may play a huge role in this game and neither team statistically shoots well (although both have been great in the tooney).
  • How does UConn stop UK from scoring at will in the post? UConn on paper does not have the size, girth or depth to stop UK's interior beasts. But can UK effectively enter the ball into the post vs. UConn's matchup zone and man to man?
  • James Young. UConn has nobody to guard him defensively because Daniels will be guarding bigger players and Giffey isn’t quick or athletic enough. If he can penetrate and get to the hole early, it should really open up the wings for weak side rebounding where UK's size and athleticism will be the difference.
  • UK not getting lulled into a perimeter shooting contest like Michigan State. UConn flusters you into shooting from the gaps in their zone. Sometimes ball movement and reversal is key even if it means not taking the first open look.

This game is tough to predict.

UConn is really hot right now but UK's run to get there has been tougher. When the stage is as big as an NCAA final, it’s best to choose the team with the most answers.

UConn has two players under 6-2 and one 6-8 player who can be an "answer."

UK has seven guys (all 6-5 or taller) who the NBA hotly covets. I will choose the team with more potential answers even if they are freshmen.

I don’t think this game will be like the white knucklers of the past three, but it will be around a 5 to 8 point margin thru out.

#9 is coming!

UK 73
UConn 66

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Kentucky’s Redeemers With a Run for the Ages

Some times there are games that just leave you speechless. And then there are times when you are left speechless for four consecutive games. This is the NCAA tournament, and this is your 2014 Kentucky Wildcats.

No matter what happens Monday night vs. UConn, it must be said that the 2014 tournament for Kentucky represents one of the most entertaining and heart-pounding runs in modern college basketball history. It certainly must be on the short list of impressive college hoops achievements.

These Wildcats have defeated a 1 seed, two 2s, and a 4, which also collectively include the defending champion, three Final Four teams from last year, three conference champions and four teams that spent the better part of the year ranked in the AP top 10.

Beating each of them on the grandest stage in the sport, in front of large capacity crowds and even larger national TV audiences, has made the run all the more incredible to watch. And the way they won these games has been nothing short of insane.

Saturday’s victory over Wisconsin is just the latest in this mind-blowing spree of success for Calipari’s youngsters. Kentucky trailed most of the night, getting down by as many as 9 points, before rallying back.

Faced with a 5-point deficit and only a few minutes to play, these freshmen and sophomores smiled at their own demise and took control of the game. Aaron Harrison’s miracle 25-footer, only the third such shot he has made in crunch time during this streak is but a block in a monument of clutch plays. Granted, it’s a pretty big block. But the other money contributions of this team are legion.

We can’t forget about the defensive prowess and high-flying antics of Alex Poythress. The big shot and get-to-the rack mentality of James Young. The crucial defensive minutes of Dominique Hawkins and do-your-job commitment of Jarrod Polson. Marcus Lee’s throwdowns and Dakari Johnson’s big hands all over the offensive glass. Andrew Harrison keeping his composure and a maintaining a short memory. And of course, Julius Randle’s ability to give Kentucky a muscular post presence, for which no team has yet found an answer.

These Cats, coming into this tourney as a humble 8 seed, have become “the Redeemers” in Kentucky lore. They’ve redeemed themselves after a long season of doubt and criticism. They’ve avenged past losses and recriminations. They’ve regained Kentucky fans’ love of their sport and team. And they have reminded us all that the win-or-go-home format of the NCAA tournament makes it the most magical of events in all of sports, and the stage where the unlikeliest of heroes emerge.

Regardless of what happens tomorrow night, this has been a run for the ages. Perhaps the most exciting run in the history of this great tourney. That’s no exaggeration.

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Title Number 9 Within Sight

I honestly believe that this title is Kentucky's for the taking.

I watched the entire Arizona-Wisconsin game and Wisconsin is very impressive. They have a great PG (Jackson) who can handle and control tempo, attack the goal and find open guys. They shoot the ball well and have a couple of guys (Hayes and Kaminsky) who can post you and score back to basket. They play great team defense and will get out in transition. This is not your daddy's Wisconsin. They can score and will run a little bit. Some of these white boys are damn good athletes and Kaminsky can do a bit of everything.

But let me be serious. There is no way they have the personnel to account for a Randle-Poythress-Dakari-Lee glass-eating, rim-protecting, pride of lions, along with an NBA-sized backcourt of guys who are (suddenly) deadly from behind the arc. This doesn't even account for whether or not Willie Cauley-Stein somehow makes it back. Sprinkle in unbridled confidence and swagger and the unconscious, short-term memories of the Harrison twins, as well as a dash of able personnel management from Calipari (maybe the surprise of the tournament?), and it's tough to not see them finishing the drill here.

Somehow, some way, this team has morphed into a fluid rotation of 8-9 super athletic, great-shooting, good-decision-making, high-flying freaks in the mold of a 90s-era Rick Pitino team. They are playing like the team that many of us fantasized about back in summer of last year when we started visualizing the lineup and speculating on 40-0 seasons....so why should the result be any different?

My only fear here is the consequence of a week of aggrandizing Kentucky's young all-stars, and all the "welcome back to Texas after a long year's journey" stories the media will run out about the Harrison twins and Randle. Meanwhile, Wisconsin will be the ugly stepsister that no one thinks has a chance. Remember, the biggest problem with this team since day one was their belief in their own inflated hype. I hope they can stay grounded this week.

In the meantime, let's all enjoy the beauty of an unexpected Final Four season, representing coach Calipari's third in five seasons at UK. No matter what happens next weekend in Arlington, this team has given fans more than enough to be proud of. And Aaron Harrison's shot will remain a part of Kentucky lore for many seasons to come. 

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A Matchup Nightmare for Louisville

The Vegas booking line currently has Louisville by 5.5 over Kentucky on Friday. I think that has a lot to do with novice betters throwing "easy" money at taking an under seeded 4 seed (per the media narrative) over on a lowly 8 seed that struggles to play as a team. This game will be close but I think Kentucky wins by 5. Here is why:

1) So much for the emphasis on calling touch fouls. Since the tournament began, the refs have put their whistle in the pocket. Kentucky's starting 5 is intimidating. All starters are at least 6'6, strong, and athletic. Louisville can simply not match up inside and will be waxed on the boards. While some have questioned starting Dakari Johnson over WCS, it makes sense why Calipari sticks with the current rotation. DJ, a/k/a, Moose, is a space eater. While he does not put up great numbers offensively, he cleans the boards, and more importantly, all 7 feet, 260 pounds of him just beats and wears on his man. He will tire and soften up Harrell and allow Randle to clean up the boards. Calipari then has the luxury to bring off the bench a 7'0 shot altering gazelle. UK's frontline is NBA level. In the first match up, UK destroyed UL inside without Randle playing the second half. That trend should continue and it should not surprise anyone if a cramp free Randle goes off with 25 plus points/15 boards.

2) UL has a faster backcourt. They will get steals and fast breaks. But they are undersized and will struggle to get off cleans looks against UK's size on the perimeter. So, while UL will score some easy points in transition, there should be an offset by their inability to hit from outside as long UK continues to switch on man defense as they have in the Tourney. Pressing teams have really not hurt Kentucky this year. Randle is an effective outlet press breaker so it is hard for pressing teams to isolate Kentucky guards in the backcourt because Randle is the outlet and often drives the ball up to the basket against all the holes left by the press.

3) Since the tournament started, this team has the swagger. Of all the great plays made in the Wichita State game, I think Poythress' block from behind set the tone for the remaining of the game. The team fed off that and now knows it can stand toe to toe with the best, and I do think Wichita State was one of the best overall teams in the Tournament. The swagger has appeared to have finally arrived for this team.

4) It will be important for Poythress to have a good game. He is athletic enough to shadow Hancock and strong enough to push him around. Hancock has been UL's offense this tournament and if Young and Poythress can knock him off his game, more pressure is placed on Smith to carry the load himself. Smith tends to get out of control when he tries to force the issue. UL has two primary scorers. Neutralize one and UL struggles to score in half court especially with the inside game being shut off by UK's superior front line.

5) The Twins need to repeat last week's performance. When the Twins drive and kick, the offense runs smoothly. The more they kick out, the more the driving lanes starting opening up as the game wears on. Both twins capitalized against Wichita State on drives because they knew when not force it. They don't need to be spectacular, just play smart and hustle back on Defense. If they revert to earlier form, then UK will be in trouble.

Of the remaining teams, UK is probably the worst matchup for Louisville's strengths. This will be a high energy game with a lot of early back and forth runs. If UK controls the Boards and takes smart shots, they pull it out if they keep shooting Free Throws at a 70% clip.

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Cats Fall Short in SEC, Get 8 Seed in Tourney

All in all, it was a good weekend for John Calipari and the young Kentucky Wildcats.

Even after falling in a heartbreaker to Florida in the SEC championship game, there are nothing but positives to take away from the trip to Atlanta.

Consider the following:

• In wins over LSU and Georgia, Kentucky showed considerably more energy, hustle and team chemistry than they have for most of the season.

• The offense showed flashes of explosiveness in all three SEC tournament games. In the LSU and Georgia games, the Cats turned close matches into blowouts. And vs. Florida, Kentucky was left for dead, down 16 in the second half, before storming back and having a chance to win the game as time expired.

• The Harrison twins are still hard to watch at times, but they showed scoring punch and were very effective when attacking.

• Willie Cauley-Stein looked like a beast against Florida, blocking shots, protecting the rim, ripping down boards and catching alley-oops left and right. If he takes that kind of aggressive mentality into the tournament, Kentucky is going to beat someone it shouldn’t.

• The product on the floor was something Cat fans can be proud of. UK looked like a team that wanted to win and wanted to play together. There was much more unselfishness than usual and they took care of the ball pretty well.

At the end of the weekend, Kentucky made the best team in the country look mortal and served notice that they will not be an easy out in the big dance. But here are some constructive critiques.

• This has not been one of John Calipari’s better coaching jobs. Kentucky’s rotations are still a bit puzzling. It would be nice to see more of the bench at times, and possibly some different lineup combos. Moreover, Calipari should take better use of his timeouts, work on scripting more plays and take advantage of “teaching moments” for these kids. There were times this past weekend when he just let them play and it wasn’t pretty.

• Kentucky’s offense is much more crisp when it is attempting to involve the bigs. Instead of a one dimensional offense where everyone stands around until a Harrison jacks up a poor shot, the Wildcats should focus more on running screens for Young, giving the ball to Randle on clearouts and trying to get Poythress and Cauley-Stein more looks on the block. Part of the problem is that Andrew Harrison is just not a table setter. But part of it has been selfishness and stagnant offensive sets. Hopefully, Calipari can draw up a few plays for next week.

• UK has to find a way to generate more transition offense. When Cauley-Stein blocks a shot and sends them running down the floor, good things happen. This is a team of gazelles, many of whom will be playing for pay some day. Kentucky has a physical advantage over almost everyone they will see. Gotta turn up the pressure and force more turnovers to turn on the fast break.

The season is still not over and despite the letdown of an 8 seed in the NCAA tournament, Kentucky can still do some damage. We will be back with more thoughts on the tourney later this week. 

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Calipari’s Future, SEC Tourney Edition

Going to the New York Knicks would be an epic disaster for John Calipari. I think that Phil Jackson and Cal are just not a sensible marriage. With that said, Calipari's recent quote about how UK just needed an offensive "tweak" to get their swag back is exhibit A on what is so maddening about this coach. The guy is still out slinging snake oil even when it is clear that he hasn't done his job well recently.

The preferred way to handle things, in our humble estimation, would be to say something like: "Look, we haven't been as good as everyone wanted or imagined us to be. We were overrated in the preseason and we haven't jelled like some of my past teams have. I take full responsibility as I haven't pushed the right buttons. Thankfully, this is March and we are Kentucky. There is still a lot to play for and we are going to leave it all on the floor for the Big Blue Nation this week in Catlanta and, god willing, in the NCAAs."

But of course, Calipari has to say things to uphold his bargain with all the shysters and hypesellers he deals with. Basically, even when the cards are down, he comes out sounding like a used car salesmen with a new dog and pony show to get everyone excited. These things work quite well when you're winning--especially the way Cal was winning in his first 3 years at the head of the program. But they come off as stale and borderline delusional when you aren't.

We still think, and sincerely hope, that Cal stays at Kentucky for a while. He has put too much into the program to throw it all away on two subpar seasons. And let's be fair, Kentucky still finished second in the SEC this season. So we aren't talking about everything cratering. But there is no doubt whatesoever that Calipari will need to make some pretty far-reaching changes.

It starts with trying to convince as many of this nucleus of kids as possible to stick around for next year. We think Young and Randle are 100% gone, with their places filled by heralded recruits Devin Booker and Trey Lyles. It would also stand to reason that the Harrison Twins are gone, to be replaced by Tyler Ulis and perhaps another commit. There is also a good chance Willie Cauley-Stein leaves, which is why Cal also signed dominant prep bigman Karl Towns. If none of these kids come back, next season will look a lot like this year, experience-wise. And unless they just have a special chemistry, that really won't fly.

We think Calipari needs to get more of them to stay in school, and he needs to give some of the bench players (Hawkins, Lee, Johnson, etc.) a little more PT during the SEC and NCAA tourneys just to prepare them for next year.

Calipari is 55 years old. Not exactly a good age to go off and attempt to forge a new legacy in the NBA when you've already failed it once. If AD Mitch Barnhart has a pair, he will have a long, meaningful talk with Calipari at the end of this season and tell him that UK wants to keep him around but that the underachievement cannot continue for three straight years. Then again, maybe UK will make a tourney run and none of this will be necessary. But we are sincerely doubting that.

The Current Coaching Situation

WIth all the above being said, some in the Big Blue Nation are talkin about the situation being perilously close to job changes made. Despite the ridiculousness of this speculation, we thought it would be worth it to give our two cents on things.

First, a determination must be made by the program on whether or not Calipari is the best man (and the right man) for the job. If you are Mitch Barnhart, how in the hell can you actually believe he is not? Out of five years, Calipari has given you a natty title and two Final 4 banners. In all, he has 3 superb seasons, one stinker and one semi-successful but mostly subpar year (this season). Unless Cal states outright that he is bolting for NBA dollars, what possible calculation could Barnhart be making to want to replace that?

Second, if for some crazy reason, Barnhart does believe that Calipari is not the right person to be UK's coach, then the logical next question is...what is the contingency plan and what are the risks of putting it into play? Billy D is not coming to Kentucky. That ship has sailed. The guy is a living legend in Florida, may be on the verge of notching a fourth Final Four and seventh Elite 8 appearance, possibly a third natty title. So, barring Billy D, we have to assume that all the other names on the list (Mark Few, Tom Izzo, Jay Wright, etc.) are going to do exactly what they did in 2009...turn down an offer to interview. If anything has changed since Calipari, it is that the UK job is even more radioactive as fan expectations are now soooooo high that they are almost ridiculous. So, what names are you actually left with? Gregg Marshall from Wichita State? Ok, nice coach with a nice two year run. But really, is that the play here? We find that such a scenario stretches credulity.

Third, assuming Cal stays and Barnhart wants him to stay (both very likely), then your last scenario here is booster influence. We agree that these guys have pull and are going to impact program decisions with their money. But really, do we have any evidence to believe that booster sentiment is tilting toward pitchforks and torches to run Calipari out of town? Even with the past two downseasons, it seems that UK is still up near the top in terms of talked about programs and several of this season's games were huge national affairs. So even in a downcycle, UK is still "in the conversation," and we think that means a lot to boosters. Yeah, UK needs to win more. No one denies that. But we arent entering the doldrums of Tubby Smith's last 5 years or the flat out catastrophe of Billy G. So the question is...does anyone see boosters wanting to push for a change?

At the end of the day, the best way to get the ship righted is to have Barnhart apply a little pressure on Cal--not enough to force him out but enough to make him rethink the one-and-done a little bit. If Cal works with his handlers and flesh peddler contacts, he can get the word out that a lot of these kids arent ready after just one year in college. The problem is that doing such a thing jeopardizes Cal's own recruiting prowess and reputation as running an NBA factory. But he really needs to find a way to keep more continuity in the program. The lack of leadership and desire is palpable right now.

Still, the SEC tourney starts today and we couldn't be more excited to see how things play out. If history holds form, Kentucky should have a few things to say before the conference season ends.

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Big Blue Nation Souring on This Year’s Team

1) This team is not responding to Cal. And he is going to give himself a coronary on the sidelines. Something is not clicking. The team played better in the South Carolina game after Cal was ejected. All he is doing is screaming this year. This team needs coaching. It is obvious to me that that the players have tuned him out, and when Robic took over and actually coached calmly, the team looked like the pressure was off and played better.

2) I like the Dribble Drive when it is played correctly. I pointed out in previous post that the team does not spread out and lacks movement. I think the problem is cyclical. The Twins and Young drive into a crowded lane and throw up crazy, low percentage shots which are cleaned up more often than not, because the Cats do kill the offensive boards. However, the bigs need to clear the lane so there is space and you don't have the crazy ass shots that we are seeing in the first place. Randle, WCS and Poythress rarely move and camp out waiting for the rebound. It is as if they are afraid to move because they know the Twins/Young will not pass to them so they try to get their points in a crowded lane on the rebound.

3) This team lacks urgency. They actually respond when their back is to the wall, but they shouldn't have to because of the overall talent. This team lacks a MKG or Patterson type personality. There is no one, including Randle, that can get the team to follow. Essentially, leaderless on the Court. See 1 that is where coaching is more important.

4) I agree somewhat about the disappointment of the Twins. I don't think they are that horrible but I do agree that they are overhyped and playing out of position. They have always been the star their whole life and are extremely selfish. There are not use to playing with superior players and appear that they want to be the star. The lack of hustle irks me the most. From what I hear, their time is up in the Spring, be it the NBA/European league, or a transfer to Texas. A lot of whispers about a transfer; Cal is "too hard" on them.

5) Cal built this 1 and done system. His entire recruiting philosophy is based upon it. He promises the players that they will play tough, man to man NBA style Defense full time and he tells them that if their dreams are to get to the NBA, they need to come to KY. The negative is that this system pushes through kids that are superior athletes with upside who can't dribble with both hands or who lack basic shooting fundamentals. They really need 3 years of college to hone their game but they get drafted based upon their potential. If Cal does not give them minutes, he loses his rep on the AAU circuit as the guy who makes the NBA happen.

6) A special comment about Poythress. What has happened. The dude came in with a good outside shot. Where did it go? All he tries to do is dunk. His offensive game is becoming one dimensional. Sad to see. I do like him when he plays with energy.

7) I am going retro, but I am starting to sour on the current game. There is no pride in the school. It is not just KY, but I never thought I would see a UK team give up at home like they did against Arkansas. Because of the 1 and done era, the team now comes 2nd. And this current class is about the most selfish, individualist class that Cal has brought in. I miss the days I could watch a freshman grow into a player that I really rooted for. The DeAndre Liggins and D. Millers are not coming anymore. Maybe Hawkins and Willis can be those guys, but Cal can't even find minutes in the blowouts for Willis to get some experience. Cal overlooks the value of the blue collar player who just relishes the opportunity to contribute. The sad thing is that Jorts would have never played if not for the NCAA making it necessary. Now if you can perform spectacular dunks and jump 40', who cares if you know how to set screens and box out because you are a McDonald's All American.

8) I do appreciate Cal. He brought a long needed championship. But for WV/Huggins forcing the Wall led team to rely on its weakness to win, there may be two banners in the past 5 years. But if Cal is not seeing the problem with pinning your entire championship potential on a starting line-up consisting of 5 freshmen, then maybe we do need a change. At the end of the day, they are five freshmen going against hungry veteran teams who put years of work in at the college gym to get better. It is never more apparent during the tournament. How many times has a Senior realizing that their time is almost over put a team on their back and willed a win; freshmen will never give you that extra effort because they simply do not understand it.

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Thoughts & Impressions as We Enter March

It is obvious that Marcus Lee is just too weak to be big contributor this year. He is an incredible athlete but he gets shoved around on the block and has no outside jumper. Don’t let the incredible dunks fool you as he will likely get exposed defensively during a game this year despite being a hustler who actually works hard in practice. I think, most recruiting analysts predicted a 3 year stay for Lee. He was rated so high because he is an athletic freak (40 plus vertical) with huge upside, but fans need to realize that he has to really bulk up his frame to be effective as key contributor, in addition, to he needs to refine his low post game and hopefully develop a jumper.


Though we hate starting rumors, they are out there, and the question keeps coming up about whether the TWINS are gone no matter what at the end of the season. There appears to be some tension between Calipari and the Twins. Listen to the Post-game press conferences, the Twins just don’t listen and Cal looks exasperated. The body language exhibits that of spoiled prima donnas who give up after a bad play. They have been billed as lottery picks for years but it does seem that they lack the 100% desire to dominant their opponent, a trait that has made prior UK players top pick in the recent past. Rumors continue to persist that if their Draft stock falls more, a transfer may be on the horizon back to Texas. Has the Cal’s Sensei/Pupil mastery on the PG position failed two years in a row? Maybe the rumors are false, but just watch the facial expression on the TV during the games; things are clicking between the Coach and players.

Regardless, underappreciated PG recruit Tyler Ulis will possibly steal the PG job next year if Andrew Harrison sticks around another year. Ulis is not a traditional Calipari recruit, but that may be a good thing as there will be a lot of scorers that need a good distributor. Ulis is small but lighting fast and is a true PG in every sense of the position. Ulis is very underrated because of his size (5’9), but this guy is a bolt with a great handle who ENJOYS passing the ball to open teammates. Probably the most traditional PG that Cal has recruited since he went all Dribble Drive, not counting Teague.

James Young continues to demonstrate selfish play time after time. He offensive game is overrated because of his streaky jumper and refusal to drive the rim at times. Hedoes appear all about building an NBA resume. He chucks many bad shots, refuses to pass when he should, jobs back in transition D, and is ho hum on defense in general. Young has been a little bit more consistent Archie Goodwin, but not by much.

And we do have to ask what is the deal with Poythress? Calipari has turned him into a dunker. He plays with much more energy this year but his entire game is trying to dunk the ball. He shot close to 40% from 3 last year and he is afraid to take open shots this year. Total package in athletic build and potential skill set, and a total disappointment in performance. He will be a 4 year player and a Cal failure at this point if this decline continues. What is odd, is how Poythress has been handled by Cal in a manner completely opposite on how he handle P. Patterson a few years ago (moved PP outside more to expand his game).

What is the Deal with this Dribble Drive Offense? I have seen more organized play by weekend warriors at the Y. The offense against Arkansas consisted of the Twins or Young driving into a crowded lane and then trying to throw the ball at the basket. Absolutely forcing 90% of the shots and hoping to get rebound. Total playground scheme. These players were selfish but it appeared that Cal was yelling at them to keep attacking as well. They refuse to kick it out to the wing and instead try to create a highlight for ESPN by forcing the lane when it is not open. When they miss, they hang their head or look at Cal and shrug.

The Dribble Drive, which I like, is all about spacing, crisp passing, and movement, until a crease opens an the player drives at the rim through the crease. The fact it is March andif Cal can’t get his players to understand the concept by now, it means the team is not likely going to live past the first weekend.

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Cats Land 5 Star Charles Matthews

Perhaps it has become so common that it is expected, but to little surprise, Kentucky picked up another huge commitment this week with class of 2015 shooting guard Charles Matthews.

Matthews may reclassify to 2014 and enter school next year, but regardless of when he shows up in Lexington, he is expected to make an impact. 

He is rated in the top 15 by Scout, Rivals, ESPN and 247Sports, and is a consensus 5 star player. 

Here is what ESPN has to say about him:

“Matthews is a long and lean athletic wing that can get to the rim and finish on the break. In the halfcourt he is an excellent slasher from especially along the baseline where he finishes with great touch and body control and uses his length to complete plays over smaller defenders. Mathews has an excellent first step and does a great job coming off curl screens and moving without the ball. His catch and attack moves into the lane really exposes the defense and creates help situations. He is a very capable on ball defender and has a pretty good defensive feel especially in help and recover situations. Matthews also displayed the ability to be a decent perimeter shot blocker.”

Also, this is an interesting look at some of Calipari's best recruits at Kentucky:

http://ukrecruiting.bloginky.com/category/charles-matthews/

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5 Straight Years of 20 Wins or More for Calipari

After Kentucky's road drubbing of Ole Miss became official, Kentucky crossed a lightly discussed milestone. 

The Cats notched their 20th win of the season Tuesday night, meaning all five of John Calipari's Kentucky teams have pulled off the feat. 

The 2013-14 edition still has five regular season games plus the SEC and (probable) NCAA tourneys to play in, so the likelihood is high that this number will increase.

Though most of the Big Blue Nation takes 20 wins for granted, we want to stop and congratulate Coach Cal on this achievement.

While many have been disappointed with the underachievement of the past two years given the incredible talent on the roster, the reality is that Cal has established a standard of excellence. 

