Kentucky 40 Louisiana-Lafayette 33 or (I've Seen This Game Before)

Photo: Kentucky Kernel

Photo: Kentucky Kernel

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, 
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could...

-- Bobby Frost

Stoops Team 3.1 started by delivering on the promise of New Kentucky Football: flashes of brilliance from Boom Williams, vertical passing from Patrick Towles, thunderous Stamping from AJ. The game ended with a reversion to Old (or, perhaps, Still-Too-Present) Kentucky Football: no interest in tackling, approaching offense like your roommate in college who threw a Hail Mary every single play on Xbox, Patrick Towles' continued regression since last year's Florida game. What we're left with is a  two-path, best-worse case prognostication for Stoops Team 3.  Let's examine both. 

Path 1 (Best Case)

Last year, Ohio State struggled in their opener against Navy and lost to a pretty bad Virginia Tech team the following week. They went on to (redacated: I can't type it). Early season games are often sloppy, riddled with inconsistencies and should be taken with a grain of salt. One game is far too small a sample size from which anything meaningful can be mined. Let us also not forget: Kentucky won the game. They stormed out of the gate. Were up 21-0. We can be simultaneously pleased with the way they started and disappointed with the way they finished; this is still a young team, and it's possible they just geared down...three quarters too early. 

And those deep balls that we threw every new set of downs? Towles did connect on a few of those, and that will prove important not only during games (obvi), but also when teams prepare for Kentucky. In Game 1, we have softened coverages for weeks to come. And the ones that didn't find their targets could be chopped up to an evolving chemistry between Towles and the WRs, nothing more than a few timing kinks which will work themselves out over the course of the season.

It's important not to discount how much Stoops and Dawson were (not) willing to put on tape just yet. This could account for Boom Williams getting only ten touches, nine after he burst 75 yards down the field for a touchdown on the game's opening play. This could account for the recklessness of the playcalling, forestalling what would otherwise look to be an approach to offense most accurately characterized as "wiffle ball home run derby."

Sure, the defense ceded ground, but they only broke once in the first half, and the argument could be made that they only faltered in the second half because, due to our wiffle ball attack on offense, they had been on the field so much. Also, first games are notorious winders--see South Carolina v. Texas A&M last year

Bottom line: Path 1 leaves a lot of room for optimism; only time will tell whether or not it's justified. 

Path 2 (Worst Case)

Patrick Towles has gotten progressively worse since the Florida game last year.

His game-by-game completion percentage:

Add last night's 47%, which would have qualified as his second least accurate game since becoming the full-time starter, and that small sample size becomes regrettably suitable to identify trends. 

There are several other stats which illustrate how well a quarterback is/is not playing, but I chose completion percentage because Towles's biggest problem is accuracy, and that's not easily fixed. In fact, history would suggest that it isn't fixable (see: Quinn, Brady; Cutler, Jay; Jets, New York). Go back and watch the deep balls from last night. On two that were completed, the receivers (Timmons and Baker, if memory serves), had to make adjustments while the ball was in the air. The third, the one to Garrett Johnson, was a beautifully thrown ball. 

You can see why this is problematic. The Air Raid offense is predicated on getting the ball out quickly, completing short and intermediate routes at a much more efficient rate than "about half" because without the fear of the intermediate route, the fear of the deep route becomes moot. 

If Towles and Dawson can't get this straightened out, then, as much as I like Towles, the time for a change could be now. 

Path 2 presents far more than a QB problem, though. The defense, even in the first half, looked soft. Fast, but soft. The defensive line was particularly disappointing. There was no real pass rush to speak of, nor was there anything resassuring about the plugging of gaps. Both ULL QBs had clean pockets all night. Fortunately for Kentucky, it didn't much matter because neither QB is very good. Other than AJ Stamping a few people and Josh Forrest flying all over the place (he's really, really good), the void of physicality so evident in last year's unit was glaring. I said earlier to someone that they had no "guts." I don't mean to be so harsh, but I just can't think of another way to put it. There was no energy, no urgency, no chutzpah. Aside from that crucial three-and-out when the game was tied in the fourth quarter, the defense was worrisome. Whether this is attributable to the loss of Bud and Z is yet to be determined, but it's possible that we still don't realize how important those two, especially Bud Dupree, were to that defense, which is saying something because we realized it pretty hard. 

