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C-J takes shot at Cal, backlash ensues.

If you are a subscriber to the Courier-Journal then you probably woke up to a sports front-page with a photoshop of UK basketball coach, John Calipari, being depicted as a crying baby. The picture was put in to go with C-J sports columnist, Tim Sullivan’s, piece on the Coach Cal’s comments about Duke head coach, Mike Krzyzewski, using his gig as the Team USA basketball coach to help on the recruiting trail. Syracuse head coach and assistant coach for Team USA, Jim Boeheim, fired back for his counterpart.

The main story here is the picture. The Courier-Journal has been long accused by UK media that they have a bias toward Kentucky’s bitter rival, the University of Louisville.

Really, this whole situation seems to be something blown out of proportion. I wouldn’t consider it news that one coach thinks another coach has an ‘unfair’ advantage, but considering the magnitude and level of the coaches involved it becomes news, especially here in the Bluegrass State. Calipari really doesn’t have the right to complain about coaches having advantages. He has all the advantages in the competitive world of college basketball. He lands the top recruits each and every year, major contracts with big time sponsors and major networks like ESPN, and just recently it was announced he is hosting the first ‘Pro Day’ in college basketball history. All of this means, his team gets much more national exposure than any other program in the nation.

Now back to the picture. Personally I think whoever did the photoshop for the picture did a really awesome job. It’s actually a pretty good picture but it’s meant for the Internet, say the world of Reddit or posted to Twitter. Not a newspaper. The sports page is one of the first places people look when their paper arrives at their doorstep every morning. Also, the city of Louisville is fairly split between Louisville and Kentucky fans, and I’m sure half of the C-J’s circulation goes out to UK fans. The question now becomes: Do you really want to piss off a great portion of your subscribers and risk losing the revenue? I don’t think so, because you’re a newspaper, and since 2008 newspapers have struggled. Many across the country have had to close their doors because they were no longer profitable in their cities and towns.

Advertisers could want to pull-out, too. The big money for newspapers comes from their advertisers and businesses in the Louisville area help out. These businesses could want to pull their ads because of the choices the C-J editors made to run the picture.

I said it earlier and I’ll say it again. I don’t think the C-J is biased toward Louisville, but I do think they tend to avoid negative stories about U of L. We would never see a picture of U of L men’s basketball coach, Rick Pitino, or football coach, Bobby Petrino, depicted in that light. In fact, if it had been Pitino that was upset instead of Coach Cal, I think the column from Sullivan has a completely different tone. It probably sticks up for Pitino, because the C-J won’t right negative stories about U of L.

Sullivan said on Twitter that he had nothing to do with the picture being run. That decision falls on the editor and he had no information of the image that was going to be used. Sullivan also tweeted that the image was out of line with what he wrote, and would like to negotiate veto power to keep this kind of thing from happening again. Kyle Tucker, UK beat writer for the Courier-Journal, apologized on Twitter to his followers for the judgment of his editors. He tweeted, “We messed up with that illustration today, guys. I’m not happy about it. I know you aren’t. We will do better.”

Cats send message in triple OT loss

i 300x214 Cats send message in triple OT loss

Photo by Mark Foldy/Getty Images

What a game, Cat fans. Kentucky fell to the Gators for the 28th straight season, and while the end result may seem like the same old song and dance, the Cats showed more than just a glimpse of where the program is headed.

Kentucky lost the game 36-30 after three overtimes to a team they haven’t beaten since 1986. Mark Stoops and his troops aren’t about moral victories. Kentucky fans feel deflated after this heart-wrenching loss, and we are still puzzled by Florida not being called for a delay-of-game penalty in the first overtime.

Cats’ fans will come to terms with those things, as they always do, and here’s a more positive spin on the heartbreaking loss and what we can hang our hats on as members of the Big Blue Nation.

Kentucky matured right in front of the SEC nation tonight. They went into a hostile environment called The Swamp and nearly pulled out a victory, surprising any realist. They were nearly three touchdown underdogs going into the game, and lost by one score.

towles 200x300 Cats send message in triple OT loss

Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

Quarterback Patrick Towles showed everyone he has the poise to compete in the SEC. After tossing the games’ first touchdown to Garrett Johnson in the second half, Florida came right back with their own answer to take the lead back at 13-10, but Towles never seemed rattled. Towles would find Johnson again on his next drive for Johnson’s second score of the game and regain the lead from the Gators 17-13.

At this point, Florida fans are in complete awe. Gators everywhere are beginning to realize that they could, in fact, lose this game because they are not the same Florida, and this was not the same Kentucky they have seen for almost three decades.

Florida and star receiver Demarcus Robinson would come back to regain the lead 20-17 late in the third quarter. Robinson showed why he may be the best receiver in the SEC with his 15 receptions for 216 yards and two scores on the night.