A record of 143-32 is good for an 81% winning percentage, and if the season ended today, Kentucky would still be averaging 29 wins per season under Cal. 

Yes, these are just numbers and mean very little in the grand scheme. But it's important to recognize success when it happens. 

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Florida Crushes Kentucky’s Spirit

UK can beat Florida. But it won't be until after they graduate their 3 studs this year.

We can complain about the phantom Technical but UK wilted the last 5 minutes. They were scared and Florida wasn't. This team just doesn't have it. 3pt shooting is inconsistent, FT shooting is atrocious, and the team plays like prima donnas, instead of a team. This collection of prima donnas simply does not play hard.

I say now, that UK loses at Ole Miss, wins the next 4, and then loses by 20 at Florida. Finishes 23-8 for the regular season. Falls to Florida in the SEC and goes into the Big Dance at 25-9 with a 7-8 seed. Likely out by the round of 16 as possibly the most talented collection of talent that could not jell as a team.

BTW, I can't stand Andrew Harrison. Whines and cries after every miss. Sulks with his head down. The PG is the leader and sets the tone. His attitude has rubbed off on the team. He needs to go after this year.

I do not miss Tubbyball or BillyG and his flask, but I am getting tired of Calipari falling back to "I have a young team." He recruited it. If he is continuously focused on getting all 1 and dones, then he needs to take "we're young" excuse out of his interviews.
I have come around on my position about having some key vets (contributing non-freshman for a Calipari team). You cannot win the Title without some blue collar/4 year players that give you leadership and their maximum effort. The 09-10 team had Patterson, the 10-11 team had Liggins, Jorts and Miller, and the 11-12 team had Miller, Jones, and Lamb. Last year, no one. And this year, Poythress is may or may not attend the game.

Next year looks like the year. Good, not great recruiting class, with a good mix of returning veterans. I thnk Willis will be the wild card shooter this team lacks if he can put 25lbs of muscle on.

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UK-Florida: Tale of the Tape

Unquestionably the biggest game of the season for Kentucky. At least until the next time they play Florida in a few weeks.

ESPN Gamenight will be in attendance in Rupp Arena. The 9 pm tip ensures that the crowd will be lubricated adequately.

There has already been more national media focus on this game than any other UK tilt since conference season got started. In fact, ESPN’s basketball power index rating says that this matchup has the highest “quality rating” of any other game for the rest of the regular season.

And the hype is warranted.

Beating a top 3 ranked Florida team when everyone in the college basketball universe is watching is the best chance Kentucky is going to get to send a message to the NCAA tournament committee and the rest of the country about what kind of damage it can do in March.

For Florida, too, this is about as big as it gets. The Gators have romped through their first 11 SEC games, winning by an average of 14 points per outing. But though they have some pretty good non-conference wins, nothing else on their schedule comes close to a road game vs a top 15 Kentucky team at Rupp Arena.

So how will it play out?

Our keys to the game:

• Florida is looking like a team on a mission right now. This is a senior laden bunch which has been to three consecutive Elite 8s without a Final Four berth. Right now, we give the mental edge to the Gators who haven’t lost in over a month and are simply rolling through opponents.

• Kentucky’s edge is in the paint. The Cats have been dominant on the offensive glass this season and they will need to be again Saturday night. Florida plays tough D and could force some errant shots. So that means there will be a lot of opportunities for putbacks and garbage baskets. Randle, Johnson, Cauley-Stein and Poythress need to send a message with some thunderous follow dunks.

• Florida has positively feasted on teams with shaky guards. All season long, Kentucky’s fate has followed its backcourt play. When the Harrison twins and James Young are taking good shots and not turning the ball over, UK can play with anyone. How these guys handle Billy Donovan’s trademark fullcourt pressure will go a long way in determining the result.

• Free-throw shooting will play a factor. Neither team is strong in this area. Both are hitting about 67% from the charity stripe. If the game is close, foul shots will come into play and the team that shoots them better will have a big edge.

• Kentucky’s traditional homecourt advantage has made life hard on Florida during the Donovan tenure. In fact, UF is only 3-14 vs Kentucky at Rupp Arena, by far his worst road record vs any program in the SEC. This will be a very hostile crowd and a huge advantage for UK.

• Just make shots. This Florida team is a bit different than some of the recent editions as it doesn’t shoot as well from three and really only has one guy, Michael Frazier II, who is a prototypical long range bomber. But they get it done with efficiency and unselfishness. Kentucky on the other hand is like all young teams—unpredictable. But given the raw athletic talent on the floor, if Kentucky gets hot it could roll with the emotion and send 25,000 fans into a frenzy. Even the experienced, balanced Gators roster would be hard pressed to beat a Kentucky team that is scorching the nets.

Prediction: Kentucky rides the home crowd and puts on its best performance of the season for a thrilling 75-73 primetime win.

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Kentucky Tops Auburn in Ugly Bout

The Cats continue to roll in the SEC despite two consecutive sloppy performances (the previous being last Saturday's game against Mississippi State). This time Kentucky outlasted Auburn despite some cold shooting from the floor.

UK shot only 31% from the field, but it was enough to best a lowly Auburn squad that is now 11-11 overall and 3-8 in the SEC. 

Kentucky now moves to 9-2 in conference heading into this upcoming Saturday's showdown with nationally ranked No. 3 Florida, which is still undefeated in the SEC. 

Right now, Kentucky is winning without one true standout, but instead getting great performances from different contributors on different nights. Sorely lacking is consistency from the backcourt, especially the Harrison twins. 

If the Cats are going to have any chance of pulling off a huge resume-bolstering win in Rupp arena this weekend, they will need to get a total package from the entire roster. 

Andrew Harrison needs to stay out of foul trouble and be a steadying influence, especially when faced with Florida's fullcourt pressure. His brother needs to take better shots. 

Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress also need to turn their intensity up a notch and get after it like this is an NCAA tourney game. 

Kentucky will need to cut out turnovers and mental mistakes and draw on what should be a raucous environment. Momentum plays a big role in motivating or demotivating young players. 

UK can match Florida's athletes. Can it match Florida's intensiy and focus?

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UK Gets Resume Win Over Lousiville

They needed that. 

Really that is all you can say after Kentucky got a hard fought win over hated in-state rival Louisville. 

Saturday's big win was also evidence that Kentucky can win an important game without Julius Randle playing his best. 

When the Harrison twins and James Young play well, there is no limit to what this team can do. UK has the horses inside, able to throw big athletic bodies at opponents in waves. But the attitude, hustle and consistency of the backcourt is what has been a question mark up to this point.

Seeing that element of Kentucky's game is a positive sign. 

The reality of the NCAA tournament resume is that Kentucky needed a signature win vs a top 10 caliber team, and beating the defending champs is about as good as it's going to get the rest of the way. 

The SEC is weak this year and opportunities for precious top 50 rpi wins will be slim. Two games with Florida and road tilts with Arkansas and Missouri are perhaps the only matchups left that have the potential to look impressive down the stretch. 

Thankfully, Kentucky has played a very difficult non-conference schedule, and though the impressive wins havent been plentiful, the overall slate is not bad. When all is said and done, out of conference wins over Providence, Belmont, Boise State and Louisville against close losses to Michigan St., Baylor and UNC makes for a solid, if unspectacular, preseason. 

But the truth is Kentucky will need a top-notch conference run (probably 14 wins or more) to attain a top 4 seed. 

If you had asked me last week whether or not a top 4 seed was attainable, I probably would have said no. But there is too much talent on this roster to rule anything out. If Kentucky can build off this win and get consistent production from its young guards, the sky is the limit. 

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Tar Heels Out-Fight Wildcats

North Carolina was just too tough for Kentucky and its lineup of young bucks.

You can see on Coach Calipari’s face that he is growing impatient with his young team, even this early in a young season.

The Tar Heels, not sporting one of their most talented teams of the Roy Williams era, managed this win while missing 19 free throws and having seven shots blocked.

UNC has already knocked off a pair of top 10 teams in Louisville and Michigan State, so this wasn’t a fluke. But we expect better from a Kentucky team with so much depth and future pro talent.

This loss sends another painful message that it is tough to build a season around a top recruiting class and not much more.

The Wildcats dominated the offensive glass and looked strong in the paint. But a combination of dumb turnovers and poor shot selection, hallmarks of young teams, outweighed anything good Kentucky could do on the defensive end.

Another bad sign: when Julius Randle does not play at his best, Kentucky struggles.

The lone bright spot, perhaps, is that Kentucky fought to the finish and will no doubt learn from the experience of playing a tough road game in one of college basketball’s most challenging environments.

But Kentucky must play much, much better team basketball to have any chance of molding this team into a national or even SEC contender by March.

Worst of all, the Cats squandered yet another opportunity to net a big out of conference win to impress the NCAA tourney committee.

The Louisville showdown looms ever larger.

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Cats Fall to Baylor Bears for Second Straight Year

The Baylor game was awful. It was clear that UK had more talent against a very physically talented team. But this team is lost and cannot play as a team right now. My observations.

1) UK becomes a lost plodder against a zone. Outside shooting is ok, but overall the team because clueless and lacks ball movement. Every team from here on out is going to zone UK. If they do not adapt, they will lose 10 games IMO and be an early out in the Tourney.

2) I think the team bought into the 40-0 hype preseason. They act like if they just show up, they win. They are lazy and play with an air of entitlement. No killer instinct; no sense of urgency. Lazy defensive movement; slow to offer weak side help. On offense, the team does not communicate well and they look bored. Every time one of the Harrison Twins walks the ball up the Court, Cal needs to pull them. This team needs to play faster; if they don't they become lethargic. Even Randle goes through the motions at times, more so when the Twins are. Lee and Hawkins are the only two players who give 100% effort.

3) Poythress needs to decide if he wants to play basketball at the next level. The guy can dominate and then 5 minutes later get rejected by a cheerleader and starts crying.

4) Another 50% Free Throwing shooting display. Failing to hit the front end of the 1 and 1 in the last few minutes of a tight game is killing this team. This team shoots FTs worse than Cal's Memphis teams, and they were bad.

5) This team lacks toughness. They sulk and let themselves get bullied. Baylor man handle UK on the boards. I have never seen a team sulk and pout so much after a bad play or a Baylor run. The Harrison Twins literally bow their heads after a bad play and quit hustling. Embarrassing to watch. I would start Hawkins and Polson until the Twins change their attitude. These supposed leaders are rubbing off on everyone else, including Randle.  I think Cal knows he has a problem. I have never seen him get up and walk out in a press conference with total disgust like last night. He wasn't acting, he was legitimately pissed.

The only time this team played hard is when the pressed briefly. This team has plenty of talent. I still believe that they are the most talented team out there. But they need a major attitude adjustment or this team will blow up. Right now, Louisville, NC, @Arkansas and Florida (2) are shaping up as potential losses. I would not be shocked if Boise State gets a win given how this team is reeling right now. I hope I am wrong.

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Comments on UK’s Loss to Sparty

My comments after sleeping on the loss.

1) Ft shooting on the year 65%; 3pt shooting is at 30%. Has to get better or this team is beatable in a one and out game. With the new foul rules, this team will go to the line 30+ times every game. They cannot keep giving away free points.

2) This team obviously bought the hype. All the stories/narratives about 40-0. It was reported that the Harrison Twins were commenting before the game that Jay Campbell said they were the greatest assembly of talent on earth and will demolish everyone by 40. Yes they read this blog. The team bought into the talk. If anything, I think this loss is humbling, and may be a good thing in the long run.

3) Mich. State, a legitimate Top 5 team, and punched the young Cats in the mouth. At one point, the lead was 15, and yet, if UK hits 70% of their FTs, they win. The superior talent is there.

4) A lot of the mistakes were teachable. Errant and forced passes. Movement and ball rotation on offense. Cal will fix that. It is only 3 games.

5) Hustle. There is no reason why any team should outrun this team. Mich. State scored a lot because they hustled, the young’uns jogged back. That is teachable.

6) Cal has to get Poythress more involved in the offense to take pressure off Randle. To his credit, Poythress has been a beast and he can be stoppable if Randle is commanding a double.

7) My wish. 3 games now, the Cats came out for the first 5 minutes lethargic. I predicted if they did that, they could lose. If I were Cal, I would consider starting with a press right off the bat just to get everyone going fast. I still think the press could be deadly for this team, but my main reason for using it now, is just to get the energy level up.

I think UK will be fine. UL could be a loss, as NC, but this team can still win the championship. No need to jump ship yet.

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Quick Thoughts on Matchup With Michigan State

Kentucky meets Michigan State Tuesday night in Chicago in a titanic early season battle of traditional powerhouses, which also happens to be a clash between the top two teams in the country. It is too early to know much about how this one might go, but here are some quick points from the BBL.

As expected, we think Randle is going to be the engine for this Kentucky team and a definite POY candidate. This team is so deep and talented that a lot of high ceiling players arent even going to see the floor this year. Cal is regularly a 6-7 man rotation guy and we expect that rotation to end up being Harrison twins/Young/Randle/Poythress/WCS. Other kids will get situational minutes of course, but barring surprise, this means that Johnson and Lee will be back next year to bolster a pretty stout incoming class. (As much as the BBL hates it, part of life in this one and done era is to be talking about or referencing next year already when we are only 2 games into this season.)

From an Xs and Os standpoint, it is too early to predict accurately what might happen Tuesday night. The BBL thinks a big factor is how Kentucky shoots from beyond the three point arc and from the foul stripe. Tom Izzo teams are always strong inside and play physical. Early season games between powerhouse teams are also usually sloppy. So we wouldnt be shocked if there were a lot of fouls, whistles and stoppages of play. This greatly favors MSU, since they have seniors and are comfortable in a slow, plodding slog of a basketball game.

That said, this will be a talent mismatch, and that is laughable to say about a 1 vs 2 matchup. Kentucky should be able to overcome youth with raw firepower and keep this game close. But we are simply not able to confidently call this a UK win. It is too early in the season and there is no way to know if this group of pups will come together.

The good news is, it doesnt really matter. In the grand scheme of things, just playing in a game of this caliber vs a Final Four contender will be valuable for UK's kids. We hope Kentucky can pull it out but a team that starts 4 freshman will probably lose a few here and there. There would be no shame if this is one of them.

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Some Blue-White Scrimmage Thoughts

I know Kentucky is a football school now, but I thought I would tune into the basketball scrimmage the other night. What I saw:

-The team is NBA athletic but still raw. The length and versatility of this team is incredible. That said, and maybe because Cal did not want to show much publicly, but the defense was similar to a YMCA league for now. I do know that this team will block a lot of shots. This team will press and its length will create turnovers. I have no doubt we will see more press this year than any other time under Cal.

-Depth. Deepest team Cal has had. Expect lots of substitutions. Remember when Pitino would sub 5 at a time in 1996 and not miss much of a beat? Cal may be able to do that too. Opposing teams will wilt from exhaustion in the second half.

-The starting five will be:  Harrison Twins, Young, Randle and WCS. Very few teams in the country could play 40 minutes with these 5 alone. Randle is the real deal. The guy could play PG, if necessary, and he has a MKG motor. Enjoy him while he is here. Young may score 40 points in a game this year. Freak player. The Twins are bruisers and will be tough to guard. Lack super speed but fundamentally sound. Better shooters than I thought.

-Poythress needs to decide if he wants to play this year. From what I saw tonight, he will be lucky to get 10 minutes a game at this point. The guy has all the tools and the body, but at times, he really looks like the kid on the soccer field picking up a dandelion while a the other kids are trying to score.

-I know many are high on D. Johnson but he will struggle in this fast paced offense. On defense, no one is moving him and he will get the rebound, but on offense, he is a plodder, does not jump well, and has limited offensive range. Good guy to bring in to pound on someone in close games but if UK is rolling, he will not be much of a factor.

-Lee is a leaper. Needs to put weight on but he will be the energy guy. Probably put in on a press a lot.

-D. Hawkins will be a solid contributor beginning next year. Built like a NFL RB, drives hard, and is quick. Reminds me of a more athletic Anthony Epps.

-D. Willis can stroke it. Went 5-6 from three. Excellent shooting form. The kids needs 30 lbs of muscle but he will be a valuable role player at Kentucky.

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Julius Randle is a Freak!

True, the Calipari years at Kentucky have seen some phenomenal young talent hit the hardwood at Rupp Arena. But rarely has a player come in with the kind of physical maturity as Julius Randle.

Sure, we have seen incredibly talented players, some of whom are putting together spectacular numbers at the professional level. But just look at the video below and ask yourself whether you’ve ever seen a freshman with this combination of strength, size and athletic ability.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FuyD3JOwnug

Obviously we don’t know what Randle will do at Kentucky. From all indications, he is a high energy player, a hard worker and a guy who wills his teams to win (see Michael Kidd-Gilchrist).

Perhaps he will be a legend when all is said and done. Perhaps he will be the top pick in the 2014 draft.

None of that is know right now.

But man, this cat looks like an NFL tight end. Physically, he is a beast, and though we’ve learned our lesson about the unreliability of YouTube highlight reels, it is hard not to get excited about Julius Randle in a Kentucky uniform next season.

With that said, Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart might have the more impressive dunks in this little compilation.

Enjoy.

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The Professionalization of Kentucky Basketball

A couple weeks back, former Wildcat great Jeff Sheppard sent the Big Blue Nation into an uproar over a few comments that were decidedly unflattering toward coach John Calipari and his preference for one-and-done players.

While fans can and will debate whether Sheppard’s statements were disloyal, one interesting point was Shep’s comment that there has been “too much celebrating NBA draft picks.”

Hard to argue with him on that point. After all, long before Kentucky won its 8th national title in 2012, Calipari stunned many with his 2010 comments on NBA draft day that having 5 players selected in the first round was perhaps “the biggest day in Kentucky basketball history.”

Calipari has since made up for such a rash statement—and then some—by reaching two Final Fours and hanging a national title banner. But it’s hard to not think that there is now a very big emphasis within the program on putting UK players in the professional ranks. It sometimes almost feels as though that goal takes precedence over winning college basketball games.

That said, the unabashed NBA slant to the program and winning games are positively correlated. After all, having Lebron James attend games at Rupp or ex-UK NBA players coaching summer camps create decidedly good PR buzz for the program, catching the eye of the types of athletes who win championships.

But Calipari will up the ante this year, with two events that take Kentucky’s pro-hoops love affair to new heights. The first is a September scrimmage between the 2009-2010 team and the title winning squad of 2011-2012. This titanic matchup will settle a lot of arguments in the commonwealth, while also making for must-see TV.

The second event is that Rupp Arena will host an actual NBA game this season. On October 19, the Washington Wizards led by ex-UK star John Wall will meet the New Orleans Pelicans and former Cats Anthony Davis and Darius Miller.

Whatever you think of the new “connection” between Calipari’s Kentucky program and the NBA, there is one thing you cannot deny: Kentucky is the premiere *it* program in college hoops today and with spectacles like these, it will remain so for a long time to come.

With that exposure, recruits will follow and Kentucky teams will be competitive. If you doubt that, just look down the road. UK already has a commitment and heavy interest from multiple top 50 players in 2014, and could haul in as many as 6 top 20 players in 2015. 

Until proven otherwise, Calipari is still the best recruiter in college basketball. It’s no coincidence that he often states that preparing players for pro ball is his mission.
Just look at his track record. Not many programs can show this link to any prospective player thinking about where to play his college ball. It’s just an embarrassment of riches.

http://www.ukathletics.com/sports/m-baskbl/archive/cats-in-pros.html

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Wiltjer Decision: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Kyle Wiltjer’s family made it official last Friday: the UK big man will transfer to Gonzaga, sit out the upcoming season and finish out his collegiate career in Spokane.

While the announcement surprised no one, we can now "officially" speculate how this will effect Kentucky in 2013-2014.

The GOOD. That a double digit scorer—a former McDonald’s All-American who was a part of the 2012 national team—even considered transferring can be viewed as a pretty good overall sign of the talent level at Kentucky. The depth and athleticism that forced Wiltjer’s hand will be on full display this coming season, in what expects to be a fast and high-flying unit. 

Kentucky’s roster next year, though young, will be stacked with NBA talent. There is some veteran punch in the post (Cauley-Stein, Poythress) and, at least in spirit if not in minutes played, a couple elder statesmen on the bench (Polson, Hood). But make no mistake, the Cats will be driven by a group of “high ceiling” freshmen, some of whom will not be in Lexington long. 

Though a deadeye shooter and a versatile scorer, Wiltjer lacks speed, quickness and agility. His departure, coupled with the long, rangy athletic prototype of the incoming class, signals a commitment from Calipari to get this team back to an up and down pace of action. In short, Wiltjer was not a fit for Cal’s dribble drive and having him around may have only complicated the rotation.

Additionally, even when scoring points Wiltjer was a defensive liability who gave up a fair share of eas buckets. So taking him off that end of the floor is an addition, not a subtraction, for next year's club.

The BAD. Despite all of the above, the Cats lose a player who has seen every opposing gym in the SEC. He would have been the only player on the roster who had logged any significant minutes in the NCAA tourney. And he was a known commodity in college hoops, bringing name cache and some continuity from the past couple seasons (not that those things are in short shrift at UK).

There has been much debate in recent years about which is a superior formula for NCAA success: great talent with limited experience or good talent with great experience. What no one disputes is that having great talent and significant experience is best of all. In Calipari’s four years at Kentucky, his two Final Four teams had that mix. His two teams that failed to reach the milestone were less experienced. Coincidence?

Beyond the experience factor, Wiltjer’s transfer also takes away a long range shooting threat and potential zone busting option for Cal. Poythress and one or two of the incoming pups (Young or Harrison, most likely) will need to fill that void.

The UGLY. Perhaps the Wiltjer transfer was inevitable, but it reveals a not-often publicized dark side to the Calipari talent trains that currently roll through Rupp Arena every year. Depending on how you calculate the numbers, Kentucky has seen a rapid increase in the number of players “forced out” of the program in the past four seasons.

Darnell Dodson, Stacey Poole, Matt Pilgrim, Kevin Galloway, Ryan Harrow and Kyle Wiltjer are all fairly high profile recruits who transferred from UK after realizing they would lose minutes to incoming freshmen. Add to that the early NBA departures of Deandre Liggins and Archie Goodwin, and we see a pattern in the Calipari system where highly touted recruits must put up immediate, elite production, or else face a loss of playing time to the next great freshman class.

It is not hard to understand why this is happening.

Calipari’s incredible recruiting track record is dependent on selling the next crop of one and done pros on coming to the school, logging big minutes from the start and then departing for NBA riches after one season, two at most. If Calipari cant keep the early entrant draft picks flowing through, he can’t guarantee more minutes to the next great class, and therefore cannot replace them with fresh blue chip studs. And the system breaks down.

Meanwhile, players who require more development time become inconvenient obstacles to the talent tidal wave and, more often than not, make the decision to get out of Dodge and look for better opportunities elsewhere. 

The reality is that Cal only plays the best players, and will put the player on the floor who gives him the best chance to win. Nothing wrong with that. But looking at it from a cynical point of view, it is hard not to see this type of constant churn and “only as good as your last deed” personnel management as a reflection of the increasing “professionalization” of the program.

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In His Words: Calipari on Historic Class

Since signing what many think is the best class in college hoops history, Coach John Calipari has been uncharacteristically mum. He recently opened up to the media and offered some candid thoughts on each player. We offer them here, along with our own comments. Print this out and revisit in a few months...

Aaron Harrison:
Coach Cal: “Aaron is more of a scoring guard who can make shots and make plays at the rim. He can also play some point in a pinch. Like his brother, Andrew, he has the ability to physically dominate the opponent.”

Our take: Aaron Harrison will play 30 minutes a game from the start and lead the team in scoring on many nights, if not for the season. He has long arms, a fluid jump shot and great hops at the rim. His keys for success will be feeding off his brother’s playmaking abilities and getting enough production from other players so that he does not have force anything a la Archie Goodwin this past season. With the talent on this roster, on paper, this should not be a problem.

Andrew Harrison:
Coach Cal: “Andrew comes in ready to play physically at the point-guard position. He’s a driver, slasher and playmaker with great size. He and his brother Aaron have the ability to be great on-ball defenders.”

Our take: Will rarely come off the court. The difference between Cal’s first three seasons and last year was at the PG position. Harrison salves that wound immediately. Barring injury, Harrison has the potential to be a first team AA type of player. He is big, strong and athletic, has a ridiculous handle and can get around anyone with an NBA ready first step. If he takes a pass-first mentality, he will lead the SEC in assists.

Dominique Hawkins:
Coach Cal: “When I watched him play, lead his team, and play with a will to win and fight, I was totally sold. At the Sweet Sixteen, he made sure he got his teammates involved and was always happy with their success, but when it was time to take over the game — when it was winning time — everyone in the building knew they were going to play through Dominique, which they did, and they won.”

