2011-12 College Basketball Preview Series – Kentucky Wildcats

[EJSIC is previewing several college basketball teams. Check out our Duke, Memphis, and Kansas previews.]

The 2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats already have a lot to live up to. They’ve been billed as a Final Four lock, a top 2 team, and perhaps John Calipari’s best shot at a title. No pressure, though…

Last season’s results:
29-9
SEC Tournament Champions
NCAA Tournament East Regional Champions
Lost 56-55 to UCONN in the Final Four

Key departures:
Brandon Knight (35.9 mpg, 17.3 ppg, 4.2 apg, 38% 3PT)
DeAndre Liggins (31.6 mpg, 8.6 ppg, 2.5 apg, 39% 3PT)
Josh Harrelson (28.5 mpg, 7.6 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 61% FG%)

Key returnees:
Terrence Jones (31.5 mpg, 15.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg)
Doron Lamb (28.4 mpg, 12.4 ppg, 49% 3PT)
Darius Miller (31 mpg, 10.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg 44% 3PT)

Notable non-conference matchups:
Kansas (at MSG)
St. John’s
UNC
Louisville

New Faces

As has become the norm at UK under John Calipari, the Wildcats will look to replace last year’s crop of NBA draft picks with another class of highly touted freshmen. Kentucky’s group of Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, and Kyle Wiltjer has been rated as the #1 class in the country by most services, giving Calipari his third straight class with that distinction.

Fear the Unibrow.

Anthony Davis has been billed as the possible #1 pick in next year’s NBA draft, with his game being compared to Kevin Garnett and Marcus Camby. Davis can thank an unusual growth spurt for his meteoric rise to the top. The lanky forward has grown an astonishing 7 inches since his junior year of high school, and has transformed from an also-ran guard into a one-in-a-million big man. Davis’ combination of center size and guard skills are likely unmatched on the college level.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has the distinction of being one of the few highly rated recruits in this year’s class that is as relentless on defense as he is on offense. The do-everything forward should pick up right where DeAndre Liggins left off, as the Wildcats’ go-to defensive stopper. He’s the type of player that may seem to fade into the background a bit during the course of a game, only to flirt with a triple double by the time it’s over.

Marquis Teague has the ability to drive to the basket at will. The 6′ 2″ point guard’s speed has been compared to that of John Wall. While he’s much more raw than Wall or Knight at this stage, he has all the physical tools to be successful in John Calipari’s system.

Kyle Wiltjer is a true throw-back. While most highly touted recruits have their games compared to one-and-dones, the 6’9″ Wiltjer has had his game compared to Kevin McHale. The versatile forward is an anomaly in Calipari’s recruiting history in that he’s more known for his highly polished skill set than his athletic prowess. It will be interesting to see how his offensive range is utilized in a system predicated on driving to the basket.

The Right Mix

Highly rated rookies are nothing new for John Calipari. What separates this team from the previous two is the blend of diaper dandies and grown mandies (Hey, it rhymed). The Wildcats returning core of Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, and senior Darius Miller should mesh well with this year’s freshmen.

Miller’s practice battles with Kidd-Gilchrist have already become the stuff of legend around the Bluegrass. These two should push each other for a starting spot all season long, with both seeing comparable minutes.

Terrence Jones has been a force of nature thus far.

We may also be witnessing the metamorphosis of Terrence Jones. I’ll admit that I was among those who wouldn’t have been sad to see the often erratic forward head off to the greener pastures of the NBA. His poor shot selection and inability to finish around the rim were a source of frustration for Cat fans last season. What we’ve seen so far has been nothing short of a complete transformation. Gone is the awkward kid who was as happy with a fade-away as a flush and in his place is a “man on a mission”. Jones has been aggressive and accurate thus far, pouring in 53 points and 16 rebounds in the annual Blue/White scrimmage.

The Wildcats’ combination of perimeter scorers, interior finishers, speed, and versatility should be unmatched outside of Chapel Hill this season.