The thing is they looked fast. They just didn't look engaged. Or interested in tackling all the time. Which is a problem because, and I've said this before, that's not something that gets corrected in-season. So, it'd be awesome if that could just be a Game 1 problem. 

Bottom line: the sky is not falling, but changes need to be made now. Otherwise, we may be a little further behind schedule than we'd hoped. 

Ducks Fly Together: USWNT to Meet Japan in World Cup Final (And I've Seen This Movie Before)

Ducks Fly Together: USWNT to Meet Japan in World Cup Final (And I've Seen This Movie Before)
People don't have these tidy little redemption arcs in reality the way they do in movies.
-Diablo Cody

Did you know she used to be a stripper? Then she wrote Juno, which was so good.  

In the world of sports narratives, redemption is not just a trope, it's a sub-genre, mined for and (often erroneously) assigned because redemption stories are the rarest of sports gems. They're so valuable that Hollywood basically refuses to make any other kind of sports movie. Here's their formula, this is what they do, watch: 

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St. Raphael's Gentle Giant

One of the best pieces of advice I ever ignored was (in reference to getting a Master's Degree): "It's two years, but if you don't do it, you'll look back in two years and think: I would've been done right now."

Paul DeZarn was a giant. He wasn't particularly tall, he didn't have a beard, nor did he (to my knowledge) ever live on a mountain. But to view him through a lens of generosity, profundity and compassion was to witness a man who was ten feet high.

While many of us wear our accomplishments on our sleeves, tack them to our golf bags or park them in our driveways, Paul DeZarn--or "Dr. D" as the students of St. Raphael (home of the Giants), have called him for the past half-century--never had to. His accomplishments were present in every movement he made, every word he spoke, for he was master of life's only important accomplishments:. kindness of heart, generosity of spirit, and depth of thought. Walking away from a conversation with Mr. DeZarn meant viewing the world a little differently than you had before. He was never short on profound advice, which he kept on hand at all times, able to be accessed at will. He spoke to you with no judgment, only encouragement. While your own goals, your own passions may have begun to stagnate in your own mind, he viewed them with unjaded, almost childlike enthusiasm. 

When I tell someone my goal is to write for a living, I'm often greeted with a mirthless smile. When I told Mr. DeZarn, his face lit up. "The next great American novelist!" he announced to the room, despite my being its only other occupant. But there was no irony. Nothing was faked. He believed I was capable of writing the great American novel, and he made me believe it all over again. 

This authenticity, this generosity of spirit, lost with so many of us today, lives on his family, in his three daughters and two sons, the youngest of whom I've been lucky and honored to call one of my best friends for over 20 years. In fact, it lives on so transparently that it's almost axiomatic: to be a DeZarn is to be generous, compassionate and thoughtful. It's a birthright, passed down to them by a man who had long ago mastered these skills the way Caravaggio mastered chiaroscuro, Babe Ruth mastered baseball or Donna DeZarn mastered diapering a Yorkie. 

*It's worth noting here that the other birthright (and one of equal value in my book), possessed by every DeZarn--sass--was passed down by Paul's wife, Donna, or as I (have never) called her, Gator: 

It's no mystery why the two fit together like a lock and key. The gentle Giant and his charmingly unfiltered other half. 

I'll never forget Paul DeZarn. My life is immeasurably better for having had him in it. I'm sad that he's gone, but heartened by the legacy he's left in his family and in the thousands of students who have passed through St. Raphael, all of whom have been the benefactors of his grace.

Rest well, Dr. D. And thanks for all the good advice. 

Look North: Why You Should Be Paying Attention to the USWNT

In case you didn't know, Canada is currently hosting the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup, and you should be watching. 

Because listen.

We are in the midst of a cultural shift in American sports, which, in itself, is far from unprecedented, but unlike at any time in our past, this one has been led by women.

