Last updated: January 06. 2014 5:42PM - 415 Views
Ira D. Combs Tri State Sports Media

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After 10 days of being hemmed up together practicing their various offenses and defenses in the Joe Craft Center, and I’m sure at times running like chickens in a storm, then watching U of L basketball and football dominate the state media’s attention every evening in the news, I’m thinking Coach Cal and all the UK basketball players are ready to take on anything or anybody who will meet them at Rupp Arena .

Mississippi State will be that sacrificial lamb beginning at 8 p.m Wednesday on the SEC Network, WKYT, and WYMT, as well as other on state affiliates.

It should be a triumphant return to regular season play and a solid win to begin SEC play and then on to Nashville Saturday for a 3:30 tip off with Vanderbilt for a little more dicey of an affair. As we all know nothing is ever guaranteed when the Blue and White team rolls into town across the South but I think this team is ready to weather the storm of at least this Commodore team .

All things considered, as this season approaches the midway point UK is still on course to challenge for another SEC championship banner. I think No. 47 or somewhere thereabouts . It appears the Harrison twins gained a lot of confidence from their coach and each other during that impressive second half run against Louisville. James Young seems to be close to regaining his role as the second option for offense on this team and that all important first man off the bench for inside or baseline play has finally been accepted by sophomore Alex Poythress. The last part to the puzzle which is back up perimeter and point guard play has evidently fallen into the hands of freshman Dominique Hawkins who is steadily gaining confidence every minute he plays.

But make no mistake this team plays through and will ride on the coattails of Julius Randle and don’t let that second half lapse in the Louisville game make you think otherwise, it was a classic case of “fools gold.” Let’s hope it doesn’t happen again, especially on the road. The UK medical staff may be the most important part of this puzzle when it’s all said and done in March.

The big question at this juncture of the season is not about UK, we pretty much know what we have and what direction it’s headed in. The bigger picture is what does the SEC landscape look like especially when playing on the road. I see plenty of competition waiting on UK when they arrive in Gainesville, Fayetteville, Baton Rouge, Oxford, and Columbia, Mo.

In the friendly confines of Rupp Arena, I see hard fought games with Florida, UT, LSU, and Arkansas, but there absolutely should not be any losses in Rupp Arena this SEC season .

UK Watching Louisville & Vanderbilt Football Coaching Scenarios With Interest

Trust me when I tell you that the brain trust of UK athletics is watching the Louisville football coaching dilemma unfold with keen interest now that it’s supposedly official Charlie Strong has bolted the River City for a move up the college football coaching ladder in both prestige as well as a thicker wallet. Personally, I can’t help but reflect back on ole Charlie’s public tirade about the Cardinal fans lack of appreciation for what he and his players had accomplished over his first three years last year. He wanted appreciation and attention and more fannies in the seats at Papa Johns Stadium for his team’s work.

Sorry Charlie, but basketball is king in Louisville just like Lexington, always has been and always will be. So be careful what you ask for Charlie, because you’re headed into territory that’s unmatched in those two categories for their beloved Longhorns. I hope your trail doesn’t end in Austin like Howard Schnellenberger’s did in Norman, Okla., and John L. Smith’s did in Lansing, Mich.

Now where does Tom Jurich turn , because this will be his toughest hire to date for a Louisville coach. Hiring a new football coach at Louisville in 2014 (even with all it’s gains in recent years) that needs to beat Florida State, Clemson, and Virginia Tech on an annual basis with added match ups against either Notre Dame, Miami, or Georgia Tech every other year is not the same as hiring someone to beat up on recent Big East foes. Factor in that North Carolina and Duke are no longer guaranteed wins and the doormats of the ACC and you have an immensely different hire on your hands.

First of all, no matter what individual Jurich turns to it’s highly unlikely he’ll be able to get anyone with the Florida recruiting pipeline that Charlie Strong had established.

Let’s lay all our cards (no pun intended) on the table right up front. Would Jurich consider pulling the trigger, and possible PR nightmare for him and president Ramsey, and give Bobby Petrino a chance at redemption? Even more intriguing, would Petrino bolt WKU after one year for another shot at the national limelight if Jurich got bold?

My guess is—in a heartbeat .

Now down south the good academic folks at Vandy are in what appears to be the waning hours of their modest taste of success because evidently several much more elite college football programs are finally sold on James Franklin’s abilities after taking the Dores to three bowl games in a row with a nine-win season to boot. It’s just a matter of time if not this year definitely in the next two that Vanderbilt will get back to being Vanderbilt, or at least that’s what the rest of the SEC is hoping. As for Dan Mullen at Mississippi State, he should have bolted Starkville last year because his stock went south this year and it’s doubtful it will recover any time soon. Sooner or later UK will figure out that annual puzzle of a win opportunity.

But it says here if Franklin bolts Nashville right behind Strong leaving Louisville, well, that’s the best news Mark Stoops and the UK brain trust could hope for, as long as Jurich doesn’t get bold and bring Bobby Petrino back to the ‘Ville. Which is exactly what UK is on pins and needles about until that decision is made.

Regardless of how the coaching carousel plays out, UK is in a heck of lot better shape going into 2014 than they were just last year, no matter how many high profile recruits come on board.

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