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Kentucky Football Loses
by Quinn Schwartz Sep 4
, 2016

Well.  I don't know what I expected.  I suppose this post could be limited to just the title, but for the sake of content, let’s continue..

Welcome, one and all, to another season at Barnhart Amusement Park! We have many attractions, but our most reliable, and easily our most depressing: the Football Rollercoaster!  It’s the same coaster we all know and love, but this year we have a bigger sign, a new paint job and even a few upgraded cars. But unfortunately, it’s still the same ride on the same track that takes us up and down and loops the loop, only to leave us holding our guts and throwing up in the nearest parking lot trashcan. 

But whatever, you’ll still ride it!

OK, now I know it’s the first game of the season (stop me if you’ve heard this one before).  I don’t want to get completely gloom and doom on everyone right off the bat, so let’s give credit where credit is due, and that credit begins with Drew Barker. 

Barker’s first half alone equaled as good of a complete game performance as I’ve seen a Kentucky quarterback put up in a quite some time.  He was hitting his receivers in stride, he was eluding rushers in the pocket and he was making better decisions than I ever thought I would see him make when he first got to campus.  Boom Williams did Boom Williams things — 13 carries for 94 yards, no big deal, just another day at the office.  The receivers were explosive, and secondary was every bit as good as advertised — 35-17 at halftime.  But that was the first half…

Let’s go to the second half — the bottom of the hill — the part where all the nausea and regret sets in. 

Even though Kentucky’s offense couldn't muster a single point in the entire second half, they only had the ball for a total of seven minutes so let’s not be too hard on them.  That means the UK defense was on the field for 23 of the final 30 minutes, and that’s a long time to play defense against Nick Mullens, one of the better field generals we’ll see all season. 

I really hate to be too hard on student athletes because I know they're just kids, but I have to give a shoutout to Chris Westry.  Westry did a lot of talking leading up to the game. I believed Westry when he said he was the best basketball player on the team — yes we’re talking basketball here.  I rolled my eyes when he said he was the best basketball player currently in the state of Kentucky.  But better than any player who has ever played for Cal?  Come on, dude.  I admire the kid’s confidence — actually, no I don’t.  There’s a fine line between confidence and hubris, and he dove right across it and face planted in the mud.  Let’s just stick to the sport you signed up for. You’re a football player, and that “coverage” that led to the Southern Miss first down/pass interference call in the fourth quarter was about the most pathetic I’ve ever seen.  Betcha John Wall could have received that gift that Mullens basically handed to you.. just sayin’. 

Despite whatever breakdowns we saw on the field in the second half, the bottom line is that the Kentucky sideline got out-coached. What makes it worse is that they were out-coached by Southern Miss’ offensive coordinator, Shannon Dawson.  The same offensive coordinator who was fired from Kentucky last year after just one season.  Good for him though.  His boys managed an incredible rally, and scored 27 straight second half points to pull off a comeback that I never (but absolutely should have) imagined.   Kind of makes you wonder what would have happened if Stoops decided to pull the plug on Towles and go with Barker a little earlier last season like everyone wanted.  Might have given Dawson a little more to work with offensively. Yet here we are, just a couple of Kentucky football fans wondering “what if.”

So at this point let’s just face it, Stoops is the ultimate “mean girl.” She tells us how much we mean to her, she tells us how happy we’ll be together, and on prom night, she leaves us sitting on the curb broken hearted.  I’ll tell you what though — I’ll be damned if she doesn’t put on a helluva dress.  But don’t blame her, that’s just her nature.  As is the nature of the Kentucky football program.  It doesn’t matter who’s driving the train, it always seems to end up at the same destination.  But hey, look on the bright side, at least it’s the shortest line in the park. 


Preview: #4 Kentucky faces #13 Stony Brook to open NCAA tournament play
by Quinn Schwartz Mar 16
, 2016

Last time Kentucky was a #4 seed was in 2011. Brandon Knight and Josh Harrellson led the Cats past a top seeded Ohio State team, and a #2 seeded North Carolina team before finally losing to red-hot and virtually unbeatable Kemba Walker and UConn. It was a stellar run, and one that most people didn’t see coming, but it all started with Brandon Knight’s late game heroics that helped Kentucky survive #13 seeded Princeton in the first round.

This year, Kentucky is a trendy pick to make yet another Final Four run. A number of Goliaths could pose blockades along the road, but before Kentucky can worry about the big boys, they have to take care of Stony Brook on Thursday.

So, who is Stony Brook?

The Stony Brook Seawolves are the winners of the American East Conference. That means they have spent their season facing opponents like Albany, Vermont and New Hampshire, but with a 26-6 record, have been pretty successful. They only lost to Vanderbilt by seven points in overtime early in the season, but several games later lost to Notre Dame by 25. Other than those two games, the Seawolves haven’t faced a power conference school all season. Stony Brook isn’t a very big team, but they are experienced, and with a 26-6 record, they clearly know how to win.

Who is this guy that everyone keeps talking about?

Stony Brook has a guy named Jameel Warney who put up 43 points in their last game against Vermont. He also had a 27 point, 23 rebound game against UMBC two games prior, and averages 20 and 10 on the season. He’s 6’8, 250 lbs. and Kentucky’s biggest concern. He outplayed Damian Jones in their meeting with Vanderbilt and had another solid game against Notre Dame. The kid is no slouch, and Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress will have their hands full.
What does Stony Brook do well?

Jameel Warney is the the undisputed star, but the Seawolves play extremely cohesively as a team. They average over 16 assists per game, and outbound their opponents by seven boards a game, but defensively is where they really shine. Stony Brook holds teams to just 61 points per game while only allowing them to shoot 39% from the field. They don’t shoot a lot of three pointers as a team, but Carson Puriefoy, their second leading scorer, can really light it up, and the Cats will need to make sure he doesn’t get hot.

What does Stony Brook do poorly?

On paper? Not much. The Seawolves have been successful all season, and don’t really have a glaring weakness statistically. However, Stony Brook does have some trouble finding their shot from outside, and they are not a great free throw shooting team at just 67%. This is good news for Kentucky for two reasons: Stony Brook will have a hard time shooting their way back into the game if the Cats get them down early, and Stony Brook will have a hard time finishing the game if it comes down to free throws at the end. Let’s just hope we don’t even have to worry about the latter.

How does Kentucky win?

Kentucky wins by just going out there and playing ball. Jameel Warney is no more imposing than Alex Poythress, and between he and Marcus Lee, the Cats should be able to hold him in check. Stony Brook has been successful this year when teams double down on Warney, opening up opportunities for the rest of the team, but I don’t foresee a double team being necessary with Kentucky. Stony Brook has been winning all year, so they are going to firmly believe that they can win this game. Kentucky needs to jump on them early and let them know that Iowa is no place for a Cinderella story. If everyone for Kentucky just goes out there and does their job, there is no reason the Cats won’t be playing on Saturday.


Code Blue: Kentucky invades Nashville to claim their 29th SEC championship
by Quinn Schwartz Mar 15
, 2016

I’m no stranger to Nashville, Tennessee. I’ve been to the honkey tonks, i’ve embarrassed myself on a number of karaoke stages, I’ve seen some great shows at the Mercy Lounge and Bridgestone, and i’ve even spent some time in East Nashville where you can have any beer you want — as long as it’s a Pabst Blue Ribbon. But this past weekend was the first time i had ever made it down for the Kentucky takeover of the SEC tournament.

Everyone knows Kentucky fans travel well. From the Bahamas to the Great Alaskan Shootout, the Cats are always the most well represented team regardless of the tournament venue. I knew we were going to have strength in numbers, but nothing could have prepared me for the insanity that was downtown Nashville on SEC weekend.

We rolled through the outskirts of the city sometime around 2 p.m. central time. We were a little timid at first, not knowing exactly how to tackle the city. We decided to get our feet wet at Village Pub, a little beer garden a couple miles away from downtown. Village Pub is a Predators fans hangout spot, and the Predators are Nashville’s professional hockey team. I’m not really sure what hockey is either, but they were all really excited to let the out-of-towners know about the best spots in the city. Our blue Kentucky gear should have made it apparent that we weren’t in town to eat fancy dinners and see obscure rock shows, but Nashvillians have a lot of pride in their city, and they made sure to tell us about all the hippest spots anyway. I couldn’t remember any of the places they were telling us about, but I’m pretty sure one guy said something about a cannoli bar? Maybe next time. As the pub filled up, it became clear the Predators were about to start playing, which was our cue to leave and find the basketball.

We arrived downtown about an hour before tipoff. Broadway, the street the arena and all its accompanying attractions were on, was completely sectioned off, so we had to walk the last couple blocks to get into the heart of the action, Sure enough, it was a total Kentucky invasion. You would have had about just as hard of a time finding a red, yellow or orange shirt in downtown Nashville as you would finding a Louisville Cardinal in the NCAA tournament. An enormous blue tide swept across the entire stretch of Broadway, gushed through all the two/three story bars and restaurants in its path, and spilled out of every orifice. The scene didn’t change all weekend. The tide fueled the stages where live music played into the wee hours of the morning, and the live music fueled the tide. It was a glorious give and take and one hell of a party.

I generalized the Kentucky fans in Nashville this weekend into two groups: the lower level Rupp Arena fans and the upper level Rupp Arena fans. The lower level fans had a pretty strict regiment. They would go out to dinner, maybe troll a country dance floor for a bit, go to the game, and head home or back to the hotel once it was over. They love their Cats just as much as the next fan, but they also want to get out of downtown before things get out of hand and someone gets hurt. The upper level fans lived downtown all weekend. They secured a prime spot at Tin Roof or Tootsie’s sometime around noon, and immediately got to work on achieving as even of a blood to alcohol ratio as possible. Maybe they made it inside the arena, and maybe they didn’t, but what really mattered was that they kept a full glass, and somehow managed to cheat death in order to do it all again next year. Both of these groups of fans were a lot of fun in their own right, and despite all their differences in their tournament agendas, they were only going to be fully satisfied if Kentucky left Nashville with three wins and an SEC championship.

So, let’s talk about how that happened.

Alabama beat Ole Miss to earn the privilege of getting crushed by Kentucky for the third time this season. Avery Johnson is a good coach, and I think the future is bright for the Crimson Tide, but this was just not their year. If Alex Poythress could play every game the way he played against Alabama he would have challenged Tyler Ulis for SEC player of the year. The senior averaged 19 points in three games against Alabama, and chipped in a career high four three-pointers in this one. Murray also pitched in with 23 points, and Tyler Ulis with 17 points and five assists. It was a complete game for the Cats as they moved on to face Georgia.

Georgia squeaked by South Carolina for their right to lose to Kentucky. Despite losing their first game in the SEC tournament, a lot of people, including John Calipari, believed that South Carolina still should have made the field of 68. I am not one of those people. South Carolina was undefeated before conference play, but only one of the teams they played during that time (Tulsa) is in the NCAA tournament. Then they went on to lose 7 games in a weak SEC with their only win over a ranked opponent being against Texas A&M. That just isn’t good enough. But anyway, Georgia actually led for about 30 minutes of this game. They didn’t seem to miss a shot all day until they finally cooled off late in the second half. Murray and Ulis led the way with 26 and 25 points respectively as the Cats ended the game on an 11-3 to close out a scrappy Bulldogs team.

Then Kentucky faced the real test in Texas A&M as the co-conference regular season champions faced off in the SEC title game to battle for lone supremacy atop the SEC. Tyler Ulis led the Cats to an overtime victory with a career high 30 points, and was the first Wildcat to tally 30 points and five assists since Tayshaun Prince did it back in 2001. The lead switched back and forth all game until Derek Willis hit a clutch three-pointer with a minute left that would give Kentucky a permanent lead and their 29th SEC championship.

Now the NCAA tournament field is set and everyone is upset about Kentucky getting a #4 seed, especially since Texas A&M is a #3 seed. Two teams with identical conference records and comparable out of conference wins face each other in the conference championship. The team that wins should get the more favorable seed in the NCAA tournament, right? Well, apparently not, but it would be hasty to start crying conspiracy. There are discrepancies within the bracket every year, and the selection committee can’t make everyone happy. Frankly, i think Monmouth being snubbed from the field is more perplexing than the Kentucky/A&M seeding. And Syracuse getting a #10 seed with a 19-13 overall record and 9-9 conference record? But let’s face it, A&M performed better than Kentucky for much of the season. They were 17-2 before a harsh skid that left them on the losing side of five out six games. But the Aggies bounced back by winning their next eight games — including a win against Kentucky— before losing to the Cats in the conference championship. The point is it doesn’t matter. Kentucky is a #4 seed — deal with it. The low seed should put a chip on the team’s shoulder if anything. You think you deserve better? Go out there and prove it. It makes no difference whether they got a #3 seed or a #10 seed, Yes, the road to the Final Four might be tough, but I can guarantee you that no one wants to have to face Kentucky.

Kentucky plays Stony Brook in the first (technically second, I guess) round in the NCAA tournament, and before we start crying about how hard the road to the Final Four is going to be, let’s just get past them first. Plus, there’s no guarantee that Indiana will win their first round game, or that North Carolina will get past the winner of USC/Providence. And for those of you looking all the way ahead to West Virginia in the Elite 8, just stop. Anything can happen between now and then, that’s why they call it March Madness, people. All we know for sure is that the Cats are playing Stony Brook in Iowa. The only question is, who’s coming with me?


The Evolution of the 2015-2016 Kentucky Wildcats
by Quinn Schwartz March 9
, 2016

From preseason #2, to unranked, to co-leaders atop the SEC: the 2015-16 Wildcats have given BBN no shortage of emotion in a crazy year for college basketball.

November 13, 2015: The days are shrinking and the air is getting crisper. Pumpkin spice adorns shelves everywhere and Thanksgiving is right around the corner. As the leaves change, so does the season, and The Bluegrass prepares itself for the most beloved season of all: basketball season.

The football Cats are nursing a four game losing streak on the coattails of a promising preseason, but all is well. The basketball Cats start regular season play tonight, and of course, John Calipari’s team is ranked in the preseason top five – again.

Skal Labissiere headlines another stellar recruiting class, and is expected to be in the mix for the number one overall pick in the next summer’s NBA Draft. Tyler Ulis is considered to be a strong competitor for national player of the year, and Alex Poythress is ready to live up to all of his untapped potential in his final year of college eligibility. Toss in McDonald’s All-Americans, Isiah Briscoe and Jamal Murray, as well as former McDonald’s All-American, Marcus Lee, and the Cats seem poised for another outstanding season.

November 18, 2015: After just two tune-up games Kentucky is ready to face #5 Duke — one of the toughest opponents they will face all year. Kentucky is ranked #2, and so far, everything seems to be going according to plan. Skal is coming off of a 26-point performance the previous game, and even though Kentucky isn’t playing outstanding basketball, confidence is running high as the Cats travel to Chicago for their date with the Blue Devils.

A lot of people expected Kentucky to win, but i don’t think anyone thought it was going to be that easy. Kentucky manhandles Duke on both sides of the ball, and even with Amile Jefferson who would soon suffer a season ending injury, Duke is no match of a zoned in Kentucky team. Duke stars, Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram are held to 3-17 from the field collectively, and Kentucky shows just how deadly the three point guard lineup can be.

Despite a great win, two disturbing trends make their debut on this day. Every Kentucky big man battles foul trouble and Skal Labissiere is a complete non factor as he is bullied by the much bigger and experienced Duke front court, rendering him virtually useless. But who cares? Kentucky just beat Duke, didn’t they?

December 3, 2015: Kentucky is undefeated at 7-0 and is #1 in the country, but something still isn’t right. Skal is averaging over 12 points per game, but he isn’t the kind of huge impact player people were expecting, and he’s coming off curious two point and two rebound performance against Illinois State. With Alex Poythress not playing any better, Marcus Lee carries the load in the paint while Jamal Murray is getting his points, but struggling to find any consistency in his jump shot. Tyler Ulis is hindered by a hyperextended elbow he suffered against South Florida the previous week, but UK plays UCLA tonight in their first true road game, and the Cats need their best player.

Tyler plays, but it doesn’t matter. UCLA takes Kentucky to the woodshed and sends them back to Lexington with their tails between their legs. With Marcus Lee injured in the first five minutes, and Tyler playing with a bad arm, Kentucky is a man and a half down. Foul trouble exhausts Kentucky’s front court yet again, and it becomes clear the Cats are just too far away from home to make any threats of competing in this game. Kentucky has now lost exactly as many games as the season prior. People are confused.

December 21, 2016: It’s officially winter, but Kentucky fans are starting to sweat. UK has bounced back from an embarrassing loss against UCLA with a lopsided victory against EKU and a solid home win against Arizona State, and there’s a buzz around campus because the Cats have added a rare midseason player, Tai Wynyard. The 6’10 Kiwi could be the answer UK is looking for to solve the problem of the struggling and often soft front court, but the question is, will he play this year? He won’t.

But just when it looked like Kentucky had made a full recovery from the UCLA shellacking in the nation’s second largest city, it was time for Kentucky to travel to the nation’s largest city and take a New York sized beat down from a bad, bad Ohio State team. Jamal Murray scores 33 points in this game, and somehow manages to make the final score look a little better on the ticker, but this was a poor performance all around. Skal is berated by frustrated fans who were expecting an Anthony Davis reincarnate, Isiah Briscoe clearly can’t shoot a basketball to save his life, the front court is still a mess, and people are starting to question whether or not they might have been a little hasty in their “Tyler Ulis for player of the year” preseason mentality. How are we possibly supposed to have a merry Christmas now?

December 26, 2015: A win against the Louisville Cardinals is better than anything one could unwrap from beneath the Christmas tree, and makes Kentucky fans far more ravenous than even grandma’s finest performance in the kitchen. OK, i take that back — a sex scandal involving strippers and prostitutes that keeps Louisville out of the NCAA Tournament is better than anything under the Christmas tree, but we will just have to wait a little bit longer for that one.

Now, the UCLA and Ohio State losses were bad, but if Kentucky were to lose at home to Louisville, it would be time to enter crisis mode. The Cardinals enter this game as the #16 team in the nation with plenty of upside. They’re lead by two graduate transfers, Damian Lee and Trey Lewis, and have some size that could be troublesome for UK’s little big men.

Well, crisis averted. Kentucky beats their biggest rivals by two points, and sends Rick Pitino to the locker room with his middle finger in the air. Tyler Ulis is the player of the game, reminding fans why we fell in love with him in the first place, and Kentucky native, Domonique Hawkins is the unsung hero of the game knocking down three clutch three-pointers. The 8-2 Wildcats have rediscovered their mojo.

January 17, 2016: What. Is. Happening. Crisis mode was averted against Louisville, but now we are in full blown red alert, defcon five, state of emergency. Kentucky has just lost to Auburn. Auburn is the worst team in the conference and will stay that way all year. Poor shooting plagues the Cats all game, Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee contribute virtually nothing, and Skal should have just stayed at home. “Tai Wynyard, where are you???” says the Big Blue Nation collectively. A near 20-point loss to LSU a few games prior was nearly forgotten, but with this whole losing to Auburn situation, NIT talk begins to surface if the Cats can’t get things figured out.

*It is important to note that on this day, Derek Willis the basketball player was born. Despite the worst loss of the season, Willis contributed 12 points and 12 rebounds to go along with a new confidence that would change the whole landscape of the 2015-16 season.

January 31, 2016: OK, so maybe that NIT talk was a little extreme. Kentucky has won their last three games by a combined 67 points, the three point guard lineup is clicking again, and the emergence of Derek Willis has fans giddy as schoolchildren. The Poythress, Lee, Skal tandem is still a mess, but with Willis’ ability to make outside shots, the court completely opens up for the guards to do their thing. But now it’s time to travel to Kansas — the best team Kentucky will face all year, and a popular selection to win the national title.

Let’s get one thing straight: no one wins at Allen Fieldhouse, but Kentucky gives the Jayhawks everything they can handle. It’s College Gameday and Kansas fans are even more rabid than usual, slobbering over the opportunity to beat the only program in the country with more overall wins than themselves.

The Cats do everything they can — Tyler Ulis puts the team on his shoulders as he wills the game into overtime and solidifies himself as a legitimate player of the year candidate. In the end, Kentucky just runs out of players and runs out of time. They take the L, but it’s now clear that this Kentucky team can run with anyone in the country.

February 2, 2016: Man, what a tough loss against Kansas. Good thing we play Tennessee today. It’s on the road, but they are 11-11, and I’m really not scared since we almost just won at college basketball’s toughest venue. Hey look, we’re up by 21 points. See? I told you it would be easy. Well, now were only up by 15… ten… five… guys? GUYS?! I can’t believe this is happening. Yep, we just lost to Tennessee. NIT talk resumes.

Kentucky is now entering the latter, and toughest part of the conference schedule. If the Cats don’t start playing, they will struggle to get a favorable seed in the NCAA tournament and could miss the dance altogether. There are a few cupcakes that Kentucky has to take care of, but there are also road games against South Carolina and Texas A&M — two teams that have been playing better basketball than UK for the better part of the season, as well as road games against Florida and Vanderbilt.

February 21, 2016: Kentucky is 4-0 since their epic collapse at Tennessee, and has done so without Alex Poythress. The Cats have actually played better basketball without Poythress, and players like Isaac Humphries and Derek Willis have had an opportunity to improve their game and prove themselves in extended minutes. The four-game win streak includes a convincing win at South Carolina, and it seems like this team might be peaking at just the right time.

Now it’s College Gameday again, and the Cats are traveling to College Station to take on Texas A&M. The Aggies climbed as high as #5 in the AP poll but after losing four of their last five games have found themselves outside of the top 25. Texas A&M needs this game to keep their tournament hopes alive while Kentucky can afford to lose, but a win to keep momentum rolling would be more than ideal.

Once again, it’s the Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray show as the game stays neck and neck through the entirety of regulation and into overtime. Isaac Humphries is having a career night with 12 rebounds and is giving Kentucky the spark they need to get the road win. With Kentucky up three and time winding down, Isaac Humphries makes an incredible defensive play, blocking a shot and coming up with the loose ball. He spikes the ball in sheer exuberance resulting in a technical foul — a tough call, but the right call. Texas A&M wins the game, but Kentucky sleeps a little better knowing they had the game wrapped up at the end of overtime.

March 9, 2016: Kentucky is 3-1 since the heartbreaker at Texas A&M with their only loss coming at Vanderbilt. Jamal Murray has become an offensive menace and earned a spot on the all-freshman team. Tyler Ulis is the SEC player of the year and the SEC defensive player of the year. Most people believe him to be the best point guard in the country. Derek Willis continues to be a constant outside threat, allowing Briscoe, Murray and Ulis the space they need to create while Skal is coming off of his best game of the season against LSU. Everyone is healthy and the Cats are a 2-seed heading into the SEC Tournament. Win the whole thing, and Kentucky is probably looking at a 3-seed in the NCAA tournament. Lose a game, and i wouldn’t expect them to drop below a 4-seed.

The question is, what happens in the big dance? It’s been such a weird year for college basketball, and there isn’t any one team that is the clear favorite to win it all. There has been upset after upset all year long, and people say it all the time, but it truly is anyone’s year to go the distance. Since it has been such a perplexing year, there will likely be a number of dangerous teams ranked in the 12 to 14-seed range, which could make things interesting for Kentucky in the first couple rounds. If Kentucky can survive the first weekend without any Auburn and Tennessee-type setbacks, I fully expect them to make another deep run. Stumble early, and they could very easily lose in the first round.

Before we worry about the NCAA’s, Kentucky has to set the tone in the SEC tournament. UK is playing the best basketball of anyone in the conference right now and has the ability to shut down any team’s best player. The talent is there, the discipline is finally there and the leadership is definitely there. All they have to do is bring it all together for six straight games to bring a party to the streets of Lexington and the ninth championship banner to Rupp Arena’s rafters.

The madness begins on Friday when Kentucky faces the winner of Alabama and Ole Miss at 7 in Nashville.