Where’s the D?

The biggest question mark with this team appears to be whether or not they can mesh their parts into a defensive unit on par with their offensive ability. While the potential is obviously there, we’ve yet to see the intensity without the ball that has become a trademark of Calipari’s teams.

The Wildcats do have a great overall defender in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and a phenomenal shot-blocker in Anthony Davis. It will be interesting to see who else steps up to give this team a chance to be truly special.

Alone On Point

Marquis Teague is currently the only eligible scholarship point guard on Kentucky’s roster. Mississippi State transfer Twany Beckham will not be eligible until the second semester and former NC State guard Ryan Harrow will not be available until next season.

Should Teague run into problems early, Doron Lamb will be called upon to move from his natural position of shooting guard to run the offense. While Lamb is definitely capable, he has shown weaknesses in the ballhandling and turnover departments.

It will be interesting to see if a lack of depth at the 1 spot causes the Wildcats problems early.

Predictions

This team truly has no ceiling in terms of success. Their unique combination of talent and experience should be enough for a return trip to the Final Four and beyond.

27-3, 14-2 (SEC)
SEC Regular Season and Tournament Champs
NCAA: 1 seed, advancing to the Final Four and Championship Game

Dyke-isms: A Guide to Color Commentary

Hello college basketball fanatics, it’s me, Jimmy Dykes. The writers at EJSIC have cordially invited me to write a guess post about the world of color commentary. You hear guys like Dick Vitale and Bill Raftery and myself drop lots of knowledge during ESPN telecast that you, the viewer, had probably never before heard; like big men hedging on screens, or the fundamental way to block out a rebounder.

We make it sound easy and simple, but really, there’s a lot of work involve to become the best in our business. And while we all bring different flavors to a broadcast, there are a few commonalities one must know to succeed. If you follow this guide, you may end up a co-worker of mine.

1. Know the teams you’re covering

All great commentary stars with homework. As a beginner, you should start by reading the team’s beat writer’s articles in the local paper. You may even watch a game or two when you have an off-night. The key to successful commentary is picking up on the small things the viewer at home, i.e. the amateur, doesn’t see.

The last game I called was on Tuesday at Rupp Arena when Tennessee played arch-rival Kentucky. I’ve been following John (when you’re really good, you can call coaches by their first names) since his days at Memphis. I didn’t do too much research. I already know that he lets his posse players play street ball. For Tennessee on the other hand, I read a few newspaper articles and watched some of their games.

Putting in the extra mile, as we like to say in Bristol, makes all the difference in a successful commentary.

2. Developing Key Words and Catch-phrases

Another aspect to add to your game is key words. Nothing screams “expert” to the home viewer more than a few well-timed insider words. I’m talking about words / catch-phrases that convey a deeper knowledge and understanding of the game at hand.

A couple of my personal favorites are “nail” and “tough two.” Players who nail the tough twos in a game are more likely to spur their teams onto victory. It’s common to interject these words at pivotal moments of the game. For example, if a player misses a crucial free throw, I like to turn to my partner Brad Nessler and say, “Gotta nail those.”

You really have to hammer home your key words throughout a broadcast. That may mean repeating them as much as twenty to thirty times. I like to practice before a game by envisioning the players on the floor and seeing myself make the perfect call. I really believe it helps.

My colleague Dick Vitale has made his mark with catch-phrases, Bay-Be. Another close friend, Bill Raftery, stuns viewers with his brilliant “nickle-dimer.”

3. Develop a Useful Diagram

Diagrams are a great way to nail the viewer with information. It allows you, the commentator, to (1) convey a lot of information in a simple form, and (2) pull the attention away from the game and to your vast expertise. True, the commentator should never be above the game, but the few brief moments during a timeout is your time to shine.

