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.