With some impressive wins and a lofty ranking, Kentucky has already achieved some noteworthy accomplishments. But coach John Calipari wants his team to play like have not achieved anything. And that's just the kind of mindset they'll encounter from the first SEC foe tomorrow.
"They're not going to be pretty. They've going to have to scrap their way through games," South Carolina beat writer Darryl Slater said today on the "Leach Report" radio show. "They've shown signs that can win a few games in this league."
After a start that included losses to the likes of Elon and Tennessee State, the Gamecocks have regrouped. They played Ohio State tough and they bring a four-game winning streak into this matchup at Kentucky, although those wins came against much lesser foes.
Slater, who covers USC for the Post & Courier in Charleston, S.C., says two reasons for the recent uptick are improved rebounding and a tenacious press. And the Gamecocks are also meshing Bruce Ellington back into the mix.
Last year's starting point guard is coming off the bench after doing double duty for Steve Spurrier's football team and he recently had a 17-point night against Wofford.
"He's really starting to find his legs and that's a big development for this team, which can be offensively-challenged," said Slater, who noted that Ellington has taken coach Darrin Horn's advice to heart. "(He said) 'focus on defense and the offense will come' and after the Wofford game, he said he was able to do that. Horn has said they'll have to be patient with Bruce and it seems like he's finding his touch now."
It's easy to be an Anthony Davis fan these days but CBS' Clark Kellogg left with an even stronger impression after watching the freshman big man in two games last month.
"I like his demeanor, his poise," Kellogg said. "He takes advantage of his opportunities. I don't know if they ever really call plays for him. He's going to have get stronger but I love his skills. His hands are fantastic. He keeps the ball high, he runs extremely well, he's a good passer and I like his shot."
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's 19 rebounds against Louisville was the best single-game effort on the glass since Rajon Rondo's 19 against Iowa in 2005. And he just missed the rarified air of the 20-20 club.
It's been almost 36 years since a Kentucky player had 20 or more points AND rebounds in a game. Mike Phillips did in 1976 against LSU, with 35 points and 20 boards.
By the way, Terrence Jones' 11 rebounds marked his first double-figure game in that category this season. He had 13 double-figure rebounding games last season.
Twany Beckham is the only Louisville native on the Kentucky roster and he says he was pleasantly surprised by the reaction he got in his hometown after the Cats' win over the Cardinals.
"I went home after the game and I was surpised that a lot of people were happy for me and showed me a lot of love. I figured a lot of people would be mad at me or have some bad things to say," said Beckham, "but they were happy for me."
"I had Kentucky against Carolina last year in December and then I had them in the regional final against Carolina and the change in that team was (tremendous). They got better at taking care of the ball, they got better at executing. That same type of trajectory is what you're hoping to see if you're a Kentucky fan."
And if that happens, CBS' Clark Kellogg says there's a good chance you could see Kentucky playing in the Final Four in New Orleans. Kellogg worked his second UK game of this season last Saturday, the Cats' 69-62 victory over Louisville. And during an appearance on "The Leach Report" radio show, I asked Kellogg what areas Kentucky must shore up between now and March to make that happen.
"(You hope) they'll continue to be more effecient offensively, that Marquis Teague will grow as a point guard and that they'll continue to defend at a really high level," Kellogg said. "If they do that, they've got all the ammunition you need to make a run to New Orleans."
Kellogg was one of the nation's most sought-after prospects in his high school days, ultimately choosing Ohio State over Kentucky and other big-name suitors. In the current era, Kellogg would have surely been a one-and-done candidate and he says he can emphathize with the pressure a player like Terrence Jones must feel when he hits a slump.
It wasn't all that long ago that Jones put up 52 points in the Blue-White game. Or that he went for 26 points, nine rebounds and four blocks against St. John's. But at the moment, the last image for the sophomore All-America candidate is as "No Show Jones" at Indiana. And now a dislocated pinky finger on his shooting hand has limited Jones' opportunities to erase that memory from Bloomington.
"I'm not sure what is going on in Terrence's head. He's hasn't been nearly as productive the last few games but players go through that," Kellogg noted. "How do you work through it. You give yourself extra time in the gym. You balance trying too hard with giving yourself extra time. It's a process but for young guys, it's hard to look at it that way.