Whether you like it or not, soccer is coming to America (starring Eddie Murphy, Darth Vader, Oha, Arsenio from Arsenio, Eddie Murphy and featuring Louie Anderson as The Hero). According to ESPN FC, Major League Soccer has caught up with Major League Baseball in popularity among kids aged 12-17 for the first time since its inception in 1994. In other words: holy shit!

Poll Courtesy: espnfc.com

Poll Courtesy: espnfc.com

The reasons for this rise in popularity are many, but one that I believe cannot be overlooked--or overstated--is how successful our women's team has been since the 1999 World Cup. You remember it. Five full years had passed since America hosted the men's World Cup, and during that time our national soccer conversation had gone from: "Oh, neat, Brazilians--they better not mess up Soldier Field" to "Meola? What's that, a Mazda?" and then, while most of the sports-consuming country was flipping through channels, waiting that extra five minutes for TBS to get around to Braves v. Expos, Brandi Chastain appeared from the ether and provided us with one of the most iconic images in American sports history: 

I believe we began to pivot that day, albeit slowly, like a frigate coming about across the wind, and the impact of that kick is only now being fully realized. While its role as a pivot point for women's soccer has been well-documented, its importance to the idea Soccer in America has gone underreported, lost in the ocean of other factors which have contributed to soccer's rise: steroids in baseball, concussions in football, steroids in baseball again. All of which are valid. 

But up until Chastain's kick, Soccer in America was like Sushi in Murfreesboro. You could consume it, but you knew going in that you were probably going to end up disappointed, if not sick to your stomach. It was wholly unqualified to fill a vacuum should any of the major sports commit a damaging misstep, so when Brandi Chastain, Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and the 1999 World Cup team won, America did a collective: 

#Nine 

#Nine 

Our women were the best soccer players in the world. Not basketball. Not softball. Soccer: the world's game. A game thoroughly unAmerican (You can't use your hands?!?!?!?!).That meant something. We weren't quite sure what, but it meant something because it gave us goose bumps. Go ahead, I dare you not to get goose bumps. 

Tell 'em, Freddie. 

Since then, the women's game has had its peaks and valleys, as has always been the case with Soccer in America. Like the White Walkers marching on the Wall, the progress has been slow and, at times, while we were busy focusing on Lebron James's hair or Tom Brady's balls or Theon Greyjoy's...balls, it has gone unnoticed. Makes sense, right? Changing cultural memes (redundant probably) doesn't happen overnight; it's a large apparatus with lots of moving parts, lots of entrenched beliefs and habits. It usually takes a generation to affect real change. 

Fast forward, then, to 2011 when the USWNT was once again in the World Cup Final, this time against Japan. The match was, at the time, you ready for this, ESPN's highest rated soccer match everaveraging over 13 million viewers. It was, at the time, the second most watched daytime telecast in the history of cable television, behind only that year's Rose Bowl (info from tvbythenumbers.com).

But why?  Why the sudden interest? Remember Brandi Chastain from thirty seconds ago? I know what that meant now. Brandi Chastain conquered the soccer world that day, which meant that America conquered the soccer world. And conquering the world is our jam. It's our signifier.  And in 2011, we were poised to do it again--to conquer a world we have historically had no business conquering, to take over the one club from which the world had theretofore managed to keep us out. While Japan ultimately beat us four years ago in Germany, our appetite for soccer glory had once again been whetted by a group of women giving everything they had for the Stars and Stripes--this time in front of 13 million people. 

From that point on there has been no turning back.

We have an urge now, a hunger to tame the only sports frontier still largely uncharted for us--and not just the women's game. We want to conquer men's soccer, too. Which is why MLS is growing, inspiring enthusiasm and in-game environments which have long been, quite literally, foreign to us. 

While the feasibility of Soccer in America is ultimately tied to the success of our men's team (#capitalism), it has been the women's team that has dragged soccer along while the men played catch-up. It has been the women who have commanded Americans to ask: "If the women can do it, why can't the men?" 

