I wrote this article for KSR and it sums up my thoughts on this game and going forward.
When One Door Opens, Another Door Closes
Often times when people are going through difficult experiences or moments in their life, they comfort themselves by reassurances that in the greater scheme of things, it will all be better. Most of us likely believe that difficult problems happen for a reason and that we are ultimately better off because of the problems we have. And often, we look back, hum the words to “Unanswered Prayers” and realize that the bad experience made way for more positive ones.
But what about when the opposite happens? What about when you have something good happen and it paves the way for negativity? Welcome to the Kentucky Wildcats, version 2006. When Randolph Morris returned to the lineup, Kentucky fans salivated at the possibilities. Finally, a low post presence existed which would allow our stupendous guards to get more open looks, would provide more opportunities on the offensive glass and would spare us the sight of tortuous offensive possessions that make John Cheney look like an offensive wizard. However little did any of us know that the presence of Morris would open up new and previously unconsidered ways for this team to struggle.
For instance, the insertion of Morris to the lineup provided Kentucky with a legitimate low-post scorer and one of the few players who can get easy points. However it has also exposed the Cats to Morris’ biggest weakness, mainly low-post defense. Anyone who saw Jermareo Davidson abuse Morris on possession after possession may finally give some credence to the theory that Lukask Obrzut may be the best post defender on the roster. As the game hit crunch time, Kentucky fans were treated to a sight previously forgotten in the Chuck Hayes/Eric Daniels era, mainly a team that could go inside and get easy baskets to pull out a victory. What had previously been assumed, a level of competent interior defense, can now be added to the list of Wildcat fans’ worries.
Plus, to coincide with the opening of the Morris door, we have the painful deterioration of alleged sharpshooter Patrick Sparks. The sight of a previously unnecessarily cocky young man who was once willing to shoot on any one at any time from any place now barely able to muster the confidence to take a three point jumper with no player within five feet has been difficult to watch. At his best, Sparks was a country boy who lacked the talent to play like a top guard, but made up for it in confidence and bravado that would lead him to believe he could look at the top college basketball announcer in the land and tell him where he could go with his “traveling” theories. Now, he is left a broken player, forced to sit on the bench when the team needs the only thing he can provide, a three pointer.
We also have been treated to the bizarre disappearance of defensive superstar and supposed Top 5 NBA pick Rajon Rondo, and have been greeted by the sight of somewhat individualistic and lackadaisical Rajon Rondo. For the past year and a half, Rondo was a joy to watch on the court, a combination of quick feet, quicker hands and moves to the basket that would make Pistol Pete smile. Now we are left with a player who seems to do little but raise his hand up in the calling of a perpetual play, rarely moving inside the three point line that draws the boundary on his effectiveness. If the Wildcats continue their sinking feeling, the fall of Rondo may Akili Smith and Todd Marinovich blush.
And finally, we have been treated to something that I never thought I would see, the perplexing and indefensible coaching decisions of Tubby Smith. While Coach Smith has long been the targets of unreasonable criticism, this season and specifically the last couple of games have seen him give his critics ammunition that they could have never expected. While he must be given credit for going outside of the box and playing four guards for a great deal of the game, his insistence on a starting lineup that saw non-offensive threat Sheray Thomas at the small forward is simply unexplainable. But even this pales in comparison to the most incomprehensible moments of the last few games, which are this team’s feeble attempts to run designed plays after a timeout. Leaving aside the poor decision to not go for a two-for-one situation with 50 seconds left in the game, for Kentucky to come out of a timeout, needing a basket with 30 seconds to go and have their point guard seem to have no indication of the six seconds on the shot clock is coaching malpractice. Tubby Smith was once considered king of the drawn up plays, but this season has made mistakes that most 9-10 year old Youth Girls coaches would never make.
So with the return of Morris, Kentucky fans are left with a quandary. There is no doubt that the big fella is better and that it should make this team better. Yet, now problems that no one even fathomed have begun to rear their early head, and have made once seemed to be a simple solution to the team’s ills (fix the interior game), just one of a host of new problems. Which means that Kentucky fans may have to start reminiscing about how it felt in 1991. That fateful year, before you had ever heard of Bill Clinton, Brittany Spears or LeBron James, may be the new model for 2006. For with the new doors of problems opening, the very real potential that this team may be left out of the Madness come Selection Sunday continues to increase.