Au Revoir, Mr. Patterson

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If there’s one thing that bothers me about UK’s recent return to the national spotlight, it’s that there’s an entire nation of Big Blue Bandwagoners out there that will never have the kind of appreciation for Patrick Patterson that he deserves.  All those front-runners walking the streets of Los Angeles and New York (and Louisville), sporting John Wall #11 and DeMarcus Cousins #15 jerseys and Calipari’s Cats t-shirts will never know that, if it weren’t for Patterson, the Wall-Cousins-Calipari season may have never happened.  It’s ironic, really: the best recruiting class in school history overshadowed, in his final season in Lexington, maybe the most important recruit in school history.

……….

Patterson’s commitment was a Godsend in its own right.  Looking back, it’s miraculous that we even had a chance:

1) It came down to us and Florida – a school that was coming off back-to-back National Titles and a coach that’d just rejected an offer from Kentucky to stay in Gainesville.

2) Ditto for Jai Lucas.  Patterson and Lucas were perceived as a package deal, and Lucas signed his LOI with Florida just a week prior.

3) The recruitment of Patterson (and Lucas) was largely the job of Tubby Smith.  Patterson’s parents loved Tubby.  Thanks to Huntington’s close proximity to Lexington, Tubby got an early jump on Patterson and even attended a handful of Patterson’s home games during his junior and senior years of high school.  Of course, Tubby Smith left Kentucky shortly after the end of the ’07 season and shortly before Patterson was set to make his decision.

4) Kentucky hired Billy Gillispie, a fiery Gary Sinise look-a-like from Texas who’d had zero contact with Patterson before his hire.

5) Depending on whether you want to base your decision on his time at Kentucky or at A&M/UTEP, Gillispie may not have been the recruiter we thought we were hiring.  Despite having a rep as a strategic, tenacious recruiter while in Texas, Gillispie did just about everything he could to set fire to that claim and take an uzi to its ashes while in Lexington.

Because of the rough way Gillispie went out at UK, it’s hard to remember how off-the-fucking-charts hot he was when he started.  If there’s anything worth salvaging from the Billy Gillispie era, it’s his first two months on the job and the way he secured Patterson’s commitment.

Against all odds, Clyde came in, picked up where Tubby Smith left off, and sold Patterson on being the centerpiece of a new era of Kentucky Basketball.  During his first visit with the Pattersons, Gillispie (while presumably hiding the fact that he was a Kiefer Sutherland-level alcoholic) famously showed the family a schedule that detailed how Patrick would be spending every minute of every day for the next four years if he came to Lexington.  This caliber of organizational skill made a distinct impression on the Patterson family, and their son committed to Gillispie and the ‘Cats a few weeks later.

Unfortunately, that’s where the good times ended for BCG at Kentucky.

And if Kentucky fans think Clyde’s two seasons at Kentucky were a disaster with Patterson, can you even imagine how bad they would’ve been without him?  Patterson was the only think keeping Clyde and Kentucky from achieving Matt Doherty At North Carolina-levels of disaster, and for that he should never have to pay for a drink in the Commonwealth again.

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Patterson was a fan favorite from the get-go.  On top of being the first McDonald’s All-American we’d signed in three years, he was a blue-collar power forward and legitimetely good kid.  An excellent rebounder with a way-underrated scoring prowess (probably because he played his senior season with O.J. Mayo), Patterson immediately became our go-to guy on offense and most reliable rebounder, as well as the de facto team leader and face of the program.  He averaged 16.4 points and 7.7 rebounds on a team that went 18-13, and probably would’ve had even better numbers were it not for a stress fracture that handicapped him for much of the season and kept him out of the lineup for the final six games.  As if it were’t impressive enough that Patterson did all that as a freshman, he did it with 1) Jodie Meeks (the team’s best perimeter scoring threat) going down early in the year, 2) Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley (the team’s two main contributing seniors) being in Gillispie’s doghouse for the first half of the season, and 3) Derrick Jasper (the team’s expected starter at point guard) coming off knee surgery and never being anywhere near full-strength.  Translation: No Patterson, no nothing.  Without him, that team doesn’t get near .500.

A healthy Jodie Meeks (23.7/game) gave Patterson the perimeter threat he needed in his sophomore season, and he responded by averaging 17.9 points (on an insane 60.3% from the field), 9.3 rebounds, and just over two blocks per contest.  You’d think a one-two punch like Meeks and Patterson would’ve been enough for Kentucky to have a drastic improvement in the Win-Loss column, but you’d be comically wrong.  Kentucky lost 9 of its final 13 regular-season games to finish 22-14 and missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time 1991.

