Kentucky's 'cupcake' diet just what the doctor ordered

jtipton@herald-leader.comDecember 18, 2012 

Kentucky forwards Nerlens Noel, left, and Kyle Wiltjer blocked a shot by Lipscomb center Stephen Hurt. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

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  • Saturday

    Marshall at Kentucky

    When: 4 p.m. (ESPN2)

However much he might be rationalizing, Kentucky Coach John Calipari has touted the benefits of playing such teams as Maryland, Duke, Notre Dame and Baylor this early season. Those estimable opponents help the coach soberly assess his freshman-dependent team.

This begs a question: What does UK get from its current string of, uh, modestly rated opponents? On Saturday, Marshall will be the Cats' fourth straight home opponent with a Ratings Percentage Index of no better than 150 as of Tuesday, according to Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com. In the last three weeks, Kentucky will have played No. 333 Samford, No. 253 Portland, No. 150 Lipscomb and No. 244 Marshall.

Kentucky has won the first three by an average margin of 32.7 points. But have the Cats prospered?

Before his team played in Rupp Arena last weekend, Lipscomb Coach Scott Sanderson noted several possible benefits in these games for Kentucky:

■ The chance to work on execution without the distracting consideration of winning or losing. The label of "guarantee games" refers to a payment the lesser team receives for its service as a sacrificial lamb. But the greater team in these matchups is all but guaranteed of a victory.

■ The chance to clearly define roles.

"I've always said that shot-making and shot-taking are not equal opportunity undertakings," Sanderson said. The players can learn who should take what shots from what spots.

■ The chance to make habits of defensive principles. UK fans will think of a defender rotating into rebound position when a teammate tries to block a shot.

■ The chance to remember bottom-line priorities.

"Probably last and not least, don't get anybody hurt," Sanderson said as the person on the other end of the phone conversation chuckled. "I think that's a major thing, too."

ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla suggested another benefit tied to the break between semesters. When facing lesser opponents, Calipari's suggestion of five workouts in a day has less chance of lessening UK's chances of winning.

"He realizes he can push them a little harder and be fatigued" and still win, Fraschilla said of Calipari.

Coincidentally, UK launched Camp Cal last week, a pre-dawn conditioning program. Calipari also spoke of three-a-day practices.

"He's not concerned with tired legs till the end of the month," Fraschilla said in reference to Kentucky's game at archrival Louisville on Dec. 29. In the Yum Center, UK will want fresh legs and minds.

Until then, Camp Cal continues. "Because he wants to make sure he sets a tone in practice," Fraschilla said.

Sanderson's father, former Alabama coach Wimp Sanderson, noted that victory in the guarantee games is not assured. His Alabama teams lost once at home in a guarantee game: to Kent State.

"And when we went down the hall after the game, I told the coach of Kent State, 'Don't call me, I'll call you,'" Sanderson quipped.

The elder Sanderson mentioned another benefit: the chance to take a longer look at reserves under game conditions.

"So often, a guy doesn't practice quite the way you want him to," the former Alabama coach said. "But when he gets in a game, for some kids, sometimes they play better than you thought they would. Most of the time, it doesn't happen, but occasionally it happens."

Wimp Sanderson cited a benefit for Alabama that does not apply to Kentucky.

"Regardless of who we played at Alabama, if we had a pretty good record, it sort of helped us attendance-wise," he said, "because (fans) thought we had a good team anyway."

This bit of flim flam is an important part of what makes a coach successful, he said. The main components of success are 1. recruiting, 2. scheduling, 3. coaching.

"In that order," Wimp Sanderson said. "Whatever people say about me, I did a good job of scheduling. The thing you have to be careful about is you don't want to play a good team with a bad name.

"You'd rather play a bad team with a good name."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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