I've said it before and I meant it then and mean it now: Tubby Smith traditionally does his best coaching when he can play the "chip on shoulder" card.
This may seem counterintuitive given he's the head coach of the winningest program in college basketball history. And it is.
It's also the source -- to my mind -- of Tubby's greatest struggles at UK. The man simply does not seem to know how to deal with success. Of course, this is one man's opinion.
But that's neither here nor there. The task at hand is doing the unthinkable -- beating the mighty UCONN Huskies.
It was almost disconcerting to see the Huskies struggle against Albany in Round 1, if only because such struggles can wake up a slumbering, but talented, team. They can also, however, show the next opponent what to focus on.
In this case, I think Tubby & Co. have to be happy they escaped a first-round game in which heralded sophomores Joe Crawford, Rajon Rondo, Randolph Morris and Ramel Bradley tallied a grand total of 25 points. The Cats shot 31% as a team -- second lowest this year (Kansas game was worst) -- and won. They opened the game 2-for-11, and they won. They got one three-pointer from Patrick Sparks, and they won. Morris had foul trouble the whole game, and they still won.
If one assumes that at least some of these problems can be avoided, even if only by chance, then the UCONN game has to be a better showing. Whether the Cats' best is good enough is hard to say.
The Unpredictables have, on very seldom occasions, looked capable of beating the best teams in the country. I refer here to the South Carolina second half at Columbia, the Tennesee second half and the Louisville first half (Rondo especially).
A combination of better scoring from the backcourt and less foul trouble for Morris would seem to do the trick, and could keep the Cats in it.
Relying on Bobby Perry to go 10-for-10 from the free throw line and score 25 points a game from here on out seems a recipe for disaster. However, few expected Cameron Mills to average 12+ in 1997.
My very early prediction? Cats get a lift from Sparks early, make the game close in the first half. I'd like to think the second half is a toss-up, but I fear the Cats' penchant for bonehead plays pops up again.
For now, I'll call it a UK win ... because that is my right to do so.