As bad as it was, it would’ve been worse without Patterson.  Despite Meeks’ coming-out season, Patterson was the heart and soul of that team.  He had 14 double-doubles on the season, played 35+ minutes in 18 of Kentucky’s 34 games, scored 25+ seven times, grabbed 12+ rebounds nine times, and did it all while playing out of position.  Because of Kentucky’s lack of size, Patterson was forced to start at center and defend the oppositon’s biggest players.  Another remarkable stat: he only fouled out of one game that season.  Again: without Patterson, that’s not even a .500 team.

From there, things got crazy.  Patterson and Meeks declared for the draft.  Gillispie was fired.  Calipari was hired.  Calipari signed one of the best recruiting classes in history.  Meeks decided to stay in the draft.  Patterson decided to come back.  Both said (almost verbatim) that there would’ve been zero chance of them returning had Gillispie been retained.  Regardless, the tyrannical failure was gone, the top recruiter in the country was in, and in a matter of weeks Kentucky went from an NIT team losing its only two respectable players to the preseason #1.

And there’s a decent chance none of it happens without Patterson.

Hear me out: he was the only thing keeping Kentucky respectable for the two years Gillispie was in Lexington.  Without him, Kentucky’s record dips below .500, the mass exodus that nearly happened at the end of the ’08 season either happens then or happens sooner, and Kentucky suddenly has one of the least-talented rosters in the country. Do you remember the kind of guys Gillispie was recruiting?  Konner Tucker, Dakotah Euton, Michael Avery, Vinny Zollo…can you imagine who he would’ve gone after had half the team bolted the way they planned after the ’08 (or ’07) season?  I’d rather not think about it.

Does Calipari take the job under those circumstances?  Maybe.  But keep in mind, Memphis threw a shit ton of money at him to stay put (and he wasn’t doing too shabby there), and there was another elite-level job opening he was considering (and, at one point, assumed to be taking) in Arizona before the Kentucky job opened up.  Maybe Calipari would’ve liked the challenge of rebuilding a completely deconstructed Roman Empire, or maybe he would’ve preferred to keep his Wall-Cousins-Xavier Henry-Nolan Dennis class intact at Memphis.  Or take it with him to Arizona.

Point being: I’d hate to find out.  Patterson kept Kentucky relevant (and even that might be a strong word) while Gillispie was at the helm.  If he never signs, Kentucky Basketball becomes the hoops equivalent of pre-Nick Saban Alabama Football.

……….

So while history will most likely remember John Calipari, John Wall, and DeMarcus Cousins as the architects of the new-and-improved Kentucky Basketball Program, those who really followed the ‘Cats should remember Patterson.  He averaged career lows in points and rebounds in his junior season, but he got a chance to show NBA scouts his outside shot and be a part of a team that went 35-3 and play in a Regional Final.  Despite that, Patterson’s legacy should be in his first two seasons in Lexington.  Maybe even more so than Jamal Mashburn, Patterson was the big fish in a small pond that was the catalyst for Kentucky’s long-term success.

One more time, just for good measure: Patrick Patterson, The Most-Important Kentucky Recruit Ever.

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Kentucky Basketball: We’re Back

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Alright, I’ve given it some time.  I’ve cooled off.  I’ve reflected.  I haven’t watched the game a second time, but it’s not like I need to.  There’s not a whole lot in the form of analysis that can be said about last night’s game against West Virginia that hasn’t already been said.  Basically, Kentucky picked a hell of a time to have their worst game of the season.  Their shooting was horrendous, their inability to get the ball inside to Cousins with any consistency was frustrating, and their defensive breakdowns, especially the ones on Mazzulla, were dumbfounding.  It was one of those Murphy’s Laws games; anything that could go wrong did go wrong.

