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Fox Writer Takes A Shot At 27-1 Kentucky, Calipari

Thayer Evans of FoxSports.com is no stranger to controversy.  His name was attached to numerous stories regarding Cam Newton and other alleged recruiting improprieties at Auburn back in late-2010.  As we all know now, nothing came of those stories.  The NCAA found no guns, smoking or otherwise.

Now Evans is asking for angry emails from Kentucky hoops fans and you can bet his inbox is already full.  Here’s why:

 

“Yet for the favorite to win the national championship, Kentucky on Tuesday night looked a shadow of the super team many thought it was becoming. Instead, it actually looked like a classic Calipari team.

The type that has more talent than anybody else in the country, but somehow fails to play to its sky-high potential. A team like the one Calipari had during the 2009-10 season, his first at Kentucky, which featured a record five NBA first-round draft selections, including the No. 1 pick in point guard John Wall, but lost in the NCAA tournament’s regional finals.”

 

And…

 

“So there’s still plenty of reason to doubt Kentucky, just like there always is with Calipari’s teams.

Because the knock on Calipari will remain the same until he finally wins his first NCAA championship: He can collect all the talent he wants, but inevitably underachieves with it because of his coaching shortcomings.”

 

Not to be a Calipari apologist, but I’m pretty sure it took Roy Williams 17 seasons to win his first national title.  It took Jim Boeheim 27.  Those are Hall of Fame coaches.  The lesson: Winning six games in a row in March isn’t as easy as winning six in a row in December.

Calipari is in his 20th season.  That doesn’t mean he can’t coach — something that this writer has actually come around on and actually discussed yesterday – or that he won’t win a national title at some point.

As for Evans, it’s a helluva lot easier to predict someone will lose in the NCAA tourney than win it.  Sixty-seven coaches will “fail” this March.  One will deliver.  And when the Butlers and VCUs and George Masons of the world are reaching Final Fours, it further shows that upsets do happen.  Regardless of roster talent.  Regardless of coaching acumen.

So if Calipari goes bye-bye in the Big Dance it will only prove that Evans knows how to place a safe bet, it won’t prove his point.  That will still be up for debate.

With regards to Kentucky’s team, the Cats are currently 27-1.  Their only defeat came on a buzzer-beating shot at Indiana in December.  They have no losses in SEC play… including on the road.  Last night they trailed by 13 before coming back to win at Mississippi State.

Was that really the beginning of the end for the Wildcats?

Syracuse is 27-1 and its loss came by nine at Notre Dame.  Third-ranked Missouri has lost twice to Kansas State, once by seven and once by 10.  Duke is #4 in the nation with four losses.  Fifth-ranked Kansas has five losses as does #6 Michigan State.  North Carolina, well, the Tar Heels may be ranked #7 in the nation, but they have a loss to Kentucky and a 33-point clubbing at the hands of Florida State among the four defeats on their resume.

If Evans is seeing flaws in Kentucky’s play, what the heck is seeing in everyone else’s game?

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UK’s Calipari: We Played Better Without Teague

John Calipari knows a thing or two about point guards.  First, he knows how to sign the top ones.  Second, he knows how to get them ready for the NBA (though the first point could play more than a small role in the second one).

Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall, Brandon Knight.  All stars.  Now enter Marquis Teague.  He’s not among the SEC’s 30 best scorers.  And while he is third in the league in assists (4.5 pg), his assist-to-turnover ratio (1.4 to 1) ranks just 10th best in the conference.

When you’re playing at Kentucky and following in the footsteps of former Calipari greats like Rose, Evans, Wall and Knight, those numbers just aren’t good enough.  And the coach clearly wants more from his freshman.

After Kentucky came from behind to pass and eventually rout Arkansas State last night, the Cats’ coach made it clear that the team got better when Teague left the floor:


“Obviously, without him on the court we played a lot better, there is no argument there.  But he also has to play better for us to win, I know that.”


True, but an ouch just the same.

As Jerry Tipton of The Lexington Herald-Leader points out, Teague is just 3-for-16 shooting in the last two games and he’s just 5-for-27 from 3-point range in UK’s last 10 games.

With SEC play tipping off this weekend, it’s no secret that Kentucky will need Teague to be more careful with the basketball.