Our take: A great signing by Kentucky. Hawkins is strong and athletic enough to push for playing time his freshman year, and certainly will make practice more interesting for the Harrisons. While he does not possess the overall defensive and shooting polish of the twins, he has the raw physical skills to develop over time, giving Calipari a solid backcourt option for the next four years. Having a serviceable in-state kid on the roster also never hurts.

Dakari Johnson:
“Coach Cal: Dakari’s improvement over the last year and a half has been phenomenal. ... Dakari is a great student and a great kid. He’s won a high school championship, a world championship with Team USA, and he said he wants to win a national championship with us and an NBA championship. That statement says a lot about the type of winner he is.”

Our take: Dakari Johnson is a work in progress. Potentially a little overrated from a prep standpoint, Johnson is not an explosive athlete nor does he possess a well developed overall game. He has a knack for the basketball and could become a rebounder and situational post defender early in his career. But he doesn’t have the offensive gifts or overall speed to figure to take many minutes away from a frontcourt nucleus of Cauley-Stein, Randle and Poythress. Still, with good hands and a huge frame, Johnson could eventually develop into a big-time center both at UK and the next level.

Marcus Lee:
Coach Cal: “He gets to the basket, he’s a terrific shot-blocker and he can rebound above the rim. Marcus has unlimited upside because he’s going to get stronger and he’s going to improve his skill around the basket.”

Our take: Another freakish athlete with a frame that needs time to develop. Similar to Johnson, Lee is also very raw. The difference is primarily that Lee has the speed and quickness of a much smaller player. With his rail thin frame, Lee may take some time to develop. But we think he will get in the game and make some occasional highlight reel plays his freshman season. Over the long term, Lee can be a triple-double type player as he appears to also possess good floor vision and the ability to score and play defense. Will need to work on his mid range jumper and back to the basket game.

Julius Randle:
Coach Cal: “He has that will to win that the players I’ve had who have become special have all had. That motor will be important to our success next year. ... At the end of the day, he’s a true leader whose personal drive is off the charts.”

Our take: This guy is a grown man. Randle’s presence is what will make UK a championship contender.  He is a difference maker. Appears to possess the competitive fire necessary to push his team to great heights. It is not a coincidence that his HS team won three titles in four seasons. This guy is a legit man-beast. Big, strong, fast, good passer, good handler, soft touch, finishes around the rim, leaps, blocks shots and finds open guys. Add that the motor and quickness to be an elite defender. Just not a lot of faults in his game at this point. Kentucky needs to send a thank you note to the state of Texas because Randle and the Harrison twins would keep this team highly ranked even without the supporting cast. And yes, we expect Randle to play in Lexington for one season only.  

Derek Willis:
Coach Cal: “He’s a long-armed basketball player who can get his hands on balls and really pass. Like Marcus, he has a tremendous upside because he’s going to get stronger and be able to play more physical and really use his size and his shot-making ability to spread the court for us.”

Our take: Willis is another guy who puts the transformational job Calipari has done at UK in stark relief. At nearly any other program, Willis would be a nice piece in the foundation. A big man with good hands, a great shot and body that can be developed. A talented guy who could have a nice career at a lot of BCS schools. At Kentucky, however, it will be an uphill journey for four years for Willis. He will need to make crazy strides with his body and really dedicate himself to outworking everyone on the roster. Even if he does that, there is no guaranteeing he will be able to carve out a niche in the endless talent train that keeps running through Rupp. But again, we like to see an in-state kid and hope he can work his way into a Harrellson-like performer by his junior or senior year.

James Young:
Coach Cal: “James is a long, athletic and skilled wing. He’s a lefty who can shoot it and get in transition. You can throw it ahead to him and he can make basketball plays. He rebounds the ball for his position as well anyone in the class.”

Our take: Young is an intriguing player in that he is not expected to be an immediate high impact player from day one at Kentucky, but there is certainly a chance that he will be. In other words, Kentucky probably doesn’t need Young to be a “diaper dandy” but if he is, there is no limit to what this team can do. Young is a smoove lefty combo guard who can leap and make showtime plays in transition, while also sporting a nice jumper and ability to get to the rim in a halfcourt set. Can he play bigtime defense consistently for long stretches? If the answer is yes, then he could be one of college basketball’s biggest revelations in 2013-14. As it is, we expect him to have moments where he catches fire and absolutely goes off. More than likely will start the season as a Sixth man.

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Stay or Go? The Lowdown on Kyle Wiltjer’s Transfer

The recent announcement by Kyle Wiltjer of his intent to transfer from Kentucky to another program boils down to one thing: playing time.

Looking at the 2013-14 Kentucky roster, Wiltjer had to have been thinking that minutes would be scarce. How do you find time for a slow-footed, 6-10 spot shooting specialist in a frontcourt mix that includes sophomores Willie Caulie-Stein and Alex Poythress with incoming prep studs Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee.

Even by very, very generous standards, Wiltjer was facing a drastic cutback in minutes.

Perhaps more problematic than getting pushed out of his spot by newcomers, recent news indicates that Coach Calipari and the staff have been disappointed with Wiltjer’s work ethic and commitment to getting stronger and better. The TV evidence tends to corroborate this theory.

Wiltjer possesses great hand-eye coordination, natural ball skills and a pretty shooting stroke. He has also shown he can find a way to score with his back to the basket. He provided unquestionable leadership and scoring punch at times in his first two years at UK.

But he is a defensive liability and his offensive prowess is limited by stronger defenders, of which the SEC has in spades. Moreover, he lacks the quickness and leaping ability that are the prized assets of Calipari’s dribble drive offense.

Meanwhile, the incoming class is one of the most physically gifted groups of basketball specimens that college hoops has ever seen….no exaggeration.

When your best attribute is neutralized or severely hampered by the system you play and the personnel you play with, you have to have something to fall back if you want to stay on the court—defense, rebounding, physicality, etc.

Kyle has no “fallback” option in his game. And so the transfer talk.

But let’s face the reality here. Despite the shortcomings stated above, Wiltjer is a talented big man with a chance to play at the next level. True, that chance has diminished in the past few years as Wiltjer has been exposed to elite caliber athletes. But hope is not lost.

Wiltjer just needs time. He needs to get serious about how much he is willing to work and dedicate to his craft. Kentucky basketball is now a program so elevated in status that wonderful players like Wiltjer are faced with what can only be described as a daunting reality: becoming a pro basketball player is extremely difficult and only occurs in rare situations.

Kentucky’s extraordinary success in producing successful pros is an incredible testament to Cal’s accomplishments as a talent scout, coach and developer. But the school is also now a stud factory that quickly separates dreams from reality. For all the John Wall and Anthony Davis types, there have also been a few who were cut from the chaff—Stacey Poole, Ryan Harrow, Darnell Dodson, etc.

An NBA career isn’t automatic just by inking the blue and white signing letter. But it is a lot more likely. And that is why we think Wiltjer’s best bet continues to be with the University of Kentucky.

In the past few days, news has emerged that Wiltjer may stick around Lexington and not transfer after all. If he elects to do so, then a redshirt would be a smart move.

Mid-career redshirts are rare (and even rarer these days) but they aren’t unprecedented, and they certainly aren’t without success stories. In fact, the BBL encourages Kyle to put in a call to ex-Wildcat great Jeff Sheppard.

Sheppard redshirted before what would have been his senior year in 1996-97, seeing the logjam at his position around that time (Derek Anderson, Ron Mercer, Allen Edwards). He returned the following year and promptly led the Cats to the 98 national title, where he was named the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

In any scenario, whether at UK or elsewhere, Wiltjer will be sitting out next season to work on his body. Doing so at Kentucky, where he can come back fitter, stronger and chock full of high-level collegiate experience—from the highs of winning a title to the lows of being an upperclassmen pushed out of playing time by freshmen—is the surest way to earn himself a spot on an NBA roster.

After all, there is simply no better opportunity for the combination of media attention and on-court success.

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NBA Comparisons for Kentucky Freshmen

It is only the summer, but with the 2013 NBA draft approaching, now might be as good of a time as ever to come up with NBA comparisons for the star-studded 2013 freshman class for the Wildcats. Most, if not all of these recruits will get a shot to play in the NBA at some point, which is the reason they signed with Kentucky in the first place.

Of course, all NBA comparisons are best-case scenario. Odds are not all will develop into All-Star caliber players, but at this point in their development, they very well could.

Julius Randle

NBA Comparison: Amar’e Stoudemire/Chris Webber

At 6’9” and 248 pounds, Randle has the size and the skills to play in the NBA this upcoming season. Yes, he is still learning, but he seems the most likely to be a one-and-done player for Kentucky next season.

As a lefty, he can be a matchup problem for guys first going up against him, something to take note of if you are a fantasy basketball player. He might not be as athletic as Stoudemire, but he probably is further along fundamentally than he was. Before both were injured, Stoudemire and Webber are probably the two best comparisons.

James Young

NBA Comparison: James Harden

Young can score in bunches, which helps him draw comparisons to a lot of combo wings out there in the NBA right now. Like Randle, he is another lefty, so comparisons to guys like James Harden and Michael Redd are the most convenient.

He is probably a better athlete than Harden at this stage, but his shooting and ball handling is a tick behind. Still, he will get to play in a system that could allow him to be the leading scorer for Kentucky as a freshman.

Andrew Harrison

NBA Comparison: Deron Williams

Andrew is the slightly better NBA prospect at this point, mainly because he has the ability to play either guard position. At 6’5”, 214 pounds, he will be able to step into the NBA and hold his own right away. He is still a streaky shooter, but he can get into the paint and create offense in a variety of ways.

Aaron Harrison

NBA Comparison: Dion Waiters

In order to truly excel at the NBA level, Aaron will need to learn how to handle the ball as well as Andrew. He probably shoots better than Andrew at this stage, but he seems to be a guy who might be better off playing a year at Kentucky after his brother goes to the NBA. He could step in and work on his ball handling and polish his game without being overshadowed by his brother.

Marcus Lee

NBA Comparison: Shorter Javele McGee

He might not be as long and as talented as Nerlens Noel was when he arrived in Lexington, but Lee is a defense-first inside presence who can change the game with his shot blocking. There will be no need for him to score a lot at Kentucky, but he does need more of an offensive game before he is a NBA lock. He is another guy that could possibly return to his sophomore season and help his stock by getting better offensively.

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Future Wildcats Highlight McDonald’s All-American Game

The Big Blue Lowdown's UKHomer offers his thoughts on Kentucky's incoming class after watching the McDonald's All American game. UK Homer says top recruit Andrew Wiggins will be a Wildcat so he includes him in the analysis.

Print this out as its always reference material a year later.

Andrew Wiggins: He is a Human Pogostick!  But he is not the top player in the class IMO. He has the most overall athleticism and a body built for the pros but I dont know if he can shoot it from deep like Lebron. Nor do we know if he can handle really well off the dribble. If he can do all those things, well I retract my thoughts. He seems reserved too. Not what you want in a Franchise player.

Julius Randle: This guy seriously impressed me. Nonstop motor.  Long and faster than everyone on the floor.  He will go top 3 no doubt.  Lefty like TJ but even bouncier.  He is very cerebral and looks to find open teammates at all times.  He is the glu next season-NO QUESTION!

Andrew Harrison:  The best combo PG to come into college since Derek Rose. There is nothing he cant do. He is 6-5 and will dominate smaller less physical kids. He can shoot it, handle it and pass it as well as just about anybody i have seen in college.

Aaron Harrison: Another NBA wing. Jumps out of the gym, 25 foot range.  Both of the brothers are here today and gone tomorrow.

James Young: A crazy athlete scorer deluxe. Also a lefty. Hard to imagine him not playing 20 mins+ but he might have to contribute as a Liggins type ballhawk to see long stretches. Make no mistake though, he can carry UK offensively next season.

Dakari Johnson: A true big man. He is slow and soft. But he has good low post fundamentals and knows what to do with it. He will be overwhelmed in practice next season going up against Poythress, WCS and Randle. I see him as a nice 3-4 year big man who will learn, grow and improve.

Marcus Lee:  This kid is a freak athlete. Probably best leaper of all incoming (save for Wiggins) but he is too skinny and needs work in the weight room. Has nose for the ball though and great hands and timing. Will play 5-8 mins next season in defensive pressing situations. Will be great shot blocker in time. 3-4 year player likely.

Jabbari Parker impressed me the most.  He can do it all and is so long and quick. Will dominate as frosh at Duke.

UK literally is bringing in 5 Franchise players. Randle, the Twins, Young and Wiggins can carry any D1 team.

Rotation:

1/Harrison 35 mins
2/Harrison and Young 25 to 15 depending on Hot Hand
3/Wiggins 25 and Poythress 15
4/Randle 30 and Wiltjer 10
5/WCS 28 Johnson and Lee splitting minutes what is left over

That right there is earth shattering. Finally a team "on paper" that rivals the 96 Cats.

Truly not fair.

But if UL has Smith, Dieng and Behannan all back, they will give UK all it can handle.

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The Case for Kentucky

The BBL’s note to the tournament committee before BCS conference tournaments start this week.

Regardless of what happens in the SEC Tournament in Nashville, the Kentucky Wildcats should be in the dance. Period.

Pundits around the nation, many with a history of doubting or outright bashing Coach Calipari for his supposedly shady past, have been at times gleeful to speculate on Kentucky’s tournament future, with many believing the Cats will miss the tourney.

Extolling the virtues of fairness and a meritocratic NCAA selection system, they begin ticking off the various ways the Cats have not fully proved themselves as a worthy tournament contender. Such arguments usually include nebulous RPI numbers and records vs. other teams with other mysterious RPI numbers. 

The case is strengthened through the now almost clichéd phrase “the SEC is down.” Curiously from this commentator’s perspective, the decline of SEC basketball has practically coincided with the league’s seven-year streak of national championships in football.

But here are some fun facts that may surprise many readers. Since the SEC began its unprecedented streak of seven consecutive national championships in football in 2006, the conference has also won three of seven national titles in basketball (Florida 2006, Florida 2007, Kentucky 2012), more than any other conference (the ACC has won two in that time, UNC 2009 and Duke 2010). Moreover, the SEC has had 5 of the 28 teams that have made the Final Four in that seven-year span, more than any other conference save the Big East, which has had 6 in that time.

Keep in mind that the SEC has done this with considerably fewer bids in that span than the Big Ten or Big East, conferences which will once again get a huge number of bids to go along side their shiny RPI numbers (Minnesota and ex-UK coach Tubby Smith, for example, have a top 20 RPI despite a sub .500 conference in the Big Ten and a woeful record in the past month). 

I sense some bias and sour grapes (and preferential treatment) from a media elite primarily based in the Midwest and Northeastern part of the country. 

But I digress.

The issue here is Kentucky and the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Why is this a no-brainer? Let’s start with what Kentucky has done on the floor.

While Kentucky’s lack of signature wins has been well-publicized, it has been equally well-exaggerated. The Cats have wins over Florida, Missouri and on the road at Ole Miss. They also beat fellow bubble teams Maryland and Tennessee and got an out of conference win over LIU which won its conference tournament and will be dancing. This is a solid foundation, if not chock full of high RPI victories (still don’t get why the RPI is so important).

Moreover, the Cats got 4 true road wins in conference (more than a lot of teams labeled as safely inside the bubble) and won 12 games overall in the SEC, good for second in the conference. They are 4-2 in their last six and 4-3 without their best player Nerlens Noel, a likely lottery pick in this summer’s draft.

But now let’s talk about the off-court fundamentals. Kentucky will bring tens of thousands of fans to NCAA tournament arenas. Its brand will bring viewers to TV sets, and thus ad dollars. The media attention will increase tournament exposure, sales of NCAA gear and overall awareness of the sport itself. These are all facts, and a rising tide boosts all ships.

Many will hear this and immediately respond that these things have nothing to do with whether or not Kentucky earned a bid. Hogwash. The Big Blue Nation and its rabid following WAS earned. And it is a big part of everything the Cats do on the floor, and in the tournament. To consider it as part of the criteria for determining the team’s worth is not favoritism toward a celebrated program—it is recognition of the university’s importance during the sport’s biggest event.

Finally, as many of the experts like to ask, we have to consider whether or not Kentucky passes the eye test. In other words, when you look at this group, do you think they are an NCAA tournament team? The answer to that is self-evident. We are talking about the defending champions, with at least 4 future NBA draft picks. A team that finished second in a BCS conference and played possible No. 1 seeds Duke and Louisville down to the wire in neutral and road environments, respectively.
This is a team that, when it plays to its potential, can beat any team in college basketball. And the committee knows this.

Unless the Cats somehow lose by 40 to Arkansas or Vandy in the second round of the SEC tournament this week, this decision has already been made.

It wasn’t a banner year, but it wasn’t a disaster either. The Cats are hoops royalty. You don’t decline to invite the emperor to the ball because he had a bad day.

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UK Gears Up for Huge Tilt vs Top 10 Florida

Tuesday, February 12, known as Super Tuesday on the worldwide leader, is the biggest day of the 2012-2013 season for Kentucky basketball.

After a trying out-of-conference slate and an up and down early SEC schedule, Coach Calipari looks to have righted the ship and gotten this young and inexperienced group to buy what he's selling. The Cats enter the week back in the top 25 for the first time since early December. After five consecutive conference wins, this is the first time they have deserved the credit.

As a reward for their resurgence, Kentucky will travel to the hostile confines of Gainesville to face the 7th ranked Florida Gators, a team that until a surprising road loss to Arkansas last week was literally crushing every opponent it played since the start of conference play. In a down year for the SEC, this Florida team is for real, boasting legitimate national title aspirations given its combination of talent, depth, experience and coaching.

So bottom line is, if this Kentucky team really is good enough to make a deep late-season run similar to those of Calipari's first three years in Lexington, then tonight could be the moment it begins. The task will not be easy.

Florida wins with a combination of excellent backcourt play, ferocious defense and, like all Billy Donovan teams, the ability to kill you from three-point land. The Cats should match up nicely on the interior, but how will its young, inexperienced guards react to the unceasing pressure and raucous homecourt crowds?

Here are some keys, according to the BBL:

-Ryan Harrow needs to play mistake-free basketball, make good decisions and occasionally knock down an open jumper. If Harrow gets down on himself and starts trying to do too much, Florida will be quick to capitalize. He will need to play with confidence and intelligence.

-Noel must continue his excellent defensive play while contributing at least as much offense as UF's Patric Young. One of the reasons UK has reeled off 7 of 8 games is the difficulty opponents are having getting good looks against Kentucky's defense. With Noel snuffing out everything around the hoop, opposing teams are forcing low percentage perimeter shots and getting a bit more careless with the basketball.

-Poythress and/or Goodwin have to contribute big offensive games. During UK's recent run, Kyle Wiltjer has been the focal point of the offense. But much as we love KW's game, Florida presents a more athletic, pressure-heavy challenge that will limit a lot of what Wiltjer can do. UK will need to counter with some intangible scoring punches, and the two players most likely to bring that are Poythress and Goodwin. If Goodwin can avoid a ballhog performance forcing 15+ bad looks and Poythress can avoid a disappearing act, then the two should be able to combine for 25 points or more. UK will need everyone of them.

The rest of the season starts tonight. Even with a loss, if Kentucky plays this one close and competitively, there is nothing to be ashamed of. But the Cats cannot afford to be blown out. It would send a really bad signal to the tournament committee and, worse, could jeopardize the fragile confidence and collective psyche of a young team for whom the light is just beginning to come on...

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Kentucky Fun Fact for the Week

UK enters this week (the AP Week 15 poll) ranked 25 with a 17-6 record.

The 2010-11 team was 17-7 and ranked 22nd overall in the AP's Week 15 poll. And we know how that year ended.

In other words, Kentucky is back in a pretty good spot and the game vs. Florida couldn't be bigger, given the way the first half of this season went.

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Cats Roll over Lafayette in Home Opener

The Kentucky Wildcats rolled to a 101-49 win in their home opener against overmatched on the strength of seven three pointers by Kyle Wilther and a career high 22 points for Alex Poythress in their home opener.  UK rebounded from a tough loss to Duke on Tuesday night and used a 39-2 run to put the game away. 

Julius Mays added 10 assists as the Wildcats played their second straight game without point guard Ryan Harrow.

The Cats shot nearly 65 % from the field and, in a statistical oddity, shot an idential 20-of-31 from the field in both halves.  UK was lethal from beyond the three-point arc at 11-of-19 for 57.9%.  The full box score his here.

Up next for the Cats is a date with instate rival Morehead State at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.

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Young Kentucky Squad Claws Way to Win Over Maryland

The headline on ESPN says Kentucky escaped Maryland tonight, but it looked more like the Wildcats fought and clawed to find a way to win a game many thought they could lose-and it appeared they might be on their way after 15 point second half lead evaporated.  I saw Nerlens Noel diving on the floor for loose balls, Kyle Wiltjer hitting  big three pointer to stop a 15-0 Maryland run, and I saw Nicholasville, KY native Jarrod Polson – yes, JARROD DAMN POLSON – a 6’ 2” guard who had scored seven points in his entire career, score the grittiest 10 points I’ve seen in a long time.

Polson’s steal and layup with 3:34 left gave the Cats much needed breathing room and a four point lead, and then to top it off, he made two confident looking free throws with 7.7 seconds left to give UK a three point lead that ultimately proved to be the game’s final points.

Kentucky’s defense was very good.  Maryland shot just 33% from the field and wouldn’t have even been in the game except they took 75 shots – 19 more than the Cats – due to poor rebounding by UK.  Kentucky held the Terrapins to just 3-of-19 from beyond the arc.  Defense has long been thought to be a strength of this team, and tonight’s game did nothing to change that.

Let’s not gloss this over-Kentucky looked exactly as we thought they might, and perhaps a little worse in some areas.  Rebounding was terrible, and Maryland’s second chance points were a large part of why they were able to get back in it.  UK was outrebounded 46-34, but it felt more like 70-34.

Free throw shooting was awful as well, at least until it counted.  The Cats were 18-of-28 for 64%, Kyle Wiltjer and Polson sank the last four UK took.  The offense was terrible at times and Harrow was shaky at the point.

The full box score is available here.

But the bottom line is this – all of these things can be fixed.  Offense is always behind defense in November.  Free throw shooting should improve, and rebounding will improve as players learn their spots and roles.

ESPN may say UK escaped, and I guess you can look at it that way if you want.  But what I saw was a very talented, albeit green, team that looked very, very good in spurts and looked like a team made of freshmen in spurts.  I saw a team that hustled, dove on the floor for loose balls, and in the end, in a somewhat hostile environment, answered the challenge when things weren’t easy in the second half.

I’d say that’s a hell of a lot of good things to build on.

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Jason King Talks With ‘Polarizing’ Coach Cal

ESPN's Jason King is out with a great piece on "polarizing" Coach Cal.  You either love him or hate him, according to King.  I think Big Blue Nation has made their judgement...and to hell with everyone else!  You can view the piece here.

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Kentucky beats Transy 74-28 in final exhibition game

LEXINGTON – After a sluggish first half, the Kentucky offense got rolling with a 20-4 run to open the second half to pull away from Transylvania for a 74-28 win in their final exhibition tune up on Monday night.  Five Wildcats scored in double figures led by Nerlens Noel with 15, Julius Mays with 14, Ryan Harrow and Willie Cauley-Stein with 12 each, and Archie Goodwin with 10.

Kentucky shot just 43 percent in the first half on their way to a 27-18 lead, but after an animated John Calipari challenged them at halftime, the Wildcats responded by shooting 71 percent in the second half while holding Transy to five field goals and 10 total points in the final period.

The Cats got a scare, however, when Mays left the game with a leg sprain after a nasty fall.  His status for Friday’s regular season opener against Maryland is uncertain.

Kentucky will officially open the 2012 season on Friday night at the Barclays Center Classic in Brooklyn.  Tip time with the Terrapins is 8:30 p.m. on ESPN.

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Cat Got Your Tongue?

UK Rewind: Cat Got Your Tongue

UK Media Relations has put out an entertaining video with this year's basketball players asking them non-basketball related questions.  It's funny and a different perspective.

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Davis Scores 21 in NBA Debut; UK Opens Exhibition Season

The calendar has flipped another page, and tonight brings every UK fan what they have waited for since April - the dawn of another basketball season.  Yes, I know it's an exhibition game, and I know its against NAIA power Northwood, but still, it's basketball!  After all the talk, following recruits, suffering through another dismal football season, it's time for hoops!

Kentucky will face Northwood tonight at 7 p.m. in Rupp Arena.  If you aren't going to the game, it will be shown on Fox Sports South and the UK/IMG network.  Full information is here.

In other news, Anthony Davis made his NBA debut last night and showed a glimmer of the star he will be as he dropped 21 points and grabbed 7 rebounds in a loss to San Antonio.  Game recap is here.

Go Cats!

