Cal’s Cats return to Rupp for four-game stretch

Ira D. Combs Tri State Sports Media

November 13, 2013

Now that the prime time special between the top two teams in college basketball is behind us, UK will return to Rupp Arena this weekend for an odd Sunday night tip-off against Robert Morris University (Remember them?) which will be the first of four consecutive games in this year’s inaugural Bill Keightley Classic.

UK has now played five games, albeit two of them exhibitions, but still five games versus outside competition and it appears the game day rotation is headed in the direction of the seven-man variety with a strong possibility of Marcus Lee making it an eventual eight-man rotation. I doubt it will ever get any higher than eight, even with the talent this team has because it’s just difficult to stabilize team chemistry and individual player roles with more than eight players for the long haul. But the good news is there are plenty of quality, multi-talented bodies down the bench if needed.

It appears the late game go-to man is going to be freshman phenom Julius Randle. Going into the third regular season game, Randle had managed to post a 22- and 23-point effort while pulling down 13 and 15 rebounds respectively in the first two games. Sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein and freshman center Dakari Johnson appear to be headed toward a two-headed monster nightmare for UK opponents this year, and I think their own individual talents will complement one another very nice in the low post areas of the free throw lane.

The Harrison twins from Texas, although young in age and college game experience, are very advanced in their skill level and physical size and abilities. Between the two of them they should hold down the point guard responsibilities fine, and if a few quality emergency minutes are needed on certain occasions, Cal has an experienced senior in Jarod Polson or an extremely athletic freshman in Dominique Hawkins to fill in.

If there is a second go-to man needed, freshman wing James Young may be the best perimeter type player to wear the blue and white in several years to fill that role. His smooth yet quick release shot has been impressive for the most part in the early games. As with all shooters, consistency will need to be displayed as the season moves forward, but I don’t see a problem in that area.

But the player and the role that may define this team at the end of the season, and especially come March Madness time, may be sophomore Alex Poythress.

Poythress has a unique skill set in that he has the raw physical size and toughness of a rugged power forward, yet he can also be very effective from the baseline extended area all the way out to 20 to 22 feet with his jump shot range. Of most importance to this team is his mind set to accept the 6th man role like Darius Miller on the 2012 NCAA championship team. If Poythress accepts this role and produces like Miller did, Big Blue Nation may be bringing back a large 10 gallon cowboy hat from Dallas next March with NCAA champs across the front of it.

But that’s a big if, and only time will tell so let’s enjoy the ride. It should be eventful all the way through to March.

Gridiron Cats headed to Nashville

Vanderbilt University has been one of the very few, maybe only, cordial football venues to UK for many years, especially during the recent Rich Brooks era. But in the last two years in particular, during the brief James Franklin coaching era at Vanderbilt, it has been very difficult for UK to even compete no matter where the game was played.

I think it’s high time for this series to return back to its old ways, and it says here it will.

This year UK heads south for the first time under the direction of Mark Stoops to tangle with the Commodores, and until last Saturday it appeared on paper like the proverbial toss-up. That is until Vandy pulled the upset of the school’s gridiron history by beating Florida down in The Swamp by the score of 34-17. But there was a reason for that upset. Florida turned the ball over to the Commodores four times — three of them in Vandy’s red zone — basically giving them three touchdowns, which is hard for even an Alabama type team to overcome.

Basically, a real fool’s gold type win for the Commodores, but none the less a win. Vanderbilt had 183 total yards offense against Florida while Florida’s much maligned passing game cranked up over 300 yards against Vanderbilt. One of the things this UK team has done is keep the turnovers down, once earlier this season going for a four-game stretch without committing any.

If the Cats can go down to Nashville and minimize their turnovers or even play a complete four quarter game without making a mistake, you can expect the game to go into the fourth quarter as a toss-up, and whoever wins the quarter will win the game. Call me crazy if you want in picking the Cats to beat Vandy in the same year that Vandy has beaten Georgia and Florida, but so be it.

Vanderbilt is 5-4 and will be trying their best to get a win Saturday and set themselves up for a possible bowl bid south of its own state’s boundaries, but they still have Tennessee and Wake Forest on their schedule to pull out that coveted seven wins, even with a step backwards this Saturday.

I think something good is about to finally happen to UK football, and it will be in Nashville this Saturday say to the tune of UK 31 and Vanderbilt 28, and it may not be the only SEC win of 2013.