Larry Vaught

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Kentucky baseball has highest preseason ranking ever

Kole Cottam (Vicky Graff Photo)

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Kentucky will begin the 2018 season where it left off a year ago, as a top 10 team with plenty of buzz around the program. Baseball America, the longstanding staple of collegiate and prep baseball, ranked the Wildcats no. 8 in its preseason poll released on Tuesday.

The No. 8 ranking is the highest ever for Kentucky in Baseball America’s preseason top 25 poll. The Cats also are ranked no. 8 in preseason polls by Collegiate Baseball, D1 Baseball and Perfect Game/Rawlings. The USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll will be released at a later date.

Numbers favor Cats by 10 points tonight

Quade Grreen (Vicky Graff Photo)

By RICHARD CHEEKS, Contributing Writer

One week ago, the Cats collapsed over the last 12 minutes and allowed South Carolina to change the Cats’ 14 point lead into an 8 point Gamecock win. In the aftermath, the players, the coach, and the fans became very vocal. How could this have happened? Why did it occur? Will the Cats “get right” when Florida comes into Rupp on Saturday for College Game Day?

Tony Delk to players, fans: “Trust the process.”

Tony Delk. (Vicky Graff Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

Tony Delk, a starter on Kentucky’s 1996 national championship team and a former NBA player, obviously knows how Big Blue Nation can react when things are not going well for the Cats — or as well as the fans expect.

Kentucky has lost consecutive games going into tonight’s home game with Mississippi State, a team it should be.

Delk took to Twitter Monday night with some advice as much for players as fans:

UK Men’s Basketball: Is Everything Fine?

John Calipari (Vicky Graff Photo)

By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer

The University of Kentucky Men’s Basketball team is now out of KenPom’s Top 30 for the first time since the ill-fated 2013 NIT season. Their current overall record is 14-5 and 4-3 in the SEC. They have not beaten a Top 25 team all year and are 2-2 against KenPom Top 50 teams. They also have two losses against KenPom sub-50 teams. None of the above facts paints a very rosy picture of the season so far for a team that started the season rated No. 5. So what happened?

This current recruiting class was ranked No.2 in the country by 247 Sports when they arrived on campus in 2017. Before the season even started two key players – Jarred Vanderbilt and Jemarl Baker – went down with injuries. Vanderbilt is just now working his way back into the lineup. It appears that Baker will not make it back at all for the 2017-2018 season.

Along with being short-handed on the bench Calipari has been short-changed in the execution department. This team does not seem to display the needed knowledge or urgency on defense required to stop teams from making repeated straight line drives to the basket for layups. They are frequently out of position in their man-to-man defense with little communication between players. Defensive players frequently don’t  rotate to cut off the ball when an offensive player on the opposing team beats his defender off the dribble. These defensive breakdowns allow opposing teams either layups, lobs for dunks or open three-point  shots on the perimeter. 
Because of the fundamental breakdowns on defense Coach Calipari has had to play more zone defense than at any previous time in his coaching career. His zone of preference appears to be a 2-3 zone. Unfortunately his defensive players – either through a lack of desire or knowledge – repeatedly don’t match up out of it and allow the ball to penetrate the perimeter of the zone into an unguarded opposing offensive player in the high post. Once that happens the opposing player is free to shoot a short jump shot, head fake and drive for a layup or play a high-low game by drawing the post defender to him which allows the offensive player to pass the ball to his low post team mate for a wide open layup or dunk.

With UK’s offense the reverse situation seems to exist. Because the UK point guards cannot consistently beat their defender off the dribble the entire “dribble-drive” offense breaks down. Teams in the SEC that are more physical than UK – which is most of them – have learned they can “body-up” on Quade Green and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and deny straight line drives to the basket. If the point guard cannot beat his man off the dribble then the passing lanes to the interior UK post players do not open up. Generally when this happens UK players settle for jump shots on the perimeter. Not a good strategy for a team ranked No.202 in three-point shooting percentage. 
This team has proven it is not an offensive juggernaut. If they win games it will be from playing lock-down defense, scrambling for loose balls and taking advantage of second chance points on offensive rebounds. None of which they do very well right now. All of those elements of the game require effort. Forty-minutes of continuous effort.  
All in all the results so far have been surprising but probably shouldn’t be. Most fans and analysts have become used to John Calipari pulling a rabbit out of his hat each season. He loses five players to the NBA and plugs in five more. The winning always continues. This year might be different.
With no sure-fire top 10 NBA draft picks on the roster and no upper class players to lean on this team struggles down the stretch of most games. Some games they have been able to overcome the lack of execution but against the better teams they have played this season it becomes painfully obvious that  they don’t have the experience, effort or sheer talent to consistently make winning plays at the end of close games. 
 