But if we’re being completely honest with ourselves, it’s not like this kind of game was completely unforseeable.  Lots of people, including myself, were terrified when they saw that West Virginia was the two-seed in our bracket.  The reason: we can’t survive a stinker against those guys.  And once again, if we’re being completely honest, we’ve had plenty of stinkers this year.  Luckily for us, they mostly came against teams like Miami (OH), a Louisville team that’s down this season, Georgia, and Alabama.  Had we been playing in a conference where the gap in talent between the top schools and the rest isn’t as great, like the Big 12 or the Big East, I think there’s be some serious question marks in regard to whether or not we’d have put together a win-loss record that comes close to the one we did.  It really comes down to this: This team, as talented as they were, often played below their potential.  With the exception of Arkansas, the first game against Florida, the SEC-tourney game against Tennessee, ETSU, and Wake Forest, I can’t think of any games where we were able to keep it together for a full (or even for the majority of) 40 minutes.  This team had lots of bad tendencies: coming out of the gates flat; building a 15-point lead and taking their foot off the accelerator; settling for too many outside shots; too many turnovers; inconsistent production for the 3-spot; the belief that they could coast for 30 minutes then turn it on for the final ten and be alright; giving up too many open 3’s….all of these were tendencies this team fought all season long.  There were times – most notably after the Wake game – when it looked like we’d turned the corner on a lot of those problems.  But in the end, almost all of them, at one point or another, reared their ugly head in the West Virginia game.  We all knew going into this one that our C-game wouldn’t be enough, and it wasn’t.  Not even close.

Now, the attention shifts toward next season.  Who will stay and who will go?  From what I’ve read, Wall, Cousins, and Patterson are gone.  Good for them; they need to go.  The question marks are Bledsoe and Daniel Orton.  Bledsoe’s projected (at the moment) as a lottery pick, but I don’t expect it to stay that way.  Orton, I believe, is projected as a late first-rounder on most draft boards.

I will say this, if Bledsoe’s stock stays where it is (which, I’ve already said, I don’t think it will), it will be really tough for him not to go.  Even if he comes back and kills it next year, it’s hard to imagine him rising higher than the late lottery.  However, I expect his stock to take a bit of a dip after these last two tournament games.  If you remember, all this lottery talk involving Bledsoe’s happened exactly twice this year: after his 25-pointer against Florida in Gainesville, and after his eight-trey, 29-point performance against ETSU in the opening round of the tournament.  This gives me the sense that teams are really trying to talk themselves into this kid, because for anyone who has watched him play much this season, he doesn’t scream lottery pick.

Ditto for Daniel Orton.  He’s had flashes where he looks like a legit prospect, but he’s had plenty more that make him look like a raw talent that is, at this point, a bit timid and in serious need of another year or two of college ball.

(I’ll talk more about these two and the rest of Kentucky’s pro prospects in the coming weeks.)

But above all else, this game, as well as this season as a whole, should make us appreciate the transition from last season to this one.  It was almost exactly one year ago today that Billy Gillispie was fired and the program, along with being a national punchline, was in total disarray.  We were coming off our worst season in twenty years, our perceived savior had proven to be a fraud, our old coach was leading Minnesota to the NCAA Tournament, our other old coach was leading Louisville to the overall number one seed, and to top it off, the players were rumored to planning a mass exodus.

Two months later, we’d hired Calipari, signed the best recruiting class in history, and re-energized a fanbase that was in desparate need of some good news.

Say what you want about Calipari being a sleaze, but the guy has absolutely killed it since coming to UK.  While we now know that we won’t be hanging our 8th National Championship banner in Rupp this season, we can rest assured that we’ve reclaimed our spot atop the national landscape.  Calipari, through myriad ways that make even this 4,000-worder seem dated, has made Lexington the capital of college basketball again.  And don’t think the rest of the country hasn’t taken notice.  In one year, Calipari’s turned an NIT team into the most-talented in the country.  LeBron James, Drake, Magic Johnson, and Mike Tomlin are wearing Kentucky blue in Rupp Arena.  Kentucky’s leading SportsCenter every night.  John Wall, Patrick Patterson, and DeMarcus Cousins each graced the cover of Sports Illustrated at some point this season.  And it’s looking more and more like  Brandon Knight, the best high school player in the country, will be playing in Lexington next season.

Make no mistake about it, regardless of what happened against West Virginia last night, The Roman Empire is back.  And that, my friends, is no small consolation prize.

Cats Look Sloppy, Still Beat Cornell by 17

I really hope I don’t wake up tomorrow morning to a bunch of articles telling me how Little Cornell fought hard and kept it close until the final minutes in their game with Mighty Kentucky, because if ever there were a night for Cornell to pull the upset, this was it.  With the exception of the final ten minutes of the first half, Kentucky looked like the team that’s had its fanbase scratching their heads all season.  They came out flat, came back strong, then got complacent and did that thing where they settle for outside jumpers, despite the fact that Cornell didn’t have a single defensive matchup in their favor.  Cousins carved up Cornell’s interior all night, yet Kentucky never made any adjustment to make him the focal point of the offense.  But at this point in the season, a win is a win, and as long as you’re still playing, you really don’t have any room to complain.

