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Calipari Reveals “Tweak” That Aided Kentucky In The Big Dance

gfx-they-said-it4As Kentucky limped into the SEC Tournament with 9 losses and a 1-3 record in its last four regular-season games, John Calipari announced that he’d come up with a “tweak” that would hopefully change the Wildcats’ fortunes in the postseason.  The tweak worked, apparently.  The Cats made it to the SEC tourney final before losing to Florida by a point.  Then they won five straight in the NCAA Tournament before falling to UConn in the national title game.

So what was Calipari’s tweak?  UK’s coach appeared on “CBS This Morning” earlier today.  As CollegeBasketballTalk.com points out, he there revealed that the tweak was actually a simple request that point guard Andrew Harrison pass the ball more and shoot the ball less:

 

“I showed Andrew (tapes of NBA point guard Deron Williams).  I said, ‘Look at this, let’s watch.  Would you have passed or shot?’  He said, ‘I would have shot.’  Would you have or shot?  Well, Deron was throwing ball to everybody.

And so, I said, ‘Monday, you will not shoot one basketball.  You will pass, we’re gonna run these plays, you will create shots.  We will chart; we’re not telling our team.’  He comes in, he has 26 assists attempts, 21 assists that Monday, I’m mad the whole practice because it changed our team.  Why didn’t I do it earlier?  And then I apologized to him.  I apologized to the team and I said, ‘I screwed this up, make me look good now.’”

 

Now, you know very well that a light bulb didn’t suddenly come on for Calipari.  You can be sure he tried to coax Harrison into shooting less and passing more for much of the season, not just at tourney time.  But Calipari’s handling of the situation — the tournaments give us a new chance to adjust, we’ve struggled not because of you but because of me, etc — was perfect.

Kentucky’s coach is often saddled with the tag of “great recruiter, so-so coach.”  Heck, as his team kept dropping regular-season games this year there were plenty of Big Blue fans who made that exact point on messageboards, Twitter and talk radio.  But the reality is Calipari has been able to make deep tournament runs with freshmen-heavy teams in four of his five seasons in Lexington.  That takes a good coach.  And whether it’s on the court or playing a few mind games with his team off it, Calipari has proven himself to be a very, very good coach.

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If Wiltjer Leaves, UK’s Chances For Winning It All Decrease

Florida v KentuckyWith the greatest group of freshmen in the history of college basketball on its way to Rupp Arena — at least that’s what the pundits are calling Kentucky’s signing class — there’s probably not a lot of Wildcat fans wringing their hands over the possible departure of junior-to-be Kyle Wiltjer.  After all, if Wiltjer couldn’t crack the Cats’ starting lineup last year, how many minutes would he get this coming season?

Wiltjer — who it was learned yesterday is considering a transfer from UK – did average 10.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game last year.  He also averaged 23 minutes per contest.  That was good enough to win him the SEC’s Sixth Man of the Year award.

John Calipari made it clear on his website in announcing the news that while he will support Wiltjer in any way he can, “I still hope he ends up back with us.”

Kentucky fans should hope for the same.

Calipari has done a remarkable job of rebuilding an NBA-raided program year after year in the Commonwealth.  He had an Elite Eight run, a Final Four team, and a national champion before last year’s disappointing NIT finish.  That’s a pretty good batting average considering the degree of difficulty in starting from scratch every year.

Ah, but there’s the rub.

Two years ago — when Kentucky cut down the nets in New Orleans — Calipari only had to start from near scratch.  The 2011-12 team had sophomore Terrence Jones and senior Darius Miller among its six top contributors.  And Miller’s leadership was viewed by many as the glue that helped hold such a young team together.

During his final season, Miller averaged a Wiltjer-like 26 minutes with 9.9 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game.  Those aren’t eye-popping numbers, but they were solid contributions on a team that featured a number of higher-profile stars.  And again, leadership can’t be quantified and listed on a stat sheet.

If Wiltjer does leave UK, does that mean the Wildcats can’t win it all in 2013-14?  Of course not.  There are no guarantees that he would provide for Kentucky’s next team what Miller provided for the 2011-12 Big Blue squad.

But we’d sure like Kentucky’s chances better if Wiltjer stuck around.

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UK’s Barnhart Says Football “Not Where We Want It To Be Just Yet”

Mitch Barnhart weighed in on the state of Kentucky football yesterday while speaking to the City Salesman’s Club in Louisville.  Of note, he specifically said that the school’s football program is “not where we want it to be just yet.”

(We’ll pause to allow Wildcat fans to say, “Duh!”)

Barnhart spoke about both the program and its coach, Joker Phillips:

 

“We made some progress and climbed up the hill a little bit and were doing some good things in a really tough league but we’ve found that we’ve stubbed our toes a little bit.  We’ve got to figure that out and we’ll get that figured out…

Joker is one of my dearest friends.  I think the world of him.  We’ve been together nine years in some way, shape or form as an assistant coach, coordinator and now as a head coach… I think the world of him as a man and as a coach and as a leader of our young men and what he’s done.  We just have to figure out the football piece and ow we get that going in the right direction.”