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John Calipari and Matthew Mitchell are dynamic duo

With both the UK basketball teams - men's and women's -  favored to win the SEC and strong contendors for a Final Four run, Kentucky Sports Radio's Ally Tucker has a great post about what impact John Calipari and Matthew Mitchell are as a 1-2 punch.

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Calipari says this year’s team will require patience

John Calipari says that this year's version of the Cats will require patience.  Oh, by the way, the Wildcats were picked to win the Southeastern Conference title yet again.

Read Coach Cal's comments here.

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CoachCal.com preview on ESPNU All Access Kentucky

CoachCal.com has a preview of the new episode of All Access-Kenucky that is coming Wednesday at 7 p.m.

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Video: Marcus Lee commits to Kentucky

Here's video of Marcus Lee's commitment to Kentucky.

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NBA Scouting Director: Kentucky headed toward best recruiting class in history

The addition of James Young to Kentucky's 2013 recruiting class following last week's commitment by the Harrison Twins means that the Cats now have commitments from three of the top five players in the nation.  They are also expected to add at least one and probably two more players in the top ten, giving UK potentially the best recruiting class in college basketball history.

Don't believe me on that!  Over on his blog, Adam Zagoria talks to a NBA scouting director who says the same thing.

It's a good read and just one more reminder of why as long as John Calipari is at the helm of the Cats, Kentucky will remain the epicenter of college basketball.

I think another banner is coming to Rupp.  And soon!

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Patrick Patterson loves Calipari, Harrison Twins

Patrick Patterson on Kentucky landing the Harrison Twins

Patrick Patterson is a big fan of the Harrison Twins and John Calipari.  This is some great video!

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Michael Kidd-Gilchrist likes the Harrison Twins

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist tweeted his approval of the Harrison Twin's signing with UK!

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Harrison Twins pick Kentucky

John Calipari continued the magic carpet ride that is his recruiting by gaining commitments from perhaps the best package deal in the history of college basketball yesterday.  Andrew and Aaron Harrison - dubbed the Harrison Twins - announced their decision to play basketball for the Wildcats yesterday afternoon on ESPNU much to the delight of BBN who was collectively sitting on the edge of their seats.

The choice came down to Maryland and UK, and Andrew Harrison said the reason came down to winning.

"The most important thing to me is winning," he said. "I know Aaron scores more points than me, but it doesn’t matter to me. I just really like to win.

The recruiting coup gives the Cats 2 out of the top 4 players in the class of 2013 and, when all is said and done, Calipari is set to have the top ranked class in the nation yet again.

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Calipari wants the Harrison Twins

Recruiting is never far from the minds of UK fans, but that interest is at a peak today as Andrew and Aaron Harrison - otherwise known as the Harrison Twins - will make their decision of where to play basketball next season.  The announcement is at 5 p.m. on ESPNU, and has created a buzz.

John Calipari is in the mix with seven of the top 11 players in the class of 2013, and has a very good chance to land the best class in the history of college basketball.  It starts with the Harrison Twins.  The Bleacher Report has an article here about what landing them twins would mean to UK.

Over the past 10 days or so it has become clear that their father wants them to go to Maryland-really bad.  The Twins, however, are leaning toward UK according to many players who played with them on the AAU circuit this past summer.  Daddy has all the hallmarks of the meddlesome type that makes coaches, fans, and even players cringe, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out. 

One thing is for certain-the way UK and John Calipari have things rolling at UK, one has to wonder why ANY star player with NBA asipirations would choose anyone over Kentucky.  Unless a player chooses Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Michigan State, or maybe UCLA or Louisville, there is no reason for a top player to go elsewhere-it simply makes no sense.  That would be something the NCAA might want to look into!

Tune in at 5 on ESPNU for the announcement!  Go Cats!

 

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October means one thing in the Bluegrass-Basketball!

October is a normally associated with college football, but in the Bluegrass State we all know that October means another season of Kentucky Basketball is right around the corner.  Midnight Madness is 10 days away, and with the Wildcats coming off their eighth national championship and sure to be ranked in the top five again this season, excitement has never been higher around the program.

John Calipari is entering his fourth season as head coach, and after an NCAA Championship and another Final Four appearance under his belt, its fair to say he has become the King of the Bluegrass.  His trophy tour around the state saw huge crowds on every stop, and then his trip to West Liberty over the summer to help raise funds for tornado victims raised thousands of dollars.

Finally, after taking some downtime this summer, I’m excited to be back giving you my thoughts on UK basketball.  I’ll be scouring the internet for all the best links, photos, and videos as well as sharing my own thoughts as the season unfolds.  Over the next couple weeks I’ll be previewing the team, the Southeastern Conference, and the national landscape.

 It looks to be a great year for basketball as Indiana and Louisville will join Kentucky as consensus top five picks. While the Cats have dropped IU from the schedule, the rivalry with Louisville is sure to sizzle all winter long.

It’s great to be back!  Go Cats!

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Calipari Looks to Sign Monumental Class

With the college basketball season over, many parts of the college landscape turn their attention to the other major sport on campuses around the country--football.  Spring practice is happening all around the nation, including at Kentucky, where Joker Phillips looks to build on the momentum from finally getting over the hump and beating Tennessee last season.

At Kentucky, however, most eyes don’t focus on spring football, or baseball, despite the Wildcats 30-3 start and #1 national ranking.  Our focus remains on one sport--basketball.  365 days a year, 24/7, it´s all basketball.

With a national championship in hand, and a week to celebrate, attention now turns to recruiting.  Under John Calipari, the Wildcats have brought in the best recruiting classes in the nation the past three years, but with that bonanza of talented players comes much roster churn, and never so much as this year.  It is highly likely that Kentucky will lose its top six players to the NBA draft, and virtually certain to lose its top two.

Anthony Davis will certainly leave, and why wouldn’t he?  Most draft projections have him slated as the top pick and it simply makes no sense for him to come back, as delicious as that prospect would be to Kentucky fans. 

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist hinted late in the season that he may want to return, but he is projected as the second pick in most mock drafts, so my hunch is that Calipari will strongly urge the freshman to make the leap to the NBA.

Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones both returned after last year with the intent to improve their draft status, and most likely have.  I don’t see any scenario that either of them return.  Darius Miller is a senior, which leaves the only possible returnee being point guard Marquis Teague.

Teague could certainly benefit from another year in college, but if NBA teams are waving a fat contract in front of him, it’s hard to see why he would return.  Teague’s brother plays for the Atlanta Hawks, so Teague has perhaps a different perspective when getting advice on what to do than many other players.  Still, I think the chances are less than 50-50 that Teague returns which would leave the Cats without any of their top six players from this year.

With that said, this is Kentucky, and we have John Calipari, and other programs don’t.  We don’t rebuild, we reload.

Which leads us to tonight, the eve of the next signing period.  Two of UK’s prime targest, Nerlens Noel and Shabazz Muhammad, are set to announce their college picks tomorrow night on ESPN.  The bottom line is this-if the Cats sign both of them to go along with signees Archie Goodwin, Ryan Harrow and Alex Poythress-Kentucky will be primed to repeat in 2013.  Even if UK gets just one of the “big 2”, they should be a top-5 team next year.

Another target of Calipari is Connecticut senior Alex Oriakhi who is transferring from the Huskies due to their NCAA tournament ban next season.  Oriakhi would be immediately available and brings the experience not only of a senior but one who won a national title under UCONN’s Jim Calhoun two seasons ago. Oriakhi is friends with Nerlens, and the two have apparently talked about the possibility of playing together next season.

Needless to say, the next couple of days could be huge for the Wildcats.  While the NCAA has set a ridiculous deadline of tomorrow for underclassmen to declare for the NBA draft, the NBA’s deadline is April 29-so don’t be surprised if several players announce they are coming back and then opt to leave.  It’s yet another example of the NCAA NOT putting student-athletes first.

Whatever happens, the Wildcats look primed to have another great year next season under John Calipari!  Go Cats!

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Calipari Looks to Sign Another Top Recruiting Class

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KENTUCKY DEFEATS KANSAS FOR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

The University of Kentucky Wildcats won the eighth men’s basketball championship in school history last night in New Orleans with a 67-59 victory over the Kansas Jayhawks.  The game was a heavyweight match up featuring the top two programs in terms of wins in NCAA history, but the game was an obvious mismatch early as the Wildcats built a lead of as much as 16 points in both halves.  Kansas made a late run to cut the lead to five with 1:37 to play but the Wildcats played great defense over the final minute while making 5-of-6 free throws to preserve the win.

Doron Lamb led all scorers with 22 points, but the player of the game and the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player was Anthony Davis.  While Davis scored just 6 points, Davis dominated both ends of the court with 16 rebounds, 6 blocks, 5 assists, and 3 steals while holding Kansas 7-footer Jeff Withey to just 5 points on 2-of-8 shooting.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored 11 points after suffering what looked to be a shoulder injury early in the game on a hard foul while at the same time making Jayhawk Tyshawn Taylor shoot just 8-of-17 from the field for a quiet 19 points.   Terrence Jones added 9 points and 7 rebounds while senior Darius Miller had 5 points and 6 rebounds.

As a team, Kentucky held the Jayhawks to just 35.5% shooting while dominating the glass in the first half.  UK set a record for most blocks as a team in a Final Four game with 11, passing last year’s UCONN team.  In addition, Kentucky finished with a 38-2 record, tying Memphis for the most wins in a season but setting a record for the most wins from the national champions.

Kentucky has now won 8 national championships in four different decades and under five different coaches.  Since UCLA won their 11th title, UK has won three, and the Wildcats should be ranked top five nationally again next year.

Coach John Calipari won his first championship after four Final Four appearances with three different schools.

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UK’s Season Comes to Historical, Emotional Climax

With the Kentucky Wildcats on the cusp of claiming their eighth national championship tonight, I find myself with mixed emotions.  On one hand, I am excited, thrilled, elated, and any other adjective one can find to describe the joy that this team has brought me this season and how happy I am about the win over Louisville on Saturday. 

But there is also nervous anticipation-the kind that comes from knowing without a doubt that the Wildcats are the best team in the nation – that they deserve to win it all – but knowing that the Kansas Jayhawks want it just as much, and, though they may not be as talented, certainly have the ability to take what UK fans believe is rightfully theirs.

I’m also feeling a little nostalgic.  I’m in my 40’s, and although I grew up in Southern Indiana, my blood is as Blue as it gets.  My dad was a Kentucky fan for most of his life, and I got my love for the Wildcats because of him, but something changed in his later years.  He became convinced that Coach Rupp was racist, and it turned him away from the Cats.  I didn’t realize this until later in life, and tried unsuccessfully to combat this notion that has no basis in fact. 

We had friends of the family that were really close, however, so close I called them aunt and uncle.  They were season ticket holders, graduates of UK, and as Blue as Blue gets.  They kept the Blue flame alive in me, much to the chagrin of my parents, who turned to the hometown Louisville Cardinals to follow.

The first Wildcat team I really remember following was the 1974-75 team that ended Indiana’s undefeated season in the Mideast Regional finals but lost the national title game to UCLA.  I remember being so proud of Wildcat Mike Flynn, who was from my hometown of Jeffersonville, Indiana. 

I remember the 1978 team that won the NCAA title over Duke.  Like many young Wildcat fans of the time, I copied Kyle Macy’s routine every time I shot a free throw, even though it didn’t help me nearly as much as it did him!

I remember suffering through the early 80’s and watching Indiana and Louisville winning two national titles each.  Even though UK had some terrific teams in that era, including the 1984 Final Four team featuring the Twin Towers (Sam Bowie and Melvin Turpin), I often wondered to myself whether the Cards and Hoosiers had passed my Cats by, especially after the debacle that was the Dream Game in Knoxville that saw the Cats fall to Louisville.

I remember heated arguments with my brother, a U of L fan, because neither one of us was mature enough or smart enough to understand that basketball isn’t worth arguing about, but that we could both co-exist as fans of heated rivals.

I remember the dark years, the sadness and anger that followed the disaster that Eddie Sutton visited on the program, landing Kentucky on probation, nearly getting the so-called death penalty, and the national disgust and ridicule that was heaped upon us, and deservedly so.  I remember the day the sanctions came out and feeling like I was at a funeral…but I also remember the elation I felt when Rick Pitino was brought in to resurrect the program back from the depths.

I knew Pitino would turn things around, but I never dreamed he would do it so quickly.  That 14-14 year of 1989-90 was one of the most fun seasons I remember, even though the Cats weren’t even on live TV.  It wasn’t that they were great-they certainly weren’t, but it was the fight that they had that made me happy.  In a season where the most optimistic forecasts were a six-win season, those Wildcats were already clawing their way back.

The next season the Cats rose to 22-6, but were still banned from post-season play, but it set up one of the most Unforgettable seasons in UK history, one that left me weeping as Duke’s Christian Laettner ended perhaps the best game in college basketball history with a miraculous shot that has been shown countless times since.

Then there was the national championship in 1996 with Tony Delk, Walter McCarty, Ron Mercer, Derek Anderson, and company.  Like this season, there was little doubt about UK being the best team in the country.  The comparisons don’t end there.  Like now, the Cats were a perfect 16-0 in the SEC yet lost in the SEC tournament championship game.  That team also suffered just one regular season loss and then avenged it in the NCAA tournament.  They were arguably one of the best teams to ever wear the Kentucky uniform.

And they probably would have won it all again in 1997 if it weren’t for the knee injury to Derek Anderson - which would have led to the rare three-peat, as the Wildcats won it all again in 1998 under new coach Tubby Smith led by Jeff Shepherd.

When Tubby left, the Wildcats again faced dark times with new coach Billy Gillespie.  It takes a special person to coach at Kentucky, and it was obvious early on that the job simply overwhelmed Gillespie, who was fired after two seasons.

Again, the program was in need of a charge to put it back where it belonged, and they found it in John Calipari.

While many national media types groaned at the hire due to Calipari’s two vacated Final Four seasons, a closer look at both of those incidents show that Calipari was not implicated in either, and the Kentucky administration decided it was OK to hire him, and the rest is history.

What Calipari has accomplished in his first three seasons is astounding.  35-3 in his first year and an Elite Eight appearance, 29-9 last season and a Final Four appearance, and now 37-2 and playing in the national championship game - simply amazing!

There are those who don’t like the recruiting strategies of Calipari, but that’s not his fault-talk to the NCAA and the NBA about that.  His results speak for themselves.

Win or lose tonight, this season has been one for the ages.  37 wins breaks the school record for wins.  Anthony Davis has been the most dominant player in a generation, nearly sweeping all of the national awards and a lock to be the top pick in the upcoming NBA draft.  Though young, these Cats play with a fire and passion not seen in many years.

Seasons like this don’t come along very often.  1996 was one of them.  1978 was another.  After that, take your pick, but you see the trend.  Seasons like this come along once in a generation.  They are the seasons you remember forever, seasons that raise banners, and seasons that families talk about for their lifetimes.

Kentucky basketball is an emotional thing to those who call it their passion.  It’s more than a basketball game, and those on the outside looking in don’t quite understand that.

It’s like a family.  We mourn its losses, including legends such as Coach Rupp and Bill Keightley.  We also weep with joy at its triumphs.  We feel empty when the season ends, and nervously watch the recruiting circuit to see who our next family member will be, and then we welcome them into the family as if they were sons, no matter where they come from.

Wildcat basketball is bigger than one coach, one player, or one team.  It’s the fabric that binds families, communities, and a Commonwealth.  It permeates every corner of Kentucky and is followed all over the world.  This is who we are, this is what we do.

This is Kentucky basketball.

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Davis, Miller lead Wildcats to national title game

The Kentucky Wildcats will play for their 8th national championship on Monday night after defeating the Louisville Cardinals tonight 69-61 in the Louisiana Superdome.  Anthony Davis led all scorers with 18 points to go along with 14 rebounds and 5 blocks but perhaps the biggest player of the game was senior Darius Miller who scored 13 points, all seemingly coming when the Cats were in desperate need of a basket.

Doron Lamb had 10 points, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 9 in just 23 minutes of play due to foul trouble, and Marquis Teague had 8 points to go along with 5 assists.

After the Cardinals took an early 2-0 lead, Kentucky went on an 8-0 run to force a timeout by Louisville, and the Wildcats never trailed again in the game.  Kentucky built a lead as big as 10 points three different times in the first half, but Louisville wouldn’t go away and UK led 35-28 at the half despite shooting 60% to just 37% for the Cardinals.

The Cats looked like they might pull away early in the second half as they built their largest lead of the game at 45-32 with 16 minutes to play in the game, and led 46-34 at the under `15 TV timeout.   Louisville held the Wildcats scoreless for the next 5 minutes, however, and went on a 15-3 run to tie the score at 49-49 with 8:45 to play.

Kentucky then responded with back to back baskets by Kidd-Gilchrist to push the lead back to 53-49.  Louisville cut the lead to 53-51 with 7:34 left, but a 7-0 run over the next 4:23 pushed the lead to 60-51 and the game got no closer than five the rest of the way.

Wildcat fans have to be thrilled by the way the Cats responded to the Louisville run late in the second half.  Hats off to Louisville-they did everything they had to do to keep this game close.  Not only did they dictate the pace, but their pressure defense forced 14 turnovers and it also bothered the Kentucky backcourt much of the game.  The Cardinals pounded the glass and out rebounded the Cats 16-5 on the offensive glass.

Yet, with all of that, when Louisville made their run to tie the game at 49-49, the Wildcats did what they have done so many times this season – they swatted away a pesky opponent and used their dominant talent to win.  Simply put, the Cards were outmanned and Kentucky just had too many weapons for them.

Certainly, there were some troubling things in this game…Terrence Jones disappeared again for much of the game, but unlike previous games, when challenged by Coach Calipari, Jones responded and got some huge rebounds down the stretch.  Kidd-Gilchrist struggled with foul trouble, partially thanks to unexplainable charge calls, and he suffered what was called a “quad injury.”  He returned after the injury and looked fine, however, and was huge down the stretch.

In beating the Cardinals, the Wildcats are now 37-2 on the year and have set a new school record for wins, eclipsing the 1947-48 team who was 36-3.

As has been the case all season, this was a total team effort, and the Wildcats were not to be denied.  It was a gritty performance over a determined, tough foe.  Kentucky will now play Monday night for their eighth national championship, and I believe they will win it no matter who they play on Monday.

This team has a will to win and a toughness that I didn’t think existed in December.  They will not be denied.

Go Cats!

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Kentucky Mauls Bears to Advance to Final Four

The Kentucky Wildcats advanced to the NCAA Final Four for the second straight year and the 15th time in school history with an 82-70 win over the Baylor Bears on Sunday.  Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, named the South Regional's Most Valuable Player, led UK with 19 points while Anthony Davis scored 18 points, claimed 11 rebounds, and blocked 6 shots. 

After falling behind 10-5 at the 16:20 mark of the first half, the Cats went on a 16-0 run over the next five minutes that essentially sealed the game as the Bears would never get the lead under double digits the rest of the game.  UK outscored Baylor 37-12 over the final 16 minutes of the first half to take a 42-22 lead at the break.

Baylor made a mini-run in the second half after Anthony Davis collided knees with Baylor's Perry Jones III and left the game grimacing in obvious pain and the largely partisan UK crowd at the Georgia Dome in an anxious, collective silence.  While Davis would return and play the majority of the second half, Baylor's defensive pressure and Davis being hampered coupled with less-than-stellar free throw shooting allowed the Bears to cut the lead to as little as 11 with 1:12 to play, but that was as close as they would get.

Doron Lamb also had 14 points while Terrence Jones pitched in 12 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists.  Darius Miller and Marquis Teague each had 8 points and 3 assists as the Wildcats ran their overall record to 36-2 overall which ties the 1947-48 Wildcats for most ever and, more importantly, moved the Cats to within two wins of winning their eighth national championship.

On Friday, the Wildcats avenged their only regular season loss with an exciting 102-90 win over the Indiana Hoosiers.  The game was a sprint by both teams from the opening tip and the offensive fireworks started.  Jones scored the first five points for the Wildcats and UK raced out to a 29-20 advantage midway through the first half, but Davis and Indiana's Cody Zellers were hampered by foul trouble which opened up the middle for both teams.  The Hoosiers battled back to take a 43-39 lead with 3:33 to play in the half but Kentucky ended the half on an 11-4 run to claim a 50-47 lead.

Indiana scored the first basket of the second half to cut the lead to 1, but UK went on a 9-2 run over the next three minutes to take a 59-51 lead and the Hoosiers never got closer than 5 the rest of the game.

Kidd-Gilchrist had one of his best games as a Wildcat with 24 points and 10 rebounds to lead five players in double figures.  Doron Lamb had 21 points, Miller had 19, Marquis Teague had 14 points and 7 assists, and Terrence Jones had 12 points.  Davis had 9 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 blocks while playing just 25 minutes due to foul trouble.

While the Cats struggled at times to stop the Hoosiers, Kentucky had its most prolific offensive production since the first game of the year when they scored 108 points against Marist.  UK shot just 48% from the field, but made an NCAA tournament record 35-of-37 free throws.

The win over Baylor sets up an all-Kentucky national semifinal matchup as the Wildcats will face arch-rival Louisville on Saturday at the Superdome in New Orleans.  While UK beat the Cardinals 69-62 in December, the game was not an easy one and UK will have it's hands full with a much-improved Louisville team in order to advance to the national championship game.

A few notes...

  • UK's four game average scoring was 88 points per game, 11 points over their season average of 77 PPG.  Their average margin of victory was 13.5 PPG.
  • This is Kentucky's 15th appearance in the Final Four, tied with Duke for third place all time behind North Carolina and UCLA.  The other participants also have a rich history in the Final Four: Kansas (14 appearances), Ohio State (11), and Louisville (9).
  • Between them, the four schools in the Final Four have 13 national titles with UK leading the pack with 7.  Kansas has 3, Louisville has 2, and Ohio State has 1.
  • Saturday's matchup will be only the fourth time in Final Four history that two schools from the same state have played each other.

We will have more on the colossal game to come as the week progresses.  Until then, Go Cats!

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Wildcats Cruise Into the Sweet Sixteen-Indiana Up Next

The Kentucky Wildcats surged into the NCAA Sweet Sixteen with a pair of dominating victories at the KFC  YUM! Center in Louisville this past weekend.  Wildcat faithful filled downtown and had the Birds Nest hopping in Kentucky’s 81-66 win over Western Kentucky and 87-71 win over Iowa State.

Kentucky will now get a rematch with the Indiana Hoosiers on Friday night in the Georgia Dome for the opportunity to advance to the South Region finals.

It can be safely said that there was no lingering effect from the lackluster performance at the SEC Tournament last weekend.  While many Cats fans fretted over the lack of urgency against LSU and the loss to Vanderbilt, all was forgotten as Kentucky raced out to an 8-0 lead over Western.  The Hilltoppers fought back, but a pair of runs by the Cats in the last 10 minutes of the first half gave UK a 45-26 halftime advantage and they never looked back.

UK surged to a 32 point lead at 74-42 with a little less than nine minutes left in the game en route to their 33rd win of the season.  Terrence Jones continued his string of excellent play and went 9-of-13 from the field to lead four Wildcats in double figures with 22 points while collecting 10 rebounds for a double-double.  Doron Lamb had 16 points as did Anthony Davis while Marquis Teague had 12 points.

Overall, it was exactly the kind of performance expected by the #1 overall seed over a 16-seed, and after the SEC Tournament disappointment, it was exactly what UK needed.  In rolling the Hilltoppers in the fashion they did, UK also quieted most doubters who were questioning what was wrong with the team after the SEC Tournament.

On Saturday, the Wildcats were also impressive in defeating Iowa State.  While many in the national media, including Bobby Knight and Digger Phelps, thought UK may get beat, Kentucky denied any naysayers a reason to question them after thoroughly dismantling the Cyclones. 

Teague had his best game as a Wildcat and led all scorers with 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting while also handing out 7 assists.  Darius Miller had 19 points while Doron Lamb had 16 on 5-of-7 from beyond the arc.  Anthony Davis had 15 points and 12 rebounds while Jones had 8 points and 11 rebounds while getting three assists and two blocked shots.

In all, this was perhaps the best game the Wildcats have played all season, and Kentucky head coach John Calipari said as much after the game.  Cats fans and the Wildcats had the arena rocking in what has been described as one of the loudest NCAA tournament venues ever by national media. 

Now its off to the Sweet Sixteen and a rematch with the Indiana Hoosiers.  I’ll talk more about this game as the week goes on, but we all know that until the Vanderbilt loss the Hoosiers were the sole black mark on an otherwise amazing season.  Indiana is good.  Tom Crean is a great coach and a good friend of Calipari’s.  The Hoosiers have one of the great traditions in college basketball, and the game is better when they are good.  In another year or two, they could be legitimate national title contenders.