– I wrote last night that even if Kentucky played their C-game, Cornell would have to shoot the lights out to have a chance. Well, that theory was almost put to the test.  I’d say Kentucky played a C-game tonight, but Cornell shot far from lights out, mostly because of the Wildcats length along the perimeter.  Fundamental defense is one thing, but athleticism and length is another.  The Ivy League has the former of those two but lacks the latter, and as BTI at KSR took the liberty of breaking down, in their three (and now four) toughest games this season (as measured by RPI), Cornell’s 3-point shooting has dropped off dramatically.  Kansas, Syracuse, Seton Hall, and now Kentucky throw a different type of defender at you around the perimeter (and at every position, for that matter) — the kind with length and athleticism that are tough to separate from.  And I don’t care how good the shooters you put out there are, if you can’t get them separation and open looks, they’re percentages are going to drop.  With the exception of their first two treys of the game, Cornell got very few uncontested looks tonight, and they shot 24 percent (5-for-21) from 3 as a result.

–  But as good as Kentucky’s defense was on Cornell’s shooters, our offense was just as bad.  With the exception of that monster 30-6 run to close the first half, Kentucky looked lethargic all night, settling for bad shots and showing no signs of the killer instinct we saw last game against Wake Forest and in the SEC Tourney against Tennessee.  If there’s something that’s going to keep this team from going all the way, that’s it; you can’t give an effort on par with tonight’s against a West Virginia or Duke and expect to have the same result.  Of the two, WV scares me the most, primarly because of their length and DeShawn Butler.  It’s hard to imagine Mazzulla staying in front of Wall and Bledsoe, but it’s not as tough to imagine their frontcourt length giving Cousins and Patterson some trouble.  Cousins dominates at times, but amongst those that he doesn’t are when he goes against long, athletic bigs.  He’s not a great athlete, which, along with his temper tantrums, is why some NBA teams aren’t as crazy about him as others.  The Mountaineers have those kind of guys, which is why it will be so important for us to hit shots against them.

– Speaking of hitting shots, that’s exactly what Kentucky didn’t do tonight.  The Wildcats went 2-of-16 from deep, with both treys coming in that ’96-Kentucky-esque run to close the first half.  I know I’m not the first person to say this, but if Kentucky is hitting shots from the perimeter, they morph from a good team capable of beating anybody, to a juggernaut-level squad that no one in the country can score with.  This Wildcat team, when they’re hot, has as much offensive firepower as any team in recent memory.  When they’re not, teams sag their defense, and Kentucky’s speed and size suddenly become neutralized.  To beat WV on Saturday, Kentucky desperately needs someone to hit shots from the outside.

– Question: The guy who’s always sitting directly behind Ashley Judd and always wearing a hoodie, is that Drake?  I’m pretty sure it is, and I think it’s funny that no TV announcer ever mentions him, yet never fails to mention Ashley Judd, despite the fact that he’s 1000x more famous than her right now.

– I hate to take these points straight from the commentators’ mouths, but Jay Bilas was dead-on when he mentioned, on multiple occasions, the stellar defensive job Eric Bledsoe’s done in the tournament.  He locked down Ish Smith the other night in the Wake game and did another great job on Cornell’s perimeter tonight.  I still don’t think he’s ready to go pro, but he’s improved a ton since the start of the season.  And by the way, that mid-range jumper he shot tonight, the one where he picked up his dribble and everyone left him (because he never shoots mid-range jumpers) so he had no choice but to put it up, I’m pretty sure that’s the only mid-ranger I’ve seen him shoot all season.  Just for the record, I am of the belief that a pull-up jumper would do wonders for Bledsoe’s game.  As of now, he either shoots 3’s or goes to the rim, no matter how open a pull-up 15-footer might be.  If he could knock down that shot consistently, it’d add another 4 to 6 points to his nightly average and cut his turnovers in half (the bulk of which occur when he over-penetrates).  I repeat, this would do wonders for his game.

– Darius Miller finished the game with nine points and looked aggressive all night.  It wasn’t a career-high night like the one he had against Wake, but it was stellar.  Most important for Miller is that he has a scorer’s mentality.  With so much attention being thrown Wall, Bledsoe, Cousins, and Patterson’s way, he’s the guy being given the most freedom by the defense.  Kentucky needs him to stay aggressive the rest of the way.

