View PDF "March Means Something This Year" p 6 ACE Weekly March 11, 2010 03.10.2010 Bring the (March) Madness by Kevin Faris Doesn’t it feel good for March to mean something this year? A year ago, as UK headed into the SEC tournament, the Wildcats were coming off a Senior Day loss to UGA and a loss to UF where the head coach may have told the best player to stop shooting. It seems like a long, long time ago, but it was only a year. Now, heading into the SEC tournament, the Wildcats are ranked #2 in the country, and along with Kansas and Syracuse, viewed as one of the favorites to make it to Indianapolis for the Final Four. UK’s return to the national spotlight means a return to the national conversation. So, when you are watching Dick Vitale or Andy Katz on ESPN or Seth Davis or Clark Kellog on CBS, be careful taking what they say about the Cats as the gospel. National writers, announcers, and commentators watch a lot of games and see a lot of teams, but they often overlook the details in favor of going with the more popular or superficial meme. In an effort to dig a little deeper, here is the truth behind what you’ll hear about UK over the next few weeks. UK’s inconsistent perimeter shooting will hurt them in the tournament. This opinion was very popular directly after UK’s 74-65 loss to Tennessee where they went 2-22 from three-point range. This was actually a theory dating all the way back to the beginning of the season, or even further back to when Jodie Meeks announced for the NBA. Some surprising shooting from Eric Bledsoe and Patrick Patterson, combined with Darnel Dodson and Darius Miller, pushed this aside for awhile, but the UT game brought it all back. So, is that true? While bad shooting could hurt UK, if the Cats lose it will probably be, at best, the third reason. Those who focus on the UT game overlook the poor perimeter shooting in the Vanderbilt and Mississippi games that preceded it. Despite shooting 4-24 against MSU and 3-16 against Vandy, UK still won. Why? Defense. If UK plays solid defense, and keeps the other team off the boards, they can survive bad three point shooting and, as seen in the regular season finale against UF, good three point shooting can mask poor defense and rebounding. But, to go far they need to do two of the three. UK’s lack of experience will hurt them in the heat of postseason play. This was set up early in the season, mainly as a way to contrast UK and KU. The theory is that UK has the talent, but KU has the experience to go with that talent. The truth is that experience and talent is the best combination, but I feel pretty confident in saying that while Coach Cal is at UK, the chances UK ever starts 3 or more seniors is going to be pretty low. So talent is going to be what we have and to be honest, the idea of experience is a little overrated. Although Carmelo Anthony at Syracuse is the only freshmen-led team to win the NCAA title that stat is a little skewed. Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Garnettt, and Tracy McGrady are a few of the current NBA superstars who never played a game of college and after watching LeBron dominate during his first NBA year, I have a hard time believing he couldn’t lead a team to an NCAA tournament title. The best comparison to UK’s current situation is the Ohio State team of 2007. That team, led by a great big man in Greg Oden, a great point guard in Mike Conley, and a young sharpshooter in Daquean Cook finished as the runners-up to Florida. If that sounds familiar, it should. Cousins is better offensively than Oden, Wall is better overall than Conley, and Bledsoe is a bit more well rounded than Cook. Plus, OSU had no one to compare to Patrick Patterson. Freshmenled teams may not have won the title, but they can get there. So, experience is nice, but talent is pretty good too. UK’s Demarcus Cousins will lose his cool and cost the team. Cousins arrived in Lexington with this reputation (presumably well deserved) and despite not having any incidents since the UL game, still hears announcer after announcer discuss his temper. The truth is quality big men are fouled, hacked, and abused more than we can imagine, and Cousins is no exception. Despite the fouls, despite the trash talk, despite opposing fans calling and leaving racist messages, Cousins has not had a blow up. In fact, he probably deserves a little praise for keeping his temper in check, something Fox Sports Jeff Goodman has noticed, but which other basketball writers have overlooked. To be honest, if there was a UK player I would worry about losing their temper on the court, I would worry more about Bledsoe than Cousins. Unfortunately for Cousins, his reputation is alive and well in the minds of the refs. I don’t think it will be an issue, but if it is at least UK still has Daniel Orton. This is not to say that UK will win the title or even make the Final Four. The truth there is that none of us know. In a single elimination tournament, anything can happen. That being said, you have to like UK’s chances and despite any real or perceived weaknesses, I think we all prefer the situation this year to the one last year. Remember last year, when UK went to the NIT? Yeah, me neither.