Preview: Kentucky looks to sweep Alabama in Lexington
by Quinn Schwartz Feb 22
, 2016

March is right around the corner, and with only four regular season games remaining on the schedule, Kentucky has a chance to make a statement down the stretch and prove themselves to the selection committee.  Road games against Vanderbilt and Florida, and a season finale against LSU — a much needed redemption game — should all pose a challenge for the Wildcats.  Kentucky will expect to win all three of these games, but each opponent is firmly on the bubble and will be playing for their lives if they hope to have any kind of postseason life.  It’s the time of year where anything can happen, but before Kentucky can look ahead, they have to put Alabama down one more time at home on Tuesday.

The Crimson Tide (16-10) sit squarely in the middle of a fairly weak SEC conference at 7-7.  Alabama’s postseason chances are grim at this point, but with a road win against Kentucky, and a strong finish the rest of the way, could play their way into consideration.  Kentucky manhandled Alabama by 16 points on their own court earlier this season, but with Alex Poythress and Derek Willis’ availability in question, the Cats could find themselves in a battle if they overlook Alabama on Tuesday.

What has Alabama done this year?

Alabama actually had some quality wins early in the season.  They beat Notre Dame and Wichita State back in November, but got hammered by Xavier and Dayton that same month.  They also lost a heartbreaker to an Oregon team that is now ranked #13 in the country. 

The Crimson Tide had a deplorable start to conference play when they went 2-8 including that 16-point loss to Kentucky and a couple other bad losses to Auburn and Ole Miss.  Avery Johnson has gotten his squad together since then, and helped them to a five game win streak before losing to Mississippi State on Saturday. 

Alabama is not the same team Kentucky saw in the beginning of January.  The Tide has faced opponents that are just as good or better than Kentucky, and are now on the verge of desperation mode as they fight for their tournament lives in the latter part of the season. 

Who should we watch out for?

Alabama lives and dies by the play of their senior guard, Retin Obasohan.  With only two players averaging double figures, Bama will rely heavily on Obasahan (16.9 ppg) to carry the scoring load against Kentucky.  In the teams’ last meeting, he went for 21 points, but it wasn't nearly enough to make it a game, especially with Alex Poythress doing whatever he wanted against Alabama’s defense.  While Obasahan is by far Alabama’s leading scorer, he hasn't exactly been the hero when Alabama has played well against quality opponents.  Alabama has six wins that I consider quality (including the four point loss to Oregon), and Obasahan only scored double figures in two of them.  Obasahan will definitely be the focus of Kentucky’s defense, but I think it might be just as effective to let him get his 20 points and focus on shutting down the rest of the team.   

Speaking of Alex Poythress, there is some speculation that Alex could return from that knee injury in time for Tuesday, but there’s also a chance the Cats could be without both Alex Poythress and Derek Willis who is still nursing a bum ankle.  If that’s the case then there will be no inside dominance for Kentucky like there was in the last bout, and the Cats will have to find another way to win. 

What does Alabama do well?

Alabama is not a great offensive team, they’re a pretty bad one in fact, but they are pretty solid defensively.  They block just over five shots per game, which is good for third in the conference, and they also grab six steals per game.  With two Kentucky bigs out, or limited at best, Alabama’s main focus will be stopping Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray.  Ulis is going to to what he does and distribute and make plays, but if Alabama can hold Murray to a low scoring game, they might actually have a chance.  Murray has been lights out recently, but Alabama’s perimeter defense is the best in the league allowing opponents only 29% from deep.  If Willis is unable to go in this one, that leaves Murray as Kentucky’s only real perimeter threat, and makes him the sole responsibility of that stingy three-point defense. 

What does Alabama do poorly?

The short answer: everything offensively.  As a team, Alabama does not do well with the ball.  They shoot over eight threes a game, but only make 32% of them.  They have the least amount of assists in the conference, and the turn the ball over nearly 14 times a game.  They also have the least amount of field goal attempts in the league, which means they have a hard time getting a shot up — forget about actually making it go in.

How does Kentucky win?

For Kentucky to win this game, it’s going to have to be done on the defensive end.  The Cats will have to hold Obasahan in check, but at the same time make sure they neutralize any threat of an unsung hero emerging from the rest of Alabama’s roster.  Having Willis and Poythress would certainly help Kentucky’s chances, but even without them I expect Ulis and Murray to pick up right where they’ve left off the past couple games and provide plenty of offense to get the job done.  If Kentucky can just play solid, disciplined defense for a full 40 minutes, and force Alabama into plenty of bad shots and turnovers, I don’t see any reason why the Cats shouldn't take this win before they head out on the road.


Kentucky routs Georgia: moves to 8-2 in SEC play
by Quinn Schwartz Feb 10
, 2016

With a 82-48 romp of Georgia in Rupp Arena last night, the Kentucky Wildcats finally showed the country something that they haven't been able to prove all season.  The Cats jumped out to an early lead, and held Georgia’s head under water for an entire 40 minutes.  They never gave the Bulldogs any hope they could win that game — they never gave them a chance to breathe. 

UK has now won their last two contests by a combined 53 points, and seems to have put the embarrassing blow 21-point lead in Knoxville squarely in the rearview mirror.  But now Kentucky will have a chance to make another statement and prove they can continue their strong play without any more major setbacks — perhaps the most important feat that the Wildcats have yet to accomplish. 

Here’s a look at how the Cats got it done at home last night.

Story of the game:

Kentucky held Georgia to 11 field goals — the lowest number of any team in a major conference this season.  You could say that Georgia just didn't show up for this game, and you wouldn't be wrong.  But Kentucky doesn't hold this Georgia team (a much better team than the one that handed Kentucky an L in Knoxville) to 11 field goals without a stellar defensive performance. 

Calipari said in his post-game interview that this is going to have to be a defensive team.  They are going to have to turn stingy defensive stands into offensive opportunities, and that’s exactly what happened last night.  Not only was Kentucky active defensively with 15 forced turnovers, but they were also smart and only committed 20 team fouls the entire game.  Staying out of foul trouble — especially with Poythress sidelined — is going to be crucial for Kentucky to remain competitive against more talented opponents. 

Who showed up?

Everyone really showed up in this game.  You can’t beat a team by 30+ points without an all around group effort.  Matthews played 16 big minutes; Skal, of all people, led the team in rebounds with seven; Humphries had four blocks; Willis continued his strong all around play; Murray’s shot stayed hot after his 35-point game against Florida.  But i was most impressed with Tyler Ulis.  Ulis had 14 points and eight assists, which is a stat line we have grown accustomed to seeing offensively, but the real work was done on the defensive side of the ball.

Ulis drew the assignment of guarding J.J. Frazier, Georgia’s leading scorer and assister, and absolutely shut him down.  Frazier was 0-8 from the field with only one assist and five fouls.  Ulis absolutely had his way with Georgia’s star player and didn't allow him to get in any kind of rhythm.  If Briscoe and Ulis continue to play lock down defense against opposing stars Kentucky becomes a deadly team even when the shots aren't falling. 

Room for improvement:

Kentucky still doesn't have anyone inside who can hold their own consistently.  Going small has its benefits by creating space for the guards to penetrate on offense and creating a hectic and fast paced defense, but what happens when teams slow the ball and really grind for baskets like Kansas did?  Sure, Kentucky almost won that game, but they lost because they couldn't compete in the post and foul trouble caused them to run out of players. 
Skal and Humphries had half of our team’s fouls last night, and we are going to need them show some much better discipline and get things figured out defensively before March.  Poythress missing a couple weeks could be a silver lining as these guys now have an opportunity to step in and get some crucial experience before tournament time. 

Moving forward:

Kentucky (8-3) now has sole possession of second place behind LSU (8-2), and could hold a share of first place if LSU loses to South Carolina tonight. 

Speaking of South Carolina, Kentucky travels to Columbia to face the Gamecocks on Saturday in a game that South Carolina fully expects to win.  This isn't exactly a must-win game for Kentucky, but given their road record (2-5) it would be a great confidence booster and a solid resume booster for the selection committee.  No doubt South Carolina will pack the house and be ready to play, but if Kentucky can lock in and play like they did against Georgia, i fully expect the Cats head back to Lexington with one of their best wins of the season. 


Calipari and Kentucky through 22 games: keeping the faith
by Quinn Schwartz Feb 4
, 2016

One step forward and two steps back has been the theme of this Kentucky basketball season.  The anxious fanbase has been uncharacteristically patient with this team, and put their faith in Calipari with the utmost confidence he would figure this group out in time for a deep run into March.  Just when it seemed like they were about to right the ship and start playing the way we all expected the preseason number one squad to play, Tennessee handed them the most embarrassing loss of the season. 

There’s no excuse for blowing a 21 point lead under any circumstances, and the fact it happened against a sub .500 team makes the loss that much harder to stomach.  But it isn't time to jump ship just yet — John Calipari and Kentucky have been in this situation before.  Some teams came together and made a run while others crumbled under the pressure.  Here’s a look at Cal’s teams through 22 games and how they finished their seasons. 

2009-10 (35-3)

Record through 22 games: 21-1
Home record: 14-0
Away record: 3-1
Neutral record: 4-0
Key players: John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson
SEC tournament: won
NCAA tournament: #1 seed, elite 8


2010-11 (29-9)

Record through 22 games: 16-6
Home record: 9-0
Away record: 2-5
Neutral record: 4-1
Key players: Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones, Josh Harrellson
SEC tournament: won
NCAA tournament: #4 seed, Final 4


2011-12 (38-2)

Record through 22 games: 21-1
Home record: 13-0
Away record: 4-1
Neutral record: 4-0
Key players: Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
SEC tournament: runner up
NCAA tournament: #1 seed, national champs


2012-13 (21-12)

Record through 22 games: 16-6
Home record: 11-2
Away record: 4-3
Neutral record: 1-1
Key players: Nerlens Noel, Julius Mays, Archie Goodwin
SEC tournament: first round exit
NCAA tournament: NIT


2013-14 (29-11)

Record through 22 games: 17-5
Home record: 14-0
Away record: 2-3
Neutral record: 1-2
Key players: Julius Randle, James Young, Andrew and Aaron Harrison
SEC tournament: runner up
NCAA tournament: #8 seed, runner up


2014-15 (38-1)

Record through 22 games: 22-0
Home record: 15-0
Away record: 5-0
Neutral record: 2-0
Key players: everyone
SEC tournament: won
NCAA tournament: #1 seed, Final 4



Record through 22 games - 16-6
Home record - 12-0
Away record - 2-5
Neutral record - 2-1
Key players - Jamal Murray, Tyler Ulis, Alex Poythress
SEC tournament - ?
NCAA tournament - ?

Basically, if Kentucky isn't dominating virtually everyone they play, they are in the exact same situation they are in currently.  Kentucky has the same record through 22 games as they did in 2011 and 2013.  The 2011 team made it to the Final Four.  The 2013 team lost to Robert Morris in first round of the NIT.  So how did one team dance all the way into April and the other not even get an invite?  And how does this team avoid the humiliating post season of 2013?

The main difference between the two teams was the loss of Nerlens Noel in 2013 versus the emergence of Josh Harrellson in 2011.  When Nerlens went down for the season, the team was done.  Nerlens was the heart and soul of that team — Kentucky couldn't win without him and they knew it.  In 2011 Kentucky was desperate for someone to help Terrence Jones in the post.  For whatever reason, Josh Harrellson decided to become a basketball player midway through the season and changed the landscape of the team.  Now Derek Willis is undergoing the same type of transformation. His ability to rebound and hit open shots has pumped energy into this team, and even though Tennessee got the best of them on Tuesday, theres no doubt in my mind that any game is winnable when the Cats are at their best. 

I don't think this squad can manage a #4 seed, but I don’t think they're looking at an NIT bid either.  As it sits, i think the 2016 Wildcats are looking at about a 6-7 seed, but they are going to have to play to win.  They have to take care of business at home and they can’t have anymore Tennessee-esque losses.  They also need another quality win, which would be @A&M or @South Carolina.  If they do that then their seeding should be at least somewhat favorable with a good chance to make another epic run come March.


4 Quick Thoughts on UK/KANSAS game
by Greg Horn Feb 1
, 2016

What a GREAT game that we saw on Saturday night in Lawrence, Kansas as UK almost gave Bill Self only his 10th Home loss, but instead he came away with his 201st win at Allen Fieldhouse as Kansas defeated UK in overtime, 90-84.

UK was a 5 1/2 point underdog going into this game and there were several unanswered questions about this Cats team going into this SEC/BIG12 matchup such as;

1) Would UK be able to WIN a road game as they had come up short so far each time(UCLA, LSU, Auburn and Ohio State)?
2) How would the Freshman perform in this pressure packed situation
3) How would the Cats inconsistent "Inside game" perform
4) Last but no least would UK be able to build off the momentum of 3 straight Wins(one on the road at Arkansas) and play as John Calipari describes it, "Winning Basketball?"

Here's my thoughts on these 4 questions after the game:

1) No, they obviously did not win this game, but I was greatly encouraged because of things I saw on Saturday night! The Cats didn't backdown! From Isaiah Briscoe getting a technical in the first minutes of the game because of jawing with Kansas player, Devonte' Graham to Alex Poythress dunking on Cheick Diallo after a great pass from Tyler Ulis. There were 18 "lead changes" and 12 times the game was tied, so even though UK didn't win they competed and put themselves in a chance to win with 9 seconds when the General, Tyler Ulis made an uncommon turnover with 2.3 seconds left and the Cats failed to even get off a shot.

2) I thought the Freshman overall played very well. They competed and did not have the "deer in the headlights" look that some Freshman have had as they play in Allen Fieldhouse for the first time. Isaiah Briscoe gave it everything he had and struggled with cramps in the 2nd half/overtime. Briscoe played really well early and part of the gameplan was to spread the floor out and let Ulis, Briscoe and Murray take their defender off the dribble to the basket. Briscoe was especially successful with this and even made Free Throws in the 2nd Half. However, he really stuggled in the 2nd half and he finished an unacceptable 6/12 from the Free Throw line.
I thought Jamal Murray had a solid game other than a few defensive lapses. In fact, I would like to have seen him have a few more shot attempts than Briscoe and a couple of those at the end when I thought Ulis was very fatigued.
Skal Labissiere only played 14 minutes before fouling out, but was 2/3 from the field and hit two jump shots from the elbow that Calipari wanted when Kansas with do a different defense to stop UK's guards from driving as much in the paint in 2nd half/overtime. He also competed on defense and blocked shots. thought he showed some toughness that was lacking earlier in the season.

3) Unfortunately, because of foul trouble Derek Willis could never get untracked and finished with 6pts and 5 rebounds in 23 minutes. It's amazing that the Cats were able to take the game to overtime as little as Willis was able to play in 2nd Half. Alex Poythress competed and I loved the dunk he had on Diallo that I talked about earlier! Poythress finished with a respectable 13pts and 8 rebounds in 37 minutes before fouling out. He also blocked a shot and made a 3pt shot, only his 2nd of the year. I talked about Skal Labissiere earlier, leaving Marcus Lee for last. It's obvious that Lee has been struggling with confidence after having his starting spot take by Willis. Wasn't a great game for Marcus, but he competed and even though he fouled out in only 12 minutes of play, had 4pts(2 came on a nice rebound dunk) 3 rebounds, and blocked a shot. The main thing was he competed and left it all on the court. Obviously, all the fouls is troubling, but he wasn't alone as all 4 of UK's bigs fouled out!
We got 27pts and only 16 rebs from the "big 4"and that is not acceptable, especially the lack of rebounds if you are going to beat Kansas at home. However, I saw enough bright spots that I am encouraged as we go back toSEC play with the "big 4."

4) Last, but not least UK did not make enough "Winning Plays" to win this game and thought that fatigue casued Tyler Ulis not to perform as a high level near the end of the game and especially in overtime. However, I also thought that Bill Self changing defenses had an impact and we were atrocious from 3pt land(5/23)! When you look at shooting only 59%from the Free Throw line for the game and only 22% from 3pt line and getting out rebounded 42-31, I think UK did a GREAT job to take the game to a last possession game, with a chance to WIN and then lose in Overtime!

I don't believe in moral victories, but there are alot of good things to build on after this battle on the road and look forward to SEC play starting again this week!


2 Reasons, UK has WON last 2 games
by Greg Horn Jan 25
, 2016

Before UK went to Auburn, co-host "Action Jackson" Reams noticed a trend with UK. Since the loss at UCLA, the Cats would win 2 games, then lose a game, win 2 more games, then lose again. So after winning at Alabama and then at home against Mississippi State would they lose on the road again and continue this pattern at Auburn? Unfortunately, YES they would as the Cats blow a double figure lead in the 2nd Half and lose at Auburn to a very mediocre team!

Of course after the Auburn game out of the "big men" only Derek Willis played well. Unfortunately, I had not recored the game, but as I thought about the game I could not remember many times that we had intentionally went inside to the "bigs" especially Alex Poythress. Of course in the Alabama game they continually did go inside to Alex and they ran a ton of "ball screens" with Poythress and Tyler Ullis that resulted in several baskets by Alex.

When they played Arkansas on Thursday nite the first thing I watched was to see if UK intentionally looked inside and specifically posted up Alex. I'm happy to report that they did look inside and also on penetration by guards they passed to the "bigs" for some easy baskets. Then on Saturday against Vanderbilt I did not get to see the first 10 minutes of the game because the game before went long on ESPN. However, since the Halftime Box Score had Poythress 4/6 on Field Goals in 13 minutes of play that they went inside to him some. The beginning of the 2nd Half they went to Alex 3 out of the 1st 6 Offensive possessions for UK and he scored on all 3! Unfortunately, Foul trouble limited his playing time in the 2nd Half, but Poythress still finished with 16 points in 27 minutes.

The 2nd reason that UK has won 2 games in a row is the Defense has increased in pressure on the perimeter and overall defensive effort. When you play 2 Freshmen in your Starting line-up you know that it will take awhile to become a solid defensive team. However look at these stats the last 2 games.

  FG % 3pt% Pts per game
Arkansas 47 45 84
against UK 40 17 66
VANDY 46 41 79
against UK 32 33 57

As you can see, the numbers tell the story. UK has held their last two opponents significantly below all 3 of their averages in these critical categories.

If you want to know what a key will be to see if UK ends this "Win 2, lose 1" pattern look at these 3 categories on Wednesday nite when they play Missouri, but more importantly when they play at Kansas on Saturday! Also, look to see in the 1st 10 offensive possessions both Wednesday and Saturday if they intentionally go inside to Alex and when the guards penetrate will they look inside to the bigs for layups and dunks.

Kansas is really good and extremely tough at home. In fact under Bill Self they have won 200 games and only lost 9 for a 96% winning percentage! If UK doesn't bring it defensively and establish some inside play it could be a really long day in Lawrence, Kansas!


Recapping an ugly win against Mississippi State
by Quinn Schwartz Jan 13
, 2016

It’s hard to be too critical after a conference win, but when you blow a 20-point lead in the second half against a .500 team, some red flags are going to be raised.  It’s been the same story for Kentucky all year.  Either just enough people show up to play and Kentucky wins, or no one shows up at all and Kentucky gets embarrassed.  Except for the Duke win, Kentucky has yet to have their whole team show up for a complete game.  Fortunately, UK’s star backcourt trio decided that one bad loss is enough this early in conference play, and Kentucky went on to beat Mississippi State by a score of 80-76 last night.  Here’s what happened as UK avoided a brief scare to move to 3-1 in the SEC.

Way too many turnovers.

17 to be exact.  Murray and Ulis accounted for eight of those 17 with four apiece.  We all know Murray has a tendency to play out of control and give the ball away from time to time, but Ulis’ four turnovers were highly uncharacteristic of the normally steady handed point guard.  Ulis had a good game otherwise, and turnovers are going to happen every now and then, especially for the primary ball handler.  But Kentucky is going to have to tighten it up overall.  I don't think Mississippi State is as bad as their record indicates, but their pressure wasn't nearly strong enough to force those kind of numbers.  A lack of focus for Kentucky is what caused most of those turnovers. 

The “big” guys didn't show up.

I’ll never understand Alex Poythress.  How can you put up a career high against Alabama only days prior to a complete no show against Mississippi State?  The only explanation is that his mind is just elsewhere.  Poythress hit a couple clutch free throws down the stretch, but only took four shots all game.  Poythress can impose his will and take over a game on just about any given night, but it’s going to take more than four shot attempts to give himself a chance to make that happen.  Calipari has been trying to get Alex to tap into that killer instinct he shows us every couple games, but it just isn't happening.  Cal is clearly frustrated, and the rest of Big Blue Nation is too.  It’s been four years and Alex has yet to come around, so i think it’s time to accept that for every good game that Alex has, there are going to be two more where he doesn't show up.

Marcus Lee only had two points, but otherwise had a pretty standard Marcus Lee game.  He had 9 rebounds and a couple blocks, but never really seemed to get in the flow of the game.  He also fouled out with about seven minutes left in the second half, which is becoming a trend with Marcus Lee.  Lee is easily our best shot blocker, so i understand his tendency to go for every shot, but he needs to learn to stay at home more.  If Calipari isn't going to play Wynyard then Lee and Poythress are the only real size that we have, and we can’t afford to have them on the bench when the other team is making a run. 

The bench could have just remained seated.

With Dominique Hawkins still injured, there really isn't a lot of toughness coming off the bench.  Skal had a couple dunks tonight, but was still the softest player on the court.  Derek Willis played well offensively, but the poor guy still isn't able to guard the floor he stands on. Charles Matthews just isn't there yet.  Matthews only logged two minutes in this game and was yanked quickly after picking up an ill advised charging foul and failing to get on the floor for a loose ball that could have easily been his. 
Mychal Mulder wasn't very efficient in his 10 minutes of playing time, but I still liked what i saw from him.  He was only 1-5 from the field, but the fact that he took more shots than Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee tells me that the kid isn't afraid to try to get himself going.  I think Mulder will eventually find his groove and start to contribute some solid minutes as the season rolls on. 

Kentucky made (most of) their free throws.

The Cats were 15-20 from the line including some clutch ones down the stretch.  Why was their percentage so good?  Marcus Lee and Isiah Briscoe only took one free throw between the two of them.  It was one of our five misses.  Regardless, the 75% shooting from the line was my favorite statistic of the game. 

Guard play won the game. 

I’ve said Tyler Ulis can’t carry this team by himself, and last night his backcourt stepped up so he didn't have to.  Ulis and Murray had 21 and 22 points respectively while Briscoe kept riding his hot hand all the way to 14 points on 7-9 shooting.  The most encouraging part of how the guards played was the way they attacked the zone.  Zones have been an issue for UK all year, and tend to bring our offense to a standstill, but not last night.  Kentucky moved the ball well on the perimeter and looked for opportunities to attack the middle of the zone and kick it back out.  A lot of this had to do with Briscoe running the baseline in the zone offense — a job that had been reserved for Murray most of the season.  I hate to use the word “tweak,” but it’s little tweaks like that that change the game for Cal’s teams.

Kentucky looked good against the zone last night, but without a consistent big man inside, your zone offense is only going to be as good as your three point shooting.  UK shot well enough to get the win last night, but as inconsistent as they have been all year, any team can beat them on any given night.  That’s OK right now, but if something doesn't change, its a fact that gets scarier and scarier the closer we get to March. 

The Cats will look to build on their streaky performance when they play a bad Auburn team at 4 p.m. this Saturday.


Recapping UK’s embarrassing loss to LSU on Tuesday night
by Quinn Schwartz Jan 7
, 2016

Just days after a 22-point victory against Old Miss and perhaps the most complete game of the 2015-16 season, Kentucky had undoubtedly their worst showing of the season in Baton Rouge on Tuesday night.  The 18-point drubbing was the third worst loss of the Calipari era, and displayed a little bit of everything that is so concerning about this team. The Cats were out of sync and soft on both ends of the floor, but worst of all showed virtually zero heart or desire to take care of business against a team that had no business even keeping the game close.  Here’s a breakdown of the most frustrating loss of the season. 

No one on the Kentucky side was ready for this game.

