In case you were out Christmas shopping or completely out of the Commonwealth in recent days, we just had a very unique weekend in UK sports. A low day in hoops and a high day in football, and that don’t happen very often around these parts.
First, the storied UK men’s basketball team, which has been in full throttle glorified mode for three plus years now, finally hit some hard times. Hopefully, we’ll look back in a few months and recall it being a bump in the road for the 2012-13 season, but right now there are many serious concerns for this team from all involved, and especially Coach John Calipari.
While the storied hoops team was treading water, having it’s home court winning streak busted at 55 games with back-to-back non-conference losses for the first time in the Calipari era, the new UK football coach, Mark Stoops, literally had a very emotional Apollo rocket type lift off Sunday afternoon over in the indoor UK football complex referred to as the Nutter Field House. It was complete with many excited fans, loud bands, mysteriously interested players, jumbo video boards, and last but not least an A.D. and president that did everything but just come out and say if our political friends over in Frankfort will come on board with all this new-found enthusiasm, we’ll build you some new and supposedly overdue football facilities in and around Commonwealth Stadium.
You folks can view that celebratory event with Coach Stoops and all the positive vibes it created ever how you desire, but after fighting my way through the losing eras of John Ray, Fran Curci, Jerry Claiborne, Bill Curry, Hal Mumme, Guy Morris, Rich Brooks, and Joker Phillips, I’m not going to flinch. But make no mistake, I’ll be right there at media day the first Friday in August, and we’ll cover all 12 games throughout the season with my ever curious and open-minded comments as the Mark Stoops era begins.
Please understand, it’s just me, but after watching as a fan and covering as a media member a combination of around 45 years of UK football, I just can’t get excited anymore when a new coach comes on board. I will remind you, don’t ever lose sight of that time honored sports phrase when it comes to football, “It’s not about the X’s and O’s, it’s all about the Jimmy’s and Joe’s that matter most.”
More in the coming weeks as we drift through the December and January recruiting periods on UK football and its new leader in Mark Stoops.
UK men’s basketball in odd state of affairs
I guess you could say that after Cal’s boys started out somewhat mildly successful in the preseason exhibition games, and followed with a unique early season win at a neutral site against an ACC middle of the road team in Maryland, the team has now taken the proverbial three steps forward and two steps back scenario to heart with back-to-back losses last week to a solid Notre Dame team in a tough environment at South Bend, then followed that thud up with a calamity of errors and poor shooting in of all places Rupp Arena against a top tier Big 12 team in Baylor.
I never thought the winning streak would come to an end at the hands of a non-conference team, unless it would have been a top 10 North Carolina, Indiana, or Louisville.
Be that as it may, don’t give up on this team by any means because there is a whole lot more talent on this team in my eyes than on the 10-loss 2010-11 team. The problem at the moment is this team doesn’t have a Brandon Knight, but it does have a talented but very confused and evidently mentally soft point guard in Ryan Harrow. He’s a type of player that Cal has brought around in the past but attitude, desire, and toughness must come around inside the player before Cal can show him the ropes, so to speak.
The other two problems I see most is Archie Goodwin is out of control offensively, which could be closely related to being forced into playing point guard and a laid back Alex Poythress who at times seems only to play with any intensity if Coach Cal yells, screams, or does everything short of sticking him in the butt with a hot poker iron. Young man just doesn’t yet get how physical and intense you have to play in college basketball at his position to have a positive impact on the game; he appears to take several possessions off each game.
What could eventually be a problem if the ship isn’t righted soon is this team’s talent may not come to the top like the Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb, and Terrence Jones team did because this team may not have the heart of a lion in a couple of it’s top eight players like Deandre Liggins and Josh Harrellson did for the 2010-11 team.
This team is also much younger across the roster than any of Cal’s teams so far since he’s been at UK, and one glaring problem to me early on is that this team has a lot of trouble finishing, as the coaches and scouts say these days, and that is directly due to youthful inexperience and weak body frames in the upper and lower extremities of the body, to inside players especially. Hopefully, their bodies will develop as the experience is gained mentally and emotionally.
Tidbits from UK and around the SEC
1 - Don’t know about you, but I just feel better with Alabama playing Notre Dame for the championship than Georgia. I just can’t forget that UK came within a few snaps of beating the Dogs.
2 - I’ve not heard much from BBN about not playing Indiana, North Carolina, or any other tradition-rich prime time opponents at Rupp Arena since the season has unfolded.
3 - The return date with Baylor for next year is Dec. 13, 2013, and both games between UK and Baylor’s men’s and women’s basketball teams will be at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, Texas.
4 - Take those recent rumors of North Carolina and Duke leaving the ACC for the SEC with a grain of salt. Nobody knows where it started or have any credible info on who started it.
5 - Even though it appears Auburn, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, and Georgia will go bottom up this year in men’s basketball, I still think the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri, along with solid winning teams from UK, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama, LSU, and Ole Miss will make for one of the best SEC tournaments down in Nashville that the conference has had in a long time.