It's become part of the American Outlaw canon that if you want to truly call yourself an American soccer fan, you have to support the MLS. It makes sense because the MLS and USMNT are inextricably linked {1}. Of course, you can watch  your favorite Premier League team (Liverpool) or your favorite La Liga team (Real Madrid) or your favorite Bundesliga team (Borussia Dortmund), but if you want to belong when the National Team convenes, you'd better have a favorite MLS team (Portland Timbers) and be prepared to discuss them intelligently. Consequently, I believe that if you're going to call yourself a true American soccer fan, then supporting the USWNT is nonnegotiable. While it's true that there are several factors which have contributed to the growth of Soccer in America make no mistake that it's been our women who have been leading the charge. So, pay attention. We owe them our support. 

For more about the United States Women's National Team, visit American Soccer Quarterly

Footnote

1. In case you didn't know, Major League Soccer is the result of a promise by U.S. Soccer to FIFA in 1988 that it would create a Division 1 soccer league upon winning the vote to host the 1994 World Cup. Since then, it's provided a club home for nearly every prominent member of the USMNT at some stage in their careers. 

ATTENTION--Regional Sports Media: Grow Thumbs or Stay in the Ocean or (How Bill Simmons Leaving ESPN Will Change Everything. Again.)

Despite twelve years of Catholic schooling, I subscribed to the theory of evolution pretty early on, basically as soon as I understood it--not because I was necessarily bright but because, perhaps, I was necessarily simple. When presented with the case of how I got these super helpful opposable thumbs from fish {1}, I was like, "Oh, yeah, that makes sense. Because I can see it. Hey, maybe God, instead of magicking up two white people from Iraqi soil, did it this way, with all living creatures being related. It sure does seem to tie everything together. No you shut up."  {2}

Bill Simmons's departure from ESPN, which I all but predicted here seven months ago {3}, leaves a massive cultural vacuum atop the increasingly fractious world of online sports journalism. And filling this vacuum will, I posit, determine the direction of the next evolutionary cycle in sports consumption, similar to the shift from traditional media (newspapers, TV, radio) to new media (blogs, livestreams, podcasts) ushered in by, among many others, Bill Simmons. Simmons was but one of many voices who used the freedom of the Internet to break the mold of traditional sports coverage models (the game recap, the editorial newspaper column, etc.), but his success--and subsequent acceptance into the mainstream--made him a frequent target of sports journalism's Old Guard.

Rick Reilly

Old school-new school. I'm not doing more than 800 words, I'm not from Boston, I don't write a lot about the NBA. I'm more likely to tell a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end. He's a blogger. I still love reading him."

Translation: I'm a professional who writes the way I was taught in journalism school. He's a blogger who writes the way he wants. Because of typesetting and limited page space, that was never an option for me. I hate his guts. 

Rick Reilly wrote his final sports column last year. 

Jay Mariotti:

Jay Mariotti:

No, Jay. You're the first. 

Jay Mariotti:

For those of you who don't remember, Jay Mariotti was accused of doing this to his girlfriend in 2010. Charges were dropped, as was he from his regular spot on ESPN's Around the Horn. Decide for yourself what's what as far as that goes. Just know exactly whose opinion that is.

While I don't disagree with the substance of some of the Old Guard's criticisms of Simmons (the unpolished craft part, anyway {4}), I do find the motivation shamelessly transparent ("qualified voices?" this isn't theoretical physics, Mariotti) and trite to the point of cliche (the world is flat and 6000 years old; no, you shut up). How many newspapers have to be put on life support before the last of Simmons's detractors will admit that the time of unilateral narratives and regurgitations of the same old sports tropes are obsolete? How many blogs have to be sold for millions of dollars before the Old Guard will give up the facade that there is only one way to discuss sports--and to be "qualified," one must go to Syracuse or Northwestern before toiling in anonymity until the Old Boys Network slips a note under your door? The Internet is the ultimate meritocracy. 