It appears that this is the year the “chickens will come home to roost” on the one-and-done philosophy of recruiting. Each season at UK the experience pool has continued to be depleted until this year there are no upperclassmen either playing on the floor or sitting on the bench. In college basketball experience is big equalizer. That’s how teams like Connecticut have been able to win two championships to UK’s one over the past decade. That’s how Villanova recently has been in a contender’s position each year even without the number one or two recruiting class. 
After Saturday’s loss at Rupp Arena – the first home SEC loss since 2014 – Coach Calipari said this, “I know there are some people out there that will be panicked. … Be panicked. I’m glad I’m not sitting with you. I’m fine.” UK still has road games against No. 6 West Virginia, Missouri, Texas A&M, No.17 Auburn, Arkansas and Florida along with home games against No. 21 Tennessee along with Missouri and Alabama. No reason to panic but plenty of reasons to be concerned. With the season halfway complete and UK still struggling to beat the better teams in the SEC one would have to think that this could be a team that loses ten or more games this season. No NCAA Championship team in the last ten years has lost more than nine games in a season. The average number of losses has been five. 
Knowing that based on the struggles so far most fans seem to have lowered their expectations for this team to somewhere between merely making the tournament field and getting to the Final Four it seems interesting that Coach Calipari feels fine about his current team. He said this after the Florida loss, “The ability to pass the ball to one another, the ability to really scramble defensively and do some good things, we’re going to be fine. I was worried after South Carolina now. I’m not worried after this. We’ll be fine. I was worried after Vanderbilt to be honest with you, and we won that game. They do this and they stay this course and this is who we are, we’ll be fine.”
 
And they may be fine by the end of the season but even with John Calipari being the master magician that he is it appears that pulling a rabbit out of his hat this year will take a lot more execution and effort than we are seeing right now. 

Jarred Vanderbilt thinks he can provide spark but he wanted to stay on “safe side” with injury before he returned

Jarred Vanderbilt (Mont Dawson Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

Whether he wanted to hear the chatter about why he was not playing or not, it would have been impossible for Kentucky freshman Jarred Vanderbilt to have avoided it.

Some Kentucky fans thought he might be more worried about going to the NBA than playing for UK when a preseason foot injury kept him off the court until last week.

“I really didn’t pay it too much mind, because I know if those guys (fans) looked at it from my perspective they probably would have done the same thing with them, or even if they had a child done it the same way,” Vanderbilt said Monday.

348-pound lineman Nick Lewis commits to Cats

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky added a “big” verbal commitment today when Florida offensive lineman Nick Lewis, a former Washington State commitment, switched to the Wildcats.

Lewis, a three-star offensive tackle from Jacksonville, is listed at 6-9, 348 pounds. He had at least 20 Division I offers even though he had been committed to Washington State since early October.

Kentucky Radio Network football analyst Freddie Maggard thought one of the top storylines from UK’s early signing period was the addition of offensive linemen Darian Kinnard of Cleveland, Kenneth Horsey of Florida and Quinton Wilson of Cincinnati.

UK’s length on perimeter worries Howland

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. (Vicky Graff Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

Mississippi State coach Ben Howland obviously buys what Kentucky coach John Calipari is selling about most of UK’s issues this year being due to the team’s youth.

“I tell you what, they’re pretty good. I mean they’re long. The biggest difference is previous years they’ve had smaller guardsmen,” Howland said Monday. “You look at them right now, and they’re playing huge length. (Shai Gilgeous-) Alexander, he’s your point guard. He’s 6-6. So they’re playing a lot more zone.

Former Wildcat Larry Warford Selected to NFL Pro Bowl

Larry Warford, center.
(Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics)

LEXINGTON, Ky. –  Former University of Kentucky guard Larry Warford was one of a franchise-high seven players chosen from the New Orleans Saints to play in the prestigious Pro Bowl in Orlando, it was announced Sunday. The Pro Bowl is set for January 28 at 3 p.m. ET at the Camping World Stadium and will be televised on ESPN and ESPN Deportes, and simulcast on ABC.

Maria Montgomery joins me on WKYB-FM Tuesday

Maria Montgomery with Ravi Moss at Rupp Arena. (Gary Moyers Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

Former Miss Kentucky USA Maria Montgomery will join me on WKYB (107.5 FM, wkybfm.com) Tuesday from 9-10 a.m.

She’s currently working at co-host at Rupp Arena for Kentucky home basketball games with former Wildcat Ravi Moss. They entertain the crowd before and during the games.

Montgomery, a Boyle native who still lives in Boyle County, is a successful model. She was fourth runner-up at the 2009 Miss USA pageant.

Does Florida’s road record already show it is close to wrapping up SEC title?

Coach Mike White has Florida on top of the SEC and poised to win the league title. (Vicky Graff Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky was favored to win another Southeastern Conference championship this season.

But is that possible now that UK has dropped to only 4-3 in SEC play after Saturday’s home loss to Florida?

Florida is 6-4. Auburn — yes, Auburn — is 5-1.  Alabama is now 5-2. Tennessee is 4-3 like UK and Missouri is 3-3.

Kentucky still has to play at Auburn, Missouri, Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas.