IRA COMBS: Cal and Cats Wade Through the Ducks and Pigeons & Still Waiting on the Big Test
By Ira D. Combs
Tri State Sports Media Services Inc.
When you're ranked No. 1 in the nation and have just thoroughly beaten the likes of Grand Canyon, Buffalo, Boston University and Montana State -- oops, I forgot the Kansas thrashing which was more dominating than any of the previous mentioned -- then it’s difficult to get excited about UT Arlington if you’re a member of college basketball’s most elite team at this date. That's just human nature in the world of team sports. It has nothing to do with not having a competitive spirit for every game.
So, if you're John Calipari, your challenge is to come up with ideas and practice routines to offset all the pats on the back the players are getting from BBN, not to mention being glorified on a daily basis by the national news media. But then isn’t that the beauty of the new “Platoon System.” It has its own built-in mechanism every day in practice that keeps players' minds, emotions and competitive spirit squarely on earning their spot in their respective platoon rotation so they can garner the few minutes their five gets on game night and then the production on court during those precious few minutes keeps the mindset squarely on the next task at hand. It's just a constant daily reminder of what your role is in the eyes of John Calipari.
So as we wade through the ducks and pigeons on the schedule such as UT Arlington (Tuesday night on SEC Network) BBN patiently waits on the next supposed solid challenge which should be the fighting Friars of Providence College on Sunday, Nov. 30 (ESPN2 at 2:00 p.m. EST). Providence, at one time, was one of the original mainstays of the old extremely deep and talented Big East. Surprisingly, Providence had not received even one vote for consideration into the Top 25 at this writing and they were undefeated at 6-0 with wins over Florida State and Notre Dame of the supposed mega hoops conference, the ACC.
While we wait on that first true test for the 2014-15 Wildcats, I continue to be impressed with this new “Platoon System” that Coach Cal has come up with.
The man still continues to get virtually no recognition on his talents as a game and practice coach yet he has virtually overhauled and changed his system on how he utilizes his players' various talents at each of the five positions on the floor. First was the “Dribble Drive” system which utilized his multi-talented point guards (John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague). Then last year he saved a season that was headed toward a disaster when he tweaked the dribble drive system to where it enhanced the different type guard skills that the Harrison twins brought to the program. Now in his sixth campaign leading the Big Blue, he has brought to the table another change called the "Platoon System" which incorporates all the different talents and abilities at all five positions for two platoons of starters where all 10 players receive between 18-22 minutes per game with their own respective platoon.
If you have followed UK basketball for many decades and have a trained and skilled eye on the X’s and O’s of the game, you should have noticed that in recent games Cal has run several different offensive sets previous UK coaches have used. The old high-old low post that Joe B. used to implement with Rick Robey & Mike Phillips and Sam Bowie & Melvin Turpin has been used to incorporate this team's depth at the PF and C positions a few times. Also, if you were really paying attention in the Buffalo game when UK faced a couple possessions against a man to man defense and Cal had three guards in the game, he ran ole No. 6 the guard around that Adolph Rupp made so famous.
Bottom line is the man can do much more than recruit and he still gets very little credit from the national and local media corps for his vast talents. You can bet on one thing for sure if this “Platoon System” continues on through the season as is and UK takes home NCAA title No. 9, the inner power circles of college basketball will find a way to curtail his success in the future just like the inner power circles of college football came up with the playoff system to try and thwart Alabama and the SEC from dominating college football.
Finally It’s The Cats vs. Cards On Rivalry Weekend
As the great Yankee Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over till it’s over." So one more time Mark Stoops and his battle-weary Wildcats get an opportunity to get bowl eligible as his brief two-year tenure as the head Wildcat comes to a close this Saturday down in River City at the “Pizza Pit,” better known as Papa John's Stadium where the Cards are usually hard to handle.
To set the scene for you, the Cats are rolling into “The Ville” on a five-game losing streak with an overall record of 5-6 but still have one more opportunity to circle the wagons and extend their season into the holidays and get valuable extra practices for their extremely infant roster which has 21 redshirts with nothing to do until winter workouts begin in mid-January if the Cats don’t pull off the upset. The Cards, on the other hand, are riding high tide into the Thanksgiving holidays after solving the time honored delimma of whipping the Irish right underneath the Golden Dome which I’m sure enhanced their bowl opportunity selection to an even higher $$$$$, maybe even a New Year’s Day bowl. That is unless the Cats can pull off the upset which would leave the Cards with four losses and a mid-level bowl .
Now who said the Governors Cup game couldn’t have flair and excitement at the end of the season where it has always belonged in my eyes. Now if we can just get Mitch & Tom to move the women’s and men’s basketball games to Friday night and Sunday afternoon, we’ll have a true rivalry weekend the entire college world will be jealous of and for those media folks worried that a major network can’t carry the UK-UL game in a national prime time setting.
NASCAR is over way before Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend and don’t think the folks at ESPN wouldn’t love to have a premier Sunday afternoon college basketball game to offer the sports viewers and go up against CBS, Fox, or NBC at any time afternoon, evening, or night when their precious NFL season has been dilluted to almost nothing other than a possible wild-card opportunity or two.
Inner athletic circle officials will know that both Rick Pitino and John Calipari literally hate playing the game at any time or place on the schedule so why not get the game out of the way early so both programs can go on to building their NCAA resumes for March without having the game hanging around until late December.
Just a thought but it makes sense for the powers that be at UK and U of L to even discuss this. Remember if not for the SEC and ACC conference offices, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the Governors Cup rivalry on rivalry weekend. This Saturday’s UK-U of L game has been assigned a 12:00 noon kickoff time and will be televised on ESPN2.
You can go online to www.combsbrothersonkysports.com for more coverage of UK basketball and football as well as KHSAA football and basketball. You can also follow us on Twitter at @combsbrothers5.