With Southeastern Conference play beginning this weekend, ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes begins the heavy-lifting part of his job.
Dykes shared his thoughts on SEC basketball in a telephone conversation last week:
Q: Going into league play, what SEC teams have you seen in person?
A: Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Alabama and Arkansas.
Q: What stands out in your mind?
A: As we headed into league play a year ago, I thought if the NCAA Tournament started right then, the SEC would get three teams in. Now, if the tournament started, I think they'd get six. That's very good improvement for the league overall. With the exception of Kentucky, everyone else has missed opportunities to take the league from a very good non-conference portion of the schedule to a great one.
Q: I picked Mississippi State — not Kentucky — to win the league. How dumb should I feel?
A: I can see everybody's reasons for picking Mississippi State. There were too many unknowns for Kentucky coming in. If there were 20 questions about Kentucky, they've answered 15 of them in a positive manner. As for State, the loss of Twany Beckham, the backup point guard, really hurt that team. Early on, they had no bench at all. I'd still have to say State is the favorite in the West and Kentucky in the East.
Q: Has John Wall already sewn up the National Player of the Year award?
A: If the award was given tonight, he'd win it. But that award is always earned in conference play. That's when it's going to be decided. He's certainly pressed himself to the top of the list. But he's going to chased by Damion Jones (Texas), Jon Scheyer (Duke), Luke Harangody (Notre Dame) and Sherron Collins (Kansas).
Q: What team poses the biggest threat to Kentucky's hegemony?
A: It was Tennessee before they ran into their problems. They really looked good when I did their game at Memphis. (Wayne) Chism has the size to go against Kentucky inside. Brian Williams had the size to match up with Kentucky. (J.P.) Prince and (Scotty) Hopson have size at the wings. They were the biggest threat. Obviously, they aren't anymore. ... You can't lose four guys like that and not get hurt at some point.
Q: How realistic is the talk of Kentucky going unbeaten this season?
A: There's not a game on their schedule they won't be favored. That's a huge statement. The ones that jump out at me are at Florida, at Mississippi State, at Vanderbilt. I'll say this: I think they have the greatest chance to go unbeaten the longest in college basketball. Kansas and Texas play each other on Feb. 8, and that league has Kansas State, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State. If somebody said who will be the last unbeaten team, I'd say Kentucky."
One man, one vote
Sportswriter Scott Johnson of the Everett (Wash.) Herald continues to cast the lone first-place vote for Kentucky in The Associated Press top 25 media poll.
Here's his reasoning:
"No real science to me picking UK No. 1," he wrote in an e-mail. "I actually had them seventh in the pre-season poll, knowing little about them other than (Patrick) Patterson, (John) Calipari and a big-time recruiting class. I moved them up to No. 4 after the UNC win, then watched them dismantle UConn and moved them over Kansas and Texas to No. 1.
"My theory on the poll was to use the pre-season as a testing period, when I could watch all the teams and then figure out who the best were. Like everyone else, I had Kansas No. 1 at the outset. But the Jayhawks didn't have any quality wins, and they weren't as dominant in games I saw as Kentucky was. While Kansas looked like it was trying to figure out how to mesh in the newcomers like Xavier Henry, Kentucky looked like it had the rotation all set. The Wildcats' starting five, for my money, is better than the Jayhawks'. That being said, Kansas is deeper.
"I saw three UK games before moving them up to No. 1. After they beat two of my top 10 teams — UNC and UConn — I thought they had the best pre-season of anyone. I'm not one of those guys who thinks I have to keep Kansas No. 1 just because they haven't lost. Kentucky was more impressive when I saw them."
Johnson, who covers Washington, acknowledged his surprise at being the only voter to make Kentucky No. 1. He said he might move the winner of the Kansas-Texas game ahead of the Cats.
"With Patterson, who was on my pre-season All-America team, (John) Wall and the other freshmen like ( DeMarcus) Cousins and (Eric) Bledsoe, I think Kentucky might keep getting better," Johnson wrote. "But if depth becomes a factor, KU and Texas would probably get the nod."
When CBS announcers Tim Brando and Seth Davis said that the referees should have ejected UK freshman DeMarcus Cousins from the Louisville game, the mind drifted to another incident early in another game.
On Feb. 12, 1983, referee Paul Galvan ejected Auburn star Charles Barkley inside the first two minutes of a game against visiting UK.
"I remember it very well," then-Auburn coach Sonny Smith said last week.
Smith saw UK's Charles Hurt give Barkley a shot at the tip off. Barkley waited until the first time he got Hurt in a rebounding tussle to exact revenge.
"Charles just knocked him all the way into the press tables," Smith said.
