Thoughts After Bye

image from Louisville Courier-Journal

Greetings, readers. It has been too long. Hopefully we here at LexPats are going to get to writing more often on the blog again, especially with everyone’s favorite time of year coming up: Kentucky Basketball Season. Until then, however, here are some thoughts midway through UK’s extremely disappointing and Randall Cobb-less football season.

    • The Kentucky football team is not very good. It’s not just one player, it’s not just one coach; collectively, we are just painful to watch. Every week there seems to be a more limited number of clips you can pull from a UK game and say “Hey, that was a nice play.” This is a bit frustrating considering how long Joker has been around and how much he has invested in this program. You would think some positive results would have come of his tenure by now, especially during his second season as Coach #1.
    • Lack of positive results notwithstanding, Joker deserves one more year. I certainly thought that before the South Carolina drubbing, but it’s a little harder to admit after that poor, poor effort two weeks ago. But you’ve got to remember Rich Brooks. He didn’t have a winning record until his fourth year; the most games he won in a season before that is four. I understand Brooks’ challenge — to completely change the course of the ship – was more difficult, while Joker’s – to keep the ship, at the very least, riding the waves Brooks stirred up – is seemingly less difficult since he at least has some sort of legitimate foundation to build on, a foundation he helped solidify at that. But I still believe you have to give him one more year, no matter if we lose all our remaining games. We UK football fans have short memories. You would think we’ve been on top of the college football world for 50 years.
    • Morgan Newton has underwhelmed thus far at the quarterback position. He has not built off of the success he had in what little playing time he saw last year. He rarely seems to find the open receiver (and when he does the majority of his passes are inaccurate), he takes too long to hand the ball off on running plays, and he looks uncomfortable in the pocket. The one thing he has going for him is that he is fairly mobile and can occasionally pick up a first down by running it himself. Of course, Morgan Newton’s faults can partially be blamed on inadequate receiver play and a porous offensive line. But as QB, most of the blame has to fall on Newton. He has got to be the indisputable leader on the field; as QB he has to have the ability to “rally the troops” with his words, play, and attitude. He has yet to show he possesses that ability.
    • Am I the only one who wonders how much influence Joker really has in the locker room? Or how much control he has over the team? I just don’t see him behind the scenes giving rousing halftime speeches or laying down the law if players are goofing off. Is the team undisciplined on the field because it’s undisciplined off it? When I hear Joker give press conferences or talk to the media, he comes off as too soft spoken and even bumbling, almost like he has no idea what to say. Maybe he just hates talking to the media or maybe he’s just nervous. I would almost compare him to Marvin Lewis in this regard. Examples of coaches I can definitely see influencing the attitude and culture of their team for the better: Mike Tomlin, Steve Spurrier (hate to admit it), Les Miles, Eric Taylor (Friday Night Lights). Of course, loud isn’t always better (see: Herm Edwards) and all coaches have their own style, this is just something that’s been on my mind. Ultimately, I do think Joker is a decent head coach with a lot to prove.
    • I don’t think being a “true fan” of a team means you have to watch every second of every game, especially when your team is playing like crap. I’m not sure I’ll watch another full game the rest of the season unless the Cats start to show some improvement. These games are sometimes 3.5 hours long, and with the way we’ve been playing, watching them can feel like a waste of time. But I’m still a fan. Of course, if you actually go to the game you can drink to make it a little more bearable. Well, I guess you can do that at home or at a bar too (obviously). Better start early this Saturday. Game’s at noon.




Rick Reilly is still a tool, but…

I'm smiling because they put me next to Bill Simmons on ESPN's front page.

…credit must be given where credit is do. He must know how many people think he’s a terrible sportswriter (or has at least turned into one) and he’s trying to up his fanbase by getting on the good side of one of the biggest fanbases in all of sports. Come to think of it, actually, where was the pre-game version of this column when the Cinderella hype-machine of the media was jumping on the Big Red bandwagon? It’s easy to write something like this after the fact, buddy. But alas…

Kentucky schools Cornell


The bench after Krebs hit his 3 at the end of the game. They're not happy or anything!

Wildcats hitting stride win it counts (ESPN)

“That wasn’t even basketball,” said Cousins, who was 9-of-10 from the field for 19 points and eight rebounds. “He was doing a lot of cheap things. I caught an elbow to the jaw from him earlier in the game. He’s a dirty player. The whole world knows it, especially after tonight.”