Ben Simmons barely played the first half due to foul trouble, but i think that really ended up being a blessing in disguise for LSU.  Clearly UK had spent all their time preparing how to stop Ben Simmons, and with him out of the game Kentucky’s entire game plan went out the window. With Simmons on the bench, Kentucky didn't know who to focus on, so they just decided not to focus on anyone.  No adjustments were made from the UK sideline, and the Cats were completely lost for the entire first half allowing open shot after open shot, and not running any kind of offense on the other end of the court.    Kentucky went into the locker room with a 10-point deficit at halftime, and at that point it was pretty clear that they were already beaten. 

Kentucky isn't going anywhere without an inside presence. 

Marcus Lee has been a pleasant surprise for most of the year, and Poythress has shown flashes of what could make him one of the league’s best, but both were absent in this game.  Marcus Lee only played five minutes, and might as well have stayed in Lexington.  Poythress played 26 minutes, but his five fouls were his largest number on the stat sheet.  He also missed all three of his free throws.

Skal played 16 minutes in this game, but put up virtually no stats.  Everything there is to say about Skal has already been said, so I’m not going to harp on him for too long.  He really doesn't have any business being on the court, but when the other big men are playing just as bad, it’s impossible not to keep giving him opportunities. 

At this point, I don't think it’s a matter of if we will see Tai Wynyard, but when we will see Tai Wynyard.  If Calipari’s assessment of the Kiwi big man are even the least bit accurate then we need him immensely, and the sooner the better.   

What has happened to Isiah Briscoe?

Briscoe was great through November, but what is his purpose now?  He can defend as well as anyone on the team, but it might not be worth having him in the game if every offensive touch results in a turnover.  He’s shooting under 35% from the line now, which basically means we are giving the other team the ball every time he gets fouled.  He doesn't exist from outside 20 feet, and it’s going to be impossible for him to get the rack if teams are sagging off of him daring him to shoot jumpers.  

This team just doesn't have enough complete players to be a national threat right now. 

Alex Poythress is one of the most physically imposing players in league, but for whatever reason he just doesn't decide to show up for most games.  Skal has the length and touch to be a difference maker, but he’s just too soft.  Lee has all the heart and athleticism in the world, but his rail-thin stature makes it hard for him to hold his own against larger opponents.  Briscoe is tough as nails, but can’t shoot to save his life.  Derek Willis is just the opposite.  Jamal Murray is as much talent as anyone in the country, but that talent is overshadowed by horrible decision making.  Mulder and Hawkins want to win as badly as anyone on the team, but just don’t have the tools to compete at the highest level.  Tyler Ulis is by far the most complete player we have and the undisputed rock of this team, but his shoulders aren't big enough to carry everyone.

Jamal Murray looks like he might be coming around, but UK needs a couple other guys to start figuring things out if we’re going to contend for another deep run in March.  I’m not sure if Marcus Lee will ever be able to contribute much more than he’s contributing right now, which is fine, but i’ve almost given up on Poythress and Skal.  I’m not saying Wynyard is the answer, but Poythress has been the same player for four years in a row, and i just can’t imagine him turning his motor on all of a sudden, and Skal isn't going to grow up overnight.  Wynyard is big, he’s physical and he just might be the spark this team needs to finally pull themselves together and start playing the way we all know they can. 

Calipari has salvaged poor regular seasons and turned them into deep runs in the past, so it definitely isn't time to panic yet.  But the inconsistency we’ve seen from this team so far is deeply concerning when you start thinking about win or go home scenarios.  Every game from here on out is going to be the biggest game of the season for opposing teams, so it’s time to either get tough or keep getting embarrassed. 


Ranking the SEC's top five men's basketball teams
by Quinn Schwartz Dec 9
, 2015

When it comes to college basketball, the SEC has never really been known as the most powerful of the “Power 5” conferences.  Historically, Kentucky tends to hurtle through conference play with a target on their back that every team is eager to take a crack at.  Florida has had some good runs – especially in the mid 2000s when they won back-to-back championships, LSU has had some great players and solid seasons, and even Arkansas was considered a powerhouse years ago.  SEC teams can put together respectable regular seasons with somewhat consistency, but when you fill out your bracket in March, it’s a pretty safe bet they’ll make an early exit in the tournament. 

But over the past few years we’ve seen a coaching exodus in the SEC that has brought some high profile names to the sidelines, and in return, have brought some premier talent to their respective programs.  Could the SEC finally be turning itself around, and start getting some respect in the national spotlight?  Here’s a look at the top five teams in the SEC this year so far:

Kentucky (7-1)

Kentucky suffered an embarrassing loss at UCLA that had the BBN hanging their collective heads, but from top to bottom, UK is still the most talented team in the SEC by far.  With POY candidate, Tyler Ulis and freshman phenom, Jamal Murray leading the way, opposing teams will have a hard time keeping up with UK’s pace game in and game out.  Depth is the biggest concern for the Cats, so they will have to stay healthy and out of foul trouble to keep the top spot.

Vanderbilt (6-2)

Vanderbilt doesn’t have a win against a ranked opponent, but they play #5 Kansas and #25 Baylor to the wire, and will do more than just compete with UK for the top of the SEC.  Vandy has the best frontcourt in the SEC with all-American, Damian Jones and another seven-footer, Luke Kornet anchoring the post.  Teams have to be careful not to focus too much on Jones and Kornet because Vandy’s perimeter guys can absolutely fill it up from deep.  Leading scorer, Wade Baldwin IV is shooting over 50% from deep, and is a threat to score from anywhere on the court.

Texas A&M (7-2)

The Aggies were the surprise of the SEC when they jumped out to a 6-0 start that included possibly the best win of any SEC team so far when they beat Gonzaga in the Atlantis title game.  Since then, the Aggies have suffered losses to Syracuse and Arizona State, but still earned the nation’s attention.  Led by senior, Danuel House, the Aggies will be a streaky team, but their big, physical style of play could give smaller teams – like Kentucky – fits.

South Carolina (8-0)

Carolina hasn’t played anyone from a Power 5 conference yet, but they haven’t beaten a team by less than double figures, and their 8-0 start is uncharacteristic enough of the program to put them into the top five.  The Gamecocks are an extremely well balanced team and have five players averaging over ten points per game in their perfect start.  This could be Frank Martin’s year to show the folks in Columbia that South Carolina isn’t just a football school anymore.

LSU (4-3)

LSU’s record is far from stellar, but the presence of freshman sensation, Ben Simmons makes them a threat to win just about any game.  The Tigers may be in the middle of the pack right now, but they have the most potential of any team in the SEC to get it together in time to do something special in March.  Simmons is the best player in the country and it isn’t even close, and fellow McDonald’s all-American, Antonio Blakeney seems to be finding his groove as well.  If Johnny Jones can somehow manage to get all his talent on the same page and playing together, this Tigers team is not one I would want to see when the games really start to matter.


College Football Playoff Picture
by Quinn Schwartz Dec 4
, 2015

This week's College Football Playoff rankings didn't show any shakeup to the top four, but for the outsiders looking in, some potential still remains to make a case for the top spots. Some are long shots, but at least one team is thought to be almost a sure thing by most. Here's a look at the current top four, and everything at stake this Saturday as they enter their respective conference championship games.

1. Clemson - The Tigers started at the top, and have remained king after the fifth ranking. Clemson allowed a provenly inept South Carolina team to tally 32 points against them in a five-point victory, but the win kept the Tigers' record to remain unblemished as they head into the ACC championship game against #10 North Carolina. A Clemson win should secure that #1 spot, but a loss would most likely send them out of the top four altogether.

2. Alabama - The Crimson Tide remain the king of Alabama after a convincing 29-13 win over Auburn in the Iron Bowl on Saturday. The Tide haven't shown many weaknesses after wiping LSU of the map in Baton Rouge a month ago, and will face Florida in the SEC championship game. Florida stands little chance producing enough offense to defeat what has been the most dominant team over the past several weeks.

3. Oklahoma - After thumping Oklahoma State in Stillwater last Saturday, Oklahoma is a lock for at least the third ranked team in the CFP. The Big 12 doesn't have a conference championship anymore, so Heisman hopeful, Baker Mayfield and the rest of his Sooners can relax this weekend as they await their draw for the first playoff game.

4. Iowa - The Hawkeyes are the only other undefeated team in the top four, but still aren't getting much national respect as a serious contender. Their strength of schedule is easily the weakest of any of the four teams, and their shaky offense could wilt quickly when they face a dominant Michigan State defense in the Big 10 championship.

Teams that still have a shot:
Michigan State - The Iowa vs. Michigan State game this weekend has the most broadest playoff implications of any of the conference championships. The Hawkeys and the Spartans, ranked fourth and fifth respectively, will face each other in a "win or go home" style match-up. Iowa's cushy regular season schedule will prove to be their downfall when they face a battle tested Spartan Squad. I fully expect Michigan State to win this game and advance to the CFP in a potentially epic bout with Clemson.

Ohio State - The Buckeye's are done until the bowls and playoffs begin, but they could still make it into the CFP with a little help from the top four. Oklahoma is a lock and the #4 spot will go to Iowa or Michigan State, but if Clemson or Alabama lose, I expect the Buckeyes to hear their name called when the top four are hashed out.

North Carolina - North Carolina has been my darkhorse team from the beginning and could still get into the playoffs if they get some help, but the Tar Heels are going to have to help themselves most importantly. The Tar Heels must beat Clemson in the ACC championship game, but to get in I think Alabama will also need to lose to Florida. If UNC and Alabama both win, i expect UNC to still be out of consideration, and with Ohio State getting the nod for the top four. Even though I think UNC's body of work has been superior to Ohio State's, it's going to be hard for the committee to pass on the defending champs. Ohio State and UNC are both one-loss teams, but UNC's loss to South Carolina is much worse than Ohio State's loss to Michigan State. Granted, the South Carolina game was the first loss of the season, but every game counts in college football, and a loss at the beginning of the season shouldn't be overlooked.

Teams that played themselves out last weekend:
Notre Dame - The Irish were still a bit of a longshot, but a convincing win against Stanford on Saturday could have been enough to put them into serious consideration. Instead, the Irish lost on a last second field goal, and with the loss went any hope Notre Dame had at a national championship.

Florida - Florida was my darkest of all the horses make the CFP, but with a good win against Florida State and a win against Alabama in the SEC championship, the Gators would have actually pled a decent case to the committee. That didn't happen though. Florida failed to get a single offense score against FSU, and got walloped by a score of 27-2. Don't be surprised to see the same scenario play out against Alabama on Saturday.


Recapping UK's ugly win over Illinois State
by Quinn Schwartz Dec 2
, 2015

Monday night's game against Illinois State was a friendly reminder of just how important Tyler Ulis is to this Kentucky Basketball team. Ulis was sidelined with the elbow injury he sustained in the previous game against South Florida and was forced to watch his teammates flounder through the motions looking completely lost without their floor general. The majority of the game was painful to watch, but since the Cats ultimately pulled away in the second half, it was a good experiment how how UK would fair if they were ever to be without their best player!

Briscoe can run the show if he has to.
Tyler Ulis can't play 40 minutes every game. Hopefully he won't get injured again, but if he struggles with foul trouble or fatigue, I feel comfortable with Briscoe manning the point. Briscoe made three quick turnovers to start the game, but was able to collect himself and make only two more the rest of the way. Briscoe is winner, and is he isn't afraid to take the ball right into a defender's chin, but he isn't nearly the orchestrator that Ulis is. The half court offense was stagnant for most of the game, and if Murray wasn't hitting a contested shot or Poythress and Lee weren't cleaning up around the rim, the Cats weren't scoring. Briscoe can run the team if he must, but Ulis is going to have to hold the reigns if this team is going places.

Jamal Murray was the MFP (most frustrating player).
I did not like what I saw from Jamal Murray last night. It was clear that with Ulis out, Murray was going to try to take over the game and win it all by himself. He's a great player, but that's not how we do things at UK, and I'm sick of the "we have to take the bad with the good" attitude around BBN in regard to Murray. We've had a lot of great players under Calipari, and not one of them has ever taken the number of ill advised shots that Murray has taken this year. That's a lot of the reason why Calipari's teams have been so successful in the past. I know he can make difficult shots look easy, but he shouldn't have to take difficult shots in the first place. With all the martial arts training he has apparently had, one would think he would have been taught that patience is a virtue. He doesn't need to score all the points at once, just calm down and let the game come to you, man. His body language on the court is also concerning. You can see it in his face when things aren't going his way, and he always seems to be about a second away from throwing a punch if someone looks at him the wrong way. As good of a player as Murray is, he's going to see his minutes dip if he doesn't start to grow up.

Skal didn't exist.
Skal played 16 minutes and scored only two points. He seemed to making slight improvements each game, but took a step back on Monday. Credit some of his struggles to a poor match up. Illinois State didn't really have a true big man, and all their players seemed to play the same position. They spread the court on offense and made it difficult for some of our guys -- especially Skal -- to keep up with them on the perimeter. The match up didn't help, but Skal should have played a lot better. He was continuously out of place defensively. Skal would go for blocks he had absolutely zero chance of getting to, which allowed for his man to score collect the offensive rebound and score easily. Offensively, he's just not big enough to play against more physical opponents. He's got a nice touch and a cute little hook shot, but he was having trouble even catching the ball against ISU. He lost the position battle in the post nearly every time rendering him a useless offensive weapon. Skal as much potential as anyone on the team, but it's going to take time to permeate.

Charles Matthews played more minutes than anyone.
Matthews played 34 minutes on Monday, and has obviously gained the trust and respect of John Calipari. He didn't have a stellar stat line. Matthews was 1-6 from the field, 3-8 from the line, and had a couple steals and blocks, but his energy kept the Cats rolling when times got tough. His game is still extremely raw, but his athleticism makes him highly capable defensively, and he does enough on offense to keep him in the game. Dominique Hawkins is in a similar situation. They're both solid defenders and energy guys, but they need to be created for offensively -- they can't really get it themselves.

Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress get respect, but are still under appreciated.
UK would have lost this game if it weren't for the play of Lee and Poythress. Lee is my favorite. He plays just as hard as anyone on the court, and he never takes a night off. He's got a great nose for the ball and despite his rail-thin frame, can still muscle his way in for rebounds. I love Alex too, but I can't figure him out. He showed us why he can be so valuable to the team on Monday, but can't seem to bring that fire consistently. Unlike Lee, Poythress doesn't really have a good nose for the ball. He lacks the killer instinct that separates the good from the great, and unfortunately, I'm not sure he'll ever find it. Regardless of whether he taps in to his killer instinct, he's the strongest guy we have on the team and we need him to play a lot of minutes. If Cal can get him to play as hard as he did in the second half on Monday, I'll feel a lot better about waiting for Skal to finally come around.


Clawing at the door of the College Football Playoff
by Quinn Schwartz Nov 24
, 2015

The College Football Playoff landscape is finally starting to come together.  We’ve seen juggernauts fall and dark horses start to make a late push at the top four.  There’s still a lot of football to be played, and today’s top four could look entirely different when the committee sits down to sort everything out.  Here’s a look at how I believe the top four looks right now, as well as some teams who still look to play their way into the mix
1. Clemson
Clemson sat atop the first CFP rankings, and since then have done nothing to play their way out of the honor.  The Tigers are the most complete team in the country, and with 26 TDs and a stellar 70% completion rate, have perhaps the strongest quarterback in Deshaun Watson.  The Tigers face an absolutely guttered South Carolina team in the last regular season game before an intriguing matchup with North Carolina – the only other ACC team with an unblemished conference record – for the ACC championship.
2.  Alabama
Clemson may be the most complete team in college football, but Alabama has to be the scariest.  The Crimson Tide has absolutely ruined every team they have played recently, and despite being one of the most heated rivalries in the country, I fully expect them to do the same against Auburn on Saturday.  The Tide will roll easily into the CFP.
3. Notre Dame
Notre Dame is by far the most banged up team in consideration for the CFP, but the way things are going, the Irish look like they might just limp their way into the top four.  Notre Dame did everything they could do let Boston College (3-8) come back and win in the fourth quarter last week, and losing possibly their most dependable offensive weapon in C.J. Prosise certainly doesn’t help matters.  Prosise is listed as questionable for this Saturday’s game against 13th ranked Stanford – an absolute must-win for the one-loss Irish.
4. Iowa
No one really wants to put Iowa in the top four, but with an 11-0 record in the Big 10, you kind of have to.  The Hawkeyes don’t have a single player who really jumps out on paper, and the best team they’ve played is Northwestern – granted, they did win by 30 points.  Iowa has a juicy matchup with Nebraska this weekend, a team that put up 39 points on a stout Michigan State defense to give the Spartans their sole loss of the season. Win against Nebraska, then in the Big 10 championship, and there’s no denying them a spot in the CFP.  Lose one and they’re out. 

Teams keeping hope alive:
Oklahoma and Oklahoma State
Both of these teams have the same record and play in the same conference, so it would be really hard to determine which one should go to the playoffs and which one shouldn’t.  Luckily, the Sooners and Cowboys play each other this Saturday in what just might be the most exciting game all season.  This is a rivalry game with utmost playoff implications, and if there are any slipups within the current top four, one of these teams will most likely end up in the CFP.
Michigan State
Sparty proved they deserve to be mentioned as one of the elite teams in the country when they beat third ranked Ohio State.  Good teams are most susceptible to an unlikely defeat when they are coming off of a big win, so Michigan State needs to be careful when they host Penn State on Saturday.  If the Spartans take care of business they’ll be playing against Iowa in what will most likely be a determination game for a spot in the CFP.
Baylor plays a pretty good TCU team this week, and then a pretty bad Texas team the week after that.  They’ve already lost to Oklahoma, but they did beat Oklahoma State last week.  A lot of “ifs” are involved, but if Baylor can win out, and if Oklahoma State can beat Oklahoma, the committee could have a tough decision on their hands.

Dark horse teams:
North Carolina
The Tar heels probably have the worst loss of any one-loss team.  They lost to South Carolina, and South Carolina just lost to The Citadel, BUT it was the first game of the season and they haven’t lost a game since.  Their strength of schedule is good, not great, and they have already clinched a spot in the ACC championship against Clemson.  Clemson seems to clearly be the superior team, but if North Carolina can pull off the upset against the best team in the land, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be considered for the CFP amongst the rest of the one-loss schools.
I promise Florida is not that good of a team, but then again, they must be doing something right because they can’t seem to lose no matter how hard they try. The Gators needed overtime to get past Florida Atlantic (2-8), and have “almost” losses against a few other really bad teams.  This week, Florida invites 14th ranked Florida State into The Swap – a place where anything is possible. If the Gators win, they’ll face Alabama in the SEC championship.  I have to think one team from the SEC will be in the CFP...

Teams who have played themselves out:
Ohio State
The Buckeyes really had a chance to prove themselves to the doubters against Michigan State last week, but came up just short.  The defending champs just haven’t played a tough enough schedule to be considered for the CFP with some of the rest of the one-loss teams.  With all due respect, Urban Meyer, if you have a guy who has rushed for over 100 yards in the past 15 games, you have to get him more than 12 touches in your biggest game of the season.  Especially down the stretch.  This one’s on you, coach.
Remember these guys?  They were ranked second in the first CFP rankings until a shellacking from Alabama sent them on the three-game losing skid.  Now Les Miles is on the hot seat in Baton Rouge, and Leonard Fournette’s name isn’t even in the mouth of the Heisman committee.


Recapping Kentucky’s big night in the Champion’s Classic
by Quinn Schwartz Nov 19
, 2015

As a Kentucky fan, Tuesday night’s dismantling of the Duke Blue Devils 74-63 was one of the most fun games I can ever remember watching.  I mean, last year was great – got to watch beat down after beat down almost every game, but it was the way we won this one that was so special.  UK was scrappy, fast and relentless defensively, but the best part was the players seemed to be having just as much fun, if not more so, than the fans. 

I liked this team from the first exhibition game, but wanted to contain my enthusiasm until after I saw how we fared against a comparable opponent.  Now the Duke game is in the books, and I feel like I’m allowed to gush a little bit – but not too much.  Tuesday’s game was far from perfect, and there’s a long way to go until March.  Here’s what has me excited and worried about the Cats moving forward.

Cal is going to get the most minutes he can out of the three-guard lineup.

Ulis played the entire game, Murray played 38 minutes and Briscoe played 31, which would have been higher if not for his cramps down the stretch.  Simply put, the team revolves around these three guys.  Having three point guards that can all attack the basket makes up for the fact that we don’t have a dominant big man right now.  You don’t have to be dominant to catch a perfect pass in the paint and put in a layup. 

Briscoe is an absolute warrior on both ends of the floor.  He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t have a particular niche right now, but is willing to pick up whatever slack he needs to in order to help his team wins.  Ulis did exactly what we need him to do all season.  He protected the ball, and got easy buckets for his teammates.  Despite having 18 points, Ulis was 0-4 from beyond the arc.  If Ulis is shooting a three, it probably means he’s wide open, and he’s going to have to be able to knock that shot down consistently moving forward.  Jamal Murray can shoot the ball whenever he wants.  He took a few “bad” shots against Duke, but let’s face it, Murray has the green light, and he is easily the best scorer we have on the team.

The other two spots are going to come down to whoever wants it more.

Right now it’s going to be hard to keep Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee off the court.  They battled extremely hard, going after every rebound, and even if they aren’t the most polished players offensively, they showed the energy we need to win games. 

Humphries played 12 minutes in this game, and barring another game with a bunch of foul trouble, I would be shocked to see him get any more minutes than that.  I’m not trying to knock the kid – he went in there and threw his weight around, and put in some quality time, but his game just doesn’t translate to the pace we are going to have to keep this year if we want to be successful.

Skal only played 13 minutes because of foul trouble, and really didn’t play that well when he was in there.  He looked like a freshman, something UK fans aren’t used to seeing in the headliner of their recruiting class.  He seemed timid and got thrown around at will.  His fouls came on poor decisions when he jumped with the shooter instead of standing his ground and keeping his hands up.  He’ll come around eventually, but against Duke we were better off with him on the bench.

What about the other guys?

Derek Willis and Charles Matthews were in the rotation, but with virtually no production.  Willis showed us why he hasn’t earned a solid spot in the past when he let defenders blow by him time and time again while Matthews just didn’t seem to be on the same page.  Dominique Hawkins was notably absent from the rotation on Tuesday, but I think he could be our guy when someone of the Ulis/Briscoe/Murray squad needs to come out.  Hawkins is the perfect player for how the team is going to play this year.  He’s gritty and selfless, and he’s also a point guard so we wouldn’t have to change the attack plan at all.  The only downside is that having him and Ulis on the court shrinks are team considerably, but like Jay Bilas said, “if you’re good enough, you’re big enough.”

Lack of size and weight inside may not hurt as much as we think

Fans have expressed concern about how well Kentucky is going to fare against bigger opponents this year, and yes, the Duke big men certainly had their way in the paint at times.  But let’s keep in mind that Duke’s Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee frontcourt duo is one of the best frontcourts we’ll face all year.  Amile Jefferson is a senior and former McDonalds All American, and Marshall Plumlee is a fifth year senior who is going to be an Army officer at season’s end.  He may not be the most talented big man we’ll see this year, but I’d venture to say he’s the toughest.  That’s nine years of college experience between those two players whereas the entire UK starting lineup has eight years collectively.  Despite the superior size and experience in the frontcourt, UK still managed to win by double figures, and did so without their own star big man in Skal Labissiere.

The Cats shouldn’t face another true challenge until they go out to the west coast for a date with UCLA on December 3, so the next couple weeks should serve as plenty of time to work out some kinks.  Wright State comes to town on Friday night in a game that will air at 8pm on the SEC Network.


