Friday, November 30, 2007

UK vs North Carolina....A Preview

Lwcat
Wildcats Thunder Administrator

UK vs North Carolina(12/1/07 Sat. 2pm-ESPN2)

North Carolina

2006-07 Record: 31-7
2006-07 ACC Record: 11-5(T-1st)
2006-07 Postseason : 3-1(Lost in NCAA Elite 8)

Head Coach : Roy Williams

Career Record: 524-131(.800) in 19 seasons overall
106-30(.779) in 4 seasons at NC

2007-08 Results

North Carolina 72 Davidson 68
North Carolina 107 Iona 72
North Carolina 110 So. Carolina St 64
North Carolina 99 Old Dominion 82
North Carolina 73 BYU 63
North Carolina 66 Ohio St 55

Key Plyers

Tyler Hansbrough 6'9" C/F -Jr. (22.3 points per game--10.3 R
Wayne Ellington 6'4" G-Soph (17.7 points per game)
Ty Lawson 5'11" G-Soph (10 points per game) 6 assists
Alex Stephenson 6'9" -Soph (4.7 points per game)--6.7 R
Danny Green 6'6" G/F-Jr (13.7 points per game)
Bobby Frazor 6'3" G-Jr
Marcas Ginyard 6'5" G/F-Jr

UK ranks No. 1 in all-time wins with 1,953
NC ranks No 2 in all-time wins with 1,921

There is no question that most UK fans are very apprehensive about the coming matchup against North Carolina. The Tarheels come into Rupp arena ranked 2nd in the nation and undefeated.
A quick look at the NC roster and you see terrific talent at all positions. The star of NC, as everyone knows, is Hansbrough. He is a big kid weighing 250lbs who has a blue collar work ethic around the basket. Some folks feel he may be a bit soft, but not me.....Hansbrough is ave over 10 rebounds a game. This kid comes to play every single game. The Tarheels frontline is loaded with talent and muscle. Thompson is 6'8" and weighs 240lbs while Stephenson is 6'9" and weighs 235 lbs. The player who starts the offense is sparkplug Ty Lawson, who is recovering from an ankle injury, but will be ready to go Sat against the Cats.

The coach, Roy Williams, is a highly respected coach who achieved great success at Kansas before returning to his alma mater. He immediately righted things at NC and is known as a great recruiter.

Most everyone has NC penciled into the Final Four.....they are most definitely an elite college basketball team.

In contrast, UK finds itself in an entirely different set of circumstances. The Cats, under new coach Billy Gillispie, are unranked.....they are a very young team of mostly freshman and sophomores.....and they have suffered some early season crippling injuries to key players. The Cats will have two of their very best players, Meeks and Jasper, sitting on the bench in
street clothes.

This UK team has struggled early in the season and suffered an embarrassing loss to Gardner-Webb. Only in the Texas Southern game has UK looked like a fairly good team. The Cats are still struggling to execute the offensive and defensive schemes that BCG has implemented. The Cats have had great difficulty in attacking the zone defenses thrown at them in the early season.

On paper.....the UK-North Carolina game appears to be a complete mismatch.....and it definitely could be a blow out if the Cats duplicate their sorry performance against Stony Brook. On the other hand, UK is playing on their home floor at Rupp arena......and I expect a UK team that will play with lots of heart and pride. If the Cats can shoot very well.....minimize turnovers.......and play solid defense......well, an upset is possible. Bradley and Crawford will need to show leadership while playing their A game. Patterson needs to avoid foul trouble while giving the Cats solid play on both offense and defense. In addition, it is imperative that Stewart and Stevenson provide good help on the frontline. Also, UK needs someone like Legion to provide some much needed help offensively.

So, while North Carolina is a solid favorite....don't count out the Cats.....I'm certainly not!

Peach or Music City?

Bigbluemist
Wildcats Thunder Football/Recruiting Analyst

We all know the Peach Bowl offers much more tradition than the Music City Bowl. It has been around longer and being a prime time game usually means a better crowd to watch.

If UK were to make the Peach bowl this year it’s possible they will match up with Virginia or Boston College. The Music City Bowl would probably mean a match-up verse FSU.

For the sake of discussion I’m going to say playing FSU in the MCB is better for Kentucky this season.

How much does Kentucky recruit the Northeast? Outside of Minniefield last year and Boyd this year how many recruiting battles do we fight with Virginia? How many of our recruits come from north of Kentucky?

While not the FSU of the 90’s would you not think they are a better draw and a better name than Boston College or Virginia? I would. While not having many direct recruiting battles with FSU we are trying to get better established in Florida and Alabama. Do you think those kids would remember UK beating FSU or UK beating Boston College. I think the former.

This is a discussion a buddy of mine and I had. He made very valid points for the Peach Bowl. He said, it’s more established, its prime time and it’s a bigger name bowl. Again, I’d love to go to Atlanta. I think our kids deserve to get the best possible bowl they can! I just think a win over FSU could reap better benefits in recruiting the south.

Whats your thoughts?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Former UK All-American Ralph Beard passes away

Ralph Beard(profile) an All-American guard for the University of Kentucky passed away Thursday Nov.29, 2007, Beard was born in Hardinsburg on Dec.2, 1927. Beard was one of the greatest to ever wear the blue and white. Beard is well known as one of Rupp's "FAB FIVE", with Wallace "Wah Wah" Jones, Alex Groza, Kenny Rollins and Cliff Barker. Beard is a member of the UK 1948 and 1949 National Championship teams, also he was a member of the Olympic Championship team. Beard will be missed by the BIG BLUE NATION.

Some of Beard's season career notes:
1945-46: First Team All-SEC; All-SEC Tournament
1946-47: All-American [Consensus (1st), NABC (1st), Converse (1st), True Magazine (1st), Helms (1st)]; First Team All-SEC; All-SEC Tournament
1947-48: All-American [Consensus (1st), AP (1st), NABC (1st), Converse (1st), True Magazine (1st), Helms (1st)]; First Team All-SEC; All-SEC Tournament
1948-49: All-American [Consensus (1st), AP (1st), UPI (1st), NABC (1st), Converse (2nd), Helms, Look (2nd), Sporting News (3rd), Colliers (1st)]; First Team All-SEC; All-SEC Tournament

Wallace "Wah Wah" Jones, Joe B. Hall and Mitch Barnhart had the following comments on the passing of Beard:

Jones called his former teammate a "top-notch player in the country, the best guard I ever saw.

"I'd do anything in the world for him. He was just a regular guy. We all got along, had a lot of good times together."

"He would be an All-American in today's game," Hall said. "His style of play was timeless. He was so aggressive and quick, a tenacious defender. He would make any adjustments offensively it took to make himself better."

Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said, "Ralph was without question one of the greatest to ever wear the Kentucky uniform.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

2007 KENTUCKY FOOTBALL TEAM AWARDS

The University of Kentucky football program announced its 2007 football team awards.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

The recipient will be the player judged to have contributed the most to the team’s success, its biggest contributor with his play of the field. The award is selected by a vote of the team members. WINNER: Andre Woodson

MOST OUTSTANDING OFFENSIVE PLAYER

This award is given to the squad’s best performer for the offensive unit, recognizing the best execution at his position of all team members. This award is determined by the coaching staff. WINNER: Andre Woodson

MOST OUTSTANDING DEFENSIVE PLAYER

This award is given to the squad’s best performer on the defensive squad, recognizing the best execution at his position of all team members. This award is determined by the coaching staff. WINNER: Wesley Woodyard and Jeremy Jarmon

MOST INSPIRATIONAL PLAYER

The winner of this award will have demonstrated outstanding leadership and motivation through his play and actions on and off the field, both during competition and practice as an ultimate team player. This award is given following a vote of the team’s members. WINNER: Jacob Tamme and Wesley Woodyard

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER

The recipient will be the squad member who has made the most improvement in his play and contribution to the team’s success. It can be awarded based on progress since last spring, improvement from fall camp or development throughout the season. The coaches will select the winner of this award. WINNER: Steve Johnson and Corey Peters

OUTSTANDING FIRST-YEAR PLAYER

This award recognizes the efforts and performance of the top squad member in his first year in the football program. Those in consideration include freshmen and transfers. The award will be determined by members of the coaching staff. WINNER: Derrick Locke

SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE YEAR

This award will honor the player who made the biggest contribution to the squad’s success as a member of one or more of the special teams. The recipient will be selected by the coaches. WINNER: Tim Masthay

MOST OUTSTANDING OFFENSIVE LINEMAN

This award will be given to a member of the offensive line who consistently plays at a high level and contributes to the team’s success and production. This award will be based on game grades and the recommendation of the coaching staff. WINNER: Jason Leger

JERRY CLAIBORNE AWARD

The recipient of the award will be a senior who exemplifies the attributes and ideals championed by one of Kentucky’s outstanding former head coaches. It will be based upon academic success and the display of a team-oriented attitude throughout the season. It will be selected by the coaching staff. WINNER: Jacob Tamme

MOST VALUABLE SCOUT TEAM PLAYERS

The awards honor another unsung facet of a football program, the players who perform on the scout teams during practice sessions. The honorees will be selected based on effort, attitude and performance in contributing behind the scenes to the team’s success. They will be determined by members of the coaching staff. WINNERS: Curtis Pulley (Offense) and Ronnie Sneed (Defense)

UK to play in 2008 Las Vegas tournament


The University of Kentucky men's basketball program will play in the 2008 Findlay Toyota Las Vegas Invitational. Other participating teams include: West Virginia, Iowa, Kansas State, Delaware State, Southeast Missouri, Longwood, and Oakland round out the eight team tournament. Each team will play four games – the first two at campus sites, and the final two at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas Nov. 28 and 29, 2008. Package prices(Sold as a 2-Day Package ONLY ) start at $94 and go to $168. Click link for seating chart.