"Try to keep your eye on the big picture and be consistent on the work you're doing to get better. I think that's where you have to lay your focus and then play with some joy and freedom and reckless abandon in the effort areas of the game. Don't get hung up on your shot," Kellogg advised. "You can control effort, going after loose balls, getting to the glass. Make sure those are high priorities and he'll snap out of it at some point."
Last season, Jones had nine double-figure rebounding games. Last Saturday, he had his first one of this season, grabbing 11 missed shots against UofL. And he also had three steals. And we hear from those around the team that Jones' injured finger is feeling much better in recent days, so perhaps the stage is set for Jones to start trending upward again with his game.
"When you're 18-to-23 years old, you're not the most mature (person). There are things that can distract you. You've got the demands of school and practice and thinking about your future when you're a promising prospect like Terrence," Kellogg said. "This day and age, a guy like him goes through it under the magnifying glass and that creates some additional challenge. But if he stays true to working at getting better and trying to minimize whatever distractions are out there, he'll be fine and that's what I'm anticipating for him."
It's hard to imagine this Kentucky team realizing its potential without a major contribution from Jones. With Jones' size and skill set, he can be a load to handle in the lane when he's at his best. And Kentucky could certainly use another low-post threat.
"You'd like to have as much balance as you can. You want to be to post guys and take advantage of mismatches. The more different ways that you can get points, the better off you are when you face the elite teams, going through a tournament run," said Kellogg. "It doesn't have to necessarily be a big guy. It could be a Darius Miller or a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, depending who you're facing."
Freshman big man Anthony Davis is averaging more than 10 rebounds per game. DeMarcus Cousins got close to that level in his one season at Kentucky, averaging 9.8 carooms per game, but if Davis can stay above the level of 10, he'll be the first Wildcat to do that since Kenny Walker in 1985.
Before "Sky," you have to go back to 1972, when Jim Andrews averaged 11 rebounds per game.
John Calipari has said his first thought was "another Marcus Camby" when he first saw Davis play. In our pregame interview before the Lamar game, I asked the coach how Davis reminded him of the former UMass star beyond just body type.
"He's blocking shots like Marcus Camby. He's ahead of Marcus conditioning-wise and his shooting ability," Calipari said on the UK radio network segment. "Marcus was like him in that he was a 6-2 guard who went to 6-10. Marcus is a little longer, he's almost seven-foot tall, but it's a comparison in blocking shots and changing the defense because he's out there."
When Doron Lamb made only three of nine shots against Lamar, it knocked his career field goal percentage down to 49.4 percent. One or two hot-shooting games could put him back at 50 or above and if he finishes his career there, he would be in some lofty company.
Lamb is on pace to make more than 600 shots and the other Kentucky "guard" I could find who made that many baskets and shot above 50 percent for his career was legendary sharpshooter Louie Dampier. If you move the line down to 500 made shots, you can add Kyle Macy to the club. And if you want to expand the club to "perimeter" players rather than just guards, you pick up only Jack "Goose" Givens and Kevin Grevey.
Any way you cut it, that would be elite company at the University of Kentucky.
"When his motor is running, he scores with anybody in the country, especially as a two-point shooter," said coach John Calipari.
"We need somebody that can make those shots. Normally, we don't want any mid-level shots but the way people play this team (we do). There's points in the game where you just need baskets and we've added some stuff where he gets a screen," Calipari added.
Freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has likened himself to Tim Tebow in that he's all about winning. And that kind of mindset equals leadership, a quality it's certainly not surprising to see from MKG.
"I just tell him to keep doing what you're doing. He's slowly but surely taking over that spot on this team because of how hard he works and how hard he plays. But you want more than one leader anyway," Calipari noted. "What I'm trying to do is build leaders. Leading means to serve your team. You also lead by example. I'm trying to teach 12 guys (to do that)."
Calipari says which players take over leadership roles can change during the course of the season and when that starts to happen, it's a good sign.
Wildcat fans got a glimpse behind the Big Blue curtain Monday night with coach Calipari's Christmas gift of the chance to go online and watch a practice session.