The modern sports consumer doesn't need a 700-word recap of last night's game because they watched last night's game. Because it's 2015. In 1939, the 700-word recap was an invaluable resource because if you missed the Yankees broadcast on the radio, you missed the Yankees broadcast. You missed Joe DiMaggio going 5-5. You missed Lou Gehrig, the Iron Horse, making longshoremen and mob bosses and policemen cry with one flick of his cap. You were left to read about it in the next day's paper--and literally nowhere else. So, yes, to be a sportswriter in 1939 meant to be the lone conduit between The Fans and The Game, the singular vessel of dissemination to a cohort of consumers with no other options. 

Seventy-six years later (#math), this notion is so outmoded it's bordering on extinction. The modern sports consumer doesn't need someone to set the scene, describe the atmosphere and recall what happened because we saw it on TV. Or via live stream. Or Periscope. Or YouTube. Or, worst-case scenario, one of the seven different airings of the same version of SportsCenter. Why, then, do newspapers and other regional sports outlets continue to provide sports content designed to serve an analog audience--sometimes a day later? Everything save live sporting events can be seen On Demand. Miss the Dan Patrick Show today? "Yeah, but I'm a podcast listener." Think about that. That wasn't a sentence ten years ago. "I'm a podcast listener." It would've been like walking into the Mayberry Courthouse and telling Barney Fife to "Google my Twitter." If Thelma Lou had been in there, Barney would've locked you up for indecency. And parking in front of a fire hydrant. 

"Hey, Slater, Screech is trying to get a hashtag trending. Will you snap, text and Instagram Lisa Turtle to retweet #thesprain? She has a ton of followers. Thanks, man, I gotta go. Skype me later, Zack is at the #MayPac fight, and he'll be Periscoping the whole thing." 

The people at The Max would've looked at you like you had a head growing out of the head on your head. Or not, they were pretty tech savvy:

Teen Line, this is Nitro

Teen Line, this is Nitro

It's time to shed the constraints  that have held regional sports journalism back. As an industry, it's already (at least) one evolutionary cycle behind, and Bill Simmons's departure from ESPN is a signal that must be heeded. The man behind Grantland and 30 for 30 didn't leave ESPN willy-nilly. Whether he winds up at HBO or CNN or Twitter or Yahoo or Netflix or Amazon (any of which would, I'm sure, be happy to grant him the autonomy he desires [speculation mine], while funding Grantland 2.0 and providing a format for the new iteration of 30 for 30) or sets out on his own solo venture, we are on the cusp of another evolutionary cycle in sports journalism. The pieces have been shuffling into place for a while. The chips are in the air (#pickyouranalogy). TV is becoming not TV, replaced by streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon, which can be easily streamed straight to our Smart TVs, allowing us to consume all of our sports reporting on our time, with the option to fast forward through commercials.

What's more, this isn't news I'm breaking. This isn't me playing the role of Wizened Village Elder {5} standing on top of the hill pointing westward toward an approaching storm that no one else can see. The clouds have been gathering for a while, which makes it even more apparent just how far behind regional sports outlets are--despite people like Jay Mariotti telling you the sun is still shining and that his way is the only way. Because of what, integrity? Some (imaginary) higher level of thought? 

Is this what punches one's ticket into the Intelligentisa? This kind of thing is so far behind the times that Mariotti probably doesn't realize the Internet has name for it: trolling. 

The good news is that it's not yet too late to evolve, to grow digital thumbs and climb out of the analog box that keeps regional sports journalism from thriving in a multimedia world. The other good news is it won't take 100 million years to create an entertaining website, to cover sports like sports--with a sense of humor and perspective. To inform without pandering. To focus on more nuanced, longform pieces instead of snatching all the low-hanging fruit. To engage through every channel of media from TV to quality online content to podcasts to things we don't even know about yet. But it has to start now--yesterday-- before this second evolutionary cycle leaves us hopelessly behind. Because like Eddie Murphy said Friedrich Nietzsche said in Coming to America: "He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk; one cannot fly into flying."

The rest of sports media is growing wings. Let's not stand ashore and watch them fly away {6}. 

