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Maybe Mississippi State coach Ben Howland’s comments at SEC Media Day about Tennessee were right

By LARRY VAUGHT

Could Ben Howland have been right with his comments about Tennessee and Kentucky back in mid-October?

At the SEC Media Day, the Mississippi State coach took exception to Kentucky being picked over Tennessee as the SEC’s best team.

“They’re the best team in our league going into the season, in my opinion, because of all the experience returning,” Howland said about Tennessee. “There’s no doubt they’re the team to beat in our conference.”

Howland wasn’t concerned that John Calipari led UK to the SEC title in 2010, 2012, 2015, 2016 and 2017 and SEC Tournament title the last four seasons and six in nine years.

He liked the Vols with the return of SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams and all-SEC first-team player Admiral Schofield off a team that went 26-9 and tied Auburn for the SEC title at 13-5 last season. Tennessee also beat UK in both regular season games before losing to the Cats in the SEC tourney.

Today Howland’s prediction doesn’t seem so out of whack after it upset most UK fans two months ago.

Tennessee is 7-1 and coming off a win over then No. 1 Gonzaga. Tennessee’s only loss was to Kansas in overtime. It also has a win over Louisville.

Auburn has beat Washington, Xavier and Arizona this season and is 8-1. The Tigers’ only loss was 78-72 to Duke — the same team that beat UK by 34.

Mississippi State is 8-1 with a loss to Arizona State and wins over Dayton and Clemson.

All three SEC foes are ranked above UK this way. Tennessee is No. 3, Auburn No. 8 and Mississippi State No. 18. Kentucky dropped out of the top 10 and to No. 19 after its overtime loss to Seton Hall.

Kentucky was the No. 1 team in college basketball preseason ratings by ESPN, CBS Sports, Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, The Sporting News, Jeff Goodman of Stadium and Andy Katz of NCAA.com.

Today, though, Kentucky doesn’t look No. 1 — or maybe even No. 2 — in the SEC.

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  1. I know I sure owe him an apology. He was spot on with his comments. As we have seen there is no substitute for experience… talent and good coaching also help and Rick Barnes is one of the best

  2. Why is it that these other big dogs can bring in quality talent and start the seasons well and build momentum as the season goes on while UK starts off slow and shows little or no improvement as the year closes out. These other coaches (too many to attempt to list here) start the year off well and continue to build and improve. Every year Cal continues to say the same….”I like my team”, Well we are young” and lately it has been “we need to work of defense” and now this week it is that “we need to work on our offense”. He continues to be in denial that his business model is no longer working, and I don’t see him ever recovering the top perch like he and we have enjoyed for many years. The quality and quantity of SEC coaches that have exposed Cal and his deficiencies will not be stepping back anytime soon. Seton Hall had 0 Mickey D’s and Cal had 8 on his team. Are you kidding me!! This is not a “Cal most go” post but his explanations and rhetoric are getting very tired, well worn, and too repetitious. When you factor in his salary, thousands of $’s spent on recruiting that produces a lesser ROI each year, it must be time for him to adjust his strategy. This team peaked in the Bahamas. For all of this talent assembled we still can’t pass that well, can’t seem to eliminate stupid turnovers, can’t work the ball into the post and miss too many shots when we do, can’t hit or defend the 3, can’t find consistent guard play, and don’t have enough players that are apparently buying into the coaching they are getting.

  3. Mike, I hear you. They went to the Bahamas and looked great. They supposedly were practicing before the season, but what did they practice? They have no sense of any offense, they don’t want to play defense, they have rebounded well until last Saturday and are shooting free throws better. Does Cal think they will lose their edge in March if they come together now? Cal used to get the best and just let them do their thing. Now that the best is going elsewhere, Cal is not showing the ability to coach up the players he is now getting. This team has NIT written all over it if they stay on the present course. Tennessee and Auburn are playing great. This team is not ready for either of them. In fact, I think every SEC road game is going to be shaky. I sure hope this team proves me wrong.

  4. http://bigbluefans4uk.com/2018-19DataandWritings/SPREADSHEET_IMAGES/53_SEC_Ranking_Current.png

    Tennessee has been playing very good basketball, but Auburn has been leading the SEC pack through this point of the season. UK is lagging back in the pack, currently at #6 in the SEC.

    When Calipari repeatedly says, “I like this team” he does so to deflect clear and obvious deficiencies on full display by his team. When his team is hitting on all cylinders, he has other euphemisms that he trots out.