A fan sent me a question via Twitter, asking if this was a true reflection of what a normal practice session is like and the answer is most definitely "yes." Late last season, during a visit with CBS' Kevin Harlan, he told me about his observations from watching his first UK game-eve practice session and how he was taken by how sometimes brutally honest Calipari was in his critiques of players. The Kentucky coach most certainly "keeps it real" with his players but he is also their most ardent defenders against criticism from outside the team and that's why the player-coach bond is so strong under Calipari.
So now that you've seen a practice, do wonder what a gameplanning session for the coaching staff might look like? New York Daily News writer Dick "Hoops" Weiss gave us a glimpse of that setting during an interview on "The Leach Report" radio show after his visit to Lexington earlier this month.
"I love the way they brainstorm about the game planning. John Calipari takes it all in. I truly believe I think he thinks he is never going to lose a game. And if he doesn't turn it personal the way he has done it in the past against maybe a John Calhoun or a Bruce Pearl, he is a hard guy to beat because he has an exceptional vision of how he wants his teams to play and I admire that," Weiss said, noting that Calipari encourages his staff--and not just the assistant coaches--to weigh in.
"There is a lot of give and take and he does a great job at listening to everyone and not cutting anyone off," Weiss observed while sitting in on the session at Calipari's home after the win over St. John's. "He thinks everybody has ideas that can help. Brandon (Weems), I think he is going to be exceptional because he understands the game already and you would think he would be the last guy to chime in but had a lot to offer and John is a really good listener--a really good listener who sits there and takes it all in and that really left an impression on me.
"He could have said I have guys on my staff like Orlando (Antigua), John (Robic) and Kenny (Payne) - but he listens to everybody. He is a very big tape guy and breaking down what people do," Weiss added. "He is a big believer in 'we worry about ourselves first'. I think they put the Carolina tape in a few days before they were supposed to. You usually go one game at a time but I think he wanted them to be ready for that secondary break and he didn't tell them it was Carolina's break but he put it in and nobody said anything after the St. John's game. He did a great job at giving them a head start because it was only one day between St. John's and North Carolina."
Weiss said he will do his best to return to Lexington for this Saturday's UK-UofL clash because he loves the big game atmosphere at Rupp Arena.
"I've been to every venue in the country. Kansas has great (sight) lines and Duke has great passion but I have never been to a place where the entire fan base is so passionately involved in every instant in the game. When the Cats take the floor you can feel the electricity and it doesn't leave until the game is over and they leave the building," Weiss said. "I think Rupp is special and particularly when they have a good team."
Weiss has been watching Calipari coach since his days of raising the UMass program up from the dead.
"I think he has become a better bench coach. He doesn't get as cranky and a lot of people remember the 'three' (Memphis) gave up to Chalmers in the championship game, but they seemed to forget about Georgetown in the 1996 Regional Finals, the way he coached against (Texas)A&M down in San Antonio with Memphis," Weiss said. "They (pundits) are starting to remember how good he was against Ohio State and North Carolina (last season). You are dealing with one of the premier coaches in America and I think that he is better bench coach. He was always a tremendous recruiter. He was always had huge amounts of energy and was able to relate to kids with broken families or deadend backgrounds.
"He came from a lower middle class background outside Pittsburgh and guys can appreciate it because he comes across 'real' with them. You rarely hear players who played for his say anything negative against him. I mean, he wins them over psychologically," Weiss continued. "Look at DeMarcus Cousins. I thought that would be hard but the time he spent at Kentucky, he got close to that kid, brought him close to the family and was close with John's youngest son, Bradley. I just see that a lot of kids come in and understand that the best way to get to the pros, the best way to market themselves is to do what he says. He has a track record. Look at who he has sent to the pros from Kentucky and there will probably be another three or four at the end of this year."
Terrence Jones' subpar performance and Kentucky's inability to use its fouls to prevent a game-winning three-pointer were the dominant storylines coming out UK's loss at Indiana. But CBS Sports college basketball writer Jeff Goodman says the key storyline long term could be the way freshman point guard Marquis Teague played in the second half.
"I'd be very excited about Marquis Teague's second half at Indiana. That showed a lot to me," Goodman said this week on "The Leach Report" radio show. "They need Teague, more than any other player, to come around, and for him to go into that enviroment and come up with the second half shows his mental toughness more than anything else.
