Pardon the long interruption in my posts, but my post North Carolina musings never did get published for whatever reason. I think my computer locked up or something. Oh well. Anyway, now that the UL game is over, how have the Cats done so far?
The biggest disappointment and surprise to me was the Baylor game. Just a total collapse in the second half. After seeing North Carolina play against Michigan State, our loss at Chapel Hill was no great surprise and I expected a loss to Michigan State. Going into the season, I thought that Louisville would potentially be a loss, but playing at Rupp would be decisive in UK’s favor according to my thoughts, and so it was.
So the Cats’ have one more loss that I thought that they would, since I thought that Michigan State was an almost certain defeat in that the game was so early in the season, and I thought that between Baylor, North Carolina, and Louisville, we might lose one other game. So I was off by one.
So have the questions that we started out the season with been answered? I would say partially. Our on the floor leadership question is not totally clear, although the Harrisons and possibly Alex Poythress are trying. Our outside shooting is still a bit suspect, and the foul shooting is a major problem. Rebounding is very good. Defense is spotty in terms of staying in front of quick guards and covering the three point shot. In term of shot blocking, we’re doing very well as we have the last several years.
Right now, the Cats are improved but there is still a long way to go. Sustaining effort and turning close games into blowouts needs to happen. Close games worry me due to the bad free throw shooting. Our passing is sometimes lazy, leading to run-out baskets. However, in the Louisville game, I did see some nifty passes and even lobs which were reminiscent of the Anthony Davis days. So there is hope. And the good news is that there is a lot of the season left. We will have a lot of true road games, so it will be interesting to see how our guys adjust to being met by hostile crowds wherever they go (besides Rupp Arena of course). Mature teams handle that, immature teams don’t handle that too well and get rattled.
The SEC has some good teams, but there are a lot of teams that we should and ought to handle easily. With the break in the schedule and school being out, Camp Cal should straighten out some of these week spots and polish up the ones that need polishing. I’m looking for an ever-improving team. It ought to be exciting.
Now that the real schedule has begun, with the exception of the Michigan State game, a more realistic assessment of our UK team can be made. Providence was a decent team that played well against us. We were dominant in the paint, which proved decisive. They had a fairly decent seven footer, but beyond that, UK was much longer and had a distinct advantage in the paint, which we exploited. Willie Cauley-Stein played his finest game and his hustle was awesome. This game gave a glimpse of how far the team had progressed and what the possibilities might be in the future. Up to that time, with the exception of the team playing down to the competition at times and even the loss to Michigan State, I sensed an air of optimism and confidence coming from the team, the staff, and the fans.
Then came the Baylor Bears and the “Ice Bowl” in the AT&T Stadium. UK played an inspired game and won in four overtimes over a highly ranked Baylor team, setting an example of toughness and hustle. They made big free throws, got defensive stops, and gave an all out effort in an exhausting game in front of a national ESPN TV audience. It had the sports world talking about it and the ESPN announcers were already talking about it for the game of the year. Of course that was the UK Hoops (Women’s) team.
The UK men needed to follow the example from their counterparts. Dreadful foul shooting, poor defense, abysmal rebounding, and a generally uninspired performance saw them fritter away a 9 point lead in the second half and lose to Baylor. I normally like to stress some positives to take away even from defeats. In the Michigan State game it was the toughness in coming back in the second half to get the game tied and, but for poor free throw shooting and a missed block out in the waning seconds, a victory might well have been achieved. In the Baylor game I saw no positives. No second half toughness emerged. When the going got tough, the Cats didn’t get going. Whether it’s a youth thing, a chemistry thing, an attitude thing, or just what it is, I don’t know. I’ll trust that Coach Cal and his staff will figure it out and get it straightened out. As the schedule gets much more difficult from now on, unless things get sorted out and fixed, losses will mount. Boise State is no cupcake. We all saw North Carolina dismantle Michigan State in East Lansing earlier as well as take down Louisville on a neutral floor, Belmont beat North Carolina at Chapel Hill earlier and the defending National Champions (Louisville) will be an extremely tough opponent anywhere that we play, even in Rupp Arena. The time to show what you’re made of is at hand. Nobody is afraid of press clippings and pre-season media hype. The going is going to get tough. Will the Cats get going? That is the question. We will all anxiously await the answer.
At about the halfway point of the non-conference schedule, let’s take stock of where the Cats stand. So far, the competition has not been strong, with the most notable exception of Michigan State. The second half of the non-conference schedule will be against markedly tougher competition.