His performance was not enough to deter the Cats, after they rallied in the fourth quarter to tie the game and send it to overtime on Austin MacGinnis’ 51-yard field goal that was going wide-right, cut back in and bounced off the post to go through the uprights. It looked as if fate and luck were on Kentucky’s side tonight.

Stanley ‘Boom’ Williams and Kentucky scored on their first play in OT on a reception and score only possible in the video games. Going all the way to the right side of the field and cutting back to the left, to take it in and potentially win the game for Kentucky, 27-20.

However, the Cats would run out of steam and inevitably lose to the Gators, 36-30, but not before they took Florida to their first triple-overtime game.

Towles passed for 369 yards and 3 touchdowns, compared to Florida’s quarterback, Jeff Driskol, throwing for 295 yards and 3 touchdowns. Towles outplayed Driskol, a fourth-year quarterback. Towles completed more than 50 percent of his passes. But the best things from his play won’t go down in the stat column. Towles showed no fear to make any throw at any time, which may be a reason he had three interceptions in the game, two that came off of bobbled passes from UK. He never hesitated to challenge UF’s secondary and truly kept Kentucky in the game late.

Towles could’ve hung his head after Florida scored right after UK did to regain the lead, but he didn’t he came back out and hit his favorite target on the night for another score to keep the Cats in it. Fans should see huge promise in this developing quarterback under Stoops’ air-raid offense.

Kentucky’s depth at running back helped keep the offense fresh at times as well. While Braylon Heard finished with most carries, Kentucky’s backs ended up 64 yards on 22 carries and no touchdowns. Against Florida’s strong frontline they helped Kentucky try to open up the field and throw the ball deep.

For the first time since 2007, Kentucky competed with one of the powerhouse programs in the SEC, and while this isn’t the same Florida program we’ve seen the past decade, it’s also not the same Kentucky team. Stars are emerging under Stoops, and this may have been a statement to the SEC and other programs: Do not sleep on Kentucky.

Quick Look at the Florida Gators

Last year Kentucky played the Gators before everyone figured out that they just weren’t that good. And that may be putting it nicely as they won just one more game before losing their final eight en route to finishing 4-8. Florida won the game 24-7, but if the Cats could have figured out a way to move the ball they would have had a chance. To put into perspective how bad their offense was, think about this. Their biggest play of the game was a 25-yard touchdown run by their kicker Joe Mansour on a fake field goal. Mansour’s five seconds running towards pay dirt were the only time that UK would spend in the Florida red zone. It’s hard to win like that.

Kentucky’s O’s are better this year. And so are Florida’s. But, neither team has really played anyone to provide a real test. Saturday will be a great test for both.

driskel640 500x234 Quick Look at the Florida Gators

The main reason why Florida was so bad on offense last year is because quarterback Jeff Driskel was lost for the season with a broken fibula. No one is saying that Driskel is Heisman candidate, but their is no denying that losing him was a huge setback to the offense.

Now Driskel is back and the Gators are excited. There’s a new offensive coordinator in town and many believe that he better fits that system. He’s a two-way guy and this system allows him to do just that. In their opener against Eastern Michigan, which the Gators won 65-0, he looked more comfortable. He went through his progressions. And he looked to throw deep. Something he hasn’t looked to do in the past. And he was more vocal. The coaching staff really feels like he is now a totally different quarterback.

One reason why Driskel and the offense had such a good game against Ohio is because the offensive line played so well. Still, this is a big question mark for the Gators and some guys have already gotten hurt. They don’t have a lot of depth on their line and you already are going to see guys switching from guard to tackle, something they were hoping they could avoid. The Wildcats could have some success getting to the quarterback, which would be vital to a potential upset.

One thing this team really lacked last year is solid play at the skill positions, which was something we have never seen before in the history of Florida. At least I haven’t. But, those young guys that struggled, they really feel that they are starting to figure it out. One of those guys is sophomore wideout DeMarcus Robinson, who had six catches for 123 yards in their opener after catching just five balls as a freshman because of a suspension. They really feel like he is one of the most talented wideouts in the country.

Defensively, we know this is a good football team. Heck, even when they went 4-8 they still had a top ten defense in the country. Their front seven is the strength of their D. They have a veteran core of linebackers and a ton of depth on their defensive line. They may even shuffle eight to 10 guys on that line. Their biggest question mark is their secondary because they are so young. Sophomore Vernon Hargreaves will look to anchor the unit.

Expect the Gators to rely on their talent and speed at all positions and not blitz a lot. They are at their best when they maintain their gaps and do not overpursue. They will rush four or five guys and if they execute properly they expect to get plenty of push up front.

Can the Cats win? Yes. Will they? Nothing in my lifetime has proven that it is even a possibility.

But, one huge positive from Kentucky’s first two games is the fact that they have turned it over zero times. If they can do that on Saturday in Gainesville, they will have a chance.