For more information you can contact the Orleans Arena at (702) 284-7777 or on the web at www.orleansarena.com.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

UK vs Stony Brook Preview

Lwcat
Wildcats Thunder Administrator

Stony Brook is located in Stony Brook, NY
Enrollment--14,851
Conference--America East
2006-07 Record....9-20
2006-07 America East Record..4-12
Head Coach--Steve Pikiell

2007-08 Record to Date--0-5

Stony Brook..64..Villanova..86-Loss
Stony Brook.68..Lafayete..76 OT-Loss
Stony Brook..52..Maryland Eastern Shore..53-Loss
Stony Brook..56..American..64-Loss
Stony Brook..46..Columbia..66-Loss

Projected Started Lineup

Michael Tyree-G-5'11" Sr (Ave-11.5 points per game)
Ricky Lewis-G-6'4" Sr (Ave-15.5 points per game)

Mitchell Beauford-G-5'11" Sr (Ave-13.0 points per game)
Demetrius Young-F-6'6" Jr (Ave-4.5 points per game)
Emanuel Neto-C-6'9" Sr (Ave-6.5 points per game)

The Cats are obviously heavy favorites over Stony Brook. However, this is a very important game from the standpoint that UK faces North Carolina next in a few days. Coach Gillispie will be looking for the Cats to continue showing solid improvement on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. Al
so, BCG is also looking to move toward setting a starting lineup and a set rotation....hopefully, after this game BCG will have a much better idea as to the UK players who will best implement the offense and defense while proving the energy and hard nose attitude that he is looking for this year.

After the terrible loss to Gardner-Webb, UK has shown great improvement, but they are still young and inexperienced overall.

The loss of Jasper, Meeks and Harris has definitely hurt the Cats.

Still, the last couple of games have shown that these Cats are buying into BCG's hard work ethic and are playing with increased energy and passion while improving their execution of the offense and defense. They still have a long way to go, but it is very encouraging to see the improvement and especially the recent solid
play of seniors Bradley and Crawford.

Hopefully, the Cats continue their overall improved play against Stony Brook this evening.

Patterson earns SEC Player of the Week award




Freshman
Patrick Patterson was named the SEC Freshman of the Week on Monday. The award marks the first for Patterson and Kentucky this year.

How does UK look going into next season?

Bigbluemist
Wildcats Thunder Football/Recruiting Analyst

The second best thing behind exposure about a bowl game is the fact it gives you an extra spring practice.

We all sense some sort of, “fear of the unknown” going into next year without Andre, Raffy, KB, Stevie, Wesley and Jacob Tamme.

Let’s take a quick peak and see where we are.

QB

Curtis Pulley beat Andre out for the job a few springs ago. There also seems to be a fear that he can not throw as well as Andre. That might be true, but according to Joker he has improved that aspect of his game. He will not have to throw for 3500 yards and 35 TD’s next year for UK to be successful. IMO, if he goes 2200-2500 and 20 TD’s then UK will more than OK at the QB position.

Of course CP has not won the job yet. I’ve talked to different people at UK home games and they think Matt Lentz will be a tough out for the QB job. He was the 2nd best QB in South Carolina last year behind Willie Korn.

I personally have been high on Hartline and look for him to put up a fight as well.

One thing for sure, the QB derby begins in December, not April.

RB

The one position headed into next year that should make everyone feel pretty good. Tony Dixon, Derrick Locke, Alphonso Smith, Brandon Jackson and Moncell Allen. A nice 5 headed monster if you ask me.

TE

How do you replace Jacob Tamme? Not at all to be honest. TC Drake and Ross Bogue need to step up and make a move. There has been speculation MoGrinter and/or Wil Fidler might be moved to TE. I like what I saw from Grinter in the slot vs. UT. He might not be the greatest blocker in the world, but he could create match-up problems for the defense.

WR

A position with not a lot of game experience outside of Lyons and Ford. There is a ton of promise in Kyrus Lanxter and Greg Mosley. Terrance Jones will not be back full speed until fall due to an ACL injury this fall. RS Greg Wilson will get a look at WR as well. There are some possible hs players who could crack this rotation as well if they come to UK.

OL

IMO UK will be very good on the OL next season. They lose Scott and Leger. Christian Johnson while not getting the starting slot back did see a lot of PT at guard this season. Look for him to replace Leger as long as he does what he needs to do off the field. Jorge Gonzalez will get 1st shot at center. UK was able to RS most of their OL outside of Brad Durham. Stuart Hines is the one with the most press clippings but BJ Murphy and Phil Hibbard will push for time as well. James Alexander finally got the rs he’s needed since day one. Let’s hope his back is well and he’s added some weight. He definitely has the feet for the position.

OFFENSE SUMMARY

UK will have some growing pains early, but they should be able to run the ball and this will help with play action and allow CP (my guess) and his WR’s time to get used to each other. Our team this year could go 70 yards in 6 plays in 1:30. I don’t see that next year, but I do see a very strong running game early and the passing game come along as the season goes.

Look for Joker to utilize CP in a lot of ways Texas did Vince Young. I’m not comparing CP to Vince. I just think we’ll see more spread option and running from CP or Lentz for that matter.

The defense has improved statistically from the 110’s to the mid 60’s this year. Look for that number to climb to the 30-40’s next year.

DT

Myron Pryor, Ventrell Jenkins, Corey Peters, Shane McCord and Ricky Lumpkin will older and better. It’s been some time since we’ve had this type of experience and depth up front.

DE

After fall injuries the one position on defense that had a lot of us worried. Jeremy Jarmon is a STUD. Who replaces Lewis on the other side? Josh Minton and Nii Oniku come back from knee injuries. The big question is Jamil Paris. A good freshman season was hampered by off the field issues and missing spring practice. Jamil needs to do what is asked of him off the field so he can create havoc on it. He needs another 15-20 pounds and he can be a HUGE factor next year. Antwane Glenn, Greg Meisner and Charles Mustafaa our RS who will compete for PT next year as well.

LB

Wesley Woodyard seemed to make every tackle this season. The kid might even be missed for his leadership than he will be for his play. Johnny Williams and Sam Maxwell will compete for the SLB. Micah and Braxton will rotate at MLB. What do we do on the weakside? Brandon Thurmond seemed to be the heir apparent but a knee injury forced him out this season. Will Chris Drayton move? Can UK recruit a JUCO for this position in Mohler? I am not a big fan of JUCO players, but the coaches know more than me.

DB

Roger Williams will graduate. Marcus McClinton will be ready to go. I think Ashton Cobb will replace Williams. You have Trevard Lindley back. UK has got to find some at the other corner. At different times Warford and Adams have really struggled in coverage. RS players, Taiedo Smith, Greg Wilson, Randal Burden or maybe Antonio Thomas get a shot.

DEFENSE SUMMARY

I look for the defense to be MUCH better next year. Coach Brown will be in year two as DC and will have a very experience group back.

It will be a fun December and spring to see which kids move to the top. The biggest thing we need to find out is who steps to the front as team leaders!

Final SEC Football Standings

East
Georgia (4) 6-2 10-2
Tennessee (14) 6-2 9-3
Florida (10) 5-3 9-3
Kentucky 3-5 7-5
South Carolina 3-5 6-6
Vanderbilt 2-6 5-7

West
LSU (5) 6-2 10-2
Auburn (23) 5-3 8-4
Arkansas 4-4 8-4
Mississippi State 4-4 7-5
Alabama 4-4 6-6
Mississippi 0-8 3-9

UK Walk-on Kerry Benson leaves team

Kerry Benson a freshmen walk-on for the University of Kentucky's mens basketball program left the team. Benson is still enrolled and plans on continuing his education with UK.

Coach Gillispie had these comments:
“He practiced (last) Thursday and didn’t come back on Friday,” UK coach Billy Gillispie said. “That hurts us, because he did a good job for us. We’re going to miss him, but he decided he was ready to move on.”

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Thanksgiving weekend football recruiting report

Messenger
Wildcats Thunder Football/Recruiting Analyst

I have been adding to this series of posts about every two weeks. This is the final regular season installment. I do not pretend that this projection will be identical to the class Coach Brooks actually signs in February, but I will be interested to see how close it is.

Can new prospects appear on UK's recruiting board in December? Yes, they can. Last year it happened with Kyrus Lanxter after he de-committed from West Virginia, and with Charles Mustafaa after his HS coach recommended him to Joker. The year before, it happened with Terrence Jones, Darrell Stevens, and Lones Seiber. I don't think it will happen this year, but it could.