So what have we learned. First, this UK team, so far, starts off games slowly. They make a lot of turnovers and don’t shoot well early. Free throw shooting and 3 point shooting, at times, have been problems. At times, they appear to be more of an all-star collection of high school talent than a college team. Some players pout and play hard only sporadically. Defensively, we are getting beat off the dribble and don’t get back well in transition. That’s the bad part.
The good part of all of this is that it will likely go away with increasing college game experience and more time being coached. The slow starts, the number of turnovers, even the shooting, and more team oriented play will all improve I do believe. Coach Cal’s teams always play well at the defensive end, so I think that this too will get much better as time goes on. The further positives are the talent is undeniable, even though it shouldn’t and can’t be a reason to rely on it solely instead of hard play and team play. Rebounding has been very good. The passing, especially the lobs, is really improving.
All of the improvements will be necessary as the talent level in upcoming games will be markedly better. Many of these games are not at friendly Rupp Arena, even though the Big Blue Nation travels very well to away venues. If the Cats don’t improve on their performance, another loss or two is not out of the question.
So far, to me the most impressive players are Julius Randle (a real no-brainer there), Andrew Harrison, and Willie Cauley-Stein. However, at times James Young and Aaron Harrison have been quite impressive but need to be more consistent. Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, Alex Poythress, and Dominique Hawkins have also had very impressive moments as well. I think that if Jarrod Polson, Jon Hood, and Derek Willis were to get some minutes, they would also contribute in a positive way. Depth is excellent on this team.
So, what does it all mean? The Cat are not by any means where they want to be, but they’re making progress. The rate that they progress will dictate whether they win these upcoming games in December or have a setback or two along the way. I still believe that, come March, the Cats will be as formidable team as there will be and one of the teams that can win the NCAA Championship. Really, that’s all that we as fans can ask for. To realistically be in the hunt come tournament time. I think that the Cats will be. How far they go depends on a lot of factors, some they can control and some which they can’t.
It’s going to be OK. The ride should be exciting. Go Big Blue!
I suppose a word or two in commentary about last night’s game against Michigan State in Chicago’s United Center is in order, since everyone else has taken the liberty to do so in the media. First, I refer back to my previous post on the eve of the game regarding my concern for our free throw percentage. How prophetic that was! I said that it doesn’t do any good to “get to the line” if you can’t make them. Well, that lack of making them proved to be a fatal thing. Had the Cats made a decent percentage, the victory would have been by a relatively comfortable margin. Close games, and championships, are won by making free throws. It’s been true forever. It’s something that our guys can, and should, work on. If they take note, the NBA pros make them from the line and if that’s what the players ultimately aspire to, they need to do figure out how to do that as well.
Turnovers turned out to be a big factor as well. Many were just trying to dribble too much or through too much traffic. A lot of that can be corrected by getting the spacing right between the players, thereby not allowing off the ball players to “gap” the dribbler. Of course, looking for the open man to pass to and having a man make himself available to be passed to are also things to work on. That will come with experience.
Not getting back on defense was inexcusable. These are hustle plays and these led to far too many easy Michigan State baskets. Some of this was also due to poor floor balance and some was due to poor shot selection. Or as Jay Bilas aptly put it, “The first pass in a transition basket is a poor shot.” All of these things are correctable. But start with hustling back, sprinting and not trotting.
Had I only seen the first half, I might have been discouraged over last night’s game. But the second half showed the fight and determination that this team has. Some teams have it, some don’t. It was almost a miracle that, in overcoming all of the above stated problems, UK tied the game and had a chance to win it in the last minutes. That they couldn’t do so was due to poor execution largely due to big time college game inexperience. That will also get better as the season progresses.
All in all, it went about as the Las Vegas experts predicted when they made Michigan State a 3.5 point favorite before the game. Despite the “#2 Upsets #1″ headlines, this was no upset. Michigan State is the real deal and I’m not sure if even the veteran UL team can beat them. They are a veteran, talented, well-coached team. They were the better team last night. But one thing is certain: I’ll bet that the Spartans want no part of UK come March or April. They might remember UMass (’96) or IU (’12) and what their ultimate fate was after beating UK in the early season.
As I said day before yesterday, it’ll be OK. The sun came up today. OK, the Cats won’t be 40-0. Come on now, did anyone really seriously think that they would go unbeaten this year? I think that, for whatever reason, Coach Cal just threw that out there and the media picked up on it and presumed that the UK fan base expected that to happen. As usual, they have underestimated the intelligence of the BBN. They think that we’re all a bunch of mindless morons who expect UK to win every game by 30 points. Seriously, they really do think that and maybe there are some UK fans that are like that, probably about 0.00001% of them. Nobody in the modern game will go unbeaten. Probably the only infinitesimal chance is for some team in a non-power conference to breeze through conference play, not playing too many tough non-conference teams, and if they can get hot (and lucky in their draw) in the NCAA tournament. A team like Memphis or maybe UNLV. Still, highly unlikely.
