Posted on: December 9, 2011 1:15 pm

UK HOOPS Does It Again

UK Athletics Stacking Them Up Like Cordwood

Take a deep breath Kentucky fans. Now let it out. Repeat. Do that a few more times and then you can let yourself relax and reflect on the last couple of weeks as a Kentucky Sports Fan. Tennessee, North Carolina, Duke, Louisville, all falling to the Wildcats in the last 15 days.  And by three different teams. Back up another few days and you can throw Kansas on the fire too. And if you want to add in the nationally ranked UK Women's Volleyball team, you can add Texas A&M to the list of victims as the Women's Volleyball squad has put them as well as Dayton on the bus for home in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

Has there ever been a better time to be a UK Fan? Does it sound to you like Mitch Barnhart is creeping ever closer to his dreams of championships all around UK Athletics? He has my attention, big time.

Somebody pinch me. It's just too good to be true. Oh yes, I want them all to go down screaming in flames on the basketball court in March as the Cats stand triumphant at the top of the heap, but this is extremely gratifying as well. Watching UK Football pull off the win of the year, inspite of their abysmal season. Seeing Cal's Cats pound Kansas, as well as beating UNC on that Rupp Arena floor just put the cherry on top. However last night's Duke beatdown by the UK Hoops squad was particularly satisfying, knowing that they were not only higher ranked, they have the best recruiting class in the nation for two years in a row, they were bigger than Matthew Mitchell's squad, but they couldn't come close to matching the Hoops' squad's intensity. Turning over the number 5 team in the nation 24 times in a game was flat out awesome.

How much longer will this go on?? Indefinitely, if I can have any say in it.

Posted on: December 6, 2011 8:04 am

Kentucky Sits Atop The World

Which Is Harder, Getting To The Top, Or Staying ?

When John Calipari took the UK coaching job, he promised a return to excellence. A renewal of the glory days of UK Basketball. He made no bones about what he intended to do, and how he intended to do it. He has reinforced this at every turn. He has once again made Lexington, Kentucky the capital of the world of college basketball. For the second time since his coming to Lexington, the Kentucky Wildcats are on top of the polls and nationallt accepted as the best team in college, for the moment. But can they sustain this rise to the top by maintaining that ranking?

Some will say that rankings mean nothing when it comes tournament time, because you have to beat all comers when they hit the floor. But Kentucky has had to deal with the "cards they have been dealt" when it comes to the seeding in recent years, and that can be helped by maintaining that #1 ranking. Kentucky has not only the talent this year to win it all, they have the intricate pieces they need to be exactly what they need to when it comes to playing different styles against different teams as they face them in tournament-style play. Running and gunning one night, slugging through the trenches the next, and lobbing grenades from three point land the next are all possible with this squad. They play defense like they were born to it, and there is not a selfish bone in even one of their bodies. If there is a weakness it is at the point, but that gets better every time they hit the floor. Marquis Teague is a big time point guard with an upside which is phenomenal, and with Doron Lamb and Darius Miller backing him up he has nothing to worry about. But after the Christmas break he will get even more help as Twany Beckham becomes eligible to play.Beckham has size and bulk to fight through screens and loves to make plays, and understands his role, as do all of the others.

Of course, what really scares most coaches is the versatility of this squad. Anthony Davis can bring the ball up the floor as easily as he can dunk it from the foul line. The pieces are virtually interchangeable up to the 5 through the first 10 guys on the bench. There is power, finesse, speed, amazing one on one defense as well as team defense.And they are going to get better every time they take the court.

Kentucky has gotten through the toughest part of their early schedule by overcoming UNC. Now they face Indiana and make the next step towards taking it all. Standing in their way are those same Hoosiers, the Louisville Cardinals, and a host of SEC foes who all want a piece of the action. But it will be to no avail. This team has that special difference making quality that will let them overcome the obstacles they face. No matter who they may be. This season is not about who the Cats play, it is about who they are. 
Posted on: December 5, 2011 9:01 am

The Search For Perfection

Cats Reaching For the Platinum Ring This Year

One of the sporting world's most ancient taboos is talking about having a perfect season. First off, it's so rare when it happens it is something to behold, but more than that, it takes so much pressure and heaps it upon coaches and players, and everyone else associated with a team it would topple even the staunchest of constitutions.

Now I am not talking the world of college football here. In today's world of college football, it takes perfection to play for that National Championship that everyone loves and covets. This year's LSU squad is just the latest example of what happens when the best of the best put together a great run. Winning 12,13, or even 14 games as a football team is not only doable, it is expected if you want to be recognized at the end of the season. Of course the current college football setup simply exacerbates their problem of legitimacy when the subject of a championship is discussed. The BCS is nothing more than a joke, and everyone knows it, including those who run it. But it makes so much money, garners so much publicity, and provides the bowl system it's own brand of justice, so to speak, that it has become a different world.

But there are others who have to become something more than human to succeed. This year's candidates include the Green Bay Packers. Clearly the class of the NFL. But to win 16 regular season games, then back that up with a clean run through the playoffs and win the Super Bowl? That takes some doing.

Professional Baseball, Basketball, Hockey all have placed the perfect season outside the realm of possibility. Collegiate Baseball also considers it an unapproachable target. But then we have the world of College Basketball.

Bloomington, Indiana is a somewhat mythical place. By mythical I mean it is the home of the last perfect season in college basketball. Bobby Knight and his Indiana Hoosiers hold that title. Perfect. There is no other word that describes it quite so succinctly. Winning 30-40 college basketball games in a year is possible. IT is not only possible, it is within the realm of possibility every year. The winning school in the NCAA tournament often has between 1-5 losses. That means that depending on the point spread, perfection could be no more than just 2-3 baskets a year from happening. 

Come Saturday, the Kentucky Wildcats start another push for perfection this year. We have National Championships, we have SEC Championships, we ship boatloads of talent to the NBA, we are the center of the Basketball world once more. But we want that perfect season. There are milestones you have to cross of course to get there. Tubby Smith managed a run through an undefeated SEC schedule on the way to the tournament where they came up short. We have had a lot of pre-conference undefeated runs before hitting a loss of a game or two along the way when conference play got rolling. The big rock was UNC last Saturday. That hill had to be climbed, and it was, in amazing fashion. But a one-point win does not allay the fears of the Big Blue Nation. Had the Cats waxed UNC by 15-20 (which would have been possible with making their FT's and shooting better) then the entire fan base would have been whispering over the back fences. 

But to do it, the Cats have to win each and every game. One at a time, and in a variety of ways. Just being a good fast break team is not enough anymore. Being good defensively is not enough either. You have to have Kyle Macy shooting FT's one night, and John Wall running the point another. You need Eloy Vargas coming in and working in the trenches one night, and Anthony Davis racking up triple doubles on others. You need unselfish guys like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Darius Miller saying they don't care of they start or not. And you need coaches who, although they would never mention it, prepare those same kids to do the very thing this piece suggests.

I look closely at this year's Wildcat squad and I see the pieces necessary to do this. This team and beat you in a variety of ways, and they are only going to get better as the season wears on. They have depth, youth, senior leadership, and basketball acumen running out of their ears. But all of that will not be enough. They have to play unselfish and smart, with both brute force and finesse', and they have to do it with a huge target on their backs. 

Saturday is the next obstacle to that perfect season. And wouldn't you know it, the next team standing in the way would be the new and improved Indiana Hoosiers.
Posted on: December 1, 2011 10:32 am

Just How Deep Is This Hole?

Boeheim Adds To The Chaos

A word of caution to all parents. Do not, under any circumstances allow your young children to participate in organized sports unless you supervise what they are doing. And by supervise, I mean closely supervise. What started as something unbelievable, has now become something surreal. 

Bad enough that the Penn State situation has hurt so many young men whose parents were given the assurances that their young sons were being taken care of by professional coaches and staff, but now it seems there may be more than just an isolated situation in Pennsylvania to be concrened about. Syracuse, and it's coaching staff are now in the spotlight, and some are making inquiries as to how much Jim Boeheim himself knows about the whol. He scoffs at remarks, shows little or no concerne thing. Boeheim's attitude is not helping either, as his brash, New York State Of Mind bravado has come to show. He scoffs at questions, he brushes aside concern for the victims, and basically makes a mockery of the whole situation by playing the tough guy and refusing to acknowledge just how serious the whole thing actually is.

Does anyone else think this whole thing is just becoming too bizarre for words? No one knows for sure just how many people or places are involved in this whole thing. If it were not so incredibly sickening to see these predators in high profile places in collegiate athletics, preying on these young men, it would be the stuff of movies. Short of the Catholic Church admissions sometime back, this seems to be the worst situation that the public has seen when it comes to widespread abuse of young children by those who are supposed to be in roles that protect them.

Which leads to the question that no one wants to ask, but is on the tip of everyone's tongue. Who is next? 
Posted on: November 28, 2011 1:24 pm

The End Is Here: 2011 Goes Out With A Bang!

Joker Phillips 2011 Goes In The Record Books

Well, If you are Joker Phillips, 2011 could have ended better, but you will take it and be thankful. Kentucky's improbable, if not miraculous win over Tennessee on the Saturday following Thanksgiving should have given him plenty to be thankful for. And Matt Roark should get a Turkey for Christmas from Joker, every year for the rest of his life from him for the amazing effort he put forward.

