It’s late January and …
Murray State is the lone unbeaten college basketball team in the land. 20-0.
Bellarmine’s defending D- 2 national champion Knights are 17-1 and on the road to Southern Indiana and Kentucky Wesleyan.
And, the Kentucky Wildcats are atop the polls again. The Cats defeated Georgia Tuesday to become 6-0 in SEC play for first time in nine seasons.
How does Number One talk translate at the barbershop in January?
• Fan buzz. “Shut up and lemme talk about the Cats!”
• Bragging rights and “what if” … (Kentucky and Murray State meet in the NCAAs?).
• Hot ticket. Happy days are here again for scalpers and hustlers. Times are cat and mouse interesting on the Rupp Arena sidewalks.
• Radio call-in wait time to talk is longer.
For Murray State, unprecedented ESPN time and studio talking head clatter.
For Bellarmine? More wins and more complaints about not enough media respect.
For Kentucky, the word TARGET comes to Big Blue conversation. There is a plus or two however. Begin with an Alabama game film.
After playing poorly at home and being blown out by Vandy, three days later a different Crimson Tide showed up at Rupp Arena where Anthony Grant’s team gave Kentucky a tough southern fried whiskering. Pushed Anthony Davis around too. In the end, Alabama had more field goals, more rebounds, more assists, and 15 fewer free throws.
Epilogue? Crimson to Cats – “See you Big Blue boys on a neutral floor at the SEC Tournament.”
Proving our roundball world has its bizarre moments too, consider …
• We arrive at January’s fourth week with two Commonwealth teams ranked in the nation’s Top 10 and once fourth-ranked Louisville is not one of them.
• One college team instead of two in our state is 20-0 only because a kid named Christian had a 3-point prayer answered before Christmas in Bloomington.
• Bellarmine would be 18-0 but for an overtime loss at Indianapolis.
The University of Kentucky Lady Wildcats are 18-2, 7-0 in SEC play, ranked sixth in America and have played to a pair of sold out home games.
Q & A
Q. Odds of Murray State going unbeaten?
A. Odds on. With eight games to go, four on the road, the Racers should take a perfect record into the OVC Tournament. In no small part because momentum and unselfish play and return of veteran Ivan Aska returns from the injury list this week.
Murray’s most severe tests: Southeast Missouri State Feb. 15 and season finale at Tennessee Tech.
Q. Does Kentucky have an Achilles heel?
A. Yes. Point guard play. Twenty games in and Marques Teague is still a box of chocolates. Still makes poor decisions.
Q. Darnell Stokes has made Tennessee a different team. Did John Calipari blow it by asking the kid to redshirt at UK?
A. Stokes’ physical tools are obvious. Declining a UK scholarship offer because he didn’t want to wait to play, signals too much I and not enough team. Best place for Stokes is where he is.
Derek Willis at Bullitt East verbally committed to Kentucky last week. The upside of the junior’s announcement will include:
• Game ticket sales just increased. Wherever Willis plays this and next season attendance will make directors of athletics grin a lot.
• Willis will learn to play with the (“wow, UK”) target treatment. Push, grab, hold and trash talk to test physical stamina and temper control.
Willis is 6-9 and scrawny, but should remind fans of Todd May, Mr. Basketball 1982 at Virgie. Like May, Willis can score from anywhere, runs the floor and passes well. Twenty-five pounds from now and a grow-up between the ears, he could be special.
• College hoops. The horseshoe installed in the lane area has not stopped the cheap step in and take-a-charge by defenders. Why? The arc is so small coaches teach defenders to set up in front the arc.
• Playing not to lose? Mississippi State (16-4) turned a superb second half and overtime into a sparkling win at Vanderbilt last week. Coach Rick Stansbury’s reaction was like a death row inmate who just received a stay of execution. More relief than joy. Kentucky native Stansbury reflects no joy. He exchanged high 5’s with coaches and players that appeared more relief for not losing.
• Western Kentucky played its best six minutes of the season against visiting Arkansas Little Rock last week. Trailing by three, it was as if a light came on for Ray Harper’s Hilltoppers. Rebounds, fast breaks, shooting, passing all came together. Key ingredient: For a (6-14) team that was uncanny at finding ways to lose, Western’s decision-making was superb.
• Coach Ray Harper is 1-and-oh in Diddle Arena.
Worth Repeating Dept.
Tim Tebow was the subject of a Rick Reilly column for ESPN last week.
By the weekend more than 90,000 responses had been received, 98 percent of them “positive,” Reilly said, adding: “That’s preposterous. You could opine that people not stick sharp things in the eyes of children and you’d get only 95 percent positive reaction.”
Of one Tebow skeptic, Reilly pointed to Tebow’s polite and kind approach to all he meets, and wrote: “Put it this way – the guy is respectful with sports writers! Believe me, brother, I was as skeptical as you, but there’s not a gram of fake in this kid. I’ve looked everywhere.”
And so it goes.