It will be interesting to see how the team reacts and what changes are immediately noticeable and which occur over time. One thing is certain, the team will get better and it’s going to be a very exciting and rewarding year. Keep the faith! Go Big Blue!
November 9th, 2013
Players on roster of teams playing tonight:
Michael-Kidd Gilchrist- Charlotte Bobcats 7:00 vs Atlanta
16 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assist
FINAL- Atlanta 103 – Charlotte 94
Tayshaun Prince- Memphis Grizzlies 7:00 vs Indiana
6 points 1 Assist
FINAL- Memphis 79 – Indiana 95
Daniel Orton- Philadelphia 76ers 7:00 vs San Antonio
Stat- Did Not Play
Nerlens Noel- Philadelphia 76ers 7:00 vs San Antonio
Injury- Torn ACL Out For Season
FINAL- San Antonio 109 – Philadelphia 85
Doron Lamb- Orlando Magic 7:30 vs Boston
Stats- Did Not Play
Rajon Rondo- Boston Celtics 7:30 vs Orlando
Injury- Torn ACL Week To Week
Kieth Bogans- Boston Celtics 7:30 vs Orlando
Stats-Did Not Play
FINAL- Orlando 105 – Boston 120
Nazr Mohammed – Chicago Bulls 8:00 vs Cleveland
3 Rebounds 1 Block
Marquis Teague- Chicago Bulls 8:00 vs Cleveland
Stat- Did Not Play
4th Quarter Cleveland 75 – Chicago 78
Terrence Jones- Houston Rockets 8:00 vs Toronto
5 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks
4th Quarter Houston 66 – Toronto 80
Enes Kanter- Utah Jazz 9:00 vs Denver
6 points 1 rebound
3rd Quarter Denver 46 – Utah 45
Josh Harrellson- Detroit Pistons 10:00 vs Portland
1st Quarter Detroit 0 – Portland 0
Well, here it is, the eve of “The BIG Game”. Or should I say the first of our Big Games, since I do anticipate that the Louisville game and maybe even the North Carolina game will also be Big Games. But this one may tell us more about our team than those other two will. Or maybe I should say that it will reveal what we need to work on and those games will reveal whether or not we fixed the issues identified in the Michigan State game or not. In some instances, a loss is more instructive than a win, in the sense that you probably won’t “get away” with a win and still do things wrong against a good team. In fact, doing a number of things wrong against a good team will most probably result in a loss. But, after a loss, the team is more receptive to coaching and all that that they would be after a win. However, I do not sense that this year’s team is not receptive to coaching, particularly in contrast to last year’s team, which appeared to have it’s moments of going it’s own way.
The exhibition games and the first two games have, I think, shown improvement of the team. However, there is a long way to go, as Cal readily acknowledges, as a lot of things have not been put in yet at both ends of the floor. And with a young team, if it hasn’t been put in, it’s not there. The players that I thought would be crucial, Randle, and the Harrison twins, especially Andrew, have lived up to billing so far. Against the stiff competition that they will encounter for the first time tomorrow night, it remains to be seen how they will hold up. Often adversity reveals who is made of the tough stuff needed to win. Alex Poythress has been playing very well. If he keeps it up, that will be a huge plus. Similarly, Willie Cauley-Stein is much improved from last year. He seems to be all over the place. James Young has been spectacular at times. Our big men are different, but effective, in different ways. Dakari Johnson is a true low post player and scorer. Marcus Lee is more of an Anthony Davis-type wiry shot blocker. Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins, Jon Hood, and Jarrod Polson have shown that they can capably fill in, when needed.
With the new rule changes, my concern is free throw percentage. Getting to the line is all well and good, but you have to make them. Trading 1 out of 2 for a 2 or 3 point goal on the other end will not have favorable results. As Coach Rupp used to say, “Free throws win championships”. Who can forget the IU game in Atlanta where UK made a phenomenal percentage of their foul shots. Had they not, the game could have gone the other way.
