UK basketball notebook: One man who didn't buy the hype

Herald-Leader staff writerMarch 8, 2014 

While many observers (blush) got swept up in the hype about six McDonald's All-Americans in the freshman class, the chances of a 40-0 record and what The Wall Street Journal mockingly called Kentucky's construction of a "Death Star," Doug Gottlieb offered a sobering assessment.

He picked Kentucky No. 7 in the pre-season.

When asked last week if he caught flak from UK fans, Gottlieb said, "That would be an understatement."

He was called an "idiot," a "hater" and unqualified to make a judgment on any college basketball team.

"No one ever asked me why did I think that way," Gottlieb said. "I thought that way because Kentucky had so many young guys, the point guard play, the lack of depth at guard, the lack of leadership, players that don't make others better ..."

OK. OK. We get the point. Gottlieb saw before the season what everyone sees now in Kentucky: a talented group of athletes who need more than one season to mesh, who simply lack basic qualities (like passing ability) that make for a cohesive unit, an aching need to adapt to new roles at a new level of basketball. In short, there's a design flaw in the Death Star.

"I'll be honest," Gottlieb said. "They've even under-achieved to what I thought they had."

Gottlieb, who played college basketball (Notre Dame and Oklahoma State) and now works as an analyst for CBS, continues to believe Kentucky lacks a true point guard. Of Andrew and Aaron Harrison, he said, "Neither of them are true point guards. Neither of them are leaders. Both are talented players. And they're going to run your team and your program?!"

UK Coach John Calipari plays Jarrod Polson at the point because the senior from Nicholasville "will move the ball and has no ego," Gottlieb said.

To Gottlieb's eye, Kentucky has too little depth in the backcourt, so Calipari is limited in sitting players to teach them a lesson, and too much depth in the front court, so freshmen like Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee haven't developed as much as what might be possible.

Kentucky has too many players who fancy themselves as scorers and not enough veterans.

"There's no culture of success," Gottlieb said continuing down a list of problems. "Everything they did last year is seen as a disaster. ...

"Guys have not bought into defensively what it takes to be great. Maybe they don't have the speed and quickness to climb into people to be great.

"It's all kind of snowballed."

All that said, Gottlieb suggested Kentucky could return to elite status. Just not this season.

"I think they're closer to getting it back because if these guys are smart, they stay (in college)," he said. "Not all of them. ...

"Some of these issues are fixable. It's just going to come down to the buy-in. Not just from the players, but the people supporting these players. They need to stay out of their ear and tell them to listen to Cal."

Spoiler alert

Kentucky played spoiler the last time a team tried to complete an 18-0 regular-season SEC record in the final game.

That was in 1981 when Final Four-bound LSU brought a 17-0 record into Rupp Arena. UK beat the Tigers 71-67.

"Oh, it was wild," said Joe B. Hall, who coached that UK team. "There were signs everywhere."

Hall saluted the LSU team.

"It wouldn't have been that unusual if they had beaten us," he said. "They were that good."

Kentucky mounted "an all-out effort" to beat LSU, Hall said.

When asked why the game meant so much to Kentucky, Hall chuckled and said, "We didn't want them to go undefeated in the league. We had never gone undefeated, so we didn't want them to do it."

SEC's best?

When asked to name the SEC's best team, former Vanderbilt and South Carolina Coach Eddie Fogler went with Kentucky's 1995-96 national champions.

Fogler noted how UK was so good that Derek Anderson and Ron Mercer split time at small forward.

"Holy (Toledo)," Fogler said. "... And a pretty good coach coaching that team (Rick Pitino)."

Fogler noted how Pitino's 1995-96 team identified and exploited the opposition's weak link.

"You couldn't hide," he said. "Put it that way."

The new UK?

Even if the SEC isn't an elite conference this season, former UK athletics director C.M. Newton saluted Florida's bid to win every game against league competition.

"I think it's next to impossible," he said, "because you have a star on you. Everybody gets up (to play Florida this season).

"It used to be everybody got up for the Kentucky game. Now, everybody gets up for the team that leads it, and Florida's been leading it all year."

Upset-minded

Former Alabama coach Wimp Sanderson does not like the label of "upset" placed on any game.

"I always referred to it as a surprise," he said. "It wasn't really a real upset.

"I will have to eat my words on that and say that South Carolina beating Kentucky was an upset."