It’s a crying shame Kansas didn’t want it sooner (CBS)

But it was more than made shots or rebounds or even hustle at halfcourt. It was grit. The Panthers chased Kansas around the floor like Kansas had taken their lunch money. Kansas was bigger, stronger and faster, as I’ve said, but Northern Iowa was pissed. It wanted that money back. Kansas was nonchalant, aloof. If this was a baseball game, through 37 minutes every Northern Iowa player would have had dirt on his chest and knees. Kansas’ uniforms would have been immaculate.

Kentucky dominates Wake Forest; new tourney favorite? (SI)

”It was flashbacks to ’96 – a team that was so good we actually got mad if the other team touched the ball,” said Judd, one of Kentucky’s most famous fans. ”That was a really spectacular win.”

Don’t crown the Kentucky Wildcats just yet (Fox)

They won’t have it that easy for the rest of the tournament. This is the same team that shot 3-for-16, 2-for-22, 1-for-13 and 4-for-16 from 3-point range in games played in the last 30 days.

Cats lay claim to the role of favorite (Lexington Herald-Leader)

During the pre-game introductions, McFarland let Cousins walk all the way to the center-jump circle to shake hands with him, then turned his back on the UK big man and walked away without offering his hand.

“An amateur move on his part,” Cousins said later.

Confident Kentucky Wildcats head into Sweet 16 (Louisville Courier-Journal)

If any team has played like a national champion over the first weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament, it has been the Wildcats, who blasted No.9-seed Wake Forest 90-60 in the second round Saturday in New Orleans.

Late UK-TN Recap

I have to admit that I thought we would come out swinging in the first half en route to a 20 point victory, but I’m just as pleased with how the game turned out.  It was a good, tight game, one in which I never doubted our victory, that Kentucky drove a nail in toward the end of, winning by a final score of 73-62.  Those kind of game are exciting to watch.

I didn’t see the Game Day coverage earlier in the day but it was apparently insane.  Rupp broke the Game Day record by having something like 23,000 fans crowded into the arena at midday, a full 9 hours before tip-off.  It was noticeable when coverage started at 8pm that those who showed up earlier were either still out drinking or already passed out, as Rupp looked nearly empty about 1 hour before tip-off.  Maybe alcohol-induced fatigue contributed to what seemed a lackluster crowd at times during the flow of the game.  Students I’m sure try their hardest, but even thousands of drunken twentysomethings can’t make up for (what seems to be a good majority) of yuppies and old geezers who always seem have the best seats surrounding the court.

Anyway, some observations and stats that stood out:

– Kentucky shot 18-30 (60%)  from the free throw line.  For a Calipari team (his most recent Memphis teams were abysmal from the line), UK has been pretty good.  But tonight, especially for Cousins, was an off night.

– Speaking of Cousins, he had his usual 12 rebounds, but only 5 points (2-6 from the floor).  With what we’ve come to expect from the big guy, he had a bit of an off night.  But I’ll still take Cousins over any other big man in the country any day of the week.  I see this game as a minor setback, if it can even be called that at all.

– I thought Patterson had a strong game, even though he only shot 3 for 9 from the floor, which is below his standards.  He was aggressive and hit a huge 3 at a crucial point in the game.  He ended up with 10 points and 7 rebounds.

– DeAndre Liggns is quickly becoming one of my favorite players to watch while he’s in the game (the other being Orton).  The guy is quick and is always doing something whether he has the ball in his hands or not, and he rarely looks out of control.  He had 7 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, and, like Patterson, hit a huge 3-pointer.  In many ways, he’s proving he’s a player with the kind of potential everyone thought (and, hopefully, still thinks) Darius Miller had.

– John Wall had 24 points (7-15 FG), 4 turnovers, and only 3 assists.  Obviously, these numbers aren’t terrible, but something still seems to be a little off with him.  Granted, I’ll take him over any point guard in the country (because he’s better than any point guard in the country), but he’s still not playing as well we’ve seen him play.  Of course, it’s not fair to him because he’s had the insurmountable savior-like standards of the media hoisted upon him.  I will say I love it when he gets excited after a big play, such as the alley-oop he received from Liggins tonight, which was sick.  I’m sure he knows he can play better than he has been too, but he still seems to having a blast.