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Comparing Wall’s UK start to Knight’s UK start

Kentucky
Content provided by John Clay’s Sidelines.

Here’s a chart comparing John Wall’s first seven games at Kentucky to Brandon Knight’s first seven games at UK. If you remember, Wall sat out Kentucky’s first game last year as part of his punishment for receiving extra benefits while an amateur. You will also notice, that Wall played 13 more minutes than Knight to this point, but took 23 fewer shots. Wall had 30 more assists, but two fewer turnovers than Knight at this point. And Brandon has had a harder time getting to the foul line. Wall had taken nearly twice as many free throws by this point. That’s the main reason why Wall had scored 11 more points.

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John Wall injures foot in game against Derrick Rose

Kentucky
Content provided by John Clay’s Sidelines.

(AP photo/Jim Prisching)

(AP photo/Jim Prisching)

John Wall has succumbed to the injured list. The ex-UK star and current Washington Wizard hurt his left foot in Washington’s loss to Chicago on Saturday night.

An excerpt from Michael Lee’s story in the Washington Post:

While Rose and his former Chicago Bulls teammate Kirk Hinrich joked with each other in front of the Wizards’ locker room after the game, Wall was in the back getting treatment and having his foot taped up. Rose eventually got tired of waiting and left the arena around the time Wall slipped his left shoe into his backpack.

Wall hopes that his foot will feel better once he gets some rest, but he didn’t want to leave the game on Saturday. “As much as I put pressure on it, it just got worse and worse,” Wall said after scoring 16 points with six assists. “I just took myself out.”

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Despite what you’ve heard, John Wall’s pretty good

Kentucky
Content provided by John Clay’s Sidelines.

(AP photo/Nick Wass)

That radio guy for ESPN? What’s his name? The one on in the morning who is about to pull a hammy the way he goes out of his way to goad Kentucky fans? You know, the one who said that John Wall will never amount to anything in the NBA?

The one the cute and fun Michelle Beadle has to put up with on TV? (As Letterman told Beadle on a recent Late Show appearance: That guy with you, what’s his deal?)

I can’t seem to think of that radio guy’s name.

Anyway, wonder if ol-what’s-his-name was watching John Wall last night.

The ex-UK point guard put up a triple-double in Washington’s win over the Houston Rockets.

From Scott Gleeson of USA Today:

With Magic Johnson in attendance Wednesday, No. 1 overall draft pick John Wall of the Washington Wizards became the second rookie to post a triple double with at least six steals within his first six games – joining the Los Angeles Lakers great.

Wall’s 19 points, 13 assists, 10 rebounds, six steals, one blocked shot and one turnover came in 42 minutes of the 98-91 home victory vs. the Houston Rockets.

“I wasn’t forcing it too much, just finding my teammates and making the right read,” Wall said. “Sometimes I get too excited and try to make a spectacular play instead of a simple play.”

From Gene Wang of the Washington Post:

Not that Wizards brass necessarily was demanding more evidence it made the correct decision, but on night’s such as this, it’s clear why optimism reigns despite the team’s early travails.

“It’s fun to watch,” Coach Flip Saunders said of his star pupil. “The thing tonight he did is that he did it very much under control. One turnover is impressive, to have as many assists as he had to just one turnover, so it does show you one, his intelligence and how coachable he is.”

What was that? Did Saunders say coachable?

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Kentucky Basketball: Get Off My Wall

Kentucky
Content provided by A Sea Of Blue.

Wall does the Doogie and takes flack from Colin Cowheard.

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Tony Dejak – AP

Wall does the Doogie and takes flack from Colin Cowheard.

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The annoying Colin Cowheard evidently decided to take a major shot at former Kentucky guard John Wall on Wednesday. It seems that Wall did a dance during his introduction by the Wizards the other day, obviously a planned affair that trades on the popularity of the “John Wall Dance” that Wall did at Midnight Madness here in Kentucky.

Cowheard reached forth into the Stygian darkness that is his brain, groped about, and brought forth this Cow-pile:

“I’m gonna call out John Wall….Before the game started, he spent 34 seconds doing the Dougie. That tells me all I need to know about J-Wow. Then he opened his mouth later and confirmed it: not a sharp guy. All about him. In that line last night, that 29-point line, when he was out of control, he had 8 turnovers. By the way, Rajon Rondo had 17 assists last night, 0 turnovers. Rajon’s got rings, Wall will never have one.”

