October 27, 2013
When I talked to Bud Dupree last week, one of his comments surprised me.
I asked how he'd evaluate his play in the first half of the year. I -- and his coaches -- thought he'd been playing pretty well. Dupree had less to say.
"I feel like I'd been playing OK," Dupree said. "I could be playing a lot better. Hopefully the second half of the season I can make a lot more plays for my team."
He started doing just that against Mississippi State, racking up 13 tackles and a sack.
He was clearly, as defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot has called him, the best play on Kentucky's defense.
Let's take a look at some components of Dupree's great game.
Dupree's biggest contribution is a pass rush off the edge (and this is especially important with Za'Darius Smith's production waning in SEC play). He can do that from a defensive end or outside linebacker spot.
Check out two sacks that showcase Dupree's variety of moves, which he said was a point of emphasis over the summer as he transitioned to playing defensive end more often.
In this one, with UK sending just a four-man rush, Dupree beats the right tackle to the inside with a swim move before chasing down the quarterback. Others were involved in the play, but it was Dupree's quick burst through the offensive line that set everything in motion.
And here's another, at the end of the game, when Mark Stoops and Eliot sent a six-man rush on fourth down with the game hanging in the balance. The numbers overwhelmed State's offensive line, but Dupree was again the catalyst. He beat his man to the outside this time, using his speed and quickness to burst around the edge.
Containing the Edge
Dupree talked last week about the responsibilities of the defensive end against the read-option, a play Mississippi State loves to run (unlike any other opponent UK has faced so far). Maintaining his gap and staying solid on the edge was crucial, he said, and he played the read-option well throughout the game.
For the most part, Dupree maintained the edge, leading to State quarterback Dak Prescot keeping the ball for himself. But Dupree has enough athleticism to dive inside to assist on a tackle once Prescot made his choice. Check him out here, at the top of the defensive line.
Stopping the run
Dupree played a lesser role in this, as Mississippi State preferred to run up the middle (and to the other side of Dupree). But he had one play that showed how nimble and quick the former linebacker is.
On a run to the right edge, Mississippi State's right tackle tries to chop block Dupree (bottom of the defensive line), diving at his legs to take him out. Dupree hops back, avoiding the brunt of the hit and staying on his feet, then recovers quickly enough to lunge out and take the running back down for a two-yard loss.
All told,Dupree was a monster against Mississippi State, even playing at less than 100 percent. With a defense that still needs some work (but is showing significant improvement for the future, I believe), Kentucky needs more of the same down the stretch from Dupree.
October 25, 2013
Max Smith had a chance to make his case for Kentucky's quarterback position.
It didn't go very well. Smith completed 18 of 34 passes, but he was largely ineffective at moving the offense. Those 18 completions went for just 160 yards (51 of which were from Timmons on the long screen-play touchdown).
One big reason: most of Smith's throws were designed to be short passes.
"We’re running stuff in the game that we think we can execute," Neal Brown said.
And for good reason.
Against Mississippi State, Smith completed just two of nine passes that traveled 10+ yards past the line of scrimmage.
Take a look at his passing chart:
Almost everything was designed to be thrown underneath.
Smith showed why. By my count, seven of his incompletions -- all of which were at least five yards downfield -- were just poor throws, missing their target.
The receivers didn't help, to be sure. UK dropped five throws, all of which were on screens behind the line of scrimmage.
But it was clear that Smith isn't an effective downfield passer.
And that just doesn't work for Kentucky's offense.
"Yeah, our passing game’s gotta get better. I can talk all I want, but our passing game’s gotta be better," Brown said. "We’ve got to complete balls down the field and we’re not doing that. Until we do that, we’re going to struggle."
October 24, 2013
A pretty random note, but I know some are really into the uniform stuff.
So here's the unique thing going on tonight when Kentucky plays Mississippi State: UK is playing with custom thigh pads that display the UK logo and the player's number. (Also, UK is going blue/white/blue for the jersey combination.)
Via the UK Equipment staff, here's the final product:
And here's what it looked like in assembly.
October 23, 2013
Kentucky and Texas El-Paso are attempting to play a game in 2016 to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1966 "Glory Road" game, according to Darren Hunt, a TV reporter covering the Miners.
According to UTEP coach Tim Floyd, as relayed by Hunt, the two programs are trying to play on Martin Luther King Day in Maryland, at the site where the original game was played.
That 1966 game, between an all-white Kentucky starting five and an all-black Texas Western starting five (they are now UTEP), was a historic game that has been chronicled in movies, documentaries and books.
October 19, 2013
You already read from John Wall and Anthony Davis themselves. (Didn't you?)
Now hear from those who coach and play with and against the two former No. 1 picks out of Kentucky.
New Orleans coach Monty Williams:
"He's worked on his game so much this summer. His ability to allow himself to be coached and also keep his edge and that hunger that he has to be a great player. If he keeps that, he's going to be as good as he wants to be. But I have no issues with Anthony at all. I pray to God I can coach him for as long as he can play.