"Let's face it. Brandon Knight didn't set the world on fire early. Tyreke Evans (at Memphis), he struggled and Derrick Rose even struggled," he continued. "Look at freshman point guards around the country. All these guys struggle. We can't make too much out of it."
Goodman also had good things to say about a couple of other Wildcat freshmen, starting with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
"I was blown away by his skill level and how much better it's gotten. He is a wonderful kid. As good a kid as I have ever in doing this job and you root for him," Goodman said, adding that he had been thinking MKG's future at the NBA level might only be as a role player. Now, he's thinking the ceiling could be higher and he knows teams will love Kidd-Gilchrist's work ethic.
"The way he's played and shot the ball--it's not pretty but it's going in right now. If there's one kid I take off that team to win a game, I might take Michael Kidd-Gilchrist over any kid in the country. He plays so hard and it's infectious. He doesn't care about anything but winning," said Goodman.
"(And) Anthony Davis is a lot tougher than anybody gave him credit for, coming out of high school. He doesn't have the body to be a monster yet but what he does is he tries. Another high character kid," noted Goodman. "I think guys like Davis and Gilchrist don't really care about their numbers. It certainly doesn't look like they're playing for the NBA."
Darius Miller hit more than 40 percent of his three-point shots last season but he struggled to rediscover that stroke in the first month of his senior season. But Miller is not worried about it.
"I think I'm kinda rushing it a little bit instead of taking my time. It's going to turn around. I'm not really worried about it," Miller said.
Coach Calipari likes to give his players a few days off at Christmas to be with their families, but Kentucky did once play a game on Christmas eve.
It was 1983, when Kentucky traveled to meet a then unbeaten Illinois team on its home floor. The weather was brutal, with sub-zero conditions outside, and the officiating crew scheduled to work the game could not make it to Champaign, IL. Three local coaches and administrators from the crowd were summoned to work the game, which ended with James Blackmon draining a jumper to give the Cats a win at the buzzer.
UK and the Illini would meet again later that season at Rupp Arena, in a regional final that Kentucky by two to punch its ticket to the Final Four.
The Tim Tebow magic finally wore off last Sunday when New England ended the Broncos' winning streak. But Denver still controls its own destiny for the postseason and Tebow's spark is one of the biggest reasons why--along with an improved defensive unit that features former Wildcat Wesley Woodyard as a key cog.
During a recent appearance on "The Leach Report" radio show, Woodyard talked about he's become such a Tebow fan.
"Playing against him in college, I hated playing against him because I knew somehow his teammates believed in him and now I know that and see why Florida had so much success, because he controlled so much as far as on the offense," Woodyard said. "He had people who believed in himself and he believes in himself. If its fourth-and-20, with Tim, he not only thinks he is going to get the first down but he thinks he is going to score and that rubs off on everybody."
That includes the defense.
"The energy our offense plays with spreads to the defense and vice versa. We see them make a big play or Tim goes out and runs someone over or gets a big gain, it gets everyone excited and keeps the defense fresh on the sidelines," he added.
Some think Tebow's All-America persona is too good to be true but Woodyard says the team knows Tebow is the real deal.
"It's his work ethic. Today, he went out an hour before everybody and was working on his passing most of the time. He is always trying to get better. That is what you need out of a quarterback," Woodyard said. "He is always trying to influence everyone to give it their all and do the extra."
And if anybody knows about leadership, it's Woodyard, who drew praise from UK coaches almost from the first he set foot on the campus when it came to setting the tone for the rest of the team. Woodyard said Tebow's leadership for now has been more by example than vocal.
He hasn't been quite as vocal as he was in his college years but he says what needs to be said outside of the field and on the field but he is a great leader as far as going out there and leaving it all on the field.
And Woodyard really enjoys playing for first-year Denver coach John Fox.
"He is a good coach as far as enthusiasm, passion and love for the game of football," Woodyard noted. "It's great to everybody. He is one of the guys who believes in smashmouth football and he bring that back for us. Tough, physical football."
One thing Woodyard never got to experience at UK was beating Tennessee. He wasn't able to watch his alma mater end that 26-year streak because the Broncos were traveling but he got the word at the airport from a teammate--who had played for the Vols.
And Woodyard was amazed to hear the story about how coverted wideout Matt Roark led the way.