Yesterday, the Cats lost a painful season finale in four overtimes to Tennessee at home. The good news is that UK basically outplayed the Vols, despite losing to the SEC East Champs. This shows that UK has recovered from NCAA sanctions earlier in the decade and become a legitimate, competitive SEC football program. Recruits can see this every week on satellite or cable TV. The Cats will go to their second consecutive bowl game next month, which helps recruiting a lot.

Tha bad news is that UK finished the 2007 football season with four losses in their last five games. To some observers, this implies competitive problems based on depth and/or tactical issues. With so many key seniors graduating, it is unclear whether UK's football program can continue to produce the success of 2006 and 2007.

Another issue is Coach Brooks' age. Brooks has three more years remaining on his contract extension. While that will reassure some prospects, others are concerned that Brooks will turn 67 years old before the start of the 2008 season. For good reasons, many will wonder whether Brooks will still be coaching at UK by the time they are college juniors and seniors. That problem constitutes a clear and growing recruiting disadvantage.

While some prospects might look at these factors and see opportunities in Lexington, others will be scared off by the uncertainties. While some may relish the idea of playing for Joker Phillips, others will wonder whether Phillips will stick around.

The weak finish against Mississippi State, Georgia, and Tennessee will only magnifies the importance of these uncertainties in the eyes of some prospects.

That's why UK's February recruiting class....which looked so promising just six weeks ago after the victory over #1 ranked LSU....has now become more problematic.

UK's coaching staff still has one very important opportunity to sell their football program on national TV. Whether it is the Music City Bowl or the Liberty Bowl, UK will play one more televised game in 2007 in the fish bowl of intense nationwide scrutiny. The outcome of that game...and perhaps the particular bowl opponent....will set the final climate for UK's February recruiting class. With this elite senior class departing, this is obviously a critical class for UK's football program.

Recently, TE Sean Stackhouse gave UK a soft verbal (UK's first verbal in more than a month). This occurred during a time when UK's staff was pulling certain scholarship offers off the table, so our coaches could focus on a smaller board of interested prospects. Stackhouse was not ready to give Coach Brooks a firm verbal, but he likes UK enough to stay on Brooks' board with this soft verbal. Since Stackhouse is still taking campus visits, and since he is known to like Miami and UCF, it is too early to assume he will be a Cat. Nonetheless, UK's odds for signing Stackhouse in February have apparently gotten a lot better. Since our staff desparately needs a legitimate D-1 caliber TE in this class, it is tentatively good news.

UK's staff has been more active this year in Florida. Stackhouse is the first solid evidence. UK is in the final two schools for Miami WR prospect Eric Adeyemiand Tampa ATH Gorby Loreus. UK's staff has tried hard to get into the picture for Tallahassee QB/ATH BJ Daniels, Miami OT Mike Goodman, Orlando OG Troy Niblack, and Groveland RB Jeff Demps. I don't expect UK to sign Demps, Goodman, or Niblack, but we can clearly see the shift in focus back toward Florida in recent years (Jorge Gonzalez, Jamil Paris, Darrell Stevens, Taiedo Smith, Ronnie Sneed).

Lexingtonians Aaron Boyd and Winston Guy remain prominently on UK's board, but continue to accept campus visits elsewhere. Under the circumstances described above, neither is certain to be a Cat in February, although IMO UK still presents the best D-1 opportunity for both. In Boyd's case, there is a clear opportunity to play as a true freshman for Joker Phillips, in an offense with a deep, mammoth, young OL and a terrific athlete (Curtis Pulley) inheriting the QB job. In Guy's case, there is an opportunity to come to UK as a cherished local prospect who is coveted by the staff, and immediately move into a prime role as a special teams player and a future star at CB or WR. But both kids are concerned about UK's finish and Brooks' future. We will see how this works out.

With the exceptions of Boyd, Guy, David Ulinski, EJ Fields, Dexter Heyman, and Ryan Benzick, it looks like UK's interest in other in-state prospects may have come to a conclusion for this particular class.

UK verbal Randall Cobb recently appears to have re-opened his recruitment by beginning a dialog with Phil Fulmer's staff. It remains to be seen where this will lead.

Several JUCO prospects have appeared on UK's recruiting board (e.g., Shaun Mohler, Kollin Hancock, Chaz Russell, Marquis Avery). Avery, Russell, and Hancock can be taken seriously because UK has a history of signing JUCO WR and DB prospects under Brooks. We might see one of them in UK's class. If so, we will know in the next three weeks. But Brooks still appears focused on HS prospects at those positions. Mohler is a Nebraska verbal who is now looking around again after Coach Calahan's dismissal. Look for Nebraska's AD Tom Osbourne to try to settle him down.

At this juncture, I think UK's February class is shaping up like this....

1. Gene McCaskill, ATH, Chester, SC

2. Cartier Rice, CB, Duncan, SC

3. Chandler Burden, OL, Oxford, OH

4. Matthew Smith, OL, Louisville, KY

5. David Ulinski, OL, Louisville, KY

6. EJ Fields, WR, Frankfort, KY

7. Deaunte Mason, QB/WR/kicker, Nashville, TN

8. Osaze Idumwonyi, DT/C, Cedar Hill, TX

9. Donte Rumph, DL, St. Matthews, SC

10. Randall Cobb, ATH, Alcoa, TN, BJ Daniels, ATH, Tallahassee, FL, or Brian Sommer, S/LB, Alcoa, TN (Sommer is primarily a grayshirt candidate.)

11. Sean Stackhouse, TE, Jacksonville, FL, or Will McAshen, TE/WR/DE, Metairie, LA

12. Aaron Boyd, WR, Lexington, KY, Corey Heard, WR, Atlanta, GA, or Von Wise, WR, Cincinnati, OH

13. Matt Roark, ATH, Acworth, GA, Eric Adeyemi, WR, Miami, FL, Marcus Rucker, WR, Memphis, TN, or Marquis Avery, WR, Fullerton CC

14. Trevino Woods, OL, Athens, GA, or Ryan Benzick, OL, Fern Creek, KY (Benzick is a possible grayshirt candidate if Woods signs with UK.)

15. Darius Willis, RB, (Indianapolis, IN), Nick Jackson, RB, Memphis, TN, Quentin Trotter, RB/LB, Cincinnati, OH, Andre Sterling, RB, Knoxville, TN, or Chaz Russell, ATH, Pierce CC

16. Dexter Heyman, DE/LB, Louisville, KY, or Taylor Wyndham, DE/LB, Swansea, SC

17. Arterio Arnold, DT, Greensville, SC, Willie Bohannon, DE/LB, Mobile, AL, Eric Everhardt, LB/DE, Suwanee, GA, or TJ Walker, DE, Maryville, TN

18. DeAndre Jones, LB, Memphis, TN, Ricky Holloway, LB, Somerville, TN, or Shaun Mohler, LB, Costa Mesa CC

19. Gorby Loreus, S/LB/WR, Tampa, FL, Anthony Weather, S/LB, Indianapolis, IN, or Kollin Hancock, ATH, College of the Redwoods

20. Winston Guy, WR/CB, Lexington, KY, or James Hamilton, CB/ATH, Cedar Hill, TX

State of UK football program on November 25, 2007

Messenger
Wildcats Thunder Football/Recruiting Analyst

On this post, let's not get into why UK lost to Tennessee yesterday. That unpleasant subject is addressed elsewhere at Wildcats Thunder. Let's accept it as a fact that UK finished the regular season with a 7-5 record.

I want to discuss the state of UK's football program at the conclusion of the 2007 regular season.

Within the next 48 hours, we may have a better idea about UK's 2007 bowl game. Suffice to say, the Cats are now a bowl candidate at very much the same level of prestige as in 2006. Last year at this time, the Cats basically made a decision between the Music City Bowl and the Liberty Bowl. Having a headliner QB like Andre Woodson probably increases UK's marquee appeal somewhat this time around, but don't be surprised if the Cats land in one of those two bowl games in 2007.

Some fans may say this is not progress, but that would not be correct. The fact is, UK hasn't been invited to back-to-back bowl games since 1998-99. And given the program's long-suffering recovery from the Mumme/Bassett NCAA sanctions, this should be viewed very positively. Let's not forget....UK finished 2-9 in 2004 and 3-8 in 2005. So, major progress has been made.

Let's not be quick to forget the LHL and much of UK's fan base were trying to run Rich Brooks out of Lexington as recently as 2005.

Moreover, if UK wins its 2007 bowl game, this would be the first back-to-back bowl victories for our football program since 1950-51. Now, that would be progress.

Still, if we are honest about this, we had higher hopes after the Cats beat #1 ranked LSU on October 13.

