When it comes to college basketball, it's hard to find a school with more tradition and fan intensity (ask Tubby Smith) than Kentucky. With the annual Hogs-Wildcats battle looming, we figured this was a good time to check in with one of our favorite SEC bloggers, Truzenzuzex from A Sea of Blue. He was kind enough to give us his informative and entertaining thoughts on a variety of topics, including the Billy Gillispie hire, the most irritating 90s-era Hog to play against, and why Razorback fans maybe shouldn't get too used to having John Pelphrey around. And when you're done reading Tru's take, head on over to his site to read our answers to his questions about the Hogs. Big thanks to Tru for his time...read on for the full scoop:
1. The Wildcats' overall record is a very un-Kentucky-like 14-10. However, the team is 8-3 in the conference, has won seven out of its last eight games, and has wins over then-No. 13 Vandy and then-No. 3 Tennessee. Considering all of that, what's the overall mood of Wildcat fans and what's your impression of Billy Gillispie so far?
The fanbase, in general, is happy with Gillispie, particularly those who wanted Smith gone so passionately. But I would say that Gillispie has widespread support among the Big Blue Nation, and I am pleased to count myself included. There have been a few missteps and some questionable decision making, but given the difficulty we have had with injuries and the defection of Alex Legion, I think things have gone reasonably well, particularly since the SEC season began and we finally began playing decent basketball. In sum, I would say the State of the Big Blue Nation is satisfied pending future improvement. Essentially, he gets a pass for this season. The radicals can always blame Tubby Smith.
2. Give us a quick scouting report of UK: What are the team's strengths and weaknesses?
- Shooting -- Kentucky is currently second in FG% in the conference, and second in 3-point FG%, and 3rd in eFG%
- Defense -- Kentucky is currently 3rd in the league in defensive FG% and 2-point defensive FG%.
- Blocks -- UK is currently 5th in blocks/game.
- Ballhandling -- 10th in TO's, 10th in A/TO ratio, and dead last in turnover rate.
- Fouls -- we foul way too much.
- Rebounding -- We are 10th in rebounds/game, and only 6th in rebound %.
3. What are the keys to a Kentucky win on Saturday, and what is your prediction for the game?
- Turnovers -- If UK turns the ball over > 5 times more than Arkansas, we will have trouble
- Patterson -- If Patterson catches the ball much in the post, Arkansas will have its hands full.
- Defense -- Joe Crawford must do a number on Patrick Beverly, defensively.
- Defensive intensity -- When the defensive intensity is high, the Cats are very tough.
- Attack the rim -- Kentucky is the best free-throw shooting team in the conference.
Prediction? I think the Cats have a good chance to win if they play well.
4. With John Pelphrey returning to Rupp, Saturday's game will obviously be a special day for both him and Kentucky fans. Describe what Pelphrey the player was like and give us a sense of what he and the rest of The Unforgettables mean to UK basketball.
Pel was the guy that got the most out of the talent he had. He was slow afoot, jumped poorly, and struggled with quicker players. But he knew this, and used superior positioning and his great shooting ability to nullify them. Pelphrey was intensely competitive and hated to lose, and at Kentucky, he didn't have to suffer many losses.
The Unforgettables, to us, represent the oasis in the desert after having wandered aimlessly amidst desolation to the point of expiration. They were the restorers of hope, the guardians of tradition, the returners of honor and the most determined, unselfish team ever to don a Kentucky uniform in my memory. They are legend. Their jerseys deservedly grace the most hallowed rafters in all of college basketball, and we are all very proud of their accomplishments.
Melodramatic enough for ya?
5. Gut feeling: Will Pelphrey one day be the coach of the Wildcats?
I would say the odds are slightly in favor of that, but much depends on the work he does at Arkansas. Unlike Donovan who turned down the chance, John had blue blood running through his veins the day they cut the cord. Nobody in his position could turn down an offer to coach the Cats, if it is ever extended.
6. We'll allow you to gloat a little bit. In return, though, you have to let us indulge in a bit of schadenfreude. What do you feel is Kentucky's most satisfying win over Arkansas? On the flip side, what's the most painful loss?
The first one is easy -- the 1995 SEC tournament game in overtime. We had lost to the Hawgs earlier that year 94-92. That was maybe the most thrilling game I have ever seen. We were behind 19 points at one time, and 9 another and still managed to get the W.
The most painful loss? 1992 in Rupp Arena, when the Razorbacks mauled us 105-88. We were ranked #8 at the time, and Arkansas #9.
7. Back in our glory days of the early and mid-90s, the Hogs and Wildcats had a great rivalry and engaged in a number of memorable games. Which Razorback player from that era irritated you the most and which one did you respect the most?
Most irritating -- Scotty Thurman. That guy hit more big shots against us than anyone I can remember.
Most respected -- Corey Beck. Great player, always kept his cool, played with passion and control.
8. Speaking of rivalries, which conference foe do you now consider to be UK's biggest rival?
Tennessee. We have always had a rivalry with them, unlike Florida or Vanderbilt, whom we have historically beaten like rented mules. Tennessee has always been a tough out for Kentucky, and there is a fairly intense rivalry there.
9. Arkansas and Kentucky have a coach in common – Eddie Sutton. Nearly 20 years after his departure, how do Wildcat fans feel about him?
Many Kentucky fans blame Sutton for probation and virtually despise him. Sutton definitely deserves some of the blame for that, but I myself always liked him and hated to see him leave. He was a fine coach, but he was rumored to be a heavy drinker off the court, and that was always a concern. Given later events, I think we can assume that those rumors were more likely true than false. But as I say, I always liked him. He was really great at Arkansas.
10. Finally, what's your prediction for the rest of the season - will the Wildcats make the NCAA, or are they NIT-bound?
I can't predict, there are simply too many variables, and I think that this season the Cats have proven that they are capable of losing to anyone, anywhere. I would say that the odds are in favor of the NIT maybe 60-40 today, but if we manage to defeat Arkansas and Old Miss, don't get blown out at Tennessee and defeat Florida and win two games or more in the SEC tournament, I think we will be in for sure. Anything less than that is very marginal.
Thanks for the questions!