But not this year.  Kentucky players have been mad since getting beat in December, and they have been reminded of it countless times in an ESPN commercial.  Revenge can be a great motivator, but that won’t be the only one.  I believe this UK team is one of destiny and am as confident as I have ever been that they will cut the nets down in two weeks.  There’s just something about their makeup-they are warriors, competitors, and genuinely look at their teammates as their brothers.

UK opened as a 9 point favorite.  I don’t think it will be that close.  Indiana won’t beat Kentucky.

And neither will anyone else.  Go Cats!

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Tuesday Notes Before the Dance Begins

Here’s some notes for Tuesday as we await the outcome of tonight’s opening round games in Dayton that will determine UK’s second round opponent in Louisville on Thursday…

  • The Associated Press announced the winners of the Southeastern Conference post-season awards on Monday and Kentucky swept the top places on the list.  Anthony Davis was named the Player of the Year and the Newcomer of the Year while John Calipari was named the SEC Coach of the Year.  Michael Kidd-Gilchrist joined Davis on the All-SEC First team while Terrence Jones made the Second Team.  Congratulations to the Wildcats and Coach Cal on well-deserved honors.
  • Western Kentucky and Mississippi Valley State will play Tuesday night right here in Dayton for the right to play Kentucky on Thursday.  In what is sure to be a great experience, President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron are not only attending the game, but will also meet both teams.  I am certainly biased because I live in Dayton, but I can tell you that the Dayton area is very excited to be hosting the First Four.  UD Arena is a great venue for basketball that seats about 12,000 and the Flyer fanbase is passionate.  The ties to Kentucky are obvious for WKU given its an in-state school, but Mississippi Valley State also has a tie to the state.  Former Wildcat Sean Woods is the head coach and has done an incredible job in turning the program around.  Woods was a member of the 1991-92 team dubbed the “Unforgettables” and was the player who hit the running shot over Duke that lead to Christian Laettner’s now infamous shot to beat Kentucky in the regional final.  It’s hard to decide who to pull for more here.  UK will crush either one of them, but I lean toward supporting the Hilltoppers since they are in-state.
  • Kentucky is still the #1 team in the land according to both major polls.  Unlike previous weeks, first place votes in the AP poll also went to Syracuse (1), Missouri (2), and North Carolina (1) while in the Coaches poll UK received all but one first place vote while Mizzou got the other.  Polls are great, but at this point they mean nothing, which is the beauty of college basketball.  The GAMES decide the champion, not polls and computers!

That’s all I have for this morning.  We will break down UK’s bracket tomorrow once their second round opponent is set.

Go Cats!

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Random Thoughts Following UK’s Loss to Vanderbilt

Random thoughts about Kentucky’s loss to Vanderbilt on Sunday in the SEC Champinship game…

1.  While disappointed that the Cats didn’t close the deal and keep momentum going by beating Vandy, the loss isn’t the end of the world.  As we all know, the 1996 Wildcats had a very similar path in the regular season-early season loss, undefeated SEC season, and then a loss to Mississippi State in the SEC finals.  That team steamrolled to the NCAA tournament.

2.  With that said, the loss is also a little troubling.  Before the game, Coach Calipari talked about the team’s swagger turning into arrogance and wanting to prevent that.  During all three games, Calipari railed against the team in ways unseen to this point in the season.  Calipari and Darius Miller were clearly not on the same page against LSU and Florida.  Something wasn’t right in any of the three games, and that’s cause for concern.

3.  On the other hand, I would hate to be either Western Kentucky or Mississippi Valley State in Thursday’s first round of the NCAA.  The team’s demeanor after the loss was clearly angry by all accounts, and I expect that to be taken out on whoever the Wildcats play in the first round.

4.  UK wasn’t the only top team to take it on the chin during championship week.  Syracuse, North Carolina, and Kansas all took losses in their conference tournament. 

5.  Losing to Vanderbilt is nothing to be ashamed of.  The Commodores played the Wildcats tougher than any other league opponent and probably should have beaten the Cats in Nashville.  Vanderbilt was a preseason top-10 team and underperformed during the regular season, but appear to have turned the corner.  It’s possible the Commodores wanted this one more than the Cats, as tears were flowing – from Vanderbilt players – after the win.

6.  Speaking of wanting it more, is it possible that the UK players were simply reflecting Calipari’s downplaying of the SEC Tournament?  I get that Kentucky has one main goal which is to win title number eight, but I’m not sure how much you can expect from your team when the head coach constantly says how unimportant it is to win.  Calipari may be technically correct-winning or losing wasn’t going to change UK’s seed up or down.  But I have a major issue with Calipari’s vocal harping on how unimportant the conference tourney is.

We’ll be back with a preview of UK’s tournament game on Thursday after tomorrow’s games, which I will be attending in Dayton.  Go Cats!

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Wildcats Defeat Gators 74-71 to Make SEC Final

It wasn't always pretty, but the Kentucky Wildcats took haymaker after haymaker on Saturday afternoon but survived a major test by Florida to advance to the championship game of the Southeastern Conference Tournament in New Orleans.  Five different Wildcats scored in double figures for Kentucky with Doron Lamb leading the way with 16 points.  Terrence Jones, Anthony Davis, and Marquis Teague had 15 points each and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist added 10.

Davis also had 12 rebounds for a double-double while Jones pulled down 9 and Kidd-Gilchrist had 8 as UK win their 24th straight game and ran their record to 32-1.

Florida led by as many as 10 points in the first half but a 10-2 run over the final 5:09 of the half was capped off by a three pointer by Anthony Davis with 15 seconds left lifted UK to a 40-39 lead.  After the intermission the Gators promptly took the lead again and led by as much as 5 with 10:21 to play, but UK put together a 14-0 run over the next seven minutes and never trailed again. 

Yet again, the game was another example of the Wildcats being tough down the stretch with the game on the line.  Terrence Jones has now strung together several nice performances and Teague rebounded from a less than ideal game Friday night to play very well against the Gators. 

Perhaps the only concern that has arisen is Darius Miller.  The senior guard has averaged just 15 minutes per game in the tournament and has not scored. 

Kentucky will now face Vanderbilt tomorrow for the SEC tournament title.  Vandy has gone 61 years without a tournament title, but UK will be going for the 28th tournament championship in school history.  Tip off is at 1:00 p.m. on ABC.

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Kentucky Escapes LSU, Moves to SEC Semifinals vs. Florida

It wasn’t pretty, but the Kentucky Wildcats survived a tough game against LSU by a score of 61-50 in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament this afternoon.  UK fans overwhelmed the New Orleans Arena but had to breathe a collective sigh of relief after the Wildcats survived one of their worst performances of the year to move in to Saturday’s semifinal matchup with Flordida and improve to 31-1 overall.

Friday afternoon’s opener wasn’t without drama, however, as the Wildcats appeared to sleep walk at times through a sluggish first half.  A team that has averaged less than eight turnovers a game over the past month had 18 against the Tigers, many of them due to carelessness on the part of Kentucky which staked LSU to a 25-24 advantage at the intermission.

UK trailed 35-30 at the 16:00 minute mark of the second half but the Wildcats methodically chipped away and retook the lead at 37-35 two minutes later and never trailed again.  Kentucky struggled to put distance between them and the Tigers however, with the lead hovering around six to seven points for the remainder of the half before settling on the final score.

Kentucky’s front court of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, and Anthony Davis were the difference makers with Kidd-Gilchrist leading all scorers with 19 points and 9 rebounds while Jones had 15 points and 11 rebounds.  Davis didn’t score early, but was a huge factor down the stretch and ended the game with 12 points, 14 rebounds, and 6 blocks.  Doron Lamb also had 12 points.

The most troubling point of the game was the play of Marquis Teague who reverted to his early season form.  Teague had five assists, but he also had four turnovers and often was content to dribble around the perimeter instead of initiating the offense. One has to hope that this is simply a case of first tournament game jitters because as the competition gets tougher, what we saw today simply won’t get it done.

Coach Calipari lamented after the game that the Wildcats essentially need to step up to the challenge when teams choose to play them physically tough, and he didn’t think UK did that today.  Certainly the team seemed out of sorts and didn’t resemble the Kentucky team we have seen over the past few weeks.

In other news, #2 Syracuse got beat this evening by Cincinnati and #3 Kansas got beat by Baylor, so the hope here is that those headlines aren’t lost on the Wildcats as they face Florida for the third time tomorrow in the first semifinal.  Florida was a 66-63 winner over Alabama on Friday.

UK will battle Florida at 1 p.m. tomorrow.

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Kentucky Rolls Florida to Finish Perfect Conference Slate

It’s an unusual thing to go undefeated in conference play, and yet the Kentucky Wildcats accomplished that milestone again on Sunday with a 74-59 win at Florida.  Not only did UK complete the SEC season at 16-0, they also moved to 30-1 overall, the first time in school history that the Wildcats have recorded 30 regular season victories.

The win was a total team effort, but it wasn’t as easy as the margin of victory might suggest.  Florida’s last lead came with about 14 minutes left in the first half, but the Gators battled back from 16 down with 4:03 in the first half to get as close as four points on three different occasions in the second half.  Leading just 59-55 with 8:36 to play, a layup by Anthony Davis sparked a 15-4 run over the game’s final minutes to allow the Cats to ease out to win. 

Anthony Davis had another phenomenal game and probably cemented his Player of the Year candidacy in the minds of many voters with 22 points, 12 rebounds, and six blocks.  Terrence Jones had another stellar performance in scoring the first eight points for UK en route to 19 points, 4 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals and an assist.  Marquis Teague was the only other Wildcat in double figures with 12 points to go along with 4 assists and just one turnover in 33 minutes.

Kentucky shot 52.5% from the field and, more impressively, had just six turnovers which I believe is an aspect of this Kentucky team that isn’t talked about much.  Simply put, this team takes care of the basketball. 

That wasn’t always the case, especially early in the year.  Teague was a turnover machine early on, and the Cats averaged nearly 15 turnovers a game in their first 10 games.  What a difference experience makes, though-in SEC play, UK has averaged just 9.4 turnovers per game, and in their last four games, which included road trips to Mississippi State and Florida as well as a return game with Vanderbilt, Kentucky has averaged only 8 turnovers per game while forcing over 10 per game by their opponents. 

The words to describe this Kentucky team are hard to come by, and it’s a little hard to keep in perspective.  While the goal at UK is to win a national title every year, it is also wise to remember what this team has accomplished even if they don’t win #8. 

This has been perhaps the best regular season in the history of Kentucky basketball, a fact that shouldn’t be lost on UK fans.  A three-pointer at the buzzer is the only thing standing in the way of perfection.  This team is, in my opinion, the best team in the nation, but even so, Las Vegas has the NCAA tournament favorites no better than a 9-5 favorite to win the title, and that’s for a reason-it’s the hardest title to win. 

Matchups are key to a March run, and there are very few teams that UK doesn’t match up well against.  Frankly, I don’t think Syracuse is the team I fear the most-North Carolina is, and they confirmed that with the ass-whipping they handed Duke on Saturday night.  Another team that presents problems is Indiana-I know I sure don’t want them as UK’s four seed.

With that said, however, I am picking UK to win the national championship.  First up, however, is the SEC tournament.  We will preview that tomorrow here on the Big Blue Lowdown. 

Go Cats!

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Kentucky Vs. The Greatest

Now that the Cats have completed a 16-0 SEC season and won their 30th game, it’s not too early to think a little about this team’s place from a historical context. In other words, how does the 2011-2012 Kentucky team stack up against the greatest teams of all time?

Ok, fine, I take that back. It's actually way too early to have this conversation. They still have a long road to pave if they want to be champions, and we cannot count on anything yet as a certainty. In fact, I could still see this team losing if they went on a terrible cold streak. As good as they are, you can still see the raw youth rear its head from time to time. Like early in today’s game, when Florida came back and took the lead 14-13, Kentucky was playing like freshmen, jacking up bad shots on three straight possessions. Thankfully, after the TV timeout, Darius Miller, the grizzled senior, entered the game and calmly hit a jumper to set things right again. The EXACT same thing happened right before the first TV timeout in the second half. So to me it’s clear that winning a title will take some coaching by Cal to settle these kids down and get them to recognize where to put the ball in times of trouble.

With that said, when you watch this team, you get a sense that it is historically special. The overall athleticism is an absolute comedy of riches. Terrence Jones, Darius Miller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are 6-8 beasts who glide in the lane, jump over you and dunk on you, or hit pull-up jumpers in your eye. All of them have become solid defenders, with MKG becoming lockdown, playing the role of DeAndre Liggins in last season’s Final Four run. Doron Lamb is likely one of the five best spot shooters in UK history (shooting an incredible 48% from behind the arc for his career). Marquis Teague, while he doesn't get the ink that many expected before the season, has about as quick a first step as anyone in the country, and lately has developed an assist-to-turnover ratio to match his talent. Kyle Wiltjer, who is starting to emerge down the stretch as a genuine weapon, is instant offense off the bench, shooting 40% from three at 6-9—meaning it is nearly impossible to stop him from getting off his shot, as opposing teams have to honor the rest of UK’s freakish size and length. And, of course, Anthony Davis is a once in a generation specimen who blocks just about everything around the goal, and completely changes the opponent's entire offensive philosophy. And that doesn’t even account for the damage he is doing on the offensive end, to the tune of 15 points per game and an array of intimidating dunks and outside jumpers.

But it's more than the collection of individuals that makes this year’s squad so remarkable. These kids play together so well, so unselfishly. All these future NBA draft picks swallowing their egos and playing rough, rugged defense—it’s a rarity in today's game. In fact, the tenacity of their halfcourt defense would be a rarity in any era of college hoops. And they respond so well to the moment. They play well under duress and rarely panic. I think one of the things that makes them so difficult to beat is the fact that they almost always get good shots out of their offense. It is tough to overstate the importance of that. College basketball is a game of momentum and emotion. When a team goes on a run, the crowd gets into it and the pressure builds. Being able to answer the bell with a bucket can make all the difference between champion and “also ran.”

So back to the original question. How would this team stack up against some of the legendary teams of yester-year? Unfortunately, we will never know, but I’ve chosen a sampling of great teams from the past and offered some quick thoughts on what kind of matchups we could expect to see with this year’s Kentucky Wildcats.

1976 Indiana Hoosiers – This is a no contest to me. Obviously, the game was a bit different in those days, so it’s tough to make a completely fair assessment. But even the legendary 75-76 Hoosiers, which remains college basketball’s last team to go undefeated, needed double OT to beat that year's Kentucky. And I think it’s fair to say that the Kentucky of Goose Givens’ sophomore year, which went 20-10 and made the NIT, was nowhere near the caliber of this year’s edition. It’s all about matchups. The great teams of Bob Knight relied on physical halfcourt defense and a methodical, motion offense where skilled post players like Scott May could get mid-range scoring opportunities. This team was not a great outside shooting team and could not match the athleticism of a modern Kentucky roster. Overall, I could see a halfcourt slugfest where the superior shooting of Cal’s Wildcats and the overwhelming speed/quickness advantage would make the difference.

1992 Duke Blue Devils – Perhaps surprisingly to some of the more ardent Wildcat homers, I think this Duke team would give UK a lot of trouble, maybe even be too much to handle. Once again, Kentucky would own the athletic advantage. But Duke could make up for it with smart, mistake free basketball and good overall defense and offensive execution (I don't have to remind anyone of "the shot" in the regional finals). Anthony Davis would have his way with Laettner physically, but you can’t underestimate how mean and feisty that Duke squad was. If anything, I could see that team getting under the skin of these Wildcats and that—frustrated—is a position we haven’t seen them in very much. Add an excellent Grant Hill vs Michael Kidd-Gilcrhist matchup and this would have the makings of a classic.

1968 UCLA Bruins– I am too young to have witnessed the UCLA dynasties of Lew Alcindor. But what I have read tells me that much of their dominance can be attributed to the fact that they simply got all the best players during an era when there were no recruiting standards. Sure, it helped to have the Wizard on the sidelines, but you cant stack a decade’s worth of championships unless you are simply pulling in the nation’s top class year after year after year after year. Incredibly, that is what John Calipari seems to be doing now in an epoch where shortcuts are that much more difficult. Kareem vs Anthony Davis would be epic. But I still take the Cats over any of the UCLA teams in the 60s. Call me biased in favor of modern nutrition, sports science and accumulated knowledge.

1982 North Carolina– How would Kentucky fair against a team with three bona fide future NBA stars (Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Sam Perkins) and three other McDonald’s All-Americans? Tough to say. You can never really bet against an MJ-led team. I think Kentucky has enough offensive weapons though that this game would be simply incredible to watch from start to finish.

1996 Kentucky– It is only fair if we are talking about past greats to compare this year’s roster to the last truly great Kentucky team. This is a comparison that many of us have been making in our heads all season. The best of Calipari vs. the best of Pitino. A collegiate matchup with a stunning amount of future NBA talent. Though history is not yet written for this year’s team, one can easily imagine 12-15 NBA players on the court if these two squads collided. But what would happen in the game? No clue, but again, I’d have to look at the matchup and believe, on first impression, that it favors the 2011-2012 team. As we have now seen the Cats beat a sound Florida Gators team twice by double digits, it’s fair to say that you run and press this Kentucky unit at your own peril. I think the truth strength of the ’96 squad, in addition to its talent, was its defensive effort from baseline to baseline. When few teams can actually match you horse for horse, running a 40-minute blitz at the opposition becomes a recipe for success. This, in essence, was the genius of Rick Pitino at his coaching zenith. If he could assemble a roster rich in skill and athleticism, he could dictate the terms of the game by hounding the opposition into submission, resting on the comfort that if anyone got in foul trouble or got fatigued, he had another future pro he could stick in the lineup behind him. But would that philosophy work in the face of a similarly talented lineup? The ’96 team never had to find out. Though it played its fair share of toughies (Camby’s UMass, Duncan's Wake Forest, Miss State of Dampier and Donte Jones, etc.) it’s not arguable that it never played a team with the top to bottom talent as the Cats of this year. So, given that this year’s team has proved it can win an uptempo game or a halfcourt grinder, you’d have to like their chances vs. Pitino’s Untouchables. Still, I give the nod to ’96 due to one thing above all, and that is ball handling. Faced with relentless fullcourt trapping and double teams, I don’t know if the 2012 boys would handle the rock well enough to weather the onslaught.

Long story short, I would like this team’s chances going into the game against any great team in modern college basketball history. Would they win them all? Probably not. But who cares, from a talent and skill perspective, I am confident they would have a chance to pull it out in every one. And thankfully, this team has potentially up to nine more games to further convince me.

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Kentucky Claims 45th SEC Crown

It was a thriller for most of the game, but the Kentucky Wildcats held off a determined Vanderbilt team by a score of 83-74 in Rupp Arena on Saturday.  The win runs UK's record to 28-1 overall and 14-0 in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and, more importantly, clinches the SEC regular season championship. 

In what has become a broken record (albeit the good kind!) Anthony Davis was an absolute beast in dominating the game on both ends of the court and, in many national opinions, possibly clinching the Player of the Year award.  Davis scored 28 points on 10-of-11 shooting while pulling down 11 rebounds, six blocked shots and two steals while turning the ball over just once and committing just two fouls in 37 minutes of play.  What is phenomenal, though, is even though Davis was nearly perfect from the floor, all of his made baskets weren't of the spectacular dunk variety we have all grown accustomed to this season.  Davis hit several key shots as the shot clock was winding down, one of them just inside the three-point arc and a couple more in the 10-12 foot range.

Simply put, it was an amazing performance by a great player who continues to astound despite so many great performances this season.  I'm a guy who likes to talk, and Anthony Davis has me running out of words to describe the impact he has had on this UK team and college basketball in general.  As someone who has followed UK basketball for most of my 45 years, I can't remember a player as dominant on both ends of the floor and, although I was just four years old when he graduated, I think Davis is the most complete player to wear the UK uniform since Dan Issel.  I believe Davis has clinched the Player of the Year award and will be shocked if he doesn't win it.

Marquis Teague also had a solid performance with 16 points and six assists.  While he did turn the ball over 4 times, three of those were in the opening five minutes.  Perhaps the most impressive part of Teague's performance is that after a rough start and a trip to the bench, he was able to collect himself and really play well the remainder of the game.

Terrence Jones added 12 points and 6 boards while Darius Miller and Doron Lamb had 9 points each with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist adding 8 points to go along with 8 rebounds.

All in all, it was a gritty performance on a day that not all went well and the Cats struggled to pull away.  We saw what the rotation will likely look like in the latter stages of the NCAA as games get closer as UK played six guys with Lamb, Davis, and Teague all logging 37+ minutes and Miller playing 33 minutes with Jones and Kidd-Gilchrist limited to 23 and 29 minutes respectively due to foul trouble.  Kentucky didn't play great, yet still found a way to beat a team with talent-Vanderbilt was picked in the top-10 preseason but has under performed this year.

Next up for Kentucky is Senior Night when the much improved Georgia Bulldogs come to Rupp Arena on Thursday night for a 9 p.m. tip off.  Darius Miller and Eloy Vargus will be honored prior to the game in one of the most emotional scenes in all of college basketball as they hear My Old Kentucky Home for the final time in Rupp Arena.

Go Cats!

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Second Half Rally Lifts Wildcats Past Mississippi State

It was every bit the test John Calipari has been wanting for his team - and more - yet the Kentucky Wildcats passed with flying colors as they overcame their largest halftime deficit of the year to defeat the Mississippi State Bulldogs 73-64 last night in Starkville, Mississippi.  Kentucky placed five players in double figures led by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's 18 points and 10 rebounds.  Anthony Davis also had a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds while Darius Miller had 12 and Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb had 11 points each.

The win improves UK to 27-1 overall and 13-0 in SEC play, and clinched at least a share of the SEC regular season championship.  UK owns a three game lead on Florida with three games to play and can clinch the title when Vanderbilt visits Rupp Arena on Saturday.

Always considered one of the toughest road trips in the SEC, the Bulldogs didn't disappoint as they raced out to a 12-2 lead and scorched the nets in building a 41-28 halftime lead.  While MSU was lighting it up from beyond the arc in the first half, Kentucky wasn't helping its cause with unusually sloppy play and what appeared to be intimidation underneath caused by the big bodies of Bulldogs Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney.  UK's defensive effort left something to be desired in the first half as well as MSU was given several open looks from three and knocked down six of them.  MSU point guard Dee Bost had 16 first half points while being guarded by Marquis Teague, partly leading to Teague battling foul for most of the game (and partly due to a technical foul, which we will get to in a bit.)

The Wildcats adjusted in the second half, however, and besides leading the Cats in scoring, Kidd-Gilchrist accepted Calipari's challenge to defend Bost-and it worked, further enhancing MKG's reputation as a lockdown defender.  Bost scored just five points in the second half, and while it won't show up in the box score, MKG's defense also hampered his ability to throw into the low post where MSU's big bodies were waiting.

After letting the Bulldogs shoot 48% in the first half, UK allowed just 32% in the second half.  As has happened often this season, most recently at Vanderbilt last week, when the game was in the balance late, UK simply took over on both ends of the court.  Following a TV timeout with 6:17 to play, Kentucky went on a 20-4 run to get the win.  These Cats have shown that ability too often to call it a fluke or coincidence.  At a time when many freshman get rattled, especially in a hostile arena against a talented opponent, this team has shown the ability to do whatever it takes-on both ends of the court-to get the job done.  That is a special trait, especially in a primarily freshman roster stocked with future professional players.

Call it a will to win, or call it something else-but this team has it.  Period.

Now to the officiating-I hear a lot of folks complaining this morning about the officiating, and while I usually disagree with them, their complaints have some merit.  First lets talk about the technical foul on Teague-it looked to be warranted.  The NCAA Director of Officials sent a memo out last week directing officials to clean up "unsportsmanlike" conduct, and barking at the referees is unsporting.  Did Teague get fouled on the play in question-probably-but that doesn't excuse yelling at the officials-it will get you a technical, and it should.

On the other hand, the technical on Anthony Davis was absolutely ridiculous.  Hanging on the rim is allowed if there are players around who may be trailing the play and the officials feel the player may be in danger from falling...but it is not allowed for show boating.  I don't see how this technical was called given there were two MSU players with Davis, and one was trailing behind him-which means Davis had no way of knowing where the trailing player was in relation to his body.  Davis was nearly vertical due to his momentum, and in my view that's a technical that you have to pass on-especially when it is apparent that Davis is not a show-boater or a trash talker.

Finally, I was really disgusted by the way the officials acted in their mechanics when making calls at times.  I say this as an official-we are taught not to make a spectacle of ourselves, but I thought on several occasions the officials did just that.  Instead of simply pointing a direction or signaling a foul, they used exaggerated movements that were just downright silly at times.  That is disappointing.