Galvan ejected Barkley, a decision that loomed large in Kentucky's 71-69 victory.
"I thought it was pre-arranged," Smith said. "I thought their deal was to get physical with Charles and he'd retaliate. ...
"I don't think the intention was to get him thrown out, but to get him in foul trouble more than anything. Because he would retaliate."
It's a lesson for Cousins to consider. Like the UK freshman, Barkley had a reputation as a player with a short fuse. Setting him off became part of the game plan.
"That goes on a lot," Smith said. "Not so much dirty play, but be physical with them. Get them to lose their temper and do something stupid."
Smith applauded how the referees in the UK-U of L game immediately imposed themselves on the action (five fouls called in the first minute).
"They have to anticipate guys are on edge and really fired up," he said. "They need to get the game under control real quick and let the players adjust to them rather than them adjusting to the players."
But Smith opposed an ejection so early in a game.
"People pay to see guys play," he said, "and they ought to play unless they do something really flagrant. I don't think Cousins' (action) was flagrant. He pressed (a forearm) into the guy's face rather than hit him."
Jared Quillen, an MBA student at UK, announced the launching of a new Web site devoted to the Cats. He called it BigBlueCats.com.
"I have a team of five fantastic writers covering University of Kentucky football, basketball, and recruiting news in the most unfair, unbalanced way possible," he wrote in an e-mail.
Surely, that was an error. Isn't objectivity at the heart of coverage? Or did Quillen mean BigBlueCats.com will lavish most favored treatment on UK teams.
"It's a little tongue in cheek, meaning that it will indeed be unfair and unbalanced," Quillen wrote in a follow-up e-mail. "So I guess, yeah, there's a pretty significant tilt. On purpose, of course."
Besides himself, Quillen's writing staff includes Mark "Dude" Quillen, a CPA in Salt Lake City, former UK baseball player Adam Revelette, someone known as "BJ," whom Quillen identified as a philosophy instructor at a rival school, and "The Doctor," a psychologist at a mental hospital.
Quillen said his Web site would offer "very entertaining stuff and not exactly what you'll get from the worldwide leader ESPN."
John Calipari's efforts to spread the word of Kentucky basketball reached gofugyourself.com, a Web site devoted to commentary on celebrity fashion.
In a note welcoming the end of football season, the site imagined Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony saying they would no longer wear their most memorable outfits.
"At least, not until my Marc buys a controlling interest in the University of Kentucky so that we can own the basketball team and get hoopside seats and score the dunk!" the site has Lopez saying. "GET READY, LEXINGTON, MAMA'S GOT A HOOP SKIRT JUST FOR YOU."
LexGo.com editor Scott Shive corresponded with the Fug ladies to ask about the UK basketball reference.
"They said they are big basketball fans and just had UK on the brain when they wrote that post," Shive wrote in an e-mail. "No connection other than John Wall is ubiquitous."
Former UK coach Eddie Sutton spoke at the Northwest Arkansas Tip-Off Club on Tuesday. During the appearance, Sutton reflected on a coaching career that included stops at Creighton, Arkansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma State and San Francisco.
"I think we had more fun (at Arkansas) than any place I've ever coached," Sutton said. "It's just great to be back here and see some of my old friends. Every time I come to this area, I have nothing but pleasant memories.
"It was a fun time for the Sutton family."
Sutton, 73, had a combined 804-327 record in 37 seasons as an NCAA Division I coach.
Sutton and his wife, Patsy, live in Stillwater, Okla., but plan to move to Tulsa.
This season marks 25 years since Sutton left Arkansas to become Kentucky's coach after the 1984-85 season.
"It's hard any time somebody brings something up like that," Sutton said with a smile. "I know I've lived a long time, but I still try to stay young at heart."
Sutton keeps active as a director of a bank in Tulsa. He said he and his wife enjoy having time to spend with their nine grandchildren.
UK guard John Wall has had a couple episodes of cramping, most notably when his absence coincided with the Cats losing much of a big lead against North Carolina.
Dr. James Gladstone of the Sports Medicine division of Mount Sinai Hospital said that usually the combination of dehydration and exertion causes cramping.
When asked if body-build was a factor, Gladstone said, "I've never heard a difference in that."
UK gave Wall an I.V. treatment at halftime to help get him back in the game for the second half. Without knowing Wall's case, Gladstone said such treatments are a routine part of athletics.
Big O on Wall
Play-by-play man Tom Leach caught up to Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson when Kentucky played Connecticut in New York.
You can check out Big O's thoughts on UK's freshman sensation on www.tomleachky.com
To former UK forward Bobby Perry. He turned 25 on Thursday.
Jerry Tipton covers UK basketball for the Herald-Leader. This article contains his opinions and observations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.