One of the nice things about the Arkansas-Kentucky basketball game — actually, the only nice thing in recent years — is that it gives us a chance to chat with our good friend Truzenzuzex from SB Nation's truly outstanding Wildcats blog, A Sea of Blue. Read on to get his take on this year's high-flying Kentucky squad, the firing of Billy Gillispie and why your anti-John Calipari feelings just may be off base. (And when you're finished, head on over to A Sea of Blue to read our answers to his questions.) Many thanks to Truzenzuzex for his time and insight.
Expats: Give us a quick scouting report on the 2010 Wildcats. What are the team's strengths and weaknesses?
Truzenzuzex: Strengths: Post scoring and offensive rebounding. Kentucky is 4th in the nation in OR%, and 12th in Effective FG%, which is largely due to DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton handling the post well.
Weaknesses: Turnovers and defensive intensity. This team has turned the ball over too much at 21.2%, and lacks consistent defensive intensity, particularly on the perimeter. That's why we've lost some big leads in games against markedly inferior competition.
Expats: With the hiring of John Calipari and the success of this year's team, it's basically impossible to argue that firing Billy Gillispie was a bad move. But how did you feel about his dismissal when it happened? Were you supportive of the move?
Truzenzuzex: I was not supportive of the move to remove Gillispie. I thought Gillispie was given insufficient time to turn the team around, and I thought UK acted very badly in the way they handled his firing. Subsequent events, though, have mitigated my disapproval of UK's handling of Gillispie, and I'm not talking about the winning or improved team prospects. It seems that they were right he wasn't a good fit for UK, and some of Gillispie's behavioral missteps have served to lend credence to certain rumors about player treatment.
In the end, it worked out for the best, probably for everyone concerned. I have moved past it, and embrace the new coach wholeheartedly, not just because of his success, but because of the way he represents the University of Kentucky. Calipari is simply the perfect "fit" for UK -- perfect for him, and perfect for us. Gillispie, in hindsight, was anything but.
Expats: Has the excitement of Wildcat fans built to a point where only a national championship will make them deem this season a success?
Truzenzuzex: Not at all. UK fans know what it takes to win a national championship, and a team full of freshmen isn't it. Granted, these are not normal freshmen, but you can see their youth in so many ways.
But Kentucky fans love the style and the quality of basketball that the 'Cats are playing this year. We love the media attention. We even love the hate. It's nice to be Kentucky again, in the national conversation and literally on the brink of being the #1 team in the country. Heady stuff for us woebegone fans who have suffered through four years of drought and despair.
I think we would be somewhat disappointed if this team does not get to the Final Four, but few expect a national championship out of this team, at least right now. That could change, however, as the season progresses.
Expats: This may be a tough question to answer since we're only about halfway through this season and since John Wall will certainly leave after this year, but where do you think he ranks among the Kentucky greats?
Truzenzuzex: Right now, you'd have to say pretty high, from a statistical standpoint. Both DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall are at the top of various measurements of individual player ratings, so there's that.
Wall will likely be the first #1 draft pick I can remember from Kentucky. Sam Bowie, if I recall, was #2 overall, but I don't recall UK having a #1 pick.
Wall will rank up there somewhere, but his short tenure will likely limit him to more of an asterisk type of player. His stats won't really support it, though.
Expats: You've written frequently in defense of John Calipari. We don't want to take up too much of your time, so at whatever length you care to, tell our readers why you think his reputation as - how should we put this? - an ethically challenged coach is unjustified.
Truzenzuzex: The really short version is that Calipari is no different from other coaches. He has done some ethically wrong things, like the Kendrick Perkins/Keena Young affair, and his "package deal" with DeJuan Wagner and his father, ex-Louisville Cardinal Milt Wagner. The first case was bad behavior on its face, and the second, even though lots of others have done the same thing and it was perfectly legal up until now, was an attempt to skirt the intent of NCAA rules.
But the UMass situation was clearly just bad behavior by Marcus Camby that Calipari did not know about. How do I know? It was Calipari that notified the NCAA about Camby's activities. The Memphis thing was similar, but different. The NCAA Clearinghouse cleared Derrick Rose to play, and the allegations of possible entrance exam fraud came mid-season and with little substantiation. In the end, it had nothing to do with Calipari. In both cases, the NCAA explicitly said that Calipari had not done anything wrong. Why that isn't enough is beyond me.
People consistently make the argument that coaches should be sanctioned for actions taken by their players that violate NCAA rules, whether they knew about it or not. But those same people do not think that coaches should be sanctioned when their players, for example, drive around in cars full of dope and illegal firearms without their knowledge. Anybody but me see a double standard here?
Surely, illegal activities are more damaging to the University and society as a whole than NCAA rule-breaking, yet we willingly forgive coaches any responsibility for one, but not the other. That seems wrong to me.
Expats: Finally, what's your prediction for Saturday?
Truzenzuzex: I think this will be a tough game for Kentucky. Arkansas' strength goes right athwart Kentucky's weakness -- Arkansas can really shoot the 3, and UK can't defend it.
But in the same vein, Kentucky is strong on the offensive glass, and Arkansas is weak there. And unfortunately, Arkansas doesn't defend that well, either. Plus, it's in the friendly confines of Rupp Arena, so I'm going to give the Wildcats the advantage, 80-70.
Now that you're done here, head on over to A Sea of Blue to read our answers to Truzenzuzex's questions.