Since the upset of LSU, UK has posted a 1-4 record to close out the 2007 season. What happened? IMO, it hasn't been one particular factor. In the first place, although UK currently has terrific skill-position players of a caliber not seen in Lexington since the 1970s, OTOH this is still not a deep football team by current SEC standards. That's why injuries have taken a big toll. We all know Rafael Little has not been himself since September. Keenan Burton, Jacob Tamme, Tony Dixon, Alfonzo Smith, Myron Pryor, Corey Peters, Ricky Lumpkin, Micah Johnson, Johnny Williams, EJ Adams, Paul Warford, and Ashton Cobb have all been playing hurt. Marcus McClinton and AJ Grigsby have been out. Some teams can afford that kind of attrition. It's fairly obvious now that it was a factor in the deterioration of UK's competitiveness after September.

Another factor has simply been the brutal difficulty of UK's SEC schedule.

UK's special teams did not play as well this year as hoped, either.

It is also obvious from the statistics that point-production by UK's offensive unit went south in October and November. Primarily, this can be attributed to the quality of opposing SEC defenses. Key turnovers obviously also played a role. Some observers believe Andre Woodson's decision-making has been problematic at times.

Still, UK's offense remains one of the nation's best, statistically-speaking. One can make a rational case that UK has scored enough points to be 9-2 or better.

And, yet, it seems obvious that UK's defensive unit has played better and better football as this season has transpired. The defense made several key stops in the second half of the UK-Georgia game. Although I do not want to get into a discussion of UK-UT here, our defense stopped UT on third down in a number of key second half scenarios. For the 2007 season, UK's defense has produced a very significant statistical improvemnt in all categories, compared to 2006.

So the slide in UK's quality of play in October and November hasn't been exclusively the fault of UK's offensive unit or defensive unit. Actually, winning teams tend to be opportunistic at key junctures in close ball games. Although UK is a senior-dominated team, and although UK's seniors have put the Cats in position to win almost every week, the Cats haven't really been opportunistic at crunch time since they beat LSU six weeks ago.

When one looks at college football as a game of opportunism, one wonders how this UK football program will get past the loss of these seniors in 2008 and beyond.

Despite the loss of Rafael Little, UK's RB rotation is in very good hands for 2008 with Tony Dixon, Derrick Locke, Alfonzo Smith, and (hopefully) Brandon Jackson. But it will be very, very difficult to replace QB Andre Woodson, TE Jacob Tamme, and the senior WRs Burton and Johnson.

OTOH, it must be realized that every D-1 program loses players by graduation and attrition. In this respect, every SEC program faces these challenges in replacing key departed players.

That's why the extra month of practice afforded by UK's upcoming bowl bid is absolutely essential. This is the time when UK's coaching staff will lay the groundwork for the new era to follow Woodson, Little, Tamme, Burton, and company. There will be some younger Wildcats who will step up and earn future roles in the December practices.

In 2008, look for UK to feature an improved rushing game. Dixon is a workhorse, and Locke is a future all-SEC player. If Smith and Jackson give them anything, this will be a very, very good RB rotation.

Woodson will be sorely missed, of course, but Joker Phillipis thinks Curtis Pulley is potentially the best player in UK's football program. I am not one who subscribes to the idea Pulley can be better than Woodson has been. (FWIW, Woodson has been one of the nation's best players for two years now.) But I am not a prophet of doom, either. I believe it is realistic to expect Pulley to be a very good SEC QB for the next two years. Pulley will never throw the deep fade like Woodson, but Pulley's arm is better than most people think. And Pulley's feet are dangerous. (If Pulley had run that two-point conversion yesterday....well, okay....)

The big key, of course, is UK's OL. Eric Scott and Jason Leger will be gone. Both seniors have been godsends in 2007. But Garry Williams, Zipp Duncan, Justin Jeffries, Stuart Hines, Christian Johnson, Brad Durham, Jorge Gonzalez, James Alexander, Marcus Davis, Phil Hibbard, Billy Joe Murphy, Jake Lanefski, Jess Beets, and Josh Winchell are scheduled to return. Word around the football program suggests a few of them may not be around in April, but I don't believe we will lose any key offensive linemen. This is the best group of returning offensive linemen UK has seen in modern history. Williams is one of th SEC's best returning OTs, while Hines, Jeffries, Duncan, Durham, Hibbard, Gonzalez, and Murphy also have chances to be very good as they mature and gain experience. UK's OL will be a major focus for competition in December and April. Don't be surprised if there is a major improvement here in 2008 and beyond. And when current UK verbal David Ulinski works his way into the picture sometime in the next 30 months, another SEC star will be born.

UK's WR and TE rotations will temporarily be in crisis after Burton, Johnson, and Tamme graduate. But OTOH, Richard Lyons is already one of the ten best WRs ever to play at UK. Lyons won't be enough in 2008, though. Demoreo Ford is an important role player who blocks like a moose, but Ford cannot take the place of Burton or Johnson as a receiver. This is why our coaching staff will take long looks at Kyrus Lanxter and Anthony Mosley in December and April. They might also consider moving safety Greg Wilson to WR. By the time August rolls around, they hope Terrence Jones will have recovered from his knee injury. With Lexingtonian Aaron Boyd and several other highly-rated WR prospects on UK's current recruiting board, help may be coming in UK's February recruiting class. If Marckus Boswell makes it to Lexington, so much the better.

At TE, they will have to rely on TC Drake and Ross Bogue until a freshman like Sean Stackhouse (if he follows through with his soft verbal) can get ready. Current FB Maurice Grinter has been mentioned as a possible future TE. But Grinter has already been moved from safety to LB to FB in his brief UK career. I like Grinter better as a FB now, and I think his athleticism will be a lot more useful as a FB in 2008 than as a TE. The TE position worries me, but Bogue is a good blocker who might become an asset to UK's rushing game. No D-1 football program has the luxury of trotting out a great player like Jacob Tamme every year.

So in the big picture of 2008, UK's rushing game must improve, and UK's OL will have to make that possible. Curtis Pulley will not be a dominant passing QB at the outset, but his speed and versatility will make UK's offensive schemes a lot more difficult for opposing DCs to game-plan.

The defensive unit is the really big opportunity for improvement in 2008. Already in 2007, Steve Brown's unit has gone from being one of the nation's worst (in 2006) to being an average D-1 defense. The losses of Wesley Woodyard, Roger Williams, and Dominick Lewis will be felt in 2008 (especially Woodyard, of course), but I believe Coach Brown's unit will actually continue to improve. The key is the pass rush, which is the missing link for UK's defense to become SEC caliber. Despite the losses of Woodyard and Lewis, UK's returning front seven is in very good shape for 2008. Myron Pryor, Corey Peters, Ricky Lumpkin, and Shane McCord represent a very strong returning DT rotation. (Peters is on the verge of stardom.) Speaking of stardom, Jeremy Jarmon is already the best DE at UK since Dennis Johnson, if not longer than that. Jamil Paris will return. Nii Adjei Oninku and Josh Minton will be back after injury rehabs. If redshirt freshmen Antwane Glenn, Charles Mustafaa, and Greg Meisner contribute anything at all in 2008, UK's DL should be considerably improved. With Jarmon and Paris getting another year of experience, and with Oninku and Minton coming back, UK's pass rush is bound to get better. That's the big key to the Wildcats' defensive success. I am not one who believes DJ Stafford is likely to make it to campus in 2008. My understanding is that Stafford may still turn out to be a year away. But if Stafford does make it, so much the better.

Despite the losses of Wesley Woodyard and Roger Williams, UK's returning LBs and secondary look very strong. Braxton Kelley, Micah Johnson, AJ Nance, Mikhail Mabry, Ronnie Sneed, Johnny Williams, Sam Maxwell, Mike Schwindel, and Jacob Dufrene are scheduled to return to UK's LB rotations. Brandon Thurmond and Chris Cessna are recovering from knee injuries and should return by August. These are all SEC-caliber football players. If current UK recruit DeAndre Jones joins them, so much the better. Schwindel might never be Wesley Woodyard, but Schwindel has a chance to become a very capable replacement. And if Brown doesn't think Schwindel is handling it well enough, he has the option of moving redshirt freshman Chris Drayton from safety to WLB. Even without Woodyard, UK's LB rotations will be deeper in 2008. They might even be better if some of the young LBs like Maxwell, Johnson, Sneed, Dufrene, Thurmond, and Schwindel step up big.

UK's secondary will clearly be better in 2008. Trevard Lindley will be one of the SEC's elite returning CBs. Injuries have hurt the performances of EJ Adams and Paul Warford in 2007, but an extra year of experience and better health should help a lot in 2008. Shomari Moore, David Jones, Robbie McAtee, and AJ Grigsby are also scheduled to return. At safety, Marcus McClinton, Ashton Cobb, Calvin Harrison, and Jordan Nevels will be back. Redshirt freshmen Randall Burden, Taiedo Smith, Chris Drayton, and Greg Wilson are good young football players who will help if they are not moved elsewhere. I do not expect to see Mychal Bailey in 2008, but he may still make it to Lexington later.

Special teams should improve. Kickers Tim Masthay, Lones Seiber, and Ryan Tydlacka return. The graduations of Little and Burton will hurt the return game. But Lyons, Locke, Dixon, and Jones are capable return men. Overall, UK's kick coverage teams should improve because of better overall speed and athleticism.