Extra credit

Because of SEC football's near monopoly of national championships, the league's basketball accomplishments are under-appreciated, Wimp Sanderson said.

Noting three national championships in the last eight NCAA tournaments (2006 and 2007 by Florida, 2012 by Kentucky), he conceded that that doesn't rate with what SEC football has done.

"Is that as good as other leagues around the country?" he asked. "Yes. Better."

Sanderson questioned whether Florida's basketball program gets enough credit. But he noted he always paid tribute to Kentucky.

"I always tried to brag on them," Sanderson said. "So when I beat them, I looked good."

Perspective

If Kentucky fans think their favorite team is struggling, TCU proves it can always be worse. Much worse.

Injuries have decimated the Horned Frogs, who are led by former LSU Coach Trent Johnson. Going into this weekend, TCU had lost 17 straight games, had not won since December and sported a 9-20 record.

Only four TCU players have played every game this season. Ten players have missed games.

TCU players out for the season include:

Devontae Abron (Knee injury during the summer).

Aaron Durley (knee injury during the summer).

Amric Fields (questionable for the rest of the season because of a knee injury).

Two other players — Trey Zeigler and Chris Washburn — are sitting out the season as transfers from other schools. Washburn is the son of the former North Carolina State big man of the same name.

Another player, Charles Hill Jr., is ineligible academically.

Lifesaver

After being fired by the Charlotte Bobcats in December 2010, Larry Brown did not coach again until being hired by Southern Methodist in April 2012.

In that time, he kept a hand in basketball by attending practices at Villanova (Jay Wright), Maryland (Mark Turgeon), Colorado (Tad Boyle) and Kentucky (John Calipari).

"Those guys saved my life," Brown told The New York Times, which published a story Tuesday on SMU's basketball revival.

SMU returned to The Associated Press Top 25 this season for the first time since 1984-85. The Mustangs also have gotten in position for the program's first NCAA Tournament bid since 1993.

Biggest falls

Kentucky would not be the first pre-season No. 1 team to fall out of The Associated Press Top 25 poll. UK would be the third team to take such a tumble.

The Cats would be in good company. The other two are:

■ UCLA in 1965-66. This historic blip came after national championships in 1964 and 1965, and before Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) began the UCLA dynasty in earnest with titles in 1967, 1968 and 1969.

■ Indiana in 1979-80. This, too, came between championships: 1976 and 1981.

In last week's vote, Kentucky appeared on only 21 of 65 ballots, which was good enough for No. 25.

Starting over

The Wall Street Journal provided further evidence on Wednesday how UK basketball is synonymous with early entry into the NBA Draft. The story wasn't even on basketball. It explored the increasing number of college football players entering the NFL Draft early.

"You look at a team like LSU. You lose so many guys that you are reloading with freshmen," said former Arkansas and Mississippi Coach Houston Nutt, who now is a CBS Sports analyst. "It gets to be like John Calipari with Kentucky. You are talking about starting over every year. It's just so hard."

What if ...

What would a victory at Florida on Saturday have done for Kentucky's NCAA Tournament profile? Here's what a few "bracketologists said at midweek:

■ "Depends how much they win by," Ken Pomeroy said. "Maybe three of four spots (in his ratings) if it's close, 6 or 7 if it's big."

■ "A lot," said Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com. "That's a high quality road win. RPI and seeding can't be analyzed in a vacuum. They depend a lot on what other teams do. However, UK is already 19 in the RPI, so they're not going up much from there."

■ "At least one seed line," said Joe Lunardi of ESPN.

Pomeroy also explained how he ranked Tennessee ahead of Kentucky.

"On a per-possession basis, they've been nearly identical in SEC play," he said in an email, "and UT has already played Florida twice."

Bracketology/numerology

Syndicated columnist Norman Chad pondered what Selection Sunday creates.

"I am told there are 9,223,372,036,864,775,808 ways to fill out an NCAA bracket," he wrote. "That's a large number. To put it in perspective, there are only 9,223,372,036,854,775,769 varieties of Snapple.

"On the other hand, a New York Times article — using a different statistical model, I guess — estimated that the odds of a perfect bracket were 1 in 128 billion. Frankly, that seems somewhat obtainable, compared to 1 in 9.2 quintillion."

Happy birthday

To Anthony Davis, who in another era would be UK's junior center. He turns 21 on Monday. ... To Rashaad Carruth. He turns 32 on Wednesday.

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

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