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Dillard Bleu Devils 54 @ Kentucky Wildcats 122: Postmortem

Kentucky
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Something we did not see from Calipari on Monday night -- a smile.

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James Crisp – AP

Something we did not see from Calipari on Monday night — a smile.

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This game started out slow and then gradually built into a runaway freight train that drove straight over the Dillard University Bleu Devils.

Thanks and congratulations to the Bleu Devils for coming in and playing as hard as they could against the Kentucky Wildcats tonight.  Dale Brown’s young charges ran into a very talented, determined, and, let’s face it, hot Kentucky team tonight.  It was  a lopsided game, but the score does nothing to change the effort and class of Dillard’s team.  It just wasn’t their night.

For Kentucky, the foe may have been NAIA, but these Wildcats were out to make up for the egg they laid earlier in the week against the Pikeville Bears.  And they did.  They did it by rebounding better, by sharing the ball better, by shooting the ball better.  They did it in all the ways that mattered, including getting on the floor after the basketball, getting loose balls, and getting the 50/50 balls.  That’s how you play Division I college basketball. That’s the effort it takes.

Yes, these young Wildcats still made mistakes.  They gave up way to easy on too many 3-point looks.  They found themselves turning the ball over 14 times, a couple of times just surrendered by lack of thought and effort.  Free throw shooting is still an issue.  But nobody could look at these two games and think that the ‘Cats did not play a lot better tonight.

Observations:

  • Terrance Jones — game ball.  Jones had a double-double in points and rebounds, and threw in six blocks, four assists and three steals against only one turnover for good measure.  That’s an unbelievable line.
  • Brandon Knight was great as always, and was much better at spreading the ball around.  Brandon has to quit worrying about how many points he scores, and remember that point guards set up teammates for easy buckets.  Brandon is an effortless scorer, but he has to let that take a back seat to good distribution most of the time.
  • Josh Harrellson was really good the first half, just about average in the second.  Seven total rebounds against Dillard is not going to strike fear in the hearts of SEC foes.
  • Jon Hood was terrific, and if he can continue to make plays like he did tonight, his role on this team will only expand.
  • Once again, Doron Lamb was not himself.  He didn’t miss a shot, but he made a couple of silly offensive fouls and just didn’t get his defense anywhere near where it needs to be.
  • Eloy Vargas is still a step slow and way too soft.  He had a couple of moments, but he still has some conditioning and toughness issues.  Two total rebounds for a 6’10″/250# guy against the tiny Dillard Bleu Devils?  Not nearly good enough.
  • Darius Miller played better, but not nearly as well as he did in Canada.  Miller has got to be more aggressive as a scorer.  But his defense was better, and his rebounding was solid.
  • DeAndre Liggins brought terrific energy at times, but at other times seemed to play out of control.  He had a team-high 4 turnovers against only 3 assists, but defensively he was the best player out there all night.
  • Stacey Poole put his nose into the middle and got six big rebounds in only 8 minutes.  That is some really good production from a guy his size.  If he keeps up that kind of work on the little things, he will see more minutes.
  • I loved the passing tonight.  28 assists is getting it done, and shooting 70% will beat anyone.

Terrance Jones reminded me why I was so high on him after watching him in the McDonald’s All-American game.  He is such a tough matchup with his length, ballhandling, and ability to run the floor.  All those things were on full display tonight, and he was much the best of all the young men.

I hope Darius Miller does not let himself disappear like he did last year.  He had it on cruise control through most of the second half, and I would appreciate a more consistent effort from him.  But it’s hard to really fault his production, I just know he is capable of more.

Brandon Knight is a completely different kind of threat than John Wall.  Knight has such a complete game, it’s sometimes hard to recognize that he’s only a freshman — he just doesn’t play like one.  Nobody plays harder, more often, than Brandon Knight.

Overall, the Wildcats tonight gave us back the hopes that some of us surrendered a bit of last game.  This is the kind of drubbing you should deliver to an NAIA school if you are going to be a top 25 basketball team, and tonight, Kentucky looked every bit the part on causal inspection.  I’m sure Coach Cal will look deeper and find plenty of hidden flaws, but overall, this was an effort to be proud of.

