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Bruce Pearl

By LARRY VAUGHT

When Kentucky freshman Archie Goodwin is good, he’s very good. When he’s not good, he can sometimes frustrate UK fans perhaps more than any current player.

“He struggled today. He was a little bit out of control, playing too fast,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said after Tuesday’s win over Tennessee. “We are trying to get him to shoot the runner, which when he did, he made it; the one he missed, we rebounded and made.

“So it’s what we have been working on, but we have been working on him to jump, stop; jump stop. So he goes driving down the lane, left his feet and threw a wide-open pass to the corner, I think it was to Julius, I believe it was, for a three, but he left his feet. But we work every day on jump stops, so there are things that, you know, these guys are growing with.”

What do teammates think of his play?

“Archie has been consistent for the most part. He’s scoring when he needs to. He is making jump shots. He is looking for players. He is making more basketball plays. He is playing well for the most part right now,” freshman Alex Poythress said.

Still, he’s being called selfish by some because of his propensity to sometimes force difficult shots and try to finish plays. But remember he is UK’s best playmaker and Calipari has encouraged him to be an aggressive scorer.

I asked ESPN analyst Bruce Pearl, who recruited Goodwin when he was coaching at Tennessee, if he thought Goodwin was selfish.

“There’s not a selfish bone in his body,” Pearl said. “I just think he’s struggling to learn some things, but he’s such an intense competitor and wants his team to win so much that at times he can maybe do too much. But I believe he values winning way over individual numbers.”

So do I and that’s why Goodwin is so important to UK. He’s the team’s best perimeter defense, has shown he can pass the ball and has shown he can hit big-time shots. Has he made mistakes? Absolutely. But so has every other UK player this season.

 

Ryan Harrow shoots in the win over Eastern Michigan. (Victoria Graff photo)

Ryan Harrow shoots in the win over Eastern Michigan. (Victoria Graff photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

Even though he still believes Florida will win the SEC, ESPN analyst Bruce Pearl doesn’t see the Gators as unbeatable because of the “offensive weaponry” they have lost the last few years.

“This is one of best defensive teams that (coach) Billy Donovan has had. But there is not one single guaranteed first-round NBA draft pick on that team,” Pearl, the former Tennessee coach, said. “There are a bunch of guys who will play professionally. I like their roster and think he has done a great job, but there is not one first-round pick on that team. Offensively, they are showing some limitations and can be guarded. Defensively, their zone will bother Kentucky. But Billy is also due to beat Cal.

“I would put Florida and Missouri neck and neck with Kentucky third. That is where I had Kentucky at the beginning of the season. I think Tennessee will compete for fourth and the next team could be Arkansas, Alabama, Auburn, LSU. Who knows?”

For Kentucky to win the league, Pearl still believes Harrow is the key. He noted what happened the second half at Louisville when UK almost overcame a 17-point deficit before losing and one reason was the late scoring of Goodwin.

“Archie is a scorer. He can make plays off the ball but Harrow has got to run the club and run the break. Let Archie get on wing and get the ball. Throw the ball ahead to Archie and good luck stopping him,” Pearl said.

“I loved the way coach Cal just beat the life out of Ryan on ESPN (in the preseason all-access show). He called him everything but a little girl, but I loved the way those two interacted in the Louisville game. That continues to tell me that there might not be any coach in the country better at motivating kids and understanding kids. He put Harrow through a lot, but he’s responding. That was an encouraging sign and showed the chemistry on this team. That’s why Harrow is such a key for them.”

Pearl expects Kentucky to be in numerous close games during SEC play, especially on the road.

“They have to figure out how to win close games,” Pearl said.

Winning those games could help UK’s NCAA Tournament seeding even though it might not matter that much to the Wildcats by March.

“At Tennessee, I needed a good seed to advance. Kentucky doesn’t need that. They could make history. They could go to the Final Four as an eight or nine seed,” Pearl said. “They could win a lot of games in the SEC, but right now their highest RPI win is Maryland. They’ve got to beat Florida and Missouri. It’s almost unfortunate for Kentucky that the league RPI is down. That’s why they could be a 7-8-9 seed. But what No. 1 seed would want to go against them in the second round (of the NCAA)? They could be scary good by then.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl thought Kentucky’s home-court win streak would end this year and said so in October. Yet the current ESPN college basketball analyst thought it would likely be Florida or Missouri, not Baylor, that gave UK coach John Calipari his first Rupp Arena  loss.

“I actually thought Kentucky might even lose twice. I just didn’t think it would happen before SEC play started. Baylor was talented enough to pull it off, but I was still shocked it did.”

Pearl also projected UK to finish third behind Florida and Missouri in this year’s Southeastern Conference race. Conference play starts this week and Pearl says UK is “about where I expected them” to be and still feels Florida will win the league.