Joker showed his "riverboat gambler" reputation was well earned on Saturday when he put an untested QB under center due to injuries to his two ineffective starters. Matt Roark was one of the UK leading wide receivers when he was approached by Joker Phillips about going under center for the season and as luck would have it, collegiate career ending game for Roark. A senior who has been somewhat missing for most of his time at UK, Roark played QB in High School, but had never gotten the call to take a snap in college. His biggest claim to fame before Saturday was his part in the limited resurgence of Kentucky's offense under Maxwell Smith's efforts midway through the season after Morgan Newton was hurt and unable to compete with Smith for the starting job. Roark, who could not catch most of the balls thrown his way earlier in the year by Newton ( he was far from being alone in that respect, no one was catching much of what Newton was throwing), was all of a sudden the fans and Smith's best buddy because he was catching everything Smith was throwing.  And not only catching the ball, gaining yards after the catch as well. Roark was all but invisible when Newton was throwing the ball had become a "go to" guy who was vital to the Cats being able to move the ball and score. But no one saw what that would lead to last week when Joker asked Roark to take the helm and lead the Cats into battle against Tennessee, a team they had not defeated on the gridiron in 26 years. A ruse? A ploy? A distraction to keep UT's defense from being able to prepare for the Cats, only to be replaced at the last minute by either Smith or Newton? No, not when Joker Phillips is calling the shots. He put his entire season and possibly his coaching livlihood in the hands of a guy who had never thrown a pass at UK. Then he went and did something even more bizarre. He didn't let Roark throw the ball.

Oh Roark threw a few passes, he ended the game and his career at UK 4-6 for 15 yds. That's the entire game. Phillips and his coaches didn't install an offense (they only used about 6 plays the whole game), they instead allowed Roark to run the offense he was comfortable with from High School, the option. Roark spent the entire day throwing pitchouts to the guys when he absolutely had to, but otherwise taking the load on himself and running for 124yds on 24 carries. A 5.2 avg. for those of you at home keeping score, which ended up being the highest average of any UK rusher all season. Thoise kinds of numbers would normally constitute a decent day for a college rusher, but in the case of Roark have made him the stuff of legend. To put up those numbers with very little preparation, against a team that has absolutely owned Kentucky over the course of almost three decades is unfathomable. They make movies in Hollywood about that kind of stuff. And the miraculaous parts don't end there.

Roark had zero turnovers for the day, handling bungled snaps in shotgun formation, and a snafu close to the goal line that some claim should have been called the other way (I myself had my doubts as to what the officials would call), which only enhanced the performance that Roark posted, in spite of the nightmare scenario that he was placed in, which brings me to my point of all of this. 

The Cats got a signature win Saturday to end a painful and bizarre season. Not bizarre in the record, not bizarre in the struggles, because Kentucky has faced those constantly over the last few year, but always finding someone to make the play when needed to bring home the mediocrity that the Cats have become known for in a power laden SEC, where if you don't play football for blood, you don't play football. Kentucky in recent years had outshined the likes of Vanderbilt, Miss. State, Mississippi, and the other lower eschelon teams in the SEC and had placed themselves firmly right in the middle of the pack. However, since Joker's appointment to the Head Coaching position, things had taken a noticeable downturn. The Cats were not beating the teams they were supposed to beat, and a miracle win was nowhere in the sights of anyone before Saturday. Long gone were the days of beating LSU in a miracle, or Alabama, or some others which had come along over the last few years. Tennessee and Florida wins are the holy grail at UK, and whatever pricetag is attached to those must be paid. But this team was headed for 4-8 and the basement of the SEC once again, just four years after climbing to the heights of the LSU victory and an 8 win season. Nothing to become suicidal about, but concerning somewhat considering the Phillips himself has been the lead recruiter at UK for years, going back well beyond his taking the reigns last year.

So why was Roark under center and running for his life most of the day Saturday? It's simple really. He was thrown to the wolves, stepped up, manned up, and took his coach's failure on his shoulders and carried the load. Luckily for him, it turned out the way it did. Had Roark not pulled off another Blurgrass Miracle, I fell pretty confident that discussions this week would be going in a slightly different direction. Make no mistake about it, Joker and Co. were desperate and Roark was the sacrificial lamb. It's a good thing that Roark didn't feel like falling on his sword. He gave the fans hope, the experts something to scratch their heads about and ponder, and hopefully Joker a second chance to never put another kid in this hole again. Roark is a hero, Joker gets credited by some for being innovative enough to pull out the win and get his name in the books at Kentucky for being a coach who knocks down old taboos. I hope he knows just how thankful he should be this holiday season, and that he makes sure Roark knows it.
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