"I tip my hat to him. I was able to speak with him when he came in as a freshman," Woodyard said, "and I told him 'you gotta look forward to doing big things' and who knew that he would have ended the Tennessee streak."
Current UK star Danny Trevathan is like Woodyard in that he's a linebacker with the knock that he is under-sized for the NFL. But Woodyard says that should not keep him from having a long pro career.
"I have seen Danny play and he is a great football player in my eyes. I think he will get a shot," said Woodyard, "and hopefully he gets drafted but if not, hopefully he get a shot undrafted and balls out. Anybody who leads the SEC in tackles in my opinion, they can play in the NFL."
An overtime loss in the 2008 national championship game is not the toughest beat John Calipari has had as a coach.
On his weekly radio show last night, Calipari said the one-point defeat at Indiana last Satuday was harder to take. Understand, of course, he's talking about the circumstances and not the stakes involved.
Kentucky was 5.6 seconds away from escaping with a most unlikely win--given the venue and its rowdy atmosphere, getting virtually nothing in the stat line from Terrence Jones, spotty free throw shooting and giving up too many 3-pointers. Despite all of that, the win was in the Wildcats' paws until a lack of execution of the plan to utilize the two fouls UK had to give.
Calipari took the blame on his shoulders, noting that his team has not spent much practice time working on "situations," where coaches simulate late-game circumstances like the one the Cats faced against IU. That's part of the deal with teams so heavily on freshmen. Of course, as we've seen in the first two years of the Calipari era, the tradeoff is more than worthwhile.
And Calipari said you can put the blame on him for the way Kentucky practiced last week. He said he didn't make the practices tougher enough to match the physical play they faced from the Hooisers and that is changing this week. Calipari cited Jones in particular as having suffered from not getting properly prepared for that kind of game.
When the roster turnover is so great each year, it's just natural that it takes the coach a little more time to find out each particularly squad's personality and what the team needs in terms of preparing to realize its full potential.
Who knows, this could turn out to be the proverbial "good loss."
It should, for example, be a real-attention grabber for Jones. While it's great that Kentucky put itself in position to win without much of a contribution from its preseason All-America candidate, it's easy to see how the Cats could get upset on the way to a Final Four if he repeats that kind of performance in a big game in March. A performance like he had on that kind of stage is a serious blow to one's NBA draft stock and that should provide powerful motivation to Jones to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Saturday's game may also prove to be the performance that serves as the turning point for Marquis Teague.
Calipari gives his point guards plenty of freedom but he is also demanding of them. And when the coach benched Teague after a poor first-half performance against the Hooisers, it was actually a show of confidence--a belief that Teague had the mental toughness to respond when his next chance came. And boy, did he respond. Teague was arguably the Cats' best player down the stretch, hitting every shot he took without committing a single turnover.
In an enviroment that "hostile" doesn't begin to describe, Teague thrived. And he and his teammates overcame multiple 10-point deficits against a team that made its first six three-point shots in the second half. That kind of resiliency--especially when shown by a squad this young--has to bode very well for March.
Kentucky and Indiana started playing regularly in the 1970 season and between that game and the one in 1999, there were 19 contests that were decided by five or fewer points.
But since then, only once has the margin been five or fewer (a 59-54 UK win in 2006) and only twice has the margin been under 14 points. In the last four years, the average margin of victory (three wins for the Cats, one for the Hooisers) has been just over 18 points per game.
With both teams going into tomorrow's matchup undefeated, most believe there's a better chance of one of those good ol' UK-IU barnburners.
My broadcast partner, Mike Pratt, was a senior when this series became an annual deal in December, 1969 so he knows well the rich history of this rivalry. But current players only know how the Indiana program has struggled in the wake of the Kelvin Sampson fiasco.
"Youngsters nowadays, it's a three or four-year window and (during that time), Indiana has not been very good. But you have a responsibility as a number one-ranked team to come to play every game. Fear no one, respect everyone--if you take that approach, you'll be fine," said Pratt.
Indiana's best win to this point is a road victory over NC State but the 8-0 start has the Hooiser Nation dreaming of a return to the glory days. Calipari knows that the Hooisers will look at this game as a chance to make a "statement" to the nation and Pratt says the UK players better not to expect to say the same ol' Indiana.