Don't let your friends with teams in other conferences downplay the significance of this win-Mississippi State is a talented team with three guys who will play at the next level.  Frankly, I think their biggest Achilles heel is their coach, Rick Stansbury, because there is no way that team should be on a four game losing streak with the talent they have-they should be contending with Florida for second in the league.\

This was a tremendous win that exposed to the nation what we already knew-this team has the heart of a champion.  It can win in dazzling style, and it can win when not playing its best.  It can take the best an opponent can give it, on the road, play poorly, and yet still emerge unscathed.  This team is damn good-and is probably now considered the favorite to win the national title.

Go Cats!

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Wilcats Head to Starkville

When SEC play began back last month, many fans circled tonight's game as one of perhaps three potential roadblocks to the Kentucky Wildcats running through the conference unbeaten.  The other two were Vanderbilt (a 69-63 win) and at Florida (March 4).  A road trip to Starkville is never easy, and frankly begs the question of why ANYONE would want to go to Starkville, Mississippi in the first place!  But I digress...

Tonight's game against Mississippi State does cause concern for the Cats despite the fact that MSU is coming off three straight losses to significantly lesser SEC foes.  Of course, we know home crowds are always amped when the Wildcats come calling, and even more so given they are the top-ranked team in the nation.  Then there is Rick Stansbury-an able coach, decent recruiter, but a guy that likes to agitate things and showed a serious lack of class when speaking about former Bulldog and current Wildcat Twany Beckham.  Apparently Stansbury holds a grudge and is still a little steamed about Beckham leaving the train wreck that was MSU basketball last season and transferring to a real basketball school.  Stansbury's comments were a great insight into the jealousy that pervades other programs when it comes to John Calipari and Kentucky basketball, but more than that, they showed what a jerk Rick Stansbury is.

On paper, Kentucky should win the game handily, and the folks in Vegas think that's what will happen seeing they installed UK as 9.5 point favorites.  I think that's a little high, and I see UK having to win a grind-it-out sort of game similar to the one in Vanderbilt.  The Bulldogs have enough size and talent inside in Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney to give the Cats some trouble, so it will be important for Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones to stay out of foul trouble.  I do think Kentucky will win, though, and it would give me great pleasure to see Stansbury and his Bulldogs run out of their own gym simply because their coach can't keep his mouth shut.

 

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Kentucky Tops Vandy, Continues Dominant Run

Kentucky passed a huge road test Saturday, felling a game Vanderbilt squad which caught fire in the second half and pushed UK to the final buzzer.

Ultimately, this win was about too much Anthony Davis and a defensive effort that is, on a game-by-game basis, becoming legendary.

Make no mistake. There are still doubters. Many will tell you that Syracuse has been equally impressive in a tougher league. Never mind the fact that the SEC and Big East have split 20 head to head games this season, with 10 wins a piece.

But what Kentucky has done to its opposition over the past few weeks is downright insane. And no matter what anyone tells you, these are not cupcake opponents.

Vanderbilt was a preseason top 10 team. The roster is laden with upperclassmen and the 'Dores are perennially tough to beat at home. *See last year's win over the Cats in Nashville.

While building an 11-0 conference record, UK is barrelling through a league likely to put 5 or 6 teams in the big dance. The Cats are pounding the opposition in a nearly unprecedented fashion, beating league opponents by an average of 17 points.

They are doing it by holding opponents under 40% shooting and just boasting an embarrassing display of weapons. The Vandy game was but a glimpse of some of its firepower.

-Marquis Teague's emergence as a pass-first PG with a quick first step and the ability to get to the rack at will

-Darius Miller's status as cool headed point forward who provides a secondary playmaker, an athletic speciment and an unsung shot maker

-Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as a potential player of the year candidate in the shadow of Davis...he is the engine that drives this squad

-Doron Lamb as a deadly assassin, capable of going for 20+ on any given night

-Terrence Jones, preseason All American, averaging a quiet 12 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1 steal per game

-Kyle Wiltjer, rarely-used sub who has managed 21 three pointers, good for third best on the team

And of course, a guy who is the true difference maker for this team in too many ways to count. Anthony Davis, as Dick Vitale shrewdly pointed out, could be the first man to win freshmen of the year, defensive player of the year, SEC player of the year, national player of the year AND be the number 1 player selected in this year's NBA draft. Will he have room to win a Final Four MVP trophy? There is a distinct possibility.

All in all, if you are looking at the Cats long-term prospects, the presence of Davis is what separates this team from both past editions of Calipari's teams as well as the top competition around the nation this season. Truthfully, very few teams have an answer for a post player who can cover most of the paint and baseline and literally negate the ability for opposing teams to take shots in those regions of the floor. What this does is shrink the amount of real estate available to an opposing offense, and UK, with its incredible athleticism, has no problem defending the remaining territory ferorciously.

Sprinkle in Davis's offensive dominance around the rim as a glass cleaner and human dunk machine, and you are looking at a player who gives an altogether different dimension than anything else out there.

If you are a gambler, you have to like Kentucky's odds.

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Wildcats Take Big Chomp Out of the Gators

If there was any doubt as to who the best college basketball team in the country was, there isn't anymore after the Kentucky Wildcats ran the seventh-ranked Florida Gators out of Rupp Arena Tuesday night in a 78-58 rout.  Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds, but the Wildcats used another balanced attack in overcoming a not-so-quick start against the Florida pressure defense.  Doron Lamb had another impressive outing in leading UK with 18 points while Anthony Davis scored 16 and Marquis Teague had 12 points to go along with 10 assists-the first double-double of his career and a watershed game for the often-maligned Wildcat point guard.

UK didn't come out of the gate firing on all cylinders as they had been recently, but Florida's 6-0 lead was quickly erased with a  9-0 run.  The Gators' final lead came with 11:25 to go in the first half, but Kentucky outscored Florida 25-13 over the remaining first half to take a commanding 38-26 lead.  Florida scored the first four points of the second half and forced UK to call time less than a minute into the second frame, but Kentucky came out of the timeout and went on an 11-0 run to take a 49-30 lead and the game was never in doubt after that.

Much was made about this game being the first real test for the Cats in several weeks, but they proved they were more than up for the challenge, and frankly won easier than even I thought they would.  The Florida team that UK just beat by 20 is a damned good basketball team...yet UK made them look bad, to Kentucky's credit.  Kentucky's defense was simply outstanding-as it has been all season, but especially the last month.  Kentucky's last five opponents have all shot 40% or less-that is an amazing statistic!  Yet again, Anthony Davis had 4 blocks-and we all know he is a difference maker in the paint, but with that said, Florida came in as a terrific three point shooting team, yet Kentucky's defense held them to 22% on 6-of-27 shooting.  It's often said defense wins championships, and this team plays the best defense of any team I have seen in recent memory. 

While UK has gotten its fair share of attention all season, its fair to say the talking heads at ESPN and elsewhere are now looking at Kentucky as the favorites to win the national title.  At the same time, Davis is garnering significant attention as the leading Player of the Year candidate.  I think we all knew this Kentucky team would be really good, but I'm seriously starting to wonder if they will lose again-they are that good.  Someone is going to have to score 70 to beat them, and I'm not sure that's going to happen unless someone gets insanely hot from behind the arc.

While I don't want to get too giddy, its hard to overstate what Tuesday's smack down of the Gators really says.  Florida is a legitimate top 10 team-and they were simply no match for the Wildcats.  In fact, there was probably no one watching who thought Florida stood a chance to win over the final 30 minutes of the game-it was that much of a mismatch.

Vanderbilt is waiting in the seriously moronic setup that is Memorial Gymnasium.  The bench set up there is the worst in college basketball and shouldn't be allowed, and the raised floor is an injury waiting to happen.  Beyond that, the folks at Vanderbilt really think their team is pretty good, but they have underachieved significantly this season.  A win over the #1 team in the land would be a huge boost in the arm for the Commodores, but I don't think that will happen.

Kentucky is the best team in the nation-and they will prove it again in Nashville.

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Cats Demolish South Carolina, Enter Meat of SEC Schedule

The Kentucky Wildcats put on a clinic at South Carolina and reaffirmed why they are the top-ranked team in the nation with an overwhelming 86-52 win on Saturday.  The devastation of the Gamecocks was so thorough that the outcome of the contest was never really in doubt past the 17:00 mark of the first half.  As Coach John Calipari stated after the game, "It didn't matter who we played today, someone was getting beat by 30."  While many may try to downplay the win due to the opponent, the simple fact is that conference games on the road are usually difficult and 30 point wins are rare, no matter how good you are.  That UK has now strung together four straight impressive wins, including three on the road, is further indication that the Wildcats are finally developing the killer instinct that Calipari has yearned for all year.

Anthony Davis continued to put up impressive numbers and was awarded the SEC Player of the Week award as a result.  Davis was a man among boys at South Carolina on Saturday while flirting with the elusive triple-double with 22 points, 8 rebounds, 8 blocks, 2 steals and an assist-all in just 28 minutes of playing time.  If that line sounds like a broken record, it is because of the amazing consistency that Davis has shown all season.  Anthony Davis has become the unquestionable star of this Kentucky team and is now garnering serious discussion for the national Player of the Year award.

Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones also had impressive outings with Lamb scoring 18 (including 3-of-3 from three point land) while Jones turned in another impressive stat line with 16 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and a block.  More to the point was the way Jones attacked the basket-with a fierceness not often seen this season.  Even Kyle Wiltjer scored in double figures with 12 points.

In other news, the Wildcats remained the unanimous #1 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll and stayed the top team in the AP poll despite two apparently clueless voters who continued to vote for Syracuse as their number 1.  Hopefully, if the Cats take care of business against Florida and Vanderbilt this week someone will help those guys get off whatever they are smoking and vote the right way.

This week provides two stern tests for the Wildcats, who will face the other ranked SEC teams five times in their final seven conference games.  First up is a Florida team that has made an impressive run in winning seven straight and entering the top-10 this week.  Florida shoots (and hits) a lot of three-pointers, about the only area that UK's defense hasn't been great at defending this year.  UK has cruised the past four games, and a certain swagger has taken over that could be a problem for a young team.  I don't see that happening tonight, however, as I see the Cats winning, but not covering the 9.5 point spread.

Go Cats!

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UK’s Win Over Tennessee Shows Team is Coming Together at Right Time

The Kentucky Wildcats showed the nation why they are the #1 ranked team in the country last night with a thorough dismantling of the Tennessee Volunteers by a score of 69-44 at Rupp Arena.  Anthony "The Beast" Davis made yet another case to win the Wooden award for the best player in the nation by flirting yet again with a triple-double-18 points, 8 rebounds, 7 blocks, and three assists in just 30 minutes of play.  Michael Kidd-Gilchrist added 16 points and 8 boards while Terrence Jones had another solid outing with 11 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and two steals.  More important than the numbers, however, was how the Wildcats played-with passion and precision. 

UK was as animated to start a game as I have seen them all year.  It looked as John Calipari had lit a fuse under a rocket, and it provided an explosion to start the game that Tennessee could never recover from.  Kentucky made its first 11 shots and ran out to a 20-5 lead which meant lights out for the Volunteers.  Tennessee made a litte run thanks to five straight three pointers, but UK was never seriously challenged.

Lost in the hype of Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones has been the development of Marquis Teague at the point guard position over the last several games.  While I, and others, have been critical of Teague at times this year, it appears the freshman is rounding into the type of floor leader that Calipari is looking for.  Against Tennessee, Teague had 9 points and was 5-of-6 from the free throw line while handing out 4 assists versus 2 turnovers.  Against LSU on Saturday, he had 6 points, 4 assists, and just one turnover.  This is exactly the kind stat line we need to be seeing from Teague, and it is what Calipari has been preaching all season, and it appears that Teague is getting the message.  That's great for him and for the team.

Another subject being overlooked by some is the tremendous defensive effort this team plays every night out.  In the last three games, UK has allowed 44, 50, and 44 points respectively.  While this looks great, it truly is remarkable considering the fact that since the advent of the shot clock this is the first time UK has held three consecutive opponents to 50 or fewer points.  UK is holding opponents to 36% shooting on the year (#2 in the nation) and just under 58 points per game (#10).  Kentucky is averaging nearly 78 points a game, and is currently ranked #2 nationally in scoring margin.

So while its fun watching Anthony Davis swat shots away at record paces (and it is a lot of fun!) the Wildcats as a team are flat-out getting it done on the defensive end, and Davis' shot blocking ability is a huge piece of that.  UK's defense is the reason they can go on the road and grind out wins over Tennessee (65-62) and Auburn (68-53) even when the offense isn't clicking on all cylinders.

These past three games have solidified my belief that Kentucky is the best team in the nation.  Ohio State and Syracuse are close behind, but I think this team playing as it has the past three games won't get beat.  When Terrence Jones looks like a man on a mission, when Davis is terrorizing opposing shooters and getting rebounds and put backs, when I see Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Darius Miller playing with passion, and when I see Teague playing as a point guard should-this team can't be beat.  Period.

Because I'm such a rabid UK fan, I always try to temper my expectations so that I won't be disappointed come tournament time.  I convinced myself we wouldn't win in 1996 even though we were clearly the best team, and in 1998 I just knew the wheels would fall off after UK outlasted Duke in the Regional Final.  I've been tempering my expectaions on this team thus far as well, but I think its time to be realistic.

UK IS the number one team in the country.  That's not a fan talking, that's just fact.  It's a snapshot to be sure, and can change at any time, but right now they are the best team out there withough much argument.  UK is a last second three-pointer away from joining Murray State in the undefeated column.  Every other major team has been manhandled at one point or another or, at a minimum, has a bad loss on their resume-except Kentucky.  Unlike last year's Final Four team, the Wildcats have proven they can win on the road and at neutral site games. 

The toughest part of their SEC schedule is coming up.  The Cats will face Vandy and Florida twice and a road trip to Mississippi State in the final month of the regular season.  Vandy's Memorial Coliseum has been the site of many debacles for UK over the years and should be razed due to it's ridiculous layout and design, but that won't happen before next week.  A Florida team that is playing really good basketball will invade Rupp Arena next Tuesday, and I look for the Gators to provide a stern test. 

With that said, however, I see UK coming out of that stretch with at most two losses, and more likely one or none.  A loss wouldn't hurt UK's NCAA seeding and could produce a much needed jolt right before tournament play starts.  This Kentucky team has a will to win unlike any I've seen in recent years, I think that comes from having the heart of champions.  I really like this team's chances to raise banner #8 over Cawood's Court at Rupp Arena!

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Wildcats Show Why They Are #1

The Kentucky Wildcats took a beating (literally) on the road at LSU on Saturday but delivered a knockout blow of their own where it counts-the scoreboard-as they pounded the Tigers 74-50.  UK got out to a 6-0 lead and, although LSU cut the lead to one late in the first half, never trailed as they methodically extended their lead in the second half.

More impressively, the Wildcats showed what coach John Calipari has said was missing-toughness-in overcoming the obvious game plan of the Tigers which was to use brute force to knock UK off stride, in particular by physically pounding Anthony Davis in the middle.  This strategy is not all that surprising in league play, which is usually more physical, but LSU took it to new heights on Saturday and it resulted in the ejection of LSU's Malcolm White early in the second half.  White's foul, which was intended to stop Davis on a breakaway layup after a steal, was scary to watch and absolutely deserved the flagrant technical that was assessed and the subsequent ejection. 

Despite the physical play, however, UK never looked off stride and went about their business in an efficient dismantling of the Tigers in their most impressive win in SEC play. Terrence Jones was a beast again with 27 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks and a pair of steals and looked like the Terrence Jones we have come to love over the past season and a half.  Davis turned in yet another double-double with 16 points and 10 boards to go along with 3 blocks and 2 steals-all in just 28 minutes.  Darius Miller had another nice game with 13 points on 3-of-5 shooting.

All in all, Saturday's game, coupled with an an impressive 57-44 win over Georgia on Tuesday, makes it appear that the Wildcats are rounding into form at just the right time-especially on the defensive end.  While UK has been in the top ten nationally defensively all season, over the past two games they have given up just 44 and 50 points respectively while allowing the Dogs and Tigers to shoot just 37% from the field and 22% (6-of-27) from three collectively.  That is simply getting it done!  And, FINALLY, we are seeing a little killer instinct in these young Cats in not allowing teams to hang around, especially on their home floor.  This has been the cause of much alarm and debate over the past few weeks.

Kentucky now stands at 21-1 overall and 7-0 in the SEC and will remain the #1 team in the nation in both polls this week.  The schedule gets a little tougher this week as the Cats host a vastly improved Tennessee team tomorrow and then travels to South Carolina on Saturday.  On paper, UK should win both games, but strange things happen in conference play.  Still, there are very few, if any, teams that can beat UK when they play the way they did at LSU on Saturday.  That UK team, with Jones and Davis controlling the paint, is as close to unbeatable as any team in the nation.

Go Cats!

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Free Throws Hold Off Pesky Alabama 77-71

A recurring theme seems to fit this Kentucky basketball team in SEC play-it wasn't pretty, but a win is a win.  That was certainly true in Rupp Arena on Saturday as the Wildcats withstood a tremendous effort by Alabama to claim a 77-71 win.  Give the Tide credit-they had a great shooting performance for the game including 5-of-7 from three but, more importantly, it seemed every time UK was about to make a run, Alabama came up with a big shot to snuff it out.  It was great free throw shooting in the clutch that sealed the deal for the Cats, however, who didn't score a basket over the final 7 minutes but connected on 15-of-19 free throws over the same period to eke out a win. 

Perhaps the most impressive stat of the game for Kentucky is that they had six players score in double figures.  Yes, that's right, six!  Leading the way was Terrence Jones with 15, Doron Lamb with 14, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with 13, Darius Miller and Anthony Davis with 11 each, and Marquis Teague with 10.  Davis also had 9 rebounds, 4 steals, and 4 blocks while Jones and Kidd-Gilchrist had 6 boards each. 

Two things impressed me the most-first is this team's toughness down the stretch.  The Wildcats have been seriously pushed in all but one of their conference games, yet each time have found a way to win when the game was in doubt with less than five minutes to play.  While blow outs are fun, the reality is the deeper a team gets in the NCAA tournament, the more likely the games are close, and despite the youth on this team, they still find a way to win.  This team has consistently shown a mental toughness and a desire to win in the clutch, and those are intangibles that are hard to teach.

The other thing I take from Saturday's win is the Cats' ability to win when its stars (Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist) are struggling.  Kidd-Gilchrist was limited to just 23 minutes on the day due to foul trouble and Davis had his worst shooting performance of the year (2-of-10), yet the rest of the team stepped up and found a way to get the job done.  On a team loaded with blue chip prospects, UK seems to put winning ahead of individual accolades, and Saturday's box score is exhibit one.  Rarely does a team have six players in double figures.  Enough said.

Saturday's game also saw the return of some troubling issues.  Jones had a horrendous first half, but rebounded nicely to have a strong second frame.  This far into the season its a fair question to wonder if the reality of Terrence Jones is up and down.  For the Cats to contend for the national title, however, they need to get more ups than downs from Jones, and right now its about 50-50.

Marquis Teague continues to frustrate.  His 4-of-11 shooting is bad enough, but frankly he simply shoots too much.  As the point guard, his primary focus needs to be on getting the team started in its offense, yet Teague looks to score far too often for my liking.  Not only did he take 11 shots, but he had just one assist.  11 shots, 1 assist-that is not acceptable from your point guard.  Teague should understand this by the time 20 games are played, but apparently isn't getting the message.

As I said at the top though, a win is a win.  The Cats are now 19-1 overall and 5-0 in the SEC and the lone team unbeaten in league play.  With Syracuse taking a pounding at Notre Dame on Saturday (they were never in that game) the Wildcats will assuredly assume the top spot in the polls this week.  Trips to Georgia and LSU loom this week, and as always, UK will have a big target on their back, even more so since they will be ranked #1.  It will take great efforts to escape the week unscathed.

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Anthony Davis, Kentucky Dismantle Arkansas 86-63

For the first time in several games, the Kentucky Wildcats were clicking on all cylinders last night in a 86-63 thrashing of Arkansas.  It was a glorious thing to see on ESPN last night as the Cats seemed intent from the opening tip to shake off the offensive woes that have plagued the team recently.  Arkansas wanted to push the tempo, and UK showed why that isn't such a great idea as they jumped out to an 8-0 lead and never looked back.

The star of the game had to be Anthony Davis who again showed why he will most certainly be a lottery pick in the NBA this summer.  Davis scored 27 points on 10-of-12 shooting and 7-of-8 from the free throw line, 14 rebounds, and 7 blocks.  With those seven blocks, Davis broke the all-time single season block record at UK with 89 blocks thus far and nearly half the season still to play.  Simply said, Anthony Davis is a BEAST and is one of the few players in college basketball that can single-handedly change the opponents offensive sets due to his defensive ability.  Beyond that, Davis just keeps getting better as the season wears on.  One stat that jumps out from last night is that Davis nearly accomplished a triple-double while committing no fouls and no turnovers.  That bears repeating-Davis had 27 points, 14 rebounds, 7 blocks, 0 fouls, and 0 turnovers.  That stat line is simply unbelieveable!

Beyond the obviously tremendous game from Davis, the entire team contributed to the win, and five Wildcats scored in double figures with Doron Lamb getting 14, Terrence Jones 13 (along with 9 rebounds), Darius Miller 11, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 10.  While not scoring in double figures, point guard Marquis Teague had perhaps his best game as a Wildcat with 7 points and 9 assists while committing just three turnovers. 

The Arkansas game saw the continued reemergence of Terrence Jones who is looking more and more like his old self the last few games.  13 points and 9 rebounds is a solid performance if not eye-popping, but more than that was the aggressiveness that Terrence showed in attacking the basket, something coach Calipari had been challenging him to do.  His injured finger still isn't 100%, but Jones is coming along at just the right time.

With the win, Kentucky improved to 18-1 overall and 4-0 in SEC play which puts them alone in first place, a 1/2 game ahead of Vanderbilt pending tonight's action.  Kentucky will host Alabama on Saturday in what could prove to be a challenging game.

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Late Surge Downs Vols 65-62

In what has become a recurring theme in SEC play, the Kentucky Wildcats overcame a sluggish first half and a raucous crowd while showing poise down the stretch to pull away to a 65-62 win over Tennessee in Knoxville.  Anthony Davis led the Wildcats with 1 points and 8 rebounds and turned in another huge second half when the Cats were trailing.  Davis also had four blocked shots to pull within one of the UK season record for blocks.  Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was again an absolute beast with 17 points, 12 rebounds, 3 steals and a block including a huge three-pointer with just under five minutes left to give the Cats a little breathing room.

While not the prettiest performance, the bottom line is when being pressed on the road, Kentucky (17-1, 3-0) again found a way to win.  While there may be a certain amount of physical toughness missing on this team as evidenced by Coach Calipari's comments after the game, there is no question that this team is mentally tough and plays with poise in close games.  When pressed, this team shows a will to win that I wasn't sure it would have, and that is in large part due to Kidd-Gilchrist who has become the vocal leader as well as the guy who just flat out gets it done on the court.

Any road game in the SEC that ends in a W is pretty, no matter how ugly the game is...and to get one at Tennessee is even sweeter.

A few other notes...

-Kentucky is now 2-0 in SEC road games-which equals their win total on the road in league play last year.  While the toughest road games are still to come, one has to be encouraged by this start.

-Despite being plagued by foul trouble, Terrence Jones had another nice game vs. the Vols.  Jones had 10 points, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks, an assist and a steal, all in just 24 minutes of playing time.  That's exactly the kind of things we need to keep seeing from Terrence, and its nice to see the young man rebound from his early woes.

-Kyle Wiltjer had just 5 points, but the three he hit at the 13:27 mark of the second half was a big shot just as the Volunteers had pulled out to an 8 point lead.  I think this kid will do some nice things during his time at Kentucky.

-On a negative note, the Cats had 13 turnovers to just 7 assists, and Marquis Teague continued to puzzle with 5 turnovers.  Teague played much better after Calipari, uh, got his attention to put it nicely midway through the second half, but lets be frank-Kentucky is now 18 games into the season.  Its far more likely that the Teague who turns the ball over 4 or 5 times a game is the Teague we are going to see the rest of the way.  It is certainly frustrating, but the reality is Kentucky doesn't have many other options.

-In other notable SEC action on Saturday, Florida went to South Carolina and whipped the Gamecocks while Vandy hosted and defeated Georgia.  Mississippi State also edged Alabama at home, so UK and Vandy stand alone at 3-0 while Florida, Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi State are just behind at 2-1. 

-In case you missed it, Louisville finally won a game.  Not sure that I care, but some of you might...

-And in case you missed it part 2, North Carolina got absolutely CRUSHED on the road at Florida State by 33 points on Saturday.  It was the worst loss for UNC under Roy Williams and was sealed after the Seminoles opened the second half on a 30-8 run.  Not sure about you, but that kind of warms my heart.

-UK will host Arkansas on Tuesday and Alabama on Saturday.  Unless he doesn't play, I would expect Anthony Davis to break the school record for blocks in a season against the Razorbacks.  Although Alabama could pose a challenge, UK should win both games this week to move to 5-0 in SEC play.

