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Changing the focus

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By Greg Woods

 

With the end of the fall sports season I was able to focus on college sports a little this weekend.

After traveling to the Kentucky Horse Park for the State cross country meet on Saturday I headed to Commonwealth Stadium where I ‘enjoyed’ watching the Kentucky Wildcats play the Missouri Tigers with another old retiree, Terry Petree.

You have to see them in person to understand just how far the Cats have to go before they can become a middle-of-the-pack SEC team again.

I know a lot of people expect coach Mark Stoops to work miracles and make the team a legitimate contender, but after watching them play a good Missouri team Saturday, my expectations are about what they always have been.

With a good coach and better players, the Cats can expect to pull off the occasional upset and make it to the Liberty Bowl… sometime in the hopefully not-to-distant future.

Let’s face it. If Stoops can pull that off in the next three or four years, he will head for greener pastures where he can actually have a realistic hope of competing for a national championship.

What coach would work his butt off just to get to 7-5 every season and hope for a victory in the Music City Bowl if he could move to a school that would allow him to have a chance at something better?

The problem is that even with great recruiting the Cats will never be able to land enough great talent to compete with the Alabamas of the world.

As the game got out of hand on Saturday, Terry and I were actually talking about whether the Cats would have a chance against the Crimson Tide’s second or even third team.

I hate to sound pessimistic, but watching them in person showed that it was a game of men versus boys, and the Cats should be proud of getting into the end zone twice against the Tigers. When you see first-hand the difference in the size and skill of each team’s linemen, you have to wonder how it was possible.

As for the other football team in the state — it is hard to get excited watching them mechanically drilling a much inferior Connecticut team that has fallen off dramatically in the last couple of seasons.

After the Central Florida debacle the remainder of the season seems kind of anti-climatic. It’s just hard to get into the Cards’ games when you know that you can’t even argue the merits of giving them a title shot. Even if they run the table the rest of the way, 11-1 against their schedule won’t get them to the promised land.

It’s weird that arguably the best team in school history leaves us wanting more even as they mow down their hapless opponents.

On a brighter note, the college basketball season looks very promising for both the Cats and the Cards.

Although a No. 1 ranking is a bit premature for such a young team, I think the Cats have the size and athleticism to go a long way this year. They also seem to have the hunger that was missing from last year’s team.

I know that Northern Kentucky was in way over their heads but it was nice seeing the Wildcats’ players diving on the floor for loose balls in the middle of a blowout win.

Julius Randle is a beast and I was impressed with the agility and smoothness that he plays with. He is going to be a very special player.

The Harrison twins also impressed me. They are mature beyond their years and know how to contribute without a lot of flashiness. They may not create as many oohs and ahs as John Wall, but they will be quietly efficient players that help Kentucky get back to the top of the pack.

The other impression I was left with is that Purdue must be pretty weak this year if Northern nearly beat them. No disrespect to the Norse but they looked like what they are… a Division II school transitioning to Division I.

This column had to be finished before the Cats took on Michigan State last night so we might have awakened this morning with a little perspective on just where this Wildcat team might be but I hope that is not the case. After last year’s disappointing season, we need this team to get us back where we belong – at the top of the pecking order.

The Cardinals were also impressive in their victory over a pretty tough College of Charleston team on Saturday. When you consider that the team is playing without last year’s starting point guard, center, power forward and two invaluable subs in Kevin Ware and Luke Hancock, both of whom would have been penciled in as starters this year, it was a pretty impressive victory even if the final score was a little deceptive.

The Cards did what they always do. Struggle along on offense while playing relentless defense until the other team cracks and then… bam they go in for the kill. When Hancock, Ware and Chane Behanan return, this could be another top-notch team for Pitino.

Another run to the Final Four could be in the Cards.