College Football Playoff Picture
by Quinn Schwartz Nov 17
, 2015

On a Tuesday afternoon I would normally talk about how Kentucky fared the weekend prior, but we all know what happened.  UK lost to Vandy and at this point, that’s really all that needs to be said.  So this Tuesday I’m instead going to focus on the teams that still have a chance to make their fan base proud, and talk about how I think the College Football Playoff is shaping up.  Hopefully the Cats will be in that picture one day, but until that day comes, at least we have basketball…

1.  Alabama
Where they’ve been:
 Alabama is clearly playing the best football in the country right now, and despite their one loss, have earned the top spot on my CFP rankings.  Their loss to Ole Miss in the third game of the season is definitely a blemish, especially considering they gave up 43 points in the loss, but they have beaten more talented teams than anyone else in consideration.  With wins against Wisconsin, an absolutely dominant win over then #8 Georgia, Texas A&M, LSU, Mississippi State, and a defense allowing only 15 points per game in the SEC West, Alabama has my vote for the number one spot.
Who’s their guy?
Running back, Derrick Henry was considered the second best running back behind Leonard Fournette in the SEC for most of the season, but has now separated himself as the frontrunner to win the Heisman Trophy.  Henry is averaging 198 yards per game over his last four – three of those against top 25 teams – and nine touchdowns over the same stretch.
What comes next?
Alabama might have the easiest remaining schedule of any of the playoff contenders.  Charleston Southern and Auburn await the Crimson Tide down the stretch, and Bama should most likely be playing for the SEC title and a trip to the playoffs
2.  Clemson
Where they’ve been:
Clemson got everything they could handle from Syracuse last week, but their undefeated record speaks for itself.  The Tigers haven’t had the toughest schedule in the country by any means, but they have passed their two battle tests against Notre Dame and Florida State in two close victories.  Clemson has a history of choking when it matters the most, and hope to shed that reputation this year.
Who’s their guy?
Deshaun Watson is the heart and soul of the Clemson offense.  He’s only a sophomore, but the young QB has thrown for at least one touchdown in every game this season and has a total of 23 on the year.  Watson has come on strong down the stretch with what may have been his best game of the season against Syracuse where he tallied over 450 yards of total offense and three touchdowns.
What comes next?
The last two regular season games against Wake Forest and South Carolina should pose no threat to the Tigers, but a potential matchup with North Carolina in the ACC championship is definitely one to keep an eye on.  A loss in that game would most likely crush Clemson’s chances of making it to the CFP.
3.  Ohio State
Where they’ve been:
The biggest knock on the Buckeyes is that they haven’t really played anyone this year – a claim that’s really hard to argue with because they haven’t played a ranked opponent all season.  Northern Illinois and Indiana both gave the Buckeyes a scare, but Ohio State has blown out every other team they’ve played while allowing an impressive 13 points per game defensively – good for second in the land.  The fact is, the Buckeyes are undefeated and are also the defending champs, and unless they lose, they have to be in the CFP.
Who’s their guy?
Ezekiel Elliott is a name that gets lost among the Fournettes and Henrys, but is a name we are going to be hearing a lot of when the playoffs start.  Elliot hasn’t rushed for under 100 yards all season, and has been the rock in an Ohio State offense that has been in somewhat disarray at times this season.
What comes next?
We will finally get to see what Ohio State is made of in their last two games when they play against the only two ranked opponents on their schedule.  The Buckeyes host Michigan State this weekend, but next weekend head down to Ann Arbor to face Michigan for the biggest rivalry game in the country.  In a couple weeks we’ll know exactly what to expect from this Ohio State team moving forward.
4.  Notre Dame
Where they’ve been:
The number four spot could go to about three or four different teams, but right now Notre Dame has earned it the most.  The Irish have lost 5 starters this year, including their starting quarterback, but have somehow managed to achieve a 9-1 record.  Their only loss was to Clemson by only two points in a game that really could have gone either way.  Their best win was against a Temple team who has been one of the biggest surprises of the NCAA this year.
Who’s their guy?
He wasn’t supposed to be the guy, but freshman quarterback, DeShone Kizer has stepped up and become one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. At 6’4 230 lbs., Kizer is a grown man, and can get it done with his feet just as well as he can through the air.  It will be interesting to see how the young quarterback responds to the pressure of making the CFP as Notre Dame heads down the stretch.
What comes next?
Notre Dame should have no trouble against Boston College this week, but faces a tough Stanford team the following week.  The Irish don’t have a conference tournament, but two convincing wins in their final two games should be enough to lock them into the playoff picture. 
Outside looking in:
Oklahoma State
The Cowboys are 10-0, but they really haven’t played anyone that great.  Their best win was a 20 point victory over TCU, but the rest of their wins have been against mediocre Big 12 opponents, and their margin of victory has been pretty slim.  That being said, the Cowboys still have Baylor and Oklahoma on the schedule, and if they win both those games, keeping them out of the playoffs is going to be just about impossible.
The Sooners are coming off of an impressive win against Baylor, but like the Cowboys, they haven’t really played a lot of great teams.  Their wins against West Virginia and Tennessee were all right, but their loss against a horrible Texas team does not look good at all.  The Sooners still have TCU and Oklahoma State left on the schedule, and should they win out, they should find themselves firmly in the conversation of the four best teams in college football.
A team to keep an eye on:
Florida has won several close games this year that shouldn’t really have been close at all (Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Eastern Carolina), but despite an often times stagnant offense, the Gators find themselves with only one loss.  If Florida wins out, they would most likely be playing against Alabama for the SEC title.  Both of those teams have one loss, but I would have to assume that one SEC team will be in the playoff.  In the unlikely event that Florida beats Alabama in the title game, it would have to be them in the CFP.


Previewing Kentucky vs. Vandy in Nashville
by Quinn Schwartz Nov 13
, 2015

As difficult as the Kentucky Wildcats have been to watch at times this season, with three games remaining UK is sitting just about right where most fans thought they would be at the beginning of the season.  Early wins against South Carolina and Missouri teams that were way overrated early on raised expectations among some, but with a 4-5 record, and Vanderbilt, Charlotte and Louisville remaining, the Cats only need two more wins to secure their goal of reaching a bowl game.  The only question is, will they?  Vanderbilt was written off as a guaranteed win when the schedule came out, but now with the Commodores as a 4 point favorite in Nashville this Saturday, the outcome is all but certain.  Here’s what I’ll be keeping an eye on as the Cats try to pull the “upset” this week.
The Patrick Towles/Drew Barker quarterback battle
Shannon Dawson has said he has a “plan” going into this game, but wouldn’t really elaborate on what that plan might be.  I would assume that this plan has nothing to do with a new quarterback under center, and I would be shocked to see anyone other than Patrick Towles get the starting nod.  I really don’t see there being any changes at all offensively except for maybe a couple more looks in the wildcat offense we’ve seen him flirt with lately – unless of course the new plan is for the wide receivers to start making catches and the offensive line to start blocking people.  Otherwise, at this point in the season there aren’t really that many different directions to go. 
If Towles plays well, I wouldn’t expect to see Drew Barker at all.  The most important thing going into this game is just to get the win and the bowl eligibility, and if Towles is playing well enough to make that happen, then he’s not coming out.  But on the flip side, if he starts to slip, I don’t think there will be any hesitation to send Barker in and give him a chance to be the guy.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get a few reps, but I think the Barker bandwagon is going to have to wait a little bit longer for their savior to arrive.
This Vanderbilt defense I’ve been hearing so much about.
Apparently Vanderbilt has a pretty good defense.  I thought this was a joke at first, but the numbers don’t lie.  With 271 yards allowed per game, Vanderbilt ranks fifth in a conference that is stacked defensively, and 15th nationally.  This doesn’t bode well for a Kentucky team that has had trouble scoring all year long.  Luckily Boom Williams, the one guy who has been able to contribute somewhat consistently for the offense, will be back for this one, and I’m looking for him to have a pretty decent game.  He may not be the kind of guy who is going slam it up the middle and rack up a consistent four or five yards per play, but he could break off a 75-yard touchdown run at any time, and one run like that could be all the Cats need to get ahead and not look back.
Vanderbilt has the worst offense in the SEC, maybe the world.
Having a great defense is wonderful, but if you don’t score, you don’t win football games.  Vanderbilt held Florida to nine points last Saturday and still managed to get beat.  If either Patrick Towles or Drew Barker were at Vanderbilt they would be hailed as the second coming of Joe Montana in Nashville.  I thought Patrick Towles’ eight completions against Georgia was bad, but Vandy’s Johnny McCreary only completed three against Florida.  That isn’t even a completion per quarter.  Vanderbilt has another quarterback, Kyle Shurmur, who is coming off of an injury.  He’s a freshman and he’ll probably start, but he isn’t any good either. 
The one silver lining for Vanderbilt’s offense is similar to Kentucky’s.  They have a speedy little running back that can make big plays.  Ralph Webb has over 300 rushing yards in his last three games, and like Boom Williams, has exceptional breakaway speed and is a big play threat.  After allowing Georgia’s Sony Michel to go off for 165 yards last week, I really don’t have a lot of confidence in Kentucky’s run defense – or Kentucky’s defense in general – and am a little worried about what this kid might do to us.  Ralph Webb has to be the focus of the defense, because Vanderbilt is not going to be anybody through the air.  If UK can contain Webb, they will win the game.
With only three wins and Kentucky being the last truly winnable game on the schedule, Vanderbilt has virtually no chance of making it to a bowl game this year.  Don’t expect an electric atmosphere in Vanderbilt this weekend, but do expect both teams to play hard, and with a lot of energy.  Kentucky absolutely needs this win to keep bowl hopes alive, and Vanderbilt always brings it when they play a team that is just as bad as they are.  It isn’t going to be pretty, but the Cats are going to get it done 13-7.


Ranking the 10 best ex-UK players currently in the NBA
by Quinn Schwartz Nov 11
, 2015

To have ten current NBA players from a single college program is an impressive feat in itself, but to have to sit down and whittle the list down to the ten best is a testament to John Calipari's accomplishments and vision for every player he has coached under his tutelage at the University of Kentucky. Here's a look at how his former players have fared just under ten games into the young NBA season.

10. Willie Cauley-Stein

The former fan-favorite at UK couldn't have landed in a better spot for his NBA career. Many people were surprised to see Willie get drafted as high as #6, but DeMarcus Cousins pushed for it, and DeMarcus Cousins pretty much gets what he wants in Sacramento. Willie has averaged 6.6 points and 5.5 rebounds through eight games with the Kings, fairly modest numbers for a rookie, but he has found himself in the starting lineup and his 71% field goal percentage is best for fourth in the league out of players who have played in more than five games.

9. Julius Randle

Julius Randle couldn't have had a more unfortunate start to his NBA career. In one of his first games as an LA Laker, Randle broke his leg and was kept out for his entire rookie campaign. The Lakers are clearly mess right now as they attempt to rebuild and figure out their Kobe Bryant drama, but Randle has shown signs of life and proven to be a player that the Lakers could build around for the future. Randle is averaging 13 points through six games, and leads his team with 8.5 rebounds per game.

8. Nerlens Noel

Nerlens Noel is another player whose NBA career was slow to get off the ground due to injury, but has since bounced back and become a centerpiece for the 76ers. Through six games Nerlens is posting 12 points a game, leading his team in rebounds with 10 per contest while also putting up just under two blocks a game. With Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel, the Sixers have built a formidable front court for the future so long as everyone can stay healthy

7. Enes Kanter

Enes Kanter never played a minute at UK, but there is an undoubted love in the BBN for the Turkish big man. Kanter started his career in Utah, but the Jazz just weren't a fit for either party. Now with the OKC Thunder, Kanter is putting up modest numbers with 12 points and 9 rebounds through six games, but his percentages are probably the most encouraging statistic for the young center. Kanter is shooting nearly 60% from the field white posting an impressive 91% from the free throw line.

6. Brandon Knight

Brandon Knight was an enigma heading into his NBA career. No one knew if he was enough of a point guard to be able to play the position effectively in the NBA, but since being traded to Phoenix from Milwaukee, he has proven to be a valuable asset. Though he hasn't quite won over Sun's fans as he did Wildcat fans, his 18 points per game, 4 rebounds and 4 assists are undeniably solid. He's also continued to be a constant threat from deep knocking in just over two three's per game.

5. Karl Anthony-Towns - 11th leading rebounder, 4th leading blocker

KAT is certainly the front runner for rookie of the year, and with four double-doubles in six games it's obvious to see why. The rookie is averaging 15.5 points per game and grabbing 10 rebounds per contest while shooting 50% from the field. His three blocks per game are also good for fourth best in the NBA. Not bad for a rookie.

4. Eric Bledsoe

Out of all the UK players doing their thing in the NBA, Eric Bledsoe has probably been the biggest surprise for me. I didn't think he had the size or shot to be a two guard, or the handles to be a point guard, but he has sure proven me wrong. Bledsoe is demanding the big bucks from the Suns, and he has shown that he deserves them. Bledsoe is averaging 22 points per game, 6.6 assists and a couple steals through six games. Bledsoe is the clear leader of a promising Suns roster, and a guy they will want to keep around for the future.

3. DeMarcus Cousins - 6th leading rebounder

Big Cuz has grown up a lot since his year in Lexington, and we've watched him grow into one of the best centers in the NBA. Despite a couple "character issues" Cousins has done nothing, but impress and is leading the Kings in points with 22 and also rebounds with 11.8 to start the young season. Cousins has struggled from the field only making 37% of his shots, but I expect to see that number climb significantly as the season rolls on.

2. John Wall - 3rd leading assister, second most steals

A lot of people like to give John Wall a hard time, but I can never figure out why. I'm glad they do though because the young man has listened and gone out to prove that he is one of the best point guards in the NBA. Wall is averaging 19 points through six games as well as 8.8 assists -- a number that is good for third best in the league. Perhaps most importantly, Wall is taking care of business on the defensive end where he's averaging 2.2 steals and an impressive 2.3 blocks per game.

1. Anthony Davis - 7th leading scorer, 5th leading blocker

AD has solidified himself as one of the elite players in the NBA, and when you talk about the most talented guys in the league, you have to mention Anthony Davis alongside the Steph Curry's and the LeBron James'. Davis hasn't quite had the kind of MVP numbers that many people expected him to post this season, but he also doesn't have a lot of help down in NOLA so we have to give him a little bit of a break. His 25 points per game is still good for seventh in the league, and the young superstar is also pulling down nine rebounds and dishing out a couple assists per game. Defensively he's just as much of a beast as anyone expected nabbing a steal per game and averaging 2.8 blocks. If the Pelicans can get him a little help in the bayou, there's no reason why they shouldn't start being in title contention sooner rather than later.


The three angles of the remainder of Kentucky football season
by Quinn Schwartz Nov 6
, 2015

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the Kentucky Wildcats start the football season with one or two decent wins, defeat a couple cupcakes and boast a record that looks pretty solid on paper.  Confidence runs high within BBN, and fans start to talk about the Cats’ chances in the SEC east.  The second half of the season starts.  UK plays against a real opponent – gets clobbered.  Then gets clobbered a couple more times.  The wheels fall off.  Basketball season starts.  Fans lose interest.  Manage to eek out a couple wins against bad teams.  Lose to Louisville.  Play in the Music City Bowl (at best).

Well here we are again.  After a three game losing streak that includes two of the ugliest losses of the Mark Stoops era, the Kentucky Wildcats find themselves with a 4-4 record, and a lunch date with the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens on Saturday.

The optimist would say that with Georgia, Vanderbilt, Charlotte and Louisville left on the schedule, the Cats have a chance to get it together and win out against four teams that over the past couple weeks, have been mediocre when at their best.  The pessimist would say that it’s already too late to salvage the season, and probably just stop watching all together.  But the realist would say that the Cats should almost certainly clench two out of the four, and salvage what’s left of the momentum they had heading into the season.  I’ve heard comments from all sides, so let’s take a look at each scenario for the remaining games.


Optimist – Without Nick Chubb Georgia just isn’t the same team.  They are 1-2 without their star running back, they got crushed by a Florida team that we took down to the wire, and they only scored nine points in their win against and awful Missouri team.  Plus, their SEC title hopes are shattered, their coach is probably on his way out and they have nothing to play for.  Why not?

Pessimist – Sure, they’ve been playing poorly without Chubb, but Georgia is still Georgia, and they weren’t ranked in the top 10 because of one player.  Let’s also not forget that our star running back is injured too.  The Bulldogs just have far superior talent and athleticism.  There’s really isn’t going to be any coming back after this beating in Athens.

Realist – There is a slim, slim chance Kentucky can pull off the upset, but they will have to play a near perfect game and Georgia will have to take the night off.  It could happen, but UK still hasn’t put together a complete game this season, and if that game ever comes it probably won’t come in Athens against a team that may be struggling, but still has some of the best talent in the SEC.   


Optimist – This game was considered a guarantee at the beginning of the season, and the way they’ve played, it still should be.  The only decent win they have is against Missouri, but everyone has beaten Missouri and Vandy still only managed to put up ten points.  The game may be in Nashville, but we’re talking about a three and a half hour drive, so it will probably be mostly blue anyway.

Pessimist – Vandy hasn’t really been much worse than Kentucky this season, but let’s face it, both teams are awful, and lately – with the exception of the Houston game last week – Vandy’s defense has been superior.  The Kentucky game is the last winnable game on the schedule for the Commodores, and they won’t go down without a fight.  Considering yet another blowout loss for the Cats in Athens, I wouldn’t be surprised to see us give up completely and lose this game 3-0.

Realist – The Kentucky/Vanderbilt series has been a toss-up over the past several years, but this year Kentucky is clearly the more talented team.  If we lose at Georgia, the players will know the bowl implications of the Vanderbilt game making it an absolute must win.  Vanderbilt isn’t going to lie down, but the Cats should take care of business as they head home to close out the season.


Optimist – Charlotte started the season 2-0, but has since lost their last six straight games.  Charlotte is terrible, and they are overmatched significantly.  They were put on the schedule for the sole purpose of getting their teeth kicked in in front of a home crowd and that’s exactly what’s going to happen.  Moving on…

Pessimist – Well we were supposed to destroy Louisiana-Lafayette, and Eastern Kentucky has never even come close to beating us, but we could have easily lost both of those games.  I don’t see why Charlotte will be any different.  We’ll probably blow a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter and win by a field goal in triple overtime – if we’re lucky.

Realist – This was, and still is the easiest game on the schedule for Kentucky.  The EKU game definitely shouldn’t have been as close as it was, but Charlotte doesn’t have nearly the amount of individual talent that Eastern has.  This game should solidify bowl eligibility, so there won’t be any lollygagging like there was in the other “cupcake” games, and it should be a good little confidence booster before the Governor’s Cup.


Optimist – Louisville has not done one impressive thing all year.  They don’t have a quarterback, and it’s starting to look like they don’t have much of a coach either.  Plus, the atmosphere in Commonwealth is going to be absolutely insane.  We aren’t going to blow them out, but we’re definitely going to win.  Then we might actually go to a halfway decent bowl game, win that too, and finish with an eight-win season.  That should silence the naysayers. 

Pessimist – Louisville has played three teams this year that are currently ranked in the top 25.  Despite being handled by Florida State, they only lost to Houston and Clemson by a combined six points.  Even when you consider the big loss to FSU, they’ve still been more successful against their tougher opponents than we have.  Bobby Petrino has UK’s number, and I just don’t see it happening this year – even in front of the big crowd.

Realist – The line on this game has gone back and forth all season, and it’s really going to come down to who wants it more.  Louisville faces two teams with losing records in Syracuse and Virginia, and a pretty good Pittsburgh team before coming to Lexington.  At 4-4, Louisville has about as equal of a chance as Kentucky does at entering the final contest one win away from bowl eligibility.  I want to say Kentucky will win regardless of the circumstances, but it’s really anyone’s game. 

I’m doing my best to take the realist perspective for the remainder of the season, but it’s hard not to fall into the role of pessimist.  I don’t think Kentucky is going to beat Georgia, but I think it’s important for them to show up and get into the end zone a few times to remember what it feels like.  If that happens I think Vanderbilt and Charlotte should be taken care of relatively easily with a Louisville game that is also highly winnable.  I’d love to end this season with seven or even eight wins, but the way things are going, I just don’t know if this is the year.


Breaking down the first real (kind of) look at the 2015-16 Kentucky Wildcats
by Quinn Schwartz Nov 5
, 2015

Thank goodness for Kentucky basketball to give the Wildcat fan base a much need shot of adrenaline after a most heinous start to the second half of football season.  Let’s not forget about the boys down the road in Commonwealth, but I’m going to sweep that heartache under the rug for now, and focus on some of the positives going on in Lexington.
On Tuesday night fans got their first glimpse of the 2015-16 Kentucky Wildcat team all wearing the same shade of blue.  Obviously the first two exhibition games are hard to use as a gauge for how a team will fare against more comparable opponents, but the 60-point win has fans buzzing, and I think they should be.  This team is a lot different than ones we’ve seen in the past.  They are going to play faster, score more points and absolutely get after people defensively.  That being said, this team isn’t nearly as talented as last year’s, and fans are going to have to be patient.  Kentucky will lose games this year, and they will probably lose more than a couple.  But by the end of the year I don’t think there’s any reason why they shouldn’t be right in the thick of it again.  Here are a few things that stood out to me after the Ottawa game:
The three guard lineup could be deadly.
Ulis, Briscoe and Murray complement each other exceptionally well.  Ulis looks like he’s dancing on stage when he has the ball in his hands, and when he has the rock, any fears I have are alleviated.  People have been quick to call him the best point guard in America, but I don’t really think that’s fair at this point.  I think he is definitely near the top, and could wind up being the best, but the point guard is the most talented position in the nation this year and there are a lot of guys who are going to be out to prove the critics wrong early.  Regardless, Ulis has been the ultimate creator from what little we’ve seen this season.  10 assists and zero turnovers are impressive no matter the opponent, and his ability to shoot the long ball and finish in close will open up his passing lanes exponentially.  Unlike last season in the platoon system, keeping Ulis off the court is going to be tough, and barring any injuries or foul trouble I expect to see him in there close to 40 minutes every game.
Isiah Briscoe is an absolute animal.  When he goes, he goes as hard as possible and he’s not letting anyone get in his way.  I think every great team needs a bully on the court.  DeMarcus Cousins and Deandre Liggins were both court bullies, and if we would have had one last year we might not have gotten pushed around by Wisconsin so much.  But Briscoe is going to be that guy this year and I can’t wait for it.  His offensive game is solid.  He attacks the paint harder than anyone, and his outside shot is good enough to keep the defense honest, but defensively is where he will really shine.  There are already so many weapons on offense, what we really need is a lockdown defender, and Briscoe is going to be that guy.  But if he’s going to go as hard as he does and be the lockdown guy, he’s also going to have to be in the best shape of anyone on the team.  Luckily there’s so much depth at the guard position that we won’t have to worry about that too much.
If UK is down by one with 20 seconds left you better believe the ball is going to be in Jamal Murray’s hands.  Murray has a puzzling way of turning bad shots into good shots, but as long as they’re going in I’m all for it.  I was concerned about him in the Blue/White game because he took a few shots in traffic that he easily could have pitched to the side of the rim for a lob.  In his defense they went in, but the lob is an automatic two points and needs to be the first option every time.  But after the near triple double against Ottawa my fears were gone.  He was just as unselfish as anyone on Tuesday night and he also led the team in scoring and rebounding.  Cal has to be pleased with himself for landing Murray at the last second because he truly is the missing piece to this team.
The bigs are still a bit of a mystery.
There is no possible way to judge the play of Kentucky’s bigs accurately against a team whose tallest player is 6’8.  We know Skal is going to be one of the best players in the country, but right now I don’t think he is.  Simply put, he’s too soft.  He needs to get in there against a real opponent, get bruised up a little bit and start seeing red.  My biggest concern with Skal is that he’ll be content to float around the 15-20 foot range and settle for little jumpers.  Even if he does get pushed around at first, we need him battling in the paint because that's the only way he’s going to learn and get better.  Skal will be a work in progress early, but he’ll get there, don’t worry.
Isaac Humphries will be lucky to get 5-10 minutes a game tops.  I like the kid – he’s got potential and he seems receptive to what he needs to do to improve, but he’s just nowhere near ready to run with the rest of this team.  He’s clunky, his footwork is far too slow and he just doesn’t really look like a basketball player right now.  He has a smooth jumper and a pretty little hook shot, but that’s only going to work in a slow, half court setting, and that’s not what we’re ever going to be shooting for this year.
Poythress is only 80% according to Cal, so it’s hard to really judge him, but he still looked decent.  His jump shot has improved drastically, but the question always remains, which Alex is going to show up?  If it’s Bahamas Alex I’m not worried at all, but if it’s shy guy Alex, Johnny David is going to have a new best friend.
Marcus Lee is still just doing Marcus Lee things.  This could be his breakout year, but I haven’t really seen any evidence of it yet.  I would love it if he did decide to play like a madman, but if he doesn’t we’ll still be fine.  Most importantly for Marcus, he has to be a defensive presence.  People need to be afraid to bring the ball into the paint against him and he has to clean up all the garbage near the rim both defensively and offensively.
Matthews, Willis and Mulder (who?) are fighting for minutes.
I really think only one of these guys is going to see any kind of real minutes this season, and so far Charles Matthews is winning the battle.  His athleticism is off the charts, and it’s hard to keep a guy like that off the floor.  His leaping ability allows him to finish in traffic in a way no one else can and it also makes him a force defensively.  He’s still got a long way to go, but right now he’s looking like the energy guy who comes in to make the spectacular play that gets the crowd out of their seats.
But Derek Willis isn’t that far behind.  Willis is an exceptional athlete as well, and he’s also a pretty deadly shooter.  That’s great and all, but defense is going to be the main focus of this team and Willis is still a liability in that area.  That could change if he gets it together, but for now I think we’ll just have to settle for clean-up time dunks.
Mychal Mulder where you been, man?  I know you like to fire up three’s, but how about showing us what else you can do?  Grab a rebound or play some D – just do something to show you deserve to be out there because I know you do.  Mychal Mulder has barely existed from what we’ve seen so far and he’s going to have to make a couple footprints if he wants to get off the bench.
I’m excited about this team, but I’m trying not to get too excited.  The pieces aren’t all together, and it’s going to take some time to figure out where they go.  If we beat Duke on November 17 my excitement level might go up, but until then I’m playing it cool until about mid-December. 