– Bledsoe had another good game, scoring 16 points on 5-9 from the field.  He also had 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block.  He only had 1 turnover, but he still makes me nervous when he dribbles the ball.  He looks like he could either fall down or lose the ball almost every time, but somehow he miraculously gets a pass or shot off.  Maybe that’s just the way he plays.  No one says it has to look pretty.

– Daniel Orton went sleeveless tonight.  Wonder if it’s a new uniform thing.

– The new uniforms are underwhelming.  Maybe the subtle differences fail to impress me.  Maybe I like flashy too much.  I’d take denims or crazy claw shorts back in a heartbeat.  Also, when did basketball shorts get so incredibly and uncontrollably LONG?  Might as well play in capris.

– Digger Phelps whole thing with matching his tie with his hi-liter is ridiculous.  Okay, every analyst has to have their corny shtick, but he (Digger – what kind of name is that anyway?) has consciously embraced it to the point of self-parody.  Why do dance team captains all agree to be videotaped while they dance with him?  (Okay, those videos are pretty funny.  Creepy, but funny.)

– Erin Andrews is (obviously) beautiful.

– Wayne Chism didn’t seem to be playing hurt.  But that’s just me.  Could Bruce Pearl have been trying to pull a fast one?  No, not Bruce.

– As much as nobody wants to admit it, good things do come from those who come from/live in/play music in Knoxville:

The Everybodyfields play “Aeroplane” at the Bijou Theatre, Knoxville, TN.

Saints Win Super Bowl

You heard it here first.

You know everyone in The Big Easy is calling in to work tomorrow and that town is going to being throwing an epic party all week long. Not to mention all the Mardi Gras celebrations that’ll be happening this week leading up to Fat Tuesday on the 16th. You just gotta love this story.

By the way, what an entertaining Super Bowl.

Kentucky @ LSU Preview

One team from the Bayou state is going to have a monumental victory this weekend. That team is not the LSU Tigers. Coming into the game on what one could call a tremendously godawful 8-game losing streak (all SEC games), the Tigers will almost certainly make it 9 when the more-talented-in-every-respect Kentucky Wildcats come marching into Baton Rouge. The Cats should easily march away jazz funeral-style, leaving the Tigers wondering how to pry open the lid on their proverbial coffin.

LSU may be the first SEC team Kentucky has faced that hasn’t had one genuinely decent win all season long, though they do have wins against several teams they should have beaten, including elite-level Division One programs like Louisiana-Lafayette, Nicholls State, McNeese State, and Rice. Truthfully, if you’re beating the teams you should beat, you’re doing something right; LSU just can’t seem to get over the hump of beating someone no one expects them to.

Their best player is senior forward Tasmin Mitchell, who averages a double-double (18 pts, 10 rebs) per game. Two other players average double figure points: Junior guard Bo Spencer with 15, and sophomore forward Storm Warren with 12 points (also contributing 8 rebounds per game). If anything, the battle down low between Mitchell and Cousins could be interesting. It is, however, hard to see Cousins losing this battle given his sheer dominance as of late.

Not to count the chickens before they hatch, but in a game like this where victory is all but sure, it will be interesting to see how Kentucky plays. Will they come out flat because this is a hard game to get up for? If they get up big will they be able to drive the nail in, or will they allow LSU to keep close (in the 10-15 point range)? Here are something other things to look for:

– John Wall’s explosiveness hasn’t been on display as much in recent games like it was was earlier in the season. Against a team like LSU, I think he has a chance to break that open again. Teams have adapted well in learning how to guard him, but look for Wall to be a penetration machine against the Tigers. He’s due for a breakout game–I suppose as much as the future #1 draft pick even needs a breakout game. (Yes, I realize I said penetration machine.)

– I really don’t think anyone can stop Cousins. He’s playing like a man on a mission, a mission that involves leaving everyone he faces asking themselves the question, “Why does he make me feel like I am so gentle?” The most dangerous thing is, he’s having fun. It’s hard to stop a man having fun making other players feel helpless against him.

– I also hope Daniel Orton gets some significant minutes. It’s the perfect game for him to hone his offensive ability against a pretty good big man on an immensely beatable team. Defensively, I’m going to go out on a limb and predict 5 blocks for the big freshman.

– If Dodson can shoot even close to 80% from 3 again, which, with that stroke, I think he can, then Kentucky has an answer to its perimeter-shooting prayers.