 

Kentucky is currently 1-8 overall and 0-6 in the SEC.  The Cats’ lone win came over Kent State back in Week Two of the season.  Now in his third season, Phillips is 12-22 as UK’s coach.  Rich Brooks went 22-17 as the captain of the Big Blue program before turning the wheel over to Phillips.

 

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Kentucky Signees Shine In All-American Game

Kentucky basketball signees Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress both looked impressive in Wednesday’s McDonald’s All-American Game in Chicago.

Poythress scored 19 points for the East team, which beat the West squad 106-102, while Goodwin added 14 points. The game’s MVP award went to forward Shabazz Muhammad, who’s undecided but still considering Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, UCLA and UNLV.

“It is going to be a blessing to play with Alex and hopefully Shabazz in the future,” Goodwin told ESPN.com. “Like I said in my (earlier) interviews, it will be another repeat of what they are going to do this year.”

Kentucky’s recruiting for the 2012 class is far from over. Along with Muhammad, the Wildcats are recruiting McDonald’s All-Americans Anthony Bennett and Devonta Pollard as well as center Nerlens Noel, who is considered to be one of the nation’s top prospects.

“There’s a lot of recruiting going on still,” Goodwin said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “The big one (Muhammad)? We’re waiting on one more and I don’t have to even say his name. That’s the one everybody else is waiting on. Hopefully he picks the Big Blue.”

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Calipari Says Cats-Cards Rivalry Doesn’t Matter At This Point

John Calipari tried to sell a whopper yesterday and we’re not talking about a burger.  In the run-up to what’s sure to be one of the most-hyped games in NCAA Tournament history, Kentucky’s coach tried to push the idea that Louisville’s position opposite UK on the bracket line doesn’t add any extra pressure:


“They want to make a big deal out of the rivalry — not at this time of the year; it doesn’t matter.  If you win or lose, you’re going to feel the same whether it’s a team you’ve played before or never seen in your life, a team that’s 12 miles from you or a team that’s a thousand miles from you.”


For the coaches and the players, maybe.  If they win, they’ll still have another game to quickly focus on and win if they want to hang a banner.  If they lose, they’re going to feel like their hearts have been pulled out their rumps.  Got it.

But try selling that “it doesn’t matter who it is” stuff to the fans of both teams.  For them, this game could only be bigger if it were for the national title and not just a spot in the title game.

In a state crazy about basketball, the craziest fans will weep with joy or sorrow (or rage) come Saturday night.  They’ll either be able to lord the victory over their neighbors in rival colors or they’ll have to live with a year’s worth — Hell, a life’s worth — of taunts and reminders.

As a boy growing up in Southeastern Kentucky, I remember Louisville winning the NCAA Tournament under Denny Crum in 1980.  A poem became part of Cardinal fans’ celebration:


“Roses are red.  Violets are blue.  The Cards are in Heaven.  But where’s the Big Blue?”


That was more than 30 years ago and I can still remember Louisville fans saying it and Kentucky fans stewing stewing over it.

We in the media overhype a heckuva lot of things.  And so do you, you Twitter- and Facebook- and messageboard-lovin’ fans.  That’s the world we live in.

But there’s no amount of overhype for Saturday’s matchup.  From Lexington to Louisville, Middlesboro to Paducah, Seventy Six to 88, and from Shoulderblade to Mud Lick to Bugtussle… folks from every city and burg in the Commonwealth will be living and dying with this weekend’s result.

Calipari can say the opponent doesn’t matter to his team, but it matters to everybody else in the state.  And you can take that to another Kentucky town — Fort Knox.

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UK’s Jones Playing Better ‘Cause He’s “Not Thinking As Much”

Kentucky forward Terrence Jones didn’t get off to the start many expected this season.  National media members wondered why a kid with so much talent didn’t seem to bring the same energy and emotion from night to night.  Big Blue fans fretted.

John Calipari said that his All-American candidate simply needed to start having fun on the basketball court.  And that has made all the difference.  Jones came close within one rebound against Arkansas on Tuesday of recording his first double-double of the season (he had seven last year), and his play has improved overall in recent games.

Jones knows why:


“I’m just not thinking as much.  Just being less conscious about my (injured) hand.  Worrying about messing up because I wasn’t playing like I was (as a freshman).  Just thinking too much about every little play.”


This season, Jones is averaging 11.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.  In 2010-11 he averaged 15.7 and 8.8.

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SEC Headlines 12/3/2011

Updates:  Report: Arkansas offensive coordinator Derrick McGee has accepted an offer to become UAB’s head coach. More here.  Statement from Bobby Petrino here.

Dan Mullen denies contact with Penn State – again.  H/T ChuckOliver.net.  More here.

ESPN Gameday Q and A with Nick Saban.

1. Alabama’s Kirby Smart and Arkansas State’s Hugh Freeze top the Ole Miss coaching search.

2. “Here’s a text that says, ‘Archie, I have tremendous love for Ole Miss. I would love to serve as their next head coach. Any consideration would be greatly appreciated.’ It’s signed, ‘Hugh Freeze.’ Do you know who he is?”