The Wildcats prepare for a Starkville showdown with Mississippi State
by Quinn Schwartz Oct 22
, 2015

As frustrating as UK’s loss to Auburn was last Saturday night, it’s hard to be too rough on the Cats for the way they fought against some of the nation’s best talent.  Although this was only the first SEC win of the season for Auburn, their skill level is undeniable.  Auburn is one of the most storied programs in the best conference in the nation meaning that year after year they are going to pull in primarily four and five star recruits – the same can be said about Kentucky’s only other loss to Florida.  The fact that UK played both of those teams down to the final possession with a team still consisting of mostly three and four star guys is a testament to how much heart these guys have, and how well prepared the coaching staff has gotten them week in and week out. 

Now the Cats will go on the road to face a Mississippi State team that has been pretty hard to gauge this season.  The Bulldogs hold a 5-2 record with their two losses coming against the only two ranked opponents they have faced in LSU and Texas A&M.  Their five wins have come mostly against far lesser opponents with the only exception being a 17-9 snooze-fest win against Auburn. 

The next three games are going to be quite a test for the Cats, and they will be lucky to come through this stretch with a single win, but if its going to happen, the best chance will most likely be this Saturday night in Starkville.  Here’s what the Cats need to do to steal one on the road:

Contain Dak Prescott.

Dak Prescott is one of, if not the best quarterback in college football right now, and he is not getting the respect he deserves.  He has now thrown for 50 touchdowns and gotten another 30 with his legs during his career – an SEC feat that only Heisman trophy winners, Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel have ever accomplished.  This year alone he has thrown for over 1700 yards with 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions while completing 66% of his passes.  Prescott is also the team’s leading rusher with 254 yards on the year, but take that statistic with a grain of salt.  Brandon Holloway is the Bulldogs’ second leading rusher with 160 yards – that’s only 22 yards a game.  In other words, Dak Prescott is the Mississippi State offense.  We know it’s coming, the only question is: can we stop it?

I think we have a chance, but it’s going to take a near perfect game from the defense.  I expect to see Flannigan in the spy position for much of the game.  With his speed he has the best chance of stopping Prescott if he tries to use his feet, and if he goes through the air, we have the size in the secondary to make life difficult for the veteran QB. 

My only concern is whether or not our young defense is up to the task mentally.  We really showed our age against Auburn and had all kinds of trouble against the triple option.  Now we’re facing a quarterback who requires more preparation than anyone we’ve faced, and can beat you in so many different ways.  It doesn’t help that the game is in Starkville either.  Those fans are going to be rowdy and the cowbells are going to be ringing, which will make communicating on the field that much more difficult. 

The most interesting thing I will be watching for defensively is the added snaps we’ll see from Matt Elam.  With Melvin Lewis out, Elam is going to have to be the anchor of a defensive line that has had its share of struggles this season.  We know that Elam has the potential to wreak havoc in the SEC, but we just don’t know if he’s ready yet.  He still seems a little out of shape, and Stoops hasn’t really trusted him to play a significant amount of downs.  Now Stoops has no choice, but to put him in there in a sink or swim scenario I’m anxious to watch play out. 

In my opinion, if you contain Dak Prescott, you win the game.  That will clearly be the focal point of UK’s preparation for Saturday night, and if we can keep him in check, our chances are good. 

Offensively, UK just needs to stick to what they know.  Towels might have had his best game against Auburn last week, and we saw him make some throws that we haven’t really seen him make all season.  Unfortunately a couple of horrendous drops from his receivers cost us the game and maybe even a spot in the top 25. 

Will Redmond, Mississippi State’s stud defensive back tore his ACL in practice this week, so without him, the field opens up a lot, and Towels won’t be afraid to go for the big play. 

We’ve seen nothing but tight games all season and this one shouldn’t be an exception, but I think the Cats will pull away in the end and come out with a 27-17 victory.



Getting ready for a Thursday night Rendezvous with the Auburn Tigers
by Quinn Schwartz Oct 14
, 2015

It’s been a pretty strange season for Kentucky football so far.  The Cats are 4-1 and I don’t want to take anything away from that, but this team could just as easily be 0-5 – they could also just as easily be 5-0.  The Cats haven’t had a win (or a loss) decided by much more than one or two make or break possessions, and had a couple balls bounced a couple different ways, we could be looking at a totally different landscape for this season. 
There has also been a complete shakeup in the teams we thought we were facing, and the teams that have actually showed up this year.  We knew South Carolina wasn’t the best team on the schedule, but I don’t think anyone thought they would be completely dismantled midway through the season like they are now. Florida was unranked when they came into Commonwealth, and now has a chance to test their undefeated record against fellow unbeaten LSU, and solidify themselves as the SEC’s top team. Missouri was clinging to a top 25 ranking when they played the Cats, but have since dropped out and look lost without their defensive leader and best player, Kentrell Brothers.  Now the Cats face another down and out opponent in the Auburn Tigers.   
To put it bluntly, Auburn is just not a very good team.  Many of the so-called experts liked Auburn to win the SEC, and were given a #6 preseason ranking.  After surviving their first game against Louisville, the Tigers went on and barely avoided what could have been one of the biggest upsets in college football history against Jacksonville State.  Then they got thumped by LSU, only put up nine points in a loss to a streaky Mississippi State team and got everything they could handle from San Jose State in their last game.
Now Auburn is taking the trip up north for a big time Thursday night game against the Cats, and I really have no idea what to expect.  Auburn may be a team in disarray, but I still think they are better than any of the teams we have beaten already – they at least have more talent.  Jeremy Johnson was a Heisman candidate to start the year, but after choking it up big time in the first three games he was benched in favor of redshirt freshman, Sean White, and they’ve even given JUCO QB/WR, Jason Smith a few reps as a dual threat.  None of them have been any good.  Auburn has yet to name a starter for Thursday, but all signs point to Jeremy Johnson reclaiming the helm.  Auburn has played extremely poor football, but they are getting desperate, and that makes them dangerous. 
On a more positive note for Auburn, they do have a pretty good running back.  Peyton Barber has put up over 550 yards through five games, and has found the end zone six times (five of them coming in their last game against San Jose State).  We all know UK has had their struggles against the run, and if the Auburn passing game continues to be ineffective, I expect the Tigers to give the ball to Barber and hope a score or two will be enough to get a win. 
Fortunately for UK, if the passing game does start coming together for the Tigers, it won’t be because Duke Williams is having a big game because he got kicked off the team for punching four people – including his own teammate – at an Auburn nightclub.  Williams was Auburn’s best receiver and biggest play making threat, so no one in the UK clubhouse will be sad to see him gone.
Auburn isn’t that bad defensively.  I mean, technically they’re an SEC powerhouse so you know they have some big, capable guys who can make plays and force mistakes.  They’re also probably pretty upset at how much of a disappointment they’ve been this season, so that’s going to make them even nastier.  That being said, Auburn is giving up 25 points per game this season.  If UK can put up anything even close to that I think it should be enough to beat this team.
The question is, will they?
The Cats haven’t exactly been the most consistent team this season either, and have yet to put together a complete game.  If Auburn plays like they have in their first five games I don’t think it will take a complete game to get the win necessarily, but if Auburn decides to bring it, the Cats better be ready.  We all saw what happened against EKU, and if UK did that against an SEC opponent it wouldn’t have even been close.  Fortunately, I think the boys learned their lesson and with an entire week to think about what happened, they should be ready to go for this one.
I’ll be interested to see how Patrick Towles starts the game.  He was dreadful in the first half against EKU, but he won the game for us in the end.  Even though we should have won that game by 30, it has to be a confidence booster for Towles knowing that he can put the team on his back and gut one out if he has to. 
I also really want to see Boom Williams do well.  He started the season so strongly, but hasn’t been around since the Missouri game.  I’m sure that game was a huge blow to his ego, and young players like him aren’t going to be as mentally resilient as the older guys, but we need him to grow up.  We have to have our speedster if we’re going to make a run in this difficult stretch coming up.  I expect Boom and Jojo to split carries in this one, and hopefully Boom can get a little bit of his early season swagger back.
Defensively, I’m not worried.  I think the defense took that game against EKU more personally than anyone, and I expect them to make a statement against Auburn.  Johnson is a mistake prone quarterback so there’s going to be a lot of activity on the defensive line as UK tries to force him into some quick decisions.  If we can get some good pressure on the quarterback, I expect our secondary to have a field day and for the offense to have plenty of opportunities to run up the score.
We know Auburn has struggled, but they weren’t ranked preseason top 10 for nothing.  The team has talent, and they know it – they just can’t seem to pull it together.  Now the Tigers are in desperation mode, and I’m afraid they might figure it out just in time to beat us.  Realistically, I don’t think they will be able to reverse their bad habits overnight, but that would be the luck of Kentucky football.  Overall I think if the Cats can go out there and force a few mistakes, and put up about 20 points they should be fine.  I’m calling for a 21-13 UK victory.



UK’s 2015 Midterm Report Card
by Quinn Schwartz Oct 8
, 2015

The Cats were rattled by EKU this past week to say the least, and now UK heads into a much needed off week to regroup and heal up as they prepare for a brutal stretch of games in the second half of the season.  The Cats have yet to put together a complete game this year, so Mark Stoops will have his work cut out for him if his squad expects to get a win out of months’ worth of big time teams including Auburn, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Georgia respectively.  Despite UK’s inability to achieve a complete game, a 4-1 record to start the season definitely isn’t anything to be ashamed of.  Here’s my report card of how our boys have played so far this season.
Quarterback: C-
We loved him against Missouri, but UK fans have barely tolerated him for the rest of the season, which has drawn the “Drew Barker” chorus on multiple occasions.  The frustration with Patrick Towles is certainly understandable.  He has been wildly inconsistent this year, and his lack of accuracy has severely hurt his ability to do what he’s in there to do – throw the long ball.  But his squad is still 4-1 (with a couple big scares), so unless the team starts tanking, you have to stick with the veteran QB and keep giving him a chance to make plays.
Offensive Line: C
Patrick Towles has struggled, but the blame can’t be placed on his shoulders alone.  At the beginning of the year, these experienced linemen were expected to have a big season.  Instead they’ve been manhandled by opposing defenses pretty consistently.  Not only that, but we’ve also seen them make a number of mistakes resulting in penalties that are just inexcusable for some of these veteran guys.
Running Backs: A-
UK’s backfield has been the saving grace of the offense so far.  Boom Williams is having an exceptional season averaging 7.7 yards per carry, and his presence was sorely missed against EKU on Saturday.  I’m fairly confident that is Williams had played in that game we wouldn’t have all been gripping our chests trying not to go into cardiac arrest during the fourth quarter of that game.  But despite the poor showing from Kemp and Horton in Booms absence, the two backups are still highly capable.  Jojo Kemp put the team on his back against Missouri and Horton is a constant threat in short yardage situations.  The diversity UK has in the backfield gives Stoops an opportunity to try different things and figure out what works and what doesn’t as the flow of the game unfolds.
Receivers: B
We’ve been spoiled so far this season by receivers who actually have the ability to haul the football in when it hits them in the hands.  No single receiver is putting up numbers that jump off the page, but Dorian Baker, Jeff Badet and Garrett Johnson all have big play abilities if Towles can put the ball where they can make a play.  The young guys, Blake Bone and tight end, CJ Conrad have also come on strong of late, and will look to build on their success as the season rolls on.
Defensive Line: C
Corey Johnson and Melvin Lewis are both having a solid season, but as a unit, the defensive line has been average at best.  The Cats have already given up almost 1,000 yards to opposing rushers and are allowing 4.2 yards a carry to running backs.  Stoops is working with an inexperienced group, so one would think the only direction to go would be up.  I can’t help but wonder where Matt Elam has been.  I understand he’s only a sophomore, but he definitely has the size to compete with SEC talent and as one of the more coveted recruits this defense has had is quite a while, I would expect more than the occasional sighting midway through his second year.
Linebackers: A-
The UK linebackers have impressed so far this season, and have been putting the hurt on the opposition.  Josh Forrest’s 49 tackles are good for fourth in the SEC, and Khalid Henderson was phenomenal in Ryan Flannigan’s absence, and continues to play well.  With Flannigan back, the Cats get some much needed speed at the linebacker position and a guy that can step out and guard a receiver effectively when need be.
Secondary: B+
This group may be young, but they are fierce.  They get their share of frustrating penalties, but these guys might be the hardest playing unit on the team.  McWilson and Stamps are a formidable duo at the safety position, but my favorite player has easily been the 6’4 freshman, Chris Westry.  The youngster has earned the task of going up against the opponent’s best receivers, and has kind of become the wildcard of this team.  He picks up his share of dumb penalties, but his tenacity is undeniable, and with Duke Williams out when the Cats come back to face Auburn, his job just got a lot easier.  I can’t wait to see the kind of player this kid develops into.
It’s going to be a long weekend for UK fans without any tailgating to do, but the Cats will be back the following week with another game under the lights, this time against the Auburn Tigers.  Stay tuned.


A Briefing on EKU and where our Cats stand in the SEC
by Quinn Schwartz Oct 1
, 2015

I don’t want to jinx anything, but Saturday night’s game against EKU should be nothing more than a solid practice game for Kentucky as they head into the off week.  EKU is 2-1 on the season with wins against Valparaiso and Austin Peay, and a 35-0 loss to NC State – a team that is 4-0, but hasn’t faced a decent opponent all season.  If the Cats show up and play a sharp first half, maybe even first quarter, Eastern should be sufficiently buried and UK can put it in cruise control for the rest of the game.  With no EKU players overachieving through their first three games, lets see how UK’s key players are stacking up against the rest of the SEC so far this season. 


Total Yards:

  1. Chad Kelly (Ole Miss)               - 1219 yards
  2. Brandon Allen (Arkansas)      - 1141 yards
  3. Johnny McCrary (Vandy)        - 1074 yards

6.   Patrick Towles (UK)                 - 824 yards


1.   Kyle Allen (A&M)                  - 11
2.   Chad Kelly (Ole Miss)          - 10
3.   Jake Coker (Alabama)         - 8
T-9.   Patrick Towles                  - 5

Towles seems to be stepping up his play, but I wouldn’t expect to see a huge increase on where he stands statistically in the SEC.  Towles probably won’t be expected to ever throw more than 30 times in a game, and a lot of UK’s damage will likely come on the ground.  The most important thing for Towles will be to limit turnovers and convert the easy plays.


Total Yards:

1.   Leonard Fournette (LSU)       - 631
2.   Nick Chubb (Georgia)             - 599
3.   Alex Collins (Arkansas)          - 502
7.   Boom Williams (UK)               -343


T-1.   Derrick Henry (Alabama)    - 8
T-1.   Leonard Fournette (LSU)
2.   Jalen Hurd (Tennessee)           - 7
3.   Nick Chubb (Georgia)            - 6
T-13.   Patrick Towles (UK)        - 2
T-13.   Mikel Horton (UK)

Fournette and Chubb are by far the two most impressive runners in the SEC, probably the country, and it’s going to be hard for UK to compete with these guys on an individual level.  But the triple attack of Williams, Kemp and Horton in the backfield has proven to be deadly, and gives the Cats different options if one guy isn’t able to get it done.  It’s also worth noting that Boom Williams has the longest run of any SEC running back (75 yards), and is third in yards per carry (7.3) behind only Fournette and Chubb. 


Total Yards:

1.   Christian Kirk (A&M)                    - 442 yards
2.   Trent Sherfield (Vandy)               - 402 yards
3.   Laquon Treadwell (Ole Miss)     - 332 yards
7.   Garrett Johnson (UK)                    - 253 yards
15.   Dorian Baker (UK)                      - 190 yards

There are a lot of talented receivers in the SEC, so the fact that Johnson and Baker can come in at 7 and 15 respectively is nothing to be ashamed of.  Hopefully Towles’ accuracy and precision will continue to improve, which should result in much higher numbers for these guys moving forward. 

One guy who I’ve had my eye on since the beginning of the season who has been underachieving so far is South Carolina’s Pharoh Cooper.  The preseason all-American sits at 220 yards for the season, but I guess that’s what happens when zero out of three quarterbacks on the roster can find a way to get the ball to their best player.



1.   Kentrell Brothers (Mizzou)        - 52
2.   Jalen Reeves-Maybin (Tenn)     - 41
3.   Skai Moore (Carolina)                 - 40
T-4.   Josh Forrest (UK)                     - 39
T-9.   Khalid Henderson (UK)         - 29

UK’s young defense has been the pleasant surprise of the season so far.  They are one of the stingiest, and scrappiest – yet most unorthodox defensive teams I can ever remember seeing.  They seem a little all over the place sometimes, and pick up a lot of avoidable penalties, but they aren’t holding anything back and opposing teams are taking notice.  With Flannigan back and at 100% I imagine that end zone will be looking smaller and smaller for opposing offenses the rest of the way.

Even though the UK guys are sitting around the middle of the pack statistically, that is a drastic improvement from where we’ve been over the past several years.  I expect to see those numbers gradually increase over the course of the season as the young guys grow more comfortable in their respective roles. 

The Cats take on EKU this Saturday in yet another 7:30 matchup in Commonwealth.  Hopefully for BBN we won’t actually be seeing much of a game, but either way this contest should be a good opportunity to boost confidence and try some news things heading into the off week. 



Recapping UK’s biggest win of the year over 25th ranked Missouri
by Quinn Schwartz Sep 30, 2015

In a game with an outcome that hasn’t seemed to surprise anyone in the bluegrass, (other than me) the Kentucky Wildcats took care of business against 25th ranked Missouri and the first win against a ranked opponent since 2010.  Add another broken streak to the 2015 Wildcats’ resume, and for those of you keeping track at home, that’s the second out of three broken streaks of the young season. 
Let’s be honest, even though UK won 21-13, this wasn’t one of the more exciting games we’ve seen from this bunch.  The tempo was slow most of the way, and the game got pretty sloppy for both squads.  It wasn’t until about the fourth quarter that UK really gave fans a reason to get excited.  But whether or not this particular game was an exciting one, the Wildcats are 4-1 with that elusive bowl eligibility inching closer with each passing week, and for me, that’s reason enough to get excited.  This is what I noticed from Saturday’s contest.

Patrick Towles was the better quarterback, and it wasn’t even close.
Towles deleted all of his social media in preparation for this game, so it’s pretty obvious he knew that a lot of the BBN was getting anxious to see what Drew Barker could do in his place.  I said in the preview of this game that if Towles didn’t play well, fans might just get what they asked for against EKU.  I’m pleased to say, it doesn’t look like we will be seeing a quarterback change this year.  Towles was 22/29 passing with 250 yards and 3 TDs (one rushing). I think Towles did exactly what he needed to do in this game.  He was accurate, he spread the ball around connecting with seven different receivers, and most importantly, he was confident.  For the first time all season, Towles looked like he was where he was supposed to be.  After the Florida game, Shannon Dawson said that he though the offense was playing “too hard.” At the time I had no idea what he was talking about, because I always just assumed that the harder you play, the more positive the outcome, but now I see what he was saying.  Towles took his time in the pocket, didn’t get too excited, made the plays when he had to and the rest of the guys followed his lead. Towles looked like the veteran leader we need on offense, and I really hope he continues this trend.
It’s also worth noting that in the second half, the UK coaching staff put their confidence in Towles like we haven’t seen all season.  I was furious at the end of the first half when UK had over a minute to take the ball the length of the field to try to score at least a field goal before getting the ball back to start the second half, but instead Stoops opted to run the clock out.  To me this was a classic case of Stoops trying to play it too safe and playing not to lose – something that absolutely drives me nuts in any sport.  When the Cats took a three point lead in the second half I was sure that we would run the ball the rest of the game until we absolutely needed to pass.  But to my delight, UK kept going to the air and Towles kept making plays.  I’ve said all along, if Towles is going to be the guy then you have to let him go out there and try to make plays.  For the first time all season that is exactly what happened, and one of the biggest reasons I think we were able to come away with a win.
On the other hand, Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk was the exact opposite of Towles.  In the second half, Mauk was probably UK’s best defensive player, and if it wasn’t for a couple tick tack penalties on UK’s defense, we probably would have seen the lead grow.  Mauk was not on the same page, or even in the same book as his receivers, and was visibly frustrated and upset with his teammates in the huddle.  He consistently overthrew and underthrew his receivers and really made the defense’s job a lot easier for the better part of this game.  At one point I was even pulling for him to play a little better because I wanted us to beat Missouri, I didn’t want for Missouri to beat themselves. 

The UK defense continues to assert their dominance.
Even though we get a lot of penalties that show our youth, the defense plays extremely hard and is really fun to watch.  This unit is relentlessly scrappy, and it’s obvious they are finding their way into opponents’ heads.  They are going to have their hands all over you and if it’s a penalty, fine, but the refs aren’t going to call them all, and the offense definitely isn’t going to catch the ball.  Melvin Lewis is really beginning to establish himself as a defensive presence, and has become the anchor of the defensive line.  The 6’4 freshman, Chris Westry is still causing all kinds of stress for opposing receivers and safety AJ Stamps is always a big play threat.  The story of the defense in this game though was the return of linebacker, Ryan Flannigan.  I knew this kid was good, but he showed some glimpses of ability we haven’t seen from this defense all year – a defense that been quite the pleasant surprise I might add.  Flannigan can hit like a linebacker, but he moves like a corner.  I remember one play in particular where Missouri’s speedster running back, Russell Hansbrough lined up at receiver with Flannigan matched up on him.  The announcers made a big ado about how Missouri needed to get it to Hansbrough on the play because there was no way Kentucky’s linebacker would be able to keep up.  Flannigan proved everyone wrong and went stride for stride with the running back ultimately breaking up the play.  Having a guy with that kind of speed at linebacker gives UK so many more matchup options and makes the defense that much more diverse. Flannigan is definitely going to be one of the guys to watch as the season rolls on. 

There was a CJ Conrad sighting!
And a big one at that, because Conrad was UK’s second leading receiver on the night.  Conrad only needed 3 catches to reach his 55 yard mark – two of which included a huge third down conversion on a slant route up the middle and an even bigger touchdown reception in the second half.  We’ve heard so much about Conrad and how he has potential to be one of the better tight ends we’ve seen at Kentucky in a long time, but before tonight Conrad hadn’t logged a single reception.  I can’t really understand why not either, because the freshman made a couple tough plays look like pass and catch.  With the EKU game coming up, this is a perfect time for Conrad to start making some waves.  I have a feeling that the EKU game will be one where Stoops can try out a lot of different options that he hasn’t been able to try against some of the better opponents, and I’m expecting Conrad to be involved a lot on Saturday.  We haven’t really had a tight end that has been a constant threat to make receptions since the Jacob Tamme days, so I’m really excited to see how Stoops uses this kid going forward. 