Go, ‘Cats!


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Big Blue Bric-a-Brac: Dillard Edition

Kentucky
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Toughness?  Well, we may see some tonight ...

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James Crisp – AP

Toughness? Well, we may see some tonight …

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If the word “toughness” were suddenly removed from the dictionary today, half of Kentucky would surely perish.

Over the last couple of days, we find article after article after article talking about toughness for the Wildcats, and how tough Calipari has become on them.  It’s getting tough to find a word that will replace tough when it comes to toughness.

Man.  Tough day.

Anyway, the bottom line is that Kentucky got pushed around the other day by an NAIA team, and that’s something that you have to learn from.  One of the great things about last year’s team is that it had so many players with a hard edge, and this year’s team has none that are obvious.  But Calipari understands that, and I’m sure that hard, aggressive, physical practices will soon translate into improved play on the court, particularly in the area of getting to loose balls, and getting contested rebounds.

Every team has to grow up.

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Dillard brings former UK player Dale Brown back to Rupp Arena, this time as a coach.  I know most of you will remember Brown if you think back a bit, and with all this talk about toughness, it is surely appropriate to Dale Brown.  Brown was a JUCO transfer from Gulf Coast Community College who played about 25 minutes per game during the Final Four season of 1992-93.  He scored 16 points in Kentucky’s overtime loss to Michigan.

Dale was always a hustler, and he always got after loose balls.  It’s a sure bet his team will, too, and this will be a good test to see if Calipari’s new focus during practice has had any discernible effect.

This is a little weird.  John Calipari meets Warren Buffett at KFC for lunch.  Nobody knows what they talked about, but apparently, it is the #7 item on Calipari’s “Bucket list”.  I don’t have a bucket list, myself, but if I did, I don’t think meeting Warren Buffett would make it, even if I went to 100.

Different strokes, I guess.

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Derrick Locke will dress out against Charleston Southern, but whether he plays or not is a game-time decision.  Donald Russell will be the starting tailback, and after the Russell family burned up Joker Phillips’ ears about his playing time, I wondered aloud if maybe that were the reason.

But apparently not, as freshman tailback Raymond Sanders has a strained abdominal muscle and is questionable for Saturday.

One thing I think few people have noted about Locke’s absence is his pass blocking, particularly on the blitz.  Locke has become very proficient at picking up the blitz and holding his block long enough for Mike Hartline to throw the football, or get out of trouble.  Sanders and Russell have struggled with that, and Sanders has not been able to hold a block for any appreciable length of time.  Something else to work on in the off season.

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I’m not surprised by this:

Of course, this is the same guy who once lobbied coaches to let him play on defense, but for now, Cobb is too busy carrying the Wildcats on offense and special teams. He leads the team in receiving (682 yards), ranks third in rushing (228) and is the Wildcats’ leading kick and punt returner. He’s also accounted for 51 yards with his arm, completing 4-of-7 passes out of the “WildCobb” formation. Of the Wildcats’ 37 touchdowns, Cobb has passed (3), rushed (3), caught (6) or returned (1) a total of 13.

I just talked about Cobb yesterday, but I had no idea he actually tried to get playing time on the defense.  I’m not surprised, but … well, just wow.  The legend continues to grow.  In ten years, he’ll be 6’9″/250 with world class speed and a laser, rocket arm.

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John Wall‘s was a hit with almost everybody except Colin Cowheard, So now the Wizard’s owner is talking Dougie:

We need your help. We play this Saturday night. We need and want you to be in attendance. The team plays better in front of a sold out building. Come support the team. … Off of soap box now. When we have a total paid sellout this season, I will do the “Dougie” – I promise.

“Dougie With The NBA Stars,” anyone?

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From Michal Eaves, a contributor to Wildcat Tip-Off 2009-2010, comes this:

But it wasn’t just the numbers [fomer Kentucky Wildcat Eric] Bledsoe put up, it was the way the team played with him running the show that impressed the most.  The offense was fluid and the tempo was quick.  Not only did the Clippers score 100 points for the first time this season, they also shot 50% from the field for the first time.

