Ira D. Combs
Director / Syndicated Columnist
Tri State Sports Media Services Inc.
Approximately one month ago several of my media friends and a few of my loyal readers of this column questioned my sports intelligence or sanity when I stepped up to the plate and predicted John Calipari would take this team and sail into the March Madness portion of this college basketball season unblemished at 16 - 0 .
Honestly , the morning after I wrote that column I was really feeling kind of stupid and preparing myself for the next home game at Rupp Arena for some good natured gouging from my media friends and I got it . Then at halftime of the Vanderbilt game in Nashville I was really feeling shaky about my abilities to evaluate and project college basketball fortunes but I survived . Then around about the ten minute mark of the Mississippi State game I started feeling kind of astute . Going down the homestretch of late February I just started throwing my chest out a little bit farther as each win mounted .
Today , I can crow a little and I will because this is a rarity in my brief seven year sports journalism career .
The hard truth and fact of the matter is this team is still growing and learning different ways to beat their opponents . It's obviously a team with great size and athleticism at each position and although they are still young and tender to tournament play situations they have just enough experience in Darius Miller , Doron Lamb , and Terrence Jones that it should carry it thru tough times in late game situations when each possession is magnified .
Two things have brought this team to it's present level of elite status in the last month but both of these items can be like the weather , they can go away just like they were never their but they have been consistently solid for the last ten games . Perimeter shooting as a team and great floor play and vision by it's lead guard Marquis Teague .
If both of these traits stay a staple of this team I don't see any team beating them unless they have an out of body experience as a team in knocking down 3's in the double figure range and that's just not going to happen with this team's defensive abilities at each position .
One situation I would have liked to have seen in conference play that never really developed once let alone two or three times which is a rarity for any college basketball team this day and age . The closest I can think of was a defensive situation and it was against North Carolina in the non conference part of the schedule .
How would Coach Cal and the players have handled a late game situation where one basket is needed to win a game or save a game and put it into overtime .
Who would Cal go to and how would he set it up ? Just something to dwell on and I'm betting that situation will develop somewhere in the next few weeks .
National Media Still Has To Question Either Cal or Cats
Seth Davis , one of CBS sports lead anchors in the studio of their college basketball national broadcast team just had to throw a little thorn into sundays impressive UK win on the road at Florida when the CBS crew was finishing up coverage of the Cats - Gators game . Davis , who has thrown many darts thru the hearts of Big Blue Nation over the years predicted that UK would take a loss in the SEC tourney due to Calipari not liking the conference tournament scene and his feelings and lack of emotion feeding off to his team and setting a carefree emotionless mindset in his players as they await the NCAA's Big Dance a week later .
My response to that remark .
If Florida , Vanderbilt , and Mississippi State can't whip the Cats in the friendly confines of their own backyard then how can they conquer them in Rupp Arena South which is exactly what the New Orleans Arena will be come friday afternoon for the entire weekend . Plus UK still needs to finalize that no brainer of a 1st round site in Louisville's KFC Yum Center with three more wins because we all know the NCAA selection committee is just waiting for any excuse to send them somewhere father away .
Goal # 1 , check , an SEC regular season championship ( a perfect 16 - 0 ) . Goal # 2 , the SEC tournament championship lies in front of John Calipari's elite Wildcats in New Orleans , Louisiana this coming weekend and you will be able to check it off come next sunday as well . Then Davis and the other college basketball gurus and naysayers can start the Calipari can't win the "Big One" scenario all the way thru March Madness and back to New Orleans and the Final Four in the Super Dome .
Trust me there will always be doubt by many national media experts for a UK championship then excuses for the opponent when UK does win and with John Calipari now at the reins of the "Roman Empire Of College Hoops" their will be questions about any championship he leads them to being legit and above the table in earning the championship afterward .
That's just the way it's always been on the American sports scene , nobody likes or admires the dominant winner , except the winner and especially when Kentucky basketball is the winner .
Just enjoy the next month folks if you reside inside the Commonwealth because for a change the world won't question our way of life and look at us as " Backward Hillbillies" and the national TV cameras won't show the eye sores of our Commonwealth like they do the other eleven months of the year . For a few weeks we can all feel equal to anyone anywhere because we all take reverence in our flag ship state university basketball team . It's ours and we all identify with it from Pikeville to Paducah .
For the next month and the first weekend in May ( Kentucky Derby ) the world will have to look up to us because we set the standards of success in college hoops and horses .
Will A UK - Syracuse Match Up Ever Happen
If neither team goes down the rest of the way the setting on championship night would be Kentucky 38 - 1 # 1 , Syracuse 38 - 1 # 2 which would make it the ultimate match up for the NCAA championship but those games rarely come to fruition .
Ironically , a close friend of mine who works inside the Louisville athletic department informed me recently that exact conversation popped up in a recent Cardinal staff meeting and the final conclusion by the head man of the staff ( remember they have played both UK and Syracuse ) was that if both teams played to their talents ......... UK is a ten point better team .
Who do you most dread or is their a team out there that you feel might give Cal's boys a different and complex look . Most people that I've discussed this topic with bring up Syracuse immediately and their 2 - 3 zone defense as a difficult challenge . Not me , I think Darius Miller and Michael Kidd - Gilchrist can both do to the middle of that zone the same thing Jack "Goose" Givens did to the Duke 2 - 3 zone in the 1978 championship game . Remember , "Goose" hit the Blue Devils for 38 points that evening in one of the most impressive individual performances ever in Final Four play .
Personally , I hope the NCAA selection committee steers UK away from North Carolina and Michigan State , at least until the Final Four .
UK Football and Joker Phillips Get A Little Love
With the execution of some tough love by Joker Phillips on the recent dismissal of LB Ridge Wilson fresh on everyone's mind UK football and Coach Joker Phillips got a little dose of some loyalty type love last thursday afternoon when Jacob Hyde an impressively developed 6' 3" 315 lb. DL from Clay Co. cast his lot for the Wildcats for the 2013 recruiting class . Not often but a few times in the recent past UK football has tapped the mountains of eastern ky. for some raw but rare talent because they know kids from the mountains have true blue roots and will put the extra time and effort into the program needed . Classic overachievers as they say in sports terminology .
This player may be even more special because his body is already in the final stages of being developed for SEC type competition . Don't let his high school team's record last year throw you because they didn't have much to go with him and everybody ran away from him and all QB's rolled out opposite his side . Plus he was constantly double and triple teamed which is the ultimate respect factor given to a player .
Many people have compared Hyde to former Cats George Massey of Cumberland and Jeremy Caudill of Prestonsburg who both had very solid careers at UK as defensive linemen .
Jacob Hyde has a more impressive body right now and a motor just as powerful as Caudill and Massey .