I don’t think they’ll win, but we will continue to see marked improvement from this program. I mean, somebody will find the red zone other than the kicker. That’s a plus.

Florida 27, Kentucky 14 (I think that is the score I picked on the podcast earlier this week)

Pros and Cons; Analyzing Coach Cal’s Combine

calnbacamp 500x369 Pros and Cons; Analyzing Coach Cals Combine

Big news dropped earlier Tuesday about an unprecedented event that University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach, John Calipari, was in the works of finalizing an NBA combine for UK players only. The event would be the first of its kind in the college basketball landscape. We’ve seen this done by colleges before, but in the football realm of things.

We’ve never seen the type of talent on one college basketball team that Kentucky will have on their 2014-2015 roster. Draft Express ranks nine Kentucky players in their Top 50 NBA prospects.

The soon-to-be event will be one of the most talked about in college basketball news, probably, until the beginning of season. Here in StraitPinkie fashion, we’re going to weigh both the positive and negative aspects of this unprecedented showcase of talent, and because I prefer bad news first that’s where we will begin.

Cons:

  • Calipari’s combine is likely to T-off many coaches around college basketball, meaning we could start seeing copycats at some of the bigger named schools such as Duke or Kansas. However, the likelihood of it happening this season is slim. With the news coming out just today and we are a little more than a month away from first practices it won’t give schools enough time to do this sort of thing. Other schools also won”t have the amount of talent UK does this season. At most, other programs will have three or four NBA-ready players on their squads.
  • There are many Calipari detractors and this is something that will surely add fuel to the fire. People from UK’s fan base and rival fan bases aren’t terribly happy about the whole ordeal, mainly because of the sudden changes in the roster. Since Coach Cal arrived in Lexington his talent has rotated in-and-out and it’s been a bit of a revolving door which can get tiresome from fans because they don’t get to know the players but for a year and then they’re shipped off across the country. The one-and-done is a hot-button issue in college basketball and that will not change anytime soon with the product Calipari will be introducing now.
  • We are also hearing a lot of people barking about where the loyalty lies. These kids are coming in and thinking about numero uno, instead of the name on the front of the jersey. It’s believed these kids are out there playing for themselves instead of for the team. We’ve seen it happen before at Kentucky. The 2012-2013 team was preseason No. 4 in the nation, and had every bit of talent to compete in the NCAA Tournament. However, the squad never pulled themselves together and we watched them crumble in the first round of the NIT. We even saw it last year when the team got off to a slow start after the lofty expectations of an undefeated season were placed on their heads. The young players were not ready to come out and compete at the start of the season played for ‘me’ instead of ‘we’. They stumbled at points throughout the season, until the magical run to the NCAA Final as a No. 8 seed.

Pros:

  • The event is supposed to be scheduled for Oct. 11-12, and Big Blue Madness will take place less than a week later on Oct. 16. The combine is expected to have representatives from all 30 NBA franchises in attendance, and after that, they will be shutout for the foreseeable future. In past years, Coach Cal has had to deal with a different revolving door than his players, but with the scouts coming in-and-out of the practice facilities to watch his players and get the scoop on them. But that will not happen this year. With as much talent and hype that will be around this team Calipari wants to limit the distractions to a minimum. Shutting the NBA scouts out of practice after the combine will allow him to focus on coaching and developing his players as a team, something he needs after the team last year got off to a slow start.
  • Since Cal arrived in Lexington he has be upfront and honest with the Big Blue Nation. He has said it from Day 1. This is a players-first program. At the end of the day it’s not about wins and losses for him, it’s about whether his players succeed and fulfill their dreams. He has done that for 19 kids in his time at UK. Nineteen of his players have been drafted out of Kentucky since he arrived in 2009, and that number will go up next June. While he does want to please the BBN with wins and championships, he would much rather send players to the NBA and put them on a road to success.
  • If you can’t see this a benefit for the program then you’re really not thinking about this correctly. Holding your own combine is sure to help with recruiting top talent to the program. We know the amount of players drafted out of Kentucky and under John Calipari has helped him on the recruiting trail, but this is sure to make waves. How many other schools can really offer a set time and date for players to showcase their game in front of all 30 NBA teams. This combine could reverse the roles in recruiting and instead of Cal recruiting players, players will recruit Cal.

Cats wear grey. Towles runs a lot. I write about it.

On Kentucky’s first drive they went 75 yards on ten plays and scored on a Patrick Towles touchdown pass to Dorian Baker with 11:27 to go in the first quarter.

On their second drive they went 80 yards on eight plays and scored on a Boom Williams touchdown run of 53 yards.

With 8:24 to go in the first quarter, it looked like it was going to be a romp. It looked like Kentucky would score a touchdown on every single possession en route to an easy 60 to something victory.

They wouldn’t score another touchdown.

Sure, they had some extended drives. But, none ended with six. And a couple of those drives didn’t end with any points at all as Austin MacGinnis missed two chippies. One from 28 yards and one from 35 yards.