– Deandre Liggins could also have a breakout game. I’ve been most impressed with his hustle and attitude; he’s going hard after loose balls and rebounds, and seems to have settled into his bench role well. He has the potential, with his quickness, to be another guy that can get quick shots in the lane (though not on the level of Wall) and has even displayed nice touch with the 3-ball. If he can score 5 field goals this game, or at least get into double-figures (he hasn’t had a double figure game all season), I think that’s a huge step for him and a big boost for his confidence, which helps when you’re playing on a team with 2 other talented guards.

– Darius Mi….nevermind.

All in all, the Cats come away with an Arkansas-esque 90-60 victory.  Go Cats!

Cats beat Rebs 85-75

Kentucky came away with a victory in what I thought was one of their best performances team-wise since the Arkansas game.  They are nothing if not consistent, as lately they’ve made somewhat of a habit of looking–at several points throughout the game–like they’re going to blow it wide open, only to let teams stay close and barely win by double-digits.  Certainly, I will take that, and it’s still commendable, obviously, to have only lost one game, I just hope that their inability to close the door on teams doesn’t come back to bite them.  But, all in all, really good game by the Cats tonight.

Four players scored in double figures:

-Patrick Patterson had 12 points along with 6 rebounds and 2 blocks.  It was good to see some of the “old” beastly Patrick down low.  There was one move he had down low that was the perfect mixture of raw athleticism and fundamental basketball, a clip that should be shown to any aspiring big man.

-Darnell Dodson, who got the start tonight, had 14 points, shooting a fantastic 4-5 from 3-point land.  If it’s not already become obvious, Dodson is UK’s best (and most dangerous) 3-point shooter.  He was on fire, and for a moment I thought we could witness another Tayshaun or Jodie-esque performance from deep, but obviously I was getting ahead of myself.  If Dodson is hitting 3s like even close to what he is now come tournament time, Kentucky becomes almost unstoppable, and all points made by commentators that Kentucky lacks any kind of outside game become points that are moot.

-John Wall had 17 points and 7 assists, pretty decent numbers (by his standards).  We still haven’t seen the return of the John Wall from earlier in the season, but he obviously had one of the best games of his last few outings.  At times, Wall still makes freshman mistakes (4 TOs), and he still seems a little frazzled when he drives to the basket and misses easy shots.  But maybe he just spoiled us early on.  Maybe I’m not giving him enough credit.  Maybe other players have just stepped up and he doesn’t have to do as much.

-Damarcus Cousins had yet another double-double, scoring 18 points and grabbing 13 boards.  Included among his points was maybe his best play of the night which EPSN completely missed, when he stole the inbounds pass and made a nice reverse layup.  One of the most interesting things Jimmy Dykes said all night (and there weren’t many–I take that back, he says a lot of interesting things) was that Wall could go first  in the draft and Cousins could go second, the first time #1 and #2 have come from the same college team.  Sure, it’s early, but fun to think about.

-Eric Bledsoe added 8 points and 7 assits, but also had 7 turnovers. Kentucky had 17 turnovers for the game.  TOs are obviously an important factor in games, but many of these didn’t make much difference; at one point, if I recall correctly, Kentucky had 11 TOs in the first half and still maintained about a 15-point lead.  Of course, technically, TOs always make it a difference in the game, so it’d still be nice to see these cut in half.  Back to Bledsoe: the reverse shot he made of the tipped alley-oop was superb.  And I recall one turnover he had where he tried to bounce pass down low to a player going backdoor; even though it was a turnover, I liked the idea.  If he can convert that, maybe lead the pass a little more, that’s a pretty play.

-Darius Miller, though not lighting up the stats sheet, did hit a huge 3-pointer to put a dagger of sorts in the momentum of one of the Rebels surges.  Also of note is that Miller didn’t start tonight’s game, something that most UK fans knew was probably coming sooner or later.  I still think Miller had all the potential in the world.  He could be averaging 5 points a game in his senior season and I (or, more precisely, all of us here at Lexpatriates) would still be saying: “Just wait, just wait.  Next game.”  There’s just something about the kid that makes you never want to give up on him, and I think it would be in UK fan’s best interest (no matter the current evidence to the contrary) not to do so.  I suppose I don’t really mean “give up,” but “forget.”

Good game. In honor of beating the Rebs, enjoy this heartwarming (!) story from one of the South’s greatest writers, Ole Miss alum William Faulkner: A Rose For Emily