3. Vanderbilt’s James Franklin gets a new contract and the school will be getting a new indoor practice facility.

4. Alabama’s Trent Richardson, Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III are considered the top three Heisman candidates.  Wisconsin’s Montee Ball could damage Richardson’s chances tonight.

5. Jim Rome interviews Richardson: “I’ve got mouths to feed…

6. Would an Alabama – LSU rematch be wonderful, terrible or just plain stupid? Don”t forget Oklahoma State.

7. Derek Dooley on his star wide receiver: “Da’Rick Rogers has not been suspended.”

8. Jon Solomon: How desperate is Auburn for a quarterback?

9. Former Kentucky co-defensive coordinator Steve Brown could see the writing on the wall.

10. Louisville 62 – Vanderbilt 60.  Second straight overtime loss for the Commodores.

11. Syracuse 72 – Florida 68. 20 turnovers for the Gators at the Carrier Dome.

12. Cincinnati 57- Georgia 51. Bulldogs blow an 11-point second-half lead.

13. Seton Hall 81 – Auburn 49.  14-2 run by the Pirates turn a somewhat close game into a blowout.

14. Battle of the blue bloods in Big Blue country – North Carolina at Kentucky and the Tar Heels want revenge.

15. John Clay: “Come on, now, is this not the most highly anticipated event in these parts since Rick Pitino’s return to Rupp?”

16. How will Arkansas’ freshmen respond at Connecticut?

17. Pittsburgh comes to Knoxville – can the Vols measure up against a ranked opponent?

18. Mississippi State has its hands full tonight against a tough West Virginia team.

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UK Fans Spew Venom At NY Times Writer

It seems Tennessee fans aren’t the only ones making news in connection with “hate” today.  According to John Clay of The Lexington Herald-Leader, some Kentucky fans went over the line in their reaction to the NCAA’s final ruling in the Enes Kanter case. 

For those who haven’t heard, the European big man was ruled permanently ineligible on Friday.  So he won’t be joining UK’s 2011 title chase.

Pete Thamel of The New York Times has been covering the story from the beginning and several Cat fans took to Twitter this weekend to let him know they blame him for Kanter’s ineligibility.


“I hope your children are born paralyzed and they have to slither around like snakes in the grass like their (expletive) daddy.”


Nice.  And here’s what another Troglodye wrote:


“Congrats on Kanter, scumbag!  Hope you don’t step in front of a taxi.”


When FoxSports.com’s Jeff Goodman called on UK fans to stop their Twitter attack on Thamel, he too was blasted by angry Big Blue backers.

Clay — like most people today — has the shooting in Arizona on his mind.  Some would rather just say, “lone nut” and move along, but Clay believes it’s time to check our online vitriol.

We at MrSEC.com agree.  When a kook goes from ranting on the internet to shooting innocent people, there’s nothing wrong with asking, “What motivated the kook to go from A to B?”

Especially when so many people these days are ranting on the internet.  Over politics, over religion, and over sports.

For most people, it’s a huge leap from anonymous threat-maker to effigy-shooter to actual violent criminal.  But not for all.  As the deranged son of a bitch in Arizona showed us this weekend, some nuts go from YouTube quack to murderer with ease. 

With that in mind, it’s time we start paying more attention to the vile garbage being tossed around over basketball losses and departing football coaches.  It’s also time for all of us to tone the junk down.

As Clay writes, “It’s just a game, folks.  A game.”

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SEC Headlines – 1/3/11 Part Two

1.  Will Muschamp has just one spot still open on his staff.

2.  This writer wishes he could say he’ll miss Urban Meyer.

3.  Florida will try to avoid an upset when the Gator basketball team hosts Rhode Island tonight.

4.  Some once-loyal supporters of Mark Richt now have their doubts about his ability to change the culture in Athens.

5.  How angry are folks in Georgia?  Read this.

6.  This writer believes Georgia Tech is in better shape than Georgia.

7.  Joker Phillips liked the energy of his team’s Sunday bowl practice.

8.  John Calipari was happy with the Big Blue crowd that showed up for the Cats’ win in Louisville on Friday.

9.  UK’s Josh Harrellson and Brandon Knight won the SEC’s basketball awards for the week.

10.  South Carolina has more questions than answers heading into 2011.  (But they’re still likely to be the SEC East favorite next year.)

11.  Tennessee’s basketball team has lost four out of six and the big problem is “effort on defense.”

12.  Vandy was without two injured stars but still knocked off Davidson 80-52 yesterday.

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Condolences to Cal, whose mother passed away

Kentucky
Content provided by Jerry Tipton on UK basketball.

UK Coach John Calipari just sent a tweet saying his mother, Donna, had passed away.

Here is the tweet: “As most of you know, my mom, Donna, has been battling cancer for several months. On Sunday, she lost her brave fight.”

In follow-up tweets, Calipari said, “”On behalf of my dad, my two sisters, Ellen and all of our family…we want to thank the Big Blue Nation for all their prayers, cards … Your warmth uplifted her and all of us.

“We hope you will all respect our privacy during this period and know that we are grateful for being part of the Big Blue family.

“God bless and thank you.”

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