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IRA COMBS: Wildcats Getting Closer to Securing That No. 1 Seed


By Ira D. Combs

Tri State Sports Media Service Inc.

As we work our way through February and toward March Madness, has anyone noticed anything different during the course of each half of UK’s games in recent days, especially the second half?

Maybe it’s me but I see more of an eight-man rotation than a platoon system. With Alex Poythress' season over for several weeks now, Cal has tried several tweaks to the 10-man platoon system but in recent games I’ve noticed Dominique Hawkins gets the token start for most games but his participation has dwindled as the clock ticks from that point forward in most games. Also, it appears Willie Cauley-Stein has weathered the storm of a couple stints in Cal’s doghouse and slowly taken away minutes from Marcus Lee especially in the 2nd half.

Had Trey Lyles not had a recent 10-day stint with a mysterious illness, this eight-man rotation may have moved along even faster so I for one am going to keep an eye on the substitution rotation as we work our way down the homestretch and into March Madness.

This is no new tweak or brainstorm on Calipari’s part. Most NCAA coaches favor a seven- or eight-man rotation by the time post-season rolls around.

Does this mean Coach Cal has lost confidence in Dominique Hawkins and Marcus Lee? Absolutely not. It just means he feels more comfortable with the eight-man rotation of the Harrison twins, Booker,Ulis, Cauley-Stein, Towns, Johnson and Lyles) because they have performed their roles in a little more consistent manner to this point in the season.

Should Cal need a special defensive assignment on a perimeter player, I’m sure Hawkins would be the first sub or should the four or five position need some quality minutes because of foul trouble Lee has proven in the past to be very impressive. Remember Michigan last year?

Quite possibly of more concern to Calipari at this point of the season is the fact that this team has been going at it since August 1 and those legs and the players emotional or mental state has to be getting worn down. No way any of the present players has ever went through a season like this in their young careers. However, regardless of the players' physical or mental state, the season rolls on this week with a stop on the road at "Old Rocky Top" in Knoxville this Tuesday (7:00 p.m., ESPN ) and this coming Saturday Bruce Pear, an old John Calipari rival, brings his new team Auburn to Lexington for his first appearance in Rupp Arena since the NCAA gave him the boot four years ago. The Auburn game’s new tip-off time is 7:00 p.m.(ESPN) and UK has festivities planned to honor former UK three-point expert Tony Delk of the 1996 NCAA champions.

In closing out this week's column, I want to remind BBN with Cal’s Boys riding high in the saddle at 25-0 it’s never too early to get those hotel/motel reservations and any tickets you can garner up at this point. Yes, the actual seeds and pairings for each site won’t be truly known until Selection Sunday, but unless something tragic happens even with a loss UK should receive a No. 1 seed and the trip toward the Final Four should be Louisville (1st weekend), Cleveland (2nd weekend) and Indianapolis (Final Four). Which means BBN can follow their beloved Wildcats and not leave the tri-state area of Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana. Oh, yes, with the SEC tourney in Nashville, it makes for perfect travel plans.

You can get more info on UK sports by going online to www.combsbrothersonkysports.com and KHSAA sports as well . My new Twitter account is @combsbrothers5.

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