My man Boom was quiet – too quiet.
Boom has been my favorite player so far this year, and not just because of his pun-worthy nickname.  Boom has been a ticking time bomb all year and we have seen him explode time and time again, but not on this night.  In fact, I don’t even remember seeing him at all in the second half.  Luckily it didn’t really affect the outcome of the game because Jojo Kemp stepped up and took over the role as the leading back.  Towles deserves all the credit in the world for an outstanding game, but Kemp deserves just as much.  He only saw 13 carries, but he ran like a madman every chance he got against one of the best defenses in the country.  I can only assume the reason Boom didn’t get as many carries as he usually does is because Missouri’s front four is so big.  Boom’s speed is going to beat just about anyone, but the second he hit one of those big boys up front, he went down.  Kemp on the other hand, was able to get hit and then bounce around a little bit for some extra yardage.  This is why having a plethora of capable running backs comes in so handy.  Kemp was just the better option against this matchup and I expect Boom to be back and making the big plays in no time. 
Now the Cats will look ahead to an Eastern Kentucky team that is going to be in way over their heads.  EKU is way overmatched, but I expect UK to try some new things before they head into the off week, so it will still be a game worth watching. 


Kentucky-Missouri Preview
by Quinn Schwartz Sep 24, 2015

Florida broke our hearts last week, and like everyone else, it still hurts when I think about it.  So let’s just put that one behind us and look ahead to a HUGE game against Missouri.  Missouri is the best team we have faced so far, but they looked far from invincible in their close win last week.  I think a home win against a top 25 team would be the perfect antidote for the sickening loss last week, and just what the Cats need to get back on track.  Here’s what we’re looking for.

Patrick Towles will be under a microscope.

This is the perfect chance for Patrick Towels to regain the confidence of the BBN.  A win against a top 25 team – even if his passing numbers don’t jump off the page – would secure his position under center, and reaffirm our preseason faith in the junior quarterback.  Towles has struggled so far this season to say the least, but he has shown flashes of what can make him a great player. Big numbers won’t really be the indicator of success in this game, but rather how accurate his throws are and how he runs the offense.  If he is hitting receivers in the numbers, and consistently moving the offense down the field, that will be enough to make fans happy.  But if he continues to throw footballs everywhere except into his teammates hands, there will be plenty of disgruntled fans calling for Drew Barker.  I don’t see Towles getting pulled in this game unless something catastrophic happens, but I do think this is his last chance to prove that he is “the guy.”  If he comes out and plays well I think he will be the sole quarterback going forward, but if not, we may see a little shakeup against Eastern a week from Saturday before heading into the off week, and who knows what could happen then. 

Missouri’s defense is as good as we will see.

Towles needs a big game, but the Tigers aren’t going to make that easy for him.  If you thought Florida’s defensive line was dominant last Saturday then just wait, because Missouri’s is even better.  Over the last several years, if you are a defensive lineman coming out of high school and want to play in the NFL, Missouri is where you want to go.  UK will be lining up against the SEC leader in tackles for loss, and a group of some of the best pass rushers in college football including Terry Beckner, the nation’s top defensive tackle recruit in 2015.  This is a mean unit, and I don’t see them having much trouble bullying UK’s shaky O-line.

Behind the big boys in the trenches there really isn’t much drop-off.  The Tigers boast the nation’s leading tackler, Kentrell Brothers, and his partner, Michael Sherer can be equally destructive.  Boom is going to be running for his life trying to stay away from these guys, but I know he is still going to go out there and do his thing.  I’m more concerned about UK’s offensive line holding the off the pass rush long enough for Towles to make a play. 

Luckily, Missouri’s offense is a joke.

If we aren’t able to put up many points against these guys, don’t worry because Missouri only put up nine points against UConn last week.  Under center for the Tigers will be their veteran quarterback, Maty Mauk.  Mauk is a solid quarterback, and has led the Tigers to a 17-3 record during his time as a starter, but Mauk has struggled so far this year.  Like Towles, Mauk is a fairly inconsistent passer connecting on just over 50% of his passes and throwing 4 interceptions through three games.  If UK is going to have any chance in this one, they are going to have to take advantage of Mauk if and when he makes a mistake.  Going up against such a stingy Missouri defense, the Cats are going to have to give their offense every opportunity they can to score by collecting plenty of turnovers on the defensive end.  With Ryan Flannigan finally returning to the lineup, I expect the D to pick up right where they left off against Florida. 

One thing to keep an eye on is Missouri’s rushing attack.  UK has had its struggles against the running game this season, and right now Missouri is bringing up the rear in average rushing yards for the SEC.  This may seem like good news, but these rushing woes have come without their star back.  Russell Hansbrough went for over 1,000 yards last season, and plans to return from injury just in time to face the Cats.  A lack of run game could be one of the reasons why Mauk has struggled so far this season, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hansbrough open up the pass a little bit more. 

This is definitely a winnable game for UK, and after seeing Missouri beat UConn by a score of 9-6 last week, I feel even better about our chances.  The only thing Stoops and his boys need to figure out is how we are going to score against these guys.  If we couldn’t get into the end zone against Florida, I don’t see how we are going to do it against a superior Missouri defense.  It’s going to take a huge game from everyone in blue, but if Missouri shows up like they did last week then anything can happen.  Unfortunately I don’t see the Tigers underestimating the Cats like they did UConn, and I think the Tigers are going to take this one by a score of 21-10.

We get another game under the lights this week kicking off at 7:30 on the SEC Network.



Recapping UK’s 29th straight disappointment to the Florida Gators
by Quinn Schwartz Sep 22, 2015

Well, that wasn’t quite what we were hoping for.  Not only did Florida extend their winning streak against Kentucky to 29 games, but the Cats failed to even find the end zone in a 14-9 loss in front of a rowdy and sold out Commonwealth Stadium.  It’s a new year, but the story remains the same.  UK rode in on a stead of confidence after a big win against South Carolina only to have that momentum dashed by a mediocre Florida team.

Despite the improvement we’ve seen in personnel, at the end of the day, UK is still a team of 3-star recruits playing against high school all-Americans.  The parity gap is closing, but the talent just might not quite be there to compete with the bosses of the SEC – even when they are rebuilding.  That being said, through the ugliness I did spot some positives.

Boom is still doing his thing.

Although the star back wasn’t able to record his third game of the season with 100+ rushing yards, the young runner still showed out.  Boom tallied 80 rushing yards on just 16 carries. Not too shabby against such a formidable front line.  Boom also dominated the carries on Saturday with twice as many as the second leading rusher, Jojo Kemp.  It’s becoming clear that Mark Stoops knows he has to get his best guy the majority of the touches if we want to have a chance – especially when nothing else seems to be clicking offensively.

Towles’ struggles continue.

Towles had his worst game in easily the biggest game of the season (possibly the year), and that worries me.  I was really hoping Towles would step up this week and silence his critics, but it just didn’t happen.  Towles was 8/24 on Saturday with 126 yards and two interceptions.  That’s a quarterback rating of 15.4.  I hate to be too hard on the kid – I love his heart, and I know he has potential to be a good quarterback, but so far he just hasn’t shown he has what it take this team where it needs to go.  I’m sure he will still get the start against Missouri, and he really needs to dig in and make this game a turning point for his season. If he throws up another dud like he did against Florida, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him split time with Barker the following week against EKU.  If this happens, we might have a little quarterback competition during the off week.

*It’s worth noting that in the first quarter, Towles threw a great pass that was dropped in the end zone.  This play would have changed the entire game, and we might be talking about Patrick Towles the hero instead of Patrick Towles the frustration.  But then again, numbers don’t lie, and you’re quarterback is going to have to complete more than a third of his passes if you want to be successful.

The defense played well, but made Will Grier look like a track star.

I had a feeling this defense would have a little trouble against a running quarterback, but I didn’t think Grier would be the guy to expose the weakness. Grier made a number of  big plays with his legs, but I don’t think the defense is completely at fault here.  With dual threat Treon Harris splitting time with Grier in the first two games, I think the coaches were expecting Harris to do the running and Grier to do the throwing, therefore catching Kentucky off guard when Grier decided to pick up 60 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

Aside from the ground attack from Grier, the Kentucky defense played great, and kept us in the game until the bitter end.  UK only allowed 125 yards through the air, and aside from Grier, held all runners to under 50 yards including Kelvin Taylor, who only managed 45 yards on 16 carries.  More importantly, the young defense came up with huge stops when it mattered most including a blocked field goal and an interception in the red zone.  The defense has been so impressive thus far, and will hopefully continue to keep leads from stretching to unmanageable distances when the offense is stagnant. 

I’m no coach, but Stoops’ play calling seemed pretty questionable at times.

Was it just me, or did it seem like Joker Phillips was on the sideline on a few drives? I’ve said it before, this has to be a high risk-high reward season.  That means no draw plays on third and long.  I realize Towles is struggling, but if you say he’s your guy you have to have faith in him and let him try to make plays.  If the play falls through, we haven’t lost too much, but if he converts, that’s a huge confidence boost for the entire team.  We’re going to be playing against a lot of teams with more talent than us, so we absolutely have to take some chances if we want to win.  It seems like this team is continuing to play not to lose – or just to keep the game close – instead of going out and leaving everything on the field. 

The Cats host Missouri under the lights this Saturday, and it is an absolute must-win game if they want to salvage any momentum they gained from the first two games.  Missouri is a top 25 team with a stellar defense, so it will be no small task.  Check back on Thursday for a preview of that game and a few things to be watching for.



Previewing Kentucky and Florida
by Quinn Schwartz Sep 17, 2015

Last week at South Carolina, Mark Stoops and Kentucky broke their 22-game road-losing streak.  That’s great, it’s hard to win on the road in the SEC, especially when you are trying to rebuild a program from the ground up.  But UK has lost to Florida 28 straight times.  That’s zero victories against an annual opponent since November 15, 1986.  That’s 14 long trips home from Gainesville, and 14 disappointing defeats in front of a home crowd hungry for goalposts. 

Now the Cats invite the Gators into Commonwealth Stadium for a “blue out,” and a game that most people – fans and experts alike – think Kentucky should leave victoriously.  It should have happened last year in Gainesville after a double overtime thriller, but this year everything seems to be falling in UK’s favor.  But will the Cats be able to pull it all together and make this the year of broken streaks?  Someone is going to be 3-0 after this one, and here’s what I’ll be watching for:

A confidence boosting game for Patrick Towles.

Florida has given up 482 yards passing in their first two games, and they have played New Mexico State and East Carolina.  Towles hasn’t been off to the start that most people were hoping for and he knows it.  He’s playing hard, but tentative at times, and I think one big game against a formidable opponent would give him the boost he needs to get going.  If Towles comes to play he should be able to pick apart this defense, and keep the air raid sirens screaming, but…

The real show will be in the backfields.

Boom sits at third in the SEC in total rushing yards and will look to continue his 100+ yard-rushing streak on Saturday.  Jojo Kemp is also coming off a solid game in Columbia, and with Mikel Horton presumably back in the lineup after his neck injury last week, UK will have its short yardage guy back and ready to go.

But Florida also goes three deep in the backfield.  Their best runner, and son of the Seahawk’s Fred Taylor, got a highly publicized chewing out from head coach, Jim McElwain.  As a result, Kelvin Taylor was demoted to third string this week, but McElwain has eased up on the young back as the week has progressed.  I imagine Taylor will get the majority of touches in Florida’s backfield this week and give some problems to a UK defense that has struggled against the run this season. 

Expect to see two quarterbacks from the Gators.

Will Grier and Treon Harris have both started a game for Florida this year, but neither one of them has been overly impressive.  Grier is a pocket passer and a downfield threat, while Harris is more of a dual threat.  Both are capable of having big games, but I’m more concerned about Harris.  Kentucky has struggled against dual threat quarterbacks in the past, and I worry about how the young defense will respond.  I’m far more confident in our defense’s ability to contain a guy who can just beat you with his arm rather than with his arms and his legs.  The defense has been great so far though, so if they just go out and play their game, I think they will be able to stand up to either one of these guys. 

The energy in Commonwealth Stadium is going to be insane.

There really hasn’t been a more exciting time in recent history for UK football than the year 2015.  Now with Florida coming to town to play in front of a sold out crowd inside of a brand new stadium, the energy is going to be absolutely electric.  What makes it even more exciting is this is a game that UK should actually win.  This is going to be the loudest the stadium has been in a long time, and the players are going to feed off of it.  But while a loud stadium can be inspiring for the home team, a forlorn stadium can be just as inspiring for an away team.  Kentucky is going to have to hit the Gators early and often to grab that momentum and keep it going.  The Cats have to start out strong like they did the last two games, but they are also going to have to play in the second half.  This is a beatable Florida team, but it isn’t going to happen if Kentucky decides they only want to play half a game. 

The game kicks off on Saturday at 7:30, and when it’s all said and done, I think the Cats will be 3-0 with a 24-20 win over the Gators.



Cats win again beating Spurrier’s Gamecocks for the second straight year
by Quinn Schwartz Sep 15, 2015

The second annual Spurrier beat down is in the books, and much to Kentucky fans’ delight, it seems as though Mark Stoops may have the ol’ ball coach’s number as the Wildcats snapped their 22 game road losing streak in Columbia on Saturday night.  Spurrier has given the Kentucky football program a lot of guff over the years, so there was nothing more satisfying than watching him squirm in his chair as he explained the loss to the press in the post-game interview.   

As good as it feels to start the season 2-0 the Cats still put a few new grey hairs on the collective head of the BBN in the second half, and once again it was the defense that saved the day down the stretch.  We saw a lot of good things on Saturday from UK, but there is still plenty of room for improvement if these boys want to make this season one to remember.

Here are a few things I noticed:

Boom continues to be the most efficient offensive player.

Williams now has 100+ yards in both games this season, and this time he only needed 14 carries to reach his mark.  A 7.6 yard per carry average is about as good as you will see from a running back with a significant workload, and Boom continues to show what had coaches and fans so excited in the preseason.  He’s a guy who has ludicrous speed, and his big play ability is undeniable. That will make him the focal point for a lot of defenses going forward, and it will be interesting to see if opposing teams will be able to find a way to slow him down, or if Boom will continue to explode. 

Luckily there is not much drop-off between our number one back and our number two.  Jojo Kemp had another good game giving UK two deadly weapons in the backfield.  Horton is having a solid year as well, but has taken more of a red zone bruiser role.  He is questionable for this Saturday after leaving the game with a neck injury, but it doesn’t seem to be too serious, and he should be back on the field soon.

Towles improved on his performance from week one.

His numbers definitely didn’t jump off the page with 192 yards and an interception, but what I’m more interested in is that he connected on 72% of his passes.  Towles was 21/29 for the game and showed some much better accuracy on the long ball.  If Towles can keep that completion percentage up, he will surely see his total yardage and touchdowns increase giving him way more confidence going forward.

The stats will come for Towles, but after the first two games his heart is what really stands out to me.  The kid is an absolute warrior and will do whatever it takes to win football games.  I held my breath when he lunged headfirst into the end zone for a touchdown in the first half, but at 6’4 240, you can afford to take a couple hits.  Towles is the leader this team needs and I’m excited to watch him grow the rest of the season.

The defense was outstanding.

Granted, they did allow over 400 yards of offense, but the D made plays when it mattered.  The Cats came up with three straight red zone stops in the second half holding the Gamecocks to only field goals, and actually scored the only blue points in the second half off a fumbled two point conversion.

The defense also did a phenomenal job on Pharoh Cooper.  The all-American got his numbers, but the defense didn’t allow him to go off.  This is the kind of player who could have single-handedly beaten Kentucky Teams of years past, but not this year.  I’m a little bit surprised Spurrier didn’t use him more in wildcat formations, but that’s fine.  A win’s a win and I’m not going to question it.  Also, give a lot of credit to Chris Westry.  This was the true freshman’s first appearance on a big stage in a hostile environment, and he looked like a veteran out there.  He did a superb job handling one of the best receivers in the league, and came up with an interception in the final minutes that saved the game.

Sooner or later, these second half slumps will be the death of us.

We were able to get away with it against a Sun Belt opponent and a mediocre South Carolina team, but this offense can’t afford to disappear against Florida on Saturday.  I’m not sure what Stoops is saying at half time, but it seems something like, “whatever you do guys, just please don’t lose this game.”  We need to stay at their throats on Saturday, and quit playing not to lose.  The defense is supposed to have the young, inexperienced guys and the offense is supposed to be full of veterans.  It’s time for them to prove it against Florida in Commonwealth, and make a statement that the Kentucky Wildcats are a force to be reckoned with in the SEC East.

That game is going to kick off under the lights at 7:30 in Lexington on Saturday, and from what I understand, it’s already sold out.  Check back on Thursday for a preview of what to expect from this year’s Florida team, and what it’s going to take for the Wildcats to make it to 3-0.



Previewing the Kentucky-South Carolina Rematch
by Quinn Schwartz Sep 10, 2015

Last Saturday’s game against Louisiana-Lafayette gave fans a glimpse into everything we should expect to see from the Kentucky Wildcats this season.  A 75-yard run by Boom Williams on the first play from scrimmage, and numerous heaves downfield from Patrick Towles in the first half was a testament to just how exciting this team could be to watch this year.  But a second half floundering showcased fan’s biggest fears.  This is a Kentucky team with loads of talent and no shortage of potential, but with only three days until SEC play, this is also a team that is going to have to grow up fast if they want to meet their lofty expectations and make it back to a bowl game.

Last year’s South Carolina game in Commonwealth Stadium easily the most exciting win of the season for UK, and once again, the two teams are fairly matched heading into Columbia.  While Stoops and co. might have caught the Gamecocks sleeping a little bit last year, you can expect the complete opposite when the two teams take the field on Saturday. 

The revenge factor is real, especially when talking about Steve Spurrier, one of the best coaches and biggest egos in the whole Southeastern Conference.  Kentucky is a team that South Carolina expects to beat every year, so leaving Lexington with a loss last year was undoubtedly painful for them.  The Gamecocks sit at a 7.5 point favorite, and have a heavy advantage playing at home, but UK has the pieces to pull off the upset, its just a matter of whether or not they can get them to fall into place. 

Here’s what we should be watching for on Saturday:

Can Pharoh Cooper be contained?

Simply put, Pharoh Cooper outmatches anyone Kentucky has on the defensive end, and he is probably the best wide out we’re going to see all year.  That being said, Kentucky does have a couple things going for them. 

First of all, South Carolina doesn’t have a quarterback who can get him the ball consistently.  Sophomore starter, Connor Mitch, was only 9/22 passing the ball against North Carolina last week, and didn’t really show any indication that he has the potential to improve those numbers between then and Saturday.  If the Cats can apply some solid pressure on Mitch, and get the ball out of his hands quickly, that would limit the big play capabilities of Cooper greatly.

Secondly, the size of UK’s secondary could create some problems.  Pharoh Cooper is exactly the reason why Stoops recruited guys like Chris Westry.  Cooper may be able to out jump the majority of his opponents, but at the end of the game, a 6’4 guy is still going to be 6’4 no matter how tired his is.  The only question is: will the defense be able to keep up for the entire 60 minutes?  They were all looking pretty gassed at the end of the Louisiana-Lafayette game…

A completely different offensive scheme from South Carolina:
South Carolina could not get it done offensively against North Carolina, so I expect to see Spurrier make some changes.  I think he is mostly going to focus on attacking our inexperienced and often sluggish defensive line.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of wildcat formation from the Gamecocks with Cooper under center.  Spurrier is going to look to play to their strengths, and with no real threat throwing the ball, I expect to see Carolina stick to the ground and fully utilize their best athlete.

Will we see any Drew Barker?

I’m hoping that we won’t.  Not because I don’t think Barker is a capable quarterback, but because if we do see him, that will mean Towles picked up where he left off last week.  Towles is still going to be our guy, but if he has a first half against South Carolina like the second half he had against Louisiana-Lafayette, UK just wont be able to afford to leave him in the game.

It’s interesting to note that Barker’s commitment came down to UK and South Carolina, with a lot of people thinking he was going to end up committing to the Gamecocks.  After seeing how terribly South Carolina’s quarterbacks performed last week, I can’t help but wonder if Barker would have won that starting job instead of being sidelined at UK.  In any case, if Towles struggles – which I hope he doesn’t – it would be interesting to see Barker come in and show the Gamecocks what they’re missing out on. 

The defensive line and linebackers will have to play great – the rest of the team will have to play well enough:

This really shouldn’t be a high scoring game, and I expect most of South Carolina’s damage to come on running plays.  A lot of UK’s linebackers and defensive line haven’t gone up against guys as talented as we are going to see from South Carolina, and they are going to have to step up and make some big plays.  If that happens, I really don’t see the Gamecocks doing much damage through the air, and as long as our corners can keep Cooper in front of them, we should be fine defensively.  If the defense can keep the score low, that would take a lot of pressure off of an offense that struggled in the latter part of the UL-L game.  If Boom can get loose a couple times and Towles can make a few connections downfield, I think that should be enough offensive production to get a win.

If the Cats can handle the hostile environment, and handle Pharoh Cooper, I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t be able to pull off the upset in Columbia.  You can catch the game at 7:30 on the SEC Network.  I’m calling it 17-14 Cats. 


Recapping Kentucky’s Ugly Win Over Louisiana-Lafayette
by Quinn Schwartz Sep 7, 2015

There was no shortage of confidence in Lexington last night as the boys in blue streamed out of the tunnel and onto the fresh turf of the newly renovated Commonwealth Stadium.  Players and fans alike waited anxiously for this moment all year and the “Stoops Troops” were ready to make a brutal statement against the unsuspecting Louisiana-Lafayette in front of a sold-out crowd.  And that’s exactly what they did – at least at first.

Unfortunately, despite a new stadium, a new logo and a swagger Kentucky fans are far more used to seeing on the basketball court, some aspects of Kentucky football seem to remain constant no matter where the game is being played and no matter who is wearing the headset on the sidelines. 

The Cats started the game with a bang, or should I say with a boom as Stanley “Boom” Williams streaked straight into the end zone on the first play from scrimmage giving the Cats a 7-0 lead with less than a minute gone from the fancy new game clock. 

For the rest of the first half it seemed as though Kentucky was going to run away with it, and for the first time in a long time, the Kentucky Wildcats looked like an SEC football team.  The offense came up with huge plays, and the defense was taking good care of Elijah McGuire, the Ragin’ Cajuns most dangerous weapon.  The Cats went into the locker room with a 24-7 lead at halftime, and many fans left the game early to begin the victory party.

The second half was a different story.  In vintage Kentucky fashion, UK squandered a 33-10 lead and found themselves knotted up with a lowly Sun Belt Conference team midway through the fourth quarter.  A couple of lucky breaks and a few friendly whistles later, UK running back, Mikel Horton barreled over a Cajun defender and into the end zone to give the Wildcats a 40-33 lead with a minute left in the game. A Josh Forrest interception on the Cajuns’ final drive allowed a collective sigh of relief for the remaining fans in Commonwealth Stadium.

It wasn’t pretty, but hey, a win’s a win.  Here are a couple things I noticed throughout the contest…

The “air raid” was showcased as promised.

First year offensive coordinator, Shannon Dawson told fans they were going to get a glimpse of his air raid offense, and he delivered on his promise Saturday night.  Stoops said from the beginning he wanted to incorporate that kind of offense during his tenure at head coach, but this was the first time fans really saw significant evidence of it.

To run an air raid you have to have a few things: first, you have to have a quarterback with a strong arm.  You also have to have receivers who can beat the defense downfield, and an offensive line that can give your big arm enough time in the pocket to make the play.  We’ve always known Towles has the arm strength to thrown the long ball, but this is the first year we have size on the O-line to give him the protection he needs, and the receivers to seal the deal.  I think this is going to be a high risk/high reward season for the Wildcats, which means we are going to have to take plenty of chances down field.