So as we explore the future of UK's football program, this brings us around to a sensitive issue. Before the 2008 season begins, Rich Brooks will turn 67 years old. Brooks has three years left on last year's contract extension. Brooks may choose to coach through the full term of the extension, but I am hearing other suggestions now. Let me emphasize, I do not know what Brooks will decide. Here is what I do know....

Brooks loves these seniors. They have been with him through thick and thin. They helped him rebuild UK's football program into a winner when everyone else in Lexington wanted Brooks' head on a platter. Emotionally and tactically, it isn't going to be easy for Brooks to start over again without them next April.

Joker Phillips is ready for a HC job. Some fans continue to pick at Joker's play calling, but Joker has presided over one of the nation's most potent offenses. Joker developed UK WRs Keenan Burton, Steve Johnson, and Rich Lyons, all of whom are among the best in UK history. Joker is a UK alumnus. Joker is well-liked in the coaching business, and he has very important political allies in Lou Holtz and Bob Davie. Some UK fans may not recognize the influence Holtz continues to wield nationally, but Holtz's recommendation will make Joker a prime candidate for any job he decides to pursue. Joker is liked by Mitch Barnhart....and vice versa....and I think he will wait another year for the UK job if Barnhart asks him to. But, make no mistake, UK will lose Joker Phillips to another major D-1 program if Brooks decides to coach through his current contract. I'm not saying this is a reason for Brooks to retire now. That's up to Brooks and (to some extent) Barnhart. I'm just telling you Joker is ready.

I truly appreciate what Rich Brooks has done for UK's football program. When Brooks took the job in December, 2002, Barnhart couldn't give it away. At least five other candidates turned it down before Brooks said yes. Brooks' first three seasons in Lexington were miserable, and I know that directly from people inside UK's Athletics Department. Brooks persevered and took UK to bowls in 2006 and 2007. If he wants to keep coaching, he will have my support and, I hope, everyone else's.

But this kind of a season can suck some of the positive momentum out of a program, and out of a veteran coach. Closing with four losses in the last five games will, unfortunately, have a certain amount of negative impact on UK's recruiting class. Losing the seniors will present a huge challenge to UK's coaching staff in 2008. If this challenges excites and reinvigorates Brooks, then obviously he has earned, and deserves, his opportunity to overcome it.

I'm sure UK fans would understand either course. Actually, this wouldn't be a bad time, though....

For more discussion on this click here.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Bradley's Wonderful Comments!

Lwcat
Wildcats Thunder Administrator

Bradley is not a Kentucky kid....as we all know.....Bradley is from New York......but, his recent comments are what you would expect from a kid who grew up in Kentucky.

Ramel Bradley noted the one-for-all approach that Kentucky's tradition fosters.

Bradley said...." This is way bigger than us, this is about the history of Kentucky basketball. This is what drives me. That's what I play for. That pride. I'm passionate about it."

Bradley interpreted the loss to Garner-Webb as an insult to UK's basketball essence.

" When I feel we don't play up to that. it hurts. It's about the fans and the people who come. When we lose to a team like Gardner-Webb, that's all they've been talking about. Kentucky.....Kentucky. When Kentucky loses, it's a pretty big deal."

Ramel Bradley's UK career has had it's ups and downs.....mostly ups. He is basically a 2 guard that has had to learn to play the point. Bradley is not a true or great PG like Turner and some past UK greats. But, Bradley has always given 100% and he has had a number of terrific games in his UK career. I've always loved "Smooth's" enthusiasm, passion and swagger on and off the court. He is a great kid and obviously he is proud to be playing for Kentucky. Bradley respects all that UK basketball stands for....the great tradition.....the great fans.

Smooth is very important to this UK team and I felt he played a solid game against Liberty and was vocal and showing the leadership BCG wants from him. One thing UK fans should always remember.....Smooth will always give 100% and he has great pride when he plays for Kentucky. Can we ask more?

UK-Liberty Post Game Comments

Messenger
Wildcats Thunder Football/Recruiting Analyst

After supper last night, I had an opportunity to watch the UK-Liberty University basketball game on ESPN Game Plan.

Looks like Joe Crawford's knee is feeling better. Joe played his best game in a long time. As many WT readers know, I underwent an arthroscopic surgical procedure on my left knee on June 8. Although I was able to return to work in three days, my knee did not stop hurting for more than two months. Therefore, I suspect Joe is just now starting to feel good. Last night, it showed. I should add that Joe played the best defensive game I have ever seen him play, and appeared to have more stamina than last year.

Pat Patterson continues to impress. We should enjoy watching him while we can.

I was impressed with AJ Stewart. The kid's ability to run the floor fits well with Gillispie's system. His PT is going to increase a lot.

I also liked what I saw from walk-on Kerry Benson. That kid is really "put-together", and he runs the floor well. I think Benson will find the floor more than a lot of walk-ons do, especially while Meeks and Harris are recuperating.

This win will help morale inside UK's locker room, but the 2007-08 season will still be a transitional one for this basketball program. Everyone needs to understand that Liberty University is not a very good team. UK will be a huge underdog to UNC next week. However, Gillispie has the Cats running the floor and playing great defense. I think fans who were after Gillispie's scalp following the loss to Gardner Webb might want to rethink things and get on board now.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

UK Football: Senior Day-2007

Bigbluemist
Wildcats Thunder Football/Recruiting Analyst

The time of year has come to say good-bye to another senior class at the University of Kentucky. This no ordinary senior class! How many recruiting classes have we all lived through hearing, “This is the class that will get UK on the road to winning!”

This group of kids came to UK when probation was getting ready to hit the hardest. They bought into the vision of Coach Brooks and staff that UK could win in the SEC. They had some rough spots early in their careers being freshman and sophomores playing junior and seniors.

Fans are looking at this season as somewhat of a disappointment. I can see that line of thinking based on a 6-1 start to the season. Let’s step back for a minute and look at where we were to where we are!

This group of young men came to Kentucky on the heels of the travesty that was Hal Mumme, Claude Bassett, CM Newton and Larry Ivy. There was no tradition to sell to help rebuild. The head coach was the 5th or 6th choice depending on what you read and believe.

They came in rolled up their sleeves and were determined to make a difference. A change in attitude and change in winning. Through 2.5 years of frustration the hard work started to show dividends the back half of the 2006 season. They finished with 7 wins and a bowl win! The first bowl win since 1984.

There was guarded optimism coming into the 2007 season. There was experience, but the schedule was too tough. I don’t remember any of the alleged experts having this team better than 6-6. Look at some of the pre-season bowl predictions and UK is nowhere to be found.

The win verse #9 Louisville was exciting and much needed after years of being kicked around by the Cards. UK showed their metal by winning the next week on the road verse a preseason Top 25 team in Arkansas. The bandwagon started to fill up!

After a loss on the road to #11 South Carolina the wagon got lighter only to breakdown after defeating #1 LSU at Commonwealth 9 days later.

College Game Day made its way to campus for the Florida game.

UK has lost 3 of 4 heading into this weekend’s final game verse the Volunteers. The fan base is again bitching, moaning and groaning that if we couldn’t win the SEC this year, we never will. I have a news flash for you…..you don’t go from probation to SEC champs in football in 5 years!

What's about to happen is the fact UK will have consecutive winning seasons. Kentucky is getting ready to go to consecutive bowl games! For long suffering UK football fans I think any of us would have been happy with this scenario five years ago! Right or wrong?

What needs to happen on Saturday is that fans need to be at the Catwalk. Make it 15-20 deep and make it go as far as the UKAA will allow. Watch this team as they enter the stadium and realize you have a team of young men that deserve your support and admiration.

Make your way to your seat 35-40 minutes before kick-off as Kentucky honors its senior class. Cheer as loud as possible FOR EVERY MEMBER OF THE CLASS. Cry during my Old Kentucky Home! It’s OK!

Once the game begins cheer louder than you did when we played Louisville or LSU. If we get behind, cheer louder! Win or lose, give this team a standing ovation as they leave the field. Show them we love and appreciate them for everything they accomplished.

What will happen, once WE WIN on Saturday….go down and shake their hands give them a hug and tell them thank you. Cry again, if you feel the need!

To the Senior Class of 2007-----THANK YOU!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

UK vs Liberty BBall Preview

Lwcat
Wildcats Thunder Executive Moderator

First, who is Liberty?

The Liberty Flames are located in Lynchberg, Virginia and have an enrollment of 7,728.

Liberty's 2006-07 record was 14-17.
Liberty is a member of the Big South conference.
Liberty's conference record was 8-6

Liberty has a new coach....Richie McKay

Liberty returns 3 starters from last years team.

Alex McLean....6'8" Sr forward----Ave. 14.5 points last yr
Anthony Smith....6'5" Jr guard----Ave. 11.4 points last yr
Rell Porter....6' 7" Sr forward
BJ Jenkins....6'0" So guard....starting this year
TJ Bannister....5'11" guard....starting this year

Record So Far This Year

Lost 62-50 to San Diego St
Lost 71-62 to Fresno St
Lost 73-62 to Portland
Won 64-49 over Coker
Won 55-53 over East Carolina ( C-USA team)

UK vs Liberty 7PM Wed (11/21/07) TV..ESPN FULL COURT

After UK's shocking loss to Gardner-Webb, the Liberty game obviously takes on added importance. For the past two weeks BCG and the UK staff have working hard with the Cats on the offensive and defensive schemes while working on correcting mistakes from the earlier games.