    Finally, with respect to starting slow, four of his teams started fast and finished strong, 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2015. Five of his teams started out slowly, and the last 3 are in that group. This is the downward trend I see, that I have been raising the alarm. Last year’s start had been the slowest, and weakest of the Calipari Era, until this year’s start.

    Today, on another site, a poster recalled a 2015 (post final four meltdown) quote from Calipari in which he said, “Last year we started the season with a goal. You may think that goal was to win the national title and win all the games. It was to get eight players drafted …”

    “The mission statement for me would be to be a vehicle to help others reach their dreams, to be the stone that creates the ripple in their lives that goes on and on and on. Now, in our state, they want my mission to be WIN NATIONAL TITLES! WIN NATIONAL TITLES! But my mission is bigger than that.”

    https://www.sbnation.com/2015/5/20/8631347/john-calipari-kentucky-wildcats-nba-draft-ncaa-championship

    Herein lies the problem. So long as the program’s success is on a parallel track with this players first philosophy, Calipari will be able to keep the fan base at bay, but it is not clear that the program success is really of little concern to a man who the fans pay upwards of $8 million per year.

  5. http://bigbluefans4uk.com/2018-19DataandWritings/POMEROY_RATINGS/game%20to%20game%20ANE%20for%20various%20seasons/Kentucky_ANE_By_Season-Coach_2002-18.png

    Take a look at this and explain to me why those of us who were upset with the direction of the program the last few years of Tubby’s time should not be equally concerned about the direction of the program today?

    1. Professor I thought the same way about you trying compare Tubby and Cals long term tenure as the coach for UK . We may win games but no extra banners with the one to there credit.

  6. I really feel some of our BBM fans has written this team off too early. There’s a lot of upside with this team if Cal will let them play. I REALLY THINK the majority of the problem is on Cal not the players.

    1. Just seems to be a team not in sync so far

  7. And another thing our history is not good when winning it all often in the same decade only RickPitino did back in the 90s. So it has span since the 60’s that Rick has accomplished the feat. Yes there’s has been a lot ifs in that mean time that we should have more than no 8 as of now.

  8. They come as a package, the coaches and the players, and they are measured by what they accomplish on the court, not what they could have or should have accomplished.

    As for the upside, I have little doubt that this team will improve relative to the field between now and March, but I also believe this team has a lower ceiling than most what fans want to accept today. I see this team with an early exit from the tournament in the first weekend, and I see it fighting in February and early march for one of the four double byes in the SEC Tournament, finishing 4th to 6th in the SEC.

    1. Many analysts agreeing with you Professor

  9. I honestly believe that Cal never bought into the idea of catching UCLA in titles or staying on top with the most program wins. Why, I don’t know, but when he announced his players first philosophy, I knew we would not catch UCLA and would ultimately be passed by in total wins. Even now, Cal still does not disavow his players first, but the best players have seen that KY is not the gold standard of college basketball anymore. Let’s face it, Cal is not and X and O guru, he is average at best. Without the best talent, KY will no longer be invincible to even middle of the pack teams. Barnes, Pearl, and Howland will be dominating SEC basketball and Cal will retire in 2 or 3 years. How did it all come to this?

  10. Catman….every statement you made nails it. We got here because Cal’s coaching acumen gets more exposed each year and recruiting successes have diminished as well.

  11. When did it become proper to move away from history as our best teacher?

    History tells us that there is a relationship between how UK teams start and how they finish. History tells us what level of efficiency is required to win the championship, and what efficiency results in losses in the first, second, sweet 16 and elite 8 rounds.

    http://bigbluefans4uk.com/2018-19DataandWritings/POMEROY_RATINGS/game%20to%20game%20ANE%20for%20various%20seasons/Kentucky_ANE_By_Season-Coach_2002-18.png

    Are there exceptions? For sure there are, but those results are called exceptions because they are rare. Could a UK team be one of those exceptions? It has, in 2014 by advancing much further (2 rounds) than projected, and it did in 2016 by falling out (2 rounds) earlier than projected. Even last year, when the basketball gods opened the proverbial red sea and gave a marginal UK team a clear, dry path to the promised land (final 4) that team was not able to take advantage of their good providence.

    This team has started the season more poorly than any other Calipari team at UK. That is a fact, not an opinion. The opinions take form by applying the lessons of history to this fact.

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