 

Footnotes

1. Or now, maybe, hold on because these other organisms that predate the Cambrian explosion might have lived on land. Unless they didn't. #science

2. Relax. I know people are sensitive about the issue of Creation, but I would like to point out that Pope Francis himself has said that Evolution is Real and God is No Wizard

3. Me, you, everyone. 

4. "To be a great writer, you have to be a great thinker." A friend who recently graduated from the prestigious Helen Zell Writing Program at the University of Michigan said that to me once. While Simmons's craft may lack the refinement of those more writerly (that word still makes me vomit), it's still unique and his voice is as clearly defined as his perspective is insightful. 

5. Eric the Everlasting Know-It-All, they'd call me. #spaceballs

6. Yeah, that was kind of clumsy, as wings predate thumbs and it kind of muddles this whole evolutionary analogy, but I wrote this pretty quickly and the Nietzsche felt right, and I like the visual of watching someone fly away and being left behind as it applies here. So. 

The Strap: Big Blue Heavyweight Champion of the World

The Strap: Big Blue Heavyweight Champion of the World

Yesterday I was reading Grantland’s Pitching Championship Belt articles by Bill Barnwell when I came up with an idea: a Universitiy of Kentucky Basketball Championship Belt (hierarchy because the Intercontinental Championship, to me, was the most elegant of championships: understated yet somehow still bold, like Bill Curry in a Tommy Bahama shirt). I totally already know what you’re thinking: F#ck, he’s handsome. And his ideas are so good, and he knows all about history and he reads books and he has the musculature of a young Apollo Creed. I wish I was him. I wish I was Eric Kaufman. Oh, yeah, but he’s totally ripping off Grantland here. It’s actually a little embarrassing that he can’t come up with his own content so he expects me to read this Grantland Lite article.

Well, first, you’re a bit long-winded. Second, you nailed the Apollo Creed thing. Third, it’s summer, so I mean it’s this or baseball because you clearly don’t want to read any of my World Cup posts (I could show you the numbers—I get it, okay?) (1). Fourth, just.

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Power (K) Ballad

Power (K) Ballad

In 1997 the University of Kentucky ended its ridiculous relationship with Converse, a brand that has since become mostly fictional, and signed a lucrative sponsorship deal with upstart capitalist/designer running shoe outfit Nike, which, according to the documentary Prefontaine, was founded by Jared Leto, who plays Claire Danes in Homeland. The new deal (as opposed to the New Deal, which was different *1*)

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The Joy is in the Journey

With the wound still fresh, those words probably ring a little hollow, but I do believe them. The heartbreak we all felt will never disappear, but let's not allow it to overshadow what has been one of the greatest regular seasons in the modern era of college basketball. Let's not allow one misstep to tarnish the legacy of this amazing group. Some final thoughts on the 2014-2015 Cats.

This is the team everyone will remember from this season, not Duke or Wisconsin

No matter what happens tonight, this group, partly because of Cal and partly because it's Kentucky, will be the team history remembers. Like Georgetown in 1985. The story isn't that Villanova won, but that Georgetown lost, and that's not all bad. Of course winning is better, but what Kentucky accomplished despite not winning a national title will live on and is the kind of thing that could directly or indirectly lend itself to future success. Why? Because we were the story. For eight months (if you go back to the Bahamas August), Kentucky was the only team on the lips of casual fans. Kentucky transcended. Kentucky paid ESPN's bills and gave the SEC Network something besides Nick Saban to talk about in its inaugural basketball season.

Don't take that lightly. Kentucky has nothing to prove in terms of its place in history, but this team, despite not winning a title, has earned its place among the loftiest of Big Blue Perches, and should be remembered in the same breath as our greatest teams. And, buddy, our greats are greater than most. Our perches are higher than most. Our history is still the envy of college basketball, and this team only enhanced it.

It's been a privilege to watch this team

Forget about this team's place in history for a moment. For a moment, forget about what it all means. Did you have fun watching this team this year? I did. Did this team fill you with pride? Did they make you glad to be a Kentucky fan? Yes? And yes? Me, too.