Unfortunately, the Cats enter this game with some very key injuries....Jasper, Meeks and Harris will all be watching from the bench. We will have to wait until game time to see who the starters are against Liberty. BCG and UK fans are hoping to see some solid improvement from these past two weeks of practice.

It is very important that UK make good progress offensively and defensively against Liberty as well as Texas Southern and Stony Brook, because the schedule takes a major leap forward in difficulty with North Carolina after those games.

It's obvious that UK cannot look past Liberty or any opponent this year.....the Gardner-Webb game proved that in spades. Most UK fans have sobered up regarding this year's UK team. They see a weak inexperienced frontline....a young team made up of mostly of freshman and sophomores except for Bradley and Crawford. I think most UK fans know that this will likely be a very difficult year.

However, if the team buys into BCG's system.....does a good job of executing on the floor......plays hard at both ends of the court......and overachieves......the Cats might still have a fairly good year. There is little or no margin of error this year against opponents....as this UK team will simply not overwhelm anyone by just showing up. Bradley and Crawford, as seniors, need to show leadership and have consistent good play. Legion and Patterson are terrific talents and we need them to grow up in a hurry and make major contributions this year. Bottom line.....every player must step up this year ....it's all hands on deck!

Let's all hope that the nightmare of the last game against Gardner-Webb will be replaced with a good solid win against Liberty. It's important to remember that a single really bad early season loss doesn't make a season....hopefully, that loss will be a huge wake up call for this team and the real UK team will show up against Liberty.....and not the imposter's we all saw against Gardner-Webb. One thing is for sure....BCG, the staff and team have been working their butts off to put a UK team on the floor we can all be proud of.....we should soon see the results of the past two weeks of practice tomorrow night against Liberty. GO CATS!

The Never Ending Washington Saga!

Lwcat
Wildcats Thunder Executive Moderator

It's obvious that many Wildcats Thunder members disagree over whether UK should take Washington if he is eligible. I understand both sides and why they feel strongly about taking or not taking Washington.

On one hand, more and more UK fans are beginning to truly understand how weak and inexperienced UK's frontline is this year and would like Washington to join Patterson to add some much needed talent and muscle. From all reports, Washington would bring a great deal of athletic ability, talent and a much needed rebounding force to UK's frontline.

On the other side.....there is a legitimate concern regarding Washington's academics and even if eligible....would he stay eligible at UK. As we all know, colleges are now penalized scholarships if the players fail to meet certain academic requirements. Secondly, Washington's attitude and some actions while he was in high school....such as refusing to re-enter a championship game.....at the very least....gives coaches pause as to bringing Washington into the locker room.

Obviously, BCG and his staff have much more in depth knowledge concerning these issues with Washington than any of us.
There has been all kinds of speculation regarding UK's interest in Washington and visa versa. Who really knows? BCG and his staff might be very interested in Washington or they may have decided that the academic and attitude risks posed by Washington are too great.

So while we wait to see if Washington is even eligible....the WT debate will continue.

As for my opinion, as much as I would love to see a talent like Washington on UK's frontline this year, I feel the academic and attitude issues present an unacceptable risk to the program. However, if BCG, who as I said has a better handle on these issues, decides that Washington is worth the risk.....then I will support BCG.....after all, that's why he gets paid 2 million plus.....to make the tough decisions.

This whole discuusion could very well be mute.....Washington might be ineligible......UK may have decided to not persue Washington......Washington may decide to commit to Southern Cal were he initially committed. Who knows! In any case, I respect posters on both sides of the issue. We should learn something in the near future. As always, recruiting is never dull....stay tuned!

My Take on Dick Vitale

Lwcat
Wildcats Thunder Executive Moderator

I notice that there are a number of posts starting to show up on Wildcats Thunder regarding Vitale and that he deserves to be booed when he comes to Rupp arena.

First, I totally understand the anger of UK fans regarding Vitale's comments on UK fans, Tubby Smith and the hiring of Billy Gillispie. Vitale was dead wrong in what he said.

However, to put this in perspective, one should remember that Vitale was a former coach at Detroit in college and the Pistons in the pros. He was a very unsuccessful coach. But, over the years, as a broadcaster I can remember numerous times when he has defended coaches that schools had every right to fire. In short, Vitale has tended to ignore the facts regarding coaches records and make excuses for why they still deserve to be the coach. He has even commented on football coaches being fired and why they didn't deserve their fate. I guess you could say that Vitale has a soft spot for coaches, especially ones that he has known and/or developed a relationship with in the past. I think that has a lot to do as to why Vitale defended Tubby and ignored UK's record the past several years and all the recruiting failures.

IMO, to be fair....Dick Vitale should be judged on his overall career as a basketball commentator. First, IMO, over his career Vitale has been a wonderful ambassador for college basketball.....no one can deny that Vitale truly loves college basketball. Secondly, over his long career, Vitale has said many wonderful things about the UK program and UK fans. For many years I enjoyed Vitale's over the top enthusiasm on the air when he broadcast games. However, in recent years, I feel Vitale has unfortunately become a caricature of himself and his sayings have become tiresome. I no longer enjoy Vitale as I use to, but I respect what Vitale has meant to college basketball over the years. He has given of himself in many worthwhile charities and spoken numerous times to teams and young kids about living life the right way. In short, Dick Vitale has a good heart and means well.

I think we all know that Vitale is at the tailend of his career and I would hate to have him come to Rupp arena and be treated shabbly with boos ringing in his hears. I would like Vitale to remember UK fans as class fans....who may not agree with everything he says.....but respect what he has meant to college basketball. JMO!


For more click here.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Where UK's football program stands now

Messenger Wildcats
Thunder Football/Recruiting Analyst


UGA 24
UK 13

My intention here is to describe Saturday's football game in the context of Rich Brooks' five-year tenure as UK's Head Coach.

A review of the game film shows both teams played hard, but neither team played well. In the end, turnovers played a key role in the outcome. Georgia committed four crucial turnovers in the first half, but a third-quarter block of a Tim Masthay punt turned the game's momentum permanently in Georgia's favor. UK had numerous opportunities to win the game, but the Cats were repeatedly unable to execute after the first quarter.

Neither offensive unit played well. After a huge performance against Auburn the previous week, Georgia racked up an anemic 283 yards of total offense yesterday. With 297 yards, UK's offense was only marginally better. Both of these totals were way below these team's seasonal averages.

That said, Georgia runners managed 184 yards on the ground. This stat enabled Georgia to control a whopping 34:15 of the clock in this game, dominating time of possession and wearing down UK's injury-depleted defensive unit.

While Georgia managed an excellent 9-15 on third down conversions yesterday, UK's offense posted a very weak 5-16 in that category. Time after time, when UK needed a third down conversion, Woodson was sacked, or threw inaccurately under pressure in the pocket. Time after time in the second half, when UK desperately needed to stop Georgia on third down, the Bulldogs were able to convert

It must be mentioned here that UK's offensive output yesterday (both in terms of scoring and total yardage) was its lowest since October 14, 2006, when UK was shut-out by LSU in Baton Rouge. This is not good news.

Georgia's defensive game plan utilized a tactic similar to the game plan used against UK by Vandy the previous week. Georgia kept at least eight men in the box at all times. That stiffed UK's rushing game and made the screen passes much more difficult to execute. The cost of this strategy was that Georgia's defensive backs were frequently one-on-one against UK's fine WRs in the deep zones of the field. So, in essence, Georgia designed their defensive game plan to force UK QB Andre Woodson to beat them. Although Woodson was able to complete several deep passes to Keenan Burton, Steve Johnson, and Jacob Tamme, most of Woodson's longer passes were under thrown or lofted high enough for Georgia defenders to make adjustments while they were in the air.

Although Woodson has had a very fine career at UK, SEC DCs have studied film and realized that UK's screen game is essential to the Cats' success. By packing defenders near the LOS, opponents have lately been mounting a fierce pass rush and forcing Woodson to live or die with the longer passes, frequently thrown under great pressure from our opponents' pass rush. As yesterday's game illustrated, Woodson does not throw the long ball accurately when his feet are not set. Even Keenan Burton's TD reception was under thrown. Also, decision-making....which was a huge problem for Woodson as a soph....has become a problem again under the extreme pressure that the better SEC defenses are able to bring. All of this has reduced Woodson from a potential Heisman Trophy candidate to another dangerous SEC QB who can be defensed effectively with good tactics.

Tennessee (UK's opponent next week in the season finale) also played poorly yesterday, barely beating Vandy 25-24 in Knoxville after trailing the Commodores for much of the game. Nonetheless, the Vols now have a great chance to win the SEC East Division. But, first, they must defeat UK in Lexington next week on Senior Day.

I want to make it clear that a UK victory over Tennessee next Saturday has now become essential to the long term success of Rich Brooks' UK coaching tenure. Earlier in Brooks' UK tenure, I repeatedly counselled patience with Brooks because of the challenge of recovering from the devastating impact of the Mumme/Bassett NCAA sanctions. So after I have had the patience of Job with Brooks for five years, you may ask why I am placing so much significance on one game. Here are five good reasons why....