Speaking of Patrick Towles…

He really didn’t have that great of a game.  Sure, he has great arm strength, but his accuracy is a big question mark.  On paper, 267 yards with three touchdowns and only one interception looks like a solid game, but I’m giving most of that credit to the receivers.  Towles connected on less than 50% of his passes and a lot of the connections he did have were the result of great catches by the wide outs.  Towles missed routine connections consistently throughout the game, and essentially disappeared in the second half.  Towles is going to have to tighten up the screws and start putting the ball where his targets can not only make the catch, but be in a position where they can tack on some additional yardage afterwards. 

On the positive side, I love Patrick’s confidence.  He is a veteran now and he’s not going to get discouraged by one poor game.  Towles is going to have to be the man this year, and I look for him to come out firing against South Carolina next week.

Stoops was outcoached.

Stoops’ game plan was solid going into this game, and his boys executed well in the first half.  In the second half, Mark Hudspeth made adjustments – Mark Stoops did not.  The Cajuns switched to a soft coverage keeping UK’s receivers in front of them.  They also made a quarterback switch and handed the clipboard to the true freshman while Jalen Nixon got his team back in the game.  I think most fans are just happy to get out of this one with a win, but if the game had gone the other way, I think there would be a lot of questions surrounding Stoops’ play calling. 

I’m not worried about the offense.

Boom Williams looked like a premier running back and JoJo Kemp looked solid also, all of the wide receivers showed flashes of brilliant athleticism, the offensive line his huge and experienced, and I’m confident that Patrick Towles will get it together.  I don’t think scoring points is going to be a problem for this team, but…

I’m worried about the defense.

Granted, Flannigan and Hatcher didn’t play in this one, but UK’s young and shallow defense did not look good giving up nearly 500 yards to a team who should have only been able to earn about half that. 

Through the air, the defense didn’t look that bad.  The freshman, Chris Westry had an encouraging performance, and even though he made a couple of freshman mistakes, he looked up for the challenge of going against some of the better wide receivers in the league. 

On the other hand, the run defense was abysmal.  UK got torched on the ground, and it wasn’t even by their superstar, it was backup, Torrey Pierce who ran all over the UK defense for 110 yards and a pair of touchdowns.  If this guy can put up numbers like that, I shudder to think what a guy like Nick Chubb will do to us when we go down to Georgia. 

This game was no cause for celebration.

I understand the players were happy to escape with a victory, but the way some of the guys were acting after the game, you would think we just won the national title.  This is a Sun Belt Team, you are an SEC team.  You were favored by 17, you blew a 23 point lead and won by a touchdown.  Let’s go down and beat Spurrier’s boys in Columbia, then we can talk about a little celebration, but for now, just take care of business.

Check in later this week for a full preview of the South Carolina game next Saturday night. 


Kentucky Basketball 2015-16: A Look at Things to Come 
by Quinn Schwartz Aug 31, 2015

Football season is less than a week away.  We have a new stadium, a new attitude and an optimism surrounding the program that hasn’t been felt for a long time.  The future is bright, but the heart of the Bluegrass still lies within the walls of Rupp Arena.  That’s why in Lexington, it’s never too early to take a look at the one thing that gets me through the winter: Kentucky Basketball.

A couple of months ago, fans griped about how last year’s platoon system killed our recruiting for 2015.  To be fair, it seemed like Calipari was missing out on some recruits he normally would have gotten, but the man always has a plan.  Fast-forward to today, and Coach Cal has assembled yet another top ranked recruiting class.  Combine the new blood with some veteran guys who know what it takes to win, and this team is poised for a shot at the national title. 

Now that the roster is solidified, let’s take a look at what we have to look forward to in November.

The key players:
Tyler Ulis – Calipari said from the beginning, “this is going to be Tyler’s team.”  He was a great compliment to Andrew Harrison last season, and a lot of times the team seemed to play better when Ulis was running the show.  The best part about Ulis is his unwavering “team first” mentality.  Players have to love playing with a guy like Ulis because he genuinely wants to make everyone around him better.  That kind of unselfishness is the utmost important trait of a pure point guard, and we haven’t fully seen that kind of mentality in the Calipari era.  He may not be the most talented point guard to appear on a Calipari roster, but he doesn’t need to be.  Ulis is content to let the stars be the stars while he takes the role of director and makes sure everyone is in their places and on top of their game.
Skal Labissiere – The “Haitian Sensation” will need to play a big role as a freshman if this team is going to be successful, and watching footage of him on the AAU circuit, he seems more than capable.  I hate to throw player comparisons around, but the fluidity of his game reminds me a lot of Anthony Davis.  I don’t think he’s going to be nearly the dominant defensive presence that Davis was in college, but he’s 7’0 and long, which is enough to keep any defense honest.  He has a smooth stroke offensively and has even shown some ability to put the ball on the floor.  Skal is the prototypical big man for Cal’s dribble drive offense. 
Jamal Murray – If there were ever any Jamal Murray doubters, they were silenced after his performance in the FIBA games.  The kid was the talk of the tournament making grown men look like high school water boys.  There was some uncertainty about when Murray would make it to campus, and whether or not he would continue playing with the Canadian national team, but he is here now and ready to contribute.  I love Murray’s ability to handle the ball, and his ability to hit outside shots is enough to keep the defense tight enough to where he can go by them and finish at the rim or dish off – another phenomenal dribble drive player. 

Potential breakout players:
Alex Poythress – It broke my heart to see Alex go down with that knee injury last season.  He seemed to finally be coming into his own and he was making plays that no one else on the team was making – especially on the defensive end.  His defensive timing is actually pretty incredible and he made more hustle plays in those first eight games than I saw him make in his first two seasons combined.  Toughness is the most questionable aspect of Alex’s game, and it will be interesting to see how he comes off of this knee injury.  Worst case scenario is he comes out timid, not wanted to reinjure that knee and not giving the kind of effort we need him to give.  Best case scenario is he comes out hungry after being sidelined for a season, and picks up even better than where he left off last year.  I’m thinking it will be the latter – Poythress is running out of time to prove to the fans (and NBA scouts) that he’s as good as advertised. 
Marcus Lee – Lee has been somewhat of an afterthought with this talented roster, but this could be his year to burst into the spotlight.  We are going to need someone down low, other than Skal, who can get to the rim and make opposing big men think twice about bringing the ball in the paint.  The only downside of Marcus Lee is that he isn’t tall enough to compensate for his rail-thin physique.  If Lee is going to be useful, it’s going to have to be with a fast-paced game plan.  

Players with time to grow:
Isiah Briscoe – Right now Briscoe is an enigma to me.  I know he’s coming into Kentucky thinking he’s going to be a one and done, but I’m not convinced.  I think he will end up being a two, maybe even three year player, and I’m fine with that.  In fact, I think we need more guys like that.  Briscoe is competing for the starting job and apparently he’s an absolute gym rat.  I don’t foresee any lack of effort from this kid, I just don’t know if he will be able to pull it all together right away like some of the other freshmen.  Even if he isn’t a star in his first season in blue, he’ll be another solid ball handler and a legitimate threat on offense. 
Charles Matthews – To me, Matthews is a four year guy.  I don’t think he will be used a lot this season as a freshmen, but down the road I think anything is possible for him.  Matthews is long and athletic, which means he could be effective on defense – especially if we’re going up against a smaller player who is shooting lights out.  I think Matthews will need at least two years in the system before he turns into a major contributor, but I do think it will happen eventually. 
Isaac Humphries – Humphries could be the missing piece for this year’s team.  Before he reclassified, my main concern was what we would do if and when we play a team that forces us to slow the tempo and play in the half court.  In my opinion, I don’t think Lee or Skal are big enough to go head to head with a true center in the post, but Humphries gives us a little more weight to throw around.  At 7’0 and 260 lbs. Humphries’ game is extremely raw, but if anything, we can at least put him in to eat up a few of the fouls that would otherwise go to the Poythress/Skal/Lee combo.

Mychal Mulder - Right now it seems like Mulder and Briscoe are fighting for the last starting spot, and early indications point to Mulder being the frontrunner.  The JUCO transfer was recruited for his three point shooting ability, but his athleticism has impressed a lot of people early on.  If he can knock down outside shots consistently and be a defensive stopper, it’s going to be hard to keep this guy off the floor.
Derek Willis – Willis has been such a frustrating player to me.  He’s clearly a strong athlete, and he’s shown signs of being a deadly spot shooter, but even with Poythress going out for the season last year he still couldn’t find his way into rotation.  Willis is a little bit of a liability on defense, and we’ve heard rumblings that he might not be very motivated to improve his game.  With a limited number of wing players, this could be his year to rediscover his passion for the game and become a decent contributor.
Dominique Hawkins – I love Dominique Hawkins.  I think he’s an absolute bulldog defensively, and on offense he knows his role and doesn’t ever try to do too much.  Unfortunately, it’s looking like Hawkins will be spending most of his time on the bench with such a loaded backcourt.  Hawkins may never be the starting point guard for Kentucky, but who knows.  At any rate, it’s a good sign for the rest of your team when you have players as skilled as Hawkins and Willis sitting at the end of the bench.

Potential lineups:
I foresee this year’s team looking to play as fast as possible, but with the amount of diversity on the roster, we may see several different looks throughout the year.
Normal starting five –
G: Ulis
G: Murray
G: Briscoe/Mulder
F: Poythress
F: Skal
I think this is the most likely scenario for how UK starts the year with the Briscoe/Mulder slot being a toss-up for now, but I think when the season tips off, we’ll see Briscoe in that final spot because he’s the better ball handler.  If we are going to run and gun, having three point guards would be the best chance we have of limiting turnovers. 
Potential starting five:
G: Ulis
G: Murray
F: Poythress
F: Skal
C: Humphries
This lineup has a lot of “ifs,” but if Poythress proves he can make open shots and handle the ball adequately there is no reason not to slide him into the three spot.  If Humphries’ game continues to improve it would be great to have him anchor the paint and take some of the pressure off of Skal.

Mark your calendar:
Duke, November 17th – This is the first big game of the season and would be a huge win if the Cats could knock off the defending champs in the United Center.
Louisville, December 26th – UK has dominated this series lately, but I can’t think of a better late Christmas present than beating Pitino yet again.
Kansas, January 30th – Midseason seems like a really weird time to have such a big non-conference game, but a late January game in Allen Fieldhouse will give us a good idea of where we stand going into the stretch of the season.

Get the tents ready, only 46 more days until Big Blue Madness…



Kentucky Wildcat Football: A 2015 Preview and Predictions 
by Quinn Schwartz Aug 20, 2015

Kentucky football is not just an appetizer to hold fans off until basketball season anymore.
All of the hype surrounding the football program is great, but the fact that fans can be so optimistic following a 5-7 record last year, that included a six game collapse to end the season shows the despair of a program that might finally be poised for a breakout season.  Coach Mark Stoops is getting competitive SEC talent and jolting some electricity into the fan base, but now it’s time to start winning more than 5 games.  Stoops has had three years to recruit his own guys and get them playing the way he wants them to play, so this year should indicate what the future has in store for the Stoops era.
The big question: will the Cats make it back to a bowl game for the first time since 2011? Most of the talking heads say yes, but anything can happen in college football and there are certainly no guarantees.  Playing in the toughest conference in the country makes every game a must win, and the budding Wildcats are going to have their work cut out for them.  Let’s do a quick rundown of the schedule. 

LA-Lafayette (W)
Don’t be fooled by the hyphenated name, LA-Lafayette is a pretty good football team.  Most people are already chalking this game up as a win for UK, but the Ragin’ Cajuns are actually going into this game as the higher ranked team.  LA-Lafayette was 9-4 last year and returns the vast majority of their impact players.  I’ll feel a lot better about our bowl chances if and when the Cats make it out of this one alive. 

South Carolina (L)
The Gamecocks aren’t going to be great this year, but they do have arguably one of the best coaches in the SEC in Steve Spurrier and the home field advantage.  The Cats got the win last year in one of the most exciting games of the season, but I foresee South Carolina returning the favor in Columbia this year. 

Florida (W)
If UK is going to get to a bowl this year they are going to have to win the games they should win, and steal at least one game they probably shouldn’t win.  If Kentucky can limit turnovers and the defense can contain Demarcus Robinson, this could be one of those steals. Mitch Barnhart might have to be doing some goal post shopping, which I am sure that he would gladly do with a win over the Gators ending the losing streak at 28 games.

Missouri (L)
Missouri is probably the least exciting of any of the ranked SEC teams. That being said, the Tigers are still a highly talented club, and should have one of the elite quarterbacks in the conference in Maty Mauk.  The game is in Commonwealth, which is helpful, but I just don’t see the Cats coming out with a win in this one since they have really struggled in the past against Missouri. However if we don’t beat Florida, I think this becomes a must win game.

Eastern Kentucky (W)
No question UK is more talented than Eastern Kentucky, and this game should be a confidence booster for the Cats.  Things could get interesting considering the altercations with some of the players during the offseason, but I’m still predicting an easy win.

Auburn (L)
This is a huge Thursday night game in Commonwealth Stadium.  The house will be rocking and everyone will be fired up, but I just don’t think UK is ready to knock off an opponent of this caliber.  Auburn has too many weapons, and the Cats won’t be able to keep up for all four quarters.

Mississippi State (L)
The bad news is that this game is in Starkville.  The worse news is that Dak Prescott is back.  MSU isn’t going to be as good as they were last year, but I still don’t think this is going to be a winnable game for UK.  Until the Cats prove they can win a game on the road, UK’s chances in a game like this aren’t looking good. 

Tennessee (L)
Butch Jones has done an amazing job with a struggling Tennessee program, and officially put the Vols back on the map.  UT is young like we are, but they are also better and nearly every position.  Tennessee will compete with Georgia for the East this year, and will be the team to watch in the SEC next season.

Georgia (L)
I hate to be pessimistic, but I give UK virtually no chance of pulling off a huge upset in Georgia.  Nick Chubb is the best rusher in the conference, maybe the country, and we all know UK has always been notoriously bad at stopping the run.  They also have one of the best defenses in the SEC.  I see UGA winning the East and competing with either Auburn or Alabama for the SEC title. 

Vandy (W)
After a brutal four game stretch, the Cats get to breathe a little when they face Vanderbilt in Nashville.  The Vandy game has basically been a toss-up the past few years, but UK is the better team this season and should finally be able to get one on the road. 

Charlotte (W)
I don’t really know anything about Charlotte other than they are one of the worst teams on our schedule. Last season they were 5-6 in their 2nd season as a College Football program. This should be an easy step for the Cats on their way to bowl eligibility and a much needed breather from SEC play and before playing Louisville in the season ending game. In one Pre-Season poll they were rated last in the nation.

Louisville (W)
If this game wasn’t in Commonwealth, I wouldn’t be predicting a win.  Anything can happen with either team from now until the end of November, but I think the Cats are going to get payback for last year’s heartbreaker and move on to the postseason. 
With the quality of opponents, a 6-6 record and a bowl game would be considered a huge success, and an encouraging indication for the future of the Stoops era.  Get the grills and coolers ready because with eight home games on the schedule, it’s going to be an exciting fall in the Bluegrass.                                                   

CBS Sports Pre-Season Poll                           
1. Ohio State                          26. Mississippi State                                                     
2. TCU                                   27. Tennessee                              
3. Baylor                                29. Texas A & M
4. Alabama                             35. South Carolina
5. Michigan State                     37. Florida
6. Auburn                                46. Western Kentucky
8. Georgia                               66. UL-Lafayette
14. Ole Miss                            68. KENTUCKY
21. Arkansas                           90. Vanderbilt
22. Missouri
24. LSU
25. Louisville


by Brad Taylor May 25, 2015

The old adage goes “Baseball standings don’t matter until Memorial Day.” Well, it’s Memorial Day.  If you look at the standings as a Reds fan, you can’t like what you see!  As of this writing, the 18-25 Reds are 9.5 games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central. Not only that, but they are 6 games behind the Cubs (the best NL team for the next 5 years). We can sit here and make up reasons why the Reds are trailing these teams (they are run better from ownership, to GM, to management, and have more money, etc.). But let’s actually try to look at the game on the field to come up with a reason why the Reds are so far behind in the standings

Before we get to the train wreck that is the bullpen, which we have discussed ad nauseam on 1250SportsTalk, let’s address the basic facts on the Reds in the first 2 months of the season:

GM Walt Jocketty made some major mistakes this offseason. He signed free agents Marlon Byrd (37 years old), Jason Marquis (36), Kevin Gregg (37), Skip Schumaker (35), and Burke Badenhop (32).  None of these guys have provided any positive value statistically this year. If you are trying to win now, are THESE the guys you want to fill out a roster? This team, as constructed by Jocketty, simply isn’t good enough to compete against teams like the Cardinals, Cubs, and Pirates. Those team are just better than the Reds. Grade: D as in Dagnabbit, what were you thinking signing Marquis and Gregg?

While we are at it, let’s look at some bad contracts Jocketty has on his docket:

  • Homer Bailey is injured and out for the season. He’s owed 4 years/$81m AFTER this season. Horrible
  • Sean Marshall is in the last year of a $16.5m contract in which he pitched a total of 24.1 innings.
  • Ryan Ludwick is being paid $4.5m to stay away.
  • Jack Hannahan (remember him?) is being paid $2m to stay away
  • Have we forgotten about Sam LeCure? He’s making $1.8m this year….at AAA Louisville
  • And of course, Kevin Gregg was given $1.5m this year. Gregg is now

pitching for AAA Tacoma in the Mariners’ system

This year alone, that’s $26.3m from which the Reds are getting nothing. I don’t see a team like the Cardinals doing that very often (if ever). That’s one of many reasons why the Reds are the Reds, and the Cardinals are the Cardinals.

Manager Bryan Price has proven to me that he is in over his head with this job.  And this isn’t due to his F-bomb tirade a few weeks ago over the press leaking a player being sent to the minors before Price was able to inform the player.  This is manager who has horribly mismanaged a terrible bullpen.  On 1250SportsTalk, we have often questioned why Aroldis Chapman can ONLY pitch the 9th inning, and nothing else.  A Major League manager doesn’t have to be a genius, but he has to be able to run a bullpen and a clubhouse. I don’t know about his role in the clubhouse, but he has proven his bullpen management skills are horrid, which is surprising for a former pitching coach. Grade: F as in Fired!

Biggest Surprise: Zack Cozart. Cozart has been the Reds’ starting shortstop since 2012. Here are his career highs in his career:

  • BA: .254 (.272 this year)
  • OPS+ 82 (118 this year)

Amazingly, Cozart was moved to the leadoff spot a couple of weeks ago, and saw his numbers plummet immediately. Regression to the mean is a difficult concept to grasp at times, but Cozart has proven in 3+ seasons that he isn’t the player he has been so far this year. Grade: C as in Can’t keep this up the entire season.

Biggest Disappointment: Billy Hamilton.  Sure, it’s easy to pile on Gregg and Marquis as busts (which they are), but Hamilton had much more responsibility and expectations coming into the season. Hamilton leads MLB in SB with 17, and that’s great!  The only problem is YOU CAN’T STEAL FIRST BASE!  His On Base Percentage (OBP) of .256 is among the lowest in MLB.  If that is your leadoff hitter, you’re immediately at a huge disadvantage as the League Average OBP is .325. Moving him down in the lineup was the right move. But sadly, the Reds don’t have another player suited to lead off in his stead, which is a microcosm of the problems on this team. Grade: BB as in walks would benefit greatly, 10 walks (and only 34 last year) and 1 bunt hit (15 last season)

MVP: Todd Frazier. Frazier is the team leader in HR, R, 2B, RBI, SLG%, and OPS.  Although Joey Votto was the best player in April, his fall off has given Frazier the best player status on this team. Grade: B+ as in Best of a Bad lot.

Player they need more from: Jay Bruce. From 2011-2013, Bruce hit 32, 34, and 30 HR in each year respectively.  In 2014, he hit .217 with 18 HR.  This season, he’s hitting .211 and 7 HR. At 28 years old and collecting a cool $12m this season, he MUST do a lot better to earn that money. Grade: OO as in “The fans aren’t yelling ‘Bruuuuce,’ they’re yelling ‘Boooooo!’”

Biggest fear on the horizon: The impending trades of Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake. Both of these guys are free agents at the end of the season.  They are gone.  With the Reds falling further out of contention by the day, there’s no chance these guys will be sticking around next season. If the Reds are truly in rebuilding mode, Aroldis Chapman has more value than anyone on the roster.  Since you won’t pitch him outside of the 9th inning, why not trade him for magic beans too?  Grade: G as in these guys are Gone!

Some other quick observations:

  • This season has been defined by the usage and futility of Jason Marquis and Kevin Gregg.
  • As of Memorial Day, 112 pitchers were qualified for the ERA title. Marquis was ranked 112th on that list. Why is he still being run out there at 36 years old. The fact that he is not part of this team’s future means his starts are a waste of time.
  • Early in the season, Kevin Gregg was literally considered the Reds’ setup guy, which meant he was pitching the 8th inning before Chapman pitched the 9th. What about last year’s 10.13 ERA made the Reds think he wouldn’t be that bad this year?  He was, and he’s thankfully gone.
  • Devin Mesoraco is a wasted roster spot. He will be having hip surgery once these interleague games where he can DH are finished. He still hasn’t started a game at catcher since April 11, but has never hit the DL. Why? It’s difficult when the man batting cleanup for you on Opening Day has 8 hits and 2 RBI on the season, without being on the DL.
  • Mike Leake hasn’t been as good as people think. His 4.14 ERA and 93 ERA+ make his stock lower by the day. If this is your #2 starter, the Reds have even more issues. Iglesias and Lorenzen should be in this rotation by mid-summer.

And now (sigh), the bullpen….

Quick! Who was the closer for the 1990 World Series Champion Cincinnati Reds?  Most people quickly say “Rob Dibble.” The answer is actually Randy Myers.  Of the top 4 pitchers on the Reds that season based on ERA+ (which is 100x of league ERA divided by the pitcher’s ERA and adjusted to the player’s ballpark), 3 of them were Nasty Boys Myers, Dibble, and Norm Charlton (Jose Rijo was the outlier).

1990 Reds ERA+ (a league average ERA+ is 100)

  • Rob Dibble 229 (98.0 IP, 11 saves)
  • Randy Myers 193 (86.2 IP, 31 saves)
  • Norm Charlton 146 (154.1 IP, 2 saves – actually started 16 games! That could never happen today)

But not only that, The Nasty Boys were a state of mind. Once the Reds had a lead after 6 innings, opposing teams were often demoralized because they knew they had no chance against the Reds’ bullpen. In the NLCS that season against Pittsburgh, the Pirates even admitted that they had to be in the lead after 5 innings or else they thought the game was over.

This isn’t an Old School way of thinking either!  Look at last year’s Kansas City Royals! This wasn’t exactly a juggernaut-type of team, especially offensively (only 2 of their 9 regulars had an OPS+ over the league average of 100). But the Royals had an outstanding bullpen, even quite a bit better than the Reds in 1990.  Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrerra, and Greg Holland were ALL better than Rob Dibble in 1990, who was the Reds’ best pitcher that season.

The difference in today’s game and the game in 1990, is that relief pitchers were expected to do much more. In comparison, below are the stats of the 2014 Royals bullpen.The first thing we notice is that relief pitchers have much more defined roles (the “closer” is the only guy who gets saves), and relievers rarely throw more than 75 innings in today’s game.

2014 Royals ERA+

  • Wade Davis 399 (72.0 IP, 3 saves)
  • Kelvin Herrera 282 (70.0, 0 saves)
  • Greg Holland 277 (62.1 IP, 46 saves)

What does this prove? It proves that anyone can have a great closer. Trevor Hoffman had over 600 career saves for the Padres, but I never saw them dominate a postseason. Why?  Mainly because they never had setup pitchers on the level the 1990 Reds and the 2014 Royals had. A deep bullpen with 3 dominant pitchers can be the deodorant that covers the stink of the rest of the team. A team with multiple stoppers in a bullpen can be very tough to beat on any night.