"The thing that has changed for him from last year to now is his confidence and his ability to take chances and explore because he's put the work in. I don't think he worked as hard as we've pushed him since we've had him. And I think that builds a lot of confidence. It's just cool to see him out there on the floor believing in his ability and believing that he can go after guys, and block shots and play with energy and have an effect on the game that only 10 people in the league can have. And he can do it at 20 years old."
Washington coach Randy Wittman:
On Wall: "He's evolving. He's a young kid that's made some great strides since he's played for me. John's got to be an extension of me on the floor. He's really grasped that in the last year and a half. It's still a work in progress. I think he needs to continue, and I think he's taken a step that we've seen already in a leadership role. He's been around the block a few times now. So it's time for him to help and mentor other players from that standpoint."
On Davis: "The rookie year's always a learning experience. I think he evolved as he went through the grinder of an NBA season. I would think that he's probably a totally different player today than he was a year ago at this time. He's a player that can do multiple things. Very versatile player. Very high basketball IQ. That's what makes him good."
Former Florida guard Bradley Beal, who was in the same high school as Davis and called him "my guy."
"He's grown a lot. He's gotten a lot stronger than he was in high school and college. He's very versatile. He can shoot the ball, drive to the basket, and definitely block shots. He has a lot of things in his arsenal that he's able to do. He creates a lot of problems for bigs. He's acting the way he's supposed to. He's a hot commodity. People knows who he is. He acts the right way. He shies away from things he shouldn't be doing. He's a cool dude. Cool role model to people. Respects all his fans and respects other people as well."
New Orleans guard Brian Roberts, also in his second NBA season
On Davis: "(His first year) was kind of rough on him, having injuries, kind of being up and down. And also being the No. 1 pick and having all eyes on him. It was kind of tough on him."
On how good Davis can be: "There's no telling. There's really no limit to what he can do. He has all the skills. He's one of those players that comes around every so often. He has the talent and drive to become a player that's going to be remembered for a long time."
Jeff Withey, a Pelicans rookie and former Kansas center who lost to Davis in the title game:
On recalling that game: "I just remember Anthony having a big impact on the floor defensively. I remember it was hard for our guards to get layups. That was such a long time ago. I honestly don't remember that much about it. I try to blank that out of my mind."
On how much better Davis is now: "He's gotten so much better in the last couple years. In practice, he's so much better than what he was. And he was already a good player in the championship game. He just keeps on getting better. Just offensively. He has a killer mindset now. His footwork's a lot better. He's stronger."
October 18, 2013
Full transcript of John Calipari's 10-minute speech from Big Blue Madness:
"How about this?
This is an incredible night to celebrate the things that make our program great ... that make the Commonwealth of Kentucky's basketball program the best in the country.
You are part of that program, the Big Blue Nation ... The sixth man of Kentucky basketball.
You lined up early... before there WAS a line ... for a limited number of tickets to a practice ... A PRACTICE ...
Have I told you that you people are crazy?
24,000 strong tonight behind our players, but the Big Blue Nation extends far beyond the hallowed halls of college basketball's greatest arena.
It's a nation that stretches across 120 counties in Kentucky, all 50 states and to every country in the world.
We are borderless. We are everywhere. No corner is left untouched by the blue mist.
Four years ago when we started on this journey together, I shared with you a vision for this program: The gold standard of college athletics.
Two years ago, we talked about the Kentucky Effect, as we re-defined college basketball and more importantly the lives of the players in this program.
Tonight, we build on that legacy ... that tradition.
As I've told our players many times, our program isn't for everybody.
Take a look around. This is it. Every night we play, 24,000 pack the house that Rupp built. You can feel the sound in your soul.
To play here, they have to want this.
This is the preeminent stage for college basketball. This is the place where nothing is given to you and everything is earned.
You have to be tough, not just physically, but mentally. You have to wake up ready to beat your best time, to practice your hardest each and every day.
Our biggest opponent? Ourselves. At Kentucky, we are competing against ourselves every day. We can't let the strain and spotlight of this program affect you.
We are the place to help you achieve your dreams. We don't just play college basketball, we ARE college basketball. As you know, we are everyone's Super Bowl.
They need to be prepared not just to play against great players, but to play alongside great players. Look at this group we have here today.
You are your brother's keeper. If you want to succeed at Kentucky, you will succeed as a team. You play more for your teammates than yourself. If you want 30 shots a game, this isn't the place for you.
The first two draft picks in the 2012 NBA draft -- Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist -- were the fourth and fifth-leading shot takers on their team. They played for their team, their family, and not for themselves. That sacrifice became success ...(PAUSE) our eighth national championship.
Our players learn as a family, practice as a family and play as a family so they can win as a family. We are a players-first program. If you want to be developed as an NBA player, if you want to be developed as a person of character, you come here.