1) If UK wins next week, the Cats will finish the 2007 season as a nationally-ranked team and get an invitation from a solid mid-level bowl game next month. But if they lose to Tennessee, the Cats will finish the 2007 season unranked.

2) If UK beats Tennessee, Brooks will be able to put the finishing touches on another solid recruiting class. This is absolutely essential for the successful future of the program.

3) If UK wins next week, UK's 8-4 regular season record will be UK's best since 1984, and a clear improvement over UK's breakout 2006 season.

4) If UK wins next week, Brooks' stated preseason goal of impacting the SEC East title race will have been fulfilled.

5) UK hasn't defeated Tennessee since 1984, an ignominious losing streak of 22 games. This is one of the nation's longest and most sensational losing streaks. Considering Tennessee is an arch rival, this is highly embarrassing, and a huge liability to regional recruiting for Brooks. In those 22 consecutive losses, at no time has UK been in better position to beat the Vols than the Cats will be next week. UK's fine senior class will be playing their final home game. Talent-wise, this is UK's best football team since at least 1984, if not longer. While Tennessee is a fine football team (again), this UT team has vulnerabilities in the secondary that match up poorly for Fulmer with UK's athletic strengths.

In summary, if UK can't beat UT this year, it's hard to see this losing streak ending anytime in the foreseeable future. Moreover, a loss to UT would end UK's season with a two-game losing streak, four losses out of their last five games, and a much more difficult sell to HS football prospects looking at the possibility of signing with UK in February. Further, ending this season unranked would be a major disappointment for Brooks and Barnhart, especially after UK defeated #1 ranked LSU in Lexington on October 13. (Gosh, that game seems like a long time ago.)

Brooks' seasonal records at UK....

  • 2003...4-8
  • 2004...2-9
  • 2005...3-8
  • 2006...8-5 (Music City Bowl Champions)
  • 2007...7-4 (i.e., pending UK-UT next week, then the bowl game)
After the 2007 season, Brooks has three more years on his recent contract extension.

Once Brooks gets past the bowl game next month, he will be without the services of seniors A. Woodson, R. Little, J. Tamme, K. Burton, S. Johnson, J. Leger, E. Scott, D. Lewis, W. Woodyard, and R. Williams. While the future of UK's RB rotation and OL look very promising, OTOH there will be huge questions for UK's QBs, receivers, and defensive front to answer next season and beyond.

Further, the future of UK's staff itself is becoming more complicated. Brooks and his old friend Steve Ortmayer have staked everything on this fine senior class. If they go out on a high note with a victory over Tennessee and a solid bowl performance, things will look bright again. But if they lose to Tennessee, there will be some public voices calling again for Brooks to resign. Joker Phillips is ready to be a head coach. How long will Joker hang around Lexington if this year finishes on a sour note and Brooks tries to hang on? What will Mitch Barnhart's long term strategy be under those circumstances? All of these questions are fair game now.

Despite being unable to stop third down conversions when yesterday's game was on the line in the second half, UK's defensive unit played fairly well against Georgia. In short, UK's defense played well enough to win. The loss of Wesley Woodyard will be difficult next year, but improving depth and athleticism on UK's DL and in UK's secondary suggest Steve Brown's defense can actually improve for years to come. In fact, Trevard Lindley, Marcus McClinton, Corey Peters, and Jeremy Jarmon may be on the verge of stardom. And if UK's pass rush improves, this can become a solid SEC defensive unit.

For the most part, then, the key future questions involve UK's offensive unit. Can Curtis Pulley do an adequate job of filling Woodson's shoes? Is Derrick Locke as good as he has looked in 2007 in a reserve role? Can Tony Dixon stay healthy? Will Brandon Jackson stay at UK? Will some of UK's redshirt freshman offensive linemen develop into solid SEC players, and help Coach Heggins field an OL that can control the point of attack against SEC opponents? With Pulley, Dixon, Locke, and an improved OL, can UK actually rush the football against SEC opponents as successfully as Mississippi State and Georgia rushed against UK in recent weeks? And where in the world will Joker find enough receivers next year? That's a lot of very important questions for Joker, Sanders, and Heggins to answer. If they can't, then UK's success in 2006 and 2007 might be unsustainable.

FWIW, I believe UK's Athletics Department are on top of these challenges. Every year, almost every SEC program faces these same kinds of issues and attrition. Managing a successful Athletics Department means anticipating and dealing with such challenges. I have supreme confidence in Mitch Barnhart.

With that said, this is the time when Barnhart and Brooks will have to earn their money. And a victory over Tennessee next week would make it a whole lot easier in the short and long runs. Make no mistake whatsoever about that.

SEC Football Standings 11/19/07

East
Georgia (6) 6-2 9-2

Tennessee (19) 5-2 8-3
Florida (12) 5-3 8-3
Kentucky 3-4 7-4
South Carolina 3-5 6-5
Vanderbilt 2-6 5-6

West
LSU (1) 6-1 10-1
Auburn (25) 4-3 7-4
Alabama 4-3 6-5
Arkansas 3-4 7-4
Mississippi State 3-4 6-5
Mississippi 0-7 3-8

Kentucky drops out of the Top 25.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Some pregame facts and thoughts about UK-UGA

Messenger
Wildcats Thunder Football/Recruiting Analyst

FIVE REASONS WHY UK SHOULD BEAT GEORGIA ON SATURDAY


1) So far in 2007, UK has played two teams ranked in the national Top Ten at game time. Those teams were UL and LSU. UK defeated both. Currently, Georgia is ranked #8.

2) UK defeated Georgia in 2006.

3) In Brooks' UK tenure to date, the Cats have always played their best football in November.

4) UK's seniors are driving toward an elite postseason bowl bid now.

5) The play of UK's special teams has improved dramatically after the bye week.

FIVE REASONS WHY UK SHOULD NOT BE ABLE TO BEAT GEORGIA

1) UK hasn't beaten Georgia in Athens since 1977.

2) Georgia is currently the SEC's hottest football team, while UK's best football was played in September and early October.

3) Injuries continue to plague the Cats. Marcus McClinton and AJ Grigsby are out. Rafael Little and Tony Dixon are questionable. Trevard Lindley, Ashton Cobb, Micah Johnson, Corey Peters, Myron Pryor, Keenan Burton, and Jacob Tamme are dinged up.

4) UK's defensive unit has regressed in recent weeks, giving up repeated momentum-turning drives to Florida, Mississippi State, and Vandy. Key penalties have increased each week, and our defense is once again having a lot of trouble stopping opponents on third down.

5) Point production from UK's offensive unit has dropped dramatically in the last month, as injuries, sacks, and holding and illegal procedure penalties have stiffled UK's offensive momentum over and over again.

SUMMARY

In a nutshell, this SEC road game in Athens is the kind of game tired teams like UK almost always lose. Georgia is now in control of the SEC East Division. The Bulldogs have won four-straight games, and are driving toward the East Division Championship. Last week, the Bulldogs put a 45-20 licking on an Auburn team that was ranked #18 in the nation at game time. On October 27, the Bulldogs decisively beat Florida 42-30 when the Gators appeared to be taking over control of the East Division.

Meanwhile, UK has dropped three of their last five games.

UK currently has the nation's #25 offensive unit in terms of total offense, and the Cats are ranked #14 in scoring offense. UK currently has the nation's #63 defensive unit in terms of total defense, and the Cats are #68 in scoring defense.

Georgia currently has the nation's #68 offensive unit in terms of total offense, and the Bulldogs are ranked #32 in scoring offense. Georgia currently has the nation's #25 ranked defensive unit in terms of total defense, and the Bulldogs are ranked #32 in scoring defense. National Rankings Link

For good reasons, then, UK is an underdog in Athens on Saturday. Looking at the NCAA cumulative statistics, there are legitimate reasons to hope UK's offensive unit will be able to move the football on Georgia's defense, but OTOH there are very good reasons to be concerned that Georgia's offense may have their way with UK's defense on Saturday. Coach Brooks has publicly said he went back to basics this week in practice. But one week isn't a lot of time to produce a qualitative improvement this late in the season, especially with all these injuries. But OTOH, Brooks' teams always seem to close out the season with a strong effort in November.

For basic reasons of loyalty as a UK alumnus, I'm not going to predict a Georgia victory. However, this is an uphill battle for the Cats. It's the kind of game teams like UK only win when everything goes right. In this case, in order to come away with a victory, UK must avoid key turnovers, get much better play from our OL, and make some key third down stops defensively....

....Which is exactly what happened last year.

Clarification regarding Gillispie's recruiting

Messenger
Wildcats Thunder Football/Recruiting Analyst

Billy Gillispie took the UK job the first week of April. At the time, AJ Stewart and Morakinyo Williams were already members of last year's recruiting class, having been signed by OTS one year ago. Within three weeks, Gillispie had a commitment from four-star Alex Legion, the nation's #10 ranked wing guard.

