By: Ira D. CombsTri State Sports Media
March 18, 2013
A bump has surfaced in John Calipari’s magical Blue Brick Road he started down four years ago.
This was the season that the entire freshman class had to be solid (no question marks or red flags in recent recruiting evaluations), and the guard play, especially the lead guard, had to be at a premium and consistent. Plus, the basketball gods that have been so kind to UK in recent years could not go on a sabbatical.
If you want to lay blame, these three areas must be at the top of the list, but the list is long and we’ll save that list for an after the season column.
So, with the latest turn of events down in Nashville at the SEC tourney, UK drops down a level in postseason play to the N.I.T., and in somewhat of a surprise must go back to the road for their first round game. According to a press release sent out late Sunday night from UK officials, there were just too many obstacles to overcome within UK already having to serve as host for the first round of the NCAA tournament at Rupp Arena, which brings teams into Lexington on Wednesday and starts play on Thursday.
In defense of those in the UKAA who are under recognized behind the scenes and overworked, it would have been a difficult task to pull off with only a 36- to 48-hour turn around, and UK does host both a home baseball game and home softball game on Tuesday night, which means that segment of the UKAA can’t help out.
With all those angles being analyzed, UK will have to play its first round N.I.T. game on the road just outside of Pittsburgh at Robert Morris University on Tuesday, but it will be televised nationally on ESPN with the tipoff scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
UK did announce in the same press release that it had already placed a bid with the N.I.T. officials to host a second and third round game at Rupp Arena should the Cats advance, but for those nostalgic and veteran senior citizens of the BBN who longed for one more game in historic Memorial Coliseum, you’ll just have to wait.
Those of you who were hoping to just call it a season and not apply for the N.I.T., ease into the spring recruiting season and out of the misery this team has put you through, you’ll just have to swallow your pride and re-boot some sort of enthusiasm for a possible trip to the Big Apple and the N.I.T. Final Four.
In closing out this section of my weekly column, I must express my feelings on the present state of UK basketball.
If anybody in the college basketball coaching fraternity deserves a one-year basketball mulligan for this basically lost season, it should be John Calipari. Only time will tell, but I think he learned some valuable lessons this season that he will apply to Kentucky basketball in the near future.
I’ve not totally forgotten the Gardner Webb loss in Rupp Arena and Billy Gillispie era, myself.
If you’re looking for some positive UK basketball news, turn your TV channel to ESPNU on March 20, and if my sources are accurate you’ll see Julius Randle, the No. 1 power forward in this spring’s recruiting class, commit to play for UK this coming season.
Cal’s future hoop scheduling has neutral site flavor
UK will be taking their next group of McDonald’s All-Americans in 2013-14 on another mini USA tour of neutral site games in Dallas, Texas, Chicago, Illinois, and Brooklyn.
It was announced late last week that the Cats’ recent visit to Brooklyn, New York, at the Barclays Center went so well last November that Coach Cal has signed them up for another visit this coming December 1, and their opponent will be Providence College. UK is already scheduled to play Baylor at a neutral site in Dallas at Jerry Jones’ plush Cowboys Stadium, and the final year of the State Farm Champions Classic will take place at the United Center in Chicago, where UK will play Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans.
As of this date, UK is also scheduled to bring North Carolina back on the schedule with this coming year’s game being in Chapel Hill. The UK-Louisville series continues this coming December with this year’s game being in Rupp Arena. Other non-conference games, as well as the two preseason exhibition games, will be announced as we work our way through the upcoming off-season.
The full schedule should be released jointly by UK, SEC, and ESPN by late August or early September based on the TV network’s finalization of selecting their games and dates.
Gary Henderson’s Bat Cats take 2 out of 3 from Gators
The UK baseball team is off to another great start for the 2013 spring SEC baseball season, taking two out of three in its first SEC weekend series down in Gainesville, Fl., which puts them at 16-3 for the season overall and ranked No. 9 in the recent college baseball rankings. The Bat Cats dropped the Friday game 4-1 to the Gators, but came back to win Saturday 11-5 and Sunday 6-2.
Gary Henderson’s diamond dandies now embark on a two-week, eight-game home stand at Cliff Hagan Stadium with two consecutive SEC weekend series against Mississippi State and Georgia. Sandwiched around those two series are two Tuesday night non-conference games against WKU this Tuesday at and Marshall University next Tuesday, March 26.
Henderson and the players have had no reservations in stating that they have their sights set on Kentucky’s first ever college baseball World Series appearance later this summer.
This coming weekend’s series against the Mississippi. State Bulldogs will start Friday night with the first pitch at 6:30 p.m., then followed Saturday afternoon at noon, and the series finale on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Mark Stoops era officially begins this week
The Mark Stoops era officially begins this week with Monday scheduled to be the first day of spring football practice. As of this date there is no indication of the spring practices being open to the public, and only a couple brief video/photo opportunities for the media.
Topics of interest for the 15 spring practice opportunities will revolve around the three-way quarterback race between Maxwell Smith, Patrick Towles, and Jalen Whitlow. All three are now sophomores in classification, but it is Maxwell Smith’s third year on campus and third spring practice while Towles and Whitlow are just completing their first year on campus with very limited game experience.
However, Mark Stoops has said repeatedly in recent weeks that all three QBs will start with a clean slate with him and his new OC Neal Brown, with all three getting equal reps in practice.
Other players and positions to keep an eye on are sophomore Josh Clemons’ recovery and hopeful return at tailback, and if those young freshman wide receivers have matured any physically in the weight room during the winter off-season conditioning programs.
The spring game on April 13 should be especially interesting since it will be the first public unveiling of Neal Brown’s popular Air Raid Offense, not to mention according to UK officials, an estimated attendance of over 40,000 which would be a school record. That is if the weather man will cooperate.