There is much more to it than that, but this bit is enough for you to get the idea.

This rant is idiotic on so many levels, it would be effortless to rip Cowheard brand new, jumbo-sized exit to his alimentary canal.  But there is no need, because Sports By Brooks has done it for us, and it is an effort worthy of A Sea of Blue.  Check it out.

Folks, that’s what we in the blogging biz call a “Fisking,” and it is truly a beauty.  You absolutely, positively need to read the whole thing.  It is relentlessly factual beat-down of a man who clearly thought moralizing about Wall was somehow a good idea.  As Jim Carey exclaimed in The Mask to two cheating mechanics he was about to sodomize with a couple of mufflers; “Hold on to your lugnuts, it’s tiiiiime for an overhaul!”  For those blissfully unaware of The Mask, check this clip about 2:24 in.

My response to Cowheard is simply this:  We had Wall on our team hear at Kentucky for one year, and it was never about him.  Wall never detracted from the team, and his personality was like a bright ray of sunshine in what had been (for the last four years, anyway) a rather dreary basketball experience.  My recollection is that basketball has been a rather dreary experience for Wizards fans lately, so I’m reasonably sure they welcomed Wall’s Dougie.

Just to set the record straight (and this is quoted and linked in SbB’s piece above, but it bears repeating):

“It was fun, man, it reminded me of Kentucky,” Wall said of his dance. “First time, we were going out and playing, having a good time. Sam [Cassell] and [Manager of Team Services Jackie Miles] told me I needed to dance to get the crowd into it, so I did it for them.”

So pardon us if we join Sports by Brooks in mocking Cowheard, not just for his obviously massively uninformed rant, but also because he apparently believes “Google” is a candy bar or something, and is too lazy to find out that it might have been about someone other that Wall.  A Google search would have also dispelled the idea that Wall isn’t “sharp,” revealing his 3.5 GPA.  Still wanna compare brain-pans, Colin?

On a lighter and more positive note, how cool is it to have John Wall and Rajon Rondo in the league getting all this attention?  If that doesn’t make you feel good as a Kentucky fan, I suggest you move to Louisville, don the red and black, and cheer for Rick Pitino’s team.  He needs a little extra cheering these days.

Finally, there is this wonderful piece by fellow SBNation blogger Andrew Sharp.  Here’s a taste:

So if you’re looking for someone to temper the expectations surrounding Wall, go somewhere else. I’ve been proselytizing since day one at Kentucky, and he just keeps exceeding expectations. It won’t be a flawless flight to the top, because it never is, but Wall’s trajectory is pretty obvious by now.

Word.


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I’m letting someone else take on Colin Cowherd

Kentucky
Content provided by John Clay’s Sidelines.

Loyal blog readers know I am no Colin Cowherd fan. But I listen to The Heard. Only I didn’t listen today. Started to listen, did hear a little bit of his Al Michaels’ interview, but then he started to talk about Brett Favre or Donovan McNabb and I quickly hit the pre-set button.

Anyway, seems Colin said something bad about John Wall, and some are in an uproar.

I didn’t hear it. I’m not going to comment on it. But Dan Steinberg of DC Sports Bog and the Washington Post did hear it, or was directed to it, and he did comment on it. He also has a transcript of what Cowherd said.

An excerpt from Colin’s rant:

“Much like I called out Greg Oden, I’m gonna call out John Wall….Before the game started, he spent 34 seconds doing the Dougie. That tells me all I need to know about J-Wow. Then he opened his mouth later and confirmed it: not a sharp guy. All about him. In that line last night, that 29-point line, when he was out of control, he had 8 turnovers. By the way, Rajon Rondo had 17 assists last night, 0 turnovers. Rajon’s got rings, Wall will never have one.”

It goes on from there.

I think it is safe to say that Colin Cowherd has never met John Wall, so therefore he knows everything there is to know about John Wall. That’s all.

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Calipari Wants A Little Less From Knight

Brandon Knight is not John Wall.  He’s not playing with the same teammates who Wall shared the Rupp Arena court with last year.  And the expectations are not the same for Knight and this year’s Kentucky team.

That said, Knight will be compared to Wall all season long.  It’s not fair, but it is a fact.