One of my favorite diagrams is the NCAA seeding jet. I’ve used it each of the last few seasons to display number one seeds (i.e. first class), bubble teams (rear of the plane), and teams not quite good enough for the big dance (out of the plane). It accomplishes the tough two goals, and it’s really simple. In fact, I’ve made a quick airplane diagram for the commentators at ESPN and how we all fit into those categories.

Jet Diagram

As you cans see from the diagram, locks for number one seeds include three of our best guys: Dick Vitale, Bill Raftery, and Jay Bilas. These guys (like Duke, Ohio State, Kentucky, and Arkansas) bring it each and every night.

The back of the plane has three solid guys who occasionally have an off night: Fran Franschilla, Stephen Bardo, and myself. We may make an errant comment once in a while, but otherwise, we’re solid. Barring a catastrophe, we’re in the tournament.

Out of the plane is three powerhouses experiencing down years (think North Carolina, UCLA, and Gonzaga): Coach Knight, Len Elmore, and Doris Burke. These three folks are usually great commentators who are experiencing a lackluster year due to a partner change (or in Coach Knight’s case having to work with Brent Musberger), or off-the-side-of-the-court problems.

4. Have a Great Working Relationship with your Partner

As a commentator, you can’t do it all. You can carry your partner for 24 miles of the marathon, but a good partner nails the final tough two miles for you.

Brad and I have a great relationship. We help each other with make-up before the game, we share a good meal with the crew, and we often room together on the road. I really can’t think of better guy to sleep in a hotel bed with than Brad Nessler. He doesn’t even pull the cover to his side of the bed.

5. Have a Favorite Player for Quick Reference

The media is supposed to be unbiased. As a commentator, you should work towards that goal. But, you need a quick reference at hand to relate to the fans. My favorite is Arkansas shooting guard Rotnei Clarke. He taught BYU’s Jimmer Fredette everything he knows.

Arkansas' Rotnei Clarke

I use Rotnei to demonstrate fundamental basketball and to show how hard a good player works. The viewers at home relate because Rotnei is a household name.

Other guys have picked out personal favorites to reference as well. Vitale has gone with the entire Duke team for the past decade which is another option. I’ve heard Doris Burke reference Ashton Gibbs and Kemba Walker a ton this season, but I don’t really know either of those players (which explains her poor performance this season).

Well EJSIC readers, I’ve reached my word limit. I hope this guide was helpful. Catch me on Super Tuesday. Until then, yours truly, Jimmy.

Fake Calipari Hits YouTube to Prove… Nothing?

I came across this video today from our favorite Louisville fan turned Fake Facebook John Calipari.

As we covered earlier, this alleged interaction between UK commitment Marquis Teague and Fake Calipari has had Kentucky fans scratching their heads and haters licking their chops since the screen shot hit the Interweb last week.

The supposed owner of the fake Cal account did contact us with an offer to prove the merit of the screen shot last week. After we e-mailed him a list of questions, however, he didn’t respond. You have to assume that he decided a blanket YouTube video was the way to go.

You have to give the guy props for at least trying to prove that the interaction is real. The reality is, though, it’s kind of a moot point. Nothing significant is revealed in the conversation. It’s great for message board fodder, but nothing more.

The lesson here, kiddos? If you’re going to try to trick a high school kid into indicting your least favorite coach, be sure to remember the specifics. Ask him if he likes the new car the coach bought him or if he’s enjoyed the “tutors” the coach sent to help him with his SAT. Alluding to vague misdealings won’t get you very far with the NCAA.

As always, the devil is in the details.

Flowcharting the 2010 NCAA Tournament

Want to dominate your office pool but don’t know a thing about college basketball?

This would be a great time to create water-cooler talk with the boss, wouldn’t it?

Well here at EJSIC, we’re here to provide exactly what the people want: below, you’ll find the key to winning your office pool, with the EJSIC 2010 NCAA Tournament flowchart.

