***Before he took the solemn vows of initiation at The Brown Tweed Society, Evan Hilbert and I enjoyed some good times at WildcatBlitz.com and here at Kentucky Sports Radio. I liked the way he laughed, his firm embrace and, mostly, his preview of the starting lineups of opposing basketball teams. So, just like the bat signal, I'll be posting these each game, hoping that it brings Evan home. Actually, scratch that. This is the third year I've been doing this without so much as a telegram. Evan, you're dead to me.
When I was a kid, there was a bully in my neighborhood named Paris (wonder why he felt the need to be a bully?) who would wait for the other neighborhood kids at the best stop and threaten them by saying he was going to "kick their butts into next year"
. Despite his threats, I don't believe this ever happened.
East Tennessee State returns to face Kentucky after the Cats kicked their butts into next year with a 100-71 pasting in the first round of the last year's NCAA Tournament and they do so wholeheartedly with their seven top returning scorers returning. Kind of. The Buccaneers
will not have the services of top returning scorer and rebounder Tommy Hubbard, who is taking a break from his basketball and domestic vandalism
schedule to recover from a knee injury. In his place, head coach Murry Bartow subs in another experienced rotation player and, to this point, his team hasn't seemed to miss a beat. In two blow-out wins to start the season, the Buccaneers have showed the chemistry and consistency that made them the favorite to win the Atlantic Sun and make the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year. Wait, what's that? They return the top seven starters and get their best player healthy again and they weren't picked to win the conference? Nevermind. I take it all back.
Kentucky takes the floor for their second straight season opener under John Calipari with their best player on the bench, serving time in NCAA prison. The difference this year, though, is that the prognosis for a Kanter return is a gloomy one and it will be interesting to see how the Cats
respond emotionally. With a young team, you can expect ups and downs and, with a season full of them ahead, it will be interesting to see if they come out flat or play as if their star Turkish big man just got banned. The matchup with ETSU, like in their previous two exhibitions is a favorable one in terms of size to start, as the Bucs will feature a four-guard lineup and a big man who is not physically imposing. But, what the Cats lack in experience and chemistry, ETSU has in spades and will not play timidly under the bright lights of Rupp - especially after putting up a very respectable fight against a hot-shooting team of future NBAers just a few months ago. They will press and attack the Cats early. They need to be as ready for the tip as the Buccaneers most certainly are.
Now, meet the guys who are kind enough to stop by and thank us and ask for another...
#3 Justin Tubbs, 6-3, G, Senior
: 12.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 0.6 apg, 40% from the field, 33% from three
When a team starts four guards, you generally assume there's at least one point guard in the group. That's not necessarily the case with ETSU. Justin Tubbs will do his best to play the part this season, taking over for the departed Jocolby Davis, who topped the team with an astounding 2.4 assists per game last season. He is a solid scorer, however, and has knocked down 40% of his threes in the exhibition season en route to a 14 per game average. Defensively, it's another story. After getting five steals in the opener against Carson-Newman, Tubbs had his hands full with highly-rated Tusculum point guard Kevin Vest and fouled out with eight and a half minutes remaining. Most people will tell you that Brandon Knight still has a ways to go to be Kevin Vest, but the matchup could still be a problem for Tubbs.
#30 Micah Williams, 6-4, G, Senior
: 12.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 0.9 apg, 47% from the field, 35% from three
Finished last season by scoring double digits in his last 11 games, including leading ETSU against UK with 19 points. He is 43 years old.
#43 Adam Sollazzo, 6-6, G, Junior
: 4.0 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 1.7 apg, 43% from the field, 14% from three
If you asked most college basketball coaches what they'd like to get from their wing players, most would probably say ball-handling, outside shooting and perimeter defense. ETSU just gets gym, tan, laundry. The junior from Armwood High School (soon to be renamed "Greg Oden High School") also exhibits terrible decision-making skills as proven by his decision to not use this picture in the media guide
. In the starting lineup in place of Hubbard, scored 11 total points in two exhibitions. Weak. However, he wasn't shy against the Cats last year, putting up 12 shots and getting 10 free throws in only 19 minutes. In fact, he just appears to be not shy at all
#1 Mike Smith, 6-6, G, Senior
: 9.3 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.5 spg, 32% from the field, 23% from three
Though Hubbard is the teams' leading returning scorer and rebounder, Smith is probably the team's best player. Smith, who scored over 2,600 points in high school and is already over 1,000 at ETSU, played only four games last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury. He opened the season with 25 points against Carson-Newman, a sign that he's returned to his 2008-09 form, when he averaged 15.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game while shooting 45% from the field and 36% from long distance. Smith is also the team's best defender and, if you went to high school in Kentucky, a dead-ringer for at least three people you graduated with.
#41 Isiah Brown, 6-8, F, Junior
: 7.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.1 apg, 1.8 bpg, 53% from the field
In case the pensive and soft pose of his media guide picture didn't already make it obvious, Isiah Brown plays the piano and is an avid chess player. The McDonald's All-American nominee didn't play like it against the Cats in the tournament though, putting up 11 and 6 and using his quickness and athleticism to get DeMarcus Cousins into foul trouble. Tonight, he'll try to think two moves ahead of Josh Harrellson, which we all know can't be done.
Head Coach Murry Bartow
Bartow, a graduate assistant under Bobby Knight during the 1987 championship season, enters his eighth season in Johnson City as the school's most successful coach ever, having taken his ETSU team to the NCAA Tournament three times (including the past two years), as well as UAB in 1999. His official bio calls last season his best, as the Bucs made the tournament after the death of sophomore Seth Coy and a knee injury to Mike Smith. Also proving that he is doing it right, his wife is ETSU's spirit coordinator.
- Sheldon Cooley (G): Averaged 6.7 points last season as a reserve. He is the sixth guy in the "returns top-seven leading scorers" phrase. On paper, would be the first guess in the "plays piano and is an avid chess player" contest.
- Jarvis Jones (G): He's a guard.
- Lukas Poderis (F): He's tall.
: Coach Cal is undefeated against ETSU at 2-0...The Buccaneers proudly boast Timothy Busfield as an alum...coincidentally, I think Thirtysomething
is the spread...the patron saint of wishy-washy sports fans, Kenny Chesney, is also an alum...I think it's the only team he's not rooting (or playing) for...ETSU is located in Johnson City...the one in Tennessee, not the one Ben Roethlisberger keeps taking people to...They took our dance!
...Coach Cal's son Brad turned 14 this week...he still never took me up on that three-point challenge...the game is on Fox Sports South...Dave Baker will call the game...actually, I'm just assuming that's true...Rob Bromley will realize where he is midway throught he second half...that, I'm sure of...