That’s it for now.  I hope to have more between now and Saturday, when Kentucky will face its toughest opponent all season in the West Virginia Mountaineers.

……….

Unbelievable

Generally speaking, there are two types of champions.  The first is the sexier of the two, the juggernaut variety.  These are the champions that either a) make blowouts fun to watch (see ’96 Kentucky or ’08 UNC) or b) make the sport completely unwatchable (see the latest version of Geno Auriemma’s UConn Huskies).  There have been times this season when Kentuck’s had the look of this type of champion, but none more so than during their beatdown of UT Saturday afternoon. Kentucky is one of those teams that’s always had the talent, but they’ve also had the lapses, those periods of games where either Wall, Cousins, or just the entire squad look disinterested or immature (or both).  But against the Vols in Nashville on Saturday, Kentucky looked like a team that managed to get their foot on the jugular of their opponent and decided they liked the way it made them feel.  They didn’t just beat Tennessee, they ripped their heart out, stomped on it, then saw that the Vols were still breathing, so they decided to suffocate them with their fibrous pericardium, just for good measure.

Then, today, Kentucky showed how they can sometimes look like that other kind of champion.  These are the kind of champs that, even though they, you know, win the championship, often times still aren’t thought of as the best.  You’ve seen teams like this before – Florida in ’06 or even Kentucky in ’97, for instance – they’re the kind that rarely look great doing it, but always seem to find a way to win.  Even when they’re not playing their best, and even though they’re getting everyone’s best shot, night-in and night-out, they find a way to get it done.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not totally sold on this team.  Sometimes I think they’re the second kind of champion I just talked about, but most times I just think they’re a an extremely talented, extremely young team that has the kind of lulls that you’d expect from a unit run by 19-year-olds.  But today’s game wasn’t the kind that’s usually won by immature 19-year-olds.  Today’s victory against Mississippy State was a hard-fought, gritty, back-and-forth classic that has absolutely made me reevaluate the way I see this team.  In the SEC Championship, against a tough Mississippi State squad, down five with two minutes left to go, and then three with nine seconds…Kentucky found a way to get it done.  Un-fucking-believable.

– Before I get to the travesty that is our NCAA bracket seeding, I’d like to say a few things regarding how totally fucking remarkable the ending to today’s game (or at least the regulation) really was.  I mean, when do you ever see the old make-the-first-but-miss-the-second-free-throw trick actually work?  First off, kudos to Eric Bledsoe for a good miss.  More times than not, you see a player use the throw-it-as-hard-as-I-can-off-the-rim strategy that inevitably results in the ball coming right back at them, just in time for the man boxing them out to hold up his hands and grab the game-sealing rebound.  Second off, what a fucking play by DeMarcus Cousins.  He really is a gifted offensive rebounder.  Everything about it, from the anticipation of how short Wall’s short would come up, to getting the position to snag it, to then having the presence of mind to go up with it like that was unreal.  By my count, Cousins catches the ball, goes back up with it, and gets it out of his hands in about .8 of a second.  Unbelievable.

– And can someone please explain to me how the the second #1 seed (us and Kansas were really like 1 and 1A) ends up with West Virginia as the #2 in their bracket?  Are you KIDDING ME?  West Virginia should’ve been a #1.  Nothing short of those two playing and the Blue Devils coming out victorious will convince me that Duke’s better than them.  And as if WV wasn’t enough, we might end up playing Texas – a team that was #1 in the country at one point this season – in our second game.  Both of those teams should’ve been placed in the fourth #1 seed’s bracket, a bracket which should’ve been belonged to Duke.  And of course, as if the universe doesn’t already have more than enough reason to hate those pussies from Durham, Duke has the easiest road to the Elite Eight of anyone.  Villanova will be a tough game for them (you could actually make the case that ‘Nova has the easiest road to the Final Four of any team, as I think they’ll absolutely crush Duke and should make it to that game without much trouble), but after that, Louisville might be the team I’d least like to play in that entire bracket, which is saying something.  My question – How does the NCAA committee, which is surely aware of the widespread assumption that there’s a Duke bias within the NCAA – allow something like this to happen?  Unbelievable.

– Other than Kentucky, I’m not sure there’s a team that got royally fucked harder than Kansas.  I’m guessing they’d love an explanation as to how they were proclaimed the overall #1 and still have to share their bracket with Ohio State, Tennessee (one of the two teams to beat them this season), Oklahoma State (the other team that beat them this season), Georgetown, Maryland, and Michigan State.  Seriously, how does the overall #1 get stuck in a bracket with the only two teams to beat them all season, the Big East Tournament runner-up, the Big Ten Tournament Champion, and the team that was ranked #2 in the country (Kansas was #1) in most polls to start the season?

Overly Long, Delayed Reactions to Lots of Stuff

Since the last time I’ve been on here, a few semi-important things have happened in world of Kentucky Basketball:

– Kentucky defeated Florida on Sunday, 74-66.

– John Wall was named SEC Player of the Year.

– Patrick Patterson, DeMarcus Cousins, and Wall were all named first team All-SEC (Patterson was also named to its All-Defensive team).

– DeMarcus Cousins was named SEC Freshman of the Year.

– Wall, Cousins, and Eric Bledsoe were named to the SEC All-Freshman team.

– Yahoo Sports dubbed John Wall its National Player of the Year.

– DeMarcus Cousins and Wall were both named to Yahoo’s first team All-American squad.

– John Calipari’s attached his name to a dying American muscle car.

– And oh yeah, Perry Stevenson, Ramon Harris, and Mark Krebbs played their final home game in a Kentucky uniform.

Let’s start with the Florida contest.  I think of all the games I’ve seen Kentucky play this season, their finale against Florida may have done the best job of epitomizing their season thus far: at times on Sunday, Kentucky looked like the indestructible juggernaut we’ve seen flashes of all season; at others, they looked young, out-of-sync, and extremely beatable.  This is a problem Kentucky’s faced from the start, and even now, with the regular season over and post-season play ready to begin, continues to be the issue for Calipari’s squad: they play exactly like what they are – talented, dynamic, and capable of putting up points in bunches…but young.  It’s almost become an unspoken assumption at this point, but for every big run this team has, it has an almost-equal number of droughts that allow their opponents to stay with them.  Florida had no business making that an eight-point game, but they did, largely because of scoring and defensive lapses that are characteristic of a young team that occasionally looks disinterested.  The question now is, how will these intensity lapses affect Kentucky’s title chances?  In my opinion, it all very much depends on how the seeding and NCAA brackets play out.  There are a few teams that legitimately concern me, with Kansas being at the top of the list.  After them, Villanova, and to a lesser degree, Syracuse and West Virginia.  But I really think we’re the one team in the tournament, more so than any other – seeing how we’re the most talented – that controls its own destiny.  If Kentucky’s offense is clicking and they’re not giving teams layups on defense, no one in the country can keep up.  Problem is, of course, Kentucky’s play varies so much – both game-to-game and minute-to-minute of any given game – that this point is almost moot.  It doesn’t matter that you have the three of the best five players in America if the offense is out of sync and the defense is a crap shoot.

So, with all that said, I think the intensity and focus levels of this team as they head into the SEC Tournament are two things worth watching.  If they come out at the start of SEC Tournament play and look the way they did for the first twenty minutes of the Florida game, that’ll be a good sign.  If they look like the team that was out there for the last twenty minutes, the future may not be as bright.

As for all the post-season accolades handed to Wildcats over the past few days, I think the first thing that should be mentioned is the tremendous number of Thank Yous that need to go in the ear of John Calipari.  Calipari’s hire was based largely on his rep as a recruiter, but not enough credit goes to him for the way he develops that talent once he gets his hands on it (You’ll notice that Calipari did not win SEC Coach of the Year.  It went to Kevin Stallings, which is just an absolute joke).

As Tubby Smith showed us after he signed that Rondo-Morris-Crawford-Bradley class in ’04, it’s not as easy to rein in tons of talent as guys like Calipari make it seem.  Not that I’d know, but I’m guessing there’s a lot of give-and-take minutiae that goes into handling the collective egos of the best recruiting class ever, and Cal’s done a masterful job.  Wall’s exceeded the hype, which just about everyone thought would be impossible.  Cousins has dominated the interior in a way that nobody, not even the recruiting gurus and Calipari expected.  Bledsoe’s been a little inconsistent at points, but considering his numbers and the fact that at one point in the season he was being talked about as a lottery pick, for a guy that wasn’t even a shoo-in to start, I think he’s done alright.  Then there’s Patrick Patterson.

Much was made of what Patterson’s role would be on this year’s team.  How he would fit into Calipari’s offense and coexist with DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall were both fair and frequent questions at the start of the season, and he’s given the best possible answer to both.  Patterson transformed his game in a way that would’ve seemed impossible to anyone who’d just watched his first two seasons at Kentucky.  He entered the season as a man who’d only attempted four 3-pointers in his entire career at Kentucky, and will leave it as a guy who’s made at least 22.  Lots of people, myself incuded, complained about the way Patterson was used sometimes this season, but the bottom line is it worked.  Moving Patterson to the perimeter opened the paint up for Cousins, who, with all respect to Patterson, did more with it than he ever could.  And it wasn’t like Patterson’s placement further from the basket resembled the appearance of a fish out of water.  Quite the opposite, actually.  Patterson looked comfortable shooting the three, and by season’s end was/is probably Kentucky’s second or third-most reliable threat from deep.  I’d rather see him taking one than Wall or Bledsoe.  And Cal deserves some credit for this as well.  He structured the offense in such a way that it played to Patterson’s permiter strenghts, allowing him lots of catch-and-shoot opportunities without forcing him to handle the ball more than he was equipped to.

Put it like this, Tubby couldn’t handle anything more than role players, and Billy Gillispie couldn’t even handle them.  Calipari found a way to get three lottery picks to buy into a system that forced them to share the ball and, in Patterson’s case – who, we should be reminded, was the best player on Kentucky’s team each of the last two seasons – completely change his game.  Say all you want about the way he recruits, but what he did with this year’s Kentucky team ought to earn him several Coach of the Year awards.  And it’s a shame he won’t.

The Kentucky fans said goodbye to Perry Stevenson, Ramon Harris, and Mark Krebbs on Sunday.  Two of them (Stevenson and Harris) being the final two Tubby Smith recruits, and Krebbs being a transfer from the start of the Billy Gillispie regime.  Obviously, people get emotional when any Kentucky player graduates.  Fans get attached to their players at any school, and the rabid nature of Kentucky Basketball only amplifies that in Lexington.  Stevenson and Harris both had moments in their careers that they should be proud of, and Krebbs should be commended for the lengths he went to to live out his dreams of playing at UK.  But, and I know this is going to sound awful, but am I the only person who saw this as the second stage (the first being Cal giving Galloway and Pilgrim the boot in the off-season), of the ushering-out of the Tubby-Gillispie-era Wildcats, AKA The Dark Ages?  Nothing against any of those guys, but could you imagine Calipari (or any bigtime coach, for that matter) giving them a second look as recruits on his team?  Of course not.  Again, I want to make it clear that I like all three of those guys and say I appreciate their time in Lexington, but we were never going to win any National Titles building around players like Perry Stevenson and Ramon Harris.  I don’t think it’s wrong to say that one day in the not too distant future, we’ll look back on some of these recruiting classes under Tubby and Billy G and just shake our heads and ask, What were they thinking? And for anyone who thinks that sounds crass, sorry.  It’s true.

UK Beats Georgia, 80-68

Since this game was shown on the SEC Network – a station that apparently lacks existence on the west coast – I was unable to catch more than the first few minutes of tonight’s game.  The only reason I was able to catch the beginning was because of an online stream, but it didn’t take long for it to do away with itself too, and I was left without a means to watch UK throttle Georgia.  From the highlights I saw and the box score I read, here’s what I’ve gathered.

John Wall was huge. Wall’s final line read like this: 24 points, 6 assists, 3 steals, and a block.  He shot 8-of-10 from the field, 5-of-5 from the foul line, and 3-of-5 from 3-point range.  When Wall has games like this, it’s easy to understand why he’s as heralded as he is.  I saw the first 3 he knocked down, and as long as he’s taking shots like that from deep, and not fallaway, off the dribble stuff, I think he has a right to take as many as he wants.  Problem is, he sometimes falls in love with the deep jumper (or set shot, in his case), and it gets him away from what he does best.  I feel like Jerry Tipton when I write stuff like that, but it’s only because Wall has the potential to do virtually whatever he wants out there, and sometimes he settles for the stuff he doesn’t do that well, AKA shooting jumpers.  But on night’s like tonight, when his outside shot’s falling, and he’s making plays in transition, it’s hard to find faults in his game.  I didn’t even realize this until tonight, but over his last seven games, Wall’s averaging almost 19 points/game.  Impressive stuff from the future number one pick.