Continue reading

EJSIC @ the SEC tournament

That’s right. Yours truly has been dispatched to provide up-to-the-minute updates live from the site of the 2010 SEC tournament at the “whatever-they’re-calling-it-now-that-the -Sommet-Group-failed-to-make-payment Center” in Nashville, TN. EJSIC will be your first stop for the sights, sounds, and even smells (if I can find a way to capture them on my phone) of the 2010 installment of the UK Invitational.

To get things started, here are the 3 biggest story lines heading into the tournament, and the 3 things I’m looking forward to the most:

Tournament Story Lines:

1. Will the runaway-train that has been the 2009-10 version of the Kentucky Wildcats continue their resurgence with a tournament title? The obvious favorites going in to the event, it will be interesting to see if the C-A-T-S CATS CATS CATS will be able to continue to build on their 29-2 (14-2) record by capturing the tournament championship. THE most talented team in the country (IMO), the Cats have been dominant at home, but have proven to be shaky away from Rupp Arena, including losses at Tennessee and against the fightin’ Devon Downey’s, as well as close games against Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, and Auburn. It will be interesting to see how this freshman dominated team will perform in what will be the first college tournament situation for most.

Can anyone derail DeCuz and the UK crazy train?

All that said, make no mistake about it; Nashville will become Lexington south this weekend, just as it is whenever UK comes to town.

2. Bubbles bursting. It is my opinion that none of Florida, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State will make the Big Dance without a win in this tournament, and it is shaping up to be elimination Friday, with potential Tennessee/Ole Miss and Florida/Miss St matchups.

3. Who is SEC POY? The case for Devon Downey over either of John Wall or DeMarcus Cousins was a strong one after ‘lil Carolina’s upset of then #1 UK, but it has become increasingly difficult to ignore the team’s late season slide. However, Downey may have thrust himself back into consideration, after a 26 point performance last week at the dump that is Memorial Gym. With a deep tourney run, and perhaps another upset of Kentucky should they beat ‘Bama on Thursday, things could get interesting.

Things I’m Looking Forward To:

Bruce Pearl is a show unto himself.

1. Vandy fans. I was at the SEC/Sun Belt Classic in mid-December, which showcased MTSU vs. Tennessee and Vandy vs. Western Kentucky at the same venue as the SEC tournament. Vandy fans showed why they were the joke of the SEC by managing to attract **maybe** 200 fans to a game in their hometown. Meanwhile, WKU had 6-8 thousand, and were a raucous bunch. No one would have guessed they were the team 4-3 heading in and Vandy was the team nationally ranked. Well Vandy fans (or as I like to call them, “Alabama football fans“), here’s your chance to redeem yourselves. I don’t expect any more than 400 of you, so don’t disappoint me.

2. A live view of “Dermal Soul Glo I’ve heard stories, but I want to see for myself if Bruce really does glow.

3. Demarcus Cousins. I’ve been eagerly awaiting this ticking-time-bomb’s explosion all year. If this kid played in the ACC, he already would have been involved in brawls with Chas McFarland and Ryan Reid, and having the opposing fans get a hold of your phone number would be a weekly ordeal. But even in a league as physically flaccid as the SEC, Cousins has been driven to temper tantrums and dirty plays numerous times. If he’s gonna flip out, and he will eventually, I just want to be there to see it.

I’m also looking forward to some “pity” beers to be bought for me by those feeling sorry for me, in my North Carolina t-shirt, although I don’t expect Kentucky fans to be overly willing to support my cause…………..dafunk…………….out.

Got a question, an angle you’d like me to cover at the tourney, or some hate-filled garbage to spew???? Shoot me an email at dafunk.EJSIC@yahoo.com, and I’ll get back to ya ASAP.

Rick Pitino On the Losing End of Another Cheap Shot

For years, Kentucky fans have had to watch highlight after highlight of Christian Laettner’s last second shot to knock them out of the tournament in 1992 and propel Duke to a National Championship. Every March that memory comes flowing back.

However, Kentucky fans have been always been able to hold on to some righteous indignation: He shouldn’t have even been in the game!