Coming off of the strong opening week performance against UT-Martin, the two quick scores to start the game really had you feeling that this game was just going to help build on that momentum heading into Florida. Instead those two quick scores and the rest of the game being just “blah” did the opposite.

There were some positives. They didn’t turn the ball over for a second straight game. They held Ohio to just 74 yards rushing. Ryan Timmons had a very quiet ten catches for 95 yards. And they are 2-0. For the first time since 2011 when they opened with wins over WKU and Central Michigan.

But, I can’t write about this game anymore without mentioning the question that was on my mind the whole game and had to be on yours. When did Patty Towles become Barry Sanders? The first couple of QB draws and you were like, “Okay. I know this dude ran a lot in high school. He has deceptive wheels. And it got positive yards.”. Then the QB reads started. And they didn’t stop.

On the drive that led to the MacGinnis 53-yard field goal. Let me read you off the plays on that drive. This is where it got comical. Boom Williams runs for 1 yard. And here we go. Towles runs for 8 yards. Towles runs for 3 yards. Towles throws an incomplete pass. And then it gets really nuts. Towles runs for 13 yards. Towles for 16. Towles for 2. Towles sacked. Towles runs for no gain. They kick.

towlesrush2640 500x234 Cats wear grey. Towles runs a lot. I write about it.

Nine plays and six Patrick Towles runs. And it still didn’t stop. When the game was well in hand late in the fourth quarter, it still didn’t stop. He kept running. He kept getting hit. And Reece Phillips just waited on the sideline for it to be his turn to take some snaps after Towles got hit one too many times. Luckily that didn’t happen.

Towles finished the game with 22 rushes according to the box score. 22! Cut that number in half and it’s still too many attempts. Yeah, some of those were sacks. But, most of them were not. I’m not sure what this offense was. I’m not sure if they were trying to not show Florida anything. But, 22 rushes from your QB?

And I think it affected Towles through the air. He just didn’t look the same as he did last week. I know this is a better defense than UT-Martin. I know that Ohio returned eight starters from last year. I know that there was some drops from his receivers. Including one by Steven Borden in the end zone that was an easy, easy six.

His prettiest ball of the day was a 33-yard connection to Baker that took the Cats down to the Ohio three-yard line. Then they did what they simply cannot do against a better opponent. They got cute on first and goal from the three with a fade to Blake Bone. I hate the fade. Why aren’t you pounding it? Hell, let Towles run it? LOL. Then JoJo Kemp lost a yard. Then Towles got sacked. Then MacGinnis missed the chippy.

The defense was good, but this is a Ohio team that is extremely young on O’s. They scored just 17 points on Kent State. They turned it over four times on fumbles. Kent State is not good. And Ohio had their chances today. They had open receivers down field on multiple occasions and every time either the quarterback missed the throw or the wideout dropped it.

But, you have to give the UK defense credit. They allowed you to feel like Ohio didn’t really have to chance to get back in this thing despite UK offense’s inability to put up more points. I thought Josh Forrest was very active. I thought they did a much better job of controlling the edges than they did last week. And despite Ohio getting free a few times, I thought their secondary was good. And they are just going to get better.

Oh, and it’s in the title so I better talk about their unis. I liked them. I like this uniform switch-a-roo thing. Pull an Oregon and wear a different uni every week. Half the people watching on TV last week thought UK was wearing purple helmets anyways. Y’all folks need to adjust the settings on your television set. I think it’s contrast or something like that. Anyways, the grey and the metallic blue helmets were kinda dope.

In the end, the Cats are 2-0. And now comes Florida. The Gators better be ready Patty “Jukey Jukerton” Towles.

Quick look at the Ohio Bobcats

Ohio enters Saturday’s contest with Kentucky coming off of five straight bowl appearances under head coach Frank Solich. So, they had success. And all UK fans remember the last time Ohio came to Lexington as the Bobcats took down the Wildcats 28-16 in 2004.

But, this Ohio team faces a challenge that the previous five teams haven’t had to face. They lost a lot of players from last year. They have recruited well and still believe they have enough talent to compete in the MAC, but that has to be proven on the field.

Last week, they opened their season with a road conference game for the first time since 2001. They won the game 17-14, as Josiah Yazdani connected on a 44-yard field goal as time expired. Last year they opened at Louisville and were expected to compete and keep the game close. Instead, the Cardinals played what I thought was their best game of the year as they rolled the Bobcats, 49-7.

In their previous five-year run, the strength of this team was primarily their up-tempo offense. This year their defense may be strength as there are more known commodities on that side of the ball. The running back core is unproven, but talented, and their offensive line is young. Not a good combo.