Speaking of Wildcat Tip-Off, this year’s edition is now available everywhere — Wal Mart, Walgreens, Kroger, Sam’s Club, and many others.  Pick up your copy today, or order online at Maplestreetpress.com.


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Calipari Didn’t Like UK’s Soft Play In Opener

John Calipari won’t tolerate a soft team.  But that’s just what the coach saw from his Wildcats in their exhibition opener against Pikeville College Monday.

Freshman Jarrod Polson told The Louisville Courier-Journal that Calipari asked his team: “If an NAIA school’s pushing us around, how are we going to survive in the SEC?”

Calipari also compared this year’s squad to last year’s on the toughness front.  “The only difference is, when we were able to practice, I didn’t have to do what I have to now, which is manufacture the environment of toughness.  We had it.  We just threw the ball up and we beat the crap out of each other, and we had 15 guys.  Here, I’m going to have to manufacture it a little bit, and I’ve done it before.”

Think Enes Kanter in the middle would help toughen up the Cats?

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Kentucky Basketball: Calipari Critiques The ‘Cats

Kentucky
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Coach Calipari was rather less than pleased with Kentucky's effort against the Pikeville Bears.

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James Crisp – AP

Coach Calipari was rather less than pleased with Kentucky’s effort against the Pikeville Bears.

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John Calipari had a lot to say about last night’s game.  A lot.  Some of it is the usual coachspeak, but most of it was quite pithy and useful.  That’s one thing Calipari does not seem to mind doing — letting everybody know where he thought the team succeeded and where it failed.  Here is what I am hearing from him:

  • Toughness and hustle.  Coach Cal basically called out his whole team on these two things, and they go hand in hand.  Toughness and hustle are two of the most fundamental things to great basketball teams.  You can have all the talent in the world, and play harder than anybody, but still fail if you don’t have those two things.

    Last night, the ‘Cats were not tough.  They let an NAIA team abuse them on the offensive glass.  Why?  Because nobody came in with the DeMarcus Cousins attitude that he is tougher than anybody.  Basketball is one of those games where the old addage, “It’s not about the size of the dog in the fight, it’s about the size of the fight in the dog” really says it all.  Pikeville had a much bigger fight in them than Kentucky did, and although they had far less skill, the fight saw them through to a competitive game.

  • Hustle points.  Cal claims that this is one of his lowest hustle points games ever, and I can see that.  Most of the hustle happened in the second half.  We saw guys like Liggins and Knight going after balls on the ground.  How many times, though, did Lamb get down there?  Miller?  Jones?  Not many.

    This is a young team, and it has to really develop an understanding of what it takes to win at this level.  You can’t just go futilely throwing your body around, you have to start with a determination that no matter how good the other guy is, you are tougher and more physical than he is.  Cousins had 270# and almost 7 feet to go with a scowl that sent that message.  Terrance Jones has a boyish face, gangly arms and looks about as ferocious as Winnie the Pooh, and he couldn’t intimidate Tinker Bell with his current attitude.  That has to change.

  • Missing open shots.  This is what Calipari said about that:

    “We’ve been working on 3-point shooting, too. We’re one-for-11 from the three. Of the 11, I don’t think anybody was guarded. So you’re talking about a horse shot that we were one-for-11 for. When I watch the tape, I’ll make sure of that. I bet you nine of them were wide open.”

    He’s absolutely right.  The biggest reason UK missed the open shots is because they played tentatively instead of aggressively, and watched the basketball all the way to the rim.  That’s not how you play in college.

    In college basketball, you have to be the aggressor at all times.  Every shot has to be important when you let it go, and forgotten after it leaves your hand.  We saw too many poses and not enough charging after the offensive rebound.  When you shoot a shot, even if it feels pure, you have to go straight for the offensive glass, or if you’re a guard, get back in defensive position in case of a long rebound or a quick outlet.  UK did neither well last night as the run-outs and poor OR% demonstrated.