This team provided everything that any reasonable person could ask for from a college basketball season. Then, they did a helluva lot more. From Willie's dunk on America to Willie's other dunk on America, to Aaron Harrison's three (again) against Notre Dame to Tyler Ulis's complete indifference to the taste of his own blood (in a rivalry game where said rival's PG is flopping more than that catfish I hooked but set said hook too late and he swallowed it and I had to get pliers to get it out and then it barbed me in the hand and there was my blood and his blood and when I finally got the hook out I sent him back on his way with my sincerest apologies), this has been one of the greatest journeys I have ever been privileged to witness--and, buddy, this ain't Louisville; we've been blessed with a multitude of amazing Big Blue Journeys just in my lifetime.

On top of all that, these kids are amazing. I outlined it a few posts below, but this was a group that was so easy to root for. No bad apples. Unlike that time Louisville fielded a team (pick a year). 

I hope Cal retires here

I said Saturday night that I thought Cal had coached his last game here. Again, I have zero inside information. I don't even have any outside information. This is just my opinion; but, it's my opinion based on context clues--clues such as his demeanor during and after the Notre Dame game. He looked fried, tense, nervous. You saw it, I'm not going to dwell on it, but the guy looked like a guy who had had all that he could take from coaching Kentucky. And that's okay. It just means maybe he's reached his natural stopping point here, which, after this season, after being under this microscope for so long, after losing possibly seven guys off of this team, I'm not sure there would be a more logical time for Calipari to leave (more on this tomorrow).

When he came, I think he said something like he had ten years here. Ten years here was like twenty somewhere else. He's right. This is not a twenty-year job. It just isn't. We will never have a Coach K, a guy who spends his entire career here (besides, we already had him; he won four titles, and we named the arena after him). In part, this is because our fans are just too passionate. We put too much pressure on the team and the coach. That's never going to change, nor should it because that same passion is the reason players want to come here and coaches want to coach here. You come here and win, you're not only a Kentucky legend, you're a basketball legend. You come here, it's easier to win. The support is built in. We're not going anywhere. I don't just mean emotional support. Because here's what the Kentucky fan does. 

The Kentucky Fan spends an untenable amount of his/her disposable income on tickets. 

The Kentucky Fan spends an untenable amount of his/her disposable income on merchandise. 

The Kentucky Fan spends an untenable amount of his disposable income on travel with the team. 

The Kentucky Fan spends an untenable amount of his/her time freaking the fuck out about what is happening with "The Guys."

That's what makes you special. You make the program. That's why they come. And that's why, if Cal does leave, we'll fill the position with another great coach. 

But. 

I want Cal to retire here. Let me take this opportunity to back off--some--on my position that he's leaving. I'm going to go into more detail about this tomorrow, but for now, let's focus on what he's done since Saturday. He's told Tyler Ulis he wants to build a team around him (I'm all in for that). He's said he won't shy away from trying to make another undefeated run next year (this, I love. It's what I love about Cal. He never stops. He doesn't take vacations. He doesn't get sick. He is a jackhammer). 

These don't sound like things that would come out of the mouth of a man who is leaving. But time will tell. I'm gonna try to put up another Smart Guy, Blogger conversation tomorrow which goes into more detail about this, covering the decision from every possible angle. Let me just say this, though. I don't think there is a more perfect job in the world for John Calipari than to coach basketball at the University of Kentucky, and I don't think there is a more perfect person in the world to coach basketball at the University of Kentucky than John Calipari. 

They still hung a banner

Let's not forget that. They still added one to the rafters. That alone fulfills the criteria required to be considered one of our great teams. Combine that with all the other stuff I just mentioned, and we can--and should--look back on this team and remember the journey, not just the unfortunate final destination.

For now, spring has sprung. Go outside. Take your dog to the park. Hike. Read a book. Recharge. Because being a fan doesn't stop with heartbreak. This heartbreak only hardens the hearts of The Kentucky Fan. This heartbreak makes the successes that follow that much more satisfying. 

Kentucky Falls to Wisconsin, Duke Wins Another Title by Default, Has Cal Coached His Last Game at UK?