Five Players to Watch

#15 QB Darrius Vick (JR, 6-1, 196) – Not related to Michael or Marcus, Darrius Vick is a redshirt junior that takes over the reigns for Tyler Tettleton. He came to Ohio from Nebraska, where Solich still has a lot of pull in the recruiting game from his time spent at Nebraska as head coach. Vick is a dual threat that hasn’t really been granted to right to take off and run by his coaching staff. But, he can do it and Saturday would be the perfect opportunity. He can throw the deep ball, too. Last week in his first start, he completed 18 of 24 passes for 262 yards and two touchdowns, and no picks.

#8 WR Chase Cochran (SR, 6-2, 190) – Cochran is a deep threat wideout that will play a bigger role this year and should be used over the middle, as well. He caught just one ball for seven yards last week, so look for them to try to get him more involved. Everyone expected Cochran to be the guy, but it was Landon Smith who shined last week with two touchdown catches. He also caught seven balls, which was three less than the 10 he caught all year last year.

#51 LB Jovon Johnson (JR, 6-1, 215) – A freak at the strong side linebacker spot. He led the Bobcats in tackles as a sophomore and had 11 in their opener last week at Kent State.

#37 CB Devin Bass (JR, 5-9, 190) – A ball hawking corner with sights of being named a First Team All-MAC this year. He had 40 tackles and two picks last year.

#93 DL Tarell Basham (SO, 6-4, 250) – Basham had 7.5 sacks as a freshman and was named a Freshman All-American. He had two tackles and half of a sack in their opener.

Like Kentucky, there is a lot of young talent on this Ohio team. But, the Wildcats’ young guys have more talent than the Bobcats. It was Kentucky’s recruiting classes that were talked about nationally, not Ohio’s, and there’s a reason for that. It’s possible, but I don’t foresee a repeat of 2004. The young Wildcats continue to build momentum as they get closer to facing Florida in the Swamp in two weeks. There will be some points scored on both sides, but Kentucky rolls.

Prediction: Kentucky 45, Ohio 24

Kentucky won a football game. Here are my thoughts.

College football is back and with that the Kentucky Wildcats took the field for the first time in 2014. Despite Commonwealth Stadium being less than full for the opener, there is excitement about this season. Fans are excited about what Mark Stoops is doing. And Saturday gave us our first opportunity to see a bunch of players that are behind that excitement.

Whether or not Kentucky would beat UT-Martin was never a question. Instead it was more about about how the Wildcats went about getting this win. How Patrick Towles looked in his first career start? How the hyped freshmen and transfers looked? Could this young team use the game against the Skyhawks to build confidence.

Towles looked great. A bunch of freshmen and transfers shined. And yes.

In the 59-14 rout of UT-Martin, Mark Stoops and the Wildcats got exactly what they needed. An easy win and some gained confidence to boot.

Let’s start with the quarterback, because ever since Mike Hartline’s career was ended a game early with a suspension that forced him to miss the BBVA Compass Bowl, Kentucky’s play at quarterback has been worse than the Wendy’s commercials with that annoying ass red head.

Towles was great as he completed 20 of 29 passes for 377 yards, a touchdown, no interceptions, and he added a rushing touchdown. He got rid of the ball quick. For the most part was accurate. I was impressed with the way he went through his progressions. And he showed he ability to hit the deep ball.

The play that stood out to me was when he hit Javess Blue on their first scoring drive for 44 yards down to the three yard line. He hit Blue in stride for a big gain. A perfect ball. Something that this UK team has completely lacked over the last three years.

The number of skill guys that UK threw out there was crazy. Towles hit nine different receivers. Ten receivers overall caught balls as Reece Phillips hit T.V. Williams twice. Four true freshman made a catch (Blake Bone 2-65, Dorian Baker 3-29, Garrett Johnson 3-25, T.V. Williams 2-45). Javess Blue and Demarco Robinson, both seniors, showed the ability to make big plays. And Ryan Timmons once again looked like he could score any time he touched it.

ukutmart640 500x234 Kentucky won a football game. Here are my thoughts.

And then the rushing attack. Braylon Heard, the transfer out of Nebraska, only got two touches, but he made the most of them as he took them both to the house. His first touch as a Wildcat went for a 73 yard touchdown and his second for a 43 touchdown. Two carries for 116 yards. Not bad. Mikel Horton scored twice and JoJo Kemp’s touchdown gave the ‘Cats their first score of the season. And then there was Josh Clemons, who carried the ball twice for just five yards, but it was awesome to see him on the field again.

Overall, there were three things that really stood out to me about this UK offense. Their ability to make big plays, how they were able to stay out of 3rd and long situations, and zero turnovers. These three things killed Kentucky last year. They had over ten plays of 20 or more yards and because they were able to keep it 3rd and shorts converted 8-14 third downs.