    What’s all that got to do with shooting?  You can’t have one without the other.  You have to bring the whole package.  Focus on the rim, release the ball, and go get the rebound or in defensive position.  Don’t watch the ball fly sweetly through the air and pose for the cameras, it’s gone and sometimes the sweetest-feeling shots clang off like bricks.  When you start focusing on the game instead of following the ball around, your shots will fall.

  • Communication:  Kentucky didn’t have any.

    Twice, Darius Miller failed to call out a pick and Brandon Knight went slamming into a bigger guy.  Want to lose your star point guard for a game or two to a bruised knee, rib, or concussion?  That’s the way to do it.

    This is perhaps the hardest thing that freshmen and even juniors have to learn — how to talk to each other, how to communicate when they get beat, or when there is a pick, or when they see a man get lose for an open shot.  High school players are simply not used to communicating that way, and returning veterans need to relearn it often.  Coach Cal explained why this is important:

    “This is a team sport. It’s five guys becoming a fist. Five guys together. One heartbeat. We all know what we’re doing. We’re all responsible to each other. That takes time. This group, we’re going to have to learn it because we go have a home game against an NCAA tournament team, go on the road and play four games. So we’re going to have to, in a hurry, get some guys up to speed.”

    I like that simile.  Five guys becoming a “fist.”  Not a hand, but a fist to smite the foe.  That’s how you become a band of brothers, becoming a fist.  So tight there is no separation between you and your teammate, between his purpose and yours, between your heartbeat and his.  That’s what a winning team looks like — a fist.  One of the most apt metaphors I have ever heard.

  • Physicality:  Similar to toughness, but it is more a willingness to take and give contact.  Calipari intimated that physicality, along with toughness, shows up in loose balls — his teams get them, they don’t get pushed out of the way.  These young Wildcats got pushed around by a smaller, yet more physical team yesterday.
All this, all of it, has mostly to do with maturity and learning what it takes to win a college basketball game at the Division I level.  These things, taken together, are usually found in large measure on teams laden with juniors and seniors.  On teams full of freshmen, they are usually not found, and this Kentucky team is no exception.  The maturity, the toughness, the hustle, the physicality, the communications — all these things are unnecessary in the AAU world, but indispensable in Division I college basketball.  Soft teams do not win championships.  Teams that don’t hustle fail early.  Teams that lack toughness go home in March.  Teams that don’t communicate do not win SEC championships.
If it seems like I’m harsh on the young lads in this post, I am not.  I am merely looking at what the coach said, comparing it to what I saw, and accepting the validity of his remarks in the context in which he offered them.  None of this should be a surprise to Wildcat fans, and all of it will motivate these young players as much as anything can.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are championship basketball teams.  The first game always shows you how bad you are.
Enes Kanter, should he become eligible, will bring a measure of toughness and physicality to this team.  Unlike Jones, he did not start out as a guard and move into the middle — he’s always been a big guy, and he’s used to playing with guys as big and strong as he is, and far more physical than anyone these young Wildcats have faced so far.  Some of that will rub off on the Kentucky players, when and if Enes is freed.
But for now, these young men are going to have to learn all these things under the ministrations of a meaner Coach Cal.  It could be a tough couple of weeks.


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Gators To Face Georgetown College Wednesday In Exhibition Finale

After an impressive exhibition opener against Florida Tech, the University of Florida men's basketball team returns to action on Wednesday night against perennial NAIA power Georgetown College.
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Kentucky 97, Pikeville 66: Postmortem

Kentucky
Content provided by A Sea Of Blue.

Darius Miller had the kind of consistent performance that Kentucky will need from him all year long.

James Crisp – AP

Darius Miller had the kind of consistent performance that Kentucky will need from him all year long.

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I think we all saw what we expected to see — a team full of skilled high school freshmen with a couple of juniors run around and play AAU ball.

It’s axiomatic that the team you see in November doesn’t bear much of a resemblance to the team you see in January, and that’s likely to be true for this team as well.  Tonight, the 2010-11 Wildcats got their first taste of real college basketball against some former Division I players, and although they were still much the best, they have to know that this sort of effort is going to put them in jeopardy more often than not in the SEC, or against North Carolina, or Washington, or Michigan State.