Shortly after Legion committed to UK, I talked with a former UK player currently working for an NBA team. He told me that Legion will be playing in the NBA within three years.

Three weeks after that, Gillispie signed Pat Patterson, the nation's highest ranked uncommitted prospect at any position. Prior to Gillispie's mid-May in-home visit at the Patterson household, Patterson was generally thought to be leaning toward UK's SEC rival Florida. Patterson's commitment to UK represented the first time UK's staff had beaten Florida's staff in head-to-head competition for a highly-ranked HS basketball prospect since Jeff Shepherd and Myron Anthony were signed by febuk in the 1990s. At 6'9" 235#, with great athleticism and agility, Patterson is the kind of baseline talent completely lacking on UK's roster when Gillispie got to town.

Over the summer, Gillispie won verbal commitments from five-star PG Deandre Liggins and four-star WF Darius Miller. This gave Gillispie four commitments from national top-40 prospects in his first five months on the job in Lexington. Miller's verbal quickly erased doubts as to whether UK had lost the ability and the prestige to sign top prospects from within the Commonwealth after two unranked seasons under the previous staff.

Of Deandre Liggins, Scout.com recruiting analyst Jeff Goodman said: "I think Liggins will be the surprise of the class....Liggins has real pro potential. He is the type of player who can take over a game from the wing and dominate."

Said Scout.com recruiting analyst Dave Telep: "This is big-league recruiting. Look at North Carolina, Duke and Kansas. They have all missed on guys this year. UK went out and got two national guys who are going to complement each other very well."

Telep went on to say: "Keep an eye on 2008 and especially 2009. It looks like in 2009 [Gillispie] will really try and load up with a huge class."

Gillispie also has verbals from nationally-ranked prospects: GJ Vilarino (2009), KC Ross-Miller (2010), and Dakotah Euton (2010).

That's a lot of talent for seven months' work.

Gillispie is currently known to be recruiting baseline prospects:
Dwight Miller (2008), Aziz N'Diaye (2008), Daniel Orton (2009), DeMarcus Cousins (2009), DaShonte Riley (2009), and Stephan Van Treese (2009), plus perimeter players Jon Hood (2009), John Wall (2009), Tarriq Muhammad (2009), Ari Stewart (2009), Noel Johnson (2009), and Shawn Williams (2009).

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A realistic perspective on Gillispie's recruiting

Messenger
Wildcats Thunder Football/Recruiting Analyst

Some people won't want to hear this, but we can't talk rationally about our basketball program unless our discourse is built on the truth.

Keep in mind that UK has not been nationally-ranked for several seasons. Keep in mind Gillispie's hiring caught the attention of many HS prospects, but did nothing to interrupt the dialogs those prospects already had underway with other coaching staffs.

For 60 years(temporarily excluding the decade of the 1970s), UK has had the nation's top college basketball program. In the decade of the 1970s, Johnny Wooden had an amazing run at UCLA. But except for as brief surge by Larry Brown, UCLA was not able to sustain Wooden's success after the old man retired, although the Bruins are finally inching back to a high level now. Meanwhile, North Carolina has also surged in the last three decades.

Nonetheless, the decade of the 1990s clearly belonged to UK, Duke and Arizona. Thereafter, Arizona began to sag a little bit, and Lute Olson's current leave of absence suggests the Zona Cats are going the wrong direction now. Duke has had a great run, but the Blue Devil basketball program has gotten sidetracked as Coach Krzyzewski has gotten older, and as Roy Williams has arguably become the 800# gorilla in the ACC.

Meanwhile, though, UK has suffered through nearly a decade of complacency as SEC competition got more robust and OTS got too comfy with his big contract. It happened gradually and insidiously. For a while, the Cats continued to pile up impressive SEC stats, even as their national influence slowly waned. UK recruiting classes became more uneven, although major prospects like Rajon Rondo, Randolph Morris, Joe Crawford, and Jody Meeks still committed to UK episodically. Then, Billy Donovan broke-through and outperformed OTS over a period of several seasons, as Florida became the dominant SEC program and UK sank from the rankings. UK is now working a six game losing streak to UF.

Last May, Pat Patterson became the first major prospect since the febuk era to pick UK directly over UF. In the interim, the list of kids picking UF over UK included:

  • Bret Nelson
  • David Lee
  • Matt Bonner
  • Adrian Moss
  • Corey Brewer
  • Mohamed Akubar
  • Al Horford
  • Dan Werner
  • Nick Calathes
  • Jai Lucas
It should be noted that OTS did not actually offer Corey Brewer a scholarship. although the Tennessean wanted to play for UK. Brewer went on to become UF's MVP, and the key to their NCAA Tournament success.

You must have superior athletes, then you must develop them successfully in your program. That's the way to dominate for an extended period of time. And that's why UK's basketball program has fallen to the second tier in the SEC.

UK fans may not agree yet on what happened to UK's basketball program in the New Millennium. But In the age of internet and cable TV, everyone else knows what happened to UK. That definitely includes HS kids everywhere.

In April, UK hired Coach Gillispie. In the ensuing seven months, Gillispie has commitments from:
  • Pat Patterson
  • Alex Legion
  • Kerry Benson
  • Deandre Liggins
  • Darius Miller
  • GJ Vilarino (2009)
  • KC Ross-Miller (2010)
  • Dakotah Euton (2010)
Folks, this is a serious stable of talent, recruited by Gillispie over just seven months. Gillispie has also been runner-up for highly rated prospects Beas Hamga and Chris Singleton.

I'm not going to shed tears over Singleton. Singleton can't hurt UK in Tallahassee. He has a huge basketball upside, but he is an idiosyncratic, unfocused kid. I am not convinced he would have been a good locker room presence, although I'm sure he will excel at F$U.

Where does all of this leave Gillispie now? I'm not going to write off UK's 2007-08 season, but I have been telling you here since April that this year won't be the dramatic turnaround all of us want to see so badly. As I have said many times, this is a transitional season, during which UK's current players will be broken down and then built back up again by Gillispie's staff. The most glaring change from the febuk era was that OTS did not maintain his players in great shape. During the Tubby era, lip service was paid to conditioning. Trainers were hired, and all the right things were said to the press. But Billy Gillispie does not talk in public about conditioning. He just takes care of it in practice. It's brutal. UK's players are currently paying the price. That's why there is an epidemic of injuries. This will pass. When the Wildcats have finally worked-through this difficult transition, this will be a tougher, more versatile team.

This level of physical challenge isn't for everyone. Not all prospects are willing to pay this personal price for success. That's why you won't see the Scotty Hopsons, the Romero Osbys, and the Chris Singletons of the basketball world flocking to Gillispie. But Acie Law can attest to what lies on the other side of the rainbow for Gillispie's most committed players.

With the additions of Deandre Liggins and Darius Miller, UK's roster is now deep and SEC-caliber at the '1", "2", and "3" positions on the floor. In addition, Pat Patterson will eventually develop into one of the SEC's elite players as a "4" or "5". Clearly, Gillispie still needs more SEC caliber baseline players, because Williams, Carter, and Coury can't guard SEC baseline athletes, and Perry Stevenson will never be more than a situational player at UK.

Gillispie still has one scholarship open in the current class. While many self-appointed gurus have insisted that Gillispie will "run off" players, and/or that UK players will give up and leave, I have repeatedly told you here that every current UK player wants to stay and succeed under Gillispie. I have said that injuries or off-court problems will be the only significant source of attrition for the current Wildcats. This still holds true. So keep an eye on Jared Carter. Chronic recurrent shoulder dislocations could still spell an early end to Carter's collegiate basketball career. We might know more about that within 4-6 months, if not sooner.

In the case of Derrick Jasper, the most likely outcome will be for Jasper to resume running around the end of November, play in games by Christmas, and be 100% by the 2008-09 season. Although they will have to be careful with Derrick, he should recover fully. In time, Gillispie will make an excellent, well-rounded SEC basketball player out of Derrick.

It remains to be seen what will become of Morakinyo Williams. To be candid, Williams is a raw project. He has some basic tools that would work for him in the right system. But he can't cover SEC baseline athletes. An eventual transfer is a possibility. But the kid has a big heart, and he is committed to succeed at UK right now. So we will see.

So I look for Gillispie to add one baseline prospect to this class, maybe in the coming days or maybe in the spring. Everyone here already knows Aziz N'Daiye and Dwight Miller are possibilities. But one way or another, Gillispie will add another baseline prospect to the class.

This season will be tough. As I have been saying for months, UK is outgunned and outmanned by Tennessee, Vandy, and Florida. By February, you will see an improvement, though. By next year, things will be considerably better. By 2009-10, we will be back in the thick of the SEC championship picture.

In the meantime, Gillispie will rebuild UK's baseline and bring a new culture to UK's basketball program. That won't happen overnight.

For now, I think Darius Miller and Deandre Liggins represent two very important building blocks. In time, both will be all-SEC players for Gillispie. Would I have liked to see UK sign Tyler Zeller or Tony Woods? Sure. But that is a moot point. Am I upset over Singleton? No, I am not. As I have been trying to say tactfully for weeks, that kid is a flake, and an unfocused talent. I wish him luck in Tallahassee.