“I don’t want to sound like … because we guess all the time and don’t know it all .. but I felt some factor would make Kentucky take a step back this year,” Pearl said. “There’s no Darius Miller. No Terrence Jones. No Doron Lamb. I played (coached) against those guys. I know how tough Miller was. He killed Tennessee. He gave it to us not just with offense, but with defense and toughness. Lamb was a clutch shooter. Every time Anthony Davis went to block a shot, Terrence got the backside rebound or Calipari took him out.

“I enjoyed that Kentucky team last year as much as any team I have watched play period. They were that much fun. I enjoyed them as much as any team I have ever seen in college basketball. I knew it was a rare team and I knew there would be a lot of change with this year’s team.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl thinks Missouri, Florida and Tennessee could all be good enough to beat Kentucky in Southeastern Conference play this year. However, he still has no doubts that the Wildcats will be the league’s best overall team.

“They are so talented, so deep and John Calipari does the best job of any coach in country at getting kids to play hard and unselfishly and accept responsibility of what it means to play in that uniform,” said Pearl, who will work as an ESPN analyst this season.

However, Pearl does have one warning.

“John doesn’t have as much help coaching this team as he had a year ago. He doesn’t have Darius Miller, Terrence Jones or Doron Lamb, guys who could tell the freshmen last year not to pay attention to how John was saying things but what he was saying,” Pearl said. “John can go off on kids and challenge them. He won’t have those veteran players this year to tell the young guys not to pay attention to the man behind the curtain but to pay attention to the message he has.”

Calipari has not lost a home game in three seasons at Kentucky. Pearl says that could change, especially in SEC play where Tennessee, Missouri and Florida all come to Rupp Arena.

“I just think it will be difficult to maintain that streak of not losing at home. Young players can be more inconsistent. Will they guard and rebound every night? Will they  make clutch free throws every night, something it seems like UK has always done under John? It will be by far his youngest team and they have so many pieces that have to come together that they may well have an off night at home,” Pearl said.

Pearl said he doesn’t believe Rupp Arena intimidates opposing players. Instead, he thinks the 23,000 fans elevate the home team’s play.

“I never felt like we were intimidated by being there. Kentucky fans were so into the game and so knowledgeable and you would have 1,000 people around the floor when you had your lay-up line. Games are always on national TV. It just seems to me that Kentucky always elevates it play at home,” Pearl, who coached for 33  years, said.

As he did when he was coaching, Pearl emphasized how emotional playing in Rupp Arena always was for him.

“My eyes would water when I just walked into Rupp Arena. I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? I am coaching in Rupp Arena in front of these fans.’ It was quite as honor,” he said. “They honor the game in Kentucky. I have never coached for Kentucky. I have always coached against Kentucky going back to my days of competing against Kentucky Wesleyan.

“Kentucky was always so hard to beat, but it was the team I wanted to beat. I wanted to leave the building wanting UK  fans to go, ‘You know, that team played hard and that team thought it had chance to win in our building.’ We didn’t. We only one won time in five tires. There was one occasion were embarrassed. I apologized to Kentucky fans that even though they beat us by three touchdowns, I know they were hoping for a better game and we did  not give to it them.”

Pearl insists he’ll bring that same honesty and energy to his work with ESPN — and he’s hoping to get assigned to work a game in Rupp Arena.

“I don’t know about criticizing or second guessing coaches, but I will go over options. I will discuss what might be going through the coaches’ minds. Hopefully I will speak from my head as much as my heart,” Pearl said. “I want to be able to tell the viewers what to expect next and draw on my years as a coach to do that and hopefully make it fun for them to anticipate what might be getting ready to happen.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, who is now an analyst with ESPN, says there’s no way to truly appreciate the way coach John Calipari has recruited at UK. Kentucky could be in line to have a fifth straight No. 1-ranked recruiting class under Calipari.

“It’s hard to predict something like that could even happen,” Pearl said. “Certainly John at a  place like Kentucky is a perfect marriage. I said the day they hired him that they could not have put anybody better in that position. Kentucky fans worry if you are winning so much that you will leave and if you are losing they pack your bags. But John is great with all that.

“John loves the game and the history of the game. He also wants to put (national championship) banners up on his watch. I think he is working harder now than he ever has. I coached against him a long time. He did one of the best coaching jobs in the history of college basketball when he was at UMass (and took the team to the 1996 Final Four). It’s one of the top four all-time coaching jobs. They didn’t do much before he got there or after he left.”

Pearl says he has seen Calipari “evolve” into a truly elite coach in recent years.

“I see John Calipari running better stuff and he’s much tougher to coach against now than he was when he first started coaching at Memphis,” Pearl said. “They did a little bit of everything then, but they don’t do as much now. However, what they do, they do very, very well. They do fewer things and do them so well that’s why everybody wants to play for him.”

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