UK off to unimpressive start in SEC
by Ira D. Combs
Tri State Sports Independent Media
Sometimes in life, and especially in sports, you get humbled and must admit you were wrong and that one of your so-called enemies (or in this case critics) was right.
Former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, ESPN’s most recent NCAA coach turned analyst told everyone in the free world through his ESPN Blog back in late October that this Kentucky Wildcat team would not win the SEC, and further more would lose at least two games in Rupp Arena and maybe more this season, breaking up Coach Cal’s 50-game home court winning streak.
Kudos to the former head Volunteer for his astute predictions, but what is very worrisome is the two teams he predicted to beat UK at Rupp Arena haven’t showed up yet for their game (Florida and Missouri), meaning there is a good chance the dark days at Rupp Arena may not be behind us for the remainder of 2013.
After basically three and a half weeks’ worth of a grueling in-season improvement practice routine affectionately known as “Camp Cal,” the Kentucky Wildcats are 1-1 after the first week of SEC play (2 points away from being 0-2) and have fallen to 10-5 overall with no sight of crawling back into the top 25, and in some college basketball circles (ESPN personalities in particular) actually beginning to fade off the NCAA tournament radar as well.
Does this team’s performance to date mean John Calipari has underachieved in his coaching duties? Absolutely not. The question that begs to be asked is where do the answers lie with this team’s ineffectiveness at times?
I’ll list my theory of reasons in order of importance:
1 - This team does not have talented, supplemental, experienced skill sets in their sixth and seventh men off the bench like a Darius Miller or a Deandre Liggins to stop opponents’ special skill sets.
2 - This team’s five-star elite freshman starters do not have accompanying experienced starters like Patrick Patterson, Doron Lamb, or Terrence Jones the last three years.
3 - Not all five-star high school recruits end up being five-star college basketball players; some even end up struggling to be consistent enough to put up average numbers.
4 - The UK opponents will take their game day attitude when they see those blue and white jerseys to another level of excitement and confidence with UK being defending NCAA champs.
5 - This team does not have the pure raw basketball talent and especially shooting range from the perimeter at the guard positions that previous Calipari teams have had. Yes, Harrow has come on and that’s encouraging, but the first three losses were due to lack of Calipari type perimeter play from UK guards. Other than Goodwin’s second half performance against U of L, he’s been all attack-oriented off the dribble.
Another special note to consider pertaining to Saturday’s loss to Texas A&M. Don’t think for a minute that the Baylor loss didn’t give A&M confidence that they could beat UK in their first ever appearance in Rupp Arena. Texas A&M doesn’t have a previous 30 to 40 years of beat downs to UK in Rupp Arena to overcome in the mindset department, and neither will Missouri.
It’s still early in the SEC schedule, especially now that each school has to play 18 regular season games, so many storylines can develop over the next few weeks, but we would all be very naive if there wasn’t some serious concern being debated and discussed across the Commonwealth about this team.
If you want a scant bit of optimism to rebuild some confidence on, go online to www.espn.com and pull up Joe Lunardi’s bracketology link. He has UK as a No. 7 seed for the upcoming NCAA Big Dance, but you’ll have to travel extensively this year. Lunardi has UK in Salt Lake City, Utah for the first weekend and Los Angeles for the West Regional if they should advance.
Are lead SEC coaches the elite of college football/basketball past and present?
With the recent college football season ending last week with another solid SEC flavor of dominance both overall and in the BCS championship game, the pigskin sport is alive and well, but with the present UK team struggling a bit in recent weeks the SEC basketball heritage is once again being questioned in the present day and has always been mentioned as soft in past years.
Yet, overall Alabama football and Kentucky basketball are as strong as at any time in past eras of college football and basketball.
Even the most obnoxious critics of the SEC must admit that the conference’s two marquee coaches, Nick Saban and John Calipari, are both in the middle stages of a coaching career that are bringing smiles from Paul “Bear” Bryant and Adolph Rupp as they look down from the heavens on what they both started many decades ago.
Saban’s recent three out of four BCS championships are pretty strong, and although Calipari has taken two teams to the Final Four the past three years and won an NCAA championship himself, it’s still a notch below Saban’s accomplishments. However, if the No. 1 recruiting classes continue to be funneled to the Joe Craft Center, Coach Cal may just catch up with Saban in the future.
Which begs the question I’ve always loved to debate with the educated sports fans I know: What is the toughest to accomplish, winning an NCAA Div. 1 men’s basketball championship or an NCAA BCS football championship?
Alabama football and Kentucky basketball down through the different decades and eras have always been the leaders of the SEC in football and basketball, and arguably in the nation (except for the 12 year John Wooden led UCLA run). I don’t see anything changing this scenario in the future short of Saban or Cal leaving their love nest in Tuscaloosa and Lexington.
Which brings me to the ultimate question: What would UK football look like today if Rupp would have got the cigarette lighter and Bear Bryant would have got the Cadillac in the mid 50’s, or what would UK basketball be today had Rick Pitino not left for the NBA?
Regardless of the what if’s, the SEC fans should enjoy the remainder of the Saban/Calipari eras because they’re two tough hombres when it comes to recruiting, and their two schools are giving them the type of finances to run their programs that could put a dent in the national debt.
Frankfort to assist UK in facility upgrades
It took several years, but the Kentucky General Assembly appears to be set on assisting UK in athletic facility upgrades with bonding power and other pertinent financial necessities. But don’t get too excited BBN, it will be nothing dollar wise compared to what they did for Louisville when the same politicians got the Cards over the hump in their task of getting the Yum Center project finished.
This recent joint announcement by the governor’s office and UK has produced some added excitement across the Commonwealth from the starved UK football fan and added another jolt of optimism for the immediate future just on the heels of the Mark Stoops announcement.
Personally, other than creating a few extra dollars through the suites and prime club seating (which for all we know will go to the track and field program and, oh yes, the rifle range needs renovated according to the latest facility survey) I can’t see where any facility upgrades were seriously needed. If you’ve been paying attention to several of the recruits that have visited in recent years as the recruiting service websites interview them, the normal response from them has been the UK facilities were on par if not better than other SEC schools.
Having a stadium that seats 70,000 instead of 80,000 to 85,000 is not a turn off to a recruit. It’s the practice facilities, living quarters, dining hall, and academic centers that matter most to recruits, and UK doesn’t take a back seat to anyone, anywhere in those categories.
I’m sure Stoops and company will provide UK fans with some credible competitive football and some exciting football, but until he can prove to me that he can bring in 15 to 20 four- and five-star recruits on an annual consistent basis, I can’t get more than cautiously optimistic which is where I’ve been each time UK has changed coaches over the last 50 years.
Until then, Coach Stoops, I suggest you concentrate your efforts into recruiting as good of a QB or running back as you can recruit and try to ride their arm and/or legs to six or seven wins a year like a few UK coaches have in the past.
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