I am not one of these 40-0 people. In this day and age, that’s really not feasible. In fact, while I surely hope for a win tomorrow night, a loss won’t be the end of the world. Especially for the reasons stated above. Also, historically, two of our last three national championship teams (1996, 2012) lost an early season game and then came back to defeat that same team when it really mattered, the NCAA tournament. Who can forget the 1996 game in Detroit when we lost to UMass (yes, the team that was coached by Coach Cal) and then we later defeated them in the National Semifinals on the way to the title. And then I know nobody has forgotten the last second loss to IU in Bloomington in December on the famous Watford Shot so immortalized by IU but then how the Cats later went on to hang 102 on IU in a 12 point win in the round of 16 in Atlanta. Clearly, those early season losses in no way precluded a National Championship. So, win or lose, we’ll be OK.
So, BBN, sit back and enjoy the ride. And don’t fret too much. Good things are to come and this team will be special this year. Just how special, well that’s what we’ll have to see.
Cat’s NBA Nightly
November 10th, 2013
John Wall and the Washington Wizards took on Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder in a losing effort tonight. Former Gator Bradley Beal led the Wizards with 34 points and 6 rebounds. Former Cat John Wall had an off night with only 10 points, 8 assist, and 5 rebounds. Kevin Durant lead the Thunder with 33 points and 6 assist.
FINAL: Wizards 105 – Thunder 106
Anthony finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 steals in a losing effort to the Phoenix Suns.
Darius Miller New Orleans Pelicans
Darius did not play.
Eric Bledsoe Phoenix Suns
Eric had another great performance including a clutch 4th quarter including a monster block on former Cat Anthony Davis with only 50 seconds left in the fourth. Adding two late threes and a driving layup in the final minutes, Eric proved why he has quickly gained the nickname as Mr.FourthQuarter in Phoenix. In total Bledsoe had 24 points, 4 rebounds, and 6 assist.
Archie Goodwin Phoenix Suns
Archie logged some serious minutes in tonight’s game with 17 minutes off of the bench. He added 6 points, 3 rebounds and 3 blocks.
Final: Pelicans 94 – Suns 101
Jodie Meeks Los Angeles Lakers
Jodie Meeks had 16 points, 1 assist, and 1 rebound in a losing effort to the Lakers.
Final: TimberWolves 113 – Lakers 90
Sorry for the delay in reporting, but I’ve been out of state on business for the last week, but I did want to say a word or two about the New Orleans-Washington exhibition game in Rupp Arena. This is otherwise known as the Anthony Davis-John Wall game (Darius Miller could not play due to his injury). There was a very respectable crowd there for the game, just slightly under 15,000 officially. Naturally the biggest cheers were for the former UK stars, both in the introductions and whenever they did something. The only real boos were for Austin Rivers, the Dukkie. He had a miserable game, so maybe the boos had some effect on his play.
I had the good fortune to sit on the third row under a basket, so I got a real feel for the sheer size of the players. Sometimes, sitting higher up or on TV, you don’t get t that perspective. I thought that both Wall and Davis played pretty well, doing what they do best.
Wall has become a pass first ball distributor, exactly what a point guard should do. He is so quick that he gets by his man and if another man helps out, he kicks the ball out for an open shot. Bradley Beal (the former Florida player) was the recipient of many of Wall’s passes. If no one picked Wall up, just like in his UK days, he’d take it to the basket and finish. He ended up with a double-double in points and assists.
Anthony Davis did everything that he did at UK. He scored some, rebounded, and blocked shots. He even blocked a Wall layup, which was puzzling to the crowd. He also saved the game with a block.
All in all, it was enjoyable.
Rarely in all of my years as a UK Basketball fan have I ever seen so much enthusiasm and anticipation of a season. Mostly, I am sure, is because of the unprecedented influx of talent with Coach Cal’s recruiting class which is coupled with some significant returning players. Some of it is undoubtedly due to the desire to forget about last season and especially it’s horrible ending. And part of it is the usual realization that the football team is now in the SEC portion of it’s schedule, which normally isn’t good. However, I do believe that the football team will get much better in the coming years as the talent level goes way up with Coach Stoops upcoming recruits.
Personally, for the upcoming season, I am most intrigued by Julius Randle and the Harrison twins, especially Andrew the point guard. In other words an aggressive low post scoring threat and a point guard who can break down the defense and distribute the ball to the open man or score himself. This is by no means to slight the other massive talents that UK will have, but it seems to me that these are the two critical positions. If Randle is anywhere close to the reports that I have read, he will be a truly awesome player and virtually impossible to stop. And it appears that his presence has caused Alex Poythress to develop into the player that he can be, although a look at his statistics from last year are far from unimpressive.
As always, most teams resort to some sort of collapsing zone to counter Cal’s most talented teams that can execute the dribble drive offense. Outside shooting proved to be the weakness of the 2010 team in the loss to West Virginia. However, this team promises to have excellent perimeter shooting in Aaron Harrison and James Young, not to mention Julius Randle and Alex Poythress. There are also reports that Jon Hood is playing far better and could contribute there and other places as well.