"I've watched them a couple of times and I'm really impressed. His (Tom Crean's )young players have really matured and this kid, (Cody) Zeller, is going to be a terrific player," Pratt observed. "He (Zeller) has tremendous upside. He's more athletic (than his brother, Tyler, at North Carolina). He seems to find himself on the perimeter more than his brother. He'll set that high pick-and-roll, he'll pick-and-pop (back for the jumper). He's very agile. And he runs the floor like his brother."
Pratt anticipates a "tempo game," with Indiana trying to keep the game in the 60's while Kentucky will be looking to score in the 80's. And he says it'll be important for Kentucky's defense to clamp down early, because a flurry of early three's would "ignite that crowd."
Each season, Calipari invites his longtime friend and noted sports psychologist Bob Rotella to visit with the team. That happened last week, prior to the matchup with St. John's.
"One of the things Bob does better than anybody is create a picture of what you want to be and then (you) go chase it. (He) told them you have to do it for each other, be selfless. Just do the mundane things well and you become unbeatable," Calipari explained in his pregame interview on the UK radio network.
"He said 'you're all stars but do you want to be champions?' I think that got their attention," Calipari added. "The only thing you have to worry about is the day-to-day grind of getting better."
That reminds of a great line that former Kentucky football Hal Mumme had about "the monotony of greatness." He asked me to imagine how many times the Eagles had to play Hotel California so that it sounded great the one time I heard it in a concert. Athletes, too, have to work on the same drills and skills day after day in practice so that they can become great.
Doron Lamb is on pace to set a career record for three-point accuracy at Kentucky. He's presenting hitting three's at a 49 percent clip. Cameron Mills, super sub for the 1998 national championship team, set the standard at 47 percent for his four-year career.
"I'm not trying to live up to them. I'm just trying to do what I can do, to the best of my ability. I just want to win a national championship."
That is the mindset of Marquis Teague, the latest John Calipari-coached point guard, who no doubt will get compared to the likes of Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall and Brandon Knight. Saturday, Teague returns to his home state when the Wildcats face undefeated Indiana in Bloomington.
"He's not as gifted athletically as Rose or Wall but those two guys are among the best athletes who have ever played the position. What he does to better than those guys and better than most point guards of the past 15 years or so (is pass)," Sporting News college basketball writer Mike DeCourcy said in a preseason interview on "The Leach Report" radio show. "I'd put Teague in the top five or 10 passers that I've seen entering college basketball. He really has great vision and now he's got great talent around him. It should really empower him."
On his weekly radio show Monday night, Calipari reinterated his confidence that Teague will ultimately make the kind of progress that those other point guards did (and most, if not all of them struggled at times early in the season). Calipari said he's spending more time with Teague, to get him to "think differently" about the position. Among the areas that the coach wants Teague address are shooting too quickly and mastering the pace of the game.
One of the players with whom Teague quickly developed a strong bond is his backcourt runningmate. And Doron Lamb, one of the players who figures to benefit from Teague's ability to blow past his man on the dribble.
"We got great chemistry. When I first got here in the summer, he was teaching me the Dribble Drive (system). It feels like we've been playing together a long time. I know where he's going to be and he knows what I'm going to do. I want to give it to him because I know that's an assist 'cause he's going to know it down," Teague said.
Jarred Quarles coached Teague's AAU in Indianapolis and he says Calipari's system provides a perfect match.
"Marcus Teague is a point guard that is built for the Dribble Drive like a Derrick Rose and a John Wall," Quarles said. "He (Marcus) is a dribble drive point guard. He makes guys around him better.
"He is athletic like a Derrick Rose. He is quick like a John Wall but makes great decisions like a Chris Paul. He is a little like everybody. He has been able to watch so many great players, his brother (Jeff) is a point guard in the league so, he has been soaking all things in and waiting to get his chance," noted Quarles, adding that Calipari's track record with point guards was main reason why Teague chose to play at Kentucky.
"He feels that Coach Calipari can take his game to the next level and make him play hard and teach him everything that he needs to know about college basketball," Quarles said.
According to various recruiting pundits, Teague falls somewhere between Wall's athleticism and Brandon Knight's perimeter shooting on the spectrum of point guard skills. Better than Knight in going to the rim and better than Wall with the outside J.