UPDATE: Just saw the John Wall dunk from tonight (video below), and Jesus F. Christ, there’s really no way to do justice to how amazing a play that really is.  As I’ve mentioned before, Wall is the most ambidextrous dunker I’ve ever seen; he makes plays like this one look easy.  He goes off his right leg (which is his weaker jumping leg), finishes with his left hand (which is his off hand), and does it over one of the best athletes in the SEC.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’ve never (never!) seen a guy be able to go off either leg and finish with either hand the way Wall does.  Of all his freakish athletic gifts, this one ranks amongst the most impressive (and least mentioned).

Kentucky shot the ball much better tonight. Wall and Dodson each knocked down three 3’s, and Patterson and Bledsoe each chipped in with a trey, as well.  Kentucky’s just one of those teams that’s feast or famine from the 3-point line.  On the nights when they’re off, it’s not that they’re bad 3-point shooters, but they do sometimes get lackadaisical on offense, and that seems to lead to too many outside shots.  I didn’t see what happened tonight, but from the highlights I saw of Wall and Dodson, it looked like they were getting good looks.

UK did a much better job on Trey Thompkins. Last time around, Thompkins killed Kentucky.  Tonight, he was held in check.  He finished with 12 points and five rebounds, which I take as an encouraging sign.  Nothing frustrates me more than watching a player destroy us who’s already destroyed us once before, and so far under Calipari, we’ve done a good job of making other guys beat us.  That was something that happened under Tubby and Billy G that drove me crazy, and seems to be something Calipari does a solid job of.

Jon Hood saw the floor. For exactly one minute.  Looks like the implementation of Hood into the rotation will have to wait until later.

UK-Vandy Recap

In a way, it’s comforting to know that we can play as poorly as we did today and still beat a quality team like Vanderbilt on the road.  Kentucky had its worst shooting day of the season from the field (36 percent), made just 17-of-30 free throws (56.7 percent), and were out-rebounded 38-27 by a team they out-rebounded 39-21 a few weeks back, but still found a way to make the plays down the stretch to allow them to pull out a close victory.  On the one hand, it’s discouraging to see a team with the talent level of Kentucky get man-handled on the glass and turn it over fifteen times.  On the other, it’s good to know that we have the ability to make plays when we need them.  Nights like this are inevitable; you’re not going to play your best every time you step on the court – especially not a team this young.  But all things considered – Vandy coming in fired up because of the blowout from three weeks ago, the funky stadium, the rowdy atmosphere – Kentucky could’ve played much worse.  Notes:

– As I mentioned in my previous post, John Wall didn’t play his best game.  He finished with 13 points on 3-of-11 shooting from the field, was 1-of-6 from behind the arc, 6-of-10 from the free throw line, and had just one assist for the game.  However, he made the big plays when it mattered.  His bucket with :40 left put Kentucky up two, then his free throws with :22 remaining put Kentucky up four.  Then, his block and steal on Jermain Beal with :04 left on the clock all but sealed it for the Wildcats.  Wall’s performance was just a microcosm of Kentucky as whole today; overall, he had a subpar game, but he made the plays when he had to.  He deserves a lot of credit for that.

–  One player who did not make plays down the stretch – or at any point in the game, for that matter – was Eric Bledsoe.  Bledsoe finished with just eight points on 2-of-8 shooting from the field, and missed his final four free throws down the stretch, including two that could’ve essentially ended the game.  I like Bledsoe, but he has a tendency to play slightly out of control at times that makes me – and apparently Brad Nessler – a little confused.  He’s definitely tough, almost to the point that it works against him.  On nights like tonight, when you’re not hitting anything, there’s nothing wrong with deferring to your teammates.  Instead, Bledsoe continued to force up bad shots, overpenetrate, and just be an offensive liability in general.  He’s just a freshman, so nights like this are going to happen from time to time.  Hopefully this one serves as a learning experience.

– After going nearly two months without one, Patrick Patterson got his second straight double-double tonight.  He finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds, and hit some huge buckets down the stretch for Kentucky that either gave them the lead or kept them in contention.  I’m praying that these past couple of games are signs of things to come for Patterson.  There for awhile, he seemed to be a little bit lost in the offense.  I’m not sure how much of that was his fault, but he has seemed more aggressive – both on the glass and when looking for his own shot – over these past two games.

– Darius Miller hit a 3-point shot for the second straight game, for whatever that’s worth.

– In a performance that was reminiscent of early in the season, Kentucky’s bench gave them almost nothing today.  Liggins, Orton, Dodson, and Stevenson combined for all seven of Kentucky’s bench points.