I know the defense had a shutout heading into the fourth quarter, but there were things that concerned me even before the Skyhawks decided to move the ball at will for two scores in the fourth quarter. With Za’Darius Smith and Bud Dupree, you would expect the Kentucky to be able to control the edges against a team with lesser talented. That was never the case. Time and time again Abou Toure and the rest of the UT-Martin tailbacks were able to get to the edge and make positive gains.

There were positives on defense. Most impressive was the five forced turnovers. Fred Tiller and A.J. Stamps both had interceptions, giving their secondary two picks in this one, one more than they had all year last year. Stamps, a junior college transfer, quickly showed why the coaching staff was so high on him with his crazy athletic one-handed interception.

Another negative. The return game. It makes you yearn for the days of Derek Abney and Randall Cobb. They have to get more from the return game.

I know, I know this is a lot of positive thoughts for a game against UT-Martin. But, why not be positive? Why look at this game like, “Oh, it’s just UT-Martin so who cares?”. The Wildcats are 4-20 over their previous two seasons. They haven’t started the season at 1-0 since they beat WKU to start the 2011 season. Name the last time they had a quarterback throw for 350 yards, they gained over 650 yards of total offense, and forced five turnovers. I’d look it up, but I’m not Guy Ramsey of the UK Media Relations Department and I’m really, really lazy. And you have to be really excited about all of the skill guys this team possesses and the fact that they may actually have a quarterback that can make plays.

We’ll talk about this a lot more from 10-noon tomorrow morning on ESPN 680.

How awesome is it that college football is back. Yay!

The We’re Coming Back ‘Cats

It’s officially time to get that “Time For 9″ StraitPinkie shirt out of the closet and get the wrinkles out. Get rid of those stains from the tears you shed after the national title game, and get dapper. With the announcement the Harrison twins will be returning to Kentucky, John Calipari holds onto every player in his 2013 “best ever on paper” recruiting class sans James Young and Julius Randle. Kentucky fans were already excited about the loaded frontcourt coming to the floor next season, now they have to be in a state of euphoria.

Andrew Harrison1 The Were Coming Back Cats

Reasons For Returning

Outside of Marcus Lee, Alex Poythress was the easiest choice for me to stay at Kentucky for another year. A 6’9” power forward who shoots okay and rebounds sometimes is not exactly getting the NBA scouts salivating. When Poythress puts the “power” in power forward and plays consistent, then we’ll talk.

Willie Cauley-Stein was a bit of a surprise for everyone, including head coach John Calipari. From what I gather, Cauley-Stein really loves school and playing at UK. He’s not in any hurry to make those millions while he can improve his draft stock every year he stays in Lexington. The kid is just different, and that’s why I like him.

Dakari Johnson had a strong case to enter in the NBA Draft. He became a starter, and shined the brightest on the big stage. Without his contributions, Kentucky does not make the run to the Final Four. I picked Johnson to leave, but only because of the plethora of big men the ‘Cats will have next year. I assumed one of those big men would go, but I’m happy I was wrong.

I really had my doubts about Aaron and Andrew Harrison. I knew they should have stayed another year, but I never imagined they would actually return. When rumors of being a fringe 1st round pick and spending some time in the D-League start floating around, I guess it could scare a kid back to school. Plus, I know the loss to Connecticut really left a sour taste. I’m happy they are back and I know they want another shot at that national championship.

McDonalds The Were Coming Back Cats

The New Guys

So much is being made about the returning players, Kentucky’s 2014 recruiting class is getting a little overshadowed. That’s pretty crazy considering they are the 2nd best class, and are all considered 5-star recruits. 5-foot-9 Chicago point guard Tyler Ulis didn’t get rave reviews when he was offered by Calipari. The immediate fear of having a small point guard again raised some concern. Let’s set the record Strait, Ulis can flat-out ball. He is the purest of point guards, loves to pass and has a deadly jumper. He is not Ryan Harrow 2.0. I can’t see Ulis starting yet, but how many assists can one guy get with three 7-footers to throw the lob to?

Devin Booker may become the first knockdown shooter since Doron Lamb in 2012. Yes, I remember Kyle Wiltjer but his shooting numbers tanked before leaving Lexington. Along with Indiana commit James Blackmon Jr., Booker is regarded as the best shooter in the 2014 class. While Lamb had a better mid-range game, Booker is better at driving to the basket. At 6-foot-5, he’s already a matchup nightmare for a shooting guard and is not shy about seeking contact.

If a freshman starts next season, it may be Trey Lyles. The 6-f0ot-10 true power-forward can stretch a defense to the 3-point line. What is more impressive than his size and physical ability is his basketball IQ. If Alex Poythress cannot keep his beast mode on, Lyles will take his place.

Karl-Anthony Towns may be one of the most impressive prospects I have ever seen. He has the skills of a guard at 7-feet tall, can shoot a consistent 3-pointer and should be considered the crown jewel of this class. The kid is already a dynamite athlete, and he has yet to fully mature. After a kinesiologist visit, Towns recently discovered he is capable of growing three more inches. Open your nearest dictionary, look up the word “beast”.