Now perhaps it’s just his style or play or perhaps he was trying to shine against Wall’s considerable shadow, but UK’s freshman point guard tried to be Mr. Everything in the Wildcats exhibition opener against Pikeville College this week.  According to John Calipari he tried to do too much.

“You can’t just drive in the first play of the game,” Calipari said of Knight’s play.  “You get everybody involved.  He’s got a green light, so get everyone involved (first).  Then when you see spots, go take your play.”

“What he does and what I like is he’s a fighter.  He just took it and drove it like, ‘I’m going to do it.’  So at the time, I’m going to let him just go.  If nobody else wants to do it, do it all.  But we can’t win that way.  we have to have him run our club.”

Knight responded well to the criticism after the game and it will be interesting to see how his game develops over the course of the season.  But one thing is guaranteed — he will be compared to Wall all year long.  And that could be enough to make some players try to do too much.

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BBL: John Wall is a Wizard in front of the home folks

Kentucky
Content provided by John Clay’s Sidelines.

(AP photo)

(AP photo)

Big Blue Links for Wednesday:

Michael Lee of the Washington Post: “Wall was like a cyclone on the floor, whirling all over and doing everything in his power to will the Wizards to their first win of the season. He finished with a team-high 29 points, 13 assists and 9 steals, but the Wizards wouldn’t have been able to pull out a 116-115 victory on Tuesday without reserve Cartier Martin nailing a desperation three-pointer to force the extra frame, or Andray Blatche overcoming some missed shots and fumbled plays to step to the foul line and hit the decisive free throws with 7.1 seconds remaining.”

Michael Wilbon of the Washington Post: “By the time the Wizards become a threat to make or advance in the playoffs, most of the players who were Wall’s teammates Tuesday night, in his home regular season debut for the team that made him the overall No. 1 pick in the draft, will be long gone. That’s the necessary reality of the NBA. Check the difference in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ team photo from LeBron’s rookie season to his sixth, or the Bulls’ team photo from Michael Jordan’s first year to when the Bulls became a contender.”

Mike Lynch of espn.com:Wall is the first player in NBA history to have at least 29 points, 13 assists and nine steals in a single game. He’s the fourth player in NBA history to have at least 20 points and 10 assists in his home debut. Only one NBA rookie has ever had more than Wall’s nine steals in a game (steals have been an official stat since 1973-74). That was Ron Harper back in 1986-87.”

Chip Cosby of the Herald-Leader: “The play called for Hartline to throw a post route to Matthews in the end zone, but Matthews misinterpreted the call and broke his route off, allowing Johnthan Banks an easy interception at the MSU 1-yard line that iced the game. Afterward, both Hartline and Coach Joker Phillips acknowledged that Matthews blew the call. That was just part of what was a disastrous night for the 6-foot-6 senior receiver. He spent the first quarter on the sideline for an unspecified violation of team rules. Matthews didn’t elaborate on what got him suspended.”

(Hat tip DC Sports Bog.)

My column for Wednesday: “At present, it’s good. Or has a chance to be good. It boasts Brandon Knight. It claims Darius Miller. It has Terrence Jones. It has a more mature swingman in DeAndre Liggins and a promising freshman in Doron Lamb. But it has just enough holes to produce apprehension. The most troubling hole is in the middle. Even with the 6-foot-11 Kanter, Kentucky is not the biggest team. Minus the Turkish terror, the Cats are significantly smallish. John Calipari started four guards in the 97-66 win over the Pikeville College Bears. He has his reasons.”

Jerry Tipton of the Herald-Leader: “During Kentucky’s 97-66 exhibition victory over Pikeville College on Monday, freshman point guard Brandon Knight continued to be arguably the brightest of the bright spots. But that doesn’t mean he’s immune to the trial-and-error learning process that all players experience this time of year. UK Coach John Calipari suggested that Knight needed to put his take-charge approach into a team concept, especially because of the position he plays.”

Ken Howlett of A Sea of Blue: “Because, after all, how good this edition of the Wildcats can be will be determined by what the NCAA, in all their delayed “wisdom,” decides on the Enes Kanter eligibility issue. So muddy is the water, that UK coach John Calipari (in November!) is surely struggling with how to best prepare his players for the season. Should he coach as if Kanter won’t be playing with the ‘Cats, or should he prepare his team as if Kanter will gain his eligibility at some point in the season? Or is there some happy marriage of the two possibilities that allows Calipari to competently prepare his team without having the benefit of knowing if the best teenage center in the world will be wearing “Kentucky” across his rather broad chest?”