OK, so let’s look at the Reds bullpen to date based on ERA+ (league average is 100)

  • Chapman 378 (7 saves)
  • JJ Hoover 157
  • Tony Cingrani 119
  • Jumbo Diaz 55
  • Burke Badenhop 49
  • Kevin Gregg 39 (no longer with team, thankfully)

The sad part of this is that in the first month, Diaz and Gregg were called upon in late inning/pressure situations. They quickly turned those close games into blowouts for the opposition. The current flow chart of Cingrani and Hoover setting up Chapman is far more reliable than the hysteria in the late innings earlier in the season. Too bad it took almost 2 months for Price to figure that out.

The usage of Chapman is also an issue. Why can he ONLY pitch the 9th inning. If the bases are loaded in the 8th inning, and the opposition’s best LH hitter is up, Price will go with Cingrani or Parra (when healthy) before going to Chapman! This is what gets teams beat! Why do you need Chapman (your best reliever) to mow down the 6 thru 8 hitters in the lineup when the game is on the line with the 3-5 hitters in the 8th? This flawed logic is what prevents teams from being their best. But players today claim they need to know their role, and exactly what situations they will be used, to be successful. Tony LaRussa started all this in the 80’s, so we can blame him for this line of thinking. Before that, relief pitchers regularly pitched over 100 innings a season. Heck, Mike Marshall of the Dodgers pitched 208 innings in 1974, and every one of those innings were in relief! If someone did that today, they’d throw his manager in jail for abuse!

So let’s summarize this. The Reds aren’t as good roster-wise as 3 of the other 4 teams in their own division. Their general manager made some very questionable moves this offseason in roster construction, and now is facing trading away Cueto and Leake in the coming weeks. They have a manager who is obviously not a leader of men, and is in way over his F-bombing head. Marlon Byrd and Billy Hamilton have killed this team offensively. And Mike Leake and Jason Marquis (who shouldn’t be on the team at this point anyway) have underperformed in the rotation. The bullpen is horribly mismanaged by Price, but it’s not his fault that Burke Badenhop and Jumbo Diaz are borderline major leaguers at this point. It IS his fault that he kept running them out there in pressure situations as long as he did.

Is it all bad news for the Reds? No. At least the gas can that is Kevin Gregg is gone…..but certainly not forgotten. This team is 18-25 on Memorial Day, and I don’t see it getting much better anytime soon. Enjoy the All-Star Game being in Cincinnati this summer, because there will be no playoff games there this fall.



by Brad Taylor Mar 16, 2015

What is the NCAA Tournament all about? Yes, it’s about deciding the champion of college basketball for yet another season. But for most people, it’s about filling out brackets and trying to win some jellybeans! So if you’re sick and tired of losing your bracket pool at the office to Marge from Accounting, who couldn’t tell a basketball from a pumpkin, here’s your ticket to think outside the box, go against conventional wisdom, and get those bragging rights once and for all!


Let’s face facts you’re trying to win your office pool this season, you have to do one of two things: A) Get almost every game after the 2nd round correct other than picking UK to win it all, or B) Pick someone other than UK to win it all. The prize can be won either way, so we will try to find a way to win both ways.


To get started, here are some very good metrics that I use to determine who the best teams really are, and not the ones the media tell us are the best:

- Numbers in the Desert (Our Friends in the Desert know EXACTLY what they are doing)
- Average Scoring Margin/Adjusted Scoring Margin (Easily the best statistic to use. Every rating system uses this number as a base)
- ESPN BPI ratings
- Jeff Sagarin ratings (An old school favorite, but still as effective as ever)
- Ken Pomeroy ratings
- Joel Sokol ratings (from Georgia Tech)
- Sonny Moore ratings
- Preseason rankings (More preseason #1 teams have won the championship than teams ranked #1 in the final AP poll)

What NOT to use:

- Final AP rankings (In the last 20 years, only 2 teams ranked #1 in the final AP poll won the national championship - Duke 2001, Kentucky 2012. That means 18 out of 20 times, the #1 team didn’t win)
- Each team’s won-lost record (Once a team is in the tournament, records mean nothing. As our good friend Tim Smith reminds us, we don’t live in the past at 1250SportsTalk. Don’t even look at a team’s record when making picks, not even a 34-0 UK record.)
- RPI (which the selection committee uses) Kansas was ranked #1 in RPI all season until February 28th, despite losing 8 games, including a 32-point loss to UK. What else do you need to know?
- Bias, emotion, and a school’s pedigree. TAKE EMOTION OUT OF EVERY DECISION! When you pick with your heart, you will lose to people who make decisions using logic and analysis.  It’s best to just refer to each team as “Team A” and “Team B” as much as possible.


Don’t try to do this. The key to winning bracket pools is not being the wise guy who picked the 14-seed to upset that 3-seed. Sure, you can walk around the office for weeks bragging about that one. But do you ever notice that guy never wins in the end? It’s always Marge from Accounting who wins, because she simply picks favorites or the highest seeds, without knowing anything about basketball. Without knowing it, she has her eyes focused on the end. Basically, any bracket pool is won by picking the right teams at the end of the tournament bracket, and not so much the beginning. So to win at the end, we have to find teams worthy of being considered to win the national championship.


Of course, UK is the best team this year. They are the odds on favorite to win the national championship. They “should” win, but we all know that the best team doesn’t always win. So let’s use some basic numbers to find potential champions (and losers) based on historical data.

As stated above, Scoring Margin is my favorite stat to use in college basketball.  But it’s not the only way to pick a national champion.  Efficiency ratings also tell us who can potentially win it all!

Before Connecticut in 2014, which was indeed an outlier, all national champions have been of the same ilk: A team with a Top 3 seed from a Power 5 Conference, with a top 20 offense, and a top 50 defense. (NOTE: these numbers are the team’s rankings BEFORE the tournament started, not after. That’s using flawed logic!)

TEAM (seed)                                         OVERALL  OFF    DEF
2014 Connecticut (7)                                  25       80      11
2013 Louisville (1)                                      1         18        1
2012 Kentucky (1)                                       1           2          5
2011 Connecticut (3)                                  14       17      30
2010 Duke (1)                                            2           6          6
2009 North Carolina (1)                             4           1        49
2008 Kansas (1)                                         1           1          6
2007 Florida (1)                                           5           3        18
2006 Florida (3)                                           7         14      18
2005 North Carolina (1)                             2           3          9
2004 Connecticut (2)                                  5         14        8
2003 Syracuse (3)                                       20       16      38
2002 Maryland (1)                                       4           4        14

So using this table as a template, the bold-faced type as the extreme worst example of a champion. It’s safe to use last year’s Connecticut team as a complete outlier, especially for our purposes. Here’s what we are looking for in a champion:

A team with a 1, 2, or 3-seed (Before 2014, Arizona as a 4-seed in 1997 was the only team seeded below 3 to win it all since the 80’s)
Eliminated: Every team except the top 12-seeded teams.

A team from a Power 5 conference (UNLV in 1990 was last outlier before 2014)
Eliminated: Gonzaga, Villanova

A team worse better than 20th in Overall Efficiency
Eliminated: Maryland

A team better than 18th in Offensive Efficiency
Eliminated: Virginia, Kansas, Oklahoma

A team better than 49th in Defensive Efficiency
Eliminated: Duke, Notre Dame, Iowa State

Preseason Top 3 AP Poll: 1) UK, 2) Arizona, and 3) Wisconsin

Current Scoring Margin Differential: 1) UK, 2) Gonzaga, 3) Arizona, and 4) Wisconsin

Suddenly, we are down to 3 possible choices to win it all: UK, Wisconsin, Arizona. Easy, huh? If you beat me using any other team than those 3, I will tip my hat to you. But going by historical data, those are the only 3 teams that have a realistic shot at winning this tournament. And in brackets, I’ll take those 3 teams as far as I can until they match up with each other. Sadly, Wisconsin and Arizona were placed in the same region, with the winner potentially facing UK before in the Final Four.

Team that’s not a 1-seed with the best chance to win the title: Arizona


So you’ve probably disregarded the last section because we ALL know UK will win it all with ease (he says sarcastically), and just want to know how to find those Cinderella stories. Which good teams are susceptible to losing in the first round? That doesn’t mean a 10-seed defeating a 7-seed, because those aren’t really upsets. It means a 13-seed from a conference you’ve never heard ot upsetting a 4-seed from a Power 5 conference. Here are some proven trademarks of top seeds that struggle in the tournament early:

  • Teams with a noticeable flaw, especially if that involves defensive struggles (Notre Dame, Iowa State, Arkansas).
  • Power 5 conference teams that are coming off sweeping their conference tournament but still only got a 3-seed at best (Notre Dame, Iowa State).
  • Teams with key players suffering from injuries (Virginia, Kansas)

-     Teams that rely on a high percentage of their points coming from 3-point shots (Villanova)

And which teams are those who can pull off an upset?

  • Must be a 14-seed or better (15 or 16-seeds are out)

-     Teams that are BALANCED and have positive values both offensively and defensively (Stephen F. Austin, Georgia State, New Mexico State, Northeastern)
-     At least a +5 scoring margin and a positive rebound margin
-     The 11 and 12-seeds offer the best chances for true upsets. 7 vs. 10 games are often toss-ups, and 9-seeds win more often than 8-seeds.

Look for a balanced team (offense and defense, not heavy on one side of the court) from a smaller conference.  Teams that fit this bill are Georgia State and Stephen F. Austin, but they were matched up with extremely tough defensive teams in the first round (Baylor and Utah).

During the regular season, we referenced the “Unranked Trap” game quite a bit.  This is when an unranked team as a favorite over a ranked team.  When we see this, we liked being on the unranked favorite over the ranked underdog.  That was the Desert trying to tell us who is the better team.  There were 2 examples in the first round in 2014, and both times they came through big:

#11 Tennessee -6 over #6 Massachusetts (Tennessee won by 19)
#9 Pittsburgh -6 over #8 Colorado (Pittsburgh won by 29)

We can use this methodology up until the Final Four as well.  In fact, last season 8 seed Kentucky was a 1-point favorite over 2 Michigan in the Regional Final round, and Kentucky won by 3. This is one of my favorite trends in March, as the desert tells us who should win, regardless of what the NCAA Selection Committee deems before the tournament starts.  And believe me, the Desert knows more than the NCAA.

This year’s examples are Ohio State, Texas, Oklahoma State, and Purdue. I’ll be taking the first 3 of these teams strongly, as Purdue is the only one with any reservations in my mind. Oklahoma State is the strongest “Lower Seeded Trap” on the board.


The following is the most important thing you’ll ever hear about bracket pool strategy: You cannot win the bracket pool in the first round, but you can lose it.  We are just trying to survive the first round, getting our Elite 8 teams through with as little drama as possible. For those who pick a lot of upsets in the first round, they often suffer for it later. It’s OK to lose some games in the first round, because everyone does and we are looking big picture at the end of the tournament, where the losing cannot be overcome or forgiven. It would be VERY difficult for yours truly to pick against a 1, 2, or 3 seed in the first round, regardless of circumstance.

1 VS. 16 GAMES
Historical Record: 120-0    (100%)
2 vs. 15 GAMES
Historical Record: 113-7    (94.2%)

Obviously, never pick against a 1-seed in the first round. One day, a 1-seed will lose this matchup – I’m actually shocked it hasn’t happened yet – but it’s tough to go against 120-0.  Once, a 1 vs. 16 game went to overtime, and 2 other games were decided by 1 point.

Only one 15-seed has ever made the Sweet 16, Florida Gulf Coast in 2013.  15-seed Norfolk State (a 21.5-point underdog) over 2-seed Missouri in 2012 is the biggest upset in the Desert in tournament history. But it’s still too early to bank on the 15 coming through in a bracket.

Best chance for a 15 or 16-seed to win: Don’t even think about trying it, but 15-seed New Mexico State has a slingshot with 5 smooth stones ready for Bill Self’s toupee, just in case.

3 vs 14 GAMES
Historical Record: 102-18 (85.0%)
4 vs. 13 GAMES
Historical Record:  95-25   (79.2%)

One of these games will be an upset, so look out! At least one 3 or 4-seed has lost in 26 out of 30 years.

A 14-seed has not made the Sweet 16 since 1997.  This is the first time we can start considering upsets, but remember that we are looking to the end of the tournament and 3-seeds win this tournament too!  The only 3-seeds I would even consider going against would be Notre Dame and Iowa State, and even I can’t condone that in a bracket pool

The old adage is “A 13-seed always beats a 4-seed.” Well, it didn’t happen last year and only one team came within single digits. Regression to the mean says it will happen this year, but we shall see.

Best chance for a 14-seed to win: Georgia State over Baylor
Best chance for a 13-seed to win: Valparaiso over Maryland

5 vs. 12 GAMES
Historical Record:  76-44   (63.3%)
6 vs. 11 GAMES
Historical Record:  79-41   (65.8%)

12-seeds have won at least one game 24 of the last 26 years, including three victories last year.

12-seeds have won more first round games than 11-seeds.  This is where we can officially start to expect at least one upset per tournament, as the 5 and 6-seeds fall to upsets more than any seeds.  The 12-seeds are either the last At Large teams, or the best of the small conference teams, which aren’t far from a Top 20-quality team at all.

I have no problem with taking 11-seeds over 6-seeds. In the Desert, these are often VERY small numbers. In fact, there have been 11-seeds favored to defeat 6-seeds before (see Tennessee last year). This game is usually a game between two Power 5 conference also-rans, so they are almost equal in talent and skill.

Best chance for a 12-seed to win: Buffalo over West Virginia
Best chance for an 11-seed to win: Texas WILL win

7 vs. 10 GAMES
Historical Record:  73-47   (60.8%)
8 vs. 9 GAMES
Historical Record:  59-61   (49.2%)

Any 7, 8, 9, or 10-seed will be in a toss-up game.  For those games in which you can’t make a decision, scoring margin is always my favorite go-to stat to decide on a tough call.

These games are coin flips, and no game should be considered an upset regardless of the outcome. Other than Wichita State’s Final Four run in 2013, no 9-seed has reached the Elite Eight round since Boston College in 1994.  The winner of this game will face the 1-seed in the next round, so you don’t lose anything by taking the underdog if you feel like doing so.

Best chance for a 10-seed to win: Ohio State WILL win
Best chance for a 9-seed to win: Oklahoma State WILL win


All teams are vulnerable for defeat starting here, regardless of seed.  In this round more than ever statistics outweigh won-loss records. Having said that, I always have the 1-seeds advancing through this round, as 88% of them succeed.

The biggest upsets in the 2nd round usually are 1 or 2 seeds from non-Power 5 conferences that lose. Gonzaga in 2013 and Wichita State in 2014 were both 1-seeds that experienced that fate. Gonzaga is in the same situation again this season. Look out!

12-seeds that advance to this round actually perform very well, going 20-24 here, which is the same number of victories as 7-seeds.

In 29 of 30 years, a 2 or 3-seed loses in this round. The numbers say Baylor has the biggest chance to not make it through this round.

Those 4 vs. 5 Games are literally toss-ups. 4-seeds are 34-28 (54.8%) against 5-seeds in this spot.  I actually like three 5-seeds to win in this round: Utah, West Virginia, and Northern Iowa.

Don’t get happy with those first round upsets, as only 9 of 480 teams seeded 13 or worse have won 2 games in the tournament.

Best chance for a seed 5 or worse to make the Sweet 16: Utah WILL make the Sweet 16


70% of 1-seeds win in this round. As a comparison, 5-seeds win less than 70% in their first round games.

Seeds do not matter now, whether the team is a 1-seed or a 11-seed. However, only one 12-seed or worse has ever won in this round.

Best chance for a non-1 or 2-seed to reach the Regional Final: Iowa State


In 24 of 30 years, only one or two 1-seeds have advanced to the Final Four.

Make sure you have a team winning here that has no weaknesses, because they will be exposed.  Glaring weaknesses (Virginia’s offense, Duke’s defense) will cause a team to lose before the Final Four.

If a 1 seed is facing a 2 seed in the Regional Final, keep in mind that the 2 seed has won 21 of 40 (47.5%) matchups between these two teams.  Also, keep in mind that 40 out of 120 times (33.3%), a region has ended with a 1 seed facing a 2 seed.

Don’t pick all the 1 seeds to make the Final Four.  It happened once, in 2008.

Stick with Power 5’s here whenever possible.

Best chance for a team that’s not a 1-seed to make Final Four: Arizona WILL make the Final Four


Only five times has the championship game been a matchup of two 1-seeds.

Three times, a Final Four had zero 1-seeds.

Best chance for a team that’s not a 1-seed to make the Championship Game: Virginia


Look for a balanced team (offense and defense, not heavy on one side of the court) from a smaller conference.

During the regular season, we referenced the “Unranked Trap” game quite a bit.  This is when an unranked team as a favorite over a ranked team.  When we see this, we liked being on the unranked favorite over the ranked underdog.  That was the Desert trying to tell us who is the better team.  There were 2 examples in the first round in 2014, and both times they came through big:

#11 Tennessee -6 over #6 Massachusetts (Tennessee won by 19)
#9 Pittsburgh -6 over #8 Colorado (Pittsburgh won by 29)

We can use this methodology up until the Final Four as well.  In fact, last season 8 seed Kentucky was a 1-point favorite over 2 Michigan in the Regional Final round, and Kentucky won by 3. This is one of my favorite trends in March, as the desert tells us who should win, regardless of what the NCAA Selection Committee deems before the tournament starts.  And believe me, the Desert knows more than the NCAA.


Picking games in the Desert and filling out your brackets are apples and oranges: they’re different entities altogether.  Here are a few tricks I use to get some jellybeans from those Friends in the Desert during the NCAA Tournament (for entertainment purposes only, of course):


Playing underdogs is certainly the way to go, especially in the early rounds.  But we can’t just randomly play every dog and expect to profit.  It’s our responsibility to find the live dogs and the dead dogs.  The live dogs are the ones that are competitive on both ends of the court, especially the defensive end.  Stephen F. Austin, Georgia State, and New Mexico State are outstanding live dogs against the number in the first round.


As stated above, this is one of the rare times that I will invest in a favored team in the tournament. Almost every occasion will be seeing a 9 or 10-seed as a slight favorite, and that’s when you should be on the favored team with the worse seed.  Make sure these favored teams are either from non-Power 5 conferences, or are in a matchup between two Power 5 teams. These worse seeded favorites will usually by favored by 1 or 2 points, so covering the number is rarely an issue, and we still get the better team.

FEE TINES A MADY (Or Three Times A Lady, as Lionel Richie once said)

This is an ode to Eddie Murphy and his skit as Buckwheat on SNL back in the day. You kids need to Google it, but I digress. The magic number here is 3. The principle is to go AGAINST any team coming into the tournament that has won their last 3 against the number out in the desert. Conversely, go ON any team coming off 3 straight losses against the number. You’ll guarantee putting yourself on good teams who will be undervalued as the public gives up on them (the public likes to use clichés like wanting to go on a team that’s hot going into the tournament, which is fool’s gold). Value is the name of the game with this trend.

Teams riding win streaks of 3 or more against the Number in the Desert (AKA teams to go against or stay away from): Notre Dame, Iowa State, Maryland, Northern Iowa, Texas, Belmont, Valparaiso, Manhattan, Robert Morris, Hampton, UC-Irvine, North Dakota State.

Teams riding losing streaks of 3 or more against the Number (AKA teams to be on or not be against): Georgetown, Harvard, Montana, Albany

Citing our good friends at, they went back in the (ahem) annals of history to look at surprise teams that won their conference tournaments and how they fared in the tournament.  After a lot of numbers and graphs too complicated for this space, they concluded that there was very little validity to the team that “got hot” during the conference tournament. For every Connecticut in 2011 that rides the streak of a conference tournament run to the Final Four, there are many others that crash and burn in the early rounds.

FTP (Fade The Public)

Go look at the ESPN Bracket Pools and see the teams everyone is picking.  Anytime you see a vast majority of people picking one team, you want to consider taking the other team out in the Desert.  There are web sites you can access that will provide percentages of which sides are getting the most public money.  A rule of thumb is to never take a team that is getting 70% (or more) of the public’s jellybeans.  We always want to go against the teams that everyone seemingly takes.  In other words, we are fading (going opposite) of what they are doing.  Almost always, the public plays nationally known Power 5 teams, and ignore the smaller schools (other than Gonzaga), so we like to be on the no-name schools. For all the glitz and glamour regarding UK’s 34-0 record, they still only have 17-17 record in the Desert.  That means if you invested the same amount in them every single game this season, you’d be a loser (52.38% is the magic number to break even).


We’ve heard for years that “Defense Wins Championships.” I don’t necessarily agree with that all the time, but there are more times when it can help in the Desert. Anytime you see a high-powered offense that plays suspect defense, that’s a good team to go against (fade).  Duke has lost in the first round 2 of the last 3 years to the likes of Lehigh and Mercer. Why? They couldn’t play defense (giving up 75 and 78 points in those games, respectively). This year’s version plays slightly better defense than those previous teams that lost early, but not much better, so look out!

Teams with a negative Adjusted Scoring Margin on defense (AKA teams to go against): Iowa State, Arkansas, Oregon, BYU, Davidson, LSU

Other teams outside the Top 100 in Defensive Efficiency: Notre Dame, Ole Miss


Does SI still have validity?  Well, Kyle Wiltjer has been named National Player of the Week not once, but TWICE this season.  In late February, Wiltjer made the cover of SI.  The next two games after appearing on the cover, WIltjer scored a total of 9 points, and Gonzaga had their 41-game home winning streak halted.  Coincidence?  Back in my day, Dick Vitale would always predict the tournament after the brackets were announced, and he always picked the wrong teams.  But the lemmings that followed him made their brackets the same and drowned on that sinking ship.  In other words, the public favorites are going to carry a HEAVY tax.  I wouldn’t have a problem going against UK in the tournament every single game, simply because the public perception of them gets farther from the truth with every passing game.  So anytime a national media member or major publication promotes a team, I go the opposite immediately.  The “blue bloods” are often overpriced in the Desert, like Kansas, North Carolina, Duke, in addition to UK. 


Sources cannot confirm this, but our Friends in the Desert had David as about 1 million to 1 against Goliath back in the day. Now THAT’S some value for just five smooth stones! If you’ve learned nothing in this section, make sure to always take the dogs in the early rounds of the tournament in the Desert.  In the early rounds, I love taking the non-Power 5 conference teams – especially the defensive oriented teams – against the big, name brand Power 5 squads. And of those “Davids,” I look for a balanced team (one that does not have an outstanding flaw offensively or defensively). Teams like Belmont and North Florida have serious flaws on the defensive side of the court.  Teams like Georgia State or Stephen F. Austin are balanced teams that can offer fights in the first round. Valparaiso and Wofford offer lots of value as well.


People think they need to be like everyone else in life to succeed. In fact, it’s just the opposite. If you do, you’ll just follow the rest of the cattle to the slaughterhouse! Think for yourself! When you see Vitale and the whole ESPN gang agree on something, go against it! There’s a reason why they are on TV to begin with, and it’s not because they know what they’re talking about! Even on 1250SportsTalk, I often joke that I’m thrilled when both Greg Horn and Action Jackson Reams disagree with one of my off the wall Upset Specials. But actually, I’m not joking at all!  It’s nothing personal, but anytime I’m going against conventional wisdom, I feel MUCH better about the games I’m picking. Why? Because they didn’t build those casinos out in the Desert because the public was always right. They’re WRONG! Those cool and hip teams that EVERYONE has as an Upset Special on Monday and Tuesday are often the ones going home on Thursday and Friday. The winners are out there, we just have to find them sitting below the public radar.


So who is Brad Taylor taking in the tournament?
FINAL FOUR: Kentucky over Arizona, and Villanova over Duke
CHAMPIONSHIP: Kentucky 68, Villanova 65

And which teams will Brad Taylor take in the first round out in the Desert? Here’s my 2 best picks AKA Free Money:
Oklahoma State PK over Oregon
Valparaiso +5.5 over Maryland

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