Unfinished Business 300x150 The Were Coming Back Cats

Unfinished Business

As the Harrison twins put it, Kentucky has some unfinished business. The expectations will be the same, but they will have the experience they lacked as freshman. The roster will include nine McDonald’s All-Americans and the last two Mr. Basketball winners in the state of Kentucky. It’s only 175 days till Big Blue Madness.

Wildcats To Draft ‘Cats: Who Goes and Who Stays?

Since John Calipari has taken the helm at Kentucky, he has always said their season doesn’t end until after the NBA Draft. His “players-first” mentality is admired and annoyed simultaneously. Kentucky will always have at least one huge draft prospect, while others will have to make the crucial decision on returning to Lexington or diving into the riches of the NBA.

Willie Cauley Stein Wildcats To Draft Cats: Who Goes and Who Stays?‘Cats keep their Willie. Lee returns, too.

Willie Cauley-Stein could have left Kentucky after his freshman year. The 7-footer was heavily sought after, but the uncertainty of where he would be drafted kept him in Lexington. Another year, another decision loomed. This time, many will have to wonder if his ankle injury suffered in the NCAA Tournament game vs. Louisville is what ultimately keeps Cauley-Stein in Lexington for another season. With his decision to stay, I wonder what kind of domino effect it will have on other players. Does this mean Dakari Johnson is gone? What is the extent of that ankle injury?

Marcus lee1 Wildcats To Draft Cats: Who Goes and Who Stays?

This time of year has almost as much guessing as the recruiting process that brought these extraordinary athletes to UK. As of today, two players have decided to stay at Kentucky for another season and forego the NBA Draft. The simple fact that Marcus Lee had a “decision” to make has to reflect on the kind of prospect he can be. Right now, I see more of his all-state volleyball player rather than his basketball skills. Lee’s decision to stay was an obvious one, and I’m excited to watch him for another year.

 

Who Goes?

Julius Randle Wildcats To Draft Cats: Who Goes and Who Stays?

The most obvious defection is Julius Randle. He is a guaranteed lottery pick, and will more than likely not fall out of the Top-10. While I’ve heard comparison’s to LeBron, I rarely saw that at Kentucky. Yes, he can drive to the bucket at 6-foot-9, two-fifty and dunk all over you. However, Randle needs some handles and needs to develop that outside shot away from the paint.

James Young1 Wildcats To Draft Cats: Who Goes and Who Stays?

James Young is a freak athlete with a streaky outside shot. Coming out of high school, he had the reputation as a knock down outside shooter. In my opinion, Young was not a knock down shooter in his first year at UK. He can score in bunches, and has the size at 6’6” to be a match-up nightmare. If his shot is off, he doesn’t have a lot of bright spots in other areas of his game. His attacks at the basket are often through a lot of traffic, and his decision on when to drive or retreat needs to improve at the next level. And defense? Don’t get me started. Just watch the national title game if you need a refresher.

Dakari Johnson Wildcats To Draft Cats: Who Goes and Who Stays?

Maybe a surprise to some, but I believe Dakari Johnson will not return to Kentucky. With the additions of Karl-Anthony Towns and Trey Lyles, Kentucky will have a very loaded front-court. Especially wiith WCS and Lee returning to school, I think Johnson will declare. Johnson can claim that he was chosen to start over a veteran on a team that went to the championship game. He played very well in considerable minutes, and played his best on the biggest stage. I hope I’m wrong, but I think he’s gone.

Who Stays?

Alex Poythress 300x144 Wildcats To Draft Cats: Who Goes and Who Stays?

We already know about Cauley-Stein and Lee, so who will join them on the UK roster next season? My most obvious answer here is Alex Poythress. I really wonder if he will be the most highly ranked recruit to ever stay at a major program all four years. At this point, I can’t see Poythress leaving for the NBA until he graduates. While he did improve this past season, Poythress just hasn’t shown enough to get himself into the draft. The battle for playing time will be rough once again with a true power-forward Trey Lyles coming next season.

To Tough To Call

Andrew Harrison Wildcats To Draft Cats: Who Goes and Who Stays?

The only other players that have a legitimate shot at the NBA next season is Aaron and Andrew Harrison. Today, head coach John Calipari revealed his “tweak” that spurred his ‘Cats to an improbable national title shot. He had to get Andrew Harrison to pass the ball more. Andrew Harrison is not a true point guard, he’s not a freak athlete and he won’t blow by you. He’s very strong on the drive and made better decisions as the year progressed. His size will always be a problem for smaller guards, but smaller guards have seemed to be a problem for him as well. (See also: Russ Smith (LOU), Bryce Cotton (PROV), Shabazz Napier (UCONN).

Aaron Harrison2 Wildcats To Draft Cats: Who Goes and Who Stays?

