It may have seemed just like yesterday that Coach Cal cut his first set of nets down in the Super Dome for the 2012 NCAA championship, but the time has arrived for John Calipari to unveil his fourth edition of the UK Wildcats men’s basketball team. The annual two-game preseason exhibition schedule is now behind Cal, and these new Cats have produced blowouts against Northwood Univ. of Florida last Thursday and Transylvania here in the heart of the Bluegrass Monday night.
Now, big boy basketball begins this Friday night for the Cats when they tangle with the Maryland Terrapins in Brooklyn, New York at the brand spanking new Barclays Center, with tip off set for 8:30 p.m. and televised live on ESPN.
It appears Calipari is going with a seven-man rotation to begin this season, with the starting guards being sophomore Ryan Harrow and freshman. Archie Goodwin, and the starting forwards being freshman Alex Poythress and sophomore Kyle Wiltjer. Rounding out the starting lineup at center will be freshman Nerlens Noel.
The first sub off the bench for any perimeter position should be senior Julius Mays, a transfer from Wright State University. The final piece to the seven-man rotation puzzle will be freshman Willie Cauley-Stein. But don’t be surprised if junior wing Jon Hood doesn’t eventually work his way into the mix to make an eight-man rotation. And when senior guard Twany Beckham comes off the injured list, there may be a few minutes squeezed in for him, especially in early foul prone games and/or injury related issues to perimeter players.
I don’t see any other players getting any significant or meaningful minutes as the season moves along, unless the dreaded injury bug comes into play.
The Cats’ biggest obstacles lay right in front of them with the first two games of the non-conference schedule against ACC powers Maryland and Duke, although both are on neutral site locations in Brooklyn and Atlanta respectively. After those two games in early November, there is a tough road game at Notre Dame in late November and a very challenging home game against Baylor to kick off the month of December, before ending December at the Yum Center in Louisville for the annual Battle of the Bluegrass.
My crystal ball says the Cats will manage two wins out of those five tough non-conference games, with an outside chance of pulling a third win. Your guess is as good as mine which three it would be, but I don’t see this young team maturing enough to beat a good Duke team in Atlanta, or a solid Notre Dame team on the road. I’m also thinking the boys down I-64 have marked this one on their schedule since last March.
With the SEC conference schedule being upgraded with two solid teams in Missouri and Texas A&M, I can’t see this youthful UK team playing well in those difficult road conference games until maybe early February. When all is said and done, and especially if no significant injuries have occurred along the way, I think this team can pull out a 24-7 or 23-8 record by the time the SEC tournament rolls around, which with any luck at all should solidify a No. 3 seed with an outside chance of a No. 2 seed.
Actually, the seed this particular year isn’t really going to make that much of an impact because there is only one site remotely close to Lexington in either of the first two rounds, which is Dayton, Ohio in the first round. For UK to secure that possibility, it better make me look like a terrible prognosticator because they can’t lose more than four or five games and have a shot, especially with Louisville in the mix right down the road supposedly set to rack up more wins than at any time in the Pitino era.
However it plays out, you can rest assured it will be a much more pleasant winter than it has been during the fall for Big Blue Nation.
UK football at another crossroads
Now that the inevitable has finally came and gone with Joker Phillips job status, everyone, especially Mitch Barnhart, can concentrate on who will lead the Wildcats’ gridiron fortunes into the next chapter of UK football.
We all know now that had Lee Todd not stepped in and told Barnhart to separate his personal feelings and beliefs from the hiring process of a coach, we would have passed on John Calipari not once but twice in the last six years.
I don’t think anyone would argue the Cal hire has placed UK at a level in college basketball that it has never seen in its long and storied history.
With that being brought to the table, we can all assume that ole Mitch has used his one and only mulligan (with Billy Gillispie) in the hiring of coaches. This hire may very well dictate how long Barnhart’s tenure is at UK.
First and foremost, everyone must understand there is no sanctity or honesty in college sports by anybody anywhere, especially in football, not like there was in the old days or if there ever was any to a degree of reason. For a college football head coach to be successful in this modern day and age (in particular in the SEC) he must have many assets at his disposal. Let me list the important ones: lucrative budgets, plush and updated facilities, rock solid support from the school’s overall faculty and administration, a supportive, loyal, and large fan base, and last but definitely not least is a solid recruiting base which can produce 15 to 20 four- and/or five-star type recruits on an annual basis.
Real quick, tell me honestly how many of those luxuries does Kentucky football have as it tries to lure a coach to Lexington? Raise your hand if you think they have just two of them.
So you see the problem in my humble opinion is after witnessing UK football since my first game at old Stoll Field in 1963, I have come to the opinion that the hiring of a new football coach is only one of several problems that need to be addressed before UK can become a relatively consistent winner, which I consider to be seven or eight wins annually for a UK type situation. Realistically, there may never be a formula you can tap into to bring that to fruition.
So, here we are at the crossroads of another hiring of a UK football coach and this process is being led by UK A.D. Mitch Barnhart of course, a devout Christian, who has publicly said one of his most cherished items left to do in life on his personal bucket list is go on an extended missionary excursion in a foreign land.
Do you think this guy will hire a Bobby Petrino or a Mike Leach, who by all accounts since the firing Joker Phillips mentality began a year ago are candidates No. 1 and No. 2 by a majority of Big Blue Nation and the chosen candidates of some major UK donors and ex UK football players in the K - Men’s association?
I highly doubt it.
Just remember, Mitch, you’re hiring a college football coach that will break bread with his colleagues on a daily basis. You’re not deciding who the husband or father of the year candidates are, you’re supposedly hiring the best football coach you can for the UK job.
And please don’t lose sight of the fact that everybody gets a second and even third chance at redeeming themselves when involved with a sports scandal.
Rick Pitino, I’m told, is getting on with his career quite well.