Go Cats!

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Wildcats Set for First Conference Road Game

The Kentucky Wildcats are in Auburn, Alabama tonight for their first SEC road game of the year.  The road was not kind to the Cats in league play last season-they lost six of their eight games on the road, yet they were able to rebound and win the SEC tournament and advance to the Final Four.  I don't expect this team to struggle that much on the road, but its fair to say that conference road games are a different animal and the freshmen are in for an eye opening experience.

With that said, I don't see the Tigers posing muc of a threat to UK this evening.  Auburn is 10-5 overall and averages just 66 points per game compared to 81 per game for the Cats, and that's exactly what the Las Vegas line on this game is.  Auburn is 9-0 at home though, so although I think UK is a far superior team, this is not a game they can win by just showing up.  A lackluster performance will often in a "L" in conference play, so the Cats will need to be sharp.

A few other thoughts...

  • We didn't get to see the South Carolina on television here in Dayton, Ohio, so I tried to follow it online in ESPN3.  While good in theory, the jerkiness of the video made the game virtually unwatchable.
  • So while I didn't watch the whole game, one has to be happy with the reemergence of Terrence Jones during Saturday's game.  Jones had 20 against the Gamecocks in perhaps his first decent game since early December. 
  • This UK team is going to be tough for anyone to beat, but the bottom line is this-if Jones is contributing as he did on Saturday, this team rises to a place that only 1 or 2 other teams can go.  In my opinion, they are virtually unbeatable if everyone is contributing, and that hasn't been the case for most of the last month.  Let's hope Saturday's game from Jones was a sign of things to come.
  • Anthony Davis continues his assault on the record for blocks in a single season and will soon set the record.  Davis has 74 blocks thus far and is just 9 away from the season record of 83 set by Melvin Turpin.  It's conceivable he could break the record this Saturday at Tennessee, and, if his rate of blocks per game holds up, he will certainly break the record next week at home against Arkansas.  Davis is on pace to be in fifth place in career blocks by the end of his freshman season...that's simply insane!
  • It was really cool to see a UK student make the shot from half court on Saturday, and despite initial reluctance to pay due to a toe on the line, it was good to see Kroger agree to pay up the $10,000 prize.  The controversy made national news which was also pretty cool.  Shows the power of the Big Blue Nation!
  • Finally, although this isn't about UK, it was absolutely stunning to see Rick Pitino's Louisivlle Cardinals get pummeled by 31 points on the road at Providence last night.  I'm not sure what's going on with Pitino or the Cardinals, but they have lost 4 out of their last 5, and the realization is setting in that they were overranked to begin with and, frankly, may not be that good.  Pitino as usual was his typical self-refused to take part in a halftime ceremony honoring his Providence Final Four team and also wouldn't go on his radio show after the game.  This is the second time this year that Pitino has reacted in similar fashion after a loss and it doesn't reflect well on him at all.  Someone might want to remind the coach that losing with class is far more important that winning with class.  Regardless, its fun to watch the screeching coming from the Cardinal fan base...especially with UK in position to contend for yet another national title!

That's all I have for now...Go Cats!

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Wildcats Look to Win 45th SEC Crown

Kentucky’s nonconference slate is finally complete and the Southeastern Conference opener awaits this Saturday when the Cats host the South Carolina Gamecocks in the league opener for both teams.  The Wildcats now stand at 14-1 overall with significant wins over Kansas, North Carolina, and Louisville while a loss to the Indiana Hoosiers in Bloomington on a three at the buzzer is their only blemish on the year.

But now is when the real work begins, and as last year’s team found out, conference play is a whole different animal.  Kentucky went 10-6 in league play last year on a team that ultimately advanced to the Final Four, and conference games, especially road games, can prove to be tough on a team heavily loaded with seniors.

With that said, the SEC should be Kentucky’s to lose, and most experts not only pick the Wildcats to claim the regular season title (which in my view is far more important) but also the tournament championship.  If UK can post a 14-2 record and win a couple of games in the tournament, they should be a lock for a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

I predicted a 14-2 SEC record earlier, but I see more than a couple potential losses on the horizon, especially of Marquis Teague and Terrence Jones continue their up and down seasons.  There is only so far Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist can carry a team.

Two teams have emerged that could push the Cats for the SEC title if things fell their way.  Florida is playing really good basketball under Billy Donavan and Patric Young has developed into a difference maker for the Gators.  Florida is now 12-3 with losses to top-ranked Syracuse by 4, third ranked Ohio State by 7, and a double overtime loss at Rutgers, so Donovan’s team is tested and will prove to be a worthy opponent.

Mississippi State is the perhaps the other team that can push the Cats, especially in the new one division format that was adopted this year.  State lost by 2 to top-ten Baylor on a neutral floor and has an inexplicable loss to Akron but has beaten Texas A & M and Arizona, both ranked teams.  The Bulldogs are led by junior Arnett Moultrie who averages 17 points and 11 rebounds per game.  Coach Rick Stansbury, a native of Louisville, has done a tremendous job in his 12 years at State, and his team looks to make noise again this year.

Vanderbilt is one other team that bears watching, but the Commodores have become something of an enigma.  Picked to challenge UK for the title in the preseason, Vandy certainly has a lot of talent.  Losses to Louisville and Xavier are understandable, but losses to Indiana State and Cleveland State leave one scratching the head. 

With that said, here are some games to watch for as potential pitfalls for the Cats:

1/21-Alabama:  ‘Bama always has talent, and this year’s team is no different. I saw the Tide play when they lost to Dayton here in December, and though I think UK wins this one, the Tide is always a team to watch out for.

2/7-Florida:  The first of two with the Gators is in Rupp, and the Cats must win at home.

2/11-@ Vanderbilt:  Memorial Gymnasium should be outlawed due to the stupid set up with teams at opposite ends of the court, and you know the Commodore faithful will make the old building rock.  This game has a loss written all over it unless the Cats are at the top of their game.

2/21-@ Mississippi State-There isn’t much to do in Starkville, and the State fans always bring their A game when Kentucky comes to town.  This too could prove to be a potential loss.

3/4-@ Florida:  The SEC season comes to a close in Gainesville, and it’s conceivable that the league title could be on the line here.  The O-Dome is a tough place to play, and it will be senior day for the Gators, so it will take all the Wildcats have to come out of this game with a win.

So how do I see things shaking out?  It’s unfortunate that three of the four games against the best the SEC has to offer are on the road.  I look for the Cats to go 13-3 with losses at Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, and Florida, but I also think that’s enough to earn Kentucky’s 45th SEC championship and the top seed in the SEC tourney in New Orleans.

That’s how I see it-tell me what you think?

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Kentucky Hosts Arkansas-Little Rock in Annual Louisville Game

It's fair to say I'm not a big fan of programs like Kentucky beating up on teams like Arkansas-Little Rock, but I am a realist and accept that this is the way of big time college basketball.  For UK, these types of games are no more than glorified practices that sell tickets and provide needed breaks in a very impressive pre-conference slate of games.  I realize you can't play North Carolina and Louisiville every night out, and for teams such as UALR, these games provide financial support of their program in the form of guarantees that they otherwise wouldn't have and at the same time give these less than mid-major teams a glimmer of exposure. 

Still, as someone who grew up in Louisville and has seen Freedom Hall crackle when the Cats played Notre Dame or Indiana there, games like these should be reserved for the annual slate of beat downs in Rupp Arena.  If UK is only going to play one game in Louisville, they should play a decent opponent.

  • With that said, obviously UK has been very successful in Freedom Hall over the years.  Freedom Hall is a great place to watch a basketball games, and the sight lines are as good as any new arena despite the age of the facility.  The renovation done a couple of decades ago added seating capacity, and there are very few arenas in the country with the history that Freedom Hall has.
  • The basketball team did not hold its traditional open practice in Louisville yesterday due to the New Year's holiday, so Coach Calipari has announced that the team will stay on the court for 30 minutes after the game tonight to sign autographs for the Louisville fans.
  • Darius Miller will get to the 1,000 point platuea in career scoring if he scores five points tonight.  Miller will be the 58th Wildcat to reach that milestone.
  • It will be interesting to see if UK will continue the improved free throw shooting we have seen over the past few games, and especially out of Anthony Davis, who was an impressive 12-of-13 against Louisville after shooting less than 60% on the season to that point.  This is an encouraging trend and one that needs to continue as opponents will likely send the Cats to the line frequently.
  • Arkansas-Little Rock is the last non-conference opponent of the season.  UK will host South Carolina at 4 p.m. on Saturday to open SEC play.

I hope the return to the office has gone smoothly for everyone who went back to work today.  As always, Go Cats!

 

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UK Moves to #2 in Coaches and AP Polls

Just a few random notes on the New Year's holiday as I sit here and watch college bowl games that unfortunately don't feature the Wildcats...

As expected, Kentucky moved up to the #2 ranking in both the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll and the AP poll.  Syracuse has a serious lock on the top spot, but the Wildcats still garnered one top vote in the Coaches poll and five in the AP poll.  North Carolina, Baylor, and Duke round out the top five in the AP poll and the same three teams fill out the top five in the Coaches poll, albeit in slightly different order.

Mississippi State is the only other SEC team ranked (15 AP, 16 ESPN/USA Today) while Indiana, the only team to beat the Wildcats, rose to 12 in both polls after knocking off the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday in Bloomington.  For anyone that cares, Louisville dropped to 10 in the Coaches and 11 in the AP poll following their losses to Georgetown and Kentucky.

In other news, Coach Calipari made a comment to the media in Louisville today that while UK would like to continue playing a game in Louisville each season, the "fans need to fill the place."  Now, with all due respect to Coach Calipari, I would respond back that UK needs to start playing somebody in Louisivlle each year, and there would be no problem with filling Freedom Hall.  The opponent this year is Arkansas-Little Rock, and in 2009 it was UNC-Asheville.  Granted Notre Dame played there in 2010 as part of the SEC/Big East Challenge, but prior to that one has to go back to 2007 to find even an Alabama-Birmingham and 2004 to find Indiana.  Now I'm as big a fan as anyone, but I'm not sure I would pony up $35 a seat to watch UK beat up Arkansas-Little Rock in Louisville.  I'm guessing this will probably be a pretty ugly game wedged between the Louisville game and the start of conference play anyway, so I would suggest UK start scheduling the game in Louisville like they did in the old days when Notre Dame and Indiana were regular opponents, and even Alabama paid a visit one year.

There's a lot of chatter about Michael Kidd-Gilchrist being the Player of the Year in college basketball, and I have to agree that he has to be in the discussion.  His ability to take over a game and carry his team as he did on Saturday cannot be understated, and I suspect we will see that happen a few more times this season.  I grant that there are other candidates who have great seasons going as well, but right now I'm hard pressed to put anyone over MKG.  What say you?

I hope all of our readers here at the Big Blue Lowdown have a great new year, and I look forward to the start of SEC play this week-the real season finally begins!

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Kidd-Gilchrist Leads UK to Win Over Louisville

The Kentucky Wildcats overcame a poor shooting effort and a gritty performance to pull away to a 69-62 win over Louisvlle on Saturday. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was an absolute beast for the Cats with 24 points and 19 rebounds while Anthony Davis had a huge second half to help the Wildcats pull away from the Cardinals in the second half after U of L fought back to force a 40-40 tie with 15 minutes to play.

The Wildcats actually led by 13 with 10 seconds to play, but a pair of late threes by Louisville's Russ Smith in the closing seconds made the final score closer than it actually was down the stretch.

The win was a huge positive for the Cats despite an underwhelming performance by Terrence Jones, but it says a lot about this team that on a day they shot 29-percent from the field and got no offensive contribution from Jones they were still able to win somewhat comfortably.

As thrilled as I was with the win, I am still bemused by this team's lack of a killer instinct. With U of L on the ropes late in the first half, it seemed the whole team went to sleep, turned the ball over like a thousand times, and let the Cardinals back in the game with a 13-0 run. I really believe if the Cats had kept executing there, they probably are up 20 at the break and end up running Rick Pitino and the Cardinals out of the gym, but instead mental lapses made this game much more interesting than it should have been.

As noted, Kidd-Gilchrist carried the Cats on this day. Quite simply, the Cardinals had no one who could guard him, and he was a beast on the boards as well. He was the only player who looked to be firing on all cylinders for all 40 minutes, and he was the main reason UK built what seemed to be a commanding 15 point lead with about five minutes in the first half.

As big as Kidd-Gilchrist was in the first frame, Anthony Davis was in the second half. With UK stuck on 38 points for over four minutes to open the second half, it was Davis who helped UK preserve the lead and

extend it. Davis had two blocked shots during the span and six for the game while scoring all 18 of his points in the second half. Davis, shooting under 60-percent from the foul line this season, made 12-of-13 in the game, many at crucial junctures to keep Louisville at bay.

Jones pulled down 11 rebounds, and the team out rebounded the Cardinals 49-28 in a dominating performance.  Jones had just 2 points, however, and was 1-of-9 from the field.  It seemed like every time he shot the ball, Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng was there to swat it away.

A few other observations…give credit where credit is due-the Cardinals played tremendous defense and were clearly intent on making this game a half-court slug fest, willing to concede fouling for a physical style of play.  It reminded me a lot of Pitino’s teams at Kentucky, and in this case, it almost worked.  If U of L could have knocked a few outside shots down, this game would have been much closer down the stretch.

Kudos also go to Cardinal Russ Smith who came off the bench to score 30 points to lead all scorers.  You won’t see many players on any team quicker than Smith, but he was the only answer U of L had offensively against the Wildcats.  With a little more help, who knows what might have happened.

Finally, to all the folks I hear complaining about the officiating, and it’s coming from both camps-shut up already!  Take it from an official, that was a really well called game, and I tip my hats off to the referees calling a tight game early.  It’s called preventive officiating, and if it had been done at the Cincinnati-Xavier game, that fight probably would not have happened.

Those officials know going in the level of intensity and rancor that exists in the UK/UL game, and their intent was to get it under control early-hence the quick technical against the Louisville player who flipped the ball at a Kentucky defender after being whistled for an offensive foul.  That was a GREAT call-not because what the Cardinal kid did was so outrageous, but because that put both teams on notice that no nonsense would be tolerated.  It was a “just play basketball” technical, and it worked-I didn’t see any other instance of dirty play or jawing going on-just good, hard, and intense basketball.

The bottom line on officiating is this-no official wants to call 52 fouls-they want it to be in a flow just as much as the players, coaches, and fans do.  But it is up to the players to adjust to how a game is being called-and neither side did.  Period.

Beyond that, it’s a great day to be a Wildcat fan!  Go Big Blue!

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Wildcats Use Lamar Cardinals as Final Tune-up for the “Real” Cardinals

So the game we have all been waiting for is finally here-the filthy Cards will visit Rupp Arena on Saturday for a game featuring two coaches who clearly disdain each other, two of the most historic programs in all of college basketball, and two teams ranked in the top 5. Whether Louisville actually deserves that ranking is a matter of much discussion, but nevertheless, that's where we stand now.

Before we talk about recent developments with the Cats and look ahead to Saturday, let me apologize for my absence the past couple of weeks. After a brief hospitalization for one issue, I opted to have knee surgery last week for one simple reason-insurance. I needed it anyway and had for some time, but the simple fact is that my family's out of pocket expenses were met for the year, so doing surgery now meant no cost to me. It seemed like a no brainer at the time, but as the pain radiates in my knee as I type this, I am questioning myself, lol.

What having surgery has done, however, is allow me to watch a couple of games for the Cats that I probably would have either missed or glossed over, the most recent being last night's win over an overmatched Lamar team which saw Michael Kidd-Gilchrist continue to impress with 18 points and four assists in just 26 minutes of play. Anthony Davis had another double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds while blocking six shots, and Darius Miller continued to light it up from three-point range. The Wildcats looked awesome at times but at other times looked disjointed on both ends of the court. While this could simply be a team looking forward to Saturday's rivalry game, I'm not convinced of that.

I have to say I come away from both the Lamar game and the last couple of games disappointed in the level of play I saw from several players, especially Marquis Teague and Terrence Jones. Lamar is a team that Kentucky should have beaten by 30 or more, yet at times the level of play was like slapstick comedy because the Cats couldn't keep focused.

Teague has been a turnover machine the last three games against, let’s face it, mediocre competition-certainly not Louisville, Florida, or most other SEC teams the Cats will face in the coming weeks. He simply has to get better in the half court. Kentucky is probably the best fast-break team in America-their speed and athleticism at all five positions are simply too much for most teams to handle in the open court-yet in the half court they often get bogged down, look out of sync, and settle for poor shots way too often-and again, with the exceptions of North Carolina, Kansas, and Indiana, they haven’t exactly been facing stellar defense.

Conference games are slug-fests…the teams that can get it done game after game in the half court will be in the hunt for a title. I grant you that Kentucky will be in the hunt because their talent level is far and away better than anyone else in the SEC, but still, they simply have to get better in the half court, and that starts with Teague, and Calipari alluded to this more than once last night in his post game comments.

As for Jones, I cede the fact that he is still not 100% recovered from his finger dislocation, but I have to wonder where his head is at ever since the Indiana game. Terrence was out of position on defense way too often last night and Lamar made him pay and kept the game closer than it otherwise could have been in the second half. Jones is too talented to have his effort questioned, and there are players just as good if not better trying to get his minutes. UK can’t cut the nets down in April with Jones giving less than 100% effort, so I hope that he and Calipari can get on the same page, and soon.

Obviously, the annual showdown with Louisville is coming on Saturday at high noon on CBS. I will take a look at that game tomorrow. In the mean time, GO CATS!

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Cats Set to Host the Filthy Cards

Rumor has it that there is a big basketball game in Lexington tomorrow, and one would have to agree. While I certainly thought the North Carolina game was a little better barometer for where UK stands on a national level, certainly there aren’t many more bitter rivalries in college basketball than the one that exists between Louisville and Kentucky.
I tend to put rivalries in two categories-there are some rivalries that are good ones simply because the rivalry is competitive, the competition is fierce, there is good-natured fun between the two camps, yet the two teams/programs respect each other. This is the kind of rivalry that exists say between UK and Florida, Duke and North Carolina, or, at least until a couple of weeks ago, between UK and Indiana.
There are other rivalries, however, where there is genuine dislike between the two fan bases, and frankly, not a lot of respect between the two teams/programs. Kentucky and Tennessee come to mind, both in football and basketball, as does Alabama-Auburn. UK and Louisville certainly fall in this camp, and frankly, the bitterness between the two programs seems to have intensified over the past few years.
Yes, Rick Pitino being the coach at Louisville has always inflamed a certain part of the UK fanbase, and while I don’t necessarily agree with that reasoning, that part of it exists without question. Pitino’s liaisons with one Karen Sypher have been fodder for ridiculing Pitino, and he has deserved it, and Louisville’s handling of the whole episode has given UK fans a sense of self-righteousness.
However, the biggest factor that has fueled the fire of this rivalry has been the hiring of John Calipari as UK’s coach. The animus between Pitino and Calipari goes back two decades, and really hasn’t been masked that well, and both parties have done their part in keeping the dislike simmering between them. But Calipari seems to particularly enjoy sticking the needle into Pitino and the Louisville program, and to a certain extent, that has been rather enjoyable. Calipari is nothing if he isn’t a showman, and some of that is just that-show. He knows how to keep things going, and seems to enjoy it, and as long as that’s the extent of it, I don’t think there is anything wrong with it.
Where it crosses the line, however, is when it’s reflected on the court in cheap shots and taunting, and that has been the case recently too. I hope that isn’t the case this year.
As for the game itself, I think it comes down to tempo and execution. Kentucky is listed as a 12.5 point favorite in Vegas, and most people I have talked to think that’s about right. I think that is a little high, but still like UK by 6.
I think Louisville was exposed in their loss to Georgetown as a team that ran up a gaudy record against weak competition. U of L has been ranked in the top five most of the year, but they have never been one of the top five teams in the country. Computer rankings have them as being between 11-16, and I think that is a little closer to where they really are nationally.
To win, U of L has to force the game into a half court, grind it out type of game while hitting three pointers. Louisville is a good defensive team, and certainly has more depth than UK, so foul trouble is another area that the Cardinals could exploit to their advantage.
UK has the advantage at every position, however, with the exception of point guard. If UK has one major vulnerability against the Cardinals, it could be Teague at point guard if Louisville chooses to press. Teague turns the ball over way too often, but I just don’t know that Louisville wants to get in a run-and-gun type of game against the Cats.
If one thing has proven itself in this rivalry over the years, the intensity can let anything happen, and certainly Rupp Arena will be in a frenzy tomorrow afternoon. If UK can channel that energy and play poised and with passion like they did against North Carolina, they have the potential to win with relative ease.
I like the Cats 77-70.
 

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Some Random Thoughts

As expected, Kentucky is again the number 1 team in the country in both the AP and Coaches poll, with Ohio State firmly entrenched at #2 in both polls.  The only real question about the polls is how anyone could give Syracuse a vote at #1 after last week's games, but some coach apparently thinks the Orangemen are the top team in the country.  I guess in some fantasy land that's possible, but the Cats and the Buckeyes made pretty emphatic statements last week and, at least in the first week of December, are clearly the best two teams in the land.

College basketball fans are still buzzing about Anthony Davis' block that sealed the win over North Carolina, and rightfully so.  It was one of the best defensive plays I have ever seen, and Davis not only showed lightning quickness and reaction, but also wasn't even close to fouling in a situation in which you know the referees are looking for every little touch.  The entire game was a gritty performance by both teams in an electric atmosphere, and one can only hope that they meet again (with the same results, of course) in March.

On his radion show tonight, coach Calipari tried to make the case for dropping one of Kentucky's traditional rivals, Louisville, Indiana, or North Carolina.  The crux of his argument is that with a significant amount of freshmen and roster turnover, he is concerned about overscheduling a young team.  Former athletic director Larry Ivy rejected this notion, basically saying that we are Kentucky, and at Kentucky we will play anybody.

I have to say I agree with Mr. Ivy, and I hope the UK fan base puts enough pressure on Calipari and Mitch Barnhart to combat this ludicrous notion.  Ivy is right-this is Kentucky, for crying out loud, not Indiana State.  The very idea that we play these type of games and the television exposure they bring is a huge selling point to recruits, especially if they have aspirations to play at the next level.  UK already plays enough of the Marists and Radfords of the world-hell, in any given year, half of the SEC is of that variety.  I simply don't understand what is gained by playing a patsy when you can have a game against Louisville or North Carolina.  Will UK take its lumps at times-of course it will, and frankly, that's ok.  First, more often than not, Kentucky wins these games, but if not-so what?  Many coaches will tell you that a team learns more from a loss to another good team than beating Radford by 48 points.

I understand the fiscal realities of having enough home games and the pressure that an added conference game or two will do to UK's schedule, but let's be honest here-who does Calipari think fans would like to see in Rupp Arena-a game like Saturday's with the Tarheels and the risk of a loss it brings, or a team like Radford where the outcome is settled before the team gets off the plane?  This is a no-brainer to me, and Calipari is simply wrong on this one.

Finally, Saturday brings a trip to Assembly Hall as UK will play Tom Crean's Indiana Hoosiers.  I grew up in Southern Indiana and have to admit I loved the days when Bobby Knight roamed the sidelines in Bloomington.  Sure, Knight was a little crazy and sanctimonious at times, but he was one hell of a coach and his teams were prepared every night and their opponents knew they were in for a war.  Crean has had a tough time fixing the mess that the IU program became after Knight's dismissal, but appears to have the Hoosiers headed in the right direction.  That's a good thing-college basketball is better when Indiana is a factor.  That won't be enough Saturday, however, as I look for the crowd and Hoosier adrenaline to be a factor early, but UK's talent to prevail late and the Cats to pull away for their ninth victory of the season, 82-71.

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Kentucky Outlasts North Carolina in a Classic

While I hate to admit this, I spent much of the day officiating high school basketball, so I am one of the few Americans alive who just finished watching the UK-North Carolina game thanks to the beautiful modern technology of the DVR, and my, oh my, what a game.  UK overcame a nine point deficit late in the first half to outlast a tough Tarheel squad for a 73-72 win at Rupp Arena.  This game was one of the best regular season games I've seen in years, and UK didn't seal the win until Anthony Davis blocked a John Henson shot with seven seconds left and claimed the rebound as a stunned UNC team failed to extend the game with a foul in the final seconds.

North Carolina connected on 11-of-18 from beyond the arc for 61%, but Kentucky's defense clamped down in the second half in allowing just 35% shooting for the Tarheels.  Michael Kidd-Gilchrist led the Cats with 17 points while Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb each had 14 points and Darius Miller had 12.  To say the win was a total team effort would be an understatement-even North Carolina coach Roy Williams noted after the game how difficult it is to defend a team that can score from all five positions.