The Cats lost a game they had no business winning tonight in Indianapolis. From the opening tip they were tight, settling for jumpers, playing right into Wisconsin's game plan, and that's the thing I'd like to focus on right now: game plan

Caveat: As I said last night, I am not a basketball guy. I'm a football guy (really, I'm a baseball guy, but try getting a readership writing about that). 

Yet I don't have to be Adolph Rupp to know that the team I watched was unprepared for this game against a Wisconsin team which, I believe, was playing with their best player at far below 100%. From the opening tip, Kentucky settled for the jumpers Wisconsin gave them. The first one, a three by Andrew Harrison, though we had no way of knowing it at the time, was probably the death knell for Kentucky, who proceeded to take long jumper after long jumper despite seeing almost none of them fall. 

Wisconsin, on the other hand, was patient, efficient, and mediocre as always. And tonight, with Kentucky playing far below its mean, that was plenty. 

Look, I hate to say this, but I'm going to. Bo Ryan coached Olympic circles around John Calipari tonight. Going back to that term, game plan, Wisconsin's was simple: pack in the defense, don't let Karl Towns beat you. With Devin Booker being an empty jersey the last two months, Kentucky found itself left with only one real shooter, and Aaron Harrison alone wasn't enough to intimidate Wisconsin from beyond the arc. On top of the Xs and Os, which, again, I'm wholly unqualified to dissect, Kentucky looked like they didn't care. Yeah, I know, that's a harsh criticism, and I'm not calling out the players for their effort or desire. I believe they wanted to care. But, when confronted with a relatively straightforward Wisconsin game plan, they were ill-equipped to play with the effort befitting a Final Four game. In other words, they were ready to give the effort; they just didn't know where to channel it because Wisconsin foiled them. 

I've been holding back on this all week because of superstition and, if I'm honest, fear of being right, but Cal was visibly shaken at the end of the Notre Dame game, and while I have no idea if his players noticed, I did. Many of you did, too. And I thought Kentucky looked like a team afraid to lose tonight.

But why? Was it because Cal was so close to that undefeated team he always talked about? Was it because he just really wanted to win a national championship? Other?

Here are the answers to that: Yes. No. Yes (my opinion).

The pressure, in my opinion, simply got to Cal. It was written on his face last week in Cleveland, which is something I've never seen before--not just from him; I've never seen a college coach on the sidelines look scared. Before you get up in arms, let me explain that I'm completely okay with that, with Cal expressing honest human emotion in a trying moment. I actually found it refreshing. My point, though, is that I believe it trickled down to his players. But again, I come back to why. Why did he look so tense? He's been in dozens, probably hundreds, of tense games. 

I theorize that he's known for some time that this would be his last season at Kentucky, his last go with these players, and he wanted to finish this thing off on his terms. Look, I have no inside information. My blog, despite the perspective (not so much right this second, when I'm telling you about my reading of context clues) and writing being better than all the other Kentucky blogs, isn't that popular yet. I'm telling you what I feel in my gut. I believe Cal coached his last game at Kentucky tonight, and I believe he's known for a while that it would be; additionally, I think the players, on some level, knew as well. 

Only time will tell, but for now, let me close with this. This team, this ride, has been amazing. I'm so proud of this team, so proud of these players, and I pray I'm wrong. I hope John Calipari retires as the coach of this university. But when it comes to situations like this, my guesses are usually pretty accurate. Not always, but my record is pretty good (I'm not bragging; obviously, you have no reason to take me at my word). I'll go into more detail about all this over the course of the week, but for tonight, let's congratulate Wisconsin, celebrate this amazing team, which, let's not forget, is still responsible for yet another banner in the John Calipari era, and drink the bourbon with which God blessed the Bluegrass specifically for nights like tonight. 

Heartbreakers like tonight come with the territory when you care as much as we do, and they make the successes that follow that much sweeter. Jack Nicklaus won 18 Major Championships. He had 19 runners-up. The key to building something we want to build is to keep putting yourself in the position, and Cal and this team did that again. So, cheers to this team for an amazing season.