The center position may be the strength of the team. Willie Cauley-Stein was really coming on last season and the top two low post recruits of Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee are also there. Cal’s biggest problem there might well be getting all three the minutes that they ought to have.
As far as the rest of the team, I think that at point guard, Jarrod Polson proved that he can play last year and I think that Dominique Hawkins will be a very surprisingly effective player as well, so the point guard position ought to have very adequate depth. Even Derek Willis, who probably will be a significant contributor in future seasons, may surprise with his length and outside shoot ability.
The only issue with this team might be the rough pre-season schedule. Having to play Michigan State in the third game will be both problematic and revealing. To me, this game is the likeliest loss of the season, both because it is arguably the best team that UK will face (UL might be the other choice but at least that game is later and in Rupp Arena) and if any lack of college game experience will show up, this would be the game. It will be interesting to see how the team handles some adversity in a game, which they may not have had up to that point this season. Who will be the “go-to” guy? Who will be the on the floor leader and rally the guys when they need it? Who is at their best in the clutch? Who can give up the ball and not dominate it? Who can get a crucial rebound or make a big defensive play? Coach Cal, and we the fans, will know so much more about our team after this game, win or lose. By the time we get to the Baylor, North Carolina, and Louisville games, we should know a lot more about who we are and what we can do. Of course, the opponents will have scouted us and know how they want to play us, but with our talent level, if the Cats just execute properly, it probably won’t make too much difference how they try to play us.
As Cal has said, it will be the unselfish “Brother’s Keeper” attitude that will decide whether we are a championship team or merely a very good one. I am optimistic that things will come together this season. Of course, that is barring key injuries and assuming that the players bond in the way that the 2012 team did. Will there be bumps in the road? Of course, there always are. It’s not about the bumps, but how they are navigated that will tell the tale.
As I said, I’m optimistic. Let’s go. Go Big Blue!
It seems that Trey Lyles’ de-commitment from Tom Crean’s IU program is not the only de-commit that the Hoosiers are looking at now. Recently, it has become known that former UK player James Blackmon’s son is also re-opening his recruitment after verbally committing to IU some time ago. It was reported that the IU fans turned on Lyles with a vengeance after his de-commitment. One wonders if they will do the same with Blackmon, although he did say that IU was still in the mix.
I would venture to say that those Hoosier fans who say that IU is “back” and that Crean is a fantastic recruiter are now beginning to wonder, although they don’t apparently set the bar too high for being “back” or for recruiting excellence. Crean’s only big recruit at IU was Cody Zeller, a home state kid who was already an IU fan. With his departure (and Olidipo’s), and the loss of Trey Lyles, the recent commitment of Jaquan Lyle of Evansville to Louisville, and now the possible loss of Blackmon, Crean’s recruiting of big time in-state talent doesn’t look all that impressive to me. Apparently, those kids have picked up on something about Crean that they don’t like. Maybe it’s the fact that even with two of the top four NBA draft picks on his team, he can’t even get IU a whiff of a Final Four, much less a NCAA Championship. In post season tournament play, IU under Crean has flamed out without getting close to winning anything.
The question is, and I think that it’s already been answered, does Coach Cal go after Crean’s de-commits? The answer I think is a resounding “yes”. What does he have to lose? I would venture to say that his “good friend” Tom Crean probably hates his guts anyway, certainly the IU fans do, and now that they don’t play IU anyway (or at least not until they will agree to play anywhere away from their dog-poundish fans at Assembly Hall), why would Cal really care anyway? Lyles is reportedly down to Pitino and Cal and Blackmon will have plenty of other offers besides UK to mull over, if he decides to spurn Crean.
Another factor may be IU’s non-conference schedule. The Big Ten is one thing, but their non-conference schedule is decidedly lacking. I’m sure that the loss of the UK game was a killer for them. They don’t annually play non-conference opponents like North Carolina or Louisville or get into neutral site games with the likes of Kansas, Duke, or Michigan State like UK does with the Champions Classic. And since IU doesn’t apparently like neutral site games, that would leave out games at Cowboy’s Stadium and the Barclay’s Center that UK plays in as well. Recruits like the big stage to play in and IU doesn’t offer that with their narrow mind-set regarding scheduling.
So, if the Indiana players do wind up at UK, all I can say is welcome to the big time! Your predecessors like Teague, McCarty, Blackmon, Harden, Macy, and Dampier did pretty well at UK. You can too.