Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Kentucky 95 - 73 Miami (Fla.) (Win No. 2,381)

OK, we haven't done too many of these lately.  At the beginning of the season, The Athletic ran a long article purporting to show that Coach John Calipari hasn't been the same since UK lost to Wisconsin in the 2015 Final Four.  I don't know if that's true for Cal, but it's certainly been true for me.  I have never been able to lose myself in a season like that since 2015.  If the Cats had beaten UNC and won the National Title in 2017 -- as they should have -- I might have recovered.  Or if they had beaten Auburn and gone to the Final Four in 2019 -- as they should have -- I might have recovered.  But ever since that loss to Wisconsin, it always seems like something goes wrong for the Big Blue.

But tonight, the Cats woke up the echoes.  The excitement in the Commonwealth has been building for awhile.  UK only has seven significant players, and six of them are guards.  So as I commented in the game against Kansas, they looked like one of the early Pitino teams if there was no Mashburn and no one could shoot.  They still don't have a Mashburn, but now they are starting to shoot.

They almost beat Kansas.  They were too quick for the Jayhawks, and after falling behind 9-0, they shot out to a 58-44 lead with 16:21 left in the game.  They still led 83-78 with less than 4 minutes to go, but they weren't ready to go down the stretch with the canny Jayhawks.  The Cats missed their last eight shots, finished 12-38 from behind the 3-point line, and fell 89-84.

Still, Kentucky fans took notice.  In the second quarter of the game -- the last 10 minutes of the first half -- UK had outscored KU 34-25.  Thirty-four points in ten minutes -- against Kansas!  That's pretty unusual.  And UK fans love high-scoring teams that can shoot.  So hope started to bloom.  UK came home and started making three-pointers.  They beat Stonehill 101-67.  They won a wild shootout with St. Joseph's in overtime, 96 to 88.  (In that game, the Hawks went 15-37 from three-point range, but the Cats made 12-25 in response).  And then, on the day after Thanksgiving, they smashed Marshall 118 to 82.  In that game, UK went 16-27 from three-point range, and scored the most points the Cats have ever scored under Cal.

So Rupp Arena was rocking tonight when Miami of Florida -- the number 8 team in the country -- rolled into town.  John Wall was there.  Jay Bilas was there.  The place was packed.  And it soon became evident that we were in for some drama.  The Cats jumped out to an early 21-11 lead, but then Miami went on an 18-2 run to take a 29-23 lead.  Then UK ended the half on a 19-8 run to lead 42-37 at the break.

While everyone caught their breath, UK fans worried about D.J. Wagner, the highly touted freshman point guard who had torched Marshall for 28 points on Friday.  Wagner fell and hurt himself toward the end of the first half, and it was pretty obvious he wouldn't be playing in the second half.  We've been through this sort of thing a lot in recent years, and it usually ends very badly for the Big Blue.  We still don't know what happened to Wagner, or when he'll be back.  But his absence meant that in the second half, UK's chances depended on Reed Sheppard -- the son of UK hero Jeff Sheppard -- a freshman from London, Kentucky.

Now this is why we watch.  This is why we sit through all those terrible games.  Because someday, magic can happen.  And magic happened tonight.  Sheppard was tremendous -- he finished with 21 points, 4 assists, and 3 steals.  And the Cats torched Miami.  Look at these numbers:

9-21 from 3-point range (42.9 percent)
28-41 from 2-point range (68.3 percent)
12-17 from the line (70.6 percent)

That's how you score 95 points in only 40 points, and bury Miami 95 to 73.

Now there is some fool's gold here.  The AP had Miami ranked number 8, but they probably aren't that good.  Ken Pomeroy correctly predicted that Miami's poor defense would get them in trouble -- he had them ranked 37 going into this game, and he had the Cats winning 85-79.  But 85-79 isn't 95-73, so even K-Pom underestimated the Cats somewhat.  Furthermore, UK is now shooting 42.6 percent from 3-point range, making them 5th in the nation in that category.  In all his years at UK, Cal has only had two teams that made more than 37 percent of their 3-point shots:  his 2011 and 2012 teams.  The 2011 team went to the Final Four, and the 2012 team won it all.  Giving Cal a team that can shoot three's is like giving him an extra guy on the floor.

Anyway, there's still lots to worry about.  Will Wagner come back?  If he comes back, will he be effective?  What about those three 7-footers who were supposed to play for UK this year?  Presumably the NCAA will never let the guy from Croatia play for us -- that seems like another Enes Kanter situation -- but what about the others?  And what about the defense -- Ken Pom has UK 55th in the country in defensive efficiency.  And what about the game against UNC in Atlanta?  Or the two games against Tennessee?  And so forth and so on.

But for tonight, we finally got to see the Cats play the way we want.  Basketball is, or at least should be, the most beautiful game in the world.  And tonight, that's how Kentucky played.

One more point.  Many, many people like to complain that the crowds at Rupp Arena are not sufficiently supportive.  But to me, Rupp Arena is like the world's greatest pipe organ -- you have to know how to play it.  When the Cats aren't very good -- and especially when they play ugly basketball -- the fans sit and stew.  We don't need analytics to know that if you're struggling with a small-time opponent in November, you're probably in for a long year.  And we know who can play and who can't.  On the other hand, when you've got a John Wall, or an Anthony Davis who can really make the place sing -- or when you've got a big, must-win game with Jay Bilas in the house -- Rupp is the greatest arena in college basketball.  No other place combines so much size with so much noise and so much love of the game.  Tonight, the Cats came through for us, and Rupp came through for the Cats.