Aaron Harrison is labeled as a shooting guard, but he didn’t shoot the ball exceptionally well all season. He was never a knock down shooter, even though his clutch shots in the NCAA Tournament made most question the size of his…uh..guts. Like his brother, he made a living off driving to the basket.

Why They Stay: NBA Draft projections do not favor either of the Harrison twins. Coming into Kentucky, they were labeled as lottery picks. Now, they are fringe first round selections. Contracts become non-guaranteed after the last pick of the first round. Would that be enough to scare the Harrison’s back to Kentucky?

Why They Go: A small rumor began days after the championship game that the Harrison’s didn’t believe they were showcased well at Kentucky and were leaning towards the NBA Draft. In my opinion, the system head coach John Calipari runs does not showcase any one person. The dribble drive is supposed to unleash every player, not just ones named “Harrison”.

With incoming competition from point guard Tyler Ulis and shooting guard Devin Booker, will that push the Harrison’s away from Lexington? They came into this past season as THE guys. Keep calm, the Harrison twins are coming. Next year, they will no longer be the new kids on the block. Ulis is a pure point guard that is an extremely willing passer despite having a deadly jumper. Devin Booker could be the first knock down shooter for Kentucky since Doron Lamb left in 2012. Both Ulis and Booker can and will compete for starter’s minutes. I don’t know if the Harrison’s want to run the risk of being shuffled to the bench.

 

 

 

Kentucky One-And-Done’s Proven Productive In NBA

A recent article from Sports Illustrated attempts to examine each draft class since the “One-And-Done era began in 2006. Not shocking to anyone that hasn’t been living under a rock since 2008, Kentucky is well represented in the analysis. The article labeles players as stars, rotation players, bit contributors or busts. Just how well have the former ‘Cats fared? Remarkably well, actually.

Archie Goodwin Kentucky One And Dones Proven Productive In NBA

2013 saw only two ‘Cats enter in the NBA Draft, and only one of those players has been able to take the court. Archie Goodwin is labeled as a “bit contributor”. While he’s not apart of Phoenix’s starting rotation, he has been a solid addition to the Suns bench. Nerlens Noel is still recovering from his torn ACL that he suffered at Kentucky, and his grade is labeled as N/A. The  SI article does not list any “stars” for this draft class. The highest ranking player was former Kansas Jayhawk Ben McLemore, who was graded as a rotation player.

Anthony Davis Kentucky One And Dones Proven Productive In NBA

2012’s biggest star came straight from Lexington to the NBA, and has earned his star ranking. Anthony Davis is backing up his #1 overall draft pick status and has the highest ceiling of anyone in recent memory. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist makes the list as a rotation player for Charlotte. MKG has steadily improved his game since entering the league, and is finally on a team headed to the playoffs. Marquis Teague makes the list as a bit contributor, which may be somewhat generous. I’m not sure I could grade him as a “bust”, but Teague’s absence from the floor in Chicago, his D-League stints, and a trade to Brooklyn makes “contributor” seems generous at best.

Brandon Knight Kentucky One And Dones Proven Productive In NBA

In 2011, Kentucky’s Brandon Knight and Enes Kanter both make the list as rotation players. Knight blossomed in Detroit, but was traded to the Bucks after the Pistons acquired Brandon Jennings. A change of scenery hasn’t stopped Knight’s progression as one of the most explosive young guards in the league. Enes Kanter has always been a solid but quiet contributor for the Jazz. He is now labeled as their starting center. Both Knight and Kanter’s grades are hurt by the fact that neither player will be playing playoff basketball for the foreseeable future.

John Wall Demarcus Cousins Kentucky One And Dones Proven Productive In NBA

201o was Kentucky’s best year for producing the best crop of NBA talent. John Wall, Demarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe were graded as stars. Wall is also living up to his #1 overall draft pick status and has the Wizards heading to the playoffs. With his emotions in check, Cousins is one of the best scoring centers in the league. Bledsoe’s star ranking was perhaps a stretch, despite the fact that he has anchored a serious playoff push for the Phoenix Suns. I see why the article names him a star, but I just haven’t felt like he has made the impacts of Wall, Bledsoe and Davis. Mixed in with all the great reviews 2010 had to offer, here comes the bad. The one Kentucky player that received a bust grade was Daniel Orton. His lack of playing time in Oklahoma City and being cut by the horrendously bad Philadelphia 76ers makes you think the grade is fair. Orton was scouted with a tremendously high upside with a huge body to boot. For one reason or another, Orton’s game just hasn’t cracked into that potential he was scouted with.

Terrence Jones Kentucky One And Dones Proven Productive In NBA

I personally believe the article has completely missed one Kentucky player. I would firmly place Terrence Jones on the list and give him the grade of at least a rotation player. Jones has played some dynamite basketball for Houston, and his a key cog in their push towards a deep run in the playoffs.

You can read the article and it’s entirety right here.