As every UK fan (or UNC fan) knows Laettner famously stomped on the chest of Kentucky forward Aminu Timberlake: They should have lost. They shouldn’t have won that championship! [see video below]

Well, this Saturday, Kentucky got a little revenge on the college basketball world, while former UK coach Rick Pitino had to watch again as another player assaulted one of his boys only to legitimately torch his team later. In their annual rivalry match with the Louisville Cardinals, everybody’s favorite twelve year old girl trapped in an eighteen year old man’s body did just that. In the spirit of Laettner’s foot-to-the-chest maneuver, Cousins thrust his elbow squarely into the chin of Louisville forward Jared Swopshire in a scramble for a loose ball. Like Laettner, Cousins was not ejected—even though the officials consulted an instant replay monitor for several minutes—and went on to score Kentucky’s next six points. [see video below.]

EJSIC was able to contact Mr. Laettner to get his thoughts on DCuz’s recent interpretation of the art he perfected: “I think the elbow to the jaw is an interesting take. The key, though, is to make it kind of look like it was incidental.”

“A lot of players fail to be inconspicuous in their cheap shots. For instance, Chris Paul was far too obvious with his less than subtle shot to NC State’s Julius Hodge’s scalloped potatoes. [As a result, Paul was ejected and suspended for subsequent games.] You can never be that straight-forward with it.”

Laettner continued, “Really, what’s more important than the actual act is how you manage your image prior. Compared to (previous champion) UNLV’s players, I might as well have been the immaculately conceived child of Sully Sullinberg and Mother Theresa. I definitely benefited from being compared to those thugs.”

“It also didn’t hurt that I was white,” Laettner pointed out.

So, whose unpunished cheap shot was the most impressive? It’s a harder question than you think.

On one hand, Laettner boldly stomped on a man’s chest in front of a national audience in the NCAA tournament. He then went on to hit possibly the most famous shot in NCAA history. Cousins, on the other hand, came in with a reputation as a hot-head thuggish player and was still able to get away with his elbow drop. Not an easy task.

All things considered, you have to think that the legend of the game-winning Laettner shot keeps his Timberlake cheap shot at the top of the list. DCuz gets off the hook by the slimmest of margins.

One thing is for sure, Rick Pitino won’t have either player on his Christmas list next year.

New Year’s Resolutions

It’s a new year and, unless you’ve already managed to ruin it in less than 14 hours, that means a clean slate. Rather than post my own resolutions (P90X be merciful), I thought it might be fun to post resolutions for some of my favorite sports personalities of 2009. Let’s hope 2010 is kinder to them all.

No, Tiger. The trunk doesn't count.

Tiger Woods - 2009 was a rough year for the big cat. He saw his super-model wife and his sponsors hit the road, as skank after skank came forward to confess of their flings and collect their paychecks. My resolution for Tiger? Try NOT to have sex with more whores than you can fit in a Buick LaCrosse in 2010. All things in moderation, Eldrick.

Try to resist, Steve.

Steve Phillips - 2009 was likely a year to forget for our pal Steve. The Silver Fox lost his marriage and his job at ESPN, when a pudgy, mannish PA began harassing his wife over their alleged affair. My resolution for Steve? No matter how charming he may seem, DO NOT have sex with Danny DeVito in 2010. It’s not worth it.

Just because it wasn't a real orange doesn't mean Mark didn't eat it.

Mark Mangino – Despite also bringing the Jayhawks an Orange Bowl Trophy in 2009, the Man-Sized Mangina was relieved of his duties as head football coach at Kansas after stories of player mistreatment surfaced in Lawrence. I’m guessing he tried to eat them, but I’m not sure. My resolution for Mark? Try NOT to die of heart failure in 2010. I would also suggest the occasional “salad for 10 racks of ribs” substitution in your meal plan. It may help with your overall resolution.

I'm guessing they let him keep the chair.