I'm proud of what we've accomplished on the court, two Final Fours, a national championship, 17 NBA Draft picks over the last four years, including 13 first-round picks, but I'm just as proud of the guys who have earned degrees.
I'm proud that we have graduated 10 of our last 10 players who have been here at least three years. I'm proud that some of our players have gone to the NBA AND earned a degree, like Darius Miller, who is in the crowd with us tonight. I'm proud that we've had a 3.0 grade-point average the last three years, including a 3.4 GPA last spring. I'm proud that John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins each donated 1 million dollars to charity the second they signed their max deals. Think about that.
We teach more than just basketball here. We teach character on the court and off. This is a place where our players prepare not just for a career, but for the rest of their lives.
This program teaches players about life ... about the next step. We are teaching them to be men of integrity and honor. Men of character on and off the court.
We call it the Success Rate ... and I'm proud of that. Let me make this very clear: A player's success here is not optional.
But you have to want it. You have to want your education. You must have a love of learning. You must put service before self to truly succeed here.
Last year, we learned some very important lessons.
We were humbled. I was humbled.
Tonight, we put into action what we learned as we strengthen our program and take the first step on a new journey.
The competition will be fierce, the road will be difficult. Every team we play will be more experienced than us. But if we become one unit, play with one heartbeat and a love for each another, we will be unbreakable ...
My role, and that of my staff, is to serve the players. Inspire them to reach higher than they thought possible ... To mentor them ... To build exceptional men and respected sons of the Commonwealth ...
... And, most of all, to help them reach their dreams as they help us reach ours.
With these players, these fans, and this coaching staff, we will build on the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball.
Thank you, Big Blue Nation, for the privilege of representing you to the world and for helping us be the standard bearer in college basketball."
October 18, 2013
Player I'm most excited to see on the court at Big Blue Madness? James Young, because the freshman has received the most hype of anybody -- yes, anybody -- on this ultra-talented Kentucky roster.
"Everybody that walks in the building, the guy that they’re saying is the standout is James Young, like every day," Calipari said at UK's Media Day. "We’ve had NBA scouts in here every day. They’re all speaking about him, and I’m kind of watching everybody so not seeing it."
At first, I thought there was a slight chance Calipari was saying that for some other reason -- to motivate Young, to motivate his teammates, to make sure Young wasn't being overlooked, etc., etc.
But the hype seems real after multiple other people from other perspectives agreed with the assessment.
ESPN's Jeff Goodman: "Talked to several NBA guys at Louisville's practice today. They had been to UK practice already and were impressed with James Young."
ESPN's Jimmy Dykes: "The hype surrounding James Young at Kentucky is real. Can flat out just go get buckets. Long,lefty wired to score."
ESPN's Jason King: "I can say after watching two Kentucky practices that Calipari is NOT over-hyping James Young. He (and) Randle will be two of nation's top five freshmen."
October 17, 2013
Kentucky was picked as the preseason SEC favorite (oh, and the nation's, too), Julius Randle was tabbed the preseason conference Player of the Year even though he has yet to log a single SEC minute, and three of his teammates made the SEC Second Team.
What did the rest of the league have to say about this highly touted group? Here are some select quotes the SEC released (and for more, I'd suggest Jerry Tipton's Twitter, as he was one of the only local writers to make the trip down):
Patric Young, Florida
On a freshman being named preseason POY: "I am not surprised, coming out of high school, there is all the hype and what-not, it doesn’t really mean too much. The one that really counts is the one at the end of the year. This guy has not gone through any adversity or played a single minute yet, so we will see how things turn out.”
Tony Barbee, Auburn coach
On Calipari: "He’s more than a great recruiter. He’s also a great coach. Recruiting is just one aspect of it, but he’s as good of a motivator and coach as anyone. He’s probably better in those two areas than recruiting, and we all know what a great recruiter he is.”
Jordan McRae, Tennessee
On Randle being named preseason POY: "
Frank Martin, South Carolina coach
On Calipari: "I have an unbelievable amount of respect for him. He’s a relentless recruiter and coaches as well as anyone else in the country. To take on that challenge of coaching guys for one year is as hard as it gets. A couple years ago when they won the championship, they had some phenomenal young players, but the guys that came through down the stretch were his upperclassmen. He didn’t have that last year, but he’s got it this year. I expect their team to be real good this year."
Allen Payne, Auburn
On the league: "I think it will be a good league, as it always is. I think it’ll be very competitive, especially with Kentucky bringing in the young talent that they have, and Coach Donovan at Florida always puts a good product on the floor."
October 17, 2013
Kentucky was named the nation's No. 1 team in the preseason coaches poll on Thursday.
The Wildcats received half of the 32 first-place votes. Others receiving first-place votes were No. 3 Louisville (10 votes), No. 2 Michigan State (three) and No. 4 Duke (three).
The full standings:
Since John Calipari arrived in Lexington, Kentucky has been ranked No. 5 (2009), No. 10 (2010), No. 2 (2011) and No. 3 (2012).