Much has been written about the UK freshman, but it has to be noted that they showed much poise today.  Being down 9 to a team that many have penciled in as national champions in front of a national TV audience can't be an easy thing to face, yet these young Wildcats found a way to overcome a team as talented and more experienced than they are to gut out a win.  Certainly the Rupp Arena crowd was a factor, but in the end, it was the team that had to execute, and they did.  I've said it before but it bears reapeating-at times this team looks like a bunch of freshmen, but these are perhaps the most talented bunch of freshmen and sophomores ever seen wearing the Blue and White.  These Cats certainly have the talent to win on most nights, and wins like this one are teaching them how to handle adversity under pressure.

Due to future scheduling difficulties, this may be the last UK-North Carolina game which would be a shame.  These two programs have set the standard, and the way both teams and coaches performed today shows college athletics at its finest.  It may not be a popular opinion on this website, but Roy Williams is one of the finest coaches in America, and also one of the classiest.  His team came in to Rupp, fought like champions, and handled losing with grace and dignity.  I fully expect this North Carolina team to make the Final Four, and I sure as hell hope to see a Uk-UNC rematch for the national championship.  Oh may we be so lucky!

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Wildcats Pummel St. John’s

Anthony Davis came within an eyelash of a triple-double, the team defense was ferocious and UK dominated St. John's at Rupp Arena Thursday night.

Many worried the Cats would overlook the Red Storm with UNC coming to town in two days. Not so.

Davis scored 15 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and had eight of a school-record 18 blocks, as the Cats rolled 81-59.

Terrence Jones exploded for 26 points and Doron Lamb dropped 16, and UK proved that there would be no letdown after it took over the No. 1 ranking in the most recent AP Poll.

Kentucky is still undefeated at home under Coach John Calipari, and has won its last 39 in Rupp overall.

After making consistent progress in every game this season, the Cats now turn their attention to a highly anticipated battle with No. 5 North Carolina this weekend.

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What We Know So Far

As I write this today, the Cats are the No. 1 team in the nation. At this point in the season, is it too early for this team to have the bullseye on their back? No one knows for sure, but here is what we do know so far.

Strengths

    •    Defense. This team is the best shot blocking team in the nation. Davis (4.3 bpg) rightfully gets the pub, but Jones (2.2 bpg) and Kidd-Gilchrist (1.3 bpg) are intimidators as well. Overall, the Cats block 10 shots a night.

    •    Rebounding. The Cats are the 2nd best rebounding team in the nation (44 per game). Three players (Davis, Jones, Kidd-Gilchrist) grab 7 or more rebounds a game. The Cats have shown a team effort on the glass so far.

    •    Balanced scoring. At 84 points per game, the Cats are 13th in the Nation in scoring, yet no player is averaging more than 14 points a game. The Cats are unique in that on a given night, it is realistic to expect that any one of seven different players could lead the team in scoring during the game. All five starters average double figures and the sixth man, Darius Miller, chips in almost nine per game off the bench and has been a leading scorer already once this year.

    •    The Press: When Coach Cal uses it, it can be deadly. So far we have seen limited periods of its use, but when it is on, YouTube highlights are created. Only a few teams can come close to matching the Cats' length, speed and athleticism, and the press can only get better when a 6-5 athletic Twany Beckham joins the rotation in January.

    •    Shooting: Cats are 10th in the nation in overall FG% at 51%. The team shoots at a nice 41% clip from beyond the arc. The effective inside/outside combo is simply impossible for most teams to defend.

What needs work (even great teams can get better)

    •    Free Throw Shooting. Team shoots at a 68% clip and Davis’ 53% is not going to help in tight games with the amount of FT he could end up shooting.

    •    Turnover control. As Teague goes, so goes the team. Was his last game (8 assists, 0 turnovers) the turn of the corner?

    •    Playing a full 40 minutes. This team can go through lulls at times that may hurt during tough SEC road games. So far superior talent has compensated but the schedule gets tougher.

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Kentucky Top Team in Nation

As expected, Kentucky assumed the top spot in both the AP and the Coaches polls today following this weekend's loss by then #1 North Carolina.  Kentucky is followed in both polls by Ohio State while the Tarheels, who will visit Rupp Arena on Saturday, fell to #5 in both surveys.

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Wildcats Use Late Run to Dispatch Portland

After spending the last few days traveling for Thanksgiving, it's nice to be back and, oh what a day to blog about the UK Wildcats!  While I know this is a basketball blog, let me send out some props to the UK football team (and yes, even Joker Phillips) for FINALLY ending The Streak against the Tennessee Volunteers.  While the 10-7 win wasn't pretty, does it really matter?  Any win against Tennessee is wonderful, and yesterday's was one of the all-time moments for this UK fan as I nearly drove my car off the road when UK got the game-sealing interception.  Ending The Streak moved me to tears, and based on what I've read, I'm not the only one!  I'm not certain that Joker Phillips is the right coach moving forward, but you have to hand it to him and the coaching staff for dealing with adversity and finding a way to finally beat the b***t*rds from Tennessee!

Not to be overshadowed, the UK basketball team didn't look pretty at times but they did pull away late for an 87-63 win over the Portland Pilots last night in Rupp Arena.  That win, which moves the Cats to 6-0 on the year, will likely propel Kentucky to the #1 ranking after North Carolina lost convincingly to UNLV last night.  I'm not convinced UK is the best team in the nation, but I also don't put any stock in polls in November-they are meaningless, unlike college football where they matter.

Terrence Jones and supersub Darius Miller led the Cats with 19 points each while Marquis Teague added 14.  Anthony Davis had a monster game with 13 points and 12 rebounds, the one bright spot in an otherwise troubling rebounding game for UK.  Michael Kidd-Gilchrist rounded out the Wildcats scoring in double figures with a solid line of 11 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists.  Kidd-Gilchrist also had a highlight reel dunk over Portland's Derrick Rodgers that Cats fans will talk about for a while.

One of the best things to see come from the game is that UK had 20 assists while committing just 4 turnovers.  This is a vast improvement over the last few games and shows good decision making and an unselfishness that also shows up with five players in double figures.  Teague, who has been unsteady at times, led the WIldcats with 8 assists. 

Another positive note is another demonstration of this team's will to win, especially when an opponent makes a push to cut into Kentucky's lead.  Portland cut the lead to 6 early in the second half, but the Cat's pulled back out and eased to the win.  This trend has a good and a bad side.  Obviously, talent wins out most of the time, and yet Kentucky seems to have the ability to find a sense of urgency when needed.  On the other hand, it also shows a trend to let up at times against overwhelmed opponents, something that could bite them down the road when the competition gets much stiffer.

One disturbing trend was rebounding-UK was outrebounded 21-16 in the first half  and 39-38 for the game.  This simply shouldn't happen against Portland.  With the exception of Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist, the Cats were not good on the boards, especially Jones.  Miller had 5 rebounds in 23 minutes, which is solid, but beyond that it was not good.  This is an area that will have to improve this week.

With that said, however, all in all it was another solid win on an electrifying day in Lexington.  UK will be the new #1 this week with a solid St. John's visiting Lexington on Thursday before the much-anticipated game with North Carolina on Saturday.  This week will be a good test for UK after an early slate of mostly pushovers thus far.  Go Cats!

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Maturation Continues in UK Rout

This one was never close. The Wildcats took care of Radford in short order, scoring the game's first 14 points and building a 31-point lead by halftime on their way to a 48-point thrashing of Rupp Arena's latest sacrificial lamb.

Despite the inferiority of the opponent, the Wildcats showed a number of extremely positive signs. For one, freshman PG Marquis Teague put together a solid overall performance, turning the ball over only twice while notching five assists to go along with 13 points and two steals. He showed his overwhelming quickness against the opposing backcourt while getting around defenders at will and played within the flow of the offense for most of the game.

Additionally, the Cats showed a commitment to defense and hustle that you rarely see in a team this young. Even with the game out of hand Kentucky players were still playing rugged defense and diving for balls late in the second half. Championships are usually won by this kind of effort, and it is a credit to Cal and his staff that these kids really want to do whatever it takes to win. If they continue this kind of dedication to hard work and great defense, they will be downright impossible to score on by March.

And of course, it continues to bode well for the Cats that so much of the scoring burden is shared across multiple players. Nine players scored for UK, with five in double figures, and about a quarter of the team's offensive production came off the bench--always a good sign. The BBL believes that getting reliable production from the bench, via Wiltjer and Miller especially, will be a key throughout the season. As it stands, the Wildcats have had four different players lead in scoring through five games.

And finally, as promised earlier in the week by Coach Cal, the Wildcats as a team showed a lot less needless bravura and cut down on the poses and trash talking. They played a clean game vs. an overmatched team, but they managed to win by nearly half a hundred with class…if that is even possible.

So as it stands, UK is 5-0 and a clear No. 1 or No. 2 team, depending on whom you ask. And it's a moot question anyway, as UK gets the other consensus top 2 team at Rupp arena in a week. Of course, sandwiched between now and that titanic clash are a date with Portland and a matchup with St. John's that should not be overlooked. The Johnnies have some great athletes and, even though they've lost two games, both came vs. ranked opponents in very close games.

In looking around the nation, for the sake of comparison, it was interesting to see that 6th ranked perennial media favorite Duke needed late game heroics to pull out a win vs. a Kansas team that UK handled with relative ease last week in Madison Square Garden. It's very early and hard to say much about any team's long term prospects, but at the very least, it appears that Kentucky's double digit win over the Jayhawks might end up looking pretty solid. And before SEC play, the Cats still have a the Tarheels, No. 7 ranked Louisville and an undefeated Indiana team on the road.

Stay tuned. It's going to be a fun preseason...

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Kentucky Pulls Away Late to Beat ODU

Although they received a much tougher test than anyone expected, the UK Wildcats withstood a stout challenge from Old Dominion this afternoon in a 62-52 win that ran the Cats' record to 4-0 on the year and claimed the Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament championship.  Give ODU credit-they played the Wildcats tough, but in reality most of Kentucky's struggles were of the self-inflicted variety.  UK struggled offensively against the ODU zone defense, which, given how the Cats looked against ODU, I suspect the Cats will see a lot of the same type of defense this season.  Marquis Teague struggled at the point for most of the day and had six turnovers, but he also had a couple of big baskets late in the game that helped Kentucky hold off Old Dominion.

Darius Miller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist led the team with 13 points each while Anthony Davis chipped in 11 points and nine rebounds despite being limited by foul difficulties.  Kidd-Gilchrist also had nine rebounds, but by far the biggest stat of the day was 20 turnovers by the Cats against the ODU zone.  That the Wildcats were able to overcome careless play against a determined opponent is one thing, but coach Calipari has to get his players to take better care of the ball.  Many of the miscues were of the careless, unforced variety which can become killers.

To me there were three major story lines that come out of this game.  First, after getting a double digit lead for the first time in the game with about six minutes to play, Old Dominion hit a couple of big threes to cut the UK lead to two.  I don't remember if it was a TV timeout or one called by UK, but either way, after the time out, UK responded to the ODU charge and took control of the game.  While they may have struggled for much of the game, it says a lot about your team's competitive fire to respond that way, especially as young as the Wildcats are.

Second, Darius Miller was huge and has emerged as perhaps the most important bench player the Wildcats have.  Miller tied for the team lead with 13 points, but more impressive was when they were scored.  When UK was struggling the most, John Calipari inserted Miller and almost immediately positive things started to happen for the Cats.  It has to be a tough adjustment to go from starting on last year's Final Four team to coming off the bench this season, but Miller has shown to be a really important piece of the Wildcat puzzle thus far.

Finally, as I said after the Kansas game, the Wildcats look like freshman, albeit very talented ones, and today's game is another example of how on most nights, that talent alone will be enough to win ball games.  This was an ugly, ugly win, no doubt about it, but UK isn't going to win by 30 every night out.  Part of the maturation process of this team is to learn to gut out wins when things aren't going their way, and UK has passed that test twice-on neutral courts!  These are the kind of wins that prepare UK for tough games in Starkville and Nashville in February.  So relax-it isn't even Thanksgiving yet, and yes, the Cats are experiencing some growing pains, but they are winning nonetheless.  I expect this team to gel and be a very tough out when it comes to tournament time.

One other note, and this one not a positive one.  I've noticed a disturbing trend early this season with the Wildcats and what is best described as an attitude problem.  Certain players (Jones for one) seem to carry a chip on their shoulder and look for confrontation instead of walk away.  Don't get me wrong-I want the team to play with an edge, yet I also want to see class and the game played the way its supposed to be played.  I agree that UK takes everyone's best shot, and sometimes they take cheap shots from other teams, yet all too often it seems UK initiates the confrontation or brings it on with the silly "three goggles" etc. that appear innocent but aren't.  I'd like to see Calipari tighten the reins just a bit on this sort of activity, but after his first two years, I don't see it happening.  While UK enjoys its reputation among the elite of college basketball, it doesn't want to get a reputation for being punks and thugs.

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UK Destroys Penn State

Kentucky blasted Penn State 85-47 in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off tournament in Connecticut. Doron Lamb led another balanced UK attacks with 26 points.

Probably the most surprising, and welcome, signed for UK, was the emergence of freshman Kyle Wiltjer who dropped 19 points and also demonstrated a complete game, showing his ability to see the floor and distribute the ball from in the paint.

Terrence Jones chipped in a stat sheet stuffer game with 15 points, nine rebounds and five assists.  

Coach John Calipari made some comments to reporters after the game that really sum up the talent level of this team.

"Anthony Davis' line, six rebounds, three points and three blocks, and it ain't close, he's the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft," Calipari said. "It doesn't matter. Just play because the next game he may go for 25. Today Doron went for (26). So it doesn't matter. Play."

Kentucky was once again vicious on defense, which contributed to repeated fast breaks and easy layups and dunks. The Nittany Lions shot 27 percent from the field, 16 percent in the first half.

The Wildcats will play Old Dominion for the championship of this preseason tourney.

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Reflections Through 2 Games

Through two games, Kentucky has shown a trend to come out wild and lacking discipline in the first half, and then emerges after half time as an NBA team.

Vs. Kansas:

1st Half- 28 points, poor shots, 12 turnovers

2nd Half- 47 points, better passing and ball rotation, 7 turnovers (still a little high)
 
1st Half Teague- O assists, 5 turnovers and out of control

2nd Half Teague, 4 assists, 1 turnover, much better control
 
Kansas is down this year but no slouch. They have young talent and some size. Kansas came to play and it was a national TV game. I am telling myself that the 1st half had a lot to do with nerves and playing in the spotlight for the first time. What I saw from the Cats is an athletically far superior team than Kansas that toyed around in the 1st half in a disorganized AAU game. Cal got them under control at the half, and overall, Kentucky shot 52% from the field; 46% from the three point line.
 
This is not one of Cal's old Memphis team's. They have shooters to complement the NBA studs. Lamb is a bulleye marksman and Miller is a 40% shooter from beyond the arc. Wiltjer can stroke and needs to get a few minutes as a zone buster. Jones will be spotty from outside, Davis can make them, and Kidd-Gilchrist seems to will them in despite a horrible form. I am not concerned about the outside shot. Jones is a beast around the basket, but posting up is not this team's game. The ability of the big men to drive and finish is going to get traditional post players on opposing teams in foul trouble fast. I see a very good offensive balance to this team.
 
Defensively, this team is special. Teague and Miller are excellent on-the-ball defenders. 11 blocked shots (Davis 6, Jones 4). Probably 12-15 altered shots that don't get marked on the stat sheet. This team will eat weak layups and Davis will have 7-footers nervous. I do want to see the press more because the speed and length will just wear most teams down, but I really can't complain about where they are right now. By March, this team will be scary to challenge on defense.
 
Really, my two concerns at this point are FT shooting (55%), especially from Teague, and energy level. Your PG has to be a 75% FT shooter in my opinion. This team will get to the line a lot, and they can't leave so many free points on the floor, especially when playing disciplined teams like UNC. My other concern, which Cal will correct, is the team playing the whole 40 minutes. Other than Kidd-Gilchrist, I do not see an all-outer on this team. Last year's team was full of them (Liggins, Harrellson being the prime examples).
 
This team will win 30+ games easily.

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Kentucky Beats Kansas

It wasn't always a thing of beauty, but Kentucky beat a decent Kansas team 75-65 tonight in Madison Square Garden in New York.  While the Cats slugged though the first half, good defense and a few timely threes by Doron Lamb allowed the Wildcats to break open a tie game at the half and build as much as a 17 point lead on several occasions in the second half.  The game was not as close as the score would indicate.

On a side note, congratulations to Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski who passed Bob Knight on the all time wins list with with his 903rd victory.  Unlike most UK fans, I have always found coach Krzyzewski to be a class act and one who stays out of trouble with the NCAA.  Congrats go out to Coach K AND to ob Knight.

i'll have more on the win over Kansas tomorrow as we start to look ahead to the weekend's games.  Until then, GO CATS!

 

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Season Opener-the Marist Red Foxes

Tonight is the official tip-off of the 2011-2012 season, and what is not to be excited about?  This edition of the Wildcats should be strong contenders to not only win the SEC, but make a push toward the Final Four in New Orleans.  Kentucky is in a small group of truly elite teams this season that includes North Carolina (who will visit Rupp Arena on December 3), Ohio State, and UCONN.

First up, however, is the Marist Red Foxes, who will invade Rupp for tonight's opener.  I confess to not knowing much about the Red Foxes, but this I do know-no college team should have the Red Fox as your mascot!  I mean seriously-how can you take any team called the Red Foxes seriously?

Beyond that, Marist college is in Poughkeepsie, NY.  I can't even spell Poughkeepsie without looking it up.  A little research shows that Poughkeepsie (how do you even say that?) is located in southern New York wedged between Pennsylvania and Connecticut-why that is significant, I'm not sure, but I was curious, and now we all know!

Tonight's game is part of the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-off Tournament which will continue next Saturday and Sunday when the Cats play Penn State and then the winner of Old Dominion/South Florida in some place called Uncasville, Connecticut, and no, I don't know where that is either.  That's what Google is for!  It seems like a strange format for a tournament, because in between the three games of the event, the Wildcats will play Kansas as part of the State Farm Champions Classic in New York City-a far more important barometer for Kentucky than Marist, Penn State, and ODU.  Besides, what happened to the days of just scheduling games?  It seems like until we get to conference play, every game is part of some "classic" or "tournament" etc.  Seems a bit silly to me, but hey, who am I, right?

Marist competes in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) and went 1-29 last season.  Yes, that's correct, 1-29.  I almost feel sorry for any team that goes 1-29 because you have to know that was one long, miserable season to live through.  On a bright note, however, the Red Foxes have four returning starters from that team that went 1-29, so their prospects for this season have to be considered to be on the up side.  Marist is coached by Chuck Martin who is 11-52 in his first two seasons with the Red Foxes.

It's pretty evident that this game will probably look similar to the two scrimmages we have seen thus far rather than a real basketball game-the biggest difference is that this one will actually count for something.  Look for the Cats to roll early and roll big in what essentially amounts to a tune up for the Kansas Jayhawks on Tuesday.  I expect Terrence Jones and Anthony Davis to have a big night with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist able to penetrate and dish the ball off at will.  This should be a fun one for the Rupp Arena crowd!  Go Cats!

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The Rivalry

The Rivalry: Episode One

WHAS tv's Adam Lefkoe has put together a great video on the Kentucky-Louisville basketball rivalry.  The first installment goes throught the history of the rivalry and it's developments over the past two decades.  This is great stuff and a nice primer as we count down to the opening tip of the 2011-2012 season tomorrow night.  Go Cats!

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Kentucky Blasts Morehouse

It's hard to comprehend tonights' beat down of Morehouse College.  Of course it was expected to be lopsided, but who would have ever expected the Cats to take a 74-13 lead-at intermission!  I've seen some dominating performances by UK over the years (see UK vs Tennessee in the SEC tournament in 1993) but I don't think I have ever seen a team on the college level lead by 63-6 in the first half. 

Another amazing statistic is that the UK starters were a perfect 24-24 from the field during the first half-yeah, that's right, didn't miss a shot.  I expect this team to be a good shooting team, but that's simply mind boggling.  To say this was an old fashioned whipping would be an understatement, but I can't think of words to describe it so that will suffice.

A few observations:

  • Can't say I am a big fan of these type of exhibitions against obviously inferior opponents.  While I understand the idea is to try things out against someone other than the practice squad, at the end of the day I'm not sure the team gets much out of a game like this except the revenue from a home date.
  • With that said, schools like Morehouse rely on the guaranteed revenue from games like this to support their athletic departments, so its not like they aren't asking for these types of games.   If it wasn't UK supplying the can of whip-ass tonight, it would have been someone else.
  • I like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as the point guard as much as I've liked anyone in recent years.  The kid can flat out play.  His command of the offense will be a huge asset to this team.
  • Where in the heck has Wiltjer come from?  26 points in just 20 minutes uncluding 4-of-6 from three point range-this is the kind of shooting touch the Cats have lacked in recent years.  Whether he can keep it up for the season remains to be seen, but I like what I've seen out of Kyle the first two exhibition games.
  • Terrence Jones was what we have come to expect-a workhorse active around the basket.  His 22 points in 23 minutes was impressive, but I can't imagine Coach Calipari is happy with just four rebounds.  Jones has the talent to average close to a double-double...but has a long way to go in the rebounding category.
  • Anthony Davis is a beast.  His 8-of-8 performance netted 21 points in 20 minutes to go along with seven rebounds and four blocked shots.  Davis will terrorize other teams on a regular basis this year and will be fun to watch.

All in all, it was an impressive, albeit expected, performance against an undermanned and outmatched opponent.  This team hasn't shown a penchant for playing down to the opponent so far, and I like that.  Nothing I've seen thus far sways me from predicting a tremendous season with a high chance for a trip to the Final Four and a legitimate shot at winning the national championship.  Go Cats!

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Calipari Sends Shot Across the Bow to Other Coaches

Kentucky coach John Calipari released a statement today on his  #website that  sends a clear message to other, unnamed college coaches about dirty recruiting tactics.  While I certainly have no inside knowledge of what coaches or programs the message is intended for, I think its a great message to recruits, their families, and even the other coaches.

Basically, Calipari is saying that other coaches will tell a recruit anything he wants to hear in order to get his signature, while at Kentucky, Calipari won't do it, because, well, he doesn't have to!  First of all, Calipari's first two recruiting classes at UK speak for themselves, as do the number of Cats that Cal has recruited that are now being paid handsome salaries to bounce the roundball in the NBA.  Above anything else, success breeds success, and Kentucky has become the prime destination for the high school player aiming for a professional basketball career.

One can debate the merits of the one-and-done player, and I would be the first to criticize it, but reality is if you want to win at the level Kentucky fans expect of their program, elite talent is a requirement.  As much as I loved Tubby Smith as a coach and a person, the fact is he was not bringing in enough elite talent to win at a level required at Kentucky. Coach Calipari has-so you can't criticize that aspect.

I like the fact that Calipari states up front that UK is a "player-first" program, but then goes on to say that playing time is not a guarantee and that players will "earn what you deserve."  That's exactly as it should be at every program, from high school up to the elite college level.

Kudos to Coach Calipari for calling out his coaching brethren and calling bull...on many of the recruiting tactics used to lure the star players.  This is Kentucky, and we don't want prima donnas-we want players proud to wear the uniform, proud to play for Calipari, players who hustle, players who want to win championships, players who go to class, and players who play as a team.  If the result of that is they make millions of dollars at the next level, then great!  That's a win-win for all involved!

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Stacey Poole to consider transfer

According to an article in today's Herald Leader, Stacey Poole is considering a transfer-or, actually, Stacey Poole's dad is considering a transfer for Stacey Poole.  Jerry Tipton quotes the elder Poole as being the "driving force" behind the discussion about whether to transfer after watching Stacey play in the Blue-White game.  Apparently, Poole's father is concerned because "he's just all focused."  Yeah-that's right, Stacey Poole's dad is concerned because his son appeared "focused' during the Blue-White game. 

Are you kidding me?  Isn't he supposed to be focused, as all are the other players?  I mean let's face it, you don't get to play basketball at elite schools like Kentucky unless you are focused.  I'm quite certain John Calipari did not offer Poole a scholarship with the intent that, while playing and practicing for the Cats, that Poole would be thinking of other topics.

Beyond that, Poole's father is also quoted as saying he would "make the call" about a transfer.  Last time I checked, it's Stacey Poole's name on the Letter of Intent, not his dad's, so where does the elder Poole get off saying he would make the call.

Don't get me wrong-if a player is not happy at Kentucky or anywhere else, I think they should transfer to a place that they believe they will be happy playing.  I don't ever begrudge that-adults make bad decisions about employers all the time, and not every 17 year old kid will be able to decide that a certain place is the right one for him.  What I do have a problem with is parents like Stacey Poole Sr. who seem to think it's all about them.  It's not about you, Mr. Poole-it's about your son, the "focused" one.  Give me a break!

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