Mike Leach – The living sound byte that is Mike Leach had an up and down year in 2009. He led the Red Raiders to an 11-2 record, a top 10 ranking and a loss to Ole Miss in the Cotton bowl to start the year. This won him a new contract and status as a hot commodity in the coaching world. 2009, however, ended a lot differently than it started, as Leach was fired this week after allegations of locking one of his players (Craig James’ offspring no less) in an equipment closet. My resolution for Mike? Get the Hell out of Texas. Nothing good happens there.

Stay away, John. It's for your own good.

John Calipari – You can’t really say that 2009 was a bad year for Cal. Despite having his second Final Four vacated, he managed to become the highest paid coach in college basketball at Kentucky, while also signing and shepherding a Top 3 team into the new year. The media and message boards will tell you a different story, however, as Calipari is now under more intense scrutiny than ever. My resolution for Cal? Avoid vacating a Final Four and the Internet in 2010. Just a suggestion…

So, there you have it. Good luck and may 2010 be benevolent to you all.

Did I miss anybody? Let us know your Sports Figure Resolutions for 2010 in the comments section.

EJSIC College Basketball Preview Series: Memphis

Trivia: Name the University of Memphis’ basketball coach?

Got it yet? Need more time?

His name is Josh Pastner. He’s thirty-two years old and he’s in his first season ever as a coach of a division one school. Raise an e-hand out there in the blogosphere if you have more experience than Coach Paz? (I know a hundred hands are going up right now because no one thinks they know more about sports than the average Joe, and I’m not saying that to be a jerk)
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More trivia: Did you know Memphis Athletic Director R.C. “Cola” Johnson (sorry, couldn’t resist) keeps a piece of paper in his pocket at all times with the names of five replacement coaches if the need ever arises? Odds that Josh Pastner’s name was on that list prior to being hired: 1 in 500.

Okay, I don’t intend to bash this hire. In fact, I like it. But that doesn’t mean I can’t have a little fun. Pastner has some question marks and so do his 2009-2010 Tigers. John Calipari left for Kentucky and like every good carpetbagger; he took the silverware (i.e. Memphis’ number one recruiting class).
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A depleted roster means the Tigers will be down this year in comparison to the last four, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore them or expect them to drift away. In fact, the Tigers play a good non-conference schedule which includes an early season test against the championship-favorites the Kansas Jayhawks (neutral site game in St. Louis), trips to UMass and Syracuse, and home games with the hated Tennessee Volunteers and the Gonzaga Bulldogs. So, there are chances for Pastner’s crew to pull an upset or two and gain some national recognition.

Where Memphis may fade from the spotlight this season is during the conference schedule. The Tigers are not the clear-cut favorites to win CUSA, but they will be one of the top three or four contenders for the automatic bid.
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I won’t put any added pressure on the new staff by making any predictions. However, I do get positive vibes from the fan base which will help make the season easier to weather. They all seem understand that this year is about gaining momentum for the next, when Pastner’s already heralded recruiting class will step on campus.

If the Tigers secure the automatic bid or even an at-large to the NCAA Tournament, the season is a success. It doesn’t sound like much of a season, but it’s all we can really put on Memphis and Pastner’s shoulders right now. They’re extremely thin in the front court and one key injury anywhere could be devastating.

Projected starting lineup:

PG Elliot Williams (So)
SG Roburt Sallie (Jr)
SF Doneal Mack (Sr)
PF Wesley Witherspoon (So)
C Pierre Henderson-Niles (Sr)

Key Reserves:

PG/SG Willie Kemp (Sr)
SG Drew Barham (Fr)
C Will Coleman (Jr, JUCO)
PF D.J. Stephens (Fr)

More information (schedule, full roster, etc.) can be found here.

Note: I did not include any projections of record or post-season play because it is entirely too early for this particular team. The projected starting lineup comes from reading team reports in the Memphis based Commercial Appeal. Everything else is a giant question mark. Talent is still left from the Calipari area, but depth is a main concern.