KHSAA Football: And Then There Were Twelve

A lot of drama around the Commonwealth last Friday as the State Semi-Finals were contested (home teams listed first):

Class 6A:
Lou. Trinity 14 - 7 Lex. Frederick Douglass (OT)
Lou. Ballard 21 - 24 Lex. Bryan Station

Class 5A:
Ft. Thomas Highlands 15 - 17 Cooper
Bowling Green 38 - 6 Owensboro

Class 4A:
Cov. Catholic 22 - 14 Pad. Tilghman
Franklin Co. 14 - 41 Boyle Co.

Class 3A:
Christian Academy-Louisville 43 - 8 Lex. Catholic
Hart Co. 28 - 30 Bell Co.

Class 2A:
Owensboro Catholic 44 - 15 Somerset
Mayfield 31 - 28 Beechwood

Mayfield won on a last second field goal by the same kicker whose missed extra point cost them in a 14-13 loss to Beechwood in the State Title Game last year.

Class 1A:
Kentucky Country Day 6 - 42 Raceland
Campbellsville 21 - 28 Pikeville

So that gives us the following title games (MaxPreps rankings in parentheses).  All games at Kroger Field in Lexington, Ky.  Top 20 teams in bold:

Class 6A (Saturday, 3 P.M. Central):
(2) Lou. Trinity v. (5) Lex. Bryan Station

Class 5A (Saturday, 7 P.M. Central):
(10) Cooper v. (12) Bowling Green

Class 4A (Friday, 7 P.M. Central):
(7) Cov. Catholic v. (1) Boyle Co.

Class 3A (Saturday, 11 A.M. Central):
(8) Christian Academy-Louisville v. (29) Bell Co.

Class 2A (Friday, 3 P.M. Central):
(17) Owensboro Catholic v. (14) Mayfield

Class 1A (Friday, 11 A.M. Central):
(31) Raceland v. (32) Pikeville

If MaxPreps is right, every game -- with the possible exception of the 3A matchup -- should be really good.

NFL Week 13 and Survivor Pool

After a thrilling win over the Bills, the Eagles remain on top of the NFL:

1.  Philadelphia:  10-1
2.  San Francisco:  8-3
3.  Baltimore:  9-3
4.  Kansas City:  8-3
5.  Dallas:  8-3
6.  Miami:  8-3
7.  Detroit:  8-3
8.  Jacksonville:  8-3
9.  Pittsburgh:  7-4
10.  Buffalo:  6-6

We have another 1 v. 2 matchup this week, with the Eagles hosting the 49ers in another Game of the Week.  The Eagles are really dominating the spotlight this year.  That game will be at 3:25 P.M. Central Time on Sunday, and it should be a good one.  That's the only Top 10 game of the week, but of course you can watch Alabama play Georgia on Saturday.

We survived for another week last week, as the Titans got past the Panthers.  This week, I'm going with a Monday night game -- the Jaguars at home against the Bengals.  I don't like picking against the well-coached Bengals, but this late in the year my options are limited:

Previous Survivor Picks (home teams listed first):

1.  Baltimore 25 - 9 Houston
2.  Buffalo 38 - 10 Oakland
3.  Kansas City 41 - 10 Chicago
4.  Philadelphia 34 - 31 Washington (OT)
5.  Detroit 42 - 24 Carolina
6.  Miami 42 - 21 Carolina
7.  Seattle 20 - 10 Arizona
8.  San Diego 30 - 13 Chicago
9.  New Orleans 24 - 17 Chicago
10.  Dallas 49 - 17 N.Y. Giants
11.  San Francisco 27 - 14 Tampa Bay
12.  Tennessee 17 - 10 Carolina

Monday, November 27, 2023

Classic OVC Basketball Standings

The members of the Classic OVC are not off to a great start this season.

168.  Murray St:  2-3
186.  W. Kentucky:  4-3
195.  Mid. Tenn. St:  4-4
196.  Morehead St:  4-3
198.  E. Kentucky:  2-2
248.  E. Tenn. St:  3-3
266. Austin Peay:  3-4
320.  Tennessee Tech:  2-4

Meanwhile, here's the Classic SEC, which is setting up to be a hard-fought race:

8.  Alabama:  5-1
9.  Tennessee:  4-2
16.  Auburn:  4-1
17.  Kentucky:  5-1
19.  Mississippi St:  6-0
28.  Florida:  4-2
72.  Louisiana St:  4-2
82.  Georgia:  3-3
128.  Mississippi:  5-0
150.  Vanderbilt:  3-3

CBS has Vandy as the worst football team from any Classic major conference.  In basketball, the only Classic Power Conference teams ranked below Vandy on Ken Pom are:  Georgia Tech (151), Rice (228), Cal (177), Oregon St. (190), and Georgetown (171).  Even by the standards of Vandy, these are grim facts.

Saturday, November 25, 2023