Eric Lindsey of Cat Scratches: “Imagine a soccer offense similar to a no-huddle, four-wideout football team (sounds kind of like the Oregon football team, huh?). That’s what Jon Lipsitz is trying to implement in his second year at the helm of the women’s soccer program. “We are gunslingers and that’s our attitude,” Lipsitz said. “We throw everybody in the attack. We take every risk possible. Let’s be honest. Soccer can, at times, be a little mundane and a little boring. I love the game but I’m willing to say that. We don’t want it to be. We want it to be exciting. We want the crowd to love what they see. We want to try fancy moves and take risks.”

Larry Vaught of the Danville Advocate-Messenger: “He continues to hear from some of the nation’s top football programs, including Oregon and three in the Southeastern Conference, as well as a slew of recruiting analysts and media members. He’s been selected to play in one of the nation’s elite high school all-star games – the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio Jan. 8 on NBC-TV – and recently set a school record with 32 tackles against East Jessamine. Yet Boyle County senior Lamar Dawson has not wavered on his final seven schools and continues to insist winning a state championship remains his top priority. Boyle, which has a 25-game winning streak and has won 38 of 39 games the last three years, opens the playoffs Friday by hosting Bourbon County.”

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Reactions to John Wall’s NBA debut

Kentucky
Content provided by John Clay’s Sidelines.

Reactions to John Wall’s NBA debut last night:

Washington Post photo gallery from John Wall’s first game.

Michael Lee of the Washington Post: “It didn’t take long for Wall to realize that this league is on a much different level, and that the separation between the Washington Wizards and the Orlando Magic is much greater. Wall’s speedy drives to the basket were greeted by a muscle-bound, 6-foot-11 wall named Dwight Howard. His open jumpers rarely fell, his teammates couldn’t hit shots, either, and the Wizards were embarrassed, 112-83. ‘For my first game to be a road game against a team that went to the Finals two years ago, it’s pretty tough,’ Wall said after scoring 14 points with nine assists in 35 minutes. ‘We knew it was going to be a tough game and we came up pretty short. As a team, we have a lot to work on.’”

More from Michael Lee of the WP: “It was an unusual performance for Wall, who typically looks for his teammates first but fell into the Magic’s trap. When speaking about Wall before the game, Stan Van Gundy said, ‘In terms of his speed on the floor, he’s up there with anybody in the league.’ Since the Magic knew that it couldn’t keep up with the 20-year-old lightening bolt, Van Gundy decided to have point guard Jameer Nelson step back as far as he could, giving Wall as much room as he wanted for jumpers. Of Wall’s 13 misses, eight came from 17 feet or beyond. ‘He was wide open. It’s not like he took bad shots,’ Saunders said.”

Adam Figman of Slam Online: “In his first NBA game, John Wall didn’t exactly fly over the bar Blake Griffin set the night before. After the Clippers‘ rookie astounded fans and garnered some (very) early Rookie of the Year buzz, Wall failed to match Griff against an Orlando team that made a helluva first impression. The Wizards’ guard finished with a modest 14 points (6-19 from field) and 9 assists, though to his credit, got little-to-no help from, well, anyone.”


Jason Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: “Wizards point guard John Wall, the top overall pick in June’s draft, scored 14 points and dished out nine assists. But he made only six of his 19 shot attempts. ‘I thought we kept Wall under control until very late in the game,’ Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said.

Mike Bianchi of the Sentinel:Even Tiger Woods came out of seclusion to be here – his first Magic game since another not-so-festive Thursday night 11 months ago. I guess it’s true: This new arena truly has brought the community closer together – even a disgraced golfer who hasn’t been out in public in nearly a year. I wasn’t there when the expansion Magic opened up the old arena 21 years ago, but it couldn’t have been any more fervent and festive than this. And by this, I mean Thursday night’s hellacious hoops housewarming when the Orlando Magic trounced the Washington Generals, er, Wizards 112-83 and lifted the curtain not only on a new building but on a new attitude.”

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