One thing’s for sure — this Kentucky team loves to run the floor, and they do it very well, even late in the game.  When they finally all get into game shape, it will be interesting to see what happens to opponents in the second half.  The other side of that coin is that this isn’t a deep team, and to play at this frenetic pace, the team needs a bit of depth.  Calipari is going to have to find more minutes for guys like Jon Hood.

There were a lot of things to like about tonight, and a lot of things to give the Big Blue Faithful doubts.  What I am not really worried about is free throw shooting, despite early struggles at the line.  Most of free throw shooting is keeping yourself in a positive frame of mind, and not leaning on the release.  Doron Lamb did just that his first couple of attempts, and predictably bricked them off the back.  You gotta go straight up for free throws, guys, and just remember that if you can’t hit a 15-foot shot, you shouldn’t even be thinking about shooting a 20’9″ attempt.

Observations:

  • Brandon Knight is going to give teams fits — much like John Wall did, but in a different way.  He’s a step slower and a bit smaller, but he has better body control on the floor and much better judgment with the ball in his hands than Wall did at this point.  They say we shouldn’t compare the two, which makes me just want to do it every single game.  And I will.  Deal with it.

    Knight had a great line, and a very good game.  22 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and 4 TO’s.  His turnovers might not be that high again all year.

  • Terrance Jones did not play well tonight.  He didn’t seem to be in the game from the start, and is clearly not comfortable playing inside the paint.  He is going to have to get more comfortable there somehow.
  • Darius Miller was steadily productive the whole game, although he vanished a bit in the early second half.  But 21 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 turnovers is a line that we need from him every game.
  • Both Knight and Miller were great from the line.  I expect they will be taking the lions share of the free throws, if tonight was any indication.
  • DeAndre Liggins.  Game Ball.  That kid has improved so much in every aspect of the game, I just can’t believe it.  Defensively, he is indispensable.  He is the heart and soul of this team in every way.

    Do you remember Las Vegas in 2007 when Liggins basically refused to go in for Billy Gillispie?  How far has he come?  How much has he matured?  It almost cannot be measured with current technology.

  • Eloy Vargas has been away from D-I competition for a long time, and it showed — against NAIA comp.  He is going to be a bit of a project for the foreseeable future.
  • Harrellson was just okay.  He had 7 rebounds, which tied him with Liggins for team high, but he is capable of more game than we saw tonight.
  • Stacey Poole gave a couple of good minutes.  Nice floater in the lane.  He will be a factor in a year or two.
  • Doron Lamb was just okay.  He gets beat a little too easily off the bounce, but he did a decent job on the boards.  He has to shoot the ball better from the perimeter.
  • Jon Hood did a few good things, but not enough.  He needs to step up his game.
  • Effort was excellent tonight, with Liggins leading the way.  Brandon Knight and Darius Miller were hard on his heels.

Overall, we cannot be happy about two things — rebounding and ballhandling.  Kentucky had 15 turnovers, and got outrebounded on the offensive glass (OR%) by a wide margin.  That’s going to give Calipari major heartburn.  I shudder to think about having to look at second-chance points in this game.

Pikeville is a very decent NAIA team, and it showed tonight.  The Wildcats didn’t exactly struggle, but they had issues that need to be addressed, and I’m sure none of them really surprised Coach Cal except for the lack of success on the glass against the smaller Bears.  Also, this Kentucky team is not really in game shape — they should be able to run others off the floor, and Kentucky was a little gassed at the end.  Speed and endurance are what will make this team dangerous, and tonight, they showed that they have not reached the level of stamina they will need for this season.

Overall, a good outing, particularly effort-wise.  Execution-wise, a bit of a disappointment — probably as we should expect.


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State’s Sherrod Part Of NFF’s 2010 National Scholar-Athlete Class

DALLAS, Texas – Recognized by the organization as one of the strongest classes in the history of the storied NFF National Scholar-Athlete Awards Program, The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame (NFF) announced today the 2010 recipients of the NFF National Scholar-Athlete Awards. Selected from a nationwide pool of 121 semifinalists from among all NCAA divisions and the NAIA, the 16 class members are:
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