And he likes playing defense, too.
"I take pride in my defense," Teague said.
Calipari has praised Teague's work ethic in the weight room, noting that he's so strong he'll have to be careful about picking up fouls. But while Teague embraces that part of the UK conditioning program, he's no fan of the running. Nevertheless, he's answering the call there, too.
'The conditioning, that kills me. I didn't know it was that tough. It's a whole different level," Teague said. "I want to be a great player. I'm in the gym as much as I can (be). Just doing anything I can to make sure I'm ready for the season."
Quarles knows that part of the preparation is vital because of the demands Teague will face this winter.
"Adjusting to the wear and tear of a college season will be one of the adjustments. Playing in more games, playing at a high level of competition every night, and just adjusting to the college game will be an adjustment for a kid," the coach said, "but I don't think it will be that hard for him to do."
Ditto for adjusting to life in the spotlight at UK.
"I don't think it is anything different than what has been going on except for that it is at a national level," Quarles said. "He has been known on the national scene for a long time now."
"I think point guard will be really important so I think the matchup between Marquis Teague and Kendall Marshall is going to be really important."
That's one of the keys on which ESPN's Jay Bilas focused on Wednesday, when talking about the UK-North Carolina showdown on "The Leach Report" radio show. Bilas worked the Tar Heels' upset loss to UNLV last Saturday and he is sure we'll see a much more focused UNC squad.
"A team like Kentucky is going to grab their attention. I don't think they were too worried about UNLV. They clearly weren't as intense as they will be stepping on the floor at Rupp Arena," said Bilas. "Ultimately, these games come down to shooting."
Vegas hurt UNC with 13 three-point baskets and Bilas recalled that Kentucky hit 12 in its Elite Eight win over the Heels last March. Ultimately, though, Bilas was hardly shocked to see Carolina get clipped. And he won't be surprised when it happens to Kentucky--and every other team--at some point.
"A Carolina fan came up to me and said 'do you think Carolina is going to run the table?' I didn't mean to be rude but I just started laughing. I said, 'no, I don't think anybody is going to run the table'," Bilas said. "I think it's ludicrous to expect these teams, in the age of the three-point shot and all the travel that they're doing, that they're going to be sharp (every time out)."
John Calipari suggested Kentucky might have the worst offense in the country in his halftime interview with ESPN's Shannon Spake last night. Ofcourse, it's not, but it's also a long way from where it will need to be in March.
Given that it's December 2, that's not such a big deal--especially since UK can rely on its defense. That's usually not a luxury North Carolina has because its calling card is its fast-paced offense.
"They weren't ever great last year. They became good enough (on defense)," observed Sporting News college basketball writer Mike DeCourcy earlier this week. "You don't have to be great defensively to win a championship. If you look at Carolina's '09 team, they weren't great (on defense). But you have to be good enough and (against UNLV last week), they were not that.
"They're always going to be an offensive-focused basketball team," he continued. "Most NCAA championships are won with offense first--at least they were until the last couple of years."
DeCourcy believes Kentucky's potential on defense is considerable.
"I think Kentucky is a team that can be great on defense, a really destructive defensive team. If they learn and really get focused on that end (of the court). I don't think this Carolina team do that but they can certainly be good enough to win a championship," said DeCourcy.
For Saturday, DeCourcy thinks point guard Marquis Teague's defense on his Carolina counterpart, Kendall Marshall, could be an edge for UK.
"No question, Marquis Teague is a player, with his build and his athleticism, he can make the league based on that (defense) first. This is going to be the best point guard he'll have faced. Offensively, he's been extraordinary. He (Marshall) really understands how to read the floor," noted DeCourcy. "And a lot of the problem with defending Kendall is you've got to get on him early, when he gets the outlet pass."
Senior linebacker Ronnie Sneed says he just knew his team could beat Tennessee, despite a 26-game losing streak.
"How did I know? I had faith in my team. I could see in the guys' eyes. We wanted to stop them from going to a bowl. If we can't go to a bowl, they can't go to a bowl," said Sneed.
"I've never been on a UK team that has had such a tight bond